WWE: Wrestling with Fandom by Marc Madison

Wrestling fandom. It’s a pretty strange and twisted place to be sometimes. At times we know too much, and other times really know nothing at all. Having watched wrestling for many, many years, there are things I believe I know about the business, but the truth is, I’m not living what these athletes live. I don’t endure their personal triumphs and tragedies. I don’t live their life struggles. The adage of never judging a person before you walk a mile in their shoes was never more apt. I have never wrestled or have been in a ring, but I feel pretty fortunate that I’ve been able to speak too many wrestlers. Though after this piece is published, if they will still want to speak to me may be a completely different story altogether.

I’ve been watching wrestling since I was eight years old, and over time I’ve changed my outlook. Now, I might question mistakes and refinement in the ring, but at the same time I still cheer like a little kid when I see Sting walk out into a WWE arena for the very first time. I don’t question a wrestler’s choices because, again, I’m not living in their shoes. But I will ask numerous questions because I’m genuinely interested in what they have to say. I do the very best to research the person I will be speaking with, and strive to ask these questions they aren’t usually asked. And, I don’t just stick to wrestling; I will ask them about why certain choices were made, more because it gives the athlete an opportunity to speak their mind.

Over the course of the last six months, I’ve had the good fortune to speak to wrestlers from all over the world and ask these questions that I’ve always wanted to ask them, but more importantly what I believe others may want to ask them as well. They haven’t all be great and insightful interviews, but they’ve all have been memorable and professional. Well, almost all of them; I’ll save that particular interview and interaction for later. Just like any fan reading this, I am a mark. It is a coincidence that this is my name, but we’re all marks at the end of the day. Not all wrestlers are interested in being interviewed, and that’s fine; there is never an obligation.

I have found that my interactions with Lucha Underground stars, including Matt Striker, Konnan and Johnny Mundo, have been fantastic. They were all accommodating and enlightening. While I wasn’t trying to blow wind up their sails, I did try to be consciously respectful of them. It’s their time and they didn’t have to give of it, but they did. Konnan was open about his time in different promotions and how he is genuinely proud to be a part of Lucha Underground. As a fan, I had no problem sharing how much fans enjoy that product, what it means to fans and how we all want to see Lucha Underground return. (Newsflash!: It will!) Matt Striker was great to talk to. His love of hockey, wrestling, and the rock band Rush makes him an honorary Canadian. That’s something that was amazing to find out. He mentioned wrestlers that I never thought about, and because of him I have gone back and watched the wrestling of Billy Robinson, and other wrestling from yesteryear. I honestly felt like I could have asked him another half a dozen questions too because he was that engaging to talk to. The same could be said about Johnny Mundo. He’s busy travelling to wrestle in the U.S, Mexico, Canada, and has been working on post-production on a film. He didn’t have to offer of his time to speak with me, but he did, and for that I’m very grateful. He felt laid-back and comfortable enough share about his experiences in the WWE and elsewhere. I don’t envy their lives, and I respect what they do. They give of themselves and sacrifice of themselves for the sake of sport, competition and entertaining people like you and me. The last thing I want to do is ask something that crosses the line from business to real life.

A number of these wrestlers are also entrepreneurs that are diversifying into other businesses rather than simply relying on wrestling alone. They prepare themselves for post-wrestling careers because they realize that eventually their body won’t be able to sustain the abuse and will need to step away. Years ago, I was able to speak with B. Brian Blair who was one half of the tag team, The Killer Bees during the late 1980s. He parlayed that wrestling career into something more. He was able to move into politics and created a life after wrestling. He was unquestionably as classy an act then as he is now. His stories of travel always made me marvel.

One of the most exciting things I find in speaking with different wrestlers past and present is hearing about their experiences. Whether it was Adam Cole or Roderick Strong or Moose, they all gave of their time willingly. My friend Steve and I attended the Global Wars event in Toronto this past May and had the pleasure to speak with both Steve Corino and Frankie Kazarian. They were very different people, but their level of professionalism remained the same. I had a great discussion with both of them, and they didn’t make me feel like I was beneath them or that I was wasting their time. I walked away from both of those experiences with the same feeling, what great, engaging guys. The kicker here was this was the day of an event, a time when they didn’t have to speak, given that they had a show to prepare for. It would be understandable if they didn’t want to talk, and out of consideration to them, I wouldn’t have batted an eye. Corino was laid-back and watching Phillies baseball on his tablet before our interview, as easy-going as it gets. Frankie came out, opened up, cracked a few jokes and headed back to prepare for the rest of the night. Two guys that respect their fans and everything that stands in front of them.

For all the good, we do encounter the bad; it goes with the territory. Wrestlers are people, even if as fans we don’t always think of them as that, as if they are superhuman. They have bad days; we all have them, and if you catch anyone on a bad day you someone can end up getting upset. My one bad experience could be chalked up to just that. Maybe this one veteran of the ring was having a bad day, and wasn’t prepared to be asked about their time in the ring. But as a fan, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

When I speak to those I’m interviewing, at the outset I make them aware that after the interview I will email them a draft of what we discussed, broken down question by questioning. In this case, having watched this wrestler growing up, performing in different promotions, the fan inside was excited to talk to him. When I found out that he was accessible, I reached out to him. He quickly responded and we scheduled a time to speak. Our interaction to this point was quite positive. I reached out to formally coordinate something, and even though we had a slight scheduling conflict, we managed to work it out. The wrestler went as far as to say, “These interviews are important to me.” That was great to hear that he valued doing interviews as much as I do conducting them.

The day and time came, and I posed questions about his past. Something changed quickly throughout the discussion though. He wasn’t pleased with the questions. While I did say that it was fine to add in his thoughts afterwards, he didn’t appear to want to have anything to do with what I was asking. The questions could not have been viewed as out of line; without trying to sound insulting, I am asking career related questions because, to quote Mark Henry, ‘That’s what I do’. Just like many fans, I just wanted to hear stories about a different time and how ring psychology worked; stories of how life was on the road and how their time was in in different promotions. If anyone has read my previous interviews, you can see I don’t try to find dirt because that’s just not who I am. All I wanted to hear were wrestling stories. If I am guilty of anything, it is not asking him if there was anything he wasn’t prepared to discuss. Sadly, that will be my lasting memory of someone I was a fan of watching. Who it is, isn’t important, but the fact that we can be disappointed in those we hold in high regard as professionals is important; that is why I am sharing this.

But the reason I was disappointed was not because he was salty and short with their answers, but because I was hung up on. I couldn’t believe it. I’m guilty of doing it to telemarketers and people advertising for duct cleaning services, but not because I wasn’t expecting to discuss a certain topic. I was in disbelief that the questions were so disliked it led to him hanging up on someone. I watched him through the 80s and into the 90s, and was captivated by his skill and ability in the ring. The fan in me, and even the child in me, came face-to-face with the harsh reality that not everyone in the wrestling business is nice. Still, I choose to remember the good ones, and if I’ve mentioned them by name here it’s because they are the good ones. They gave of their time and shared because they wanted to, and because they could.

We all have disappointments when it comes to wrestling. Whether it’s a finish we don’t like or an angle we aren’t comfortable with, wrestling can disappoint us on occasion. But I can’t say that I’ve been disappointed in speaking with talent. Whether they are on the independent circuit, or with TNA,GFW,ROH, or retired, it’s been a blessing. From this recent experience, I’ve learned that we all had bad days, and in the case of this particular wrestler it could be just chalked up to that. He may very well have been willing on another day and at a different time. But it’s too bad because it’s that one moment to make that first and only impression. But thankfully, the good far outweigh the bad.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @TheMarcMadison.