Illustration: Moya Garrison-Msingwana
I’m 33 years old. It’s a weird age, teetering between being in touch and stuck in my ways. And I know I’m not the only one standing at the intersection of Young Buck and Old Head. Every time something comes along, whether it’s slang or pop culture or a new tech platform, you confront the same question: Am I too old for this? That’s why I’m here — to work through these conundrums on your behalf, on a weekly basis. Together, hopefully, we can face some harsh truths about our own washedness.
When my daddy was a kid, his stepdaddy used to take him to barn houses in Shreveport, Louisiana, where they’d watch live wrestling — a couple guys probably named Cotton Boy Jim and Overalls Griff having choreographed matches that the crowd thought were 100% authentic. My dad never stopped watching wrestling, and he made sure he passed that hobby down the line to me.
When I was a kid, my dad regaled me with the story of how Ric Flair survived a plane crash and came back to be a champion. (Flair did in fact survive a 1975 plane crash, along with a number of other wrestlers.) He’d sit me in front of the TV on Saturday mornings so I could watch WWF stars like Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior (RIP), and Macho Man (RIP). Then, on Saturday nights, I could watch WCW, the WWF’s rival league, and see Sting, Ron Simmons, and Lex Luger. It was heaven.
This isn’t a unique story. Most men, whether or not they admit it, have a wrestling season — a time when they loved professional wrestling and lived and died by every body slam. For some, it was those glory days of the early ’90s I just mentioned. Maybe it was the mid-’80s, when the WWF first exploded. For others, it was the Attitude Era of the late ’90s with Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, and the NWO. Others loved watching John Cena. Whenever your prime wrestling time was, it was just that: a time. Most wrestling fans eventually moved on. Mostly they moved on because they simply outgrew wrestling.
I did not.
I still have a profound love for semi-rehearsed feats of acrobatics and physical drama. I understand why people feel like they need to grow out of watching people in singlets and booty shorts pretending to fight each other in between melodramatic monologues and convoluted stories — but that doesn’t mean I ever stopped watching. Even in the down times, when wrestling wasn’t popular, my love for it never faltered.
Why? Because wrestling is goddamn awesome.
Hear me out. I love wrestling because it’s one of the most impressive forms of athleticism there is. Backflips, tilt-a-whirl slams, and hurancanranas performed live, with millimeter accuracy, in front of millions of people. Sure, the storylines can be worse than the most basic Tyler Perry script, but when wrestling works, it works. The cheesiness is all worth it for moments like Sasha Banks vs. Bayley setting the bar for women’s wrestling, or Daniel Bryan winning the championship at WrestleMania 30 after a yearlong storyline that he wasn’t “corporate” enough to be great, or any of the Okada vs. Omega classics.
When a storyline coalesces into something special, it can be a beautiful, perfect blend of physicality and emotion. I could easily find 10 matches or storylines that would put you on the edge of your seat as much as any episode of Scandal or This Is Us or whatever you uppities watch these days.
Now, it’s here that I must say — just in case you haven’t figured it out yet — that I’m not just a casual wrestling fan. I’m a wrestling fan. I’ve been to two WrestleManias. I’ve dragged my family to live events. I have New Day and Sasha Banks merch all over my house. I damn near cried when Ric Flair retired, and again when Kofi Kingston became the first Black wrestler to win the championship at WrestleMania last year. I’m a daily viewer of the WWE Network. The only reason I haven’t brought a replica championship belt to an event is because I’m too cheap to shell out $300 for one. But I absolutely would if I had that type of disposable income.
WrestleMania will be in an empty arena. That may seem weird and anemic, but I promise you, there’s no better time to get into professional wrestling than this — because empty arena shows are friggin’ bonkers.
Laugh if you want to, but wrestling at its dumbest isn’t any sillier than any episode of Love & Hip-Hop or Love Is Blind, which the entire world watched over the past few weeks. At this point, WWE is an American institution. In any normal non-pandemic situation, more than 100,000 people would be converging on Tampa Bay this weekend for WrestleMania, the annual Super Bowl of professional wrestling. I’ve been to All-Star weekend. I’ve been to Super Bowl weekends. WrestleMania weekend is just as fun as any of those.
But this WrestleMania weekend is different. Social distancing and shutdowns have rendered the event essentially dead. There won’t be 80,000 people packed into a stadium to watch Braun Strowman take on Goldberg. (Yes, he’s still wrestling… don’t ask.) Instead, WrestleMania will be in an empty arena. No audience. Just wrestlers in the ring and announcers. That may seem weird and anemic, but I promise you, there’s no better time to get into professional wrestling than this — because empty arena shows are friggin’ bonkers.
Seriously, Just look at this.