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Edmonton grapples with rasslin' mania
No Stone Cold? No matter - WWF packs Coliseum



By JEREMY LOOME -- Edmonton Sun
  So lemme get this straight: the star fails to show, the ticket lineup runs from one side of the Coliseum to the other and they could watch it all for free on TV in a few days anyway.

And yet nobody leaves.

Such is the allure of the World Wrestling Federation and its star of the moment, a 260-pound mountain of muscle from Texas named Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Despite Austin's last minute absence due to illness, a capacity crowd - and then some, thanks to hundreds of seats on the ice surface - packed the arena last night to watch the WWF's "Highway to Hell" card, featuring nine matches.

Refunds were offered, but few were interested. After all, such colorful characters as Hunter Hearst Helmsley, the Undertaker and Kane were slugging it out on the undercard, even if Austin couldn't defend his title against someone named "Mankind," also laid up.

The fact that the star couldn't make it was no big deal, according to die-hard fan Sheridan Chappel. "We wanted to see Stone Cold, for sure, but there's still the Undertaker against Kane, that'll be a good fight."

Inside on the walkway, WWF merchandise booths sold nothing but Steve Austin T-Shirts, at $30 a pop, and replica championship belts, at $18. As many as 60 or 80 consumers at a time tried to make a purchase from four frazzled clerks.

"If you watched the match last weekend between the Undertaker and Mankind, you'd be a fan for life because those guys were risking serious injury," said superfan Ryan Archer.

In the arena's bowl, the fans could teach die-hard Oiler backers a thing or two about noise. Dozens came with signs reading "Austin 3:16", a biblical reference he once made before kicking someone's butt.

Lucus Janua's shirt features Austin's bald mug surrounded by lightning. He is Austin's biggest fan. He adores pro wrestling.

He is two.

"We're here for him," his dad Mike admits. "He loves this stuff. He's got every video they've ever put out and all of the action figures. Hey, Lucus, who's your favorite?"

Lucus looks away from his bottle long enough to say "Stone Cowd!" Mom pulls an Austin action figure out of his diaper bag as proof.

The announcer tells the crowd neither Stone Cold or Mankind will make it . "Due to injuries received in the King of the Ring" they "have been hospitalized."

Well, not exactly. Stone Cold has an infected elbow.

A city cop of about the same dimensions as Austin - six-feet-six and 250 pounds of beef - working crowd control just laughs when asked if that would get him off work. "They'd say 'ha, ha' and then rub it with sandpaper," he jokes.

Inside, the announcement is greeted with boos. But a scant few minutes later, some member of "Degeneration X," Stone Cold's team, is beating the heck out of some no-name from Detroit.

And everyone is happy.

Letters to the Edmonton Sun editor should be sent to sun.letters@ccinet.ab.ca.