The only one that’s going to tell me when I’m through doing my thing is you people here…
I have a terrible confession to make. It’s one of a few guilty pleasures I’m not proud of yet indulge in.
I watch wrastlin’.
Yeah it’s true and before any anyone starts in with the “you know it’s fake” verbosity, let’s get it out of the way now. I’m quite aware professional wrestling is fake. Most people with a handful of brain cells left know this. It’s sports entertainment – which roughly translates to a soap opera with gymnastics. It’s Cirque du Soleil sans the trippy psychedelic overtones and with an overdose of testosterone. What can I say? It entertains me. It’s a comfortable escape from thinking that I’ve enjoyed for years now.
My twisted love affair with wrestling started in the 80’s. Like most youngsters during that decade I grew up with names like Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, The Junkyard Dog, The Iron Sheik, Brett Hart and the Ultimate Warrior. They were walking, talking, living breathing spectacles. Their flamboyant costumes, comic book-like physiques and over the top personalities made them almost impossible to ignore even during the Decade of Decadence. Whether you loved them or hated them, you certainly knew about them one way or another. This was professional wrestling’s Golden Age and I was proud and dedicated sycophant.
Unfortunately, like the soul crushing revelation of Santa not being real, as I got older I came to the realization that wresting wasn’t real – at least not real in the way they were portraying it. I felt a bit disenchanted that these seemingly mythical goliaths weren’t superhuman. I loved comic books and these people were as close to real deal deal as you could ask for. They would take a hundred punches, kicks and slams and miraculously raise to their feet and defeat heir opponents. None of that was true though. They were ordinary men and women at work like anyone else. My fascination faded as the 80’s gave birth to the 90’s. By the time I was in high school, wrestling was nothing more than an afterthought.
The (then) World Wrestling Federation held onto that facade for many years, never admitting outright that it was fake but never denying it either. It wasn’t till the mid to late 90’s that they started to refer to it as sports entertainment. I had all but forgotten about wrestling for years. I’d hear an occasional blurb about a new wrestler here and there but nothing really drew me back into that circle… that is until peer pressure reared its ugly head. In 1998 I was working with a bunch of guys in a messenger center mail room who would always talk about wrestling. Wrestling this. Wrestling that. Every Tuesday morning it’d be a recap of the events that went down the night before. I felt kind of like an outsider. Far be it for me to skillfully shift the subject matter to something I could talk about. I felt compelled to not be out of the loop. I needed to be cool so I could converse freely with them so I made it my mission to find out what the hell they were going on about. Last time I watched wrestling it was hokey with cartoonish characters parading around. I was an adult now and couldn’t fathom why other grown-ass men would find it interesting. So that next Monday I watched WCW’s Monday Nitro.
I had no idea there was another major wrestling promotion out there. To my knowledge, wrestling was on it’s way out because at the time the (then) WWF was consumed with tons of legal issues. That was the only wrestling as far as I was concerned so I had to see what this utterly foreign wrestling organization was all about. It was total system shock. It looked sorta like wrestling but it was disturbingly different from what I remember. There was spandex and muscles still but everything seemed a lot darker and angst ridden. It was like stepping into an alternate reality. There were recognizable faces on this show like the Hulkster, Ultimate Warrior and Brett Hart but they weren’t behaving anything like I remember. They were raunchy, lecherous and downright explicit. Scantily clad women paraded around in next to nothing. This wasn’t your father’s wrestling. The proverbial gloves appeared to be cast off and everyone was getting down in dirty. I had never seen anything like it before and like a deer caught in the headlights, I just kept watching.
The two wrestling companies were amidst what would later be deemed as “The Monday Night Wars“. Longtime staple WWF was seriously being challenged in ratings by rival upstart WCW. Like a Shakespearean plot line the Ted Turner funded promotion took advantage of the Vince McMahon brain child while it was in a weakened state and went in for the kill. This was real. The most intriguing part wasn’t the action in the ring. The real life drama of two corporate juggernauts waging open conflict with one another on network TV was the thing to see. It was banana time in the monkey cage and no taboo was left untouched. It became a tit-for-tat battle of one-upsmanship between the two – each looking to outdo the other. I watched with a renewed sense of interest.
In March of 2001 Ted Turner and AOL/Time Warner decided the WCW product was lacking in ratings, attendance and overall drawing power so the company decided to sell it. Vince McMahon jumped at the chance of “buying out the competition” and did so giving the newly rebranded WWE (formerly WWF) the full copyrights to WCW trademarks, video libraries and much more. In addition to that the WWE ended up signing a good number of former WCW talent as well. The WWE triumphed and was the only definable presence in pro wrestling once again and I was left in limbo.
It was 2002 and I had gotten into the habit of watching wrestling once week. I could have cut ties with it once again but I had invested so much time into as it was that I just kept watching. Flash forward to present day. I’ve corrupted my wife into watching it as well. Together we sit in front of the TV on Monday nights and crack jokes about Triple H’s nose or bitch to one another about how annoying we find Chris Jericho. We welcome the escape from the working world and the annoyances of everyday life. Wrestling is every bit the train wreck it has always been, but more so now. The wrestlers are slightly exaggerated versions of their own personalities now. No one plays characters anymore. The story lines rank a notch above porn scripts and the dialogue is worse than high school locker room banter. Sounds like grounds to never watch it again, huh?
That’s right. That’s a ticket for a non-televised live wrestling event – a dark match as they call it. My wife and I felt that we had to solidify our places in the trailer park fiefdom by actually going to see the spectacle in person. We, along with a long time friend (and former wrestling ref), traveled to Hamilton, Ontario CA to behold it for ourselves. The event itself was mildly entertaining at best. The female grapplers were eye candy and the men were comical at times. The true delight came in the form of the crowd at hand. It was everything I anticipated and so much more. From the drunken guy next to us slur-chanting through every finishing move to the overly aggressive pre-teen five rows back threatening wrestler Mike”The Miz” Mizanin with personal bodily harm it was a conglomeration of the stereotypes that have come to be associated with wrestling. Blissfully disillusioned children cheered and jeered the superstars while the older crowd drank the night away. We watched as wrestlers commanded boisterous responses from the crowd by either antagonizing or pandering to them. All in all it was an event within an event.
Will I ever go to a live event again? Possibly. It’d have to be a televised one though. That’s pretty much the last rite of passage I need to go through to completely consider myself a true neophile. I don’t think I’ll ever completely stop watching wrastlin’. I’ll become bored with it eventually and wander away once again. Chances are I’ll return to it again in the future. Pro wrestling has been around for over 100 years ladies and gentlemen. Love it or hate it, wrastlin’ is here to stay. Every time the media proclaims the death of pro wrestling it just keeps coming back like a bad rash.
That’s what’s up…
Disclaimer: As always if the rightful owner of any names or images mentioned in this post wish them to be removed or omitted, just let me know otherwise enjoy the free publicity. Trust me I’m not profiting of any of this. 😉