There is no more successful art than a body of work that makes us “feel.”
We’re drawn to it. “Feeling” is in the movies we watch, the books we read, the songs we sing. Through our suspension of reality, we’re inadvertently driven to achieving psychosis: lost in the moment, connecting wholly with that feeling.
When professional wrestling is truly great, man, do we feel something, or what? The culmination of a story, one that starts at Point A, runs through Point B, and ends either triumphantly or tragically at Point C. We’re taken on a ride, invested in the path of our preferred character, and see if they get to that place we really want to see them go. Passengers to their journey.
In the wrestling realm, the journey for many starts with the Royal Rumble. For the performers, it’s the journey to the biggest night of the year. A chance to hit restart and refresh, to put behind viewership numbers and often-ridiculed booking tropes, and move forward with hope that better days are ahead. It’s an annual guaranteed shot of adrenaline for at least two stars of today and tomorrow, a chance to elevate not just their pocket, but their profile.
We feel that anticipation, not just for them, but with them. Because “Royal Rumble” is so much more than a match. It’s a cultural rallying point for this business many of us love.
Show someone new to pro wrestling a standard match. Attempt to explain the difference between a Boston Crab and a schoolboy. It’s muddled. It’s messy. It’s complicated.
But this is so remedial. Take a person. Toss them over the rope. They’re done. That’s easy. That’s investable. Maybe that’s why we collectively, a pro wrestling fans, media, and consumers of product, feel so passionately about the Royal Rumble. All of us get it. It’s easy to enamor oneself with another’s pursuit of greatness.
I think back to the first Royal Rumble I ever watched live on television. Jan. 18, 1998. I was eight days short of my fifth birthday, not quite obtaining a full grip of the sports theater in front of me. But when Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie battered the hell out of one another, trying to gain leverage to toss the other over the top rope, that was it. So simple: punch, kick, struggle in the corner. All building to that moment of elation that I felt when one of my favorites would throw a guy out. I was hooked.
“I need to do that one day,” I thought to myself. “I need to know what that feels like.”
Last year, I had the chance to do just that, participating in my first real Royal Rumble-style match for a New England independent promotion called “Let’s Wrestle,” an offshoot of the popular Limitless Wrestling. Even in front of an audience of about 150 people, it was everything five-year-old me imagined it would be. I worked the first half of the match as a manager, antagonizing all the good guys and helping my client cheat to eliminate your beloved heroes. Then later in the match, my music hit as a surprise, and I quite literally leapt into action (off the middle rope).
I even had a chance to eliminate someone. I then experienced the thrill of being tossed head over heels onto hardwood floor, as the crowd erupted in cheer after seeing my Emmy Award-winning ass finally get kicked.
That feeling was everything I imagined it would be. Because everyone from the kids to the adults understood what the Rumble was about. Bonding together, cheering for their favorite to go the distance, and their most-hated to come up short. Finishing that ride is just the best feeling.
Maybe that’s why it hurts so much this year we can’t experience that together. Right now, there should be 45,000 of us shoulder to shoulder in a baseball stadium, collectively living our wrestling fantasies, just like I got to. Man is that just the worst feeling knowing what could be.
But in truth, this night remains what it is at its core: a chance for us to go on that journey again, even if its from our own living room, and let go of all that ails us, even if just for one night. To invest in our favorites, and root for the road ahead to be one worth riding on. I don’t know what normal is, but I think this annual treat will be the closest thing we’ve had in a while to it.
I can just feel it.