I have to say, on a fairly regular basis, I get asked the question – Why do you watch wrestling? Well, why do we all watch wrestling? To be honest, sometimes we just don’t know. However, typical responses tend to be things like: fond childhood memories, good versus evil storytelling, the athleticism, the stylish ring attire (okay, probably not that one), the child-friendly aspect of it, the adult-friendly aspect of it, the family bonding time, because I am a friendless and sexless internet troll and I must piss on someone’s parade every day (you know who you are, bitches), used to wrestle in high school and it is interesting to fantasize about the real-world applications of that skill, to laugh at the horrible acting (come on now, it is the same reason you watched Andrew Shue on Melrose Place and you know it), and on and on and on. And what most will say when pressed, even if they don’t really know why they are saying it, is the seemingly generic answer that it is fun.
As for me? I will admit, there are many times I am not really sure why I watch wrestling. Yes, I can admire the athleticism. And the competition, however much it is scripted, is an instinctual draw. But I really enjoy the writing and the booking. That is where the fun is for me. Think about it, the writers and bookers are not much different from writers on other television shows. They write for characters and actors and they continuously try to find interesting situations to place them in. The only difference is that most of wrestling stories have to develop from an internal source somewhere. It isn’t often you can have a guest star come in and stir things up. On a week in and week out basis, you have to decide why a couple of people want to beat the piss out of each other.
Sometimes you get gold. As an example, I would point to the Ultimate Warrior/Randy Savage/Sensational Sherri/Miss Elizabeth retirement angle. I know most people just focus on the match itself, but I remember the build to it. It was fantastic. Then they had that great match. And yes, it was the best match of Warrior’s career, bar none. Savage dropping, what, five elbows on Warrior and still not getting the pin? Savage kicking out of the Warrior’s finishing sequence? This was long before kicking out of finishers in a big match was all the rage. These guys sold the hell out of the stipulation that they were fighting for their careers. (Hell, Savage even kept selling that match as an announcer when Undertaker attempted to murder Warrior later.) And then post-match, the Shakespearean drama with Sherri taking out her frustrations on Savage for costing her her meal ticket. Then Elizabeth’s return, from the crowd, to save the man she has always loved. And Savage and Elizabeth embracing at the end to the roar of thousands. That was some good shit there.
Then, other times you get bad shit. As an example, I would bring up Chris Jericho’s epic feud with Kane over spilled coffee. Jericho and Kane both did their best to make it work. In fact, both seemed to enjoy playing it a little tongue in cheek, which is what the angle needed. But in the end we were asked to believe that Kane wanted to tear Jericho’s face off because he spilled some coffee. It just didn’t make sense. We all knew that even a severely scarred and traumatized monster would just say, “Eh, forget about it Chris. It was just coffee. And it was like three months ago. We’re cool.” Yea…
Watching professional wrestling requires a suspension of disbelief. We’ve all heard that before. And it is 100% true. But it more than that. It requires a suspension of rationality. The programs have to be entertaining. They have to be over the top. They have to draw you in like nothing else. The HAVE to. Why? Because if they don’t suck us into their world with their stories and characters and action, our brain starts to drift a little. And that’s dangerous. Because we may just realize we are watching something where the majority of people you are watching will probably not be alive in 30 years. The early mortality rate for professional wrestlers is insane. If they somehow don’t get caught in a downward spiral of addiction to ease their broken bodies, they have a hard time moving beyond the sport.
I’m not trying to bring anyone down, but it is a reality which we like to ignore as much as we can. We want to remember these athletes in their prime and not as the pained sufferers they become after the fact. I know similar things are happening in other sports. The NFL has a major problem with concussions and everyone is up in arms about it. But in wrestling, the athletes/performers are not even unionized to try to make things better.
I remember reading an article on fivethirtyeight.com a few years back about this issue. So I went back and crunched a couple numbers. Think about this – in 1990, the WWF presented WrestleMania VI at the Skydome in Toronto. That was 27 years ago. Some of you reading this might not even be 27 years old. There were 14 matches on the card and 36 active wrestlers competing. Today, 27 years later, 15 of those wrestlers are deceased. That is 41.6%. Almost half of the wrestlers on that show, 27 years ago, are dead.
Hell, the gold example from WrestleMania VII that I mentioned above features 4 people – Ultimate Warrior, Randy Savage, Sensational Sherri, and Miss Elizabeth. None of those four people are alive today. But I still go back and watch that match. Because it is great. And because it is fun. And if you can’t recognize fun in this life, you are doomed to focus on the sad. Professional wrestling, as flawed as it is, tries its damnedest to bring its viewers fun. Because it knows all too well how sad life can be.
By the way, you would not be wrong if you thought one reason I picked these examples was so I could insert these little video gems. First, highlights of the WM 7 classic, then one of the greatest and most over-the-top moments in wrestling history, and finally Kane explaining years later just how disturbed his life has been while displaying some solid comedic timing.
That’s it for this week. I’ll do better next week as the Fantasy Book delves into the current state of Ring of Honor. (You know, the column I said last week I would do this week, but, well, things took a little tangent…) Until then, have a great week!