Why Wrestling

I’ve been trying to write this for more than a month now. Last week, the sports and pop culture website grantland.com was shut down by ESPN for the major crime of not being profitable enough.

It’s a business, I get it, so it doesn’t surprise me to hear that this is the case, but Grantland’s wrestling podcast in one of the few ‘must listen’ podcasts I have every week and the idea that it may disappear is a little disconcerting.

So, in an effort to stress my distaste for the logical ESPN business decision, I have endevoured to ensure two things occur by the end of this week: the first is that I complete and finish the article you are currently reading and the second is to complete the submission video for Patreon for Gateworld Media’s own wrestling podcast, Red-Trunker Radio.

It begins like this…

I have a pair of podcasts saved in my queue that I can’t bring myself to listen to.

They are both downloaded on every device I have and add up to a total more than 370 megabytes. I have had them sitting there for more than a month, unable to steel my resolve and put them on because there is something remarkably personal about them.

They are both episodes of a wrestling podcast, but it’s not the wrestling podcast I am a part of alongside my wife, Kristen, my cousin, Ryan, and our friend Mike. As of this writing, we have been doing Red-Trunker Radio for a year and, ultimately, it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The four of us have managed to create a conversation about professional wrestling; especially the brand of World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE; that is poignant with varying points of view.

Producing such a thing led me to seeking out other wrestling podcasts and a number have entered into my regular rotation. They range from those by experts on the wrestling industry and the history of that industry (the afore-mentioned ‘Cheap Heat’) to former performers and commentators (‘Talk is Jericho,’ ‘The Stone Cold Podcast’), to those who are both (‘The Ross Report’). More so than any other type of podcast, the wrestling podcasts are ‘can’t miss’ for me. When I’m expecting an extended period of time where I want to listen to something (long drive or plane trip), I will go back and choose specific episodes with good guests to enjoy.

I do not, by any stretch, consider myself an expert on the extending history of the professional wrestling industry nor do I consider myself any kind of insider or expert on the industry, as it currently stands. If you would like to see such an opinion, I would recommend seeking out any of the work of David Shoemaker, a.k.a. ‘The Masked Man.’ As for myself, however, I have learned a great deal over my years of enjoying this unique form of entertainment. I have also spent a great amount of time and energy justifying why I follow wrestling, both to myself and to others.

Because, ultimately, if you haven’t been watching it, you probably don’t get it.

Earlier this year, geek icon, Max Landis (son of 1980s icon, John Landis), posted a YouTube video entitled Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling. I have it posted below, so you can check it out. It’s my general go-to for people that legitimately are curious as to my passion for watching dudes in small outfits rolling around together.

However, there are others who are skeptical about wrestling that have no interest in watching a 24-minute video, online. Like many things, it’s easier to simply discount this niche form of entertainment without exploring the levels to which it steps beyond the boundaries of sports and becomes something other. It’s not unlike those written works, films, and television shows that transcend the medium to become works of literature or art.

Well, maybe that’s a bit far.

Still, the ability of professional wrestling to tell a story is unlike any other form of entertainment. These are tales of struggle, competition, overcoming obstacles, heroes, villains, and all the classic tropes from literature. However, these classic tales are generally accompanied by feats of real athleticism unlike anything you can see in any other arena.

Certainly, you can enjoy combat expertise in boxing, amateur wrestling, and martial arts competitions of all types (mixed and otherwise). You can see amazing feats of acrobatics watching gymnastics and extreme sports competitions, like skateboarding and snowboarding You can even see some impressive athletics in traditional sports like football or baseball, but there really is only one place where every athletic aspect of these various competitions can be on display, and that is in ring.

I defy any skeptic to watch a wrestling match and then argue that it isn’t ‘real.’ Every strike, every leap from atop the turnbuckle, every dive into the outside of the ring, every move that connects to the opponent resonates with the audience. One can’t help but react when someone is audibly struck when they are spectating. Each time some villain goes to work on the hero’s knee when we’ve been told that he’s been in rehab for that same injury, there is a clear level of dramatic tension, knowing that the kicking, twisting, punching, and wrenching still causes pain.

Having never been a fan of ‘story-free’ sports, I struggle to make the analogous comparison, but I have to imagine that those who follow a particular athlete physically react when something occurs that clearly looks as though he has been harmed. If you are reading this and you’re not a wrestling fan but you are a sports fan, I want you to think of that moment when your favorite running back, or first baseman, or power forward ends up impacting with someone or something in such a way that you just know they will feel it the next morning… or a long while after.

Imagine that feeling that curls up in your gut the very moment those painful incidents happen. Now imagine that feeling, moments after, when this athlete leaps to his feet and smiles to the crowd; the uncurling of your stomach and the relief.

Now imagine that emotional cycle occurring about once a minute.

This is the foundation upon which the fandom of professional wrestling is constructed.

During a match, the attacks, defenses, and reversals form a well-choreographed ballet that is, at the same time, both brutal and elegant. When done well (which should, at the level of the WWE and other televised wrestling organizations, be all the time), this tells a story to the audience that can have as wide a variety of themes as any given fiction section in a book store. These stories, in turn, can form a larger a narrative alongside various statements made to the audience or the camera, called ‘promos.’ These story arcs, called ‘rivalries,’ can vary in quality. The best rivalry can build a legend around the personality of a performer that can catapult the performer into the proverbial stratosphere.

The best of these wrestlers, coupled with excellent rivalries, can elevate to the level of becoming a pop culture icon. Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, and John Cena are all examples of athletes who have become part of the social landscape through the simple act of excelling in telling a story through the act of mostly hitting other people.

There is something powerful about these tales. Certainly they are inventions of creative minds with performances by highly-trained athletes, but there can be inspiration found in both the feats of athleticism and in the tales carefully woven by promos and matches.

As Max Landis says: ‘Now don’t get me wrong, a lot of wrestling sucks, but when it’s good, it’s fucking great.’

As a piece of performance art, wrestling excels beyond many forms of entertainment because those who are putting on the performance are, arguably, doing more work than any other entertainer. There is no off-season for wrestlers, these men and women work multiple shows every week and, often, every day, for the entirety of the year. The level of dedication that this takes is astronomical, but wrestlers are a special breed who are willing to put their bodies on the line to give audiences a spectacle.

When someone is into wrestling, they get to be a part of something amazing. I spent a long time justifying my love for professional wrestling, but I have come to understand the sheer level of inspiration that professional wrestling can create. Those men and women who are willing to sacrifice themselves to entertain, motivate, and excite fans around the world.

Being a part of it, no matter how peripherally, has been an amazing experience. The Red-Trunker Radio podcast is steadily growing, but, more importantly, it has been a chance to get together with people I enjoy spending time with and have an awesome time speculating about what will happen next. Each of us feels like we are part of something and, for at least one member of our intrepid group of pontificators, this has become a creative outlet that was lacking, prior to the first published episode of RTR.

Maybe watching wrestling isn’t for you. Not every form of entertainment is for everyone. I love the Flash, but my wife isn’t a fan, while she loves Scandal and I can’t get into it. Neither one of us is a sports fan which is, according to the reactions I get from people trying to start a conversation, rather unusual.

All of this is fine.

But I still watched a few episodes of Scandal and picked an NFL team to follow until one of their players beat up a woman in an elevator.

If you haven’t watched wrestling or you haven’t watched it in a while, I recommend you give it a try. Max Landis’ video is a fun introduction and the WWE’s NXT is a very cool way to be introduced to the next generation of wrestling superstars. Heck, if you want, the next big special for the WWE is Survivor Series in November. Maybe see if you can check that one out.

And if you do, maybe check out the episode of RTR that will follow it.

Who knows, maybe it will become your second favorite podcast.

As for me, well, after finishing this article, having sat on it for ages, and fairly certain that the whole thing is a rambling mess but not caring, I think I’m going to listen to those podcasts that have been sitting in my queue. It’s been hard because, in a way, I have been experiencing the loss of someone who was influential to me for much of my life. Listening to those will be like interacting with the last part of this personal hero of mine.

So, this one’s for you, Roddy.


Here’s the link to Max’s awesome video, Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling.