Finding Relief at a Wrestling Show

One music writer trades South By for suplexes

Finding Relief at a Wrestling Show

It speaks to the ubiquity and specificity of World Wrestling Entertainment that on the final day of South by Southwest, when damn near everybody around Austin preoccupied themselves with scoring the final free drinks of a week gone haywire, it could roll into the Frank Erwin Center with little in the way of awareness for whatever it might be interrupting.

As our annual insanity slowly faded from the city, I was inside the big Drum watching Antonio Cesaro, a 33-year-old from Switzerland wrestle tag-team as part of the Real Americans, an asshole faction of Tea Party heretics. They come out with the dickish contextualization of the “Don’t Tread On Me” rattlesnake set as their background.

Cesaro is one of my favorite wrestlers in the world right now, a performer blessed with a very elegant blend of athletic ability and on-mic swagger. A few days before the match he told me via telephone that it wasn’t until he was nineteen that he actually envisioned a viable future in professional wrestling. A half-full basketball arena tittered and cheered as someone who grew up far from the epicenter of sports entertainment gracefully lost to the Uso Brothers.

I think that’s what I love about wrestling, or at least what’s recently drawn me back to the spectacle. It’s an industry where losing in the opening match of an untelevised show still feels like part of the dream. Everyone in the building was there to see John Cena, but that never deters the undercard. Sheamus was once a kid practicing suplexes somewhere in Dublin. Now he stands tall on the ropes, pounding on Alberto Del Rio’s chest. Damian Sandow puts his foot on Mark Henry’s stomach, his horns-down proudly in the air. A few minutes later he’s eating the ring like a company man. There’s no middle ground with wrestling, no room for second guessing. You are there to please the crowd. It’s a responsibility you’re contractually obliged to uphold.

Saturday night, as I watched as Randy Orton and John Cena take turns running each other into a chain-linked fence, a group of kids behind me held construction paper posters pledging support above their hairlines. Don’t ever doubt to the culture. It’s huge, even when it isn’t. And if you don’t want the Erwin experience, go to an indie wrestling show. Go to Anarchy Championship Wrestling at the Mohawk. Watch nine-to-fivers slam folding chairs into each other’s backs in front of 75 people for 25 bucks a session. If you don’t find that at least a little bit inspiring, then you’re already lost.

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