I had it all mapped out. Twelve days off from work around the holidays and a bevy of wrestling footage to watch. There was only problem. I didn’t want to watch any of the footage. This is a natural thing that can happen from time to time with me. I have reserved myself to the thought that wrestling will always be *my* hobby, but burnout can occur. I still haven’t found the best way to feel burnout coming on or how to cope with it other than shutting wrestling almost completely off for a short time. I rarely go to my message boards, my podcast listening dwindles and my tape watching is non-existent. This was a particularly frustrating time for burnout to happen as the year end brings about a retrospection of the year that previously occurred. In years past, I have had great joy recounting my favorite moments and matches from the year and getting geared up for the year ahead. This year, it was a blank gaze with a huge feeling of indifference for the world of wrestling.
What accounted for this feeling? Certainly, my issues with WWE are greater now than at almost any point since 27 years ago when I first became a Hulkamaniac. The talent roster has stars but the combination of injuries, terrible booking and ability to skip literal weeks at a time of the television product and feel like you haven’t missed much at all. New Japan was an option. I watched every show offered on New Japan World up until the G-1 Climax and had a big ranking sheet to reveal to the wrestling world at the end of the year. G-1 came around and it was too much. Since the G-1 finals, I have watched King of Pro Wrestling as the only New Japan footage in 2015. Ring of Honor had a strong year and one of the best live shows I have ever attended in February. Then the August show came which while still really good, it had pretty big booking issues. Those issues only expanded with Final Battle and other shows. Also increasingly frustrating is the lack of marketing for the upcoming shows. I sit here two weeks out from an ROH show in Atlanta with one match announced so far. In addition to the woes I was facing with the wrestling product, my interest in other hobbies was increasing. Board games have flourished in my household and became a nightly ritual for my wife and me. Similarly, we are planning a cruise vacation in the next year and the obsessive nature of my brain started turning. I spent most of the leisure hours of my break doing one of those two activities and wasn’t in isolation enjoying them like I do with watching wrestling.
January 4 could have been an opening. New Japan has disinterested me since the G-1, but watching live wrestling from Japan and their big Tokyo Dome offering live is still pretty damn cool. Even though I had to return to work that day (blah) I got up at 3:00 AM to watch the show. I sat there in a gaze. Nothing was bad or really offensive about the first half of the card, but nothing gripped me in any way either. The second half had three matches that have ranged in star ratings and comments from ***** to “one of the worst matches I have ever seen.” Ishii and Shibata killed themselves for our attention and I couldn’t be bothered to care. AJ Styles and Nakamura lived up to most of the impossible hype that was preset on that match and had a ****1/4 star affair that would graze discussion as a low-end MOTY. Tanahashi vs. Okada had a fitting final, epic match to their four year rivalry. This was their Return of the King and it packed as many dramatic endings, spots and big moments as they could muster. The twitter discussion was rampant and went into overdrive the next day with the big news about the WWE signings. This still was unable to jolt me out of my funk.
Friday, January 8th seemed to be the day that would finally set me free and baptize me into wrestling fandom again. Around 3:00 PM, I made the conscious decision that I was making the 90 minute trip down to Barnesville, GA to see WrestleMerica. The main event was advertised as AJ Styles vs. Jimmy Rave. Given the news of the week, the history of the two guys and the buzz surrounding their in ring output the past year, this felt like a chance for me to witness a bonafide indy classic. In addition, I would get to meet some guys that help contribute to PTBN podcasts which is always a nice bonus for someone that doesn’t have any wrestling fans in my physical circle of friends on a daily basis.
The show started solid enough. Before getting into the arena, the outside area had a buzz. Loud rednecks were fawning over the Rock N’ Roll Express coming into town the next month and lamenting about the glory days of Terry Funk. This felt like a southern indy through and through and they were here to give their revolutionized star, Styles, a fitting sendoff. If I ever own an indy, P-Dawg Mike Posey will be my perpetual curtain jerker. Having the perfect jerk persona, Posey is instant heat whenever he emerges from the backstage area and will get the crowd into the show from the onset. His opponent tonight was Fry Daddy who is also a great babyface and works to get the crowd going. Fry Daddy botched a few earlier moves but the crowd stayed with him and he ended up turning in a sublime selling performance on his left arm. I can’t commend the selling work Fry Daddy exemplified enough as during intermission when he was taking pictures with the fans, he was still selling the arm. The second match was a forgettable women’s match but the ending provided a spark when a fan legit rushed the ringside area and got too close to Amber Gallows before being taken away by security.
It was at this point when I noticed the child sitting next to me who was mesmerized by this development. He was old enough to be in the know about this wrestling business thing, but he also sensed this was not part of the script. He confirmed that by asking me if this was planned and I told him that I didn’t think so. As the rest of the first half staggered on with lackluster action, I was enjoying myself immensely learning about Dylan (I swear that is his name). He was in the fifth grade and came to the matches with his paw-paw. He talked about a ring breaking at a local Locust Grove show and was terrified of the indy wrestler Pain when he made an appearance. Dylan was the perfect person to come along at that point in the evening. I was able to personify through him visions of myself being his age and witnessing Goldberg’s title win and the fingerpoke of doom. Those are two moments etched into my brain from childhood where I can not only recall intricate details of the moments but days after such as still being hoarse from yelling “Goldberg” and buying The Wrestler from Kroger with Goldberg on the cover. I also couldn’t help but reflect with having a young son if I would gain the opportunity to one day attend the matches with my son. It was an engaging hour of conversation with Dylan that was both enlightening but still revealed his sponge-like qualities to grow as a wrestling fan due to his age. Unfortunately, Dylan had to leave right at the start of the title match when his younger brother wasn’t feeling well.
Then came the main event. The show up to this point had been fine and standard indy fare but again nothing I would classify as great. The story in the main event is well documented by now. AJ Styles and Jimmy Rave had five minutes of a match that felt like it could have been great. There was a crispness and intensity in their opening spots that was vacant in the previous encounters. Just as things were about to transition into a control segment, Sal RInauro and Doc Gallows intervene. All of a sudden, we have a tag match on our hands. I was crushed. This was what I picked to go to over ROH? ROH isn’t above this bait and switching either as evident by the Moose match in their August show. Still, this was AJ vs. Rave and it really felt like a classic was ruined. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand the circumstances and politics surrounding the situation and if in Doc or AJ’s shoes, I would have done the same thing. Still, I was bummed and almost bailed on the tag match. Doc asking for the tag match showed how manipulative a wrestler can be given a participating crowd. Granted, I doubt many in attendance are reading prowrestlingonly.com or running wrestlers through Parv’s BIGLAV system, but this was an opportunity for them to voice their displeasure to what was happening, and they instead encouraged the switch up. The tag match that ensued was a lot of fun with brawling, dives and some good teases that Rave might sneak out a victory. I honestly should rewatch the match as the moment was ruined and it would have taken a tag match the level of 6/9/95 to pull me out of my doldrums.
After the final bell, I walked to my car, said a brief goodbye to the Hales family in the parking lot and had 90 minutes of Georgian highway to come to grips with this proverbial crossroads of my life. The one word that kept entering my mind on the ride home was expectations. I don’t think the main event decision on Friday is above criticism. I can say that I both understand the decision and that the tag match we did get was a really good match, while also stating that the match being switched was shitty decision and not a way to endear themselves as a promotion into travelling fans such as myself. Barnesville isn’t an impossible drive but it is sizable enough that I couldn’t help but feel cheated in some way. WWE Special Events get skewered all the time for awful booking and their monthly subscription model is the same amount of money I paid to attend Friday’s show. Even announcing that the singles match was being changed to a tag match ahead of time would have been appropriate enough. That being said, the show overall was a good enough indy experience and I did feel like I got my $10 worth of entertainment out the event. Expectations overwhelmed what I was hoping for with the show.
Also weighing on me was the fact that the people DID welcome the change and even shouted “hell yeah” and other enthusiastic responses when Doc surveyed the crowd. Whether this was genuine emotion or smooth manipulation, I am not sure. It did make me feel like an elitist, shitty fan though. If they are having fun, why can’t I get lost in the show and have that much fun as well. I thought of Dylan and the hopes that realistically I kind of wish that he isn’t on some random reddit thread in five years commenting on how Seth Rollins doesn’t sell the leg enough or that his finisher looks contrived. These are things I have been guilty of time and time again. I do feel so ingrained with an analytical way to look at wrestling that I do discount hearing other opinions that greatly base the match they watched on “feel.” I find Johnny Sorrow to be an entertaining personality on podcasts, but he is not someone that I seek out for analytical dissection of a wrestling match. He would tell you the same thing and I am now not so sure that he isn’t right about that being the way to ultimately view wrestling.
The double-edged sword of wrestling has me more puzzled and confused as I have ever been in regards to my place in the hobby and where I should proceed. Even writing this article has me baffled where half of me is saying that I sound entitled and bratty and the other half says that I am a paying consumer and deserve to voice my opinion. What should be my expectations going into an indy show? To be entertained? On one hand, 6/9/95 is a match I watch on Christmas. On the other hand, I never will be waving my hand in the air wildly when Southside Trash turns heel like the gentlemen in the crowd next to me on Friday night did. Wrestling has always been a coping mechanism at different points in my life. Now for the first time, the shoe is on the other foot and life is helping me cope with my confusion as a wrestling fan. As I enter my 30s, I should have many years of wrestling fandom in front of me. What that will entail with how I feel now, I am not sure. One thing I have decided is to retract myself a bit and focus on the things/hobbies that bring me enjoyment and not frustration. How much wrestling is in that picture remains to be seen. For once in my life in regards to wrestling, I am not setting any expectations.