“You still watch wrestling??????” accompanied by incredulous looks followed by laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation is something that I’ve encountered heaven knows how many times over the years. And of course the standard follow up that’s something of a Robin to the Batman that is You sill watch wrestling – You know its fake, don’t you?
Over the years I’ve watched wrestling and in particular the WWF (now WWE) grow as an industry, watched the metamorphosis from a family oriented style in the late 80’s and early 90’s to a more edgy product aimed at a younger audience. During the boom years of wrestling in India almost every school going kid had a collection of wrestling stickers, wrestling postcards (which couldn’t be mailed anywhere anyways) and wrestling trump cards. Oh the endless hours spent playing trump cards …… Nowadays I cant even find a quarter of my collection of stuff that I had during that time. School kids even went to the extent of picking a wrestler that most suited his personality as his own character. Local TV channels would invariably show old wrestling tapes from the late 80’s that were great to watch.
I guess that’s what attracted me to it in the first place – the characters. Bret “The Hitman” Hart, Chris Jericho & Ric Flair are my favourite wrestlers not just in terms of their in ring prowess and ability but in the very characters they portray week in and week out. Bret Hart built his career as a typical good guy but his evolution into a bad guy due to the frustration he was feeling during his feud with the then upcoming Stone Cold Steve Austin is one of the most brilliant & believable pieces of scriptwriting that the WWF has done. Chris Jericho in his WCW days was so cocky but fans knew he could more than back it up with his in ring skills and was thus very popular. “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair, in my view the greatest wrestler I have ever seen in the squared circle (he is still actively wrestling full matches at an age of 58), can entertain like none other. The 16 time World Champion is legendary as the ‘Dirtiest player in the game’ and his trademark moves have enthralled fans over the years.
Storylines are a major driving force between why wrestling is still close to my heart. The formula is simple enough – Good guy vs Bad Guy. Crowd cheers good guy and dislikes bad guy. But the evolution of wrestling fans over the years has meant that there is no more black and white in terms of characters. Steve Austin is one example that springs to mind, despite being the bad guy fans took to his anti establishment attitude. John Cena at the other end who is being pushed by the WWE as the next Hulk Hogan just could not win over the fans cause a very large number of them viewed him as being not deserving enough to hold the title. Just goes to show you cant take your customers for granted. But I digress. Stories like the Austin Hitman feud mentioned earlier, the long simmering feud between The Hitman & “The Heart Break Kid” Shawn Michaels, the feud between “The Macho Man” Randy Savage & Hulk Hogan where Macho Man felt that Hulk Hogan was showing too much attention to Miss Elizabeth, Randy Savage’s wife are but a few examples.
And wrestling is all about the moments that capture it brilliantly as well. Probably the most watched and famous scene is of Hulk Hogan power slamming Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania III. Other memorable memories include
· Shawn Michaels ‘skinning the cat’ (bringing himself into the ring over the ropes while hanging from the top rope by lifting his legs above him and rolling backwards over the top rope) while the British Bulldog celebrates thinking that he has won the Royal Rumble and then proceeding to throw the British Bulldog over the top rope and win it.
· Hulk Hogan walk down to the ring while all the wrestlers are down and proceed to leg drop the good guys much to the shock of wrestling fans all over the world and join the bad guys Kevin Nash (Diesel) & Scott Hall (Razor Ramon) in setting up the New World Order (NWO) thereby ending his decades as the quintessential American hero.
· Jeff Hardy hang haplessly from the ring holding the belts suspended 15 feet above the ring while the ladder he used to climb it was removed from under him and Edge then proceeding to spear him from another bigger ladder.
· Speaking of Edge how could I not mention both his instances of cashing in the Money In The Bank to win the title. battered and bloodied John Cena in the first case won the Elimination Chamber much to the dismay of the majority of the crowd. Edge then proceeded to devilishly cash in his MITB with spears to the champion causing the crowd to go crazy.
· Who can ever forget the crazy moment when Mankind (aka Cactus Jack aka Mick Foley) was thrown off the top of the Hell In the Cell by the merciless Undertaker onto the commentators table. Truly a ‘Holy Shit’ moment.
· Chris Jericho finally agreeing to face the unstoppable Bill Goldberg after being a thorn in his side for months and then having Gillberg (a parody of Goldberg) come out to hand held sparklers instead of the usual pyrotechnics.
The list is virtually endless and for all the naysayers out there I would only like to say this. It isn’t fake – the action in the ring is real and dangerous and the athletes put their bodies on the line every time they step into the ring. The chair shots are from real metal chairs and the tables used aren’t made of paper. Besides how do you fake barbed wire anyways? The characters are amazingly deep with traits we see in people around us and the story lines fascinating. What else do you want?