Make Wrestling Fandom Great Again
My Personal Rules of Wrestling Fandom
Let’s face it, kayfabe is dead. I hate that word with a passion. Why? Because we know it and because we know its meaning. I hate all of the insider terms, I use them, but I hate that I know what they are….or at least think I do. Even if we use many of them wrong, I’m looking at you, “gimmick.” I love all the biographies with insider info, but I think I hate those, too.
The above statements probably seem a little odd if you know anything about me. I am working on a PC game about the inner workings of professional wrestling on the independent scene after all. So I might have a little more sightline into the inner workings of the business than some, but only a little, and I’m still just an outsider, nothing more than a fan with a love of business simulation games and wrestling. This extra insight and the balancing act of knowing the inside info while also being a fan has opened my eyes to one thing. Most wrestling fans suck. We aren’t like we used to be. A different breed has emerged among us, and I think it has killed a little bit of what made being a wrestling fan so great.
I was born in ’82 (yes, I’m old ), so I had the privilege of experiencing wrestling fandom at two of its greatest highs. As a kid, I had the late 80s, with the rise of Hulkamania, the Ultimate Warrior, and Wrestlemania. As a teenager, I got to experience the birth of the NWO, Austin 3:16, the Attitude era, and the Monday Night Wars. During that time frame, I also had an Uncle who wrestled in West Virginia under the NWA banner in the 80s and later with outlaw promotions before he retired, so I got to live the death of the territories a little bit as well. I even had a few years in high school after reading Mick Foley’s remarkable first book, “Have a Nice Day,” where I planned to head to Cincinnati after graduation and start my career as a wrestler. By the time I graduated, I realized I wasn’t very athletic and that my love of computers had taken over, but I could always be a fan. Like many fans after the Attitude era's hot shotting, I saw my fandom fluctuate over the years. When I rediscovered my passion for it a few years ago, I noticed that we as fans had changed and that my enjoyment wasn’t where it used to be.
So with that backstory out of the way, here are the rules I follow as a wrestling fan who knows how the biscuits are made to make being a fan more enjoyable and make me a less shitty fan.
Get into a live crowd — This one seems obvious to me now, but a few years ago, it wasn’t. I picked up my fandom where I left it, watching WWE on TV. I would watch for a few weeks and then lose interest. It wasn’t until I went to a local independent show before Covid that I realized it was more fun live.
Interact with the show — Boo the heels, cheer the heroes. Let them lead you on the story they are trying to tell. Don’t try to make them shape their story to suit your desires. Don’t watch the moves, don’t look for the knee slap or the space between the drop kick. Sit back and enjoy the show. Do your part as a fan, be loud, and motivate the workers in the ring to want to tell you their story. Let yourself be awed. This year I’ve seen the Monster Cyrus do a moonsault in Canton, GA, that made me jump out of my seat. I saw Najasissm do a springboard from the bottom rope, from a seated position, and turn 180 degrees mid-air and turn it into a beautiful flying clothesline. I saw Murder One walk out of a Southern Honor locker room, and my jaw hit the floor. I let those guys lead me to the story they wanted to tell me and let myself be awed by it.
Buy merch and concessions—When you are at a live event, whether it is WWE, AEW, or an Indy show, support them with your wallet. Buy some drinks and snacks, and grab a T-Shirt or souvenir. I try to make it a point to grab my teenage son a shirt at every show I’m at if there is one he wants. (He’s got an AC Mack hoodie that he wears so much I sometimes have to force him to change shirts.) And I always make sure to grab something from concessions. It is a business; if you love something and want it to come back, it needs to make money.
Leave your insider knowledge at home — I know you’ve seen 100 wrestling documentaries and know that Shawn Michaels's real name is Michael Hickenbottom and the Dallas Page used to be Page Falkinburg or that the Montreal Screwjob was Cornette’s idea, or was it Russo, or did HHH and HBK come up with that? It doesn’t matter. None of that matters. What matters is what is happening in the venue you are in at that moment. Suspend your disbelief. I love horror movies, but I don’t sit down and watch one and spend the entire time thinking about how unrealistic many are. I sit my happy ass down and say, “tell me a story.” I know all those teenagers didn’t die in the making of the movie, but for that hour and a half, I immerse myself in the story they are telling me, and I let them tell it without saying, “they botched that kill, the makeup looks awful, they should have hired X to do it instead of Y.” I try to give wrestling that same respect.
Don’t watch wrestling you don’t like — There are hundreds of flavors of wrestling out there. Pick the one you like and just enjoy it. I don’t like Deathmatch, invisible man fights, penis suplexes, over-the-top choreographed five-minute spot fests or eye candy matches. So I don’t watch them and don’t talk about or criticize them. Just because it isn’t my cup of tea doesn’t mean it isn’t someone else’s flavor. Leading me to my final rule.
You don’t have to destroy something to love it — this is the one I struggled with when I returned to my fandom. I found that I was critiquing everything I saw on WWE Raw when I came back. I was comparing it to the wrestling I grew up on. Instead of turning it off and finding wrestling I did enjoy, I kept wanting that product to change for me. Then I got into the Twitter verse, and boy, I found the self-loathing wrestling fans. Everything was overanalyzed, “this spot looked bad,” “that was a botch, lol,” “Roman Reigns can’t wrestle,” “ this guy can’t work,” and the endless barrage of criticism belittling this thing we all claim to love. We don’t have to spend hours comparing why AEW is better than WWE or why this indy promotion is better than this other one. Because at the end of the day, it’s not “A is better than B because” it is “I enjoy A more than B because.” Not understanding? Circle back to Don’t watch wrestling you don’t like.
Kevin Smith wrote a great line in the movie Dogma,
“I have issues with anyone who treats God like a burden instead of a blessing, like some Catholics. You people don’t celebrate your faith. You mourn it.” — Dogma 1999
I’m not trying to turn this religious (because I have no religion), but that line has stuck with me for 23 years. In my opinion, nothing applies to the modern wrestling fan more. We don’t celebrate our fandom. We mourn it.
We don’t have to mourn our fandom, and we don’t have to compare this thing to that thing. That is the beauty of fandom; we get to choose what we like and then enjoy it to our fullest. Wrestlers are performers; they can feel our energy and thrive on it. How will they thrive if all we give them is some shitty “we know better than you” energy? Just sit back and let them tell you the story. Enjoy being a fan again.