The first wrestling video game I remember playing was WrestleMania 2000 on the Nintendo 64, a game that still holds up to this day.
WrestleMania 2000 was followed by the much-beloved WWF No Mercy for the N64, a game that many still consider to be the best wrestling game ever.
I was only twelve and thirteen when these video games released. That's fifteen years ago now, and I still remember, vividly, having to wait for my brother to wake up during summers so that I could take the memory card from his N64 controller and put it in mine in order to access my saved data (sometimes I had to sneak in while he slept I was so desperate to play).
I will always remember when WWF No Mercy arrived in stores, and the day I got it as one of the most exciting, happiest days of my life - a rare and magical gift for getting good grades. I don't even know how I knew it was available back then - we didn't have this fancy internet thing to keep us apprised of every release-date. I must have had to rely on old-fashioned television commercials or the ads that likely played during Raw and Smackdown.
To know that this happened so long ago is not just unsettling, it's unfathomable. The memories are so clear, so close to this very moment that it doesn't seem possible that they occurred some fifteen years ago - that those everyday, thirteen-year-old experiences are gone.
I would watch those above intro videos every day for years. The imagery, the sounds were the permanent stimuli of my formative years. To know that those experiences have since dissolved into the past, that they are no longer as significant to me in the same way they were when I was a young boy is unavoidably heartbreaking.
But that time does live on as more than mere memory. My adolescence, and how WWE wrestling helped me when I was an awkward, angry, lonely teenager, lives on in the majesty that is The Gladiator Maximus:
|"Maximus! Maximus! Maximus!'|
I first created Maximus in WWF No Mercy. So, at this point, he's a veteran and a locker room leader.
Gladiator, which came out in 2000, was and remains a significant movie in my life. It has a perfect blend of heart and testosterone, just the right mix of artistry and brutality to appeal to a young man that loves action movies and dreams of being a filmmaker. I remember watching the film, mesmerized by he visuals but particularly the chorus of chants from the crowd; "MAXIMUS, MAXIMUS, MAXIMUS!" Hearing that, I made the connection to the WWE Universe (though they were just fans back then) and thought "That needs to happen on Raw!"
Skip Ahead To The Last Minute Or So For The Chant
So enamored with the idea of hearing the "Maximus!" chant at a WWE live event, I built my first created wrestler around this desire. I wanted to avoid a gimmick that was too on the nose, however. The references to Gladiator and Roman history would be slight, limited to some catchphrases and finishing-move-names.
Conceived initially as a cross between The Rock, Chris Jericho and myself, I toiled away in the No Mercy create-a-wrestler editor, perfecting Maximus' style and abilities.
Purely in my mind, I began constructing narratives around Maximus as I played.
He was young and brash, confident and eloquent. He had Jericho's ability in the ring and The Rock's ability on the mic, and through these skills he "won the crowd". He was, and remains, what I believe to be the best qualities of myself, but also everything I want to become. In him is a tangible marker of self-actualization.
Eventually I discovered through a bit of now-ancient technological handiwork, that I could record N64 gameplay onto VHS tapes. I also discovered a feature in No Mercy that would allow me to type text using the controller and then present that text on-screen accompanied by the old-fashioned Raw intro music.
And so I set out to realize my fantasies. In selectively recording, and then re-recording game footage mixed occasionally with text-screens (the most rudimentary form of editing), I crafted my own wrestling narratives centered on The Gladiator Maximus.
For his first major feud I pit him against The Undertaker. Those early matches were long and laborious, but the more I learned the nuances of my very own little editing studio, the more elaborate and exciting the stories and matches became. I would incorporate the backstage area, utilize two controllers so as to manipulate both wrestlers on-screen, and spend hours typing, letter by letter with a completely unintuitive controller so as to display Maximus' promos and the promos of his opponents. The result was a crude, but intricate wrestling movie of sorts. I cannot fathom now the level of dedication I had for this painstaking process, creating something purely for my own enjoyment.
Later I would get a Playstation and begin recording footage of the Smackdown games series, occasionally swapping inputs and intercutting footage from No Mercy. There are over five VHS tapes, each six hours in length, collecting dust in a box somewhere filled with these wrestling stories.
Some of Maximus' greatest rivals were Chris Jericho, Triple H, and Stone Cold Steve Austin. But I knew from the outset who would be The Gladiator's greatest challenge. And it was none other than my favorite wrestler at the time, The Brahma Bull.
The best story I ever recorded reflected the real-world dynamic between Stone Cold and The Rock, only with the roles reversed and Max subbing for Austin.
The Rock had left the WWE to make a film, and in his absence Maximus rose to the top. For months he battled Triple H for the WWE title, tortured by the McMahon-Helmsley regime. But, eventually, due to his strength and perseverance, he overcame adversity and earned the championship. On the following RAW, Maximus addressed the crowd. He thanked them for their support. He promised never to forsake them. He promised to always be the people's true champion.
And then came...
What followed was a rivalry that lasted years and spanned several wrestling video games and several gaming systems, with The Rock and Maximus battling for the soul of the crowd and the right to be called "People's Champion". The feud mirrored my own nuanced, real-world feelings towards The Rock. Once my idol, a role-model who taught me how to be confident and graceful, who gave me something to look forward to each week as I endured middle school and high school, had left The WWE for Hollywood. I felt dejected and betrayed, as though the show was pointless without him.
And so, in the end, in my video game wresting reality, it was Maximus who won.
But eventually, with time, my devotion to this story and this creative process faded. The Rock moved on. Maximus moved on. And there wasn't a good wrestling video game for years, so I had moved on. I occasionally dabbled in The Smackdown vs. Raw series, but I always found those games lacking and never quite living up to the legacy of Yukes and THQ's earlier efforts. I didn't even bother trying to recreate Maximus in those games. And my interest in wrestling overall had waned thanks to several years of uninteresting characters and bland storylines.
Then came CM Punk, of course, who expressed my very soul with his 'Shoot heard round the world'. I was hooked once again.
Then THQ, the now debunked publisher of great wrestling games past, decided to abandon the Smackdown vs Raw moniker and rebrand their game simply WWE '12.
The game was fresh and exciting, with a new, realistically designed grappling system that permitted gamers to recreate their favorite wrestling moments. With updated character designs, better graphics, and an unprecedented creative suite, I fell in love with wrestling games all over again.
And so The Gladiator was reborn.
With the latest wrestling games WWE '12, '13, and now 2K '14, I am permitted to more fully realize what I was striving to create when I was thirteen. The game goes beyond allowing players to select hairstyles and clothes for a wrestler. Savvy gamers can craft every single section of a created wrestler's entrance, even editing video clips to create an entrance video on the titantron (I have yet to do so in 2K14 as the process is incredibly time-consuming).
Much like real-life wrestlers evolve from simplistic gimmicks to heightened versions of self, so too has my ever-present created-wrestler Maximus matured with each iteration. Once a long-haired rock & roll type, a simplistic combination of tropes, Maximus is now a sleeker, more philosophical creation meant to represent determination and positivity. He is no longer forced to arrive to the tune of someone else's music, instead provided his own fitting soundtrack via the user playlist.
His skin used to be unmarked, but now it bears the passage of time with tattoos that memorialize beliefs I maintain and significant changes in my own life.
I no longer spend hours filming and editing matches as I once did, despite 2K14 possessing a story-creation tool. I instead rely upon my own imagination to fill in the blanks, as I manage the WWE Universe Mode, establish new feuds, rivals, and allies, and set about finding a suitable path for the now veteran wrestler. While I've aged him in each game, he remains a Batman-like fixture - a character that can be continually updated to reflect the times.
He exists as a purely positive reminder of my past, of the youthful exuberance and passion for creativity that has persisted into my twenties. In Maximus is contained fifteen-years-worth of care and consideration, maturation and evolution. He is childhood, adolescence, and adulthood - a chart of sorts, chronicling what is both fleeting and permanent.
I highly recommend creating your own version of this chronicle, if you do not have one already; a record of your progress as a human being, but also a reminder of those precious, unchanging aspects of your personality.
To see the positive ways in which we remain our childhood and adolescent selves is invaluable, for it reassures us against the passage of time.
Maximus spawned a tradition, for three new created-wrestlers have followed in his footsteps, each with their own backstory and goals.
Watch their entrances and learn about them below:
Name: Caesar. First appearance: WWE '13. Entrance music: "Tears" by Health from the Max Payne 3 soundtrack. About: Caesar was trained by Maximus in the art of wrestling. Once a bright-eyed up & comer with dreams of WWE gold, Caesar quickly impressed fans with his athleticism and strength. He would outgrow his crowd-pleasing demeanor, however, eventually coming to believe his mentor was holding him back. And so Caesar chose to forsake Maximus, thus pitting the two against one another in a bitter feud. Billed as Master vs. Apprentice, their long rivalry culminated in a main event WrestleMania bout, where Maximus lost the title to his young protégé. The two have since reconciled, comfortable with their place in the company, though a lingering competiveness keeps both superstars on their toes.
Name: Odin Pierce. First appearance: WWE '13. Entrance music: "Seven Devils" by Florence and the Machine. About: Evil incarnate. The penultimate heel, Odin Pierce will do whatever he needs to in order to conquer his enemies (which is the entire WWE locker room). Otherworldly in his brutality, Pierce is more of a brawler than a wrestler, often forcing his enemies into submission. "The Fallen Angel" currently has a stranglehold on the WWE Championship. But Caesar is eager to loosen his grip, relentlessly pursuing the gold so that he might one day triumph over the evil that is Odin.
Name: Gabe Williams. First appearance: WWE 2K14. Entrance music: "Blitzkrieg Bop" by The Ramones. About: Gabe Williams achieved international fame in the late eighties for his rock & roll spirit and his in-ring excellence. An inspiration for the current generation, and particularly Maximus' greatest influence, The Retro Rocker has returned after a fifteen-year hiatus from wrestling. You bet "he's still got it" as he squares off against some of the most talented young superstars in the business. A nostalgic fan-favorite with the in-ring skill to back up his 80's rocker shtick, Williams has taken a lot of younger wrestlers under his wing and works to elevate everyone's game. While he's been putting over a lot of the younger talent of late, there are rumors of a WrestleMania build in the works, where Maximus The Gladiator may finally get to face his icon one-on-one for the WWE Championship on the grandest stage of them all.
And now, finally, Maximus himself, the original accompanied by "Wake Up" from Arcade Fire:
Thank you for reading & watching, and be sure to follow all of Maximus' latest exploits on Twitter.
Live long and prosper...and live now: