Myself and WWE’s flagship annual event known as ‘Wrestlemania’ have a few things in common. For example – we were both born in 1985, and we’ve grown a lot since then. I’ve kept a close eye on ‘Mania’s progress over the years – in fact, we’ve stuck together. Now both in our 30’s, the difference is that I stopped growing several years ago whereas ‘Mania gets bigger and bigger every year. I’ve often asked myself why so many kids have managed to out-grow WWE as they get older and yet I – a 30 year old, with a girlfriend, a job, mostly normal friends and normal interests – am still so fascinated by it that I’ve decided to write about it. The conclusion I’ve come to is simple; I’m an addict. I am addicted to wrestling. The reason I categorise it as an addiction is because I continue to indulge my habit despite the fact that I know it’s socially unacceptable, it’s not good for me, people tell me I should stop, and I often tell friends I’ve quit despite continuing to watch in secret. I’ve even gone cold turkey and walked away on a number of occasions over the years, but each time I somehow manage to get sucked back in.
The first time I quit wrestling was in late 1996, aged 11. It’s hard to remember the exact reasons I had at the time, but looking back I knew that it was time to move on and start focusing on other things – like football, hanging around with my friends, and maybe trying to get a girlfriend. I lasted without wrestling for just over a year, but in hindsight this was largely down to the fact that I had limited access to sky sports in my house at the time, rather than any real desire to move on with my life. That all changed in early 1998, when flicking between channels I saw my old favourite Shawn Michaels engaging in some smack-talk with Stone Cold Steve Austin, who had now emerged as the next big star of WWE. “Hmm…..interesting……” I thought……and once again, just like that, I was hooked. I then embarked on the longest and most intense, sustained, guilt-free wrestling binge of my life from 1998 until around 2003 – widely considered to be the glory years. Picture how happy Shaun Ryder must have been at the height of the ‘Hacienda scene’ in Manchester in the late 80’s and early 90’s – that’s me during the ‘Attitude era’ of WWE. All weekend, every weekend. For every show and event I’d roll-over watching WWE live in the US time-zone. I knew it wasn’t going to last forever, and there would come a time when the party would end, but for those 4 or 5 years wrestling was great, I was happy and nothing else mattered….
In mid-2003 WWE was experiencing a dip in form and I was entering adulthood. Time to focus on other things – football, going out with my friends, going to university and figuring out what to do with my life etc. But by early 2004 the build-up to Wrestlemania 20 was looming and I was back in before I knew it – by this time with access to sky sports in my bedroom. My 3rd level education never stood a chance really. How am I supposed to make a 10am lecture on a Tuesday morning when I’ve only gone to sleep about 5 hours earlier after watching Raw!? There was no getting away from it for the next few years. It wasn’t the glory days – but it was good, and it was better than going to economics lectures. Plus by this time I had figured out a more balanced approach to consuming WWE content – spend less time watching it on TV and read about it on the internet instead (think methadone for heroin addicts). An added bonus of the internet option is that if somebody walks into the room unexpectedly it’s much easier to pretend you’re doing something else while looking at your laptop, as opposed to being caught with the TV on, whilst fumbling for the remote control to the sound of Jim Ross screaming “GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY!!” as somebody gets a steel chair smashed against their head. When you don’t want people to know you’re a junkie, it’s important to cover your tracks.
For the next 4 or 5 years I managed to consume moderate levels of WWE, relying on the internet to keep things ticking over. By this stage I’m in my mid 20’s. My room-mates at the time (Mum and Dad) had no idea I was still ‘using’, which definitely helped feed into my mind-set that everything was fine. The internet was my form of denial. But deep down I knew I had a problem. In 2009 after the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels had the greatest match in Wrestlemania history, I finally confronted the issue head on and decided enough was enough. I quit. This time it lasted for the best part of 2 years. Yes there was the occasional wobble (Shawn Michaels’ retirement match in 2010), but by now I had a job, I was renting a house with some friends and wrestling was out of my life……….apart from the occasional glance online (internet = denial).
Having experienced a number of re-lapses, I now truly understand the mixed emotions of an addict as they slip back into old habits. It’s a weird mix of shame, pleasure and relief. When it comes to WWE, eventually everything else in my head is drowned out by the voice telling me to go back – like in mid 2011 when after browsing online, all I could hear was “CM Punk has just gone off-script with a scathing promo on live TV about the way WWE is run – this is very interesting, you need to start watching again…”. I always listen to that voice.
Wrestling is weird. I get that. But it’s not as weird as most people think. To the average person with an un-trained and un-interested eye, it’s just a load of jacked-up lunatics in very skimpy clothing pretending to beat lumps out of each other, along with some extremely hammy acting and some awful attempts at comedy. But to most children, lots of teenagers, some adults and a high percentage of socially awkward people in every age bracket – it’s an entertaining mix of storytelling, pageantry, amazing athleticism, showbiz, action, along with some extremely hammy acting and some awful attempts at comedy.
According to the internet at least, I’m not the only adult that still watches and obsesses about WWE. For those of us who have spent years reading about the inner workings of the business and what goes on behind the scenes, the current product can be as un-watchable and frustrating at times as it can be thrilling at others. WWE in 2015 is a global PG brand with a whole new generation of young fans around the world. They write storylines and create characters that appeal more to the children who actually buy their merchandise, rather than the likes of me who doesn’t but secretly wishes that it was socially acceptable for an adult to wear a Randy Orton t-shirt. So these days my addiction ebbs and flows. But for every time WWE makes me cringe to the point where I almost stop watching, they keep managing to draw me back in with performers like Seth Rollins or Bray Wyatt or Kevin Owens or Brock Lesnar……and before I know it – I’m back in the Hacienda……..