August 29, 2011

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It’s Okay To Be A Pro Wrestling Fan

By: Anson Whaley

When I inform people that I’m a pro wrestling fan, reactions usually range from something along the lines of ‘It’s okay, we all have our problems’ to ‘You know it’s not real, right?’ to ‘How old are you, again?’

When you think of pro wrestling fans, what’s the first thing that comes into your mind? Quick! Some guy living in his parents’ basement? 12-year old kids? Rural America? The simple fact is that wrestling fans come in all shapes and sizes. And not because we’re convinced the Undertaker really came back from the dead or that Jack Swagger is really a great American hero … but because it’s darn entertaining stuff.

Like most fans, I started watching when I was a kid. Somewhere around the age of 11 I figured out that things weren’t quite as they seemed. Wait, you tell me that guy got bit by a poisonous snake but he’s still alive and doing just fine signing autographs afterwards?

I’m outta here.

And so a long hiatus from the ‘sport’ began until I went to college. There, I was quickly informed by others in the WWE’s target demographic that watching wrestling wasn’t only perfectly acceptable, but encouraged. We knew it wasn’t real per se (well, at least the results and the storylines – I’ll get to that whole fighting part later), but still tuned in weekly for the latest drama from the WWE’s DX stable and rival WCW’s nWo. We had small parties for a Monday night TV show and bigger ones for Pay-Per-View events. Wrestling was cool, even hip.

College came and went and I was convinced that it was no longer okay to watch wrestling.  Further cementing my feelings was the fact that the product deteriorated wildly as the two main factions were in a constant battle for ratings. Wrestling had taken a turn for the worst and, to be perfectly honest, had become too vulgar for words. I was convinced I was through.

Then 2010 rolled around. While flipping through the channels one night, I noticed something. Something odd. The WWE was still on – not only on, but thriving. New characters had replaced the old. Gone were Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, and HHH (well, at least gone for a while) and in their place were guys like Alberto Del Rio, CM Punk, and some guy that calls himself The Miz. What was happening? Why did I … care?

The fact is wrestling never really left. Sure, other things had taken its place for a while, but there was something strange about the theatrical sport. It was, and remains, incredibly captivating. Not only are the characters interesting, but what most fail to realize is how talented they really are.

Talented and hard-working.

Wrestling is the sport that doesn’t take a break. While we gush like adolescent schoolgirls over athletes in other sports that can play up to seven or eight months in a particular season, wrestlers go about their business, traveling from town to town year-round. Many believe that wrestlers only perform for televised shows, but in actuality, they travel and wrestle nearly every other day in the year for untelevised events. How’s that for a grueling schedule?

The steepest uphill battle that pro wrestling faces as an industry is that the matches are predetermined. Because of that, it’s easy for those who don’t follow the sport to extrapolate from there and come to the misinformed conclusion that the entire sport deserves no credibility. The fact is that while the matches are predetermined, the action is not without pain. When a wrestler takes a stiff chair shot to the back, the chair isn’t made of Styrofoam. That mat where said wrestler then was bodyslammed onto was not made of pillows and Serta matches. Much of the action is as rough as it looks – just ask Mick Foley who once fell from the top of a steel cage onto a table, rolled around on thumb tacks, and then proceeded to fall through the top of the cage for a second time.

All in the same match.

Another bad rap that wrestling gets (though, to be fair, it created this perception by living up to it years ago) is that it’s not family-friendly. Sure, there are still occasionally some things that would make a parent blush if their ten year old were in the room, but the sport has really done an amazing job in making the program cleaner and more watchable. Wrestling is not only far more toned-down in terms of offensive content, but it’s much easier on the eyes and ears than even daytime soap operas.

Sure, it’s not without problems. While other sports have a steroid problem, it could be argued that wrestling has a steroid epidemic. Too many wrestlers have died too young and if the sport doesn’t get cleaned up, it’s easy to believe that the industry could be on a fast downward spiral.

At the end of the day, though, it’s okay to be a wrestling fan. The sport combines true athleticism and acting like no other and these athletes get far less credit than what they deserve.

Yes, I used the term ‘athletes’ – because that’s what they are, whether you choose to believe it or not.