Worried about endangering his Oscar chances, the Best Actor nominee has denied he’ll take part in the WWE’s annual event. But wrestling fans know better—Randy “The Ram” Robinson is going to suit up for an old-fashioned ass-kicking.
Hush-hush and strictly confidential, but the chatter percolating in the pro-wrestling community is that despite his publicist’s braying to the contrary, Mickey Rourke is seriously considering jumping into the ring at this year’s WrestleMania.
You don’t have to be plugged into the world of fanboy Internet kooks to smell what’s cooking. All you have to do is watch RAW, the World Wrestling Entertainment’s flagship Monday-night broadcast, to witness the buildup: weekly clips of Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Robinson and The Wrestler accompanied by fawning announcers, followed by Jericho running his mouth and taunting the movie star, which is the second-best thing he does, right after crippling people.
For those of you not following the saga of Mickey Rourke’s would-be wrestling career—the one he is apparently trying to launch in the wake of his star-turn as The Wrestler—allow me to recap:
“The boys from the WWE called me and asked me to do it,” Rourke told Access Hollywood from the red carpet at the SAG awards last month. “Chris Jericho, you better get in shape,” he added, calling out the WWE’s ace heel, “because I’m coming after your ass.” A few days later, Rourke went on Larry King Live and tussled with Jericho via satellite. “If he got his wish and had a confrontation with me at WrestleMania, the end of the Jericho-Rourke movie would not turn out well for Mr. Rourke,” said Jericho. “There’s a difference between playing a wrestler in a movie and actually being one in real life.” The day after that, a spokesman for Rourke threw water on the whole shebang, insisting that The Mick had no intention of participating, and was instead going to be “focusing entirely on his acting career.”
Rourke should know this is no joke. If he decides to fight, he is going to feel some very real pain.
Why the sudden change? Perceived wisdom has it that the liberal elite at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are eager to promote acting and filmmaking as some sort of noble profession, and do not want to be cast as an unwitting PR machine for the WWE and its sideshow of monsters and muscle-bound freaks. Doing his best not to piss in the Academy’s punchbowl before the awards ceremony, Rourke has done a quick 180 toward industry respectability.
And yet to anyone at all familiar with the vagaries of the wrestling world, it seems very likely that the WWE is laying the foundation for an actor vs. wrestler angle at WrestleMania XXV, which will be beamed via satellite from Houston to all civilized nations on April 5.
Last night, Roddy Piper—the loquacious superstar of the 1980s whose unprovoked attack on Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka with a coconut has long been regarded by pundits as the greatest moment in television history (right after the first moon landing)—made an appearance shilling for Rourke. “That movie is about pain and suffering,” he told Jericho. “And yes, I cried.” Jericho’s response was to drop Piper with a giant haymaker to the skull, scoring some cheap heat from the marks in the audience who live for this soap opera.
If Rourke does end up donning the tights at the big event, he’ll follow in the footsteps of other celebrities of various stature who have gone over to the dark side for a taste of that sweet pay-per-view payoff. For 15 minutes of work, not counting the press conference, Rourke stands to make $1 million. He is also guaranteed to see more stars in the first half-second of his match—right after Jericho plows him in the head—than he did in the 22 years between Barfly and The Wrestler.
Rourke’s denial of his intention to do some real live rasslin’ is appearing more and more like a “work,” as we say in the biz. Just as soon as Rourke gets the Oscar back to his flophouse, he’ll be filing it down to use as a weapon in the ring.
But Rourke should know this is no joke. If he decides to fight, he is going to feel some very real pain. That is, if he makes it that far—if the Academy doesn’t find out they’re being punked and remove Rourke from serious consideration, and if Rourke’s manager and agent don’t somehow convince him that the big cash payoff and the box-office boost are just not worth it, and he should “focus on his acting career,” which is Hollywood’s shibboleth for, “Behave yourself, dirtbag, you’re still one step from doing dinner theater in the Valley.”
Because for all his moxie, Rourke is just a busted-up old actor. Chris Jericho is a championship wrestler, a breed apart, and you can bet he is not going to be too happy about “jobbing”—taking a fall, that is—for Rourke. Even though Rourke’s face already looks like it was designed by Frank Gehry, after he takes a chair shot to the kisser he stands a fair chance of ending up with both eyes on the same side of his head, staggering around the ring like a refugee from a Cubist concentration camp.
Celebrities don’t get a free ride in the WWE. Donald Trump may have walked away unscathed two years ago, but (A) he was only invited—and promised an easy victory—so he could hype WrestleMania on The Apprentice and give that elusive whiff of legitimacy to the whole affair, and (B) Trump is a big poof with no sense of humor, and everyone except him knew that he was the one being worked as a foil for WWE honcho Vince McMahon in their “Hair vs. Hair” match. No one was surprised when McMahon had his head shaved, and no one enjoyed the histrionics any less for knowing it was inevitable.
Boxing legend Floyd Mayweather Jr. wasn’t so lucky—he was pounded like the veal paillard special before he won his match against the Big Show, but only by cheating with a pair of brass knuckles he had sequestered in his trunks.
And Pete Rose nearly had his neck nearly broken at multiple WrestleManias, including the year he sneaked into the arena disguised in a giant chicken suit trying to get his revenge, only to make his exit supine, on a stretcher.
Anyway, Rourke wouldn’t want a pass. He wants to earn the respect of the real wrestlers and is willing to “take a bump” to earn it. He won’t roll over for Chris Jericho, and ditto, Jericho will enjoy inflicting some damage on Rourke. Jericho may be a charming villain, but behind his charisma lies a savage thug. The smart alecks in the movie racket may think wrestling is phony, but it’s not half as phony as the acting business. Someone is going to get hurt, you can count on it.
We’ll know soon enough if Rourke is his own man, or if he caves to his posse of advisers and the Academy, whose own ruling council rivals the WWE’s in narcissism and snake-oil peddling. The WWE will always win, however, because their fans don’t really care how absurd the show is—they‘ve always been in on the joke.
Mike Edison is the former publisher of High Times, the former editor-in-chief of Screw magazine, and a professional wrestler of no small repute. He is the author of 28 pornographic novels and the memoir I Have Fun Everywhere I Go—Savage Tales of Pot, Porn, Punk Rock, Pro Wrestling, Talking Apes, Evil Bosses, Dirty Blues, American Heroes, and the Most Notorious Magazines in the World (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Faber and Faber).