Making a Mark: The Indoctrination of a New Wrestling Fan

There’s an art to introducing folks to the wacky world of wrestling. It’s not something anyone should go through alone, there’s far too much to parse and many pitfalls that await unsuspecting newcomers.

As an industry, it has a history too deep to be summarised briefly. As an art form, it’s much more complicated than many non-fans would probably expect. I have always taken some pride in my ability to introduce new people to wrestling: to show people the world beyond The Rock’s, Stone Cold’s, John Cena memes, and “isn’t it all fake, though?”

To put it reductively, 2020 has been an unpredictable year. One thing I really didn’t expect was for my girlfriend, Laura, to take an interest in wrestling.

Now, I have been more than happy to start her down the path of becoming a wrestling fan. As someone who grew up with wrestling, it was quite the experience seeing someone begin their own journey as an adult.

I thought there might be some things we could all learn from the perspective of fresh eyes, so I decided to have a chat with my better half about the last few months; her newfound love for the sport, where it came from, and what keeps it going.

My favourite wrestler Colt Cabana is now my girlfriend’s favourite and I had nothing to do with that! I’m so proud! Had to include Big Rig too. Rest in peace. Credit: AEW

Laura: Well my first ever experience with wrestling was playing WWF Warzone on the PS1 with my uncle and brother when I was like, 5 or 6. I remember it being the most ridiculous looking game. I got quite into it, along with my cousin, who used to collect some WWE figurines. Any interest for it that I had kind of fizzled out once I became a teenager and went to an all girls school. It wasn’t the kind of thing you bonded with girls over back then. I’ll be completely honest, you’re the reason I tried it out again as I got older. I remember when we first met, you mentioned that you followed it, but you never went into much detail. As we got closer, and you talked more about it, I found myself googling bits and pieces so I could follow along with what you were talking about. From there, I got more excited to be able to talk to you about it, that I ended up falling into it big time!

Dave: So because of me you took an interest, but AEW seems to have kept your interest?

L: Absolutely, it was AEW that got me into it. I remember when I first started in my job there was a guy I used to sit beside, who only talked about books, wrestling, and indie games. He used to tell me about Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi and always said I should look them up, but I’ll be honest, I always felt like it was too late for me to get back into wrestling. I didn’t even know where to start. Then some time passed, and when I learned about Nyla Rose and how inclusive AEW is, I just had to research more about it. To be completely honest, I don’t know if I would be as into wrestling if I hadn’t learned more about AEW.

D: I’ve often thought that if this were two or more years ago, you’d have no interest in wrestling. Not to say AEW is the only good wrestling, but I couldn’t see another company grabbing your interest. Like, outside of WWE, most wrestling is fairly niche. It’s indie stuff or Japan basically. Before AEW, being into non-WWE wrestling was kind of hipster.

L: I definitely wouldn’t have been as into it as I am now. This sounds like I’m super lazy, but a lot of the indie wrestling just wasn’t accessible to a new person starting out. Which is a real shame, because there are some incredible wrestlers out there. My first experience with indie wrestling was actually on one of our first dates, when you showed me videos of Orange Cassidy. I should have known then what I was in for! So you’re saying you’re a massive wrestling hipster then, right?

D: I was, I’m basically Grandpa Simpson now complaining that they changed what “it” is. That’s the thing, indie wrestling is a difficult starting point. I think you need something more engaging to start with. Most of us start with WWE because that’s what we grew up with and then it was basically all there was. Now there’s AEW which is great, because WWE aren’t exactly doing a great job of bringing in new fans.

Dave McAdam, aged 27. Credit: Fox and WWE

Anyway! That’s enough shit-talking on the big W, you mentioned one of the things that grabbed you was the inclusivity of AEW. How do you feel about that now you know your way around a bit, do you think they’re doing a good job?

L: Of course there’s always room for improvement in terms of inclusivity and diversity, but I think AEW are doing a good job. With examples like Nyla Rose being the first openly transgender wrestler to sign to a major promotion, Sonny Kiss being encouraged to perform however they wish and the company working with non-profit organisations to make their live events more accessible to people with autism and other disabilities, this shows that diversity is not a hard thing to do – a lot of companies just don’t want to put the work in!

D: That’s a really good point. You might be amazed to know that of all the companies, WWE have maybe the best track record of women’s wrestling over the last few years. That said they also do shows in Saudi Arabia, so it’s not all progress.

L: Absolutely, that is one area where AEW is letting fans down. They have fantastic women’s wrestlers, but they don’t get half as much air time or recognition as the men. I’ve heard that actually, that WWE have an amazing women’s roster! It’s about time too, maybe the only positive I can think of when it comes to them.

D: So it’s not like you’ve never seen wrestling in front of crowds, but you got into wrestling properly during covid. Is it weird for you to see wrestling without crowds, do you miss it even though it was “before your time”?

L: It’s very strange, but I’ve become so used to seeing wrestling with no crowds, that it absolutely feels weird when I look back on older clips, even from just earlier this year, and there’s thousands of people. My Covid wary brain immediately goes “how did people just hang out in massive groups like that?”. There’s no denying how amazing the atmosphere is of a wrestling crowd though, that’s for sure. And I imagine it’s something that the wrestlers miss too. Having that energy to bounce off, it must feel incredible. My mind immediately went back to a moment when I remember watching Kane return to the ring, in like 2000 (I think, I’m not sure), and the crowd went insane. I got literal goosebumps when I saw it, the spectacle of it all. You really can’t beat moments like that, which wouldn’t have been the same without the crowd!

I think he came out with someone called Paul? Maybe, I’m bad with names!

D: Yeah! Paul Bearer! He was great. Right! Time for the lightning round!! I’m gonna throw some pictures of wrestlers at you, you likely don’t know most of them but I want your best guess! Ready?

L: Ready!

Credit: WWE

L: Well that’s Mr Camo pants himself! John Cena!!

D: Incorrect, there’s actually no one in this picture.

L: I hate you, I knew you were gonna do that!

D: Welcome to the tone of this interview from here on out.

L: I’m not quick enough for your shenanigans!

D: Next!

Credit: WWE

L: Okay, that’s easy, that’s alternative universe Chris Jericho!

D: That’s… Oh my god you’re so right. He’s actually a vampire called Gangrel!

L: I’m so sorry, but what kind of name is Gangrel? It sounds like a foot disease!

D: It’s actually from the Vampire Masquerade game, for some reason WWE spent years paying them royalties for the name!

Also yes, it does kind of sound like a disease.

Credit: WWE

L: I don’t think I’ve gotten this right…. but is that the Undertaker?

D: Correct!

Credit: WWE

L: …I feel like this is a trick, but it looks like The Undertaker again.

D: Correct!! The millennium was not kind to him.

Credit: WWE

L: I could not even hazard a guess, but he is scaring me.

D: Guess what?

Credit: WWE

L: Oh no, what is that!!!!

D: There’s two of them now.

L: I’m going to have clown nightmares, and you know it.

D: Hey, guess what?

L: Please don’t show me three clowns.

D: I promise, I won’t show you three clowns.

Credit: WWE

L: Oh god damn it!!!! Who the hell are these?

D: The bigger one is Doink, the original little one is Dink. No idea what the rest were called but it needn’t be said, this was not a great time.

L: You’re telling me, at some point, wrestling crowds were yelling Doink and Dink?

D: Yelling would be putting it a bit strong. I will say though, there was a time when a wrestler called Matt Borne played Doink, he was actually genuinely good!

Okay, last one!

Credit: WWE

L: Are they supposed to be Irish…. (We are from Ireland, by the way!)

D: One of them is, you’ll never guess which.

L: I have no idea, but I would be completely lying if I said I didn’t immediately think the guy on the right was holding a can of Guinness.

D: Yeah it’s fairly offensive stuff alright. That’s Finlay, an actually talented and respected wrestler from Belfast, and Hornswoggle. He’s a leprechaun. I’d be lying if I told you he was the first leprechaun to appear on a major wrestling show.

L: Yikes.

D: Okay, genuine question to close us out. What are you looking forward to from wrestling in 2021?

L: Hmmmm, well I’m very excited to see what the storyline is building to with Hangman and the Dark Order. I’m excited to see what other terrible things will appear on the WWE’s Thunderdome screens. I really hope more companies collaborate as well, like how Thunder Rosa was on Dynamite.

Also I wanna see more Colt Cabana in 2021!

She really likes Colt Cabana. This makes me very proud.

It’s been a lot of fun for me to bring Laura into the wrestling world. As much as I adore pro wrestling, I still flinch when someone refers to me as a wrestling fan. I imagine I’m not alone, speaking about wrestling with someone who isn’t interested can be painful. This year I’ve found out that getting someone over that initial hurdle of preconceived notions is extremely satisfying. Getting to be the one to open someone’s eyes to the spandex ballet that pro wrestling really is, that’s special.

At the beginning, every match we watched had Laura wincing and shouting. My old eyes saw good bump, bad bump, safe move, or unsafe. Her eyes saw human beings doing outrageous things with their bodies. Getting to experience that with her helped me see how jaded I might have become. Despite my years of knowledge, maybe she saw things clearer than I did. Wrestling is beautiful, silly, and insane. We could all do well to remember that.