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I’m currently taking a couple of writing classes for my fellowship. This was an assignment for my nonfiction narrative workshop. The writing prompt: guilty pleasures.
Midjourney: “the ultimate warrior inside a professional wrestling ring in the style of a Pixar cartoon”
SO HERE’S MY DIRTY little secret: I love wrestling.
I’ve loved wrestling for so long that I don’t even remember a time in my life when I didn’t love wrestling, which wasn’t the case for many of the things I've loved since I was very little.
For example, I still remember that I came to love basketball because of Kuya Tarzan, a friend of my mom who got that nickname because, when working at the nearby Holiday Inn, he would clean rooms without a shirt on, just like the Lord of the Jungle. Anyway, Kuya Tarzan brainwashed me as a kid to root for his favorite team in the Philippine Basketball Association, and so they became my favorite team too.
I still remember watching Perseus slay Medusa in a videotape of an old movie, which made me a fiend for everything mythological, be they Greek, Roman, or Norse. I still remember that I fell in love with space after my grandmother bought a set of old Popular Science encyclopedias, which made me intimately familiar with each of the planets in our solar system, memorizing every little detail about them that I’ve spent the rest of my life since forgetting. Those old encyclopedias also made me fall in love with dinosaurs — the Diplodocus was my favorite, because it was longer than a basketball court and it dominated the Jurassic Period. By the time the Steven Spielberg movie came out, many years later, I was so over dinosaurs, and besides, didn’t everyone know that the T-Rex was from the Cretaceous Period?
But I don’t remember when I got into wrestling. I just remember my grandfather, who we called Tatay, making fun of me and my cousin whenever we watched it on television. “Look at the guy when he punches, he’s stomping at the mat!” Tatay would tell us, incredulous. “He’s not even making contact!” But we never stopped watching.
We would even watch Pinoy Wrestling, a local businessman’s half-baked attempt to start a local wrestling federation. It only ran for a few months, but I still remember many of the characters from that show, more than 30 years later. There was a guy named Joe Pogi, which translates to “Handsome Joe,” and he would always come to the ring with a lovely lady on each arm. During his entrance, the color commentator, a local comedian named Jograd Dela Torre, would go crazy cheering for Joe Pogi. When the other TV announcer would ask why, Jograd would reply, “Well, there’s only so few handsome men on this earth, so why wouldn’t we be pulling for each other?” Of course, the best part of the bit is that both Joe Pogi and Jograd Dela Torre were quite objectively ugly.
(Years later when I started my sports blog, I would steal that joke with a nod to Jograd, whenever I would take the side of a handsome athlete on an issue, because there were so few of us left on this earth, so why wouldn’t we be pulling for each other?)
I also remember staying up late to watch WrestleMania IV on TV, which was held at a really classy joint called the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, which to me just sounded like the most fabulous place on earth. Just before the main event between the Macho Man Randy Savage and the Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase, they even showed the owner of the venue, Mr. Donald Trump, at ringside. He looked like a really classy guy.
A few days later, I was visiting a cousin who had a tape of a new wrestling event: WrestleMania VI. I was confused; wasn’t I just watching Wrestlemania IV a couple of nights ago? Looking back on it now, I think that was the first time I truly felt the inequality between the Global North and the Global South, the First and the Third World, because we were two years behind on our wrestling. Also, the tape of Wrestlemania VI we had was so grainy — it was probably a copy of a copy of a copy — but we all still celebrated when the Ultimate Warrior defeated Hulk Hogan for the championship.
Wrestling also figured in my first brush with disinformation. Months after Wrestlemania VI, news spread across our school that the Ultimate Warrior had died. He used to come to the ring with these tassels wrapped around his biceps, which were just bulging with veins. As the story went, he tried to lift Andre the Giant above his head in a gorilla press, but he had tied his tassels on too tight so the veins in his arms popped, and he bled to death in the ring.
You think the information landscape is terrible now, but we weren’t able to fact-check that story until months later, when someone brought a copy of the WWE Magazine to school. The good news: the story was fake, and the Ultimate Warrior didn’t bleed to death. The bad news: he was attacked by an undead zombie mortician called the Undertaker, who locked the Ultimate Warrior in a coffin where he almost choked to death.
AS I GREW OLDER, wrestling became less fashionable, then weirdly enough, more fashionable, especially when I was in college during the Attitude Era when megastars like Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock (before he began making terrible movies) dominated the scene. I’ve dipped in and out, but always remained a fan.
It certainly became easier with the advent of the internet, which allows anyone to find a community of other dorks who still watched wrestling as adults. A few years ago, the WWE even launched its own streaming service that allowed me to watch Wrestlemania live on my laptop. No more two-year wait, no more grainy videotapes.
I’ve also been able to attend my fair share of events in person, even dragging my wife, bless her heart, to come with me. While we were on holiday in London, we went to a wrestling show at a really cool venue called the Electric Ballroom where members of the Sex Pistols once hung out and played shows back in the ‘70s. The show was promoted by a federation called Progress, which branded itself as “punk rock pro wrestling.” I could just imagine the ghost of Sid Vicious turning up at the venue and wondering why there were so many nerds in “Austin 3:16” shirts.
A screenshot of me in London, watching a live wrestling show.
Along the way, I’ve seen a lot of silly stuff. The silliest: Donald Trump would return and fight the owner of the WWE, Vince McMahon, in a Battle of the Billionaires at Wrestlemania 23, and less than 10 years later, he would be elected President of the United States.
Wrestling has gotten more accepted by the mainstream. In fact, in 2016, just before Trump’s election, the New York Times Magazine ran a think piece titled “Is Everything Wrestling?” alluding to the dominance of the fake, performative nature of discourse from politics to corporate communication to the world of popular culture at large.
A few weeks ago, the WWE came to Boston for their Smackdown show. Of course I went (alone, my wife couldn’t say no fast enough), but I didn’t feel the need to broadcast the event to our Nieman chat group, mostly because I wanted my peers to still think of me as a serious person, especially so early in the fellowship year, and watching people fake-fighting in tights still doesn't strike people as a serious activity, even in the year 2023.
A couple of days later, another Nieman fellow asked me why I didn’t make it to dinner that Friday. I sheepishly told him where I’d been.
“Oh man, you should have told me,” he said, sounding genuinely disappointed. “I really would have wanted to go.”