One of the questions I’m most often asked is why I am a wrestling fan. Most people find it hard to believe that a grown, college-educated, intelligent and damn good looking man, such as myself, would “waste his time” watching something that’s “fake.”
If I had a nickel for every time a friend, family member or co-worker looked at me like I’d lost my freakin’ mind after I divulged my passion for sports entertainment … well, I’d have a lot of nickels!
Think about what you liked to do when you were a kid. Who entertained you during your childhood and, whether you realized it at the time or not, helped shape you during your formative years? Yogi Bear? Bugs Bunny? The Super Friends?
Yeah, me too, but I also had the joy of experiencing wrestling at a pretty early age (4-5), so I became enthralled by this amazing program, where I could see larger-than-life characters waging the battle of good versus evil the old fashioned way—mano y mano (or sometimes tag-teamo y tag-teamo)—right in the middle of a ring.
Other than the obligatory Saturday morning cartoons, it was the first TV program I made it a point not to miss. It was like a live-action comic book (another childhood treasure) right there on the screen, and I became hooked.
Most people at this point say "Yeah, but what about later, when you found out it was fake?" I remember when I first heard the accusation of wrestling's "phoniness."
An older brother of my best friend made the claim that it was fake and my reply was "So?" It was a flippant response because I was about 12 or 13 at the time, and, like most 12-13 year-olds, I knew it all, so even in the face of such an earth-shattering pronouncement, I never even blinked.
Also, my best friend and I were watching wrestling at the time and I didn't want to be disturbed. But, from that point on, I watched a little more closely. Sure enough, I started noticing punches that didn't quite land.
Somehow, this didn't keep the recipient of the "phantom punch" from jerking his head back like he'd just been nailed by a Mike Tyson uppercut. But, even in a real fight, not every punch lands like in the movies, so no big deal, right?
And sometimes the wrestlers bled during a match, so that had to be real, right? Slowly, but surely, I got wise to the business. For some fans, when they "smarten up" on what's really going on in the ring, they decide they don't want to watch it anymore. Maybe they feel deceived or they want to watch legitimate sports contests instead.
My reaction to the revelation of wrestling's true nature wasn't negative. Instead, I started watching to try and catch the mistakes and to "mark out," or suspend disbelief, during my favorite performers matches, just like we all do for any movie or TV program we watch for entertainment.
You don't watch a Harry Potter movie and turn it off after 15 minutes and say "Magic's not real." You don't watch Lost for half of the season and then say "This plot isn't realistic." OK, maybe that's a bad example.
But wrestling can be extremely fun to watch, even when you know it's not completely on the up and up, for a few reasons:
1. These performers are athletes. If you like sports and are amazed at what athletes like LeBron James, Tiger Woods, Derek Jeter, Peyton Manning and Serena Williams can do in their respective sports, give wrestling a chance to impress you.
Guys like Shawn Michaels, Jeff Hardy, AJ Styles and Kurt Angle and ladies like Natalya Neidhardt and Gail Kim have trained and performed for years and consistently put their bodies on the line to put on stellar performances night in and night out.
2. While the outcomes are pre-determined, they are not always publicly known. That is to say, just because the performers involved in the match know what's going to happen, fans don't.
Sometimes we can make a pretty educated guess based on information about injuries, Wellness Policy suspensions, hirings, firings, etc., and trying to predict what will happen is usually a big part of the fun of watching.
3. You can suspend disbelief and watch it as if it were real. Trust me, it's still fun to root for (or against) the good guy as he makes an unbelievable comeback against all odds.
Find a group of fans watching a wrestling show and take notes on how a grown man can revert to a kid in 0.6 seconds—or less.
4. Don't watch it as a sporting contest. Watch it as a performance. People go to ballet recitals and thousands watch and (apparently) enjoy Dancing with the Stars, but nobody gets mad because the event is "scripted."
The performers in wrestling cooperate with each other to tell a story through a combination of acting, psychology and simulated violence. Many long-time fans enjoy critiquing performances and comparing them to other events in the past, much like sports fans love to compare players from different eras. And finally,
5. Accidents happen. Even though matches are planned out, injuries do happen. Some people watch NASCAR for the wrecks and hockey for the fights. Well, one intriguing part of wrestling is what can happen that's not scripted. And this goes beyond injuries.
The infamous Montreal Screwjob is still talked about today as one of the most influential moments in wrestling history because certain performers did not stick to the intended outcome for the match. So, even when you think you know what'll happen, you can get surprised.
In closing, try to keep an open mind about wrestling and wrestling fans. We're not all in-bred, sadomasochistic rednecks. And, if you were a wrestling fan at one time, maybe now's the time to give wrestling a second chance. It very well could be better than you remembered.
Until next time, Peace & God bless – Chris “The Crippler” Kelly, co-host of The Beatdown on 1340 WBGN The Ticket every Sunday night at 9 - www.wbgnbeatdown.com