“You know it’s fake right?” This is often the first line you get when you let slip to someone that you enjoy professional wrestling. And the answer is that of course I know it’s fake. But here’s my question in return. Why should that matter? People like The Game of Thrones, they enjoy the Simpsons.
Professional wrestling is a dirty secret for me. I’ve enjoyed it since I was a child, and I’ve only ever stopped enjoying it for small periods throughout my life. Even being a life-long fan I still feel the need to hide it. It’s fake; it’s over the top, it’s a bunch of large dudes, often in little tights, beating each other up while crowds of people watch. It’s an easy target to scrutinize.
On the surface, I will admit that wrestling could be off-putting. But there are hundreds, thousands, if not millions of pro-wrestling fans all around the world. WrestleMania, the biggest show, put on by the biggest name in wrestling, regularly breaks attendance records at the venues it visits. If it can pull so many people to watch it must be doing something right. And to quote current Ring of Honour champion Cody Rhodes, “wrestling has never been cooler.”
Wrestling last saw a surge in popularity in the mid-1990s, which was the era that gave us Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock, two of the most widely popular stars the industry has ever produced. Since those days though, the popularity dropped. People became more interested in real sports, specifically the UFC, which many people felt more palatable than the ‘fake’ pro-wrestling.
I never thought this comparison was fair. The products aren’t the same, pure and simple. UFC is a promotion that puts all MMA (mixed martial arts) fights. This, of course, is real, requiring years of training, and unscripted victors. Wrestling, on the other hand, is more athletic performance. The actions itself is very real, but the victories, storylines and personalities are widely scripted. This is where most people take issue, but it's exactly why fans enjoy it.
Wrestling matches, and the feuds that form their framework are carefully crafted stories. They tell tales on underdogs, returning heroes, dastardly villains. They use the lives of professional athletes as inspiration, and use them to form dramatic tales of conquest, defeat, love, and betrayal. Overall, it’s eclectic, and the stories that have been told seem endless. Sometimes they can be campy, but it’s not the story that truly matters, it’s how the performers tell it.
The hardest thing for people to grasp is that these stories are mostly communicated within the ring. The shifting momentum of matches is carefully timed. They use their bodies to put on dramatic displays that are often framed in the good vs. evil. If you pay attention and peel back the obvious layers of performance there is plenty to really sink your teeth in to.
For me though, the thrill has always been the athletic display. If you venture into the fringe of pro-wrestling, and watch more than the globally recognized WWE, you’ll find hundreds of independent promotions. It is in these companies that you’ll find the heart and soul of the industry. Men and women who have dedicated their lives to wrestling, and who constantly struggle to stay relevant.
This struggle pushes the performers on the independent scene to, try harder. The moves are more dynamic, the crowds more ravenous. It’s in this element where my fanaticism for wrestling really lives. It’s because of these companies, and the work currently being done in them that wrestling is in its current form. If naysayers just gave them a chance, then I think everyone could find something to love.
Shane Gordon is a father, geek, and rage-aholic. He likes video games, comic books, and tends to hate long walks on the beach. Considering himself a swiss army knife of writing, he plans on freelancing as a career, just so he can call himself a word mercenary.