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Wrestling Reflections: Representing Fandom Through One Experience

I have been a wrestling fan for about eight years now. I probably have spent less time as a fan than many of you, but I feel I’ve learned a lot about this sport and the fanbase that surrounds it.

Over the past few months especially, as I became more of a writer I have begun to have realizations on what wrestling truly means to me and what it is and has been on a larger scale.

So as a writer, one of the things I felt I needed to do was share those reflections with others through my writing. I don’t expect people to agree with them, but I do ask the reader to take a moment on think on these things.

This is the first edition of what I hope to make into a series called Wrestling Reflections. I start with a topic that is the closest to home that I can get: the growth and development of wrestling fandom which I want to express in my own personal story while relating it to a larger picture.

The Beginning

At eleven years of age during the summer, I was over at a friends’ house with a few different guys I hung out with in elementary school when my friend showed off this new game he had gotten: WWE Raw 2 for the X-Box.

I had never heard of the game nor knew what it was about, so I let my friends begin playing it first. I watched as they had these two big muscular guys fight one another. After they had a few rounds, I swapped in and began to have fun despite getting completely destroyed, not knowing the controls.

I played the game again with my friend a couple of times during the summer. During that time, I began to ask what this game was all about which caused my friend to introduce me to wrestling.

I watched Raw on Monday with him a couple times, and the action was unique to me. I had never seen anything like it before. I wasn’t quite hooked though until I began watching SmackDown at home on my television in my room.

On the SmackDown I watched, the show began with the United States champion, Booker T, who seemed a bit crazy to me. He was interrupted by a Japanese man who had to be translated by a woman at his side followed by some guy named Van Dam which at the time I thought was a bad last name to say.

The insanity didn’t stop as a big man, a French guy, and a few other guys came out, and I was completely confused. However, everything stopped when this music hit. This guy came out with a chain around his neck, a baseball cap on, and a camo T-shirt. The man went on a tirade, running down everyone in the ring, before causing a massive brawl.

From that point on, I was rooting for this guy, John Cena, and I knew I couldn’t stop watching for a second.

On this same night, Theodore Long was named the new SmackDown General Manager. A new Cruiserweight champion was crowned in Spike Dudley. And Eddie Guerrero came out and made a complete joke of Kurt Angle. However, all I remembered was that I wanted John Cena to become the US Champion which he got cheated out of by Booker T.

From that point on, I glued myself to the TV for Friday Night SmackDown every week to watch Cena fight Booker for the US Title. I didn’t watch Raw because it was on cable TV. I didn’t have cable in my room and didn’t want my parents to find out I was watching a show that occasionally had bad language and violence like this.

Over the months, I kept watching, and my friends and I kept talking about it. They were my teachers at the time, showing me who the big wrestlers were, what the titles meant, what each man’s big moves were. They taught me so much that I thought I knew everything.

In January, my friend’s birthday was the same night as the Royal Rumble, so he got to order the show for us all to watch. I was rooting for Cena to win that whole time and was so disappointed when Batista beat him. That was abated later though when Cena won the title at WrestleMania 21 against that loud mouth jerk JBL.

Development

I expect most fans have their own stories of how they got into wrestling, but we all get to a certain point where we know about wrestling enough to keep watching but have another step to take to become a major fan.

For me, I desperately began to want to watch more and more. I ended up catching the Raw where Cena was drafted to Raw, and that was a huge point in my fan experience as I knew I had to start watching Raw as well.

I began going on the internet to check pay-per-view results while taping Raw, so I could watch it later when my parents were asleep. I eventually started showing them the show but only when I was in sixth grade.

Over time, the internet was my information center. I looked back and tried to understand what I missed in wrestling. I found sites where I began to see the internet’s opinions on wrestling and certain wrestlers. In order to be cool, I began to conform to some of those thoughts though I never really could dislike Cena.

I would occasionally even write on the message boards or comment on sites to try and get my two cents in because, no matter what stage I was at, I always felt that my opinion was important and vital to everyone understanding wrestling.

Trying to Have a Voice Heard

As I grew up, I developed more of my own thoughts on wrestling. Since I had started so late, I had a ton of catching up to do. Through it all, I ended up meeting friends that I got along with well, but none were big wrestling fans. My elementary school friends became distant, and I was stuck being a fan on my own.

In order to compensate, I read more and more on fan opinions. I read editorials and reviews whenever I could. I even got my three year younger sister hooked on the shows. I loved the show no matter what others said even though I was pretty secretive about it in Jr. High and High School with other students.

I began branching out as well, watching this show called Total Nonstop Action Wrestling because I heard one of my favorites at the time, Jeff Hardy, was on the show. I watched on and off, but I never quite got into it then. I still thought it made me more knowledgeable watching the show.

I never watched a pay-per-view, not one. I just saw the results online afterward and thought how cool it would be to watch this match or that match online. I imagined the matches as far cooler than they were when I finally watched them (some I finally watched a month or so ago).

Despite my lack of watching PPVs, I really wanted a way to be a closer fan, to show off what I knew and understood. That is what drove me to a place called Bleacher Report where I reading every article I could. I loved the lists as I could easily get a sense with the briefest of words what others thought about people of the past.

I was an unknowledgeable developing fan even in high school, but I felt like I was becoming the most knowledgeable fan there was. That is what caused me to go another step.

Finding Ways to Express My Passions

Through my attempts to become a serious fan, I overestimated myself again and again. I yelled at WWE through my TV often enough telling “what was wrong” about what they were doing and “what was right” about my views. I needed someone to listen.

Exploring Bleacher Report as I had for a while, I stumbled upon a different kind of article, an artistic opinion. Guys like RiZE and Chinmay drew me in not just with their thoughts but the ways they presented them. As a guy who loved to write, it was the inspiration I needed. I realized I could become a writer.

I applied on B/R with an article on why Daniel Bryan would be WWE’s next breakout star, this coming right after Bryan’s Money in the Bank victory that I had haphazardly predicted. It was enough to get me accepted, probably mostly thanks to some Wikipedia support on my facts. I never actually posted the article, but I still have it saved on my computer just to remember.

One year ago today, I wrote my very first article. I analyzed the main event stars of the WWE at that time and tried to show an unbiased look at the good and the bad of each star at the top. It got such great reviews that I was encouraged to keep going and developing. That article for those who want to check it out is here.

As my confidence grew, so did my boldness. I took bigger and bigger assignments to show off “my knowledge” which was basically searching out and analyzing anything I could find on the internet and using it to my advantage.

Before I knew it, I became a Featured Columnist, and a lot of people were very big on my work. My knowledge was supposedly a big reason why though my writing probably just sold what I didn’t know well enough to get by with basically reading to write rather than watching.

I loved the attention, but you may realize reading all this that I wasn’t very focused on the wrestling at this point. I was writing nearly an article a day, and I was more focused on the studying up and writing than I was the programming which I watched but didn’t really focus upon as much as I once had.

That was when I sat down and began thinking. I stopped writing as much, began to refine my writing style. I still rarely watched PPVs, but I found a way here or there to stream. I really wanted to make sure I was writing what I knew most of all.

As I transitioned away from B/R amicably and began writing at WE, I also found people I could talk to about wrestling. I explored the past, watched old wrestling videos, kept myself focused upon knowledge and love of the sport.

Now, I have gone back and watched countless hours of wrestling. Read up on what I can while exploring the similarities that truly distinguish each.

Overview of Stages

This is the part where I try to get a bit wordy and heady to convince everyone I know what I’m talking about. This is also really the introduction to the rest of my future series when I get back to these ideas. Finally, it’s my way of explaining why I just told my whole wrestling story without much actual wrestling involved and try to compensate with information.

In wrestling, fans go through stages. As you can see through the way I progressed, I went through a variety of stages as a fan. In order to understand this, I’ll try to label them briefly.

1. Newborn, Naivety: This is where many young long standing fans come in. You are entranced by the spectacle, attach yourself to a certain wrestler, and you hold onto that feeling. Much of the time, you may feel wrestling is not scripted at this point.

2. Knowledge Building: Whether you are 6 or 60, if you become a fan of pro wrestling, you don’t always stay in a stage of constant wonder. Instead, you want to know as much as possible. You want to be able to explain things and understand them. At this point, wrestling is slowly about building community, and you probably know that it’s scripted.

3. Critic: Once you fully feel you understand and grasp the sport, you take a critical stance on everything you watch. You begin saying what was done right and wrong. Within the community you may have built, a consensus forms in what is right and wrong while occasional differences are settled by arguments perhaps debates to settle a hive mind decision.

4. Analyzer: After a while of building up a basis, a fan begins to actually rate the business. The wrestling world becomes a series of eras and times in which bases can be form where “the best” exists. The product cannot really reach that stage anymore, but it rather aspires to be that. In fact, any deviation from that “best” state is considered a direct mistake.

5. Accommodation: Here is the hardest stage for every fan.The fan must actually take a step back and see the whole spectrum. It is a point where you finally try to go back to simply enjoying the product rather than allowing yourself to overanalyze and overcriticize.

I really feel that fans rarely reach this point for professional wrestling. They become very tight knit in their own beliefs and opinions that they develop, but they rarely open themselves up to the broader spectrum of wrestling. Some are scratching the surface, but it takes a lot of time to understand this idea which is hard to grasp.

The truth is that pro wrestling is made by a few select people who’s decisions run a company and a sport/artform of sorts. In order to appreciate what you see, you can’t merely impose your will, but you must be able to understand the faults and understand if they are really faults at all.

This is a stage I can’t say I fully understand yet either, but I am trying more and more to work within these confines. What makes anything good or bad? Is a consensus possible or are we all just set in opinions that will change over time and keep us feeling what is “good” or “bad” is what we enjoy or don’t enjoy?

There may be further stages as well, but I can’t talk about those since I can’t even grasp them yet.

Conclusion

Don’t make it out to be preaching here or trying to teach. I am merely conveying ideas that I have been pondering over more and more as of late. I do promise that future installments will be more wrestling oriented than this. I merely wanted to get out an idea and share my story as a wrestling fan.

I really do have a lot more to say on all of this, but I feel it is best I don’t say too much more as I’ve written way too much. Instead, I want to simply ask the reader to ponder where they are as a fan for now and what wrestling means to them.

As I alluded to earlier, today marks one year from the day that I started writing professional wrestling articles. I want to thank everyone who has helped me to get through a whole year and become a better writer over this time. I can’t say I expected to be where I am now one year ago, but I don’t regret anything that has brought me to this point.

And don’t worry, guys, I only have more writing coming for years to come. Thanks!

About Kevin Berge

Wrestle Enigma's voted Writer Of The Year two years running. I am writing to prove a point. The day I stop writing is the day I realize I have nothing more to say, and I don't believe that day will ever come.
  • SiD

    Awesome article, and it’s good to see fan experiences always.

  • Judas Thundersteel

    Your retelling of the SmackDown you first saw is better than mine. What introduced me to wrestling was basically a friend sending a message via AOL Instant Messaging, asking if I’m watching SmackDown. I said “Yes,” when I really wasn’t. However, I didn’t want to come off as a liar, so I rushed in channel surfing and there it was. The first image I recall was Undertaker making his entrance to the ring. We talked about Hell in a Cell right from there, as he and Randall Orton had a HIAC match set for Armageddon 2005. Right after that, there was a segment involving the Boogeyman. Those are the only two memories I have, but Undertaker got me invested. The funny thing is many months before that, the first actual wrestling moment I saw was a backstage scuffle involving Christian, John Cena, Chris Jericho, and Tomko. I find that funny for some reason.

    It’s best to read this kind of article and see if I can relate to any of these aspects. Fortunately yes, and the conclusion section summarized it very well as far as stages in a wrestling fan. I’d like to take that list and see what I can do…

    1.) After watching Undertaker, I sure was hooked. However, I did have Dish Network TV, so it was easy to switch to RAW. The thing is that some girls in my 8th grade class were wrestling fans. I used to picture having intercourse with them, but that’s neither here nor there. They talked about this RAW, and I found it on the USA Network. This RAW is more memorable than SD, why? It was Eric Bischoff’s last night as GM of RAW! He was on trial, Coachman was his lawyer, Foley was the prosecutor, Vinnie Mac was the judge! Oh goodness, it was hilarious, and to close the show, John Cena, guy I saw for the first time, FUd Bischoff. Vince carried Bischoff into a garbage truck, and took out the trash. So damn, that just showed the differences between RAW and SD, that still persist today. RAW having more glitz and glamor, SD being a bit more bare bones. I think Undertaker was the spectacle that held me over for SD, and on RAW, there was Shawn Michaels, as he got into a feud with Vince weeks later. One last school related memory was those girls talking in science class: Edge just won the WWE championship. I was all “NO!” And to think all he had to do was impersonate HHH and I’d be cheering him from then on.

    2.) The internet is mentioned and this ties into knowledge building. My first taste of the internet was a spoiler on Booker T winning a battle royal to be number 1 contender to the World Heavyweight Championship. I was pissed, wishing it was all false. Well, it wasn’t. I had no further experience on the internet and wrestling until the next year, after freshman high school. I had spent months on this forum filled with classmates. Merelicious…something, I forgot the full name of the forum. Only one of the members was a bit of a wrestling fan. This fat whitey, and we only chatted once about Vince getting his head shaved bald. Anyways, Vince’s limo explosion, I made a thread on Vince being dead. Then everyone and their grandmother pretty much told me Santa Claus is fiction. They explained editing techniques, “wrestling is fake,” all this. Then weeks later, Benoit died, Vince appeared on camera, and yeah, it was fake. Those couple of weeks pretty much sealed it for me. From then on, I would use the internet to look up things. I learned of Kurt Angle in TNA, and this would lead me watching an Impact segment. Total channel surfing, Spike TV. Angle was having a Thanksgiving dinner, he dressed like a pilgrim, and that’s all I remember. It was silly, and I changed the channel in short time. Now other than the spoiler, and the forum, my only wrestling source in the internet was WWE’s official website. It was there I read about Angle being released, Booker being suspended, Shawn Michaels’ (kayfabe) injury after Randall punted him in the head. A lot of things.

    In January of 2008, I started watching TNA Impact after watching this guy named Christian, entertaining me. Something about him made me stay and watch. There was Kurt Angle, there was this goofnut looking guy…AJ Styles? Somewhere around this time, I did join a wrestling forum. This very same time, I watched my first PPV, not live. Wrestlemania 24. Watching the PPV, I got a sense of what WWE would do on PPV, and I really wanted to watch more. I didn’t read results online, my only source was RAW and SD recapping results. Watching Wrestlemania 24, gave me a chance to see that this PPV thing, is awesome. Knowledge building came when I somehow had a habit of posting news pieces from one specific wrestling news site. In fact, I think I turned on the Admin and his wife (co-admin) to the website. WrestlingNewsWorld. I still visit that site to this day. In fact, the same time I joined B/R as a commenter, I had an IntenseDebate account and commented over there. Not under the name “Judas Thundersteel.” “Chapel Of Ghouls” (it’s a Morbid Angel song). Anyways, I was promoted to News Moderator, some made up title, but whatever. The discussion side, the first topic I recall is ranking wrestlers in TNA. Believe it or not, I ranked Kevin Nash as number 7 in my Top 10. That’s awful. Wikipedia became a good source, learning of Nash’s time as Diesel, and then Youtube came in handy. I learned of Christian’s WWE past, Undertaker’s past, a bit more on TNA. I had known about Hulk Hogan and legendary names that people threw around. So even though I didn’t ever see Jeff Jarrett live on TV, I knew that when AJ Styles hit Angle in the head with a guitar, it signaled Jeff. I knew about Sting. Getting deeper into the internet, I got more of a sense of what’s real, and what’s not real. Undertaker lost a TLC match to Edge, where if he lost, he’d be banished from WWE. As soon as I learned of that match’s results, I went on WNW, yep, Undertaker had to rest up nagging injuries. He’ll be back.

    3.) Hoho! Yes, I remember joining another forum, and basically reviewed TNA and WWE PPVs. I tried to be a funny guy, I gave star ratings and all that. Each review had a title. So Lockdown 2009, I called it “Blood Ejaculation.” I’m totally serious, I was very negative on TNA and WWE. In my reviewing time, I was more praiseworthy towards No Way Out 2009, and Wrestlemania 25. I still value NWO 2009 highly, but I wised up to the fact that WM25 was a one match show. To this day that one match is still my favorite wrestling match of all time. I don’t need to say its name. So I was a critic, joined ANOTHER wrestling forum. One specific member was a puro wrestling fan, and he mentioned Mitsuharu Misawa. So trying to be cool with him, I watched some Japanese wrestling matches via Youtube. He was praiseworthy of Undertaker though, so we already clicked there, and he loved metal music, clicked again there. He also had frustration towards WWE and TNA, and I think sharing this frustration made me want to search elsewhere. I found ROH on HDNet, and was very high on that show. I got to seeing Bryan Danielson, Nigel McGuinness, Tyler Black, Austin Aries, Kenny King, Rhett Titus (he made me laugh so hard), Chris Hero, Claudio Castignoli, American Wolves, Kevin Steen and El Generico, commentary was Dave Prazak and Mike “Slap the Porpoise” Hogwood. It was that alternative I liked. So the original forum where I was News Mod, my activity there decreased, and I had joined yet another forum based out of Ireland or something. So I was active on 3, a member at 4. Still active on 3, a member at FIVE (the new one at the time, only made one post). It just kept going and going. I was deep in forum discussion. The forum where the Misawa fan was in, we did a thread where we rated the last match we saw. I think that thread provoked me to go and watch more matches online. One I can say immediately was Undertaker vs. Kurt Angle at No Way Out 2006. I then reviewed that match in the forum I reviewed for. I rated it too. ****3/4. I remember that rating, freaking awesome match.

    My internet journey went further into actual downloading, hence why I was able to review PPVs. I didn’t buy into streaming, I only saw PPVs via streaming a couple times (Wrestlemania 25 was one of those times). By 2010, my forum activity was slowing down. I had exhausted negativity on everything from guest hosts to John Cena to Russo, everything. Also, Sheamus being WWE Champion, back to that Ireland based forum, people sure were happy when he won the title. I wasn’t. In mid 2010, forums either shut down for some reason, or inactive beyond belief. So with that, I stepped away, and basically went into stage 4.

    4.) My stage 4 is a bit different. I spent about a year just watching wrestling, going on the wrestling news sites, and that’s it. I didn’t talk about wrestling with anyone, really, I was the only wrestling fan as high school progressed. At least the only one who knew stuff. Only one in my family too. Everything was kept to myself. The internet would supply me with the opportunity to watch WWE PPVs of old. So with that and downloading ROH events (I got an external hard drive heading into 2011, it doesn’t have much wrestling stuff. Actually right now, ROH events, and SHIMMER events), I watched WWE PPVs. I got a sense of what happened during the times. This so beat Wikipedia, which I was using less of by the time. So I gained knowledge another way, and going into stage 4, I think that came when joining Bleacher Report and IntenseDebate. It was those places where I shared what I felt was a generally calmer, smarter, foresight taking approach to wrestling. B/R did a better job at getting me fire away on the keyboard, as I read articles, formulated opinions, and I guess to some, competed against writers in making an analysis. The first Berge article I recall reading is your Bound For Glory review. Slideshow, I was so disappointed from that show, I was hoping that someone would agree with me. Lo and behold, similar feelings, it was cool. There were other writers before, I joined in August, read articles only, my first actual comment? That RAW in October where everyone complained of its suckiness. The walkout being null and void, Vince McMahon’s return, all that. I basically defended that RAW, and there was an article or two that did the same thing. Yeah, this is where I wanted to be more like an apologist. Defending WWE in criticisms levied by that specific website, and elsewhere.

    5.) This is the stage I tried to reach, and it’s a stage that is hard to grasp really. I want to step back and enjoy. It has worked, it hasn’t worked. It’s a back and forth thing, it’s never 100%. Certainly reading articles and commenting further, it’s not easy to stop. Though reading articles and commenting further is still fun. Right now’s a good place for me, I think judging products from myself is better. That silence from forums really helped, and I have yet to join an actual wrestling forum. I found a better solution in commenting.

    “Artistic opinion.” I can say that’s better than reading a slideshow on wrestlers’ foreheads. Damn, the quality in B/R went to crap when 2012 rolled around, and I was rather spoiled by the works of Chinmay, Iam D Real Deal Yo (I hope I got that right), Jon Fisher, and Berge. I also was curious as to why Jacob Stachowiak didn’t do more articles on B/R, because they were entertaining. I didn’t understand this spotlight being so shiny on Big Nasty, Watry articles annoyed me further and further. It’s nice this website has gone from safehouse, to the penthouse, if that makes sense. Podcasts, reviews, reporting news, yeah it’s a penthouse.

    Anyways, even though there wasn’t a lot of wrestling stuff here, it’s a great thing to read and see how it relates to myself. Every wrestling fan has a story, sharing one here results in others being shared, and where similarities can be drawn. It’s stimulating. Of course future articles will get more into business, and I’m interesting in that. So tremendous introduction.

    • http://twitter.com/TheBerge_ Kevin Berge

      Thanks, Judas, your opinion on all this is just as fun as writing the work here. I have big things planned for this series going forward.

  • Louie_Babcock

    Its so funny how one person can hook a child into being a wrestling fan. What is even funnier is that your person that hooked you was Cena, this generations Hogan, and as everyone knows by now, Hogan is the one who hooked me. Great article.

  • http://twitter.com/Blair_LucasWE Blair Lucas

    I started watching wrestling during the height of the Attitude Era. The one moment I remember is being 8 years old watching Raw the night after the PPV where the first lingerie match. It was the one where Sable had the hand prints on her boobs and I saw it back on Raw and freaked out. I was only 8 so that was like the dirtiest hardcore porn to me. My aunt got pissed off that I was letting my cousin watch it and that’s when I got hooked.

    When you said this was going to be long, I was expecting it to be like 7000-8000 words or something. It’s cool that you shared us your experiences getting into wrestling. Ironically when you were geting into it, I was slowly getting out of it.

  • http://twitter.com/TheBerge_ Kevin Berge

    If this is bad, I’m sorry. I wrote most of it in one night, and I feel like the idea was better than the execution. Had to get it out today though.