Who remembers their introduction to professional wrestling? Do you recall that fantastical moment when it all changed for you? The second that time stopped and this thing of ours dragged you into the depths of which we all still find ourselves, many of us decades later? It’s a hole that some manage to get out of as time goes on, but for many of us that moment never comes – not because we can’t get out, but because we refuse to try. The love is that real. Whatever it is, whether the majesty, the stories, the magic, the faces…we willingly drown ourselves in it and smile as we do.
It’s a love unmatched in my life. If you’re sitting here and reading this, I can confidently submit that you get it and that you probably feel the same way. It might be an odd thing to admit – having this palpable love for something that cannot love you back – this admiration for something that doesn’t know you exist. But life is heavy. The things we lean on when the darkness falls rise like a phoenix in the night. We cling to them like they indeed are meant solely for us. That mystique and unique ability to reach into someone’s soul and impact tangible warmth is otherworldly. So, for this thing that saves us – we show love.
I know that in my 22 years as a fan – a blink in time compared to some – that wrestling has allowed me countless escapes from horrors life has thrown my way. I’ve said it before, but on more than one occasion, it’s saved my life. That’s not something to joke about, and I wouldn’t dare, but it’s the truth. Once, it was a story I needed to see through to the end. Another time, a favorite was due a title opportunity and I felt invested enough to sink myself into the drive to a WrestleMania moment well-deserved. Yet another was a superstar reaching through the screen and showing me that I was stronger than anything life could throw at me.
These specific instances happened long ago to a girl I barely recognize any longer. I’m very proud of that. But it doesn’t mean that wrestling doesn’t have that same transcendental impact on me as it once did. I imagine that this impact isn’t a unique quality to myself. It must exist on a plane we all live on. We wouldn’t be as invested as we all are otherwise. We wouldn’t care nearly enough to argue as we do, laugh as we do, and smile as we do. It just wouldn’t matter. Yet here we are.
It’s an odd space to occupy at times, isn’t it? We seek it out, some of us, to find like-minded individuals to connect with. Oftentimes, people in our own lives don’t understand the passion for something stigmatized for eternity as “fake.” It doesn’t matter how often we explain or how well we break down the layered beauty that is professional wrestling. It’s increasingly impossible to change minds in this day and age, even amongst ourselves. I’ve said it many times before, but we’re oftentimes an insufferable bunch. We run to each other seemingly to only fight with one another about the most trivial things in a business we all love.
For some of us, the passion ends there. We exist amongst our peers and lose ourselves in the magic. Tensions simmer always, but when the wonder happens, we all sway quietly under the calming lights of what we’ve always adored. We’re a family in those moments. Call me naïve, but I cannot count the number of instances I’ve witnessed as a fan in which the community has pulled together to rally behind a person, a moment, or a tragedy. It happens all the time. That’s the community I know and love. That’s the community I’ll always come back to and lean on when my heart needs a lift.
For some of us others, a select few, we choose to walk forward unabashed – with blinders on – to inch as close to the beating heart of the business as possible. Some do it for money, others for notoriety, and others still because the joy they feel being immersed in it all even a little is a feeling unmatched. We create things and place attention on those in the wrestling world we admire. We let loose news that fans clamor for in an age where privacy is merely but a dream. We claw for exclusives and send interview requests into the unknown hoping for a bite before our friends and colleagues. It’s a snake pit of vitriol and madness at its worst. But at its best, it’s a magical world of wonder.
If only for a moment, we get to peel back the curtain. Some get longer peeks than others of course, but for split seconds, the energy feels very real. It’s a feeling I never knew I wanted or needed, but now that I’ve felt it, I don’t ever want to stop striving for more. Even that, I’m on the furthest outskirts of this thing of ours as humanly possible, but that’s still enough for me. The features I write are not news. They are not forced, are not fancy or fake, and are not masterpieces. But they are mine. They are tiny pieces of my heart that I’ve chosen to give back to something that helped to rebuild my own when it was a shattered mess. I can’t quantify the joy and peace writing these love letters brings to me.
Fans feed into competition relentlessly. As much as some would like to believe we’re on the inside, we’re just fans at the end of the day. All of us. We choose this path to gain access of varying levels to a world we’ve loved since childhood. But we are still who we are. We get goosebumps when we see something amazing, just like we did once upon a time. We get butterflies when talking to or meeting someone we’ve watched perform time and time again. We’re not in the business. We’re just chasing it further than most. It’s wonderful to experience, but it certainly doesn’t make us better.
One thing I’m grateful for in all my wrestling fandom is that largely, my introduction to this thing of ours was built around respect. As I sat on my Grandad’s lap one Monday night in late 1998, I can vividly remember looking up to his weathered face and stubbly white beard and asking him why a man had wiped his feet off before he walked into the ring. I’m smiling now as I remember his laugh as I asked him if he had stepped in something yucky during his entrance. If I close my eyes, I can still feel my little body shake as his belly shakes uncontrollably at my silly – though astute for a six-year-old – question.
After the laughter had subsided, I was given an explanation I still have never forgotten. My Grandad spoke of respect. The men and women did that with their feet for all who had come before and for all the sacrifices made. They showed honor to prove they were not above the business putting food on their table. He said to me, “Every time someone wipes their feet before a match, they’re bowing to everything and everyone who gave them a chance to stand where they stand.”
It didn’t hit me then, mind you – I was only six – but looking back I can recognize and appreciate the gravity of his words and the impact they’ve had on me since. We hold this business up to the heavens for reasons our own, but we all hold it there all the same. All of us. It’s far from a perfect world, but we stay because we love it. I think that’s something we need to remember more often.
Like my Grandad explained to me all those years ago, it’s a business built on respect and honor. If the people involved so graciously and openly show their own, it’s high time we show ours too. Before you tune into your show of choice or your preferred promotion, before you begin writing a feature or a news article, before you record your next podcast highlighting or criticizing anyone and anything, before you step foot through the gate at a live show amongst your peers, or before you log into Twitter to chat away about THAT match or THAT person (whether talent or fan), take a moment and mindfully wipe your feet. Remember that child you were and ask yourself if they would be proud of the person you are now.
For many of us, that pride would be unquestionable, I have no doubt. For others, I’m not so sure. This can be a toxic space. It’s not very different from many others. But it can be. We must be better with each other. We must support each other. We must love each other. We’re a microcosm of something much bigger in the world yet also something unique to itself and itself only. We’re outcasts, all of us, eagerly awaiting the next story in something we’ve loved for a lifetime. So, please, let’s be better to each other. We’re all connected after all within this thing of ours.
This magical, ridiculous, endlessly wonderful thing of ours.