Tuesday, May 24, 2022 May 24, 2022
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Wrestling

The Grapple Never Falls Far

I fell in love with wrestling because of my father. But even if he liked something else, I think I would’ve found my way to it.
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Wrestling: WWE WrestleMania
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When WWE brings WrestleMania to North Texas, the entire pro wrestling world comes with it, hosting shows in just about any space big enough for a ring. It’s paradise for someone like me, a wrestling fan raised by a wrestling fan. 

Rarely am I asked why I love professional wrestling. On the occasions when I am, those who understand it give me nods. Those who don’t give me side eye. Is there a more popular art form in America that’s more divisive?

I fell in love with it because my father, Joe, loved it as a child growing up in Brooklyn, ever since his grandmother introduced him to Haystacks Calhoun, an overalls-clad McKinney native built like a bread truck. My own first wrestling memories are hazier. I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I first watched, nor who was on the television screen. I just know I was with my dad. That’s us in the 2016 photo, high up in AT&T Stadium at WrestleMania 32, the culmination of two decades’ and untold hours’ worth of matches shared together. He’ll be gone three years in September, and few things make me feel closer to him than tuning in to a big cable broadcast or pay-per-view event and watching what unfolds. 

But I’d like to think that even if my father had no interest in it whatsoever—if he followed, say, the opera instead—I’d have stumbled onto pro wrestling eventually. And whenever I did, I know I’d love it all the same. 

Pro wrestling is theater with physicality. It is a soap opera with stakes. Spectacle with a story. In a world rife with speechwriters and teleprompters, it is among the last bastions of extemporaneous public speaking. While sports are shackled by rules and positions, pro wrestling can be whatever it wants and go wherever the performers choose to take it. It can be acrobatic, melodramatic, hilarious, idiotic, and, yes, all sorts of violent. The best broadcasts function as variety shows, incorporating elements of each to keep the segments fresh while still maintaining a cohesive vision.  

And the crowds. Oh, the crowds. There is no audience quite like a wrestling audience. It’s savvier than a sports crowd, more dynamic than fans at a concert: equally capable of manipulating and being manipulated by the action in the ring. It’s phenomenal in an arena, which is why the likes of Dwayne Johnson, Hulk Hogan, John Cena, and Dave Bautista have all made repeated returns to wrestling after establishing lucrative Hollywood careers. But it’s borderline transcendent in smaller venues. The best shows I’ve ever attended were held in a since-demolished American Legion Hall in Reseda, California, where north of 500 people crammed into an un-air-conditioned sweatbox to cheer, curse, scream, and chant from 8 pm until well after midnight. Body odor notwithstanding, I’d consider myself fortunate to find myself in an environment like that again. 

Perhaps I’ll get lucky and find it during WrestleMania week, because the grandest pro wrestling show in the world is only the beginning. Imagine if football had hundreds of local, regional, and national semi-pro leagues below the NFL. Now imagine if dozens of those leagues converged on the same city as the Super Bowl and spent the week trying to upstage the biggest game of the year with even better action. 

That’s WrestleMania week, with more than 60 shows, events, and conventions scheduled throughout North Texas, only a handful of which are affiliated with WWE. You can find wrestling in arenas, in ballrooms, in auditoriums, in concert halls, even outside at Fair Park. You can shell out big money to see Brock Lesnar and Ronda Rousey grace the Jerry World Jumbotron, or you can drop 20 bucks to crowd in with a few dozen people and watch strivers you’ve never heard of.

I’m hoping to catch a bit of everything. My dad won’t be here this time; I’ll rope a friend or two into joining me. And if you’re in town, you should check out some of it for yourself. You might be surprised at what you find. Because if there’s anything I’ve learned from 25 years of fandom, it’s that professional wrestling can sneak up on anyone. Maybe even you, too. 

Author

Mike Piellucci

Mike Piellucci

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Mike Piellucci is D Magazine's sports editor. He is a former staffer at The Athletic and VICE, and his freelance…