Over the weekend, I took my son to WWE’s Summerslam 13 at the Staples Center. I hung out at LA Live while he was at the event. I did have a chance to check out the axxess event which preceded the ‘slam and saw quite a few things that made me do some thinking about the popularity of pro wrestling.
First of all, even though pro wrestlin
g is strictly a staged show, these wrestlers are athletes in the truest sense of the word, Their bodies are in top condition; they need to be. These people take a pounding every night, they lift several hundred pounds of opponents and other things such as stairs and chairs, and climb, leap, and jump all over the place in a choreography of punches, kicks, jumps and slams. And they do these things in one continuous flow of action. One cannot help but admire their stamina . So while some criticize WWE as a faked show, no one has the right to say they are not athletes.
Second thing I noticed, is that these people sincerely appreciate the fan support. There was a pre-event call axxess, where wrestlers were available to the fans for autographs, photos, etc. Even though I didn’t have a ticket to it, I was able to see part of it while walking through the LA Live Plaza. I saw these guys, both “good guys” and “villains” spending time with little kids, talking to the fans, having pictures taken with them all the while not rushing anyone.
Afterwards, while watching the fans file into Staples, a lot of them wearing paraphernalia of their favorite wrestlers, it occured to me that Vince McMahon is an absolute genius. Though he didn’t invent pro wrestling, he certainly has led it to is unprecedented level of popularity that it enjoys now.
How did he do it? A stroke of genius. He and his staff creats story lines that are basically morality plays, and made it so the audience can connect to it by participating. Participatory morality plays…Genius! The characters that they create, be they “good guy” or “villain” each has a shtick or gimmick that is so far out of the box that audiences naturally latch on to whatever meet their fancy. See the reaction of the crowd whenever “Fandango” makes an appearance; when that tango music starts and he appears in his glitter costume, the fans start doing a dance themselves, waving their arms and swinging their hips. And this is for a character who I understand is one of the bad guys Same with The Undertaker. The fans feel a real connection to to these characters, and whatever happens to the character they feel is happening to them as well. And as long as they feel connected, the fans will continue to pump in the aircraft-carrier-like loadfull of money that the WWE has earned.
In short, take characters fans can connect to, storylines that simplify good vs evil, combine these with the PT Barnum showmanship that McMahon has created, and you have a winning formula. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I saw plenty of families spending time together, performers that others look up to spending time with their fans, and a good show being presented.
After it was over and I met up with my son, he was absolutely glowing… his face was beaming with w grin from ear to ear. At that moment, I realized that letting him go to Summerslam 13 was one of the best things we ever did for him as parents!