Racism Sells And 5 Other Tough Lessons I Learned As A Professional Wrestler
There wasn’t a time in my life I didn’t want to be a professional wrestler.
For as long as I can remember, I was transfixed with this universe that’s half Roman gladiators and half vaudeville, equaling something akin to a violent 4th Grade play. I followed my dream I transformed myself from a wide-eyed boy to the boot-wearing man-child you see today.
Now I’m no Lou Thesz (look him up), but I’m happy to say that pro wrestling has taken me across North America and provided me with amazing opportunities in film, television and comedy that only Boston Crabs could have prepared me for (the Boston Crab is a wrestling move, not what you got from in the Fenway Park bathroom).
I’ve been able to share stories, slams and screen time with my childhood heroes whose action figures I used to (and still) have. There’s no better feeling than making your entrance in a sold out arena.
I’ve also made my entrance in bingo halls that have had more plastic balls than fans. The journey of a wrestler is an unstable one; probably because there is no other industry like it.
Professional wrestling is organized like the mob. A well oiled, highly exaggerated mob. You learn a bunch of secrets, there are bizarre social rules, you have to know somebody to get “made” and there’s always a looming threat of dramatized violence.
Becoming one is the epitome of underground subculture; it’s probably easier to join a cock-fighting league. That first step onto the mat is the craziest one. Especially when I realized that none of the shit I practiced on my N64’s WWF No Mercy is going to work.
Here’s what I learned.
The most painful truths I learned about pro wrestling is; you’ll stink of B.O., it just won’t be your own. And not just your run-of-the-mill B.O. either. Ripe, week-long, hard earned, “I just drove in from Kentucky” -type stench. And that’s in addition to the bad breath, dirty gear, sweat, grease, saliva, blood and (when a guy who just ate a burrito misses his top-rope splash) there’s bound to be a skid mark or two.
I get to know my opponent’s body far better than I know my own. While the homosexual overtones may be obvious, there actually couldn’t be anything less gay. This is the un-romanticized male body and everything that is grotesquely disgusting about it, causing me to reject my own gender and run towards a vagina like a bottle of Dasani in the desert.
The governing social norms of pro wrestling were developed like Lord of the Flies, if all those kids were fat bullies who immensely enjoyed having constant nosebleeds. Case in point; if you hurt your opponent, they are allowed, encouraged and almost obliged to hurt you back, adorably known as a “receipt.”
Now, on the surface, this rule looks good. What’s the answer to violence? More fucking violence! But honestly, this rule is a little too good. Retaliating with socially justified violence sounds so awesome that guys are literally waiting to get hit first. If I was legally allowed to stab anyone who bumped into me, I’d be standing in the middle of Times Square with a sabre in my hand (Yes, in this hypothetical I have a sabre. You don’t like it? Write your own article).
So what happens when you have a bunch of grown men functioning on the excuse of “he hit me first”? Black eyes, a lot of limping and a horribly misplaced sense of pride.
Nobody cares about referees.
They are the sole officials in a wrestling match, but everyone follows their rules like they’re a substitute teacher. Maybe that’s because they’re so one-dimensional. Pinned your opponent? They count to three. Doing an illegal move? They count to five. Wrestling outside the ring? They count to 10. Clearly you don’t need a post-secondary education to apply.
The worst they can do is disqualify you, which means you can continue beating the shit out of your opponent as they vainly attempt to stop you, while the bell is repeatedly rung by the bell ringer (what a multifaceted individual that guy is).
Professional wrestling names are just a small step above porn names, and even then, only in some cases. Pick a good one and it’ll make you a certified bad ass for the rest of your life (need I remind everyone that we just mourned the loss of a guy named Ultimate Warrior). Pick a bad one and…well okay, they’re all kind of bad, just to varying degrees.
Alliteration is huge (Hulk Hogan, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Pepper Parks), as are intentionally misspelled one-word monikers (Kane, Rhyno) and meticulously flashy last names (Ric Flair, Randy Savage, CM Punk). Ironic pun names have also made quite a splash (Hugh Morrus, Dusty Rhodes, Paul Bearer) although they sound like names your “hilarious” drunk uncle would conceive.
If you’re a girl, you’ll be selecting actual porn-quality names, so a transition from one scantily clad, male-dominated, emotion-feigning industry to another should be seamless.
If you’re looking for a gimmick and you have even one fraction of an ethnic background, prepare to embrace it fully. Professional wrestling is like your bubbly, energetic, loveable grandmother…who also happens to be racist. No one gives a shit about your beautifully nuanced character, there’s a reason they’re not watching AMC. Wrestling fans want broad strokes, obscenely broad strokes.
“Oh, you’re 1/28th Iranian? You’re now Sheik Ayatollah Islamadam and your finish is the Camel Clutch.” Before you get offended; wrestling doesn’t discriminate, it’s equally racist to everyone. Every race, religion, sexual orientation and social group will have its very own harshly drawn caricature in its honor. It’s your own U.N. Deathmatch; may the best stereotype win.
In a way, it can be thought of as the descendant of ancient mythology; the Greek Gods, broadly drawn embodiments, doing battle to deepen the philosophies of mortal man. Only with less body oil.
For something that’s fake, it could be a lot more fake. Yes, it’s not real. But that’s kind of like telling your parents you were “just playing around” when you were really beating the shit out of your younger brother. They are actually doing everything they appear to be doing, but they’re just hoping no one gets seriously hurt. What high illusion.
If wrestlers were magicians, there would be a lot of dead rabbits.
RJ Skinner is a professional wrestler by day and plays Gildar on Nickelodeon’s Splatalot at night. It might actually be the other way around. Follow RJ on Twitter.