If you had asked me a year ago what I thought of pro wrestling, I would have said “meh.” I knew it was a thing, of course, but not a thing for me. It seemed to be geared towards mostly men and kids, and the stars looked like cartoon characters (spoiler alert: they are cartoon characters).
Then I met my dude. This is not one of those, “I must be the ultimate Cool Girl and like everything that Dude likes” stories. I’ve been there, done that. Never again!
I didn’t watch wrestling with Dude for the first year and half we dated. It was his thing. I did think it was cute how he nerded out over it, though. He had spreadsheets tracking wins and losses, and he and his best friend would have Skype sessions to discuss storylines and ideal promotions. I love nerdiness, and spreadsheets get me all hot.
Other than that, I didn’t have much interest. We both had our passions: he had wrestling, I had the BBC.
For his birthday last year, I wanted to do something to show how much I appreciated his overall awesomeness. Conveniently, WWE Raw was going to be nearby in October. I knew that getting tickets would blow his mind, so I got tickets for both of us. I figured it’d a funny story. My attitude was that I was doing it as a gift to him... I’d be taking one for the team, basically.
Although I didn’t have a clue what was going on for the most part, the energy in the arena was contagious.
I was surprised to learn that the fans were 100% in on it. At least the ones over 10, anyway. The vast majority of the audience is under no illusion of the “realness” of any fights. As I discovered, realness is not the point of pro wrestling.
The fans are a huge part of the show. They guide the action and contribute to the quality of the bits in a way that reminds me of improv theatre -- which, in effect, wrestling kind of is. Sure, it’s rehearsed and the outcome is predetermined, but a lot of what’s in the middle is “called” by the performers on the spot.
I grew up performing in local community theatre, mostly in musicals, so I can appreciate how hard it is to put yourself out there like that. With wrestling, not only are the performers dependent on the audience and their partners, but also their own bodies. Wrestling is intensely physical. The amount of endurance and strength the athletes need to pull off the moves without hurting each other is absolutely crazy to me.
So even without knowing who any of the wrestlers were, or their storylines, I had a ton of fun at my first WWE show.
The one thing that disappointed me was the treatment of the “Divas” (and that name, ew). The match was super short, really lame, and more T&A than actual wrestling. Lots of fans treated the match like an intermission. It was obvious that no one was really paying attention, which was a bummer to witness.
It doesn’t help that the Diva’s Championship belt is terrible. It looks like a 1999 Britney album cover. When compared to the men’s World Heavyweight Championship belt, it looks extra offensive -- like a spangly, cheap toy.
I watched some wrestling on TV after that first show, but only when Dude was watching. There were a couple guys I liked, and some of the matches were interesting, but I still didn’t really give a whole damn.
I did really enjoy watching documentaries about the history of pro wrestling. I got a better appreciation of the effort that goes into the characters and storylines. It really is impressive, and it helped me understand why smart, cynical Dude was so into it.
A few months ago, when it was burning up the internet forums he frequents, Dude asked me to watch this NXT Women’s Championship match, a fatal four-way between the Four Horsewomen. It was mind-blowingly awesome, by far the best match I had seen up to that point, men’s or women’s. It was clear that NXT was absolutely crushing the WWE with their Women’s division.
NXT is the relatively new minor league of WWE. They train new talent and help them develop characters. The performers in this division wrestle with a lot of pizzazz, since each has the hope of making a name for themselves, and getting called up to the main WWE roster.
The so-called Four Horsewomen of NXT have been the main drivers of a serious change in how women are treated in pro wrestling. Sasha Banks, aka the Boss, is a badass scrapper with a cocky attitude that she backs up with serious talent. Becky Lynch is the inexplicably steampunk Irish brawler who never gives up. Charlotte, daughter of wrestling legend Ric Flair, is a natural athlete who showcases flexibility and toughness in her matches. Last but not least is Bayley, the feel good story, a little-girl-grown-up who is living her dream. Everyone roots for Bayley, and kids love her. She also has chops; she has stood toe-to-toe with the best and come out the winner-- she is the current NXT Women’s Champion.
Since that awesome fatal four-way match, I’ve seen each of these women bring down the house at larger and larger events. Sasha had an incredible match with Bayley that stole the show at NXT’s first ever live Takeover event in Brooklyn. At the next NXT event, the pair made history as the first women ever to Main Event a show.
The best part of watching these matches has been the chants of “This is Wrestling” and “You Deserve It” from the crowd.
The fans are totally behind them, and not in a patronizing way, in a real, legitimate-fan way. Previously, from an outsider’s perspective, I would never have expected the fans to embrace a change like this. I suspected (and apparently WWE execs did too) that the fanbase would want eye candy only.
The “Women’s Revolution” in NXT has proven without a doubt that is not the case.
To give WWE credit, they saw how fans reacted to NXT, and started incorporating better women’s matches into their shows. Sasha, Becky, and Charlotte were called up to the big leagues, and now there’s a #DivasRevolution match at nearly every show. They still need to work on that belt, but hey… progress is progress!
It has been super exciting to see the kickass women of NXT effecting a change on how the WWE “Divas” are handled. The existing women wrestlers of WWE have stepped their game up to match, and I actually care about WWE in a way I never expected to. The matches and storylines are compelling, but most of all, the performers are a blast to watch in the ring.
I realize I got super lucky with the timing of all this; I was introduced to wrestling at just the right time, when women were finally starting to get the respect they deserved in a space that had ignored their potential for far too long.
I hope that the direction of women’s wrestling continues, and that the division gets more and more competitive and exciting. If it does, they can count me as a fan for life-- something I really never expected I would say about pro wrestling.