It’s Sunday night in mid-July and I’m on a date that’s slowly approaching witching hour. I’m standing at the bar, card in hand about to order another round of drinks (Zombie cocktails, helping people get together since the 1930s) and use missing the last train home as a springboard to get an invite back to hers. As I get the bartender's attention, I notice the time and cancel my order before walking my date to the bus stop. For that Sunday I had already ordered WWE event “Money In The Bank” on Pay Per View and I didn’t want to miss the opening.
If you’re wondering what makes a grown man turn down the possibility of a bunk up for watching over a dozen men grapple over a briefcase, allow me to back up a little. As seems to be a frequently increasing thing in entertainment at the moment, it owes a lot to one Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Current “franchise Viagra” (see: GI Joe and Fast & Furious) and Hollywood action star of choice at the moment holds a special place in many a wrestling fan thanks to his wrestling stint during the WWE’s “Attitude Era” alongside such legends as Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Undertaker and Mankind. So when I heard news of his wrestling return in last year’s Royal Rumble, my curiosity was piqued; I’d never seen a Royal Rumble before so I figured it’d be a laugh to tune it.
Wrestling terminology harkens back from its carnival fun fair roots. Someone who believes wrestling is real is a “mark” (in the con artist sense of the word). Someone who’s in on the act and has knowledge of all the behind the scenes wrestling politics is referred to as a smart mark, or “smark”. For most young wrestling fans, there comes a point at where they they learn wrestling is fake and either turn into a smark, or pack it all in for booze/girls/guitar/a more fulfilling life. I never got that moment. As a child, I never stopped watching wrestling of my own accord, but was instead banned from watching by my mother after one too many wrestling moves at school got me into trouble. I never got the chance to grow out of wrestling. I may have learned it was fake in my early teens, but there was still a mark knocking around somewhere inside me.
So when I switched on to watch the Royal Rumble last year, I was nine years old again. Wrestling is often referred to as male soap opera; there’s easy to grasp stories of good guys (otherwise known as a face in carny speak) versus bad guys (heels) as they return week after week, cliffhanger after cliffhanger until that inevitable pay off in monthly Pay Per Views. Sitting at the almost perfect intersection of sports (you can tell a good wrestler by how smooth they look in the ring and how well they act hurt – “selling an opponents offense”) and the crazy world of comic books (Youtube is just full of bizarre and often hilarious wrestling segments), wrestling sat just right for someone like me. People talk about the magic of the FA Cup, but in wrestling you really can have a Cinderella story, because someone wrote it in.
What started as in January last year has developed into a minor obsession of mine. As of writing, I’ve have watched nearly every WWE PPV since Rumble ’13 – those I didn’t weren’t due to rational reasons such not wanting to be up until 4am on Monday morning, or indeed to try my luck on a July night with a fair lady, but for smark reasons. I wasn’t tuning in because I knew there was no way the story writers were going to book a victory for a wrestler I liked Not only have I watched most of last year’s content, I’ve also gone back and watched some of the WWEs classic matches (I am convinced Brett Hart had a degree of foreknowledge about the Montreal Screwjob). I often walk into rooms imagining I’m making an entrance on Monday Night Raw (puff out chest, scan the room, wait for reaction, then walk.). There’s a Ric Flair reference on my cover letter. A wrestling analysis website is one of my most read tabs and someone had the gall to call me “wrestling hipster” for my insistence that CM Punk use the Pepsi Plunge if he face Triple H at Wrestlemania this year.
I do have a moment of clarity every now and again. My attempt to make wrestling chat a suitable pub replacement for football in the summer garnered raised eyebrows when friends got past their initial nostalgic anecdotes – “You still watch that crap Carl? After I’ve told you repeatedly to jump on Breaking Bad?”. In October last year a girl I was talking to in a bar walked off in a huff when she realised I was watching Smackdown on the screens behind her. I don’t care much, this Christmas to bring my story full circle, my mother, the woman who banned me from watching wrestling, gave me a top 25 rivalries DVD as a present.
In the end I’ll leave it to someone far more enlightened than myself to finish this piece on a happy note.
“Every single human being is born with an equally incredible potential to do great and awesome things in their life."
That was by the Ultimate Warrior. He’ll be entering the WWE Hall Of Fame on Sunday ahead of the Royal Rumble. If a wrestler can come up with that sort of pep talk, then what’s the harm in still watching?
Then again, he is also the author of * this * Shakespearian sonnet of a promo.
Perhaps I’ll tape this year’s Rumble instead…
Since it's impossible for Carl to travel around the globe, offer you a Snapple and show you more about the wonders of wrestling, he offers the next best thing; impersonal internet connectivity. Here’s his Twitter – he’s just full of useless information