Old School

The first time I ever sat down to watch a wrestling pay per view I had no idea what I was in for.  I’d never watched before, I’d never been interested before.  Frankly I went along because my friend was having a viewing party and when you’re eleven years old you don’t want to be left out.  I was drawn in almost immediately.  By the second match of the night I found myself wondering just how I’d managed to make it eleven years without seeing this before.  All of those Saturday and Sunday afternoons spent toiling around, bored and aimless with nothing to entertain me meanwhile this was airing and I hadn’t even the slightest clue about it.  I’d heard about it.  I’d heard it was fake and I’d heard it was stupid and at eleven I considered the opinions of other eleven year old’s to be pretty valuable.  A lesson was learned though, a lesson which remains true today in so many different areas of life:  most of the time the thing that everyone loves can stink, and the think that everyone hates can be awesome.  Either way, from that day forward, I was hooked on wrestling and it is an affair that has lasted for the past eighteen years of my life.

Wrestling today would be almost unrecognizable to my eleven year old eyes.  So much has changed, the industry has rapidly moved away from the strong, long matched which told a story, worked a pace and kept you hooked and waiting to see what would happen.  Promos took place backstage and lasted one to two minutes and were usually just about the match at hand.  The matches themselves were slower paced, building towards the big finish unless of course they were PPV but there was only four or five a year so they felt special and instead of deciding if you wanted to watch you knew that you had to watch.  Who wanted to miss the big showdown?  You never saw the major names clashing on free television unless it was a very special night and in keeping things that way it made those PPV matches all the more necessary to witness.

Your commentators were invested in the show.  These guys made it seem like every match you were watching was the most important thing you’d ever see in your life.  They threw in some humor, some wit and layered everything with a deep field of knowledge on wrestling psychology.  You knew it was fake but it all felt so real when everyone was playing their part properly.  The great commentators of their day have mostly gone now, or are no longer involved in the business.  Gorilla Monsoon was a personal favorite of mine.  I loved his time with Bobby Heenan, and even his perhaps lesser known time with Johnny Polo (Raven.)  It all seemed so special back then.

Maybe things change with age, perhaps wrestling is now just the result of the same course it was always on but these days that feeling has gone from me.  I don’t sit down to watch a PPV with those butterflies in my stomach, I don’t tune into Raw wondering what exactly is going to happen.  In most cases you can predict the outcome because it is the same as it usually is.  There are moment that feel special.  Incidents which occur like flashes of greatness in an otherwise dark arena.  CM Punk has reminded us of the way wrestling could matter if the interest existed to perpetuate this cycle.  Of course the fear looms on the horizon and while WWE delivers us something we seek so desperately there is the worry of waiting for the other shoe to drop.. more about this in my column later this week.  So is wrestling still special, does it still awaken that excitement inside of you?

Sometimes I miss the old days, the old school of wrestling.  So many of the great names of those days have left us now by one tragic way or another.  Vince McMahon has transformed himself from the mogul of a wrestling company into the CEO of an entertainment company that seems to be ashamed of the very business that brought him all of his fortunes.  Twelve or thirteen PPVs a year seem almost as commonplace as Raw every Monday.  So why do I keep watching, and why do you?  Perhaps because when we fell in love with wrestling it showed us something and from time to time it shows us a little glimmer that it still exists as pristine as it comes to us in our memories and that someday, maybe soon, it could erupt once again and remind us why we started watching in the first place.  One can always hope.

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