I still remember the first time I fell in love with professional wrestling.
Our family had just gotten cable television and our little universe expanded from three channels to about 50 channels, which seemed like a pretty massive amount at the time. How in the world could they possibly find that much programming to fill that many channels? Wouldn’t they run out of shows at some point?
I mean, 50 channels was nearly incomprehensible to a kid who had to fiddle with the antennae just to get the Clubhouse 22 Show (with Duff the Dog) to come in clearly after school. Having 50 channels from which to choose seemed like a huge deal for all of us.
Little did I know at the time I would eventually have somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 channels at my disposal … roughly three of which I ever actually watch.
One of the channels we started receiving when we first got cable television in the early 1980s was Ted Turner’s Superstation (it was channel 17 on the old cable listing), which introduced me to a little something called “Georgia Championship Wrestling.”
Now the wrestling I watched back then was far different than the wrestling I watch today. It didn’t take place in a giant arena in front of tens of thousands of fans — it took place in a small television studio in front of a few dozen fans. The wrestlers themselves weren’t musclebound superheroes in elaborate storylines, either. For the most part, they were two fairly normal-looking tough guys who didn’t like one another and had a dispute they were going to settle with a fight.
It was raw. It was gritty. It was, to me at the time, very real.
I instantly fell in love, in particular with a feud between “Mad Dog” Buzz Sawyer and Tommy “Wildfire” Rich, two men who would spill buckets of blood across the South and probably should have been arrested for some of the acts of violence they perpetrated against one another.
From that moment on, I was transfixed. Pro wrestling became my lifelong passion — one I’ve carried with me for the past 35-plus years. I would spend the better part of my youth watching every televised pro wrestling event I could find and every ounce of spending money I had went toward the purchase of wrestling magazines.
This past weekend, I watched the 33rd edition of Wrestlemania, which is basically pro wrestling’s Super Bowl. At least when I watch the Super Bowl, however, I know I don’t have to defend my viewing habits afterwards.
It’s not always easy being a pro wrestling fan.
Sure, they have been certain eras in which the sport has reached huge levels of mainstream popularity (in the 1980s with Hulk Hogan and the 1990s with Steve Austin and The Rock) and was actually considered cool by the majority of America to be a wrestling fan.
Aside from those brief intervals, however, most of the time when people find out I am a pro wrestling fan, their either look at me with a bemused (and pretentious) smirk or a look of utter disdain.
More often than any of that, though, they’ll immediately ask, “You know it’s fake, right?”
Yes, I know the matches have predetermined endings. I also know that, for the most part, wrestlers are highly trained and highly skilled performs who perform athletic stunts of which most of us could only dream. I also know that when one of those incredible stunts goes awry, the injuries they suffer are very real.
So, so answer the question, yes I know pro wrestling is “fake.” I also know that when I see the body counts pile up in an action movie, that, too, is fake. I know that when characters on a sitcom find themselves in an awkward situation that is resolved in a humorous way in 30 minutes, that, too, is fake.
None of those things lessen my enjoyment of movies or television — and it certainly doesn’t lessen my enjoyment of professional wrestling. Pro wrestling may not be the real world — it is, however, what I use to escape from the daily rigors of the real world.
Because at the end of the day, sometimes it seems like pro wrestling is real … and everything else is fake.
Troy’s very own David Fong appears on Thursdays in the Troy Daily News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong