Why I Love Professional Wrestling
I have loved Professional Wrestling for as long as I can remember. I started with Hulk Hogan. Hogan is The Beatles or Nintendo of wrestling. If you say you don't like these people, you are someone who doesn't quite understand the medium in which they exist. Sure they're not all these media have to offer, but they express so well the heart of it. They are for so many the driving force behind why we love these artistic things. Wrestling is something that a fair lot of people just don't get. They think it's childish and stupid, even while loving other seemingly infantile media like comic books. Well, I will do my very best to express why these people are wrong and why professional wrestling is one of the great artforms and athletic contests.
Professional wrestling can be compared with the martial arts movies of Jackie Chan mixed with a bit of the circus and a bit of a good magic show like Penn and Teller. Just because it isn't "real" doesn't mean that it isn't entertaining, full of amazing athleticism and at its best magical as all fuck. Wrestling was at the start a pretty straight con. It was an attempt to make amateur wrestling into something more profitable and entertaining by planning out who would win and who would lose. It has been however since the 1970s, an artform apart from this. Sure there was still some degree of kayfabe - the word for good guys hating bad guys outside of the ring - but everything about wrestling was fixated not on conning people for profit but instead making sure they had the most entertaining time.
I never thought that wrestling was real as such, in the same way I never thought Duck Tales actually starred a real life talking duck. I did however believe in it, in a way similar to my other childhood favourites. This is something that anti-wrestling heads can't understand, so fixated are they on the fact that they think someone is trying to pull something over their eyes. There is real beauty to be found in professional wrestling. A watch of the great film The Wrestler expresses this quite well. It is a really tough job, sometime that takes a toll on the physical body as well as the soul. A life on the road away from your loved ones, with the many temptations of substance abuse, has led to too many early deaths.
Wrestling has a problem with criticism, it must be said. You have dullards like Kevin Nash saying that wrestling fans have no right to offer criticisms of the work of wrestlers, because they're not qualified or something. He has on more than one occasion used the comparison with criticizing a chef for his meal, as if this has never happened. First, there are these things called food critics, Kevin. Second, while I may not be able to say what the chef did wrong from the perspective of his peers, I can and will offer my opinion as a person who ate their food. And that is entirely within my rights. Wrestling needs better writers and critics, not just those who fetishize Japanese wrestling above all else and who would really rather prefer to write about MMA.
There is a narrow appreciation of the sport, something fixated on whether the work is realistic or not. Hell some of my all time favourite matches and moments are so far from realistic as it's possible to get. Think of the awe inspiring, powerful moment when Hulk Hogan returned to fight The Rock at WrestleMania 18. It is perhaps the purest wrestling match ever, operating on a belief in the competitors, not because they are imitating MMA style matches, but because the crowd believes in the story and the people telling it. In that moment Hulk Hogan was the most powerful force in the world. It had nothing at all to do with whether he would have been able to defeat The Rock in a "real" fight.
I read a really dumb article in The Nation the other day about Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather, which denigrated both of these great athletes through their connection to WWE. Wrestling was said to be one of the great breeding ground for misogyny. This is unfair and inaccurate. Even in the lowest common denominator phase of the Attitude Era, women were seen as popular as men in many cases and with one woman, the legendary Chyna able to fight men in the ring on their own terms. Chyna is arguably the single most important female wrestler in history. It is a stain on WWE that they have not acknowledged her with a Hall of Fame entry. Okay, she did some porn. But 1) it was fairly inoffensive/enjoyable and 2) you have MIKE TYSON in the Hall of Fame! How can you admit a convicted rapist and NOT include Chyna? Hypocrisy to the moon!
Add in other greats like Lita and Trish Stratus, a little bit later and see that women's wrestling always had an important place on the show. While we would go through some bad phases with regards to women's wrestling, most notably in the era of sigh, "bra and panties" matches, women's wrestling has matured into arguably the most exciting sub-genre in wrestling. Look at modern greats like Natalya, Bayley, Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair and see a world transformed to allow women the same opportunities as their male counterparts. I believe that the greatest wrestling match of all time is the Iron Man match between Sasha Banks and Bayley. It is the best expression of what wrestling is that I have ever seen, up there with Triple H vs The Rock in an Iron Man match and Mankind vs The Undertaker in a Hell in a Cell.
Wrestling has also been accused of being supremely racist. While it is important to acknowledge that there has been a racism problem in the sport, it is equally vital not to twist facts to serve a narrative. The odious article written for The Atlantic made out that there have been no black champions. There have in fact been three: The Rock, Mark Henry and Booker T. The Rock was said to be not black enough to qualify. How ridiculously racist and ignorant is that? The answer is VERY. Mark Henry and Booker T. were said to not qualify because they held the wrong title. Anybody who knows wrestling knows that during the first brand split, there were two world titles of equal inherent merit. The WWE title was in fact on more than one occasion less important than the World Heavyweight Championship. Want proof? Go and see which title Triple H wanted to hold. It wasn't the WWE title. If Triple H wants a belt, then THAT one must be at least as important as the WWE title. It is a shameful thing to denigrate the achievements of Mark Henry, Booker T and The Rock, and is itself a product of a weird kind of racism, in order to fit a narrative.
Wrestling is something uplifting. It is the encapsulation of good vs evil, in a beautifully athletic and theatrical way. Wrestling today is in probably the best shape of its life. You have all manner of supremely talented performers from Cesaro to Finn Balor to the best lot of women ever in the sport. Finally there are characters to rival the best of all time. Big shout out to Bray Wyatt, my favourite concept heavy character of all time! Wrestling used to be full of characters but low on great athletes. Think of Dusty Rhodes. The guy wouldn't have won any triathalons that's for damn sure, but he was such a character that it didn't matter. Fast forward a couple of decades and wrestling had the opposite problem: loads of brilliant athletes but no characters. They were the most boring people in the world and no amount of in ring skill could overcome that problem. Now, finally, you have a balance. I believe that we are entering a new golden era, one that will rival the best of the 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s.
Let me tell you a little story to close. When I was ill a couple of years ago, I became unable to go outside and to have a normal life. There were a few things that helped me get back on my feet. My family, of course, who always stood by me. Another was wrestling. I swear to God, Allah, Jehovah and all the rest, that watching Bayley fight Sasha Banks was one of the truly transformative experiences of my life. Bayley is the best pure babyface since Hulk Hogan for pity's sake! She inspired me to keep going, to keep pushing and not to let life defeat me. I loved her never say die attitude and her open love of the artform. She made me start to like myself again, after a long period of hating everything I did. I loved her character. I'M A HUGGER! She's like the Winnie The Pooh of wrestling, in the best possible way.
When you watch a great wrestling match, it excites and moves like nothing else. And I'm speaking as a huge proponent of cinema, literature, comic books and music. When I watch great wrestling, I forget all of my troubles. I forget everything bad and think of everything good. Just watch the way it moves. The beauty to be found in one person taking care of another, holding them, lifting them, protecting them. Bret Hart once said that he took pride in being one of the safest wrestlers on the planet. This is true, and it is something unique about wrestling. While they want you to think they're hurting each other, really they are protecting their competitors. This is a beautiful thing. Wrestling is about looking out for your enemy like you would your brother. It is a Holy thing and I love it.