Call us idiots. Tell us it's for kids. Remind us it's all a setup.
Wrestling fans are used to being mocked, but we don't care. We love our fake sport and nothing you say will change that.
Yes, wrestling is loud and crass and panders to our primal urges. It flouts political correctness. It mostly treats women like sex-crazed vixens or prizes to be won. But fans love pro wrestling because it tells archetypal stories of respect and revenge through a theatrical mix of gymnastics, staged competition and acting. The bad guy always gets what's coming to him, but only after an extended period of often bloody violence. And what's more American than breaking bones in the name of good?
I was drawn to wrestling as a kid by the hype for the first WrestleMania and the issues of Pro Wrestling Illustrated my older brother would buy on the long car trips to our grandparents' house. But I became hooked for life once "Macho Man" Randy Savage appeared in the WWF. With his flamboyant robes, high-flying offense, crazed interviews and beautiful manager, he wasn't just the most exciting wrestler I'd ever seen, he was from Sarasota, Fla., the town I lived in. Maybe I'd run into him at the mall one day! Exciting thoughts for an 8-year-old.
No other sport equals wrestling when it comes to engaging the crowd, because nothing else offers the same combination of competitive spirit and addictive serialized storytelling. We love wrestling for the larger-than-life characters that possess superhuman charisma and skill, from fantastic talkers and athletes like Randy Savage and Chris Jericho, to innately likable high-flyers like AJ Styles and Rey Mysterio. We love watching underdogs like Bret Hart, Eddie Guerrero, and the Miz debut at the bottom of the card and slowly work their way up to the top.
I'm older now, but I, and many other men in their mid-30s, still love the idea of wrestling even though the current sterilized product can bore us to tears. I haven't watched wrestling much since 2002, right around the time it changed over to the WWE. I got sucked back in when cult heroes Guerrero and Chris Benoit achieved the unthinkable and won World Championships in 2004, but Guerrero's death in 2005 brought an end to my brief return to wrestling. After the Benoit murder/suicide tragedy I thought there was no way I'd ever watch a WWE show again.
But I never stopped thinking about wrestling. I'd play wrestling video games, watch old matches on DVD or YouTube, fantasy book old NWA or WCW angles during boring meetings, and regularly read a few wrestling news sites and message boards. I followed the industry even when my conscience wouldn't let me support it. I couldn't escape the primal allure of its casual violence and comic book justice.
I don't love today's wrestling nearly as much as I do the wrestling of the past — I DVR "Monday Night Raw" and zip through it in a 15-minute blur. And I'm not going to WrestleMania WWVII this weekend because of an active ongoing love for wrestling. I'm going because it's my first real opportunity to attend an event that meant far more to me as a kid than the Super Bowl ever did.
Maybe I'm obsessed. Maybe some part of my brain is damaged and fixates unhealthily on this lowbrow nonsense. Or maybe there is a lasting power to this weird performance art that makes real the power fantasies found in comic books, video games and big-budget action films. All I know is I'll be at the Dome this weekend for WrestleMania XXVII, and I'll be pissed if CM Punk loses to Randy Orton, the most boring wrestler ever. That dude's a walking Ambien with full sleeve tattoos.