The mania of ‘Mania

Please do not try this at home.

By Rob Bloom
January 15, 2005

Admitting that one is a professional wrestling fan isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do. For many years, I was tormented in grade school. Even the smelly girl and the boy who ate paste took turns insulting my Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior T-shirts. My enjoyment of watching grown men in tights pretend to hurt one another has even caused me grief in adulthood. For some reason, my eventual mother-in-law was not initially dazzled by my knowledge of Andre The Giant’s ring size (you could put an egg through it!) or Ric Flair’s numerous world championships (17, baby! Woooo!). Couldn’t she see that wrestling is just like a ballet? A ballet where the dancers bash each other over the head with steel chairs, that is.

But this is who I am – I am a wrestling fan. And after years of downplaying my love of the “mat wars,” the time has finally come for me to stand tall and defend my passion. This John Hughes-esque, coming-of-age story began with a trip to the biggest show in the history of the business: WrestleMania XX.

WrestleMania is, as the promoters will preach, “the showcase of the immortals. The one time during the year when mere mortals can become legends by performing on the grandest stage of them all.” Now while the stage is, in fact, quite pretty, that’s an awful lot of hype for choreographed fighting. Despite the overblown hype, however, ‘Mania truly has wrestled its way into the hearts of millions of fans around the world by setting new standards for pageantry, celebrity, artistry, and oh yeah, wrestling.

Sitting in the sold-out crowd of wrestlemaniacs, I couldn’t help but revel in the feeling of excitement buzzing through the air. This was definitely a happening. People had traveled from 17 different countries to attend this celebration of hot pink spandex and tanning oil. Incidentally, the fact that WrestleMania XX was playing host to the first-ever “Playboy Evening Gown Match” didn’t hurt ticket sales either.

Professional wrestlers live and breathe for the chance to perform on the WrestleMania stage. And as the evening rolled along, the grapplers didn’t disappoint in entertaining. Neither did my fellow fans, for that matter.

Wrestling fans are an interesting breed. They vary in ages, social economic status, gender, ethnicity, and number of teeth. Take for instance, the gentleman to my left who apparently forgot to shower for the last three years. To the delight of everybody in the section, he removed his stained T-shirt midway through the night and proceeded to raise his arms in celebratory cheer…frequently. In front of me sat a group of teenage boys, decked out in their Sunday best: long, black sequined robes, complete with feathered boas and of course, replica championship belts draped proudly over their shoulders. With these $300 belts in their possession, the government has clearly been successful in seeing that no child is left behind. Then there was the woman behind me who was physically restrained by a security guard when she tried to run towards the ring to attack a villainous wrestler. Aside from providing a few moments of unscripted entertainment, this incident raises an interesting question: isn’t it ironic that 350-pound men can take a steel chair and bash their opponent over the head multiple times while guards quietly stand nearby? However, if a fan throws a few ice cubes from the 30th row, they’re going to be spending a night in jail.

I realize that many of you are not familiar with the antics and hijinks that take place in a wrestling ring. Therefore as a public service, I will provide a few basic guidelines to help make your initiation easier:

• It’s not wise to trust somebody who was your enemy until four weeks ago and now says, “I got your back, brother” every five seconds and wants to be your tag team partner. 
• The loser of a “retirement match” never retires.
• What’s promoted to be a “20-foot-tall steel cage” is really just a rickety, chain-link fence.
• The guy who comes to the ring without entrance music or explosive pyro will never win.
• Top wrestlers need an adjective placed before their name, preferably one that provides alliteration (i.e. ‘Ravishing’ Rick Rude or Carlito Caribbean Cool).
• When an awful deed is taking place inside the ring, the referee will either be knocked unconscious or staring uncomprehendingly at the fans who are screaming for him to turn around. Unfortunately, when he does, it will have just ended. 
• When an established wrestler ceases to draw money at the box office, the promoter will simply turn him “bad.” Or good. Or bad then good then bad again!

But wait a minute. Isn’t it all fake?

Who cares? Wrestling fans surely don’t. We look past the silly costumes, political incorrectness, and hokey skits because to us, we’re the ones who are ‘in’ on the joke. It’s the rest of the world that doesn’t get it. We know that aside from the biceps and the bimbos, pro wrestling really is the ultimate display of athletics and competitive spirit. It’s an entertaining release from reality where, for a few hours a week, you can live vicariously through these modern day superheroes who exist in a society with entrance videos, theme music, and cartoonish violence. And in our very real world of corporate backstabbing, legal battles, and self-serving political agendas, isn’t it nice to know that there’s still one endeavor where the good guy can come out on top?