By: Max Wolpoff
Right as Jackie Bradley Jr. crushed a grand slam to put away Game 3 of the ALCS for the Boston Red Sox, JBJ was not the top trend worldwide on Twitter. What was?
#SD1000, referring to the 1000th episode of the second-longest running weekly TV show: Smackdown Live. What was this sports-writer watching? Smackdown, and I was so jealous of my brother and one of my best friends from high school being at Capital One Arena while I had to watch with commercials in Boston.
Sure, I have heard every trope about the professional wrestling circuit across my time as a fan. Then again, what other place is it acceptable to scream “WOOOOOOOOO” at awaiting wrestlers.
Hours before any event, fans file in and they largely know the script: who to cheer for, who to boo, what to scream at every breath in a promo (WHAT??), and who deserves a push to main event status. There have been some cringe-worthy things shown to us over the years, but by-and-large it remains fun to watch.
The only show on television that has been on longer is its internal competition, Monday Night RAW. RAW holds the legacy flag for sure. The stuff that passes on Smackdown, such as ANY of these famous moments, may not go on RAW after the birth of the second show in 1999.
D.C. native Dave Bautista, who competed under “The Animal, Batista” in his days as a six-time world champion, got a big applause when he came back to a business he left under questionable circumstances.
Believe me, we know. The people who enter that ring are there for entertainment purposes. They sell T-shirts, gloves, necklaces, hats, tickets, and pay-per-views. What looks like a punishing finisher is all on the winning wrestler to protect the loser from actual harm. The whole of WWE is a giant, long, continuous reality show… with a LOT of strange gimmicks and side plots.
“Real” sports can barely hold a candle to the longevity of WWE. The word “smackdown” became a recognized word in the English language because of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson saying it in a promo. Matches from decades ago, Mick Foley and The Undertaker at “King of the Ring” in 1998 comes to mind, remain the classics they became instantaneously. Fan chants for Eddie Guerrero, who has been dead for years, were among the loudest of the night.
Ask a wrestling fan about their introduction to the sport, and that answer may echo of many baseball fans recounting their first visit to their home ballpark.
I still remember my first time at a live event in Salisbury, Maryland. There were no television cameras, a fan got randomly selected to accompany a minor hero (called “faces” in wrestle-lingo) to the ring, and one of the villains (called “heels” in the business) flirted with a woman in the front row who seemed the only one cheering for him to win his match.
Every match, every move, and every story I knew from television came into a calculated-for-crowd-reaction night of screams and groans. Few kids walking out of the Wicomico Civic Center were not tuning in the next Monday night to watch RAW, or Friday to watch Smackdown.
One of the top men on the circuit now, Dolph Ziggler, made his in-ring debut with a ten-year-old me sitting in the front row because of seats my grandparents got me for my birthday. While I hold a soft spot for him because of this, he remains someone I boo.
The stories are mostly simple: a hero is wronged and hunts down the villain until he/she wins, relationships are formed and broken, talk shows and contract signings devolve into chaos, and random contests are held to determine top contenders (like that time musical chairs gave Chris Jericho a title shot).
So excuse me if I decide to watch a semi-predictable reality show featuring a cast of variations on the same basic characters instead of the last innings of playoff baseball. I beg your pardon if you see me on the street dancing and strutting to the “This is WWE” playlist on Spotify with entrance and show themes from the past and present. And please indulge me if I wear my “Rated R Superstar” or “Hot Rod” or “You’re a Stupid Idiot” or other T-shirts from some of my favorite wrestlers in class.
Show me another sport where athletes can talk like D-Generation X, or Stone Cold Steve Austin, or even The Rock. It doesn’t matter if you can show it to me, because I will keep watching wrestling anyway.