[image-1]So now is as good a time as any to talk about professional wrestling. But before we get started, let me qualify a few things: It has been more than 13 years since I actually watched a wrestling program — be it live or televised.
A lot of this has to do with learning that cable TV is very expensive. This is a sad fact that dawned on me as I entered into the adult world, which is something I strongly advise against. If at all possible, take up smoking and drinking caffeine at an early age. This will hopefully stunt your growth enough that you can catch a ride on the nearest school bus and pass as child well into your thirties. I attempted this, but my facial hair and crushing cynicism kept giving me away. But before all that happened, I was an avid wrestling fan.
Growing up, I lived next door to a professional wrestler, which seems odd. It is. But for a time, it was very exciting.
Pursuing a career with the now defunct World Championship Wrestling, Chip Minton was also an Olympic bobsledder and my neighbor. I’m not sure how he ranks those life achievements, but telling people you were my neighbor will get you out of a speeding ticket and earn you a free small popcorn at your nearest Regal Cinemas. As a former prison guard, bodybuilder, and world-class athlete, Minton seemed like a natural for the squared circle. When he’d return from training, Minton would hand over whatever souvenirs he had brought home and tell me when I might be able to catch him on television. This was the usual routine for a while, a pleasant one, living next door to someone with legitimate reasons to own tights. Then things fell apart.
According to Minton, he became wrapped up in drugs and alcohol. Earlier this month, he told the News Herald in Morganton, N.C., “I lost my wife, my family, my cars, my house, and I ended up in an $18-dollar-a-night hotel room.”
Now touring as a motivational speaker, Minton talks to others about how he turned his life around, which is great to hear. In the meantime, I’ve started to turn my attention back to wrestling after a recommendation from our readers.
Those of you who pay attention to bylines may remember that I am also responsible for a recent series of episode recaps for the reality show Southern Charm. After this past season concluded, we offered up a small Twitter poll to ask readers what I should write about next. While this was mostly just a midday distraction, WWE Raw was the clear winner, and this proved to be just enough motivation to dip my toes back into the world of sports entertainment. Monitoring the steady stream of wrestling recaps on YouTube and keeping my eyes to the horizon, I noticed that the biggest names in professional wrestling were coming to the North Charleston Coliseum for their live holiday tour. And finally, after months of biding my time and writing thousands of words that have nothing to do with wrestling, it was time.
The holiday spirit of competition
On Sun. Nov. 27, joined by my City Paper colleague Connelly Hardaway, I took my seat at the Coliseum amongst my fellow plebeians and prepared for violence. With a comically large, yet insufficient beer in one hand and a pen and notepad in the other, I was ready to have my bloodlust sated and stomach turned. What I got to begin with was a hidden-camera show.
Our eyes directed toward the TitanTron, the crowd watched as a child was asked to insult wrestlers as they lurked behind a curtain and listened on. As this small boy launched into a full-on verbal assault of wrestlers Randy Orton and Seth Rollins, they emerged one after the other and startled the boy. Thinking back to my own childhood memories of wrestling, during what is now called the “Attitude Era” when blood and sex and obscenities were commonplace, I expected these men to pummel the small child for his insolence and pour beer onto his frail, unconscious body. Instead, from out of nowhere, the boy switched from saying how much these two men “sucked” — a common phrase for children at wrestling events — and he began hugging them. Apparently, the pure love and adoration of a child is the only way to counter an RKO.
Moving on, we finally arrived at the first match of the evening: A fatal four-way involving the tag-team champions, the New Day. For reasons that I am still unable to discern, the New Day approached the ring with fake unicorn horns strapped to their heads. I guess I could have just written “unicorn horns” and left the “fake” part out of the last sentence, but I don’t want you to think that the New Day are portrayed as some gang of cryptozoological poachers. That said, one of them carries a trombone, occasionally climbing the turnbuckles before sounding off with a farty little riff that really seemed to resonate with the crowd. I was captivated.
[image-2]Next came Enzo and Cass — a smaller man with an interesting combination of facial and cranial hair partnered with an impossibly tall man, who is so tall, I turned to Connelly and say, “He is so tall.” She agreed.
Grabbing the microphone, Enzo began talking, his every word matched by the crowd. This was not some simple call and response. He was delivering some beat-poet riot act to his opponents, whom he had deemed “Sawft,” and the crowd knew every word.
According to my notes, “the Irish guy and man who looks like the rapper Pitbull” were the next team to take to the ring. I would soon realize that this was Sheamus and Cesaro. We were later informed that autographed shirts reading “Cesaro Section” were available for purchase, the true meaning of which is better left un-dissected.
The match was rounded out by two men named Gallows and Anderson, who were as equally muscled and impressive as their six opponents, but the evening’s match would belong to the New Day.
Later in the night, I’d see a familiar face from my youth — Goldust. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Goldust character, he was brought on in the mid-’90s as a provocative heel aimed at playing upon some gay panic present in the audience. With his facepaint and skintight golden bodysuit, he’d writhe and grope in hopes of molesting his male opponents into submission. Now, Goldust has formed a duo with a man named R-Truth. Known as the “Golden Truth,” they dance their way to the ring as R-Truth raps the tag team’s theme song, the lyrics of which scroll across the TitanTron so the crowd can follow along: “We’re two talented son of a guns. We dancing, rapping, joking, having fun.” The man behind the gold paint stuck with the Goldust character long enough to endear himself to fans. Looking to my right, I noticed a young boy wearing what looked to be a Goldust mask. I don’t know if this is progress.
[image-3]The Golden Truth was joined in their match by Darren Young, whom I later learned is WWE’s first openly gay wrestler. This wasn’t mentioned during his introduction or at any point in the match. I wouldn’t have even known this particular detail if I hadn’t Googled his name to make sure it was spelled correctly. Having not been paying attention for the past decade, I think this is progress.
As the lights dimmed once more to greet another round of performers, the name Lana flashed across every screen in the arena. Dressed in a silver jacket and miniskirt, she made her way to the ring. The crowd began to chant “U.S.A,” which told me that Lana is the traditional “evil foreigner” character that has long been a hallmark of professional wrestling. With what sounded like a Russian accent, she called Charleston a “small, pathetic village,” adding that “The only thing worse than being a failure is being American.” There is a very lucrative market for those wanting to be insulted by scantily clad women, and the WWE has tapped into that while maintaining a family-friendly facade. Lana also began the running joke of the evening, which is confusing South Carolina with North Carolina.
Chris Jericho, who is great, also ran with the North Carolina bit, before his match with Seth Rollins. Rollins — who seems like he should be the heel because he looks like a wet, unkempt Snidely Whiplash — played the babyface. Referring to my notes, I made sure to jot down that Rollins has “back dimples” because he is an attractive man. My notes at this point seem to drift off into the appropriate amount of chest hair needed to really define someone’s abs and statements like “I wonder what his shirt smells like.” Admittedly, these mirror my notes after any regular city council meeting.
After a brief intermission, it was time for the final matches of the night, but my attention began to drift. On my way back to my seat, I had passed an elderly woman, probably in her seventies, wearing a Roman Reigns shirt. Reigns was one of the night’s headliners, but that woman was the true star of the show.
Seated in front of me throughout the evening was a young boy, probably 11, and his mother. She had taken pictures of the wrestlers during each match, occasionally sneaking a photo of her son as he looked on. By the end of the night, he had shifted from the edge of his seat to lean back into his mother’s arm.
As a kid — and especially as an adult — I was never very interested in sports. Unless you consider wrestling a sport. I tended to avoid anything that could possibly put me in a position to lose or force me to confront others.
Looking back, maybe I should have kept my attention on wrestling or something equally as combative. It’s easy to be dismissive of sports for whatever negative reasons you choose to associate with them, but they do offer one clear lesson — the ever-constant threat of competition. John Hodgman — who you may know as an author, actor, or the PC from those Mac commercials — was the first person to really elucidate the benefit of competition to me, as well as the dangers of avoiding it.
“I think a lot of the nerdsmanship of the left wing has been the self-destructive impulse that comes from the trauma of having not competed in sports, which is, ‘I would rather refuse to play a barbaric game on principle then compromise myself and win.’ I think that’s where our contempt — and indeed my contempt for sports at times — has been a disservice to the things that we care about,” Hodgman told the A.V. Club in 2012. “I think it’s horrible to think of politics and governing a nation as a sporting event, and I think there are a ton of problems with the media covering it as a horse race or another kind of sport. But that said, we have a competitive system where people are competing for votes, and competition is a valuable thing. To be able to face someone and collect yourself and not be scared off of a position and to fight for it and to win, that’s a valuable thing. And you do learn it from sports.”
That said, I started my WWE live holiday experience watching an 11-year-old threaten a 250-pound professional wrestler. I grew up next door to an Olympic athlete who has apparently managed to pull his life back together after falling prey to addiction and despair. It doesn’t have to be violent, but maybe a little competition can teach us all a valuable lesson — even if all the matches seem fixed.