BY TODD KANEKO
20. ‘The Natural’ Butch Reed
We have come to watch the Royal Rumble, the ultimate battle royal, and you are a natural warrior. We have come to see twenty men take a beating and your body is chiseled from dark marble, your fists swinging like wrecking balls. The object is to be the lone survivor at the end of the night and you are the shadowy doom of every boy who dreams of victory, of every punk with a deathwish for stardom. Your body is a flawless specimen, muscles slicked with perspiration under the arena lights as you press men over your head before hurling them to the ground. Our bodies are soft and pale as we clap our hands and stomp our feet. Your body is magnificent as you bludgeon a man in the corner, as you kick a man in the ribs, as you are thrown over the top rope, the first man eliminated from the match.
19. Tito Santana
Shout ¡Arriba! and summon your ancestors’ spirits from the old country. Stand proud and punch the sky. Shout ¡Arriba! as each new man enters the ring, a body every two minutes to be headlocked and hip tossed, forearmed and elbow smashed. Shout ¡Arriba! to announce that you are the jaguar’s cunning, the matador’s grace, a warrior fighting in the ring for children who dream of being professional wrestlers. Shout ¡Arriba! and we will shout it back as you stand against the hooligan onslaught. We are echoes of you, boys who will grow up to be used car salesmen, to be drones in the hive, to be robots on assembly lines. We will all shout ¡Arriba! until we are all thrown over the top rope.
18. Boris Zhukov
You are the perfect Russian soldier because you are from Virginia. You are the perfect Bolshevik because we don’t know what that word means. All we know about the Cold War is that you wear a red singlet and speak with a thick foreign accent. All we know about the Communist threat is the way you stomp around the ring for Mother Russia, for the hammer and sickle, for the pleasure of battering an American babyface while we chant the name of our country like an incantation against proletariat rule. America needs men like you who wear costumes to remind us who we are. There are twenty men in the Royal Rumble and nineteen of them will be losers before it ends. We do not wear costumes. We can’t change the place we are from.
17. King Harley Race
Your golden crown is more statement of manhood than fashion statement. Your scepter is more medieval weapon than imperial insignia, your fist more scepter than five bruised knuckles. You are lord of the clash, ace of the squared circle, usurper of thrones. You are an old lion, your body forged from platinum and bone spur and blackjack as you transmute words into threats, threats into royal proclamations: head butt, kidney punch, a cheap shot to the throat. Sometimes, all a man has to do to become King is demolish every other man who wants to be King. Sometimes, being named King isn’t enough to keep a man from being dumped without ceremony to the ground.
16. ‘Jumping’ Jim Brunzell
A dropkick is a gorgeous maneuver, a momentary levitation, a body suspended tight in mid-air before uncoil and unleash the full fury of a man’s desire for glory through the soles of his boots. A dropkick is a beautiful display of violence and you are a beautiful body, elegant with your arms spread for flight, your toes pointed to strike your rival in the face. It’s uncanny, how the body can be so lovely as it delivers a dropkick, how it can be lovely still as it buckles with disappointment after being thrown over the top rope and to the floor.
15. Jim ‘the Anvil’ Neidhart
The stronger an anvil, the more brutal the hammerstrike and you are unbending against the maelstrom of kneecaps and fists, impervious to the bloodbath seething around you. The thicker a man’s beard, the more violent his temper and you run your fingers through that jungle sprouting from your chin before you toss a boy’s cadaver to the floor. The madder the laughter, the sharper the pain and you let loose a maniac’s cackle. The crueler the spirit, the stronger our need for a metaphor to describe the mangled position of a body before the ambulance arrives. You are the anvil, but we are the hammers cheering on any man who challenges you because we want to see a fight. We will deny any involvement in the damage.
14. Sam Houston
A man is not the costume he wears because it takes more than a cowboy hat to turn a babyface into a desperado, more than a bandana and a pair of spurs to transform a young buck into an outlaw. A boy wears the wardrobe of the man he wishes he could be. Your older brother slithers into the ring and torments his enemies each night. Your big sister jams a headlock jawbreaker on every woman she fights. You wear a cowpoke’s vest, brandish a cap gun and a plucky grin. Swagger like a bandit and charge the ring when your name is called. Hurtle into the crush of bodies and throw as many punches as you can until you are thrown headlong out of the ring. After you fall, we will remember your costume.
13. Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart
Tonight, you are the first man to enter the Royal Rumble match. One day, we will call you the best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be. You will tie men in knots with your standing leglock, a whip into the corner and a backbreaker across your knee. You will wear mirrored shades and a leather jacket half draped across your shoulders and we will wear T-shirts decorated with your name. You will tell us that real men wear pink and we will wear pink to be real like you. We will chant for the Hitman to take out another bad guy, for you to raise your fist in victorious exhaustion. We will celebrate because your triumph will be our triumph, your excellence of execution will be our belief that we can grow up to be men who sweat for conquest. That is all in the future—tonight, you are just another body to be thrown over the top rope.
12. B. Brian Blair
The bees gather by the hundreds tonight because that is how nature has programmed them to labor, every sting and murmur for the hive. The insects understand how to build a stronghold and then plunder snapdragons for nectar. A man can work hard his whole life wielding paint brushes and typewriter ribbon. A man is neither bulldozer nor pipewrench, sledgehammer nor ball peen, but tonight you are a killer bee, all elbow smashes and angry buzz, all frenzied wing and crossbody block. We want to be killer bees along with you, tonight. We are the swarm swelling behind you, a storm of yellow and black surging against every time clock, every broken pencil, every morning commute. We know the drudgery of work, how a man works hard all his life only to return home at the end of every day, defeated.
11. Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts
Never trust a rattlesnake when it claims that the sounds it makes are nothing to worry about. A man knows better than to believe that there is ever nothing to worry about. Never trust a cobra when it spreads its hood wide, sways side to side and asks you to dance. A man only dances when he wields a knife, when he brandishes his fists in front of him. Never trust a boa constrictor as it drapes itself across your body, as it wraps itself about your windpipe and whispers its name into your ear. A man never worries about what other people call him—just drives them face first into the ground and lets the snakes have the remains. Never trust a man who says you can trust him.
10. Nikolai Volkoff
We don’t know the words to the Russian National Anthem, but we know that they don’t include the name of any place we are from. You open your mouth and the lyrics fall from your lips, soft fruit falling from the orchards in late season, gunshots in the wetlands and birds tumbling out of flight. Your voice is immense, a muscular tenor full of insidious vibrato, Communist bravado for hammer lock, for abdominal stretch. Tonight, we don’t need beautiful voices. We tell you where we are from as you sing for your red banner, for your glorious Motherland. We tell you where we are from so you will know what we think about your song. We refuse to understand the words you sing because we only know our own words for home.
9. Hillbilly Jim
There is nothing more masculine than a thicket sprouting from a man’s face and a paddock covering his chest and we know better than to mess with a country boy. You are king of the hayseeds, the pride of Mudlick, Kentucky. A man who knows the boondocks like the creases of his knuckles doesn’t need a real name, just an adjective that reminds him of simpler times when he didn’t need an enemy to scrap with, just a crowd of men to beat on. A wrestling match is the opposite of a pair of overalls, is the opposite of a barnyard dance except when you punch a grizzly bear in the nose, swing a wild pig by his tail while we clap our hands. Somewhere, there is a jar of moonshine for all of us, a sip of lightning to transform nice boys into rusty nails, muskrats into mountain lions. A country boy is always ready to stomp a possum, to laugh at the way a man chicken-squawks after picking a fight with a hillbilly. But we would never do that. We know better.
8. ‘Dangerous’ Danny Davis
There are many things that you think we don’t notice about you because of that name you have chosen. A man who claims to be dangerous and a man who claims to be honest can both be villains when they inhabit the same body and you deliver your name like a sales pitch. We have names that people call us and names by which we secretly wish to be called. The thing we hate most about you is how a nickname transforms a man into all those things he denies.
7. The Ultimate Warrior
We don’t know where you are from. They say parts unknown, somewhere between a small town in Indiana and outer space, a dank gymnasium and a battlefield, the acrid stink of sweat and dying horses. We don’t know your name, but we recognize names of other warriors: Alexander, Sun Tzu, Superstar Billy Graham—and we know your language of battle, the harsh art of hostility. We don’t know your face, but we recognize your celestial facepaint, smear it across our foreheads and chests as our bodies billow into vigor and sinew, surge into a crash of rhinos, crescendo into earthbound supernovae as you sprint snarling into the fray, fists full of starfire, eyes glazed in quasar and chrome. We will all swell behind you, a nation of warriors fueled by rocket fuel and a Heaven’s thunder. When you disappear, we will wonder where your spaceship has gone, how we will ever discover who we are or where we are going without you.
6. Junkyard Dog
The people love a symbol, a hero from the ghetto who tells kids to stay in school and away from drugs. You can knock a man out with a headbutt, then shake your hips to remind us that you are the Junkyard Dog, all quaking rump and hardcore thump. The people love a role model, a black man who fights for the downtrodden and oppressed with a scoop slam and a voice like old tires on a gravel road. You can get down on all fours and ram your forehead into another man’s skull, then wag your fingers at the people because you love your mother, the United States of America and dancing on a Saturday night. The people love a hero who wears a dog collar and twenty feet of chain around his neck. The people love a hero with an afro. The people love a hero wearing white boots. The people will cheer when you charge into the arena as the final man entering the Royal Rumble. The people will look away once you’ve fallen to the ground.
5. ‘Outlaw’ Ron Bass
You are a black cowboy hat, a six-gun restless in its holster. You are a knuckle busted on a man’s tooth, a tooth broken for a man’s grin, a bullwhip sneer at all those men wearing spectacles and petticoats. Your body is made of cactus spines and hornets. Your body is made of flint and chokecherry and charcoal as you rake your spurs across a man’s forehead, as you pistol whip a man and leave his carcass in the sagebrush. Your mustache is a mountain forest ravaged by wolves. Your boots are the extinction of crocodiles. You are a bowie knife and bare chest, saloon and sinful laughter at the agony you have invented for all of us. You do not wear a costume, but tonight you will wear defeat around your neck like a noose.
4. ‘The Rock’ Don Muraco
The body is a stone, eroded over eons to reveal new strata under every layer. You leap into the rumble, throwing thunderclap and firebolt, each blow inventing a new word for violence. A stone is a swollen fist, each knuckle cleaved to the bone. Your pectorals gleam with desert flame, your eyes with desire like a housefire. A fist is a diamond, a dangerous shard of grief and blood, a beautiful instrument for reducing the world into sand. A diamond is a body worn down to a ghost, gorgeous rubble that has forgotten what it means to be a mountain. Your voice is full of earthquake as you flex your arms, a volcano in your chest. Your body drops like a stone as you tumble over the top rope.
3. Dino Bravo, the World’s Strongest Man
We hate you because you are the strongest man, not just in Canada but in the United States and Mexico too. Your body is not the prettiest, but it’s the strongest. You are the strongest man in the world because that is your name. We wanted to be strong when we were kids, flexed our muscles in front of the mirror hoping to metamorphose into strong men. Our bodies have never been pretty. We cannot crumble bricks with our bare hands, cannot break a man’s back across our knees, cannot bench press a buffalo. Tonight, you are the world’s strongest man, clobbered and blown over the top rope. After you are eliminated, it will no longer matter who the world’s strongest man is.
2. One Man Gang
This man is a villain because he wears a mohawk and a denim vest and mirrored sunglasses at night. This man smokes in hospital rooms and near elementary schools, flicks his cigarette butts at gas stations and dry lawns. This man is five hundred pounds of meat and bone with nuclear warheads for fists. steel chain over his head. This man eats elephants for breakfast, swallows sharks whole. This man is the idol of tavern brawlers, the patron saint of back alley murderers. This man is leviathan come to swallow your children. This man is the wolf breathing on your front door. This man rides a motorcycle and hides weapons in his beard. This man lives in the wrong part of Chicago. This man works in a Louisiana prison. This man is from deepest darkest Africa. This man is from where we live now. This man wears skulls tattooed on his skull, tattoos that predict all our deaths. This man is infinite in his understanding of pain, eternal in his promise for violence.
1. ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan
A winner arises from the losers he leaves behind him, bodies sprawled out on the ground for buzzards, men on their backs looking up at the lights without any memory of the agony they have endured. You wield a two-by-four like a wish, the American flag like it’s part of your name. A man is not the costume he wears unless he drapes himself in Old Glory and gives us a big thumbs up. We chant your name at the tops of our lungs as you batter yourself against jungle beasts, Communists, Canadian strongmen, against any foreign object you encounter. We chant U-S-A even as you tackle Texas cowboys and Kentucky clodhoppers because we are America. We are the places we are from, the names we are given. We wear costumes because we are who we are, not the people we want to be. We wish we were strong but we go to work and come home. We know what defeat feels like. We go to work and come home. We know that flight is just what a man does before he crashes to the floor. We want to believe that we can be victorious too, one day.
Todd Kaneko currently lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he teaches at Grand Valley State University. His first book of poems, the Dead Wrestler Elegies (Curbside Splendor), is slated for publication in late 2014. His prose and poems have appeared in Bellingham Review, Los Angeles Review, the Collagist, the Normal School and many other journals. His essay "Babyfaces" appeared in Bring the Noise: The Best Pop Culture Essays from Barrelhouse.