Sharp Shooting Vol.2 - The Case for Professional Wrestling
One of my best friends is a gentleman called David Sheldon. Whenever the subject of my professional wrestling fandom crops up, he invariably says something to the effect of “Why do you want to watch a bunch of oiled-up, tanned, muscular men roll around and feel each other up? The only explanation is that you’re a faggot.”
This is a man who is beyond conversion. He simply does not ‘get’ the appeal of the hobby I’ve dedicated approximately twenty years of my life to.
I’ve tried defending it, of course. I’ve told him that suspension of belief is required. He scoffed. I’ve told him that the spectacle is purposefully theatrical. He sees it as camp. I’ve tried telling him that a pure, technical wrestling match – one crammed with scientific grappling, logical reversals, psychologically sound storytelling and intense crowd heat – can be as dramatic and exciting as any legitimate sporting contest, as well as any form of visual fiction.
His response? “It’s fake.”
I’ll ask him to read this in a cynical attempt to increase the view count. He’ll skim-read it and continue to call my sexuality and sanity into question. This column – designed as a celebration of and argument for our fandom - is dedicated to him nonetheless…
Sharp Shooting Vol.2 – The Case for Professional Wrestling
Wrestling still retains the power to shock.
I watched the 7th June 2010 edition of RAW with my dad. Much like David Sheldon, my dad has for years playfully ridiculed my pro wrestling obsession – even when I was young enough to be forgiven for believing it was real.
As he is prone to do, he poured scorn over every minute of the broadcast. Up until the final segment, the “Viewer’s Choice” edition was a particularly risible episode from a particularly risible period. It was not an episode you’d want to watch with a cynical non-fan. My dad rejected the Santino Marella/Vladimir Kozlov dance-off so passionately that he appeared disgusted with me for watching. “Son, this is drivel. You must be getting a bit old for this shite now.” I was 24. I felt a stinging sense of shame. It would have been less embarrassing if the man had caught me masturbating.
To my annoyance, he kept watching. I was ready for further onslaughts when CM Punk and John Cena faced off in the main event. Even my dad, a confirmed non-fan, was (and is) a Cena hater. He looks at Cena’s abysmal STF and is surprised that even children can believe he is inflicting pain. “He’s just cuddling him, man. He isn’t applying any pressure.”
Despite my Punk markdom, I was praying for the end. This was before Wade Barrett et al. made their curious approach to the ringside area. “Who’s this lot?” my dad asked. I knew, but I had no idea why they were menacingly observing the match. It was exciting. Unpredictable. When they began their beat-down of Punk and Cena, my dad, already unsettled, began to feel irritated. “Well that’s not fair. It’s 8 on 2.” I was fascinated by the events both onscreen and on the couch next to me. When the former NXT rookies began to tear the ring apart and attack defenceless ring announcer Justin Roberts, my dad’s irritation levels grew. “This isn’t right, this. They shouldn’t be doing this.”
Professional wrestling had, for the very first time, inspired an impassioned reaction from my dad. When he saw a brutalised Cena left helpless, he uttered the words I never thought I’d hear him say.
“Get up, son. Hit them back.”
I was aghast and delighted. I grinned inwardly. My dad – if only for 5 minutes or so – was a mark…
The simulated violence is just plain brilliant.
This is what I call a “Vince Russo” – i.e., a no-brainer.
Wrestling incorporates so many eclectic, visceral thrills that it’s almost quantifiably impossible to dislike.
Be it over-the-top, psychotic stunts (as most recently seen in Money in the Bank ladder matches) or ultra-athletic, scientific sequences (last seen in every 2012 CM Punk v Daniel Bryan match), the deadly ballet of pro wrestling, at its best, delivers an inimitable buzz –one that happily still exists, even during this stale and frustrating period. It would be hard for non-fans, if they ignored their misconceptions, not to at least appreciate the gymnastics showcased by Kofi Kingston in this year’s Royal Rumble match, Dolph Ziggler’s that’s-got-to-hurt bumping style, or the unenviable fact that pro wrestlers do this for our entertainment with no off-season whatsoever.
The tapestry of wrestling is so rich and historic that matches can transcend mere 5* classics and achieve the eminence of high art.
The Wrestlemania XXVIII match between Triple H v The Undertaker is a perfect example of this. The storyline and resultant match was layered in a perfect way. The Undertaker’s then 19-0 streak was at stake in a match which was essentially promoted with a four-year build (21 years, if you count The Streak itself) and ingeniously predicated upon the idea of Triple H being reluctant, as COO, to end the streak and butcher the cash cow that comes with it. This allowed fans to believe that the streak had a realistic chance of ending, an idea augmented by HHH’s narrow won-the-battle-lost-the-war defeat to ‘Taker the previous year.
The addition of Shawn Michaels as special guest referee – who had cause to potentially screw both HHH and ‘Taker - furnished the story with added depth. The match tapped into these elements in a 30-minute epic which resembled cinema as much as it did pro wrestling…
Wrestling can be really, really funny.
Comedy in wrestling (specifically WWE) is so inconsistent and mostly puerile that the likes of Community and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia are in no danger of being removed from my viewing schedule.
And, as we all know, the misses considerably outweigh the hits. Unlike Vince McMahon, the idea of a mute little person wreaking havoc in a terrible backstage skit is hardly laughing-fit material for me. John Cena’s never-ending impersonation of a preadolescent wears thin every passing week – and he’s been doing it for well over half a decade. I’m not the target audience for Santino Marella’s hammy routine.
Conversely, we are almost spoiled when we are provided with A1 comedy material. Wrestling has historically paid the bills by presenting feuds and matches between characters fans love and loathe. That, ultimately, is what makes fans pay to see the product. Everything else – and this includes comedy – is ostensibly a bonus.
The Attitude Era was of course ripe with laughs. The Rock was in the comedic pomp which precipitated his second career as a Hollywood megastar. DX hadn’t yet become a castrated shadow of their former selves. Stone Cold Steve Austin’s menacing of a then-funny Vince was often so hilarious that it drew an entire audience of new fans in 1998.
Modern standards aren’t close to reaching those highs, but despite the despicable Jim Ross impersonation segments we’ve been subjected to of late, there are still moments wherein WWE can make me laugh out loud. The Daniel Bryan/AJ post-engagement video montage, which featured Daniel Bryan applying an ankle lock on a teddy bear, was glorious. Mae Young’s grown-up hand-child on RAW1000 was a wonderfully apologetic sight gag. Even Michael Cole, whose obsession with burying talent is massively counterproductive, can still provide a chuckle with his sarcastic character assassinations.
Wrestling provides plenty of laughs, intentional or otherwise. When done properly, it’s a great supplement to the in-ring action and underlines how diverse the professional wrestling package really is…
I get to watch Daniel Bryan every week.
For me, it’s Daniel Bryan. For you it could be CM Punk, John Cena or even someone as relatively insignificant as Tyson Kidd. My point is that wrestling allows us to invest emotionally into a character and follow their highs and lows. This isn’t limited to mere wins and losses. When a promotion pushes my favourite performers, it almost feels like I personally am being validated.
This can be seen as somewhat childish, and it provides further ammunition for non-believers to deride our fandom. Heroes are for children, and all that. I’d like think it extends beyond mere hero worship, however. I don’t see Bryan as a role model or someone to aspire to. I wouldn’t be having pork for dinner tonight if I did. I simply wanted to see him rewarded for his outstanding contribution to the industry because he’d worked hard for it, deserved it, and (selfishly) I called it.
By 2007, Bryan Danielson had exhausted the independent wrestling scene. When he eventually appeared on WWE television in 2010, I was desperate for him to be given a chance to succeed. I was dismayed when he was habitually buried by Michael Cole on NXT, and dismayed even more when he languished in dark match hell after his entertaining run with the United States title.
When he was (inexplicably, at the time) awarded with the World Heavyweight title, I was wary. Bryan, a babyface, initially looked like an opportunistic weakling. As it became clear that he was turning heel, his over-the-top celebrations became an absolute riot, especially given the screwy nature of his wins. Bryan Danielson – a one-of-a-kind technical wrestling extraordinaire with a physique nowhere close to WWE headliner standards – had become a legitimate, colourful, over superstar.
It was indescribably rewarding. The dividends on this particular investment were lavish…
It inspires creativity in all of us.
Given that the vast majority of people reading this are column writers themselves, this is certainly applicable to you.
This is not to say that those who don’t venture here aren’t provided with a creative impetus when they watch wrestling. Every “smart” fan suddenly becomes a booker when confronted with a feud, angle or push, whether they embrace or oppose it.
When CM Punk detonated his infamous pipebomb last year, the internet was alight with possibilities. What would happen if Punk left WWE with its crown jewel? Would he actually defend it in Ring of Honor or New Japan Pro Wrestling? Would he use his leverage as champion to form a satellite promotion, awash with the change he and his followers craved? Would he simply disappear from view for months? If so, when would he make his dramatic return?
Needless to say, the angle concluded in the most convoluted and disappointing way possible. But for a few magical weeks, everybody had an opinion on how to book it. Many of those suggestions were considerably better than what actually transpired…
This isn’t just applicable to us hardcore fans with (a degree of) insider knowledge. Many casual fans who have played modern wrestling games have revelled in the Create A Wrestler feature. It allows us to vicariously live the dream of being a wrestling star on our own terms. Every fan has heard a song and thought: that would make a fantastic entrance theme. Some, not all of us, have been unable to resist the dangerous temptation of creating our own move sequences and acting them out with our friends. We all have that one ‘dream match’ that we’ve booked extensively in our heads.
The perception of wrestling fans among the general public is that we are moronic for believing what we see is “real”. This, as we all know, is a falsehood. We celebrate its predetermined nature and delight in trying to figure out what will happen next. Those who don’t ‘get it’ never will. And – this is for you, Mr. Sheldon – I feel sorry for them.
There are of course several more reasons why I love professional wrestling. If I listed them all I’d get the “tl; dr” treatment. I’ll explore the other side of professional wrestling fandom next week with Sharp Shooting Vol. 3 – 5 The Case Against Professional Wrestling. Watch this space, and as always, please let me know your thoughts.
Last edited by Sidgwick; 07-31-2012 at 08:57 AM.
Man of 1,000 Columns
I really liked this Sidg, and I can see you definitely have a love of professional wrestling. You also certainly have a way with words, and I still think that may continue to hurt you. At times, I felt as though the words outweighed the sentiment you were trying to convey. However, there was more of you in this column than I've seen previously, so that is a plus. You're obviously a very intelligent writer with a great vocabulary, just maybe continue to lighten it up a little bit each time until you find a happy medium.
Priest wrote a similar column to this a year or so ago, and it really touched on the personal side of being a wrestling fan. It told a story, and it was engaging. I liked the first part about your dad, it told me something about you, then that went away. I still enjoyed this, so improvements are noted. Keep it up!
Thanks for the complimentary feedback – it’s especially flattering given the source.
I agree that there is still an element of detachment to my writing that I need to work on, but I (arrogantly) liked this one too – probably, as you stated, because it felt like I’m closer in terms of developing my own voice.
Given my personal disdain for the current product – and the shrewd feedback I’ve received for my last two efforts - I’m confident I can build upon this further in part 2.
Thanks for reading.
So, last time time I read your work I gave you a little hell for almost being too wordy and smarty-pants with how you write. I told you there wasn't enough of you in the work and for that it suffered.
You listened, you absorbed, and what came from it was an exceptional piece of work. That's all I'm going to say. Great job.
^Do I feel like Daniel Bryan after that? Yes! Yes! Yes!
Man of 1,000 Columns
You should be happy Sidg. You're an example of someone who HAS taken constructive feedback and has steadily improved. Kudos!
As Trips just said, well done on being a rare case of taking feedback on board and actually instigating it. I was thoroughly impressed and that such an early attempt knocks the socks off most efforts regularly put forward by people milling around here much longer than yourself says a lot about your ability and your talent. I continue to remain perplexed by calls for you to dumb down your writing. I think it's fine as is and quite frankly, not everyone is going to like everyone else's style. Keep the expansive vocabulary, it's part of your style and quite clearly comes naturally to you; simply remain wary of ensuring things don't become incomprehensible. For what it's worth, it never did and, for me, you're spot on here in terms of style and tone. Just keep your hands off my magenta coloured text, son!
There have been plenty of columns like this through the years and yours can certainly rank among them. I think we can all empathise with that feeling of watching wrestling while someone else is in the room looking on in disdain, be it vocalised or simply with a patronising expression on their face. I have to endure it every week and sometimes it can even keep me from enjoying it; hence why I often try to wait till I have an empty house to enjoy it and that doesn't strike me as very fair. But, as Vinny Mac once said, life sucks and then you die! What he failed to take into account was that he gave us something that, every Monday night, makes it suck that little bit less.
Great column dude. Loved it and love your style. Keep up the good work! I see bright things in your future.
"I think we can all empathise with that feeling of watching wrestling while someone else is in the room looking on in disdain, be it vocalised or simply with a patronising expression on their face. I have to endure it every week and sometimes it can even keep me from enjoying it."
It's awful, isn't it? This type of condescension really hampers the viewing experience…but if we had total confidence that our odd little hobby was credible and simply good enough to invest in, why should we care? I wouldn’t have this feeling if I introduced my fiancée to David Lynch films or The Sopranos, for example.
Is it simply their preconceptions, or do non-fans have a reasoned argument for mocking us? I’ll try and answer that question in the counterpart to this column – due later this week.
Again, thank you guys for the complimentary feedback. It’s very uplifting hearing that sort of thing from talented and established writers.
Sidge, this was excellent.
The part with your Dad struck a particular chord with me. My Step Dad frequently mocks my love of WWE, then finds himself being absorbed into the story. He marks out big time for Vince.
Bravo sir, you have gained a regular reader.
You know what I love? I love being able to relate to what I am reading. You mentioned your father showing emotion to Cena getting a beat down. Recently I had the same kind of experience. Mam used to make fun of how mock the punches were and I was trying to explain that that was a minor fact. I tried to explain that it was more than that. Then recently I was watching an old DVD of the best of Raw. It was a steel cage match between Jeff Hardy and Umaga. Mam was in the room when Jeff hit the whisper in the wind off the top of the cage. Her jaw dropped! She was amazed! To this day she has never and I mean Never mocked wrestling again.
Man overall I really enjoyed this