Wrestling is Cool Again! #thisisprogress

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away I fell out of love with live wrestling. See, I'd been to a few Preston City Wrestling shows in Preston and sandwiched them with a couple of TNA Impact tapings at the Manchester Arena. I'd pack myself into Evoque Nightclub in Preston and pray real prayers that Tommy Dreamer was still as good as he was in ECW... I'd hope that British independent wrestling was as good as I was hearing it was... and it was fine.

Fine, but not amazing - and the moment it all came crashing down for me was the second time I saw Impact live. We were on the floor, looking up at Ken Anderson vs Bully Ray in a casket match. You might remember it, but if you don't it's here:

I don't know what it was about this particular match but as Mr Anderson Mic Check'd Bully Ray into the casket, I felt an overwhelming sense of "this is a waste of my time/money". Granted, it could've been TNA - it wasn't in the best shape at the time and if we're being honest it was my own fault. I'd been there the year before when Hulk Hogan showed up to tell us all how TNA was the best thing to happen to wrestling since Max Moon, or something to that effect. I didn't have to go back, but I did - I felt it was the right thing to do, and I was terribly incorrect. Rather than a fun night out, I had my childhood obsession ripped away from me. The good times were gone.

Don't get me wrong, I still watched from afar. An absentee father hearing what his son was up to on the grapevine. I'd watch WWE every now and then and, as ever, religiously watch Wrestlemania - but my live wrestling show days were gone... until this Sunday.

What happened on Sunday? Well, our pals at Progress Wrestling put on their biggest ever show (outside of London) in the exciting surroundings of Victoria Warehouse in the centre (not the centre) of Manchester (/Trafford or wherever if you're a pedant). So I decided that my three-year exile from Live Wrestling was over and made the trip across.

It was a fucking nightmare to get there, thanks to a load of mad narcissists dragging their grotesque carcases around the streets of town for some 10k run or something, but once I got there I found something truly shocking awaiting me... a crowd of weirdos - and it was perfect.

I will, always and forever, refer to myself as a weirdo. There are many reasons for it naturally, but one of the big ones is my love of alternative stuff, be it music, comedy, films - if it's a bit odd or dark, chances are I'll be into it. I don't classify myself as "alternative" by any stretch but given the choice between Coldplay/a fruit cider and Avenged Sevenfold/a wee bourbon, I'll take a swing at the latter all day... and it looked like I might've been in similar company.

Wall to wall alternative folks makes sense for a company that styles itself as Punk Rock Pro Wrestling though, so it should have been too shocking. What was more shocking was the sheer scale of the production in the actual building. This wasn't a boom box, some bed sheets and a £30 projector like some indie shows err towards - this was a fucking stage show. This was more impressive than anything I'd seen TNA do in the Manchester Arena. It felt slick, but it still maintained the intimacy of the shows that I'd seen footage of from the Electric Ballroom in Camden.

"So what about the wrestling?" I hear you whisper quietly towards your phone. Well, I've got some good news and some bad news. Bad news first. If you're looking for a roster of ex WWE stars you've very much come to the wrong place. This is Independent wrestling. Granted, there are a few boys from the current WWE/NXT crop in British Strong Style, but for the most part, it's homegrown folks - if you count the Queen's own Commonwealth as homegrown, which you better do otherwise we're going to have a fucking problem here. The good news though? This is an elite level of Strong Style Pro Wrestling.

Shit hits hard in Progress. Very hard. Never in your life, unless you've seen New Japan, have you seen some of the stuff that's going on here. Chops, kicks, slaps and one particularly nasty shotgun dropkick - this is wrestling how its supposed to be. It's interesting, compelling and downright impressive. Coming into this show, I only knew a handful of the characters, and throughout I was introduced to folks that I absolutely will keep an eye out for in future. Jack Sexsmith, Walter and Ilja Dragunov all stood out as being very good at what they did (even though Ilja only arrived to set up a match with Pete Dunne). People I already knew were great too, with Zack Gibson being a particular highlight - a five-minute promo where he was booed for roughly four minutes and fifty seconds.

The best part of the night though came in the Atlas title match where Doug Williams overcame Rampage Brown (still one of the best in the country), Rob Lynch and WWE UK guy Joseph Connors. I have genuinely never been in a wrestling crowd that was so into the finish of a match. Doug was taken out by a piledriver early on, just long enough to forget about him, but every time he showed back up he was met with cries of "Doug Doug Doug". As soon as he won, and I have no idea what the finish was, the people were ecstatic - the roof almost peeled off the Warehouse as every person in the building was jumping up and down - cheering and screaming for one of the best Brits of all time. They were throwing babies in the air, to borrow a Jim Cornette phrase, and it was easily the best pop I've ever been a part of.

Granted, everything wasn't fantastic. There were a lot of shenanigans in the Main Event between Toni Storm and Jinny which I didn't enjoy personally, but the match itself was fine for what it was. Toni is a ferocious wrestler and Jinny was getting some great heel heat from the crowd, so it all worked out pretty great.

With that all being said then... what happens next? What's the point of this long, rambling blog? Well, I'll be going to Wrestlemania next year - just on the strength that Progress made me believe in wrestling again... and hopefully, I'll catch them there.

The Internet: Wrestling's Unconquered Territory

                      Kayfabe was live and well then.

                    Kayfabe was live and well then.

 
                          Did you ever call this number?

                        Did you ever call this number?

 
                                Anything can happen in LU!

                              Anything can happen in LU!

 
 
                                        Internet....GRRRRRRRRR!

                                      Internet....GRRRRRRRRR!

I’m not the first person to write about the correlation between the internet and the death of “kayfabe” in professional wrestling, but I may be the first to look at it from this perspective. I’ve never known life without wrestling, I’ve been watching it since before I could form proper sentences thanks to my great grandfather.
 
When I was 9 years old I saw Ric Flair win the Royal Rumble in my hometown, at that time I still believed it was legitimately real. I used to read magazines like Inside Wrestling and Pro Wrestling Illustrated while my mother grocery shopped (She’d never allowed me to buy them) trying to get whatever rumors I could.
 
Fast forward to the rise of America Online in the mid to late 90’s, I’m a teenager at this point. During arguably wrestling’s apex of popularity the “Attitude Era”, the lines between kayfabe and reality began to blur. 
 
Of course by this time I knew wrestling was pretend fighting but I didn’t know wrestlers’ real names, who they were dating, their true birthplaces, etc. until my friends and I had access to the internet.
 
Yet many of the sources for wrestling news and rumors weren’t reputable then, so watching the actual live shows was still the way to go. As the vastness of the world wide web began to expand so did the wealth of information the casual fan like me had access to. 
 
In my opinion the “Near Death of Kayfabe” was the countdown to of Chris Jericho’s debut in WWF during the summer of 1999. Once that countdown premiered on WWF television the internet immediately started buzzing and everyone knew it was going to be Jericho because his contract with WCW had just ended. All in all it was masterfully done like most of Jericho’s creative work, he used the platform of the internet to get one of the largest crowd reactions in wrestling history.
 
Now would that type of countdown and build up be possible in the late 70’s? Would Jericho get that type of reaction if he was just moving from Stampede Wrestling to Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling? I very much doubt he would.
 
Wrestling definitely would not have expanded the way it did in the “Attitude Era” without the popularity of the internet. With the rise of the internet everyone had the world at their fingertips, seeing things and reading things they never could comprehend previously. 
 
This gave everyone an opinion (including myself), allowing everyone and they babymamas to get the inside track to their favorite wrestler’s life outside the ring. Just to find out the good guy you love to watch on television is actually a disgusting piece of filth and the guy absolutely hate is a loving father of two.
 
For me this did two things, this humanized the industry and gave me appreciation of everything that goes into making a show work. I’m able to understand that these guys work ridiculous hours, travel constantly and put their bodies on the line just for my entertainment. Sure I could remain suspended in reality believing Kane is truly a demon from hell and not a stout Republican running for Mayor of Knoxville, Tennessee but I think the later is much more badass at my age.
 
Being in my mid 30’s I don’t think I would still be a fan of the WWE product unless they went to over the top Lucha Underground kayfabe route. This could be the reason why I enjoy watching Lucha Underground more than I enjoy watching RAW in recent years. 
 
They haven’t completely let go of the mentality of the fans don’t know any better formula. Well we do, with a swift click we can find nude photos, angry tweets or obscure status updates of the industry’s biggest stars, how can I possibly see them for more than what they are. Human, not Superstars, but vulnerable everyday humans working a very physically demanding job constantly in the media’s spotlight.
 
Instead of WWE talent having twitter and facebook pages as their real live selves, maybe they should remain in character when they interact on social media. Fabricate that suspension of belief using a different format to help establish and develop their characters. Embrace the cheeky and campiness of the wrestling industry by trolling the masses. While twitter and facebook have a firm foundation in the real world, wrestling doesn’t need to remain grounded in that reality. Why should it?
 
The Hardy Boyz were doing just that before re-signing with WWE, it was the most over thing in professional wrestling. They successfully blurred the line between reality and kayfabe as Jericho did in 1999 albeit from a different angle. Imagine that on a company wide scale, Braun Strouman threatening to flip a fan’s car over on twitter. Or releasing an exclusive YouTube video of Bray Wyatt stalking a supposed unbeliever. It would make for some awesome entertainment making the fans really feel like part of the universe. 
 
Kayfabe is only dead because WWE allows it to be, they promote the company not the characters within the company. This is why it’s so hard for them to build the next Steven Austin or Rock level star. One of two things need to happen for WWE to gain popularity again;
 
They either need to have talent be completely real and accessible on and off camera, not just on social media. Get rid of dramatic storylines and focus primarily on in ring ability and athleticism. Bring a sense of true realism back to the sport much how NJPW operates.
 
Or go completely over the top having the show never truly end. Whenever a fan interacts with any talent in WWE it’s completely in character. As cheesy as this may seem, it’s also very entertaining in a world where trolling has become king. People already don’t take wrestling seriously, why not use that to your advantage to promote your product.
 
All in all I think kayfabe can work in the current internet and social media based world if done right. Belief no longer needs to be suspended but accepted as another form of entertainment. Something needs to happen with WWE’s product or their ratings will continue to drop as lifelong fans like myself are bored with the status quo. Vince McMahon has conquered every territory in the wrestling industry, except for one: The Internet.