Notes from a Squared Circle.

"At TNA; with the promise of a cage match."
I cannot recall the precise moment when it dawned on me, Father Christmas only exists in Coca-Cola adverts and shopping centres. Even as a young child, I knew it was futile to ask my unemployed parents, to deliver me a pair of £200 Nike trainers, when there was no income and six other brothers to satisfy; settling for the £10.00 board game of Guess Who, Mouse Trap, or whatever fad I was into at the time. Truth is, I didn’t mind - my Mother tried her best. Besides, had we all been more foolish, Christmas would have been a pretty sorry sight in the Gunnell household; as seven kids wondered all day, why Santa decided their house was too shit to visit.

I had the same feelings with most mythical mysteries, children generally buy into with full conviction. The Tooth Fairy’s 20p a pop was obvious bullshit, when my Nan told me I had to wait till the welfare cheque arrived, before old fairy-girl could roll into North-West London. I never understood why the Easter Bunny needed to colourfully package the eggs he made; especially leaving Tesco three for the price of two stickers, on some boxes. Unicorns belonged to the fictional My Little Pony, Leprechauns lived in screenplays about evil Irish villains, and Mermaids was merely a title for a crap Bob Hoskins movie.

However, there was one equivocal fact in my childhood, I knew to be an absolute, iron-clad truth… no matter how many cynics suggested otherwise - and suggest they did. Professional Wrestling, was real! When Hulk Hogan was crushed by the Earthquake and spent six months in hospital; spurred on to return by the sheer number of support from the little Hulkamaniacs, I believed. When Virgil finally rebelled against his treatment as the bodyguard/slave of Ted Dibiase, I believed. When Ric Flair won the World title belt at the Royal Rumble, I believed. And any occasion Big Daddy could never rid himself of the force of Giant Haystacks, you guessed it, I believed! For an eight-year-old in the 1980’s, Professional Wrestling was the epitome of entertainment; physically strong tough guys, charismatic talkers, and crazy storylines - played out through an odd form of muscular ballet.

For a young man with zero adult male role models to aspire to, the Professional Wrestler carried every quality I assumed men were meant to have. Strong, brave, courageous, honourable, honest, and never quit; no matter how much pain they were dragged through. Of course there were bad-guys – commonly known as heels, but I never liked them very much; they would cheat to win, and I saw that as lazy, and lacking in virtue - I still do, even now. 

As I grew through my youth; via puberty, and young adulthood, I began to realise it wasn’t as 100% legit as I once imagined. The internet exposed the inner workings of what in reality, is more business than sport. The extreme nature of progressing storylines made it clear to anyone - with half a sense of logic, that the enemies were not enemies at all; hating each other, yet travelling over the world to fight, is quite ridiculous when you think about it. And slowly over the last few years, and in conjunction with adult life taking over - as it is meant to, like an old friend, we fell out of touch. I still loved it, but it all seemed a little silly, for a man who knew it was a very elaborate work.

"Hulk Hogan - still going strong."

This past weekend however, our flame was rekindled. I experienced my first professional wrestling show in a decade; a 10,000 people strong, Television taping of TNA Impact - at Wembley Arena. The atmosphere was electric, and all the wonder I felt as a child, remained fully in-tact. By the time Hulk Hogan hobbled out to a standard ovation for the final time (he is almost 60) - for the first time in a decade, I believed. I forgot I was watching a predetermined show designed to entertain, and regressed all the way back to the eight-year-old believer who, secretly, was always hoping to be wrong about Father Christmas and the rest. And then as I looked on at the armies of kids - believing, I knew the world is a much better place, for having Professional Wrestling belong to a small portion of it.

I would say that Professional Wrestling is my one secret love - or guilty pleasure. But I am very open about it, and have no guilt whatsoever about my lifelong love affair, with a pseudo-sport which only becomes acceptable in the mainstream, every fifteen years or so. The fans are nerdy to the point it often feels like being in the middle of a paradise for virgins (the guy in front of me took so many photos of one of the female wrestlers arse, I thought his camera might explode), but they are also harmless and friendly.  The workers are a unique group of people, who I have always felt were talented individuals, struggling to fit in amongst the more standard forms of showmanship; very few entertainers can cut promos - even less work out. 

It is constantly ridiculed, criticised, misunderstood, and sniggered upon by intellectuals who think it is classier instead, to read Sense and Sensibility while drinking Merlot. But I don't know, when you consider Sacha Baron Cohen, Andy Kaufman, Jim Carrey and Eminem, are all known fans - perhaps it is not for idiots, as many people may think. And if you think the guys who make a living out of it are stupid, go read any of the novels of Mick Foley or Chris Jericho; then tell me you believe that. I may not follow it as much as I used to, but I love it just as much, all the same...


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