Last night I stood in the top row of the 18,000-person Allstate Arena and watched CM Punk charge a grown man in an electric wheelchair and proceed to smash his face in. It was just another week on the World Wrestling Entertainment’s Monday Night RAW.
For the uneducated, the weekly drama that ensues on RAW is a televised wrestling affair. It travels from city to city, and culminates each month in an absolutely swashbuckling pay-per-view event, whether it is Hell in a Cell or Summer Slam or the legendary Wrestlemania. The world of professional wrestling is dynamic, engrossing, and a downright riot. Sure, you can watch all of the action on the small screen, but going to a live show is not only a must for fans, it is a necessity for enthusiasts of sports, theater, and drama alike.
Chances are you have been channel-surfing at some point or another and have stumbled across pro wrestling. You might have glimpsed a jump from the ropes or a knee to the stomach or one of the many glorious finishers toted by each fighter. You saw the oversized muscles and the huge fireworks and the loud entrance music, and you probably kept on flipping. Fine. Live your life. Wrestling certainly has a niche that it looks to fill, but what you might not realize is that the niche is bigger than you think—the sport (yeah, read it again—sport) has something to offer pretty much everyone, and when you go and see it live and in person, it all becomes readily apparent.
The most apparent thing about going to a WWE event is easily the crowd—there is no other audience like it. Picture the two or three most passionate fans you have ever witnessed at a football game or baseball game, etc. Now, take that insane degree of fandom and apply it to every single one of the thousands of people in attendance at a wrestling match. It is nothing short of incredible to be in an arena with 18,000 people who know all of the celebrations, all of the chants, all the right times to cheer, all the right times to boo—there is no other environment like it. No matter who emerges from the tunnel—it could be the reigning world champ or a lowly tag-team—everyone freaks out as soon as that entrance music plays. The crowd knew that hometown hero CM Punk was going to emerge before his face even appeared on the big screen, they just heard Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality” and began screaming for the Chicagoan.
And it’s not just rabid twenty-year-old dudes in there, either. Little kids holler for John Cena, grizzled old-timers lead the way on the classic call for Rob! Van! Dam!, and the little chubby Mexican mother in the row in front of me even clapped and cheered to support her fellow countryman Alberto Del Rio. Everyone has a favorite, everyone has the heroes (and villains) that they root for, and everyone just gives being a fan all that they have. It is contagious in a way that you just will not understand until, like me, you suddenly find yourself joining in with thousands of other people in Daniel Bryan’s kinda-lame-kinda-not “Yes!” chant.
Of course, with the crowd bringing their A-game week in and week out, it would only fit that the wrestling is on par. In short, it totally is. Look, the fact that it is all choreographed and fake is obvious, but once you put that aside and treat what you are watching as a pure performance, you completely forget about the farce. The level of showmanship at a WWE event is unrivaled in sports. There are more lights, more fireworks, bigger moments, higher stakes (if only because they design it that way, but still), and more intensity in every fight than you can imagine.
Even if you set aside the wrestling, it is still an absolute blast to just see how the network of storylines plays out. In what other area of athletics can you have a champion lose their title in mere seconds? In the WWE, the Money in the Bank contracts make that possible. In what other area of entertainment is such a large part of the fun bashing the leading men and women in the industry, so much so that their cars are filled with cement and their heads are shaved live in front of millions of viewers? In the WWE, ripping on the McMahons is part of the culture.
In short, give wrestling a try. It is a hilarious, passionate, and hugely entertaining world. The personalities are huge, the fans are some of the best in modern popular culture, and those divas? Please.
But wait—what happened to CM Punk? Well, after the guy in the wheelchair had his goons throw the wrestler through a table, the man declared the “best in the world” came back at the end of the show, took a wooden rod from the announcer’s booth, and wailed on all three of them, exacting his revenge in front of his home crowd. The opening riff of that Living Colour song rang in your ears as you left.
You cannot make this stuff up, but hey, that is the norm in the WWE.