Then. Now. Forever. Together.
Those four words precede entry into the WWE Universe every Monday evening before “Monday Night Raw” and every Friday night before “Friday Night Smackdown.”
And those four words preceded the WWE live event in Rio Rancho the evening of April 15.
Two hours before the first match was underway in the Rio Rancho Events Center, dozens of WWE fans were staking out vantage points on the west side of the arena to see their favorites arrive, by chartered bus, limo or SUV.
Arturo Baca of Rio Rancho, holding a mock championship belt, and his buddy, Zeke Jimenez of Santa Fe, were for their heroes, Cody Rhodes, a.k.a. “The American Nightmare,” and Austin Theory, the youngest among the myriad WWE champions.
“I like the bad guys,” Jimenez said.
Guess for yourself — good or bad — which Rhodes represented.
Elsewhere, Caesar Baca of Albuquerque was wearing a T-shirt, showing he’d been at the recent SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles to see WrestleMania.
He’d ridden an Amtrak train to L.A., picked up there by his brother and saved taxi fare later to get to the stadium.
Baca paid $150 for his distant seat at SoFi, but only $65 at the Rio Rancho Events Center.
If you don’t know how populated the WWE Universe is, consider this: WrestleMania had more than 161,000 fans for its two nights in SoCal; 5,800-plus meant a sold-out evening in the City of Vision.
Countless hundreds of fans waited patiently on the east side of the Events Center, where a huge cheer could be heard when the doors opened at 6:15.
Fans were “wanded” as they entered; some had their signs confiscated. Many wore T-shirts so others knew who their favorites were: “420 BRO” (Matt Riddle) or “Head of the Table” and “We the Ones,” (Champion Roman Reigns and his cousins, the Uso brothers), for example.
And at least one fan was spotted wearing a mask — not from the pandemic, mind you — and an obvious fan of the sport’s newest hall of famer, Rey Mysterio.
Before the national anthem was played, with fans still filing in as the time for the first bell approached, the crowd watched highlights from the previous night’s Smackdown telecast on Fox and saw a “top 10” of spills and thrills.
This type of entertainment doesn’t have what sports have, home field advantage.
Although every wrestler has his /her loyal legion, so, too, does the opponent.
In other words, anyone who didn’t like Cody Rhodes and tried cheering something was drowned out by “Cody, Cody, Cody.”
Sometimes, it was easier to cheer — not for — everybody’s favorite, “You suck! You suck!”
Dominik Mysterio and Theory, plus The Miz, heard plenty of that.
WWE doesn’t hold back on showing off its roster of superstars. Several who had been on Smackdown in Lincoln, Nebraska, the night before, and some who would be on Raw two nights later in Little Rock, Arkansas, were in Rio Rancho. Chelsea Green, featured in an interview in the Observer, was at all three.
Among other superstars not mentioned above were Bianca Belair, Kevin Owens, Bobby Lashley, Ricochet and Gunther.
WWE’s been in Rio Rancho many times before, and it’ll be back again, you can count on it, and Lincoln Middle School Athletic Director Daniel Cunningham will be there.
“Overall, I enjoyed the show,” he said of the April 15 event. “It was great to see ‘The American Nightmare,’ Cody Rhodes in action in a six-man tag match. I think I was most excited to see ‘The Almighty’ Bobby Lashley — dude is stacked! I was glad to see Mike ‘The Miz’ lose; that guy is such a tool.
“Unfortunately, I was super bummed out not to see Drew McIntyre. He is probably my favorite WWE star for the last couple of years,” Cunningham added. “We had a nice evening and look forward to the next time they come back to Rio Rancho.”