Pro wrestling is a desired medium now. What a time to be alive. When I was a kid growing up in the south, you would think that everyone watched pro wrestling on TV. It’s a logical assumption; wrestling crowds in this part of the country are historically very committed to and passionate about the business. Being the stomping ground of Jim Crockett Promotions has a lot to do with it too of course.
My how times have changed. Thanks to Marvel Studios, comic books have permeated pop culture like never before and now moviegoers of all ages flock to see the latest superhero epic on the big screen. And the same is true for pro wrestling, more specifically, WWE.
WWE has become the epitome of cool now. Some of that is due to the passage of time and the company’s evolution from the land of giants in brightly colored spandex to action stars in black sporting modern attitudes and intense athleticism.
But the majority of it is thanks to Vince McMahon’s ability to infiltrate the mainstream media. Stone Cold Steve Austin in the early 1980’s NWA would have been a great draw but he likely would have been a straight up heel with no crossover potential. However in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, the audience wanted something more and embraced him as their new favorite protagonist.
WWE saw this and ran with it, using Austin on the talk show circuit as well as movies and other TV. McMahon knew Austin had star power and he knew non-wrestling crowds would see that. He was right. He tends to be right a lot.
Austin opened the door for the cool generation of pro wrestlers. Suddenly, guys were no longer viewed by the outside world as nothing more than just muscled up phony fighters. Now they were cutting edge, athletic and tough as leather. The Rock followed afterward, further bridging the gap between the industry and pop culture. Triple H got over. Degeneration X got over. The nWo in WCW got over. Sting, Goldberg, Chris Jericho, all of these guys had opportunities in part because of Austin’s explosion.
And they in turn opened the door for Brock Lesnar, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan. At this point, the old guard is all but gone. Hulk Hogan may have been the first crossover star from the business but he was just the beginning. With the exception of Ric Flair, Roddy Piper, Randy Savage and Andre the Giant, many outside of the industry today are hard pressed to identify anyone from that era.
Those days are considered among some of the best in pro wrestling history to fans. But to everyone else, they were cartoonish and full of steroid laced bad acting. But Austin brought the business to the mainstream in a way it never had been seen and now WWE is comic bookish and full of hard hitting tough guys. The rest of the world has finally come around.
There will always critics of course. The wrestling-is-fake mantra will always exist and as fans we will always have to deal with it. But really, does that even matter now? Is anyone still getting upset by that? WWE packed over 76000 fans into Levi’s Stadium for WrestleMania 31. NFL players are wearing World Championship belts after winning the SuperBowl and crowds are doing the Yes chants everywhere from high school gyms to baseball stadiums.
Pro wrestling is over. What a great time to be alive.