Like a lot of people my age, ( I am 29 staring right at 30) I can be cynical and negative about the state of wrestling. With social media’s constant barrage of nit-picking and scoffs it is so easy to be disillusioned with wrestling and WWE in particular.
You can feel like Vince and Co. don’t listen to you or care about you or the wrestlers you admire. Watching every week cringing at the bad promos and predictable storylines.
“ROMAN SUCKS BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! PUT THE TITLE ON NAKAMURA RIGHT NOW! UGH, WWE MUST HATE THEIR FANS.”
You’re familiar with the words because you may have said them yourself from time to time. But you keep coming back. We keep watching; because we know the highs, as few as we seem to see, can be the most powerful feeling in the world. A surprise return or debut, great match, shocking heel turn, or title change can always put a smile on your face and shock in your breath. But why doesn’t that last for us? Why isn’t it enough? What makes us complain incessantly? After all the furor over Raw 25, Mike Lawrence wrote an excellent summation of how us older wrestling fans can quickly forget the joys.
— Mike Lawrence (@TheMikeLawrence) January 23, 2018
Reading that on Tuesday, I nodded in agreement. But after my experience at Smackdown’s taping on January 23rd in Washington, DC, I saw it first hand.
This is a story of how I walked into the Capital One Arena a grumpy “smart” fan and left happy, nostalgic, and a bit hopeful about the state and future of wrestling.
Section 211, Row L
I bought my tickets at the last minute. Like I always do. I went on StubHub and looked for the best mix of value and view. At Capital One in DC, that’s usually the 200s (club level) somewhere in the corner. It is far away from the action, but it is an unobstructed view that allows you to see the entrance ramp and the entire ringside area in one picture. As usual, I got a ticket for one. Not only do I not bother my friends or wife with going to wrestling, but I almost prefer to go by myself. I can concentrate on the matches and my tweets, and if I get antsy or tired, I can leave when I want.
Meandering around the arena, I get to my seat around 7:55 pm: 211, Row L, Seat 10. I’m sitting next to a father and his son who has on nearly every piece of gear imaginable: Shield T-Shirt, Reigns wrist gauntlets, one of the glossy and bulky and expensive WWE title belts and a bring blue “Money in The Bank” briefcase. His dad holds what looks like to be a Finn Balor Demon hoodie. He’s rocking back and forth on his seat while Mojo Rawley and Tye Dillinger trade blows and kicks. He’s excited, talking to his dad through the entire match. His dad reacts to the moves but is mostly nodding along to whatever his son says.
After Mojo pins Tye, his dad gets up and goes to get a beer and some food. The music cranks up, and the ring announcer says that Smackdown is going live! The kid turns to me with a concerned look on his face:
– “There won’t be any fireworks will there?”
I think: “No because Vince is cheap and doesn’t want to spend money on pyro anymore, totally ruining the experience for fans.”
I say: “No, I don’t think they do fireworks anymore.”
– “Ok, good” – he breathes a sigh of relief and clutches his title.
Happy To Be Here
The show starts, and the kid is ALL IN on the action. Kevin Owens’ music hits and he goes nuts. AJ Styles’ music hits and he goes nuts. Daniel Bryan’s music hits he goes nuts. Do you get the idea that he’s just a bit excited? He knows everything. He runs down every feud. When there’s a big move, he jumps.
The end of the Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Baron Corbin match comes when Randy Orton slithers into the ring to deliver two RKOs. He and the rest of the arena explode with joy. Seeing an RKO live is one of the true wrestling treats.
By this time his mother, who was sitting elsewhere, has moved into the seat next to him. She smiles and laughs at her son’s excitement.
She confides in me that she knows nothing about wrestling but her son loves it and knows everything. He’s 10. She tells me that she and husband are police officers and they adopted their son after serving as emergency foster parents for him. She explains what a sweet, smart boy he is. How he cried at football practice after having to tackle a smaller boy. That he never eats meat, candy, or carbonated drinks. Not because she won’t let him, he just doesn’t like them. She tells me the tragic story of his early life and a mother who died of a drug overdose and a father in prison.
She looks over and smiles and dotes on him. Her biological children are much older. She shows me pictures on her phone of them. Her son eats cotton candy for the first time and remarks on the fluffy texture.
His mom is convinced he thinks wrestling is real and tries to get me to tell him it is ‘theatrical.’ Not wanting to ruin the magic or the fun, I describe it like Cirque Du Soliel, and he nods along. He knows the risks are real, but the outcomes are planned. He gets it.
The Main Event
Earlier in the night, the main event is set, AJ Styles will wrestle Kevin Owens and THEN fight Sami Zayn. AJ’s big mouth got him in deep water once again. The first match ends quickly with Styles injuring Owens’ knee and tapping him out with the Calf Crusher. KO is such a good wrestler and sells the injury so well that the kid starts to wonder if Owens is hurt. I say I am not sure. That’s the truth. The paramedics bring a stretcher out to further sell the injury. We’re worried about KO’s health. Will he make it to the rumble? AJ, fed up with it all, decides to attack Kevin while he’s down. The crowd and the kid go nuts!
Styles and Zayn wrestle for another ten minutes and put on a clinic. Zayn gets the win! YES!
We’re excited. The whole night was such a blast. I realize I barely looked at twitter or even looked at my phone. It felt great to be entirely wrapped-up in action. I felt like a kid again.
I leave shortly after. The kid and his dad are saying for 205 Live and the “dark match” main event between Baron Corbin and Randy Orton.
Wrestling Is For
I walk out elated. We watched terrific wrestling and I didn’t make one smarky comment. I cheered the good guys and booed the bad guys. Everything felt real and exciting.
I never got the kids’ or his parents’ names. But I’ll remember them forever; the gracious conversation, the patience they had with their kid, and the young man’s undying excitement for everything that happened in and out of the ring.
My final message is this. Stop it. Stop the endless nit-picking and unspooling of every little thread in a wrestling show. Turn your phone off, put away your notions of what “wrestling” should be and just watch. Remember how you felt as a kid. Watch it with a kid instead of your “smart” friends in their Bullet Club t-shirts.
“Wrestling? Isn’t that for kids?” maybe but so what? The themes of good vs. evil and overcoming your obstacles and succeeding are universial themes. Perhaps the Hero’s Journey works so well for kids because they haven’t let the world poison them with doubt and despair.
If someone who has been through the wringer like this kid can sit and enjoy wrestling without a sigh of exasperation, maybe you and I can too.
Share your thoughts on this story in the comments below. Are you ready to be a wrestling fan again?