Around two years ago, I caught my first WWE show on TV. I already knew a few things, mainly from hearing the Super Best Friends enthuse about pro wrestling on their podcast, but everything seemed alien to me. Still, I watched more of it, looked up old matches online, and developed an interest in the staging, the stars, and the history of World Wrestling Entertainment.
As a Brit living near Manchester, pro wrestling fans are hard to come across. Whenever I mention I enjoy WWE, I get that squinty look – half skeptical, wondering if I’m joking – and then, the Question:
“But it’s fake, isn’t it?”
Well, so is Coronation Street, and the acting is much worse.
In 1987, Vince McMahon pulled back the curtain, and admitted professional wrestling is staged. For many, the illusion was broken – and yet wrestling didn’t suffer. If anything, it reached its peak during the 90s, with stars like Hulk Hogan, ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, Chris Benoit, and The Undertaker becoming household names. People started to view wrestling with a new perspective: they go for the stories, the acrobatics, and the fact that these men and women risk their health and safety on a daily basis simply to entertain people.
And they do risk their health. Wrestlers have died in the ring; others have received life-destroying injuries, or lost parts of their body. If anyone has seen Mickey Rourke’s The Wrestler, it is incredibly accurate. Those thumbtacks aren’t fake. When a wrestler hits the ground, they hit it hard.
Being part of the community of wrestling fans, enjoying wrestling for what it is, rather than what it pretends to be, is no less valid than watching a popular TV show.