It’s been 25 years since I first saw professional wrestling on TV.
I’m not sure why I remember that it was in March of 1988 that I turned the channel and became mesmerized by Superstar Billy Graham flexing and two pathetic no-name wrestlers trying to pull his arms down, only to be thrown to the mat. I was 8 years old at the time, Saturday morning cartoons had just ended and I was probably bored and looking for something else cartoon-ish to entertain me.
Fast-forward 25 years and I’m still entertained by pro wrestling. Definitely not to the extent that I have been in periods of my life, but I’ll still watch a show or linger on the channel or visit wrestling websites for the latest news and gossip. But I can’t quite put my finger on why I like it, and I as I grow older it gets harder to justify to myself.
When I was young, it was easy to understand why I loved it. Here were these costumed superheroes, fighting costumed bad guys, and looking and sounding so cool while they did it. They wrestled/performed in huge arenas with rocking 80s music and a spectacle that no one but Vince McMahon has ever been able to display. Monsters ranged from the incredible Andre the Giant to the dastardly “Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase. They wore cool shiny gold belts and walked around with gorgeous women. I wanted to be them, I wanted to wrestle, and I wanted to dress like a superhero. They were building toward WrestleMania 4, and I recreated this with my toy wrestling ring and figures.
5 years in, around 1993 and now 13 years old, I was approaching high school and was knee-deep in adolescence. My attentions diverted to music and girls, and whatever else kept me busy as a teenager. So I stopped watching wrestling, but never really stopped following it. I knew who was good and who was bad still. I knew who was WWF and who was WCW. I still leafed through black-and-white wrestling magazines at the grocery store.
In 1996 a couple of guys (Scott Hall and Kevin Nash) jumped ship from the WWF to WCW in a way that made it look like they hadn’t actually left the WWF, but were appearing on WCW TV anyways. This BLEW MY MIND. Before the days of internet news sites and twitter and the information era, the audience didn’t know all the backstage goings-on with wrestling. We didn’t know wrestlers’ contract status or info about who signed with what company. So when Hall & Nash appeared on WCW Nitro, my brain snapped and I was back in. More than ever, I was a pro wrestling fan. I went to a Nitro live show. I went to a WWF Raw show. I bought the magazines, taped the TV shows, and bought a couple of wrestling t-shirts. For another 4-5 years, they had me.
After that, it was just casual entertainment. I didn’t fret if I missed a show here or there. Besides, I now had the internet to help me catch up on storylines and happenings. Because of the internet, spoilers kept too much big from surprising anyone, taking some of the magic away from the whole thing.
This weekend is WrestleMania 29, highlighted by current stars like CM Punk, John Cena and Brock Lesnar. The audience has matured from the good guys vs. bad guys schtick, they all know matches are predetermined and that the guys (usually) don’t actually hit each other.
But the thing that most people never understood is that whether any of it is real or not wasn’t the point. The point was how real they made it feel to us, what emotions they could bring out, and how fun they made their shows. It was fun watching the matches, it was fun booing people we didn’t like, and it was fun watching the spectacle of the whole thing. They coined their own term of “sports entertainment” because they get it.
It’s still fun for me to keep up with, and until it really gets watered down, I’ll probably still know who will be in the main event each year at WrestleMania.