My mom refused to let me watch wrestling as a kid. I’m not entirely sure whether or not she thought it was real but nonetheless she believed that the ultra violence of a bunch of steroid freak sweaty men mercilessly bashing each other heads in was healthy for a developing adolescent mind.
My formative years were when wrestling was at its peak. At my youngest I could have witnessed the rise of Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior and oooh yeah even the Macho Man Randy Savage. After that, during the late 90s/early 2000s, I could have witnessed the Monday Night Wars between the WWE (then WWF) and WCW (now dead) in which the two promotions attempted to destroy each other by upping the stakes by pushing the boundaries of good taste for ratings.
I used that free time to start fires instead.
Needless to say, not having access to wrestling television disconnected me from most of my peers during my youth. While my peers were discussing Stone Cold handing out cans of whoop ass or The Rock serving up a healthy serving of Poontang Pie, I was on the sidelines like a huge fucking nerd.
As I got older, the wrestling discussion at the lunch table decreased to barely a whisper. We had more important things to talk about now, such as girls and whatever stupid shit teenagers chat about, and had no time to discuss John Cena or the Undertaker anymore. Wrestling chat was now relegated to the dorks who were spending their lunches drinking Pepsi Blue (remember that shit?) and playing Magic the Gathering.
A few years ago, the WWE was interested in starting an online only television network including a 24/7 live stream of original content and to archive their massive Pay Per View archive. This would eventually turn into their baby, the WWE Network.
I work in digital media and live streaming and worked on this project. Before its launch we had to do quality control checks on the PPVs and videos to confirm that they work but also to confirm that there were no major video hits or degradations. Most of my co-workers were excited (except for the one person who constantly said, “You know this is fake, right” so anyone within listening distance) but I was non-plussed.
One benefit of not caring about whatever subject you’re streaming is that you grow weary of something that you don’t really care about. When I worked directly with baseball scouting and later baseball streaming I would find myself heading home and completely unwilling to watch the sport. When you’re watching it for 40+ hours a week the novelty wears off.
It’s like being a porn star. After having sex all day I’m pretty sure the last thing they want to do is bring their work home with them.
The first PPV that I watched was King of the Ring 1999. This event was a yearly tournament to crown the eponymous King of the Ring, a title of mid-card success. It was abandoned as a PPV in 2002 which shows you how well regarded it was.
That being said, I’ll never forget watching it because it was so absolutely and wonderfully absurd. It’s essentially the reason why I started watching and caring about wrestling, all thanks to a character by the name of “Mr. Ass.”
Billy Gunn has been in the industry for over two decades by now. A member of the infamous and wildly popular Degeneration-X stable and the better half of the tag team duo The New Aged Outlaws. He’s gone through a number of gimmicks, including “The Badass” and “The One” and so on but none so famous as Mr. Ass.
Mr. Ass, whose introduction music lyrics include witticisms as “I’m an ass man/Yes I’m an ass man” and “So many asses/so little time/Only a tight one/can stop me on a dime/I’m a lover/ of every kind/The best surprises always sneak up from behind,” had a relatively simple gimmick: he was a ladies man who enjoyed asses and mooning the audience. His logo was a giant pair of lips with “Mr. Ass” emblazoned on it.
I was absolutely floored. I sat at my computer with my jaw firmly planted on the ground. Equal parts gobsmacked and disgusted, I had to learn more. There was a man who completely sincerely had an entire wrestling gimmick based upon the premise of a Sir-Mix-A-Lot song.
Looking back on it, I can trace the exact moment I realized that I had completely lost my mind — it was when I fell in love with professional wrestling.
Since then most of my wardrobe consists of wrestling t-shirts, my shame hidden underneath oxfords and polo shirts. I’ve attended multiple wrestling events. Hell, I fucking started bawling crying after one of them when the ultimate underdog Bayley won the NXT Women’s title in Brooklyn two years ago (NXT is basically the minor leagues of the WWE. It would be like openly weeping because Mike Hessman hit his 400th minor league home run).
That being said, I entirely adore the entire sport. I’ve gone from completely ignorant to becoming a full on smark (or a smart mark — marks are dumb wrestling fans who believe everything is real and cheer for Roman Reigns while smarks are dumb wrestling fans who believe everything is real but are intelligent enough to realize that they’re fucking idiots).
I’m a grown man. And I’m obsessed with a fucking show that my 13 year old self was too cool to watch. Now I’m sincerely losing my mind when insane stunts happen.
What the hell happened to me?
A couple weeks ago was NXT Takeover Brooklyn II, one of the premiere WWE events. As mentioned before, NXT is the hugely popular minor leagues of the WWE and the event is the five star appetizer for the second biggest PPV on the WWE calendar, Summerslam. I had attended the one the previous year and it was an incredible experience from start to finish so needless to say I could not wait to attend this years version.
My friends and I went to a bar down the street from the Barclays Center and pre-gamed the event with copious amounts of $4 Narragansetts and cheap paint thinner whisky shots. We talked in hushed anticipation about how much we couldn’t wait to witness the event, came up with theories, high fived, too sweeted, and celebrated the upcoming event with other fans dressed in ridiculous t-shirts and cosplays of different wrestlers.
I went to two New Jersey Devils Stanley Cup Finals games in 2012 and that was the last time I was as excited for a sporting event as I was here. For an in-ring soap opera.
Walking back from the bar, I was approaching the arena when someone screamed my name. Personally terrified for my own safety (usually when people scream my name it’s not for a positive reason) I felt my blood pressure shoot up until I realized that it was an old friend of mine from high school, Dave.
Dave was a great kid, one of those people who looking back on it you wished that you knew better when you were younger. He had recently lost his mother and I hadn’t seen him in years. This was likely the only real chance that we would bump into each other and it was serendipity that it occurred. Again, we expressed our childlike excitement about this event and went out separate ways to enjoy it.
Perhaps more interesting was how absolutely thrilled and friendly the audience inside the arena was. I was wearing a Jordin Tootoo Devils jersey (I am quite possibly the only person outside of Jordin Tootoo himself who owns a Jordin Tootoo Devils jersey) and multiple people approached me to chat about how cool it was or to tell stories about chance run-ins with Tootoo himself. Under normal circumstances I would brush it off as some weirdos but for some reason the kind earnestness of these wrestling fans made me want to interact.
Perhaps strangest of all was the guy who came up to me to tell me that he was sorry that my wife left me. Maybe I shouldn’t tweet so often.
That’s not to say there aren’t a few rotten apples, including one fat stupid idiot from Philadelphia who attended two shows I have attended and took most of the fun out of the pre-event drinking festivities though his absolute obnoxiousness and total disregard for other people. He got thrown out of the second PPV I attended and the entire section cheered. It was one of the highlights of the night. But, honestly, there will always be people like this no matter what entertainment you’re consuming.
And all of this is not to say that wrestling itself is perfect. It certainly has a colorful and problematic history both within and outside of the ring including steroid abuse, drug overdoses, domestic violence, suicides, and even murders. While those days are somewhat behind us they are still things that need to be viewed under an intense microscope.
All of this got me to thinking — is this what makes wrestling so great? That we were able to come together as a community and just sincerely enjoy something without any irony? There aren’t any teams here. It’s not like going to a normal sporting event where there are two distinct sides to be a part of.
Sure, people are fans of different wrestlers but most people who attend a wrestling event are more invested in a good performance than an individual wrestler winning. Sure, at times the product can be infuriating when the results don’t match up with what we expected but we commiserate in our disappointment together.
The sincerity of the entire thing and how excited everyone legitimately gets when positive things happen really gets to me sometimes. The other day Kevin Owens won the WWE Universal Title, one of the premiere belts in the promotion. Owens is a fan darling, a former independent wrestler who has clawed his way up into the big leagues. His face after winning was that of absolute shock (rumor is that even he didn’t know he was going to win) but the raw emotion of that moment betrays the fact that after spending his entire life in bingo halls he is finally the champion.
It’s truly not about it being real or not, it doesn’t really matter. To join in someone else’s joy after decades struggling to make it to the top is a sensational feeling. It’s easy to dismiss such an achievement as it not being real but it’s easy to forget that these people put their life and limb on the line each and every match to entertain the masses.
The community of wrestling is its strongest asset and why it’s so much genuine fun. When a fan sees a wrestler show genuine emotion it shows that they are as equally as invested in what they do as we are as fans. When that rawness is exposed it shows that wrestling is more than just a fake sport.
This is why wrestling is important: while the sport itself may be fake the emotions and camaraderie are absolutely real.