A hush falls over the crowd in anticipation of what’s to come. The lights go out and a great gong rings out. Everyone in the building erupts as the organ hits and the funeral dirge begins. Blue light and artificial flashes of lightning fill the dark as a tall figure emerges, clothed in a long coat and a wide-brimmed hat. Smoke billows around his feet as he stares down the aisle at his opponent in the ring. He walks, slowly, deliberately, even somberly down to the ring, letting the tension build. As he ascends the steps to the ring, he stops at the top, pausing for a moment before slowly raising his arms, and with them, the lights of the arena. He steps into the ring and after another pause, he reaches up slowly and removes his hat, contorting his face into a grim and demonic visage of strength and intimidation.
AND HIS NAME IS JOHN CENA! The Undertaker is ready to fight.
For those of you unfamiliar with that scene, you can check it out one of the more recent versions here, from Wrestlemania 27. The Undertaker is probably my favorite wrestler of all time and without a doubt, one of my favorite characters ever. Sure, little Ashe was a Hulkamaniac. Much in the same way that kids love John Cena, it was an inescapable part of being a kid who loved wrestling. But I also loved the Macho Man and Jake the Snake and The Undertaker (the former two I learned to appreciate even more as an adult, while Hogan…well, let’s just say Hulkamania finally died). And Undertaker, along with his early manager, the late, great, ever spooky, Paul Bearer (ooooooh, yes!), stayed with me the most.
Here was a man whose gimmick was that he was Dead. Supernatural. An otherworldly gravedigger who would hand-build you a coffin before putting you in it. Now, if you’re not a fan, you’re probably saying, “Ashe, wrestling isn’t real and it’s for children, grow up.” And to that I say…I don’t care. The character was amazing. He was spooky and powerful and stood out. Where most wrestlers had flashy outfits and yelled their promos, Undertaker rumbled gravely words of threat at you while Paul Bearer hyped him up. In the ring, he would surprise you by moving quick, striking fast and hard, and sitting up and staring his opponent down after they hit their finisher.
But that’s just one character. I spent years watching WWE. We all look fondly back at what is now called the Attitude Era. You may know this as the era that brought us Stone Cold Steve Austin and the most electrifying man in sports-entertainment today, The Rock. Not to mention the height of Mick Foley’s career, the creation of D-Generation X, and the now infamous Monday Night Wars with WCW. The mid-to-late 90s was a helluva time for a wrestling fan.
But characters…theatricality…stories…this is what I really want to talk about. You’ve seen the theatricality of the Undertaker. It goes beyond just entrances though. In ring, the performers tell stories with their bodies. There are tricks to the moves for safety, sure, and they plan the high spots out in advance but they can still get hurt and they do. But they tell their stories with brawling and technical moves and power moves and whirling, breath-taking moves. It’s theater, it’s ballet, it’s goddamn kung fu movies but live and with no wires! Watch enough and you develop a strong sense of flow with action. I credit wrestling with helping me write actions scenes that reviews have commented weren’t overdone or too long.
On top of all this, you take a teenage me, the internet, and online roleplaying and you get to e-wrestling. This most definitely helped me way early on at learning some things about writing and storytelling in a more general sense. When I started, I was garbage and I wanted my character to basically be Raven, except a powerhouse. Then he became Kevin Nash but less of a dick. THEN I reintroduced his cousin who was metalhead version of Raven with a side of Bill & Ted. Again, garbage all around but the latter bit actually saw me step my writing attempts way the hell up. And you worked with the other RPers. You could, conceivably, plan huge storylines with someone else (which I did twice and had plans to do so with another person before she disappeared and I got bored).
And these weren’t just promo pieces like you see on TV. These combined with episodic storytelling. We wrote mini-stories. We might write about house show matches (the shows that aren’t on TV or pay-per-view) and a promo, or do a whole thing that had nothing to do with your next match and was completely ridiculous and silly. You got to win matches by entertaining the moderators the most. It’s really hard to just do that with your basic promo when you are completely in charge of your own storylines. So you tried shit and like the real thing, sometimes you’d drop something cause it sucked or didn’t work right or you got sick or whatever. It was great practice and, again, like the real thing, when it was good, it was damn good.
So, I guess my ultimate point here is that this is why wrestling is still important to me. I’m much, MUCH more critical of the WWE these days and primarily only keep up with the NXT roster (which is well worth the 10 bucks a month for a WWE Network subscription), but it still hits me and I’m still impressed with great matches and great spots and it still helps me. If you’ve read A Demon in the Desert, I actually had Grimluk clothesline someone and powerbomb someone else. I also outright wrote in the Wyatt Family because Bray Wyatt single-handedly got me to come back to watching wrestling last summer.
If you want the tl;dr version of all this, then basically, watch the following video. And also remember that Max Landis is a giant toolbag but he nailed wrestling in his video.