At my Pawpaw’s funeral years ago, Dusty Rhodes was mentioned in the eulogy — a wrestler whose picture my grandpa had framed on his wall.
I didn’t know who Dusty Rhodes was then. My mom had always mentioned my Pawpaw loving wrestling, how she’d always thought it was “real.”
That was the extent of my wrestling history.
So you can imagine my surprise when it became my obsession in 2020 (and still going strong).
Like many in lockdown my old hobbies didn’t “work” anymore: Reading, baking, even watching movies.
I remember just sitting on my gray Ikea recliner after work, staring at a blank TV, thankful to have a job, but confused about how to spend the time I wasn’t working. (I’m sure it’s obvious by now that I do not have kids.)
All the things that used to bring me joy in my free time weren’t working anymore. My attention span was different. Fuzzy.
I started watching random videos on YouTube. Something, oddly enough, I’d never done before.
As a profiler by profession, I loved finding and watching interviews with interesting people, and somehow stumbled into watching interviews of wrestlers (mostly because the interviewer, Chris Van Vliet, was so good at interviewing). I even watched and loved a podcast about collecting wrestling figures.
I was enamored by the wrestlers themselves — their intense passion for what they did and the joy and fierce dedication with which they did it.They were dreamers. Actors. Stunt people. Athletes. Storytellers. And all in front of a live audience?!
Also they cared.
It inspired me to think more about what I cared about that much. It reminded me that caring about something a lot could still matter even in the darkest of times.
Most of their stories involved them falling in love with wrestling at a young age, deciding they wanted to do it too, often, with few exceptions, to the chagrin of their parents. Often wrestling for 7 people at indie events.
But never, it seemed to me, wavering. Their commitment to, and ultimate realization of, a “crazy” dream was fascinating.
I had to know more.
So in fall of 2020, I watched my very first episode of Monday Night RAW.
From the second I heard the entrance music for The Hurt Business and watched MVP speak into a mic I knew it would not be the last Monday night I spent there.
I was transfixed. I was 33 years old in a global pandemic feeling something I hadn’t felt in a long time — wonder.
Also a big fan of Broadway, I quickly learned Lin Manuel Miranda and James Iglehart were longtime wrestling fans, and I realized it was that live theater element, coupled with inspiring performers and a commitment to storytelling, that had me hooked.
And then there was The New Day’s gear inspired by Nickelodean in the 90’s or Basquiat — and their Black Lives Matter arm bands in the ring.
Becky Lynch calling herself “The Man.” Tough, confident women who were mad, their anger celebrated.
Bianca Belair confidently swinging her hair personifying what it looks like to believe in yourself.
And Sasha Banks strutting as The Boss and showing up on The Mandalorian on the same Friday night.
For 3 hours every Monday and 2 hours every Friday I felt like I could breathe.
Slowly but surely reading and baking have returned, but every Monday and Friday you’ll find me watching wrestling — cheering on my favorite women, laughing at the comedic genius of R-Truth or Billie Kay, blown away by the acting of Alexa Bliss and Bray Wyatt, or loving how well that red-haired referee sells the gravity of it all.
Because it is real: The storytelling. The acting. The stunts. The athleticism. The dedicated people making this thing, showing up every week, even in a pandemic.
The fans are real too. There are millions of them, of course. I am very late to a party that has been going on since before I was born.
I haven’t yet gotten to see a show or Pay-per-view with a stadium full of people, but I can tell already from watching old WrestleMania’s and how the digital crowd they have now reacts that more than anything I’ve ever seen on TV, the audience is a character too.
When you watch, your opinion feels encouraged. They want you to react. They want you to use your voice. They want you to be a part of it too. (Cheering at my own TV weekly has been quite cathartic…something that, as someone who doesn’t watch sports, is usually only something that only happened annually, like when Regina King won an Oscar.)
And feeling a part of a crowd — getting lost in stories and characters — has been something I’m deeply grateful for this year.
I only wish I could have watched with my Pawpaw. But I think of him almost every week now, and I like to think how happy he’d be to know how much I love wrestling now too.