Confessions of a Wrestling Fan

One fateful night about three years ago, my girlfriend (at the time) and I were invited to a pal's house to watch wrestling. Neither of us knew much about wrestling (or cared to), but we decided to go for the company. We discovered a ritual built around getting together on a weekly basis (usually Mondays), drinking, smoking various tobacco products, and watching wrestling. The core group consisted of about 6-8 regulars, sometimes accompanied by boyfriends, girlfriends, and various other hangers- on. The crowd composition was about half giggling drunks and half disgruntled regulars who kept shushing. This is where a distinction must be made. While most of the people assembled were there to drink and socialize, the regulars were there to WATCH WRESTLING. And as time went by, I found myself doing a lot of the shushing. Gradually I focused less on the hilariously pumped-up rants, challenges, and the stiff, unintentionally humorous music videos, and began to pay more attention to the matches themselves. Little by little I started recognizing faces and picking up on the specialized terminology. I cared about what happened to these people from week to week. I came to discover a steroid-laden soap opera, a beautifully choreographed testosterone ballet. Now, I know when I use the word "choreographed," feathers begin to fly. The oft-repeated question, "Don't you know it's fake?" makes me bristle. It bespeaks an uneducated look at a real sport. I mean, SURE, I know it's choreographed (read fake) and scripted. But this still takes skill. Just as a football or basketball team has plays, wrestlers have moves, and it takes teamwork and timing to sell these moves convincingly. Plus, when the writing and wrestling fall in well together, it is entertainment at its best. This brings me to the very reason I had to spit out this rant in the name of professional wrestling -Ñ Lawrence Taylor. Respected and admired as one of the legends of football, LT (as he's known on the field) accepted, after an elaborate setup, a challenge issued by Bam Bam Bigelow and signed to wrestle a pay-per-view match, Wrestlemania II. The press jumped on this story; the general consensus being that LT was tarnishing his football career. The ignorance these so-called sports writers exhibited toward alternative sporting events was astonishing. Half giggling, half disapproving, the sportscasters lined up to slag a spectacle such as this. All the while, LT defended the sport and behaved like a true champion. When it was all over, LT (the babyface) beat (duh) Bam Bam Bigelow (the heel) in a non-surprising finish wrestled with surprising skill and professionalism. In post-match interviews, LT looked tired and spoke with respect about the sport of wrestling -- respect learned in the squared circle. Sure, you may write me off as fanatical, possibly loony, but I'm not alone (just check the Internet). There are people who network and exchange wrestling videos and merchandise all over the world. Through some of these people, I've learned about lots of neat variations on the sport. For the most part, Japan seems to be where the real action is. Matches there have the added bonus of barbed wire and exploding rings. This may be why wrestling is so popular in Japan, drawing crowds of up to 100,000. (And with their love of rockabilly and Godzilla, don't even tell me Japan isn't the cultural center of the universe.) However bad the WWF and the WCW may be, don't write off the Americans. We now have ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling). Based in Philadelphia, ECW is where the action is here in the states. ECW is where wrestlers, who are too tough for Hulk Hogan -- and his band of sniveling yes men -- go. Here you'll see flying chairs, Singapore cane matches, and competitors like the Sandman, who interrupts his chain smoking just long enough to finish a bout. The outlaws of the wrestling world settle in ECW. Men such as Terry Funk, Cactus Jack (minus one ear, thanks to Vader), 2 Cold Scorpio, and Sabu (known for flying over the ropes to tag any competitor outside the ring) rule the ECW. These guys have a flair for the dramatic and a sense of humor. You'll find no role models in ECW, just intestinal fortitude and lots of blood. I've also seen live wrestling (for those of you grumbling and calling me a VCR poser). I was privileged to witness Smokey Mountain Wrestling (based in Morristown, TN) in a small gymnasium in Eastern Kentucky. This card, put on by one of the sport's true geniuses, Jim Cornette, ended with an edge-of-your-seat tag team cage match between the Heavenly Bodies and the Rock and Roll Express. You haven't lived until you've seen 2000 coal miners chanting "Rawk An' Roe" at a fevered pitch. I could go on for pages and pages. I haven't even spoken of wrestling action figures and masks, or Santo, the mythical Mexican wrestler turned movie star super hero. But I digress. It is up to you, dear reader, to search out such truths on your own. Until then, I'll be spending my Monday nights yelling, drinking, smoking, and waiting to catch a glimpse of Ric Flair. So if you have any questions, call me. Just not too early on Tuesdays.

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