When the best professional wrestling stories – the very best of them – play out on screen, feelings spring forth like a tidal wave beating relentlessly into the sandy shores of our very being. They legitimately rock us. What we once knew and believed to be mere entertainment is exposed into layered wonders as intricate as they are intoxicating. Before long, the stories consume us. We watch, and as our reality is suspended into this beautifully woven web of emotion, we wrap ourselves willingly evermore into its clutches.
As if almost weightless, we float along guided by the words and actions of our favorites week to week. We hang on every syllable and become enamored by every motion. In a well-told story, one full of intent, there are no coincidences. So, we pay attention as not to miss a single thing. As time moves ever on, so does the anticipation build. We yearn for the crescendo and pop when it finally comes, even if we expected it all along. Because predictability does not dictate a story’s success. A good story lives and dies in how it’s remembered. We love the ones that touch us, often in ways we find difficult to even explain to ourselves.
In recent wrestling memory, I’ve found myself as moved by stories as I ever have been. The commitment to direction has been masterful, time after time. It’s truly a welcome deviation from what we were groomed to expect for years in a business that has given us so many memorable emotional releases in its fabled history. It’s not as if those unmistakable emotional connections have been completely absent, not at all. It’s just that when one examines the landscape of professional wrestling, All Elite Wrestling in particular, the evidence of an undying love and ultimate goal of creating modern masterpieces is glaringly evident.
It’s easy enough to strive for a hot payoff. Draw people in, capitalize on buzz, and parlay that into the next big thing. I get it. I think we all do. But where is the artistry in that? In a constant state of near disarray, one story cannot lead into another. Characters fail to properly develop. In turn, the entire product suffers. How long will an educated audience remain invested when the thing they love won’t invest in them in return?
Longer than you’d imagine, to be sure. But the day comes for everyone when enough is enough. Whether something better comes along, or it doesn’t, fans need something to hold onto. For all the hours invested in TV shows, documentaries, podcasts, interviews or specials, fans simply want a return on that investment. The easiest way to do that? Tell better stories.
It’s not easy, though. I wont pretend that it is. It takes time. It takes a tremendous amount of skill, commitment, and patience. You have to be willing to adapt on a dime and must be confident enough to understand that it’s not about any single moment, not even the epic payoff, but the journey as a whole. The best wrestling stories told are remembered and retold for a lifetime, not necessarily because they are works of art but because they resonate on a large scale and were executed by people who believed in the journey with their whole being.
When expertly told, these stories of the squared circle are bigger than anything the business has to offer. Some spin love’s yarn as well as Hollywood ever could. Some explore very real and incredibly personal issues, felt and experienced on a scale that is quite literally incalculable. Others examine the darkness that lives inside all of us. Perhaps the best ones combine aspects of all these things and more to build monstrous arcs that would rival Noah’s own. The beauty of it all is that there are no rules. Well, save one.
Make them feel.
When we’re sitting in the crowd, and we look down to find goosebumps on our arms as Eddie Kingston bares his naked soul for us to judge – that is feeling.
When we’re balling on the couch because Adam Page has reached the pinnacle of his journey overcoming self-doubt and continuous sabotage – that is feeling.
When the most hated man in wresting, Maxwell Jacob Friedman, a man universally booed by hardcore and casual fans alike, can make us forget all of that in a moment of sheer vulnerability and truth – that is feeling.
When we’re watching Double or Nothing 2019 for the thirtieth time and Cody Rhodes just needs his older brother, a moment that has broken us before and will break us forever, and we feel as though we’re both empty inside and infinitely full at the same time – THAT is feeling.
We can’t have feeling without first having the story. I don’t know about anyone else, but I live for the stories. Sure, I enjoy much of what I see. I don’t sacrifice sleep, healthy relationships and countless other things for extra hours of wrestling because I don’t enjoy it all, but I do keep coming back in anticipation of the next journey. I show up nervously every week with my hand extended and I wait for someone to reach through the screen and lead me into the next emotional masterpiece.
Sometimes I wonder, as I sit ugly crying yet again because of yet another beautiful story professional wrestling has given me, “why do you keep doing this to yourself, Molly?”
I don’t wonder long. The answer is an easy one. To live is to feel. To be passionate about something is to feel. To love, to really love, unequivocally and unapologetically, is to feel.
We keep coming back because once we’ve tasted that feeling that a story well-told gives us – we will always want more. This is a business full of brilliant men and women with an endless library of wonderful stories to tell. Some have more of a platform than others, but the platform really doesn’t matter as long as we are there to listen, as long as we are there to remember.
So, the next time you turn your television to your wrestling content of choice, find yourself a story and allow yourself to fall in and be engulfed by its wild whimsy. Feel it. Appreciate this thing of ours once again. And smile. Oh, how special it all truly is.