Written by Imran Mirza
The audience, on their feet in anticipation at the colossal battle between two titans mere moments away from commencing. Theirs is a rivalry that runs deep, and a hatred that runs even deeper.
One man, greeted by the boos and disdain befitting someone of his treacherous and cowardly nature. He fights as a man without honour. Without ethics.
As the hero steps through the curtain, he’s met by the rapturous applause of tens of thousands that scream adoringly and chant his name, willing him on to victory despite the insurmountable odds. He surveys the cheers, the smiles and supportive followers and he proudly smiles in response. He does not fight for himself. He fights for them.
Yes, friends, welcome to the wonderful world of professional wrestling. Bizarrely, this unique world – despite its high octane action, theatrical performances, stories and drama – is one that’s relegated to ‘something that only children watch’, and we want to pose the very simple question… why? But more specifically, ‘why is wrestling not a fully credited and card-carrying genre within generic “geek culture”’?
To help fight wrestling’s corner a little bit and answer this question – we’ll need an apt comparison and a standard to hold it accountable to, and a perfect contender in this instance is something particularly close to LF’s heart: comics.
Heroes in comics are timeless. They can be as grandiose as symbols for nations to get behind, or they can be as unassuming as one man trying to do the right thing. Their bravery, fortitude and tenacity encapsulated by more than what could be accomplished by just their strength, but also by a moral code of which singularly separates the hero from the villain. Many of us, fans or not, will be familiar of the impact Hulk Hogan’s Hulkamania had in the 1980s – undeniably, the sport’s first ‘super hero’-esque superstar, Hulk Hogan’s mantra of ‘training, saying your prayers and taking your vitamins’ enabled him to overcome whatever man-mountain that dared to challenge his beliefs and those of the legions of worldwide fans who looked up to him with the same reverence comic book fans would Super Man. In much the same way that comic books offer us a variety of heroes as reflection of generations, eras, etc., wrestling has also always been indicative of its times. So while the 1980s afforded the true American hero in Hulk Hogan, the late-1990s offered us the middle-finger saluting, expletive-ridden, beer-swilling renegade that was Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Which brings us to our villains. Within a particular era in the 80s, wrestling villains were probably fair to be likened to that of panto 'he's behind you' baddies than the great thinkers or warriors found in comic books. The array and diversity still holds true. While we have the tactical, cerebral strategists like Lex Luthor, we also have supreme unparalleled strength of villains like Juggernaut and Bane - all men that ultimately test the heroes mentally and physically. While in the wrestling world, stories tend to revolve around the physical resolution of problems - well, it wouldn't be wrestling if they didn't actually fight - there is still room for the mastermind tactician, and wrestling's given us some true gems in the form of Bobby Heenan, Paul Heyman and Jim Cornette - on-screen managers who did all the talking while the wrestlers did the wrestling.
I was initially keen to sidestep the elephant-in-the-room regarding wrestlers and steroids (a natural arguement to raise when critiquing the sport) but I'd say it's something that could be used to strengthen the ties between the comic and wrestling worlds. While wrestlers stuck needles into their behinds to help cultivate that perfectly-chiseled physique, comic book stars went to far greater lengths - Bruce Banner exposed himself to Gamma radiation to develop his chiseled physique, Peter Parker hooked up with radioactive spiders to enhance his performance, and did you really think that was protein shakes running through Bane's veins?
Surely we’ve now whittled this down to the one indisputable point in this whole argument. The one thing that’s as important to a comic book hero as it is to a wrestling hero. The one thing that Batman could sit at a table with Bret Hart, sharing a fluffy mocha chino and discuss well into the wee hours. Spandex. Sure, you may come across a few pretentious super heroes who would like to refer to their costume material as a form of ‘gulvanised rubber’, but trust me, it’s spandex. Wolverine: he’s wearing spandex; Spider Man, Captain America: spandex. Shawn Michaels, Rob Van Dam, spandex. Clearly, spandex rules!
Early on in the article, I did mention that wrestling is not a part of geek culture, but I should address the fact that, to an extent, it actually is: ‘Wrestling merchandise and even wrestlers themselves often have a place within comic cons, etc. so this article may be more about the fact that although there is a shared ideal, the same ideals are not appealing to the same people’ (LF’s Gavin O’Reilly).
Like any established comic book universe, wrestling operates entirely within its own world and abides by its own established rules – its characters, their traits, their signature costumes, their back story – and in some cases – mythology, are all key in bringing this universe to life.