For the Uninitiated

A young man stands in the ring. He enters robed, cocky and bold. Tonight he is angry, ready to fight someone who he once considered a hero. Then the atmosphere changes drastically as his opponent for the night enters. Though he may be old, battered and recently shaken from an unofficial retirement, the veteran faces this fresher face by delving into the deeper parts of himself. 

CM Punk enters the ring in the Addition Financial Arena in Orlando, Florida on a March night wearing gear reminiscent of his Ring of Honor past to the tune of Miseria Cantare: The Beginning – another part of his past he wears with pride. He is the monster to fight the monsters, and tonight, with a collar around his neck, he vows to kill a devil.

Many a fan on this night questioned the reasoning for this entrance that eschewed the status quo of a typical CM Punk entrance, stating that the casual fan may not understand the gravity of the situation (despite commentary discussing it succinctly with enough brevity).

I did not relate to these takes. Rather, I was enamored by the feeling. Nostalgic for a time I did not know. I wanted it. I wanted to taste that which means a lot to wrestling fans of a bygone era I had missed. I wanted to understand history as though I were there myself in the moment among the screaming fans.

There had been a long gap for me as a fan of wrestling. It started from the character of Eugene (a long story), to the deaths of Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit, and the consecutive retirements of childhood heroes Shawn Michaels and Edge. I’d only tune in for a few special episodes or big events, but other than that, nothing. I’d miss out on CM Punk’s pipebomb, Money in the Bank 2011, the growing awareness of NJPW. I missed out on the dissolution of WWE’s ECW, the decline of TNA/IMPACT and the growth of the NXT we grew to know and love. 

In these, I saw glimpses of that which grabbed my curiosity. Why places like Ring of Honor looked like NXT, why NJPW reminded me of my childhood love of wrestling, why Asuka is important, and perhaps the biggest thing I grew to understand – Daniel Bryan.

In 2014, the wrestling world had lost CM Punk and Christian. The former due to exasperation borne of a toxic work environment that clashed with his own overwhelming emotions, the latter due to a lifetime of work taking a toll on his body. I shrugged them off. I even shrugged off the tiny, plucky little wrestler that could, notorious B+ player Daniel Bryan.

I didn’t even recognize the monumental upheaval in his career that would propel him to the top at WrestleMania XXX, despite what the WWE wanted and pushed against. Perhaps it was the deflation of The Undertaker’s Streak coming to an end at the hands of Brock Lesnar, the domination of Kane and the New Age Outlaws by The Shield, and the joy of the familiar John Cena defeating the unfamiliar Bray Wyatt that saw me wanting to root for that which I knew, and that which I favored. 

I did not like Randy Orton and I didn’t care for the foreign Daniel Bryan. This had to be Batista’s moment, the same man who defeated Triple H many years prior to become a star. He was the one who was supposed to win, not the beat up underdog bound in a cast. When Bryan beat the odds to clamoring cheers, I was bitter. I hadn’t come into the fold yet.

I didn’t know what fans who knew Bryan Danielson knew, I didn’t see what newer fans of Daniel Bryan see. But as time went on, he retired. I still hadn’t made it in yet. It wasn’t until the 2018 Royal Rumble and AXS TV’s airing of NJPW that things snapped in place for me. Wrestling isn’t that boring thing where people just hurt each other for sport. It was storytelling the likes you’d find in fiction with all these layers coalesced in, baked together like a scrumptious cake, ready for you to eat. All you need to do is grab a fork and taste it for yourself. 

In discovering Kenny Omega, Shinsuke Nakamura and Asuka, I saw a world I needed to understand. I needed to know, because learning is fun. Either in curiosity or in hyper fixation, learning that which I so desperately want to know just itches that goopy goblin brain of mine. It was in 2018 when Daniel Bryan came out of retirement that I experienced this, seeing his body of work that tipped me to his side, loving this style of wrestling, the in-ring work of not just him but any mat-based gremlin reminiscent of my childhood heroes, Bret Hart and Kurt Angle. I enjoy it as much as I enjoy the over-the-top characters such as Bray Wyatt, Razor Ramon and Orange Cassidy. 

In this, I found so much more than just the halls of WWE, AEW, ROH and NJPW. I found the areas I didn’t know, from the smaller venues of independent promotions such as Limitless, Progress and Defiant Wrestling. It’s why I love the sports and faction based company of Stardom and the character and story based Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling. It’s why I love watching shows live and traversing events that happened years before my very existence. It’s a world filled with variety, it is here where I am fed.

Why do I love so much variety? Because wrestling isn’t just one thing, it never has been. Though the squares that wars are fought on are the same platform for these stories, there is so much to set it all apart. Ring of Honor with their code of honor and respect, the culture of British wrestling and Japanese strong style, the completely different and insane world of Lucha, or even in a freaking chocolate shop, wrestling is in every corner. A story that stretches on from eons past to the ever-spanning future of the world we live in. Promotions may live and die, as will some of our interests in it. But it’ll be here and always will be, with a constantly expanding library crafted of sweat and love and violence and significance. 

That is why sometimes you just have to let people learn for themselves why things matter. Help them if they ask, but let them find their way, for the catharsis of discovery and attachment is something special that you cannot take away, ‘less you want to alienate and drive someone away from something so magical and so great.

For the uninitiated, welcome into this expansive and infinite library. Pick up a book, any book, and get lost in its pages, and know just what it means to watch that which you don’t know and see what you haven’t seen. 

Enjoy it and drink it all in.