BOWIE, Md. (CBSDC) — For all the stigma surrounding pro wrestling, it sure does have a lot of fans. The numbers don’t lie even if its viewers do.
Many fans of the squared circle stay cowered in closets, petrified of the repercussions of admitting their fandom. They fear it’s like committing social status suicide. It’s just so taboo.
And yet it’s credited with pioneering modern cable television, pushing forward the evolution of online media, the benefits of which we all enjoy. Heck, its largest promotion, WWE, is a publicly traded company on Wall Street.
So, what gives?
A quarter-century of residual bitterness held on to tightly by older fans and passed down through the generations. The “it’s still real to me, dammit” crowd still feels betrayed by Vince McMahon’s admission that the sport was actually sports entertainment — a scripted, produced, and directed show with all the gusto that Hollywood has to offer.
“When people found out it wasn’t a legitimate sport, it sort of gained that infamy or notoriety,” wrestler Ken Anderson told me backstage at an Impact Wrestling event in Bowie.
And because of that, many are quick to dismiss it by saying ‘Oh, it’s so fake.’
No pro wrestling company in North America proclaims itself to be ‘real’ anymore. Those days died many moons ago.
Thus, the ‘fake’ argument carries no weight.
“It’s interesting when people say that it’s fake, yet they’ll go to the movies and watch the X-Men and watch people fly through the air,” Anderson said. “People get shot with bullets and the bullets bounce off of them. People turn into liquid metal and stuff like that. And they look at that stuff and say that’s cool and that’s entertaining. But when they watch what we do — we’re not trying to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes.”
It can be frustrating and potentially detrimental to business. Perhaps because of the stigma surrounding pro wrestling, attendance was sparse for what was billed as a “Basebrawl” event. Maybe closeted fans were too afraid or too ashamed to be seen in public supporting a brand of entertainment they love.
It’s a different ball game in the privacy of their own homes.
All three hours of WWE’s Monday Night RAW on USA Network were among the top 20 most-watched shows on cable television last week. Nearly four million people were tuned in and that’s nothing new. Just ask Ted Turner who credits wrasslin’ with turning TBS into an original cable super station decades ago.
Pro wrestling was only bested by the HBO juggernaut Game of Thrones, History Channel’s Pawn Stars and the NBA and NHL playoff conference finals. Had the latter been regular season games, WWE likely would have ranked higher.
“The thing is, everybody watches it,” said Anderson. “There’s more people than you’d think, I guess.”
For now, it appears the white-collar fans will remain in the shadows. Maybe a few will poke their heads out if there is another popularity boom the likes of Monday Night Wars and the original ECW. Who knows?
Until then, those folks will be in arenas under lucha masks unless they coincidentally bump into their heroes.
“I was walking the streets of New York City and I had a couple come up to me,” Anderson recalled. “It was a doctor and his wife. [They were] very, very clean cut and somebody you wouldn’t expect to be wrestling fans. They were huge fans. Their kids watched it, they watched it.”
Call it a covert form of family bonding.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, Anderson says chair shots really do hurt and “going through a table sucks.”