My only experience with professional wrestling is in the twelfth grade, when I had a crush on a football player who happened to really like the Rock. Because of my target’s passion, I engaged in the ultimately unrewarding activity of pretending to be into something for the interest of a man. I watched a wrestling program here and there. This feigned interest plus Hulk freaking Hogan and Stone Cold Steve Austin comprises my knowledge of the sport. Imagine my surprise to find myself, under the most pleasant of circumstances, at a live taping of WWE Raw on Monday night featuring the Texas Rattlesnake himself making a big fuss about two other men—one very wet and the other, quite hirsute—signing a contract.
Unsure of what to expect but definitely prepared to enjoy myself, I settled into some very nice seats with friends both old and new for four hours of the most delightful entertainment spectacle I’ve witnessed in some time—entertainment under the guise of “sport.” Everything I witnessed seemed more exciting than the last, as if I would never see anything better—a hilarious roller coaster of the sort that I actually enjoy, replete with emotional highs and mildly debilitating lows. In short, it was a perfect and rather long four hours of very good entertainment.
“Raw is war,” said a man in a blue shirt, squeezing past me for the first of at least ten times over two hours. “raw is war.” Initially, I did not want to believe this man, but repetition worked. By the eighth time he and his friend with the interesting facial hair scooted by us, I believed it.
Everything about sports entertainment, as wrestling is known, is thrilling to me, a reality television fan. Unlike, say, the boat ride in Season 10 of Real Housewives of New York, though, you can watch wrestling live in a sports stadium that usually hosts basketball games, alongside hundreds of enthusiastic fans. Watching a professional wrestling match with absolutely no knowledge of wrestling is to cede control to the crowd: at any point in the action during which I felt confused, a chant or some otherwise spicy commentary would swell from side to side, telling me how to feel.
“That’s the most uncreative outfit I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” a man with an accent like Katie Jane Hughes, a makeup artist I enjoy on Instagram, said of Baron Corbin’s formal black tank top and matching pants—also the outfit of an eventual ANTM winner participating in the go-see challenge. Near the end of the four hours, during a nightmarish 10 man tag team, the crowd started chanting “THIS IS BULL-SHIT” in response to an event that, to my eyes, seemed boring. “I’d rather watch old people fuck,” a teen sitting in front of us declared, to uproarious laughter, most of it my own. Perhaps, a small part of me agreed. Near the end of that particular match, one of the larger Viking men clambered atop the ropes and broke up a clutch of glistening wrestlers entangled like a rat king by jumping from the ropes onto their bodies. I screamed. It was incredible.
Watching big men slam their bodies into each other while a rapturous crowd screams and gasps as if on cue was similar to my experience watching Magic Mike XXL for the first time: I couldn’t keep myself from laughing in delight at the sheer spectacle of what the human body can do. No disrespect to any of the men featured in last evening’s proceedings, but my feelings of delight were not sexual. Seth Rollins, the wettest wet guy of them all, is a Would, but the other men, whom I’m sure are very nice, are a polite would not. Also shit got wild towards the end in a way that veered dangerously towards overwhelming. A 10 person tag team situation is a real mess, with men crawling in and out of the box like little lizards, writhing in agony. At various points in the evening, I wondered when the men would kiss. Sadly, they never did.
Keeping track of who and what was happening was nigh impossible and reading recaps of the event I just watched live provided little to no clarity. Consider this basic description of the most exciting match of the evening, a showdown between the Four Horsewomen of the WWE—Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair vs Sasha Banks and Bayley.
From mandatory.com, a wrestling website I found after a few short googles:
Lynch tagged in and cleared house. She suplexed Banks, her opponent on Sunday, and took her down with a diving forearm. Banks drilled Lynch with a backstabber, Flair rocked Banks with a boot and Lynch took both her opponents down with a missile dropkick. Lynch hit a legdrop on Bayley and Flair hit the champion with a moonsault for a near fall.
All four women brawled around ringside. In the end, Flair planted Bayley with Natural Selection for the win.
I am certain this is what I witnessed, but if hard pressed to even attempt any of these moves, I would certainly fail, though they made it all look very easy and also fun. Prior to this match beginning, some small part of me attempted to locate a feeling of outrage about watching women pretend to beat each other up for applause. Unsurprisingly, I found none, and instead enjoyed the brute strength and blunt grace of women who, at the end of the day, were really hamming it up for the camera, the crowd, and ideally, for themselves. At various points the women found themselves exhausted on the ground, as if in slumber, waking only when the crowd’s cheers grew loud enough for their liking.
During this match, the crowd came back to life, chanting “THIS IS AWES-OME”, during an extended bout between some the women involving balletic flying leaps and kicks—aggressive modern dance. The energy from the collective, my seat mate informed me, inspires the wrestlers to adjust their improvisations to feed the desires of the crowd. The chant surrounded me. I could not agree more. Truly, it was.
Shoehorning this experience into any working definition of feminsim and assessing whether or not it is good for women is not part of this exercise. I was strapped into a bucket seat at Madison Square Garden to see some high drama with manufactured consequences that have no real bearing in the real world. Unplugging my brain from reconciling life’s many small disappointments and surrendering completely to some adults acting like rambunctious and creative children felt nice. Peace, at last.