‘You can’t fake gravity’ – or the escape pro wrestling provides

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Hello. My name is Don, and I love professional wrestling.

There, I said it. And I stand behind my words and a conviction for the absurd. To me, it’s smart to have an escape from reality.

Throughout my adulthood, I’ve been told the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. I’m not sure liking professional wrestling is a problem, but it’s something that many consider being a failure of common sense.

But I stand by my admiration of fake muscles, scripted outcomes and storylines that would make soap opera writers cringe.

So do an overwhelming number of other television viewers. There’s a reason why WWE’s Monday Night Raw is the longest-running weekly episode show in TV history. The company’s first episode was aired in 1993. I was 26 then. Now I’m three weeks away from my 65th birthday.

My love, however, of the entertainment industry started long before Hulk Hogan ripped off his first T-shirt, the Undertaker delivered his first Tombstone Piledriver and Ric Flair won his first match with the Figure-Four.

I lived in Shelby, North Carolina when I was in sixth grade. The highlight of the week for a middle-schooler was the weekly NWA wrestling show on Saturday afternoon. That was a time long before prime time and pay-for-view. If you tuned in then, you were a fan. And for that moment, it was as real as Baron von Raschke using “The Claw” or an “Atomic Drop” by Eddie Graham to win a match.

Of course, I know better now. Sort of.

When I was in sixth grade, I looked forward to the local Carolina wrestling group coming to the Shelby, North Carolina Recreation Area. I watched my heroes like Johnny Weaver, Hiro Matsuda, Mr. Wrestling, Cowboy Ron Orton and the Missouri Mauler. Shelby wasn’t ever big enough for superstars like Jack Brisko, Harley Race or Mr. Wrestling, but I was thrilled to see most of my weekly heroes.

To me, it was real. Now, 51 years later, it still seems so. A year later, I sat in front of a 19-inch black-and-white TV in seventh grade and saw Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. That didn’t seem as real as watching Aldo Bogni getting the

Back then, wrestlers simply beat on each other. Mickey Rourke’s “The Wrestler” was more true than you know. Dusty Rhodes, whose real first name was Virgil, made a living from getting cut on his forehead and having hour-long battles with guys like Terry Funk, Flair, Nitkia Koloff and Blackjack Mulligan. They’d then drive 100 miles to another city and do it all over again.

Today’s wrestlers are more technical. Performers have big muscles and small waists who won’t spill blood. Their flips and theatrics are more reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil than a “fighting” organization.

But make no mistake, it’s still physical.

Even then – and now – there wasn’t a time when I really thought it was real. But when you’re at a match live, it’s easy to get swept up at the moment. I have two college degrees, but I used to scream out the number of times my favorite wrestler beat up his opponent.

I never realized how much wrestling is a physical and difficult business until I met Bill Goldberg. I was covering a NASCAR race in Las Vegas and I arrived four hours early. I went to the press room restroom and before I could unbuckle my belt there was a loud punch against the door. I yelled for the person to wait his turn. He yelled back, “Dude, I’m dying out here!” I decided I could wait, so I gave up my spot. I started to yell: “What’s your problem?” as I opened the door.

It was Goldberg. The former WCW World Heavyweight Champion.s

A half-hour later, we ate breakfast together. We talked about his business and my long interest in the sport. He admitted he knows the audience – well, most of the audience – knows it’s not real. Then he said something that I’ve never forgotten:

“We may know how it ends up, but you can’t fake gravity. When you get thrown off the top rope, you just got thrown off the top rope and it hurts.”

That’s when I realized professional wrestlers are carnival geeks. But I still will watch. I will yell at cheap shots from the bad guys and scream for popular wins. And I still get goosebumps when John Cena enters the ring.

For the two or three hours I’m watching wrestling, the matches seem real and the rest of the world seems fake. I need an escape from the news of the day, even if it’s only for a couple of hours a week. It may be fake – and extremely physical – but it’s a distraction millions of us enjoy.

A body slam certainly must hurt, but it’s nothing like the reality of political discord and rising costs and crime that tries to consume us every day. It’s why my heroes have always had scarred bodies and wretched lifestyles in a “fake” industry, not the power to filibuster or be cozy with lobbyists in real life.

Somebody, please ring the bell. For the next couple of hours, I need to return to make-believe for a little while.

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