I barely remember how I became interested in professional wrestling. I had a few middle school friends who essentially tricked me into watching a couple of pay-per-views. I was an elitist asshole back then too, so I would never have watched “trash” like WWF (as it was known before a World Wildlife Fund lawsuit) of my own volition.
One video game later, WWF No Mercy of course, and I was hooked. I watched religiously until graduation, even listening to Raw on scrambled cable like it was porn (Oddly enough, I never thought of watching actual scrambled porn). I never watched again until CM Punk’s infamous promo last summer caused enough buzz to pull me in once more.
For better or worse, I can’t shut off my brain and just enjoy a thing. I need to know everything. So, in addition to WWE, I began watching Ring of Honor, a company that stresses the “wrestling” above the “entertainment,” Chikara Pro, an American company with high-flying, lucha libre influences, and Dragon Gate USA, a Japanese promotion in the United States influenced by both lucha and pouresu, a Japanese style that uses heavy striking.
After a year and a half, I’m coming out of the wrestling closet.
I won’t go so far as to say it’s still real to me, but I will say that it’s beyond a guilty pleasure. I’m a music guy first and foremost. Professional wrestling my next favorite art form.
Do you like acting? Then watch Dolph Ziggler sell his opponent’s moves like they are death incarnate.
Do you like Cirque du Soleil or choreographed dance? Then check out El Generico, Kota Ibushi, Jigsaw, and Malachi Jackson have at it (Jump to 5:10). Little of a professional wrestling match is scripted ahead of time. Most is choreographed on the fly.
Comedy? How about a match stoppage for some photos? Or arrogant intellectuals Damien Sandow and Cody Rhodes taking the New Age Outlaws’ introduction and adding some much needed “taste” and “decency.” Or a spontaneous Space Jam reenactment.
Do you like good storytelling? If so, you’d have loved the feud between The Briscoe Brothers and Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team in Ring of Honor. Here’s what I wrote about it back in February:
This feud, of love of brother and hatred of enemy, was storytelling perfection.
The Briscoes were the clear heels leading into this match. They attacked Wrestling’s Greatest Tag Team after they won the ROH Tag Team Championship. They cheated to beat The All Night Express. They attacked Shelton Benjamin and “broke” his ribs. Charlie Haas delivered an angry promo calling Benjamin his brother (all the more powerful when you remember Haas’ real brother died a decade ago) and promising revenge.
This match became about two pairs of brothers, one fueled by envy, one by revenge. In the end, this story transcended face vs. heel. It was art.
Or how about UltraMantis Black’s journey through Chikara’s 2012 King of Trios? Despite being one of the original, best, and most popular wrestlers on the Chikara roster, UltraMantis had no titles or other tangible accomplishments to show for his efforts. At least until King of Trios, when he and his team plowed through arch-rivals The Batiri, Chikara heel stalwarts FIST, and Team Ring of Honor, featuring the current tag team champions, to win the tournament.
In 2007, Vince McMahon attempted to end the storied career of 16-time world champion Ric Flair. The next time Flair lost a match, he would be forced to retire. After stringing together a string of impossible victories over the next several months, Flair challenged his friend Shawn Michaels to a match at Wrestlemania XXIV. At the end of a 25 minute battle, Michaels finally put down the aging Flair, but not before telling him he loved him and that he was sorry.
Whatever you think of professional wrestling, these are powerful stories with powerful themes that have been featured in print and film for ages.
Wrestling is a medium. It’s a method of storytelling, just like television, theater, film, or music. Through professional wrestling, I’ve seen acting, choreography, athleticism, storytelling, comedy, and audience interactivity on levels I haven’t seen anywhere else.
Sadly, I’ve also seen it used for sexism, racism, jingoism, and pandering to the lowest common denominator. If it’s racist or ignorant or sexist or homophobic, it’s only because we don’t demand better. It’s time to stop accepting trash just because “it’s wrestling.” Wrestling doesn’t need to be that way. I know. I’ve seen it in all its glory in Chikara and I’ve seen glimpses in ROH and WWE.
I am a wrestling fan.
I demand art.