It is a population that has been growing and growing with each passing year. They remain silent yet many professional wrestling fans who participate in message boards or open discussion claim to represent them. They do not peruse websites looking for the latest news, ratings reports, or behind-the-curtain rumors. However, if you ask them if they are fans of professional wrestling, they will reply with:
“I’m a fan but I don’t watch it anymore. It’s not that I didn’t like what was going on, I just strayed away. I would like to get back into it, but I feel lost and it’s not what I’m used to watching.”
This is what Steve told me two weeks ago. Steve is a co-worker at my day job and a good friend of mine. He is roughly in his mid-twenties, has a full-time job, and has a healthy relationship spanning longer than a year. He enjoys playing video games on occasion and is a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan (We all have our flaws). He grew up watching professional wrestling around the mid-to-late 1990s, when the storied ‘Monday Night Wars’ were at its peak and living here in North Carolina, there was a pre-dominant fanbase for World Championship Wrestling. Steve, like myself, watched both WCW and World Wrestling Entertainment (then the WWF). We followed both organizations, enjoying the products, entertained by their competition with each other in front of and behind the cameras.
After time had passed, you could say that Steve had his priorities realigned. Education, his occupation, his relationship, his family; all of them played a factor into what led him astray from professional wrestling. Oddly enough, like many pundits, columnists, and forums posters would lead you to believe, it’s not because he does not ‘like’ or ‘prefer’ the action he is seeing.
Steve is not watching it as much as he used to because he feels lost.
“It’s not that I’m older or my tastes have changed. Believe me, I liked Stone Cold, The Rock, and Mick Foley. I know they’re not coming back and I know there will never be a show like that again.”
Is it because of John Cena?
“Well, not exactly. I mean, I get it that he is the new Hulk Hogan. He is the main guy, and I don’t like that he wins all the damn time, but it’s something I understand. He’s supposed to. That’s his character.”
Is it because there’s no blood or usage of weapons?
“Oh, I miss that stuff! I loved Foley’s hardcore matches, especially the one with Undertaker at Hell in a Cell! The thing is, I know they can’t do that stuff anymore. They have a lot more kids watching and they want to try and attract as many people as possible without grossing them out. Also, I’ve kind of grown out of it. It’s cool to see but I don’t need to see it all the time.”
Is it because the language has been toned down compared to when you first started watching?
“Oh please! I don’t need to hear ‘ass’ or ‘bitch’ every single time someone is talking. If you want to convince me you’re angry at someone or you’re going to do something horrible to someone else, just do it or be more descriptive. I’m a little more mature than that. I don’t curse as much as I used to and I wouldn’t expect every wrestler on the show to kill angels whenever they held a microphone.”
So what is keeping you from watching wrestling as much as you used to?
“I really don’t know. I think it has something to do with how I began watching it. Every Monday, all of my friends and I would get together and watch three hours of wrestling! All of us in one room, snacking on pizza and Coke, flipping between channels not wanting to miss anything. It was just so cool. Now here I am, almost fifteen years older and living in the real world with a girlfriend and a job.
I miss that feeling! I can’t watch wrestling with her, she thinks it’s stupid. I can’t go to a bar and watch it. Can you imagine the look the bartender would give me if I asked him to change one of the TVs so I can see if Randy Orton is ‘winning’? Now that I think about it, I think you’re the only friend of mine who still watches it.”
There are many reasons why professional wrestling was classified as ‘sports entertainment’ in the past. It is theater placed into the context of sport. The term was also used for Vince McMahon to market his product in cities with sporting commissions that would otherwise prevent it from arriving, performing, and making money. What I consider though to be the most powerful fundamental aspect of professional wrestling’s moniker as ‘sports entertainment’ is that just like sports, it encourages people to come together and enjoy it.
So why is it that sporting events can attract groups of people to enjoy it together, but professional wrestling can’t?
Last week, I invited Steve over to my place for a crash course in the current WWE product. A marathon of guys in stretchy pants overacting within a melodrama that included Wrestlemania XXVII, this year’s ‘Money in the Bank’ and ‘Summerslam’ pay-per-views, followed by the go-home episode of ‘Raw’ leading into ‘Night of Champions’ that we watched after that. Over 12 hours were spent rehabilitating Steve back to professional wrestling fan health… and it was time well-spent.
Steve is now as big of a fan as he was then but it was not just because of all of the programs he watched or all of the fresh new faces he was introduced to. It was because of having someone who enjoys professional wrestling just as much as he did that helped him love the form of entertainment.
What also needs to be understood is that in no way did I try to tell him what was considered good or bad about the entertainment he was watching. I did not tell him about ‘pushes’ of deserving mid-card talent or ‘behind the curtain’ rumors between writers, producers, and performers. This was not about examining the differences between eras of the professional wrestling product or the intricacies of the athletic feats inside the ring. This was about bringing a fan back to the fold, helping rekindle the flame of his love for wrestling.
This is why I watch it. This is why I enjoy it. This is why I love it.