I quite like a bit of American wrestling now and then, and lately I've been enjoying following the latest WWE goings-on. So I thought we needed a blog post urging my followers to check it out, too!
Wrestling might not be what you think it is, you see - nowadays, they really only pay token lip-service to the idea that viewers are supposed to believe it's "real", and the modern WWE is determinedly suitable for children; the wrestlers don't say naughty words any more, they don't excessively attack each other with pointy things, they don't end a fight covered with blood, they supposedly don't even use steroids any more after a death by heart failure and a particularly nasty murder-suicide a few years ago. Although looking at some of the wrestlers, it's a little hard to believe they got that big by nothing other than hard work and exercise...
Still, all that means that what we're left with is essentially acting by people who by and large aren't actors. There's nothing more fun to watch than that! The wrestling itself is secondary to the 'storylines', but a lot of the matches are still entertaining - not the main events, usually, but the lesser match-ups with the more agile and acrobatic performers. There actually are some really talented and athletic people working for the WWE at the moment.
There are two main weekly shows on Sky Sports, regular Pay Per View events (most of them are only PPVs in America, and on normal Sky Sports channels over here - Sky know that nobody will buy a wrestling PPV unless it's one of the handful of really big ones every year), and I particularly recommend WWE Superstars, on Sky 1 at the weekends, which features a couple of wrestling matches between some of the more entertaining non-main-event stars and the highlights of the storyline from the past week's main shows.
Here's a primer for what's happening at the moment - John Cena, the main hero (wrestlers are heroes or villains - the 'hardcore fans' on internet websites use the terms 'babyface/face' and 'heel', but I prefer to think in terms of goodies and baddies), is having surgery and taking a few months off. In the WWE Universe, that basically means he ceases to exist and people never talk about him. That's a problem, obviously, since John Cena toys sell much better than any others, so they need an exciting storyline to keep the fans interested and buying merchandise while he's gone. In Cena's absence, the evil people who run the WWE have become extra-evil and instituted a reign of terror! Vince McMahon, who genuinely owns at least part of the WWE, is always evil, and a lot of fun - people complain about him on the internet, but I've always thought he was cool. He gamely lets himself be beaten up by heroic wrestlers whenever a storyline requires him to get his comeuppance for his evil deeds. But the main focus is his evil daughter Stephanie, and her newly-turned-evil husband Triple H (retired wrestler who in real life ensured he got the best storylines by marrying the boss's daughter). The latter is particularly brilliant at the moment, playing a corporate villain who's unspeakably nasty to the goodies while insisting that everything he does is for the best.
Heroic Daniel Bryan is the best wrestler in the world (this needs a little suspension of disbelief), but is continually being cheated out of the WWE Championship belt by the bosses, because he's short, ugly and has a silly beard. The bosses prefer Randy Orton, who's big and handsome and extremely evil. The Shield, three unstoppable evil villains, are the bosses' henchmen who beat up anyone who opposes them. The Big Show, a loveable giant, is being forced to do the bosses' bidding because he needs the money. Heroic Cody Rhodes has been fired because the McMahon family don't like the Rhodes family - this isn't the kind of 'fired' that stops him being paid to perform on WWE shows, obviously, and also means that his brother and father, who aren't officially employed either, show up a lot. Ten lesser heroes came to Daniel Bryan's aid recently while he was getting the latest of his beatings by The Shield and Orton, and so the battle-lines are drawn.
In other storylines, CM Punk is fighting with his loony former manager Paul Heyman, who in an attempt to get back at Punk has first employed no-hoper Curtis Axel and then the big unstoppable monster Ryback. They remain entirely unconnected to the evil-bosses story, but it's still fun to watch. The Wyatt Family, a group of hillbilly weirdos, one of whom wears a sheep mask for no obvious reason, are also lurking in the background and threatening people.
There are other title belts that don't matter as much as the WWE Championship - Alberto del Rio, who doesn't seem to have any kind of personality or storyline, is the World Heavyweight Champion, Curtis Axel is the Intercontinental Champion, one of The Shield is the US Champion and the other two are the Tag Team Champions, and there's a women's championship too, although all the women in the WWE are models who look good in a bikini but can't act or wrestle. The only one with any kind of personality is AJ Lee, the champion, who just doesn't like any of the others. Other wrestling organisations have women who actually can wrestle - a few years ago, the WWE hired one of them, the massive and frightening Kharma, gave her a big slow build-up of ominous videos, and then just as she was about to make her big debut, she got pregnant in real life and had to leave. This seems to have convinced the WWE that hiring women is more trouble that it's worth, and they haven't really tried to employ any real wrestlers since then.
The fun characters to watch out for: Damien Sandow, "intellectual saviour of the masses" who thinks he's better than you, is wonderful - he talks a good fight, is contemptuous about all his rivals, gets beaten up a lot and currently holds a contract entitling him to challenge for the World Heavyweight Championship at any time but is apparently scared to use it. Goldust, brother of Cody Rhodes, wears an amazing costume, complete with gold and black face-paint that he wears even when dressed in a business suit, and wrestles energetically even though he's in his forties and hadn't been a regular on the WWE for many years before his latest comeback. (There need to be more wrestlers of distinctive appearance like that - as a casual fan, I struggle to distinguish Randy Orton from CM Punk, and Ryback is basically just a slightly smaller version of The Big Show). Kofi Kingston, though he hasn't got any personality beyond being basically a nice guy, is acrobatic and brilliant in the wrestling ring. R-Truth, the rapping wrestler, has the best entrance music and gets the crowd fired up, though there's not much to him beyond that. Paul Heyman is absolutely hilarious - being a manager, he's an actor rather than a wrestler, and makes the whole thing a lot more fun. The Big Show is always fun to watch; genuinely somewhere close to seven feet tall and hugely muscular, he's a great stage presence, and he can act the part too, and even do some cool wrestling moves! (This puts him light-years ahead of the WWE's other main giant, The Great Khali, who can't speak English and can barely move - he's only used in comedy skits nowadays). El Torito, sidekick of Los Matadores, the bullfighter-themed wrestlers who made their debuts this week (well, actually they're two wrestlers who've been around for years, wearing different costumes), is amazing - a tiny little man in a bull costume, he bounces around the ropes better than anyone, and I'm hoping they do something cool with him in the future. 3MB, the Three Man Band, are my favourite baddies - three dim-witted villains who just hang out together because they like each other's company and help each other cheat in singles matches, they all have the perfect 'evil' look about them, especially Drew McIntyre. The Shield also have that great bad-guy look, or at least Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns do (Dean Ambrose always looks too cherubic, even dressed in their trademark black bad-guy costumes). Finally, Dolph Ziggler deserves to be cheered on - he's been with the WWE for years, paying his dues by playing two terrible characters before he became Dolph (his 'thing' is being a show-off), and never quite seems to get the good storylines despite being good-looking, athletic and a lot of fun to watch in the ring.
So check it out - I'm sure you'll like it, even if (like many of my readers) you're an intellectual memory-man who thinks violence is horrid! The "Battleground" PPV is on Sky Sports in the early hours of the morning, or else there's always plenty of other WWE programmes that'll tell you what happens...