PRO-WRESTLING IS LIFE
Life can be divided into three distinct stages.
We are born.
We struggle to define our existence.
It's no coincidence then that this would be the basic structure of most human stories; a beginning, a middle, and an end (or The Thee Acts). We see Three Acts in everything around us, be it our twenty-four-hour cycle (we wake up, we work, we go to sleep) or the entirety of our time on this planet (youth, middle-age, elder-age). Even our intangible experiences of life are typically divided into threes: Good, Evil, a moral gray area.
We give our lives meaning by fragmenting them into various stages of enlightenment, going so far as to create elaborate ceremonies (weddings, funerals, commencement, birthdays, bar & bat mitzvahs, communions etc) to punctuate perceived growth. Without this highly organized punctuation life becomes an unintelligible run-on sentence.
Similarly, in fiction, it's incredibly rare to experience a story that lacks structure. It's even rarer that a story isn't centered around a protagonist or an antagonist who learns a valuable lesson or, at the very least, changes in some way.
There are few arts where this structure works better than professional wrestling.
When we watch a professional wrestling match we are watching the story of life.
ACT 1 - BIRTH
The professional wrestler emerges from behind the curtain. We do not know what goes on behind the curtain. That dark space is vague and unattainable, just as we do not recall what took place prior to emerging from the womb. There is only the ramp, the ring, the audience, the wood, the rubber, the wire, the lights, and the steel. These are the building blocks of the professional wrestling universe.
As the wrestler marches toward the ring, where the majority of their existence plays out, they are given a height, a weight, and a name.
"Making her way to the ring, weighing in at..."
This announcement is the wrestler's birth certificate. These facts help the rest of the world identify the wrestler. The name also embodies the wrestler's soul, sometimes even dictating their behavior and the way they engage with others or their place in history.
After both competitors are introduced, the rules of the match are outlined. We find out what the stakes are. "This match is scheduled for one fall and it is for the ICW Heavyweight Championship!" Whatever the specific guidelines (pin or submission, falls count anywhere, no holds barred etc) these are the commandments of a professional wrestling match, not unlike the commandments imposed on individuals in a family or a community.
Early on in our lives we are told what to expect from the world. Some of us are sheltered from the inevitable darkness that awaits, while others are born directly into the darkness. For the sheltered, we learn the "rules" of life from our parents. If we break those rules, we are punished. This is preparatory to our experience of life outside the family. Society gives us rules. If we break those rules, we are punished.
But, after gaining some experience, we learn that we're only punished if we're caught. An awakening to that fact determines who we will become in relation to morality; righteous or corrupt. How a wrestler chooses to navigate the rules of their universe reveals whether they are a villain, a hero, or somewhere in-between. Personality is revealed through choice and action (see Somoa Joe's promo about this in NXT episode 11/11/15). How a wrestler chooses to engage with their world and the actions that carry out that choice shapes how the world perceives them.
The referee is a wrestler's judge & jury, the ever-present overseer of the match. The referee is fallible, however; sometimes biased, corrupt, or inexplicably inept.
And so the scene is set. The world is established for all the players.
The ringside bell is rung, and the battle for supremacy begins.
ACT II - CONFLICT
The ritual of ringing the bell is tantamount to being kicked out of the nest. That sound represents our transition from innocence into experience. The wrestler has left the comfort of the womb, the wrestler has been introduced to the world, the wrestler has learned the rules of that world, and now the wrestler must fend for themselves.
Conflict is inevitable in life. How we manage conflict, how we overcome the pain and the suffering and the psychological trauma destined to unravel our innocence allows us to learn more about ourselves and our place in the world.
The wrestler's opponent is the hardship of life. The wrestler's opponent is reality come to dismantle the fragile fantasy that life is limitless and that life promises riches. The wrestler's opponent proves that hard work and talent does not necessarily guarantee success. The wrestler's opponent might cheat or the wrestler's opponent might be physically superior, forcing the wrestler to reevaluate their tactics. The wrestler learns, along with the viewer, that an unwillingness to yield, despite extreme hardship, is more often than not what determines triumph or defeat.
This is why professional wrestling can elicit such a strong emotional response from a massive community of viewers. If the viewer's chosen hero manages to overcome the trials set down before them, then the viewer is encouraged to keep fighting the battles in their own life. Pro-wrestling, when actively working to move an audience toward catharsis (The Moment of Pop), tells a life-affirming story.
Pro-wrestling teaches us that it is possible to overcome the pain life promises.
Seeing Sami Zayn win the NXT Championship isn't just about watching a hard worker get what they deserve. It's not about the Internet Wrestling Community getting what they want thanks to a good booking decision. The story of Sami's victory is the story of self-acceptance.
We lose our innocence and then we spend the rest of our days fighting to get it back or, in spite, we turn against the world and try to destroy the innocence of others. Both sides of that struggle can prevent growth. It is only when we move beyond our disillusionment, deny the temptations of evil, and hold true to our most honest selves that we're able to reclaim our identity and, as Sami Zayn once put it, "Do it your way!"
The more the wrestler "does it their way" in the ring (whether for good or for evil) the better that wrestler embodies the struggle of life.
As the wrestler progresses through their match, they find themselves in a variety of increasingly desperate situations. After an initial onslaught of punches, kicks, and holds the combatants segue into "High Spots". A "High Spot" is a memory of such intensity that it has been burned into the fabric of our soul; a heartbreak, a marriage, a divorce, a death, graduation, promotion.
This ebb and flow between lower and higher intensity moments is the ebb and flow of existence. There are good times and there are bad times. Fortune and misfortune. That constant back and forth is the wheel of suffering. It is only when we ascend and break away from that process that we're able to attain peace and victory.
As the wrestler progresses through higher and higher spots their body slows down. The exertion takes a toll. The body betrays the wrestler and all that remains is the wrestler's will to survive.
ACT III - DEATH
Nearing the end of a match, the wrestler's breath becomes shorter, their actions less fluid. They now know, intimately, who their opponent is and what their opponent is capable of. The wrestler is wiser and more able to deal with conflict, but the wrestler may be too weak or too tired to keep fighting.
And this is where the wrestler's true strength is revealed.
At the end of their life in the ring, can the wrestler find it in their soul to use everything that they've learned, push through the pain, deny death's grasp, and achieve victory?
The wrestler is rolled up into a pin. The referee counts down to their death.
The wrestler kicks out! The wrestler has defied nature. Somehow, some way, the wrestler will not give in. The wrestler will keep fighting and keep fighting until their last breath. The wrestler will not give in to temptation. The wrestler will not cheat. The good wrestler will prove evil wrong by winning their way on their terms.
As the wrestler deals a final, unexpected blow to their opponent, they move in for the three-count, and the referee and the audience count in unison. This count is closure. This count is the entire drama of life contained in three seconds.
One. Two. Three.
There is a cosmic pop that radiates throughout all of existence. Like ecstatic stars swirling around the center of the universe, the audience flails and scatters and screams in joy. In this moment, life and death, beginning and end, are joined in holy matrimony.
The wrestler's arm is raised, and he gives thanks to the world.
He stands in the ring for a moment, reflecting on his life. He mourns the passing of the moment, but he is proud to have lived it.
And then the wrestler slips back into the dark from whence he came; behind the curtain.
The work is done. The point is made. While the wrestler fades from existence, the memory of what they did thrives in the minds of the audience.
This is a wrestler who has led a good life.
This is not a soap opera. This is not entertainment. This is not fake.
Professional wrestling is life.