Professional Wrestling is Fake, Duh
Professional Wrestling is a strange and vibrant piece of the patchwork quit of American society. Birthed in the carnivals and vaudeville shows that made their living criss-crossing the country, professional wrestling has been a vital part of American culture for the better part of a century. Set up in fields and fairgrounds, audiences paid good money to see the men go at it. Eventually, the fighters found that they could avoid the weekly bruises and black eyes if they went out and faked it. In those early days, the brawlers had to be careful, every punch, kick, and throw had to look as real as possible. The audience would riot if they knew the contests weren’t on the level.
Over time the craft was groomed, refined, and improved. From the get-go, professional wrestling proved itself to be a business that made money. The scripted nature of the contests allowed promoters to doctor the cards, creating bouts that were guaranteed to be huge hits for the crowd. The wrestlers slowly got the hang of the tricks, and began using their movements and mannerisms in the ring to create complex back-stories for their characters. The matches then strung together to form larger narratives. The culmination of each narrative resulted in huge pay-outs for everybody involved. The practice grew exponentially throughout the 1930’s and 40’s, and professional wrestling soon cut ties with the carnival. The growing industry could no longer be contained under the big-top, it grew to command full houses in auditoriums, arenas and stadiums. Wrestling was no longer just a part of the entertainment, it was the entertainment.
A good wrestling match should tell a story. It is a simple story, a story humanity has been telling since the dawn of time. At its most basic level, a professional wrestling match is a battle between good and evil. Wrestlers are presented not as themselves, but as caricatures, offered up to audiences for either praise or persecution. The formula is simple. The heroes, known as babyfaces are honorable, rule-abiding, and good-looking. The villains, or heels, are evil, cheating and ugly. There is justice inside of the wrestling ring. Eventually the villain will be caught, and he will be punished.
Chris Benoit would never forget the air, the way it hung inside of the auditorium, the night that he first discovered the world of professional wrestling. A cloud, heavy and thick with sweat, made hazy by the light of a single spotlight suspended above the ring. It wasn't just the way the fog looked, it wasn't the way it smelled, it was the way it felt, smothering the noise, stalling time, slowing each and every minute movement down to a blurry slideshow of moments.
Sitting in seventeenth row of the Kinsmen Field House in Edmonton, Alberta, through the haze and the heat and the muffled noise of the crowd, 11 year-old Chris Benoit was getting the first taste of a drug that would eventually consume his life. It was a biting, bitterly cold January night, and the Dynamite Kid and Bret Hart were working the ring. From that moment on, Chris Benoit had devoted his life to professional wrestling. Twenty years later, he would headline Wrestlemania XX in front of a sold-out crowd, in the most legendary arena in the United States.