Few art forms are as divisive as professional wrestling. Some see the product as a laughable hoax. Some see it as an epic loaded with larger-than-life characters. Those who love the WWE rarely need any sort of justification for pro wrestling’s allure. Those who attempt to invalidate its’ draw can’t find enough evidence to denounce it.
Therein lies one of the biggest struggles facing the WWE today – it hasn’t transcended the tested and proven market of children and diehard fans.
The stigma of pro wrestling has been present for decades, regardless of the fact that its enjoyment is entirely subjective (like most art forms are).
A disconnect exists between fans and non-fans, that much is clear, but taking a peek into the daily lives of aspiring main roster wrestlers could help change that. Maybe ESPN has done enough work to erase some of that stigma in airing the documentary, “E60: Behind The Curtain.”
The weirdest part of being an avid pro wrestling fan is that most people don’t understand that we know it isn’t a real sport. At 28 years old, I’m still asked “you know it’s fake, right?” It’s 2015, people – let’s give that a rest.
We read our dirt sheets and backstage reports and think that we know a thing or two about wrestling. Even for “us,” ESPN’s special exposed more of the WWE than we’ve ever seen before.
It was strange, at first – hearing Adam Rose, or rather, Ray Leppan, speaking without his effeminate British accent. Seeing him tend to his son’s medical issues, and walking hand-in-hand with his wife was a tad shocking. Seeing the ease with which he switched from Leppan to Leo Kruger or Adam Rose gave us some insight into how truly talented the man is.
We learned about the struggles of Matt Polinsky (better known as Corey Graves) – a man who had his career cut severely short due to multiple concussions. NXT brass had elected Graves to be the next call-up. His in-ring work was stellar, and his unique look had all the makings of a superstar.
Still, he’s a husband and a father, with a family to provide for – not knowing how to take care of his family, if not for wrestling. Luckily, his hard work was rewarded with a fixture at the NXT announce table.
Hearing him proclaim “I get to be Matt again” was eye-opening. We aren’t used to seeing wrestlers with the character switch turned off – seeing the real struggles of trying to “make it” in a profession where career longevity and security are constantly threatened.
We learned about the ambitions of Austin Watson (Xavier Woods) – a young man attempting to become the first sports entertainer with a PhD. His quirky charisma and obvious intelligence make him somewhat of an enigma. Again, he’s not exactly an example of what we think our wrestlers to be.
We shun “Adam Rose,” claiming he’s fallen flat and won’t “make it” on the main roster. We criticize Woods’ role in the New Day faction. The truth is none of these men will hoist the WWE Championship one day. Thanks to ESPN, we learned that that doesn’t cast them as failures.
Most of all, we learned that success in the wrestling business isn’t always measured by championships and money. Simply finding a role on primetime is enough of a success in a highly competitive, physically taxing industry.
A new standard of “making it” has been exposed to all of us.
Sometimes, we all lose sight of just how much the wrestlers put into entertaining us. Whether or not the characters warrant jeers from us, the men rarely do.
My hope is that ESPN has helped bridge the gap between fans and non-fans. Maybe that means more money for the product, in turn providing more money for the talent, and better lives for the families of men and women who sacrifice a great deal for the sake of the show.
If not for this love of the industry, the WWE might never have “made it.”
Stoney Keeley covers the WWE for WrestlingNews.co, and is a Tennessee Titans Staff Writer for Pro Football Spot. You can follow him on Twitter at @StoneyKeeley and the SPOT’s Tennessee Titans Twitter feed at @spot_titans.