The fateful moment I discovered the truth
That was until the fateful day where an older girl ruined my faith in the sport. “It’s not real you know?,” she scowled at me.
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN?” I shouted back to snooty-older-girl-at-school. Furious at her libellous attack on the wrestlers I had come to know and love, I waited impatiently until the next match the following Saturday to ensure she was wrong and I was right. (I couldn’t yet ask the internet – this was the early 90s).
Saturday came and I was crushed. My new-found knowledge somehow meant I could suddenly see that Hulk wasn’t actually hitting his opponent and Bret’s body slams from a height weren’t actually landing squarely on his opponent.
Wrestling had been exposed as pure theatre and I was no longer interested. The bubble burst. I believed in the hatred. I invested in the fights and who won the belt. But no more. “How could we have been so stupid?” – I rounded on my friends – as I crushed their dreams too.
Watching wrestling after 20 years...
To be honest I haven’t ever really thought back to those days when I was obsessed by men and women donning lycra. That was until last week when I and my colleague Emma Sinclair (also a former wrestler nut) were invited to meet Dixie Carter – who is this week’sTelegraph Wonder Women’s Biz Idol– aka the lady running TNA (Total Non-Stop Action Wrestling for those not in the know), the competing US troupe to WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment – formerly my beloved WWF).
And then we were invited to go and see theTNA Impact Wrestling Tour, which has been travelling around the UK for the last week, featuring special guest Hulk Hogan and his increasingly famous daughter Brooke (who has a reality TV and pop career of sorts – as well as seeming to have become the First Lady of wrestling).
This is why two nights ago, I found myself sat in a sold-out Wembley Arena, chanting “Hulk, Hulk, Hulk,” sat in between two of my best girlfriends (alongside our respective men – who were rather bemused by our vigour to say the least), slurping a pint of the venue’s best overpriced lager.
I wasn’t doing this by half measures. Suddenly the obligatory rock music began – and wrestler after wrestler appeared, wearing very little (men and women) – capes billowing and heads banging to the music.
The group of men behind me quickly began roaring their support and I noticed one of them had his face painted like his hero wrestler, Sting, and was carrying a polysterene head.
Sting kicking his opponent
I instantly became a bit worried – thinking this could turn nasty. How wrong I was. I had expected to see a lot of children there with their long-suffering parents – and although there were a few children – it was mainly adults. And despite there being many more men than women, there was a significant number of females peppering each row – fists pumping.
But my fears were unfounded. The supporters were really well-behaved and no where near as frightening as football fans in my experience at the few Man City matches I have attended.
Then the Hulk came out. All 6ft 7 of him. And the crowd went bonkers – as did we.
Hulk's still got it
Finally someone from my youth who I knew, and despite Hulkmania sweeping Wembley, the crowd remained really sweet and obedient – only standing and moving towards the ring when the fights were over.
Wrestling fans, men and women alike, were there for the same reasons I originally tuned in as a seven year-old: the sheer drama of it all. They don’t care that it’s not real – and instead - a piece of Charlie-Chaplin-esque theatre.
And it was just like one big homo-erotic panto. All of the outcomes of the matches were pre-determined and the reactions to the body slams, totally over the top. But what struck me more now as an adult is how amazingly athletic these wrestlers are.
Despite the punches and slams not being ‘real’ – these men and women still have to jump on top of each other from a height, land high kicks and help flip one another.
Women's wrestling is not disturbing
“It’s a highly-choreographed and highly athletic dance,” ‘Tara’ (aka Lisa Marie Varon), a 42 year-old veteran wrestler – who worked for WWF for 10 years before switching to TNA (and trained for three years in WWF's wrestler school), told me.
“I always say I’m a really bad actress who does her own stunts,” she quips truthfully after the show, while enjoying a well deserved red wine, post ‘losing’ the title belt in the ring to 'Velvet Sky', and ‘fighting’ against a gaggle of women wrestlers, including Gail Kim (pictured below).
When the women wrestlers do enter the arena during the show – the crowd go just as wild as when the men arrive. Their outfits, mainly made of leather, are just as revealing as the men (apart from the beautiful busty blonde female ref who is wearing distinctly less than the men’s team’s average-looking male ref)– showing off incredibly muscular bodies and I am reminded of the amazing year of female sport Britain has just enjoyed courtesy of our Olympians.
The women ‘wrestle’ just as hard as the men and it’s the same routines as the blokes. However, interestingly the crowd does seem to lose interest a little during their matches – which typically see four women in the ring.
Maybe it’s a bit like my experience of sitting in the Olympic stadium during the athletics– it’s hard to concentrate with four things happening at once. Or maybe closer to the truth is my girlfriend’s take on it: “Men don’t really want to watch a girl fight another fight. The only girl-on-girl action men really want to see is not happening in this ring right now.”
The first part of this wise observation by my cider-ed up pal seems to ring true with what one of my colleagues wrote about the women’s judo during the Olympics. Andrew M Brown said it was “disturbing to watch these girls beat each other up”. However, despite wrestling not being real fighting like judo, the women contenders’ performance was amazing – and didn’t disturb anyone I was sitting with – nor turn them on – much to my relief.
Tara taking down an opponent
If anything three hours of wrestling, whether being enacted by a man or woman athlete, just gets a little repetitive. That would be my only criticism – but then again I am not in the loop like I once was.
Nothing about my 21st century wrestling experience was negative. The wrestlers know how to put on a bloody good show and let me tell you – Hulk, who turns 60 this year, has still got it – whatever it is that these wrestlers have.
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