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Professional wrestling is perhaps the most polarizing form of entertainment known to man. It’s a TV show, yet people have been known to hide their fandom like an alcoholic hides his flask. Sadly, many fans are embarrassed to be identified as such, afraid that someone will blindly, arrogantly dismiss the medium as “stupid” or “for children.”
Before I go on, let me address wrestling’s most time-honored criticism.
Yes, yes it is. Anyone with a modicum of intelligence is well aware that the outcome of any wrestling show is predetermined. But guess what? The same can be said for each episode of “Modern Family,” “Homeland” or “Rizzoli & F*cking Isles.” Professional wrestling is a scripted athletic sideshow that, at its best, is a gripping, dramatic and often hilarious broadcast.
Is it always good? Hell no. On the last “Monday Night Raw,” while the awesome main event featured modern day standouts like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, it also featured a segment that was, well, an in-ring game of musical chairs. Gripping? Dramatic? More like dogsh*t. Sadly, WWE often presents segments would make an existing fan bury their head in the sand, and that could in no way convert a detractor.
But I, as a true fan, never throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.
My first wrestle-centric memory comes from when I was eight years old. It was an episode of WWF’s “Saturday Night’s Main Event.” Here, I was introduced to Randy “Macho Man” Savage, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and Jake “The Snake” Roberts. I was captivated by them all. At that point I was hooked — for life.
As I grew older, I witnessed the ebb and flow of the sport’s highs and lows. In the early ’90s, after Vince McMahon was indicted as part of a steroid scandal, fans were “treated” to such forgettable characters as The Goon and T.L. Hopper, the wrestling plumber. (Seriously.) But knowing things are always darkest just before the dawn, I weathered the storm.
Then the clouds parted ways and along came the late ’90s, when a gritty element of realism was injected into the business.
That era in wrestling was pure, uncut awesome. The now-defunct ECW had The Sandman caning Tommy Dreamer and Sabu scarring up his body by crashing through tables. WCW gave us the NWO, Goldberg and a young Chris Jericho. And the WWF had The Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and even Vince McMahon himself.
And, yes, sure, it’s scripted. But at the same time, to say that professional wrestlers aren’t athletes is ignorant. Call it what you will, but these guys batter each other’s bodies, day in and day out, with no off-season.
Case in point: The Undertaker‘s famous 1998 “Hell In A Cell” battle with Mick “Mankind” Foley. Foley, while now a stand-up comic, is a WWE legend who possesses all the athletic prowess of an old wet couch. However, when it comes to drama, Mick was an off-the-charts-phenomenal performer whom the crowd absolutely fell in love with.
He was our old wet couch.
On that fateful night in 1998, The Undertaker, the WWE’s answer to Johnny Cash, hurled lovable Mick 20 feet off of a steel cage, his Santa Claus-like body exploding through the Spanish announce table. Later in the match, Mick was also chokeslammed through the center of the cage. The sheer force of that blow legitimately jammed one of Mick’s teeth through his nostril.
I dare you to watch that match and not be absolutely captivated. Yes, you’ll be aware it’s scripted. But then you’ll see that bloody tooth poking through Mick’s nose and the obviously concussed look in his eyes. At that point you’ll think, “OK, well that’s real.”
That’s the moment. That’s why I’m a fan.
And that scenario doesn’t always need to be accompanied by blood and disfigurement. When these athletes perform at such a level where even the smartest fan is able to suspend his or her disbelief — if even just for a moment — that’s when wrestling is amazing. And that’s why I sit through, and will continue to sit through, musical chairs and wrestling plumbers.
I’m just waiting for that next great moment. And I know it’ll come. Maybe it’ll be on Spike TV’s “TNA Impact Wrestling.” Maybe it’ll be on “Monday Night Raw.” Maybe it’ll even be on an independent promotion like “Ring Of Honor.”
Wherever it happens, I’ll be watching.