Non-fungible tokens—or NFTs for the sake of not gagging on the language of the digital carny—are the talk of the collectables market at the moment. I won’t pretend to understand the intricacies of what is, on the surface, a pyramid scheme that bilks the many for the profit of the few while further smothering the world via the largely unchecked amount of carbon emissions required to do blockchain-based transactions. NFTs are meant to certify the authenticity and ownership of a digital artifact, but what’s meaningful about the ownership of a digital object that can be reproduced with the click of a button on one’s cell phone escapes me.
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That hasn’t stopped collectors from paying crazy amounts of money for mediocre artwork and video clips of LeBron James slam dunks that don’t rate among his all-time best. Two days ago, some dork who paid $100,000 for an NBA Top Shot clip of a Zion Williamson dunk turned down an offer of $1M. The clip, or rather the NFT that was minted to transmit it, is something that aired on broadcast television, was posted on social media and YouTube, and cloned over and over and over again by normal people who retweeted, reacted to, and vlogged about it. There’s nothing rare about the clip itself—it’s just a means of passing $100,000 to someone in exchange for the illusion of scarcity—but whatever quirk compels these folks to care about the issue number of an NFT matching a basketball player’s jersey number has them convinced that this digital ghost is worth more than a million frickin’ dollars.
What does that have to do with wrestling, you ask? Well, the people behind this trend are beginning to speculate that other global brands are going to jump into the NFT market, and a lot of global brands have already done so, from Taco Bell to the Kings of Leon to future WWE Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski. I’m trying to expose myself to fewer things that will depress me, so I haven’t checked to see exactly how much entities like DC Comics are expecting to make from their eventual NFT offerings against how much they’re planning to pay their freelancers for creating the artwork that will make the NFT machine go brrrrrr. This craze is, among other things, a competition to crown the worst brand in America. The question then is this:
Why isn’t WWE already in the NFT game?
I mean, you know the answer: World Wrestling Entertainment is never timely. Regardless of what the kind of person who spends $100,000 on a slam dunk has to say about the long-term viability of NFT-based collectables, this is a bubble, and all bubbles burst. WWE being WWE, the minute the market evaporates is the moment they’ll dive in head first, like a cartoon character diving into a pool that his nemesis has already half-drained.
Still, they’re going to do it, and when they do they’ll be armed to the teeth with decades of video content at their disposal. While I imagine they’ll manage to bungle this, too, minting The Miz’s figure four when the real ones are chasing footage of the MSG Curtain Call or whatever, I’ve put some thought into clips that I imagine will make the most noise on the secondary market. This list could have been all Vince McMahon, but I tried my best to break it up a little.
5. Vince McMahon ordering Darren Drozdov to puke into a tiny garbage can.
The 1999 documentary Beyond the Mat is to wrestling what Pumping Iron is to bodybuilding, a codifying text that simultaneously explains everything you need to know about its subject while creating a mythology that’s somehow denser than the one it just unpacked. It made unprotected chairshots to the head wildly uncomfortable years before they were a talking point in mainstream media about wrestling. It showed us Paul Heyman’s “This is the dance” speech before ECW’s debut, Barely Legal. It gave us Dennis Stamp. And it also served to let us in on the creative process of one Vincent Kennedy McMahon.
Sure, there are anecdotes about bad ideas he tried to put on the air, fleshed concepts for potential Steve Austin gimmicks like “Ice Dagger” and “Otto Von Ruthless,” but nothing cuts to the quick of McMahon the creative genius like his meeting with new signee Darren Drozdov, an ex-Denver Bronco whose minor claim to fame was his ability to vomit on command. In much the same way that “Hard Times” is at the heart of everybody’s terrible Dusty Rhodes impersonation, Vince McMahon encouraging Droz to yak by screaming “HE’S GONNA PUKE” is something no shortage of wrestling fans have burned their throats out on. Beyond the Mat is an absurdly common DVD, but if WWE bought the rights to the film and scrubbed the clip up? LeBron James three pointers that are “limited” to 15,000 sell for around $400, and this is absolutely the three pointer in Vince McMahon’s arsenal
4. Vince McMahon saying “THIS IS THE XFL.”
This is McMahon’s slam dunk. Not this specific moment, but the bombast of it, the home run swing at the Bugs Bunny fastball that leaves the batter spinning like a top. McMahon does this in character all the time, but the XFL was his big, OOC stab at real world relevance, and this sentence anchors the whole failed endeavor. Blimp problems? This is the XFL. Poor quality of play? This is the XFL. Desperate, misogynist ploys to attract viewers to a failing product? This is the XFL.
“This Was the XFL” was the title of the ESPN 30 For 30 doc that launched speculation that McMahon was interested in giving a football league another shot, which he subsequently did. The new league launching to the same kind of curious skepticism as the original? This is the XFL. The league failing in the middle of its first season amidst a global pandemic? Not entirely Vince, but the accusations of mismanagement and the ongoing lawsuit between McMahon and former XFL Comissioner Oliver Luck? That’s the XFL, the kind of rich meathead posturing that makes McMahon such a beloved/hated figure in American culture. Outside of that ESPN doc, official XFL footage is largely locked away and is unlikely to make its debut on Peacock along with the contents of the award-winning WWE Network, so an NFT of its zenith, with its football/McMahon crossover appeal, could sell for a huge sum of completely made-up currency.
3. Bret Hart punching Vince McMahon out.
I don’t want to relitigate the Montreal Screwjob or turn this into an all-McMahon list, I just think it’s pretty cool that Bret Hart knocked Vince McMahon out with one punch behind closed doors after the show went off the air. Think of that series of events for Hart—a grueling, if shorter than expected, more emotionally draining than it should have been match against someone he actually hated, the realization of a legitimate conspiracy against him by people he’d worked with for over a decade, the destruction of property at ringside, a pinpoint accurate loogie to the face of the guy who did it, wave after wave of wrestlers and staff members trying to calm you down—and instead of crawling into bed to take a nap or whatever, he punched McMahon’s face so hard he injured his own hand.
The closest thing we have to footage of Hart’s uppercut, a punch so ferocious that it lifted McMahon off of his feet, comes from the documentary Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows, which was fortuitously shot during the final months of his WWE career. That footage is not entirely fun, as Hart’s heartbroken disbelief, his son’s already bittersweet emotions about losing his friends in the WWF, and Shawn Michaels’ disingenuous “my hands are clean of this one” make for a surreal environment before McMahon walks into the room to explain himself, at which point Hart directs the cameras to leave. “Somehow Vince walked into my hand,” Hart said after the fact, buttoning up a blistering white denim shirt, the camera in the hallway catching McMahon staggering out of the room. Wrestling with Shadows has been out of print since its 10th anniversary reissue, which is a real shame given how important it is to the narrative of Hart’s career, one of the most important years in American wrestling, and one of the most infamous nights in wrestling history, but the DVD ascending to the realm of “collectable,” to say nothing of the intersection of ghoulish curiosity and 90s nostalgia would make this clip one to “own,” if it were included in a pack of video clips of Dolph Ziggler superkicking people.
2. The Sandman’s entrance at ECW One Night Stand 2005 with Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.”
ECW One Night Stand 2005 was a singular moment in time, a rallying cry for the spirit of a wrestling promotion whose influence is both more and less than its reputation suggests. The brainchild of Rob Van Dam and Paul Heyman, the show is remembered today for Masato Tanaka vs. Mike Awesome, Paul Heyman’s worked shoot promo on the Raw and SmackDown rosters, JBL stiffing the Blue Meanie, and a lot of questionable booking done in an effort to get as many ECW alums a WWE payday as possible. Oh, and also the crowd at the Hammerstein Ballroom, who were on fire from bell to bell. No moment better exemplifies just how deeply into the occasion they were than The Sandman’s entrance before the main event, 2,500 people Judas Choiring the man as he walked to the ring to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.”
WWE shelling out the money for “Enter Sandman” was a minor miracle, but a necessity—anything less would have been eaten alive. Instead, you got this beautiful, beer soaked slice of time that genuinely seems to have caught everybody on the show off-guard. But WWE being WWE, the official version of this moment that’s on the DVD/WWE Network/Peacock is the one with the pretty good but not at all satisfying soundalike that scored his improbable 2006-2007 run. Pay Metallica, mint some NFTs, and tell a legion of ECW stans to go hunting, and you’ve got WWE’s first $100,000 digital trading card. He believes because they believe, baby.
1. Edge’s Royal Rumble 2020 return spear, only you can see the damn spear.
Last year, Edge returned to WWE, ending a nine year retirement from the sport due to spinal fusion surgery. It was great, the last big return/debut to happen outside the vacuum of the COVID era, appropriately large and loud and heartfelt. Everything looked incredible, too. There’s a certain grandeur to baseball stadium shows, and the giant shot of him throwing his hands in the air as pyro boomed from the dugout was one of the company’s signature moments of the year, one of those things where you’re reminded, as a viewer, that WWE knows how to produce spectacle. But then Edge hit the ring, and they missed him spearing Dolph Ziggler.
How bad was it? Well, they just flat out cut their error out from the sequence above, choosing to further muddy their bad edit by skipping from Edge sliding to the ring to his spearing Karl Anderson as opposed to leaving in the jump from Edge sliding to the ring to the crowd at ringside. This is what they chose to do despite airing it correctly on one of those early pandemic Raws nobody remembers where half the show was old footage. Edge hitting Ziggler with a spear is thus rare footage, something vaulted by circumstance that deserves a chance to breathe. So mint that NFT. Let Edge’s spear breathe while we all choke on its fumes.