Storytelling, WrestleMania, and Me

Above all other professional endeavors, I’m a storyteller. As a writer and a social media head, my day-to-day life consists of trying to hook an audience from the first word to the last, in an attempt to get said audience to think, act, or feel a certain way.

Some stories are longer than others, but whether it’s a 140-character tweet or a 1,000-word post on this site, that above philosophy is generally the rule. Whether you realize it or not, 90% of the people that work in my field (not just horse racing communications, but communications as a whole) are, at their cores, telling stories designed to inform or inspire an audience.

Recently, the 33rd installment of WrestleMania coming and going made me think. As I drove home from the viewing party I went to, I realized that an alarming number of people I’ve associated myself with over the years are wrestling fans. This wasn’t a conscious decision on my part, but rather, part of something bigger. I hope the people mentioned below don’t mind me expounding on it. If they mind…well, tough, it’s my site.

I went to college with Mick Rouse, and if his job isn’t the coolest one in the world, it’s at least in the discussion. He’s the wrestling writer for GQ, and his assignments have included working out with the Bella Twins (paging John Cena: Mick fended off your girl with a whip and a chair!) and interviewing WrestleMania hosts The New Day. Peter Fornatale, the main tournament writer for the Daily Racing Form, doubles as the co-writer of several autobiographical books penned by wrestler extraordinaire Chris Jericho. Gulfstream Park track announcer Pete Aiello spent part of WrestleMania watching it next to former WWE wrestler Gangrel at a south Florida restaurant. TVG’s Nick Hines routinely cut wrestling promos on his way to the winner’s circle during his training days…and if you didn’t think I was going to present video proof of this, you’re crazy.

I could keep expounding on this list for a long time, but I think I’ve made my point. An alarming number of people who consider themselves storytellers, from professional writers to announcers to hosts, are drawn to stories told in the ring by world-class athletes working off of scripts. I don’t think this is a coincidence.

Wisdom says that as we grow up, we leave certain things in the past. Children of the 1980’s flocked to Hulk Hogan, and those who grew up in the 1990’s idolized “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Rock. Generally, though, the perceived thought process is that sports entertainment is something you’re supposed to enjoy for a few years, grow out of, and only come back to if you’re lucky enough to have children who discover it the same way you did.

Certainly, this thought process took a hit with the launch of the WWE Network, which is probably the gold standard for over-the-top (non-cable) video presentation. Decades of wrestling from pretty much any promotion you can imagine are available on computers and gaming devices with just a few clicks, making it as easy as ever for someone who grew up idolizing any larger-than-life figure who stepped in the squared circle to relive their childhood (at the low price of $9.99 a month, of course).

That said, that doesn’t quite explain everything. My theory is that, as storytellers, we’re attracted to outlets that do what we do. Whether you see wrestling as phony or not, the ample amount of storylines on a given show generally means that there’s something for everyone. In fact, Mick’s New Day interview I mentioned earlier hit on that very topic. You don’t have to be into EVERYTHING to be drawn in, and even if you’re watching for one character, match, or segment, chances are something else will pop up that piques your interest.

Take, for instance, the WrestleMania card. If you wanted former best friends fighting, you had Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho. If you wanted to see two powerhouses hitting each other hard, there were Goldberg and Brock Lesnar. If you wanted a romantic happy ending, you could see John Cena proposing to Nikki Bella (though whether it was a storyline proposal or a real one remains to be seen).

The most monumental moment of the show, though, came at its conclusion. The Undertaker, owner of one of wrestling’s greatest gimmicks for the better part of three decades, may have wrestled his last match. To expound on the incredible talent, longevity, and star power possessed by this man, The Undertaker has now wrestled at 25 WrestleMania events, easily a record. Heading into Sunday’s show, his record in those matches, as decided by a business relying on the biggest extravaganza of the year to deliver in spades, was 23-1.

His engagement with Roman Reigns Sunday night in Orlando was not pretty, nor was that the intention of the encounter. This was a Kung Fu movie condensed to 20 minutes, with the master having nothing left to give and going out on his back at the hands of a man the company sees as a long-term star. Reigns got the extended fireworks display as he exited victorious, but all eyes were on the fallen legend in the ring, who eventually left his trademark gloves, jacket, and black hat behind while an announced crowd of more than 75,000 fans stood and applauded in appreciation of his extensive body of work.

I can’t speak for my friends and colleagues, but moments like that are why I do not hesitate in supporting something seen by many as a childish diversion. Every time I sit down at a computer to write, whether it’s a social media post or a longer article, I search for a way to hook an audience, to give them something they can digest and enjoy. World Wrestling Entertainment does the same thing at every show. WWE doing so with its employees wrestling upwards of 200 matches per year, plus making charity and media appearances and traveling all around the world, makes this pursuit even more remarkable. By comparison, I consider myself a reasonably competent writer, with a few awards to my credit, and there are days where I can’t put a coherent sentence together to save my life. These men and women tell stories for thousands of paying customers almost every day, and the bumps they take, staged or otherwise, are a HELL of a lot more painful than writer’s block!

I’ve been lucky enough to have several moments where my life and career intersected with my wrestling fandom. As a kid, I met WWE Hall of Famer Sgt. Slaughter at a department store, and the autographed picture he gave me is still hanging up at my dad’s house. A vacation to the Jersey Shore around that time included a stop at a small arena in Wildwood, where I was choked out by the legendary King Kong Bundy before an independent show later that night. As you can see, I sold the choke better than a good 80% of the roster. I’m still waiting on my paycheck.

Bundy

Many years later, while a sportswriter at The Saratogian, I interviewed Ron “R-Truth” Killings by phone from my car following a high school lacrosse game I covered just north of New York City. This was in preparation for a house show (an untelevised event) at the Glens Falls Civic Center a few nights later, which was headlined by the same John Cena who proposed to his girlfriend Sunday night. Many people at my paper rolled their eyes at the reporter covering a pro wrestling event on company time, but none of that mattered. I got to go to a WWE show for free and write about it for an audience.

I got to tell a story. And much like many of the athletes I covered that night, that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.

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