Something occurred to be about a week ago and it actually surprised me. I realized that I haven’t missed a live Wrestle Kingdom since 2014. I watched my first Wrestle Kingdom as a teenager and every year no matter what I was doing on January 4th that year, I was up watching Wrestle Kingdom in the middle of the night. Wrestle Kingdom became the new WrestleMania to me as a wrestling fan. I then realized something else — I haven’t missed a live WrestleMania since 2008. Again, no matter where I was in life every year as a kid, as a teenager and now as an adult, I’ve made time for WrestleMania every year for 12 years without even realizing it. No matter how little I was into the product, I was there. Even at the lows of my wrestling fandom.
At a young age there were two things that really pulled me in and had a big impact on me becoming the fan that I was and still am. I started watching WWE in about 2006 mostly on VHS and DVDs my dad had, a lot of Royal Rumbles and Rey Mysterio matches specifically, then I’d watch the TV on and off until 2008. In January of that year I heard an ad on the radio for WrestleMania which was taking place in Orlando where my family and I had just moved. Work was tough at the time and we were just getting settled in our new home so realistically it was very unlikely for us to be able to afford tickets. Obviously as a child I was heartbroken when I found out we’d have to resort to PPV but it was better than nothing. I started watching RAW and SmackDown religiously in anticipation.
Your first WrestleMania is always the one you remember the most, and you always hold it to a higher standard than it’s worth. I was fascinated by the ladder match, full of spots I had never seen. And then Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair, the unforgettable retirement match that had my eyes locked on the television without even knowing the historical context. Nothing had me locked in like the main event though, Edge vs. The Undertaker for the heavyweight title. Edge was my favorite wrestler, and The Undertaker was the first wrestler I ever saw years earlier. Edge was the coolest motherfucker on the show but I knew from day one that ‘Taker was the man, no one had the aura that he had, all eyes were on him, always. This was the first huge match for me as a fan. It was the first match I had a genuine investment in. I was watching every week leading up to that match and I was watching every week from there.
That same year I discovered TNA on Spike, which was also filmed in Orlando very close to my house. My dad and I started going to the tapings every week and it was some of the most fun I had growing up. I loved WWE but TNA was so different, it felt edgier (a term I wouldn’t know to describe it as at that age). AJ Styles quickly became my favorite, and after going to the tapings for several months and becoming a little desensitized, Styles was what would bring me back. He was a crazy athlete and he had style, and he was smooth, and he had heart and he was charismatic. He was a star waiting to burst. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. As we entered 2009 I stopped going to shows and would only watch select matches while Sting and Mick Foley were feuding for the heavyweight title. I was waiting for Styles to get his shot, and when he did, on September 20th at No Surrender, I was there. I stood in the second row and watched anxiously but encapsulated by the match, I was watching AJ’s every move. And when he won the match with the crowd screaming for him it all felt so real. An organic moment in something that everyone knows, and even I knew because I was taught at a young age, is fake. The fans jumped into the ring, I jumped into the ring with them and we celebrated with the new champion. I felt like I had won something for supporting and sticking by my guy who was the clear star of the promotion anyway. With that I had reached the peak of my fandom and I let this shit be real for a brief moment.
And well, it’s never felt less real now.
My interest in wrestling has dwindled in the past couple years due to me just being busy and not making time for my old hobby and at several points I had burnt myself out and just found myself uninterested for extended periods. Japanese wrestling has always kept me around and I always do my best to at least check in from time to time but it’s easy for me to get burnt out so I try to pace myself. I had a passion for writing about Japanese wrestling and big-time main events, I loved pontificating about matches that touched me emotionally and expressing every thought I had. But I began to feel like I was losing my passion for it all. I began running out of thoughts. I got busy with life and I just slowly drifted away from all the social aspects of wrestling and would only pop in to see good matches. I deleted my Twitter and got away from everything and I watched very select wrestling for almost two years.
Obviously, with what’s been going on in the world, I’ve had more time this year so have kept up to date pretty well so far. As April approached I was running out of things to watch and realized WrestleMania was the next week. So like I do every year, like clockwork, I went to the WWE Network and got my free trial. I joined the Voices of Wrestling Discord to see what the word was and to make some sense of what was going on since I hadn’t seen any WWE at all since last WrestleMania, but it didn’t seem the shows made much sense to anyone though.
I sat and watched the kickoff show of the first night with the mindset that maybe the video packages and the commentators would get me into it. I listened to Corey Graves scream and rant about Otis and terrible undercard acts and matches that made no sense even after watching the video packages and having him and Peter Rosenberg break them down. Then the show came on, and what followed was short, boring matches, the empty arena making it hard for them to have a match that was even decent let alone good. Nothing was good, frankly, the show sucked and it was WWE and pro wrestling in its rawest form. No fans, no spectacle, just an empty, awkwardly silent warehouse. Every flaw was there for us to see among the performers and the production. Daniel Bryan and Sami Zayn came out, Zayn had Shinsuke Nakamura and Cesaro behind him. The match went about four minutes long and as soon as it ended all I could think was that not a single one of those guys, not even Daniel Bryan, mean a thing anymore and never will. The Daniel Bryan thing is done. He’s a nothing on this roster. He’s replaceable. And so is Sami Zayn who sometimes I forget is employed. Cesaro is never getting that push, and Nakamura is a show-to-show midcard act. Talent comes and goes, and it doesn’t matter who it happens to be. Once this company gets their hands on them, their fate is in McMahon’s hands. And if you aren’t his vision, eventually, not always right away but ALWAYS eventually, you will become a nothing. So I shouldn’t be surprised by this or disappointed, because I should’ve expected it. I should’ve expected it from the day they were signed. The match was thoughtless, pointless, and meant absolutely nothing inside and outside of those few minutes they were in the ring. Anyone on the roster could have taken their place, long from their days at the top of the wrestling world.
The main event came on as the camera panned around a spooky graveyard and a hearse pulled up with a casket containing AJ Styles, the man I counted on growing up to always deliver. The Undertaker pulled up on his motorcycle and the two began to work their way around the graveyard as they beat each other down very methodically. The match was everything that WWE is in a nutshell and played to every trope and every sick and weird idea that runs through McMahon’s head. They spoke to each other as they threw elbows and walked around like they were 70 years old, Taker several times asking “this is what you want AJ?” and doing more talking than anything else. This went on for about 15 minutes before Taker kicked him into a hole and buried him. This was not the AJ Styles I had known. And this was not the Undertaker I had known. He was old, and he wasn’t scary. The smoke and mirrors are gone, the myth is dead, and Mark Callaway is just an old man who pops in once a year for a good paycheck and to entertain the kids like a clown at a birthday party with paint sweating down his face as he gasps for air and can barely move anymore. And AJ Styles is just another guy who happened to be put in this spot.
The next night, while having matches that were actually worthwhile like Rhea Ripley vs. Charlotte Flair, was even more of the same. Edge made his return to wrestling after being retired for nine years to take on Randy Orton, the two stars who were at the height of their push when I became a fan. The last man standing stipulation already gave this match a disadvantage because last man standing matches are never good, however, a regular match would not suit Edge anyway. Before the match started I said to myself “they’re gonna go backstage and not come back to the ring,” and sure enough, within the first minute of the match they were already backstage. They fought all around the empty Performance Center like two turtles. I saw a ladder leaning on a little building and a table right in front of it, and I said: “Edge is gonna put Orton on that table, climb up there and jump off.” And he did. I saw a truck, I said “they’re gonna go on top of that truck for some reason,” and for reasons that only make sense in wrestling, they did. And then Edge beat him, and now he can retire in peace, with this being his last match. This is what he came back for at 46. And you know what, it was the same match they would have had 12 years ago. It will never not be the same song and dance, step by step. The more things change, the more things stay the same.
At some point in life you’re going to have to admit when you’ve just grown out of something and move on.
Throw your hands at it and say “this is not for me anymore, I’m past this in life.” When you lose your love or you become too busy, or you grow up, or you don’t like what you once loved has become even though you’re still holding out hope that it’s going to get better. But sometimes it’s not always going to get better.
Maybe you’re just done with it.
Whether the circumstances of this show were what they were or not, this was the show WWE was going to present. This was their show. This is their product. WWE is as unpredictable in all the wrong ways as they’ve ever been but equally predictable. And for my adult eyes that have grown to see shit for what it really is, I’ve realized that wrestling has always been stupid, but it has never been stupider than it is now. And I think it’s time for me to say that in a lot of ways I’ve lost my love for it. I love good wrestling, and there’s a lot of it, but I do not love the overall state of wrestling anymore. Investing in WWE ever again does not seem likely for me. WWE is a lot of the same and the little bit that’s different is rarely good because they struggle to play towards their own strengths and the strength of their roster. It’s become a very poor self-parody of a promotion, playing off of their own worst tropes and ideas and refusing to let go of their past. In something that’s not real and something that’s never been real, as fans we live for the moments that feel real.
Moments where we can be like “wow man that was actually really cool,” or moments that actually makes us feel something. Like AJ Styles winning the TNA title in 2009. Not “oh that’s a spooky house” or “how did he teleport across the ring like that,” and McMahon doesn’t know any different. It’s too few and far between at best. He’s stuck in his ways and his product will never change, fans or no fans. It’s never going to feel real. The thing I once had an intense love for through critical points of life and had stuck around for all these years has lost something in my eyes and this show was the biggest revelation to me.
And so maybe it’s time to realize I’ve moved on. And so has pro wrestling.