Wrestling fans come in two stripes:
1. The obvious Hillbilly Jims who buy the merch, attend the shows and firmly advocate the ‘it’s still real to me, damn it’ position. These knuckleheads can be found throughout the country and basically exist to reinforce the notion that some people should be sterilized in high school for the good of all humanity.
2. The Silent Brotherhood. They’re smart, they’re well-informed, they know their history and they’re totally inconspicuous.
That cute girl you dated last year? She’s a member.
The nebbish accountant who files your tax return? Him too.
Hot gay bartender who makes the best mojitos this side of Havana? Oh yeah. Big time.
Your history professor? In like Flynn.
Your mom? Ever since the days of Ricky the Steamboat, son.
The brotherhood functions like a speakeasy — you gotta know the right people and right password or you’ll be left out in the cold.
You know who you are.
I know who you are.
You know how I know you know who you are?
Because I know that you know that Virgil was the greatest wrestler of all time. He has the technical prowess of Bret Hart, the mic skills of Mr. Perfect and a gimmick as enduring as The Undertaker’s.
Of course, if you’re one of the Silent Brotherhood, you haven’t read a word of this. You’re still stuck on the last paragraph, red-faced and sputtering the fact that I named such a sub-par jobber as the greatest of all time.
I started watching pro-wrestling as a kid. It was essentially a living cartoon – mustache-twirling Heels, freshly scrubbed Faces and the kind of animated violence that would make Wile E. Coyote wince. I stopped watching once I moved to the States, but picked it up again in college when I realized that both Biffle and McGillis were part of the same secret society.
We’d spend one Sunday every month at Winghouse, drinking beer and yelling like spectators at the Coliseum.
Yeah, I didn’t date a whole lot in college. Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses hang out with two big (albeit very cute), drunk dudes who spend their night screaming for blood.
Now that I’m a grown-up with sensible shoes and a 403b, I no longer frequent wing joints to watch Pay-Per-View specials. BUT, the world of pro-wrestling still fascinates me.
It’s less the spectacle and more the ethos behind it.
It amazes me that so many are willing to dedicate themselves to it. They spend days on the road getting the shit beaten out of them (you can crow that it’s not real all you want, but smashing face-first into a canvas hurts. Whipping against the ropes and colliding with a turnbuckle? It’s painful. The Vertebreaker might not actually snap your spine, but dude, come on. It doesn’t feel like a massage) and for what?
The roar of the crowd and a jank-ass belt.
Is it really worth it?
As a general rule, wrestlers lead Hobbesian lives — nasty,brutish and short — and every year, the list of dead wrestlers gets longer and longer.
Since a majority of these deaths are due to drug abuse, the WWE finally launched a program to offer rehab assistance to any former talent in need. It’s an big gesture and undoubtedly an important one, but in all honesty, this is the equivalent of closing the stable door about thirty years after the horse bolted. At this point, Trigger’s been ground up for dog food and the dog who ate him has been dead for the past fifteen years.
And yet, young men come in droves. They know the life-span is short. They know the path is dangerous. Hell, they know there’s no union to stand up for their rights, but no matter. Theirs is a compulsion, An almost masochistic desire to bleed all over the canvas, pulverize the flesh and drive out whatever demons haunt them through brutal exorcism.
In The Godfather III, Michael Corleone laments the fact that every time he thinks he’s out, the old lifestyle pulls him back in.
That’s pro-wrestling in a nutshell. An old-school guy retires, finally giving his body a moment’s peace. A break from the bumps, bruises and bleeding…only to come lumbering down the aisle a couple of years later for a cheap pop.
It’s been years since I saw a match and I couldn’t tell you who currently holds the world championship title if my life depended on it but I know I’ll never leave. Not really.
Because every time I think I’m out, another wrestler (and part of my childhood) dies and I get pulled right back in.