I grew up occasionally watching an episode of Raw over at my friends house in the mid ’90s. I didn’t know what it was or anything other than it seemed obvious why my parents didn’t want me watching it. Fast forward to 2016 and my housemate sat me down and showed me the amazing video The Final Deletion. Over the next two years, I would slowly sort of check out wrestling here and there, or see a funny clip, or check out what this “Festival of Friendship” thing was. Finally, my housemate and I sat down in 2018 to watch WrestleMania for no other reason than “we might as well finally sit down and watch this thing.” And so, my wrestling fandom began.
So just like my fellow writer Forrest did in his extremely well-written article about his experience as a new wrestling fan (go check it out! It’s a great read), I want to dissect some of the things that have stood out to me personally now that I am almost 2 years in to my pro wrestling journey.
A Subculture Isolated
One of the insanely strange dynamics about wrestling is the disconnect it seems to have from the public at large. Raw pulls over 2 million viewers in the United States every week. WrestleMania sells out stadiums that fit 100,000 people. Professional wrestling, while never a huge part of the zeitgeist, does still come up. Wrestlers have appeared on late night shows. South Park, SNL, Boy Meets World, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and countless game shows have had wrestlers on their shows. Everyone is aware of The Rock and John Cena, and Netflix’s GLOW garnered a lot of attention.
In short, there is a huge amount of people watching wrestling, and most people are aware of its existence and that it is a fake sport.
And yet the general public seem to not understand wrestling whatsoever. When I started watching more and more wrestling and started mentioning to my friends I was becoming a wrestling fan, I got the classic “you know it’s fake, right?” response. Which honestly confused me. I didn’t think that was a thing people actually still said.
But it wasn’t just a misunderstanding that wrestling fans think it’s real, there’s also a certain superiority taken regarding wrestling as well. This is exemplified by people like Keith Olbermann last year complaining that Braun Strowman was briefly interviewed during a baseball game.
I don’t mean to make a defense for wrestling here — that would be preaching to the choir at this point. My point is simply that coming into such a big fandom, it was clear that it is one of the most grossly misunderstood subcultures in the country.
We need Cheese Grommit!
I absolutely love cheese. From something like the movie The Room to the internet short film Kung Fury, cheesiness is something I adore.
Back to Forrest’s article, I love the way he describes his initial impressions of Raw as being a mix of UFC, The Bachelor, and Broadway. It’s this hokiness that absolutely clicked with me when I started watching. Fake talk shows, obvious corny attempts to get the crowd to boo by insulting the city they were in, New Day trying to host a pancake cooking show before getting beat up by The Bar. All of it drew me in as something I, at the time, classified as a guilty pleasure.
Even the fighting itself is extremely cheesy, with certain moves requiring someone to not try to fight back for 10-20 seconds at a time. The unwritten rule that if you are whipped into the ropes you gain so much momentum that it becomes insanely hard to stop from just ping-pong-ing back and forth from rope to rope forever. That your opponent’s finisher is extremely divesting if YOU hit THEM with it. Or just the fact that someone can get away with an INSANELY illegal action even if the cameras, crowd, announcers and literally EVERYONE ELSE saw, just as long the as the ref didn’t notice.
I loved all this cheese and ate up every bit of it. However, I started to become invested with Becky’s transformation into The Man and I started to see that there were also sincere, earnest, and heartfelt stories that could be told as well.
I think if I hadn’t seen that for another couple of months I would have said sure, this wrestling thing is fun and cheesy but it’s a one trick pony and I’m bored now. But the actual heart and substantial storytelling invested me and kept me watching beyond just two or three months much to my surprise (as well as my wife’s).
Learning to Enjoy the Matches
At the start of my wrestling journey, I absolutely disliked most of the actual matches and thus a large chunk of the actual product. Sure, there was some fun plot and/or silliness in the matches, but it was not enough to make me want to watch two men pretend to punch each other for 15 minutes. I would fast forward through most matches. The first time I actually was excited to sit and do nothing but watch a match was during Becky’s turn.
The emotion and frustration of her character invested me so deeply that I really wanted to see how she was going to do. So while I skipped almost all the other matches, I would stop and watch Becky. I forget who the second person I cared about enough to watch their matches was, but my list of whose matches I watched slowly grew — not necessarily because I thought the actual matches themselves were interesting, but because the characters were the ones who made the matches interesting.
And then I discovered lucha libre. No, not the watered down stuff that WWE shackles Rey Mysterio with. The kind of lucha libre that Rey has done/can do when he is freed from the dictatorship of Vince McMahon. The crazy nonstop flips Ricochet is able to do as Prince Puma and not when he is simply someone to be fed to Brock Lesnar. I was able to sit down and just enjoy the pure athleticism of the wrestlers. I could feel the passion that was thrown into every dropkick and see the skill it took for those amazing dives.
Interestingly, I think being able to find a style of fighting that I enjoyed watching even without a plot helped me go back and see the skill behind the other, slower and more grounded styles. After two years I still can’t take extremely slow technical matches with lots of mat work, but I’ve come around on most other things. Who knows, maybe in a year I’ll even grow to appreciate the mat work heavy matches.
The Wacky World of Kayfabe
The last real big thing that stood out to me when I started two years ago was getting used to the world of kayfabe. It’s easy enough to understand that when wrestlers are in-ring, at signings, and directly interacting with large groups of fans, that they stay in kayfabe. The thing that takes getting used to was all the other times. Wrestlers in interviews — how much was a shoot? Wrestlers on Twitter — how much of what they’re saying is just them and not their character?
It’s an extremely odd world to traverse. I remember one Twitter exchange I had where I thought that everyone just spoke in kayfabe when replying to wrestlers (unless they made it obvious otherwise). And so I had a long fun exchange with someone, until I realized he was being serious and that he must have thought I was an idiot since it seemed like I thought all of it was real.
It is honestly a strange concept that one can’t be sure who is speaking, the character or the actual person. It’s something completely unique to professional wrestling. It comes with its benefits and downsides, and those downsides can be pretty bad, with people hiding behind their character as an excuse to be vile and hateful online, or by dragging people’s personal lives into kayfabe without their consent. However, it can also be downright amazing. Being able to feel a deep connection to a character because of it, or when there is consent and being able to pull on the actual person’s struggles and relationships to create a richer character and richer story.
Wrestling has been so much more than I thought it would be when I first started just watching clips of it. Because it has that depth and that range, wrestling has honestly been a way for me to try to work through my depression. It’s a constant that I know I can look forward to every week. That no matter how hard things get, that I have that PPV to look forward to or that tonight is AEW night. It’s given me something to be passionate about again. And I absolutely love that.
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