School has been a mixed bag and I have been sick for about a week, and as a result I’m up well past midnight due to a midday nap. The good news is that it gives me some time to write. So here we go…
I’m sure you already read the title, so you know what I’m going to be talking about. Whenever a non-wrestling fan finds out I’m an adult wrestling fan, I get one of two questions: “You know it’s fake right?” or “Why would you watch that?” These are actually two of the three points I wanted to hit on tonight. Because I really don’t think people appreciate the art and history that goes into pro-wrestling. So let’s just dive in and talk about that thing non-wrestling fans is the elephant in the room:
Wrestling is fake
I can 100% tell you that any adult wrestling fan with sound mind understands that the matches and events in pro-wrestling are scripted. Frankly, I usually get insulted because that question implies that I have some sort of deficiency that prevents me from realizing very obvious things. We know it’s “fake.” We love that it’s “fake.” Comedian Ron Funches really has a great bit about this. So we’ve cleared the air. We’re all on common ground and understand that wrestling is mostly scripted and the physicality is very real.
Before we get too deep I need to explain a term and concept that is the very core of wrestling: Kayfabe. Kayfabe is a term from within professional wrestling that basically means the illusion and story that wrestling projects. For example, Mark Calaway is just some MMA enthusiast with a really nice house in Texas and a hot wife. However, when Mark puts on some black clothes and steps through the doors of a WWE event he becomes the Undertaker from Death Valley. Real life Mark. Kayfabe Undertaker. Kayfabe is a noun and an adjective. So you have to protect Kayfabe, from things that aren’t Kayfabe. Also, Kayfabe is fun to say. I think you have the idea now.
The interesting thing to keep in mind is that when kayfabe was still intact, meaning people still thought it was real, the performers would go to extraordinary length to protect it. Good guys and bad guys could never be seen together in public. The faces (good guys) and heels (bad guys) would go as far as staying in separate hotels. In the rare instances that wrestlers knowingly put kayfabe in danger and were caught, they were often severely punished. Losing opportunities, money, and sometimes their jobs. On top of that, many of these guys took extreme pride in their craft. Pro-wrestling is perhaps one of the most insane and amazing forms of performance art ever created. For decades people would pretend to be someone completely different in public just for the sake of entertaining people and making a buck. People thought wrestling was real, and wrestling took every effort to keep it that way.
Which brings us to an interesting realization: professional wrestling acted as a legitimate sporting competition for decades. There were literally generations of people that lived thinking wrestling was real. There were rumblings about matches being rigged or that wrestlers weren’t actually trying to hurt each other, but it was basically accepted that it was real. By the end of 1996 it wasn’t. An incident happened called “The Curtain Call.” Two of the WWF’s top talent were leaving the company, and were joined in the middle of the ring by some of their friends for a bit of an organized farewell. The real problem with this is the fact that it had faces and heels publicly mixing. Not only that, but characters that were supposed to hate each other were hugging and high-fiving in the ring! An audience member caught it on tape, pictures were taken, and wrestling was never able to lie about its nature again.
Not lets take a moment and make this concept a bit more relative. What if tomorrow we found out that MMA or the NHL pre-determined the outcome of their matches? Pro-wrestling was actually regulated like boxing in many states and had to register with local sporting commissions. Not only has wrestling survived this revelation, but it’s actually been its most successful after kayfabe was broken.
Now here’s where it get’s even more interesting. Though the illusion of Kayfabe has been broken, it still exists. Pro-wrestling now lives in this crazy meta world where art imitates life and life imitates art. CM Punk hated being called by his real name by strangers while he was wrestling. In public CM Punk, and many other wrestlers, are their characters or at the very least still kind of hesitant to break character too badly. Their twitter feeds become this bizarre mix of their real lives and thoughts… and some nonsense from a staff writer to help further a story. Characters will break up on a show and actually buy a house together in real life (congratulation Lana and Rusev! I’m sure you’ll never see this, but you’re my favorite wrestling couple!)
Now whenever a wrestler gets injured in the ring, the internet instantly explodes in speculation. Did Dolph Ziggler really hurt his throat so badly he can’t wrestle or even talk? Oh wait… no reports say he’s actually just off filming a movie. To most adult wrestling fans, the meta speculation about real life, kayfabe, and where they meet is where most the appeal lies. One of the most curious effects of this is the emotional bond wrestlers forge with the fans. We know that 95% of everything they say or do in front of us is a lie, which makes those honest moments so much more powerful. That’s why I cried when Bayley won the Women’s Title at the latest NXT Takeover event. Here were these four amazing women who I only know as characters standing in the ring and actually being themselves for a brief couple minutes. It’s like that seeing your dad cry. Moments of sincere emotion in wrestling are perhaps some of the most amazing moments you will ever get out of any entertainment.
So we’ve dealt with the fact that wrestling is fake, or real, or really fake, or fakey real. Moving on.
Why would you watch that?
For all the reasons I just mentioned and more. Max Landis hit on some of those reasons in his amazing video “Wrestling isn’t Wrestling,” and even being “short” it’s 24 minutes long, but I highly recommend it just because it’s enjoyable as well as enlightening about the appeal of wrestling. Basically what his video boils down to is wrestling is an ever evolving long form of storytelling. 80-90% of all wrestling is pretty garbage, but that last 10-20% is amazing.
Let’s look at Bayley vs Sasha Banks at NXT Takeover that made me cry manly wrestling tears. It was basically a story two years in the making. Both women arrived around the same time as jobbers (people who’s sole existence is to lose to make other people look better) in NXT. Both have been a vital part of Women’s wrestling rising to prominence in the WWE… however… Sasha has been the bad guy and Bayley has always stayed the good guy. Bayley has always been the underdog and one step behind Banks. Even in real life, Banks is getting called up to the WWE while Bayley remains at NXT for equally important (but not quite as glamorous) job of maintaining the integrity of the NXT championship. So there’s this feeling of Bayley just not being as good as Sasha both in kayfabe and in real life. The fans love Bayley. She has a great personality, but she never won the big match. So after two years of paying her dues and playing second fiddle to Sasha Banks, Bayley beats Banks and takes her championship.
The wrestling was amazing, and I don’t me “they were amazing for girls.” The emotion, the storytelling, the physical language they used, I would dare anyone to watch it and tell me it wasn’t a piece of art. That match is why I watch wrestling. Because of this, it’s not surprising that more and more of my geekier friends are coming back to wrestling.
Which brings me to the point of all this:
Professional wrestling is due for a renaissance.
The popularity of modern wrestling has been a bit of a social tidal system. You can count on every 15-20 years that wrestling will come back into style again. It happened with Hulkamania, it happened with the Monday Night Wars between WCW and WWF in the ’90s, and I feel we’re due for another swell any year now. The writing is on the wall. The celebrity element is returning. Stephen Amell made headlines when he wrestled in ring at the recent WWE Summerslam, which MC’d by former Daily Show host Jon Stewart. ESPN and Rolling Stone are covering the WWE. Even Japanese promotions like NJPW are having increased success and the independent wrestling scene in the US is at its best in years. WWE is actually finding success with two separate brands now the NXT is taking off. All the indicators is that we’re just waiting for our figure head wrestler like Steve Austin or Hulk Hogan to really flip the switch.
The WWE has positioned itself perfectly to develop that wrestler as well. Right now the WWE roster is already lousy with talent. They have so many good wrestlers that they’re struggling to get them all TV time. On top of that, they have a wealth of talent just waiting for their chance down in NXT. They have signed top Japanese talent like Finn Balor and Hideo Itami. They’ve signed indie wrestling darlings like Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens. They’ve even recruited yet another Olympian in the incredibly promising Chad Gable. If anything, the WWE might have too much talent and it will be hard for them to find a long term replacement for the aging John Cena. The point being, they have a ton of talent and it’s only a matter of time before they find the guy or gal that captures America’s hearts and minds. Then we’re going to have middle school kids getting detention for whatever the newest thing is that isn’t a DX crotch chop.
I really think that geeks especially are going to re-find their love of wrestling. If there’s one thing that geeks have really latched onto lately it’s long form storytelling. Shows like Doctor Who, Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, and so many other long running shows that are at least moderately serialized are hits among the geeky TV watching community. Like I mentioned previously, wrestling is the ultimate long form story. Rivalries, triumphs, failures, injuries, and betrayals can all have lasting effects on the story. Stories can take weeks, months, years, or even decades to come to fruition and often those magical moments are sweeter the longer they take. Also, wrestling is basically cancellation-proof. So you’ll never have to worry about your new favorite show getting cancelled on a cliffhanger.
I mean, just watch this highlight collection from some of NXT’s recent special live events. You’ll notice pro-wrestling probably doesn’t look as fake as you remember, especially in moment in number one.
So now that I answered the two most common questions from non-wrestling fans, I have question for them. How can you watch that clip show above and not want to keep watching it!? Sure sometimes it’s goofy and most the time it’s actually only mediocre, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t worth it for the art, the physicality, the pageantry, and the special moments.