Wrestling And Me
- Iolanda Neto
Life as a wrestling fangirl for Iolanda involves a lot of gross sobbing over retiring wrestlers, buying everything and anything with John Cena's name on it, and perfecting The Rock's 'People's Brow'
Some things only dawn on you in times of hardship. Like if you’re me in April 2011, curled up and gross sobbing in front of the television. Not watching an Oscar-worthy DiCaprio performance or a troubling news report, but wrestling. Yep, you didn’t read it wrong – all of those hysterics were over professional wrestling. If you’re anything like my mother you’ll be wondering exactly what got over me…
Pro wrestling was one of those things that remained in the background during a lot of my time growing up. My brother would always have it on as he was a huge fan in the late 90s/early 00s; what wrestling fans will recognise as the height of the ‘Attitude Era’. Most fans consider this the best time period for professional wrestling, with daredevil antics and edgy programming that made its popularity skyrocket. At the age of four, whether it was The Rock’s famous ‘People’s Eyebrow’ (as I demonstrate in the photo below) or the “WHASSUP?!” of the Dudley Boys’ Dudley Death Drop.
I was imitating everything and anything I could from these wrestlers before I truly understand what it all was.
Although TV scheduling made it difficult for me to catch most shows in the pre-Sky+ days, I always watched when I could, including Saturday morning showings whenever I was at my cousin’s house. Wrestling was the cool show for older kids that I wasn’t really supposed to be watching. That idea was reinforced when I mistook the American live air times as purposeful deterrents for children like myself.
The first fan resurgence came when I was eight-years-old, thanks to a backwards cap wearing self professed thug by the name of John Cena. He rapped, he wore jean shorts and a chain padlock around his neck. He was the height of coolness.
I set WWE.com as my Internet Explorer homepage so I could keep up with everything, and soon my fandom began to grow. My desktop background was John Cena. My first wrestling video game had John Cena on the cover, front and centre. And the first album I ever bought was John Cena’s The Time Is Now (clean version, naturally) featuring the platinum hit single You Can’t See Me.
I would try to keep up, but the difficult TV scheduling meant that for several years I was watching once in a rare while, and those glimpses I did catch were not as appealing to me any more. That changed one Saturday morning when I tuned into WWE Smackdown, and, for the first time in a long time, I laughed. This experience made me remember the one thing I never even realised was the main attraction for me towards professional wrestling. I only ever wanted to have fun, and the antics of Adam Copeland (known by his ring name, Edge) on screen were able to rekindle that in a huge way. I was hooked once again, but instantly overwhelmed with just how much I had to catch up on, and how much I didn’t know. While getting up to speed with most traditional TV shows required a few hours of watching and a few clicks on Wikipedia, I had entered into something that had a backstory three times as long as my own life. I needed to know everything and I needed to tell everyone.
My loved ones bore the brunt of hurricane wrestling-obsession as well as they had my other phases – with a surprising amount of patience. They perfected the art of smiling and nodding along with whatever it was I was talking. What I really needed, though, was a real outlet to discuss this odd thing that was beginning to take up an increasingly large part of my life. I was fourteen when I began joining message boards and sites that were inundated with information about all of the matches I’d missed, all the controversies that had happened, wrestlers coming and going, living and dying, and everything in between.
This was also around the time that I tuned in to the April 11, 2011 edition of RAW WWE’s weekly Monday night show. Edge was on and as soon as he came to the ring I could tell something didn’t feel right. An uneasy trepidation crept up on me as he began to speak. He started talking about the fusion surgery he had undergone to repair a broken neck several years ago, and how it had fixed most of the problems but lately he had been losing feeling in his arms. Then, he explained that he’d gone for more scans and checks at the doctor’s recently, and they told him that he could never wrestle again.
“The feeling of having a hero that amazes you with whatever quality they bring to the table, is one that’s hard to replicate, because of the sense of showmanship that is so exclusive to pro wrestling.”
I surprised my mum (and myself) by crying very, very hard. I was heartbroken. I logged into the message boards, in tears, where everybody always posted the latest news via Dave Meltzer, the professional wrestling journalist that was clued up on everything going on. But this time there was no news from Meltzer, or anybody. Everybody was shocked and saddened about what had happened.
Shared experiences like these are what make being part of the online wrestling community so worthwhile. I think once pro wrestling sinks its teeth into you this far, it’s very difficult to get out of it. The hardcore fanbase is known to be critical but oddly loyal, and despite complaining about every aspect of the weekly entertainment, we keep ourselves in the loop one way or another so that we’re never truly gone.
It’s strange, but the persistence has to do with hope. Whatever it was, or whoever it was that got us into professional wrestling in the first place, made us invest emotionally in what it was they were doing. The feeling of having a hero that amazes you with whatever quality they bring to the table, is one that’s hard to replicate, because of the sense of showmanship that is so exclusive to pro wrestling. Being a part of this fanbase has been one of the best things about my life, and it’s the one thing I know I will be following for very many years to come.
Photos by Iolanda Neto.