Wrestling is a form of entertainment for outsiders. From its roots in fringe carnival culture to the seemingly constant defense of wrestling to the “you know it’s fake, right?” people we meet all the time. A career in wrestling is often pursued against the grain of traditional societal pressures to go to college and get a nice, normal job. It goes against any kind of common sense, really. The idea of throwing yourself out of a ring onto exposed concrete floors every weekend for a pittance to almost anyone outside of wrestling sounds completely absurd.
The connections wrestling fans make, while at times confusing, are some of the most intense and unbreakable in any fandom. Old Southern women who hit heels with their purses and fawn over babyfaces. Little kids in head-to-toe Cena gear. This guy. Allowing yourself to get lost in the deception of a wrestling universe can be a welcome escape for some, but also a form of validation for those who feel they don’t quite fit in anywhere else. Divisions of fandom form when fans find those with like-minded opinions and people who connect to wrestling in the same way.
When people make a connection, that fandom becomes less passive and more personal. Popular independent wrestlers going to WWE are seen as “one of ours making it.” We love wrestling for the crazy stories and elevated personas, but when there’s something about them that’s just like us? That bond is hard to break. And when people connect to wrestlers in a different way? Then, things can get nasty. We hold on so tightly to the things we love, and when people don’t love them in the exact same ways, it becomes almost a personal insult. And this may come as a shock, but delving into an internet disagreement can quickly become like dunking your head into a septic tank.
The positive aspect of connecting to a performer in that way is simply because they make us feel better about ourselves. These are people doing near impossible things and living an impossible dream, and they’re just like us. If we can see it, we can achieve it. I’ve written thousands of words about positive representation in wrestling because that kind of connection is the most valuable of all. Whether it’s a little girl seeing Bayley allowed to be girly and funny and positive and still kick ass, or it’s Kevin Owens, a wrestling everyman who isn’t the traditional physical ideal of an athlete, but still succeeds in a business that tells him he shouldn’t. Video games, a favorite band, a favorite movie, loving the same ’80s cartoon, looking like us or being from the same place… these bonds are what humanize our television superheroes. In turn, we buy their t-shirts, and little girls dress up like them when they go to wrestling shows and send them videos reenacting their entrances. We defend them endlessly, and go out of our way to show everyone else why they’re important to us. They stop being an idealized version of someone’s power/sexual fantasy and become relatable people who are defined by the same things we see in ourselves.
That kind of inspiration we find in our fandom can trickle down in funny ways, too. For instance, a friend of mine still organizes the bills in his wallet the same way Missy Hyatt said she did in an interview many, many years ago. The way I say “thank you” is 100 percent the way Brad Maddox said it on TV once. I adore UltraMantis Black for a million reasons, but at the end of the day, he’s a feminist, Smiths-loving vegan wrestler who loves punk/hardcore and is often covered in glitter, five things that are super important in my life. Sasha Banks is amazing at what she does, but she also loves Sailor Moon and Biff Busick and reblogs joshi pictures and videos on Tumblr. I like those things and do those things, and it makes me like her more. Gooble gobble, we accept her, Sasha Banks is one of us.
So, what makes you connect to wrestlers? How have these connections changed your fandom? Even if they’re not your favorite, who in wrestling do you personally relate to the most, and what’s the thing that sparked that connect? Have you ever not really cared about a wrestler, but became a fan because you found something you have in common? Tell us in the comments below!