I arrived at the Knights of Columbus in Bloomington on Friday, April 25 at roughly 6:40pm, twenty minutes before the advertised bell time, and already there was a line out the door, stretching into the parking lot. The line was full of kids and adults of all shapes and sizes, standing in near total silence, having small, whispered conversations within their own groups, gazing awkwardly at one another from time to time. It was an odd scene to step into, a confusing sense of discomfort hung in the air, a discomfort which tends to hang at these events before the show, but which evaporates when the bell rings.
I took my place at the back of the line and made a note of the trio in front of me. A man and two children, the kids adorned in WWE shirts, both silent but a tad antsy with excitement, and the man, a little haggard, his face lined in a way that made it unclear if he was their father or their grandfather. I decided to make some small talk and I made note of the line, wondering why the doors weren’t quite open yet. The man smiled in a way that put me at ease; he seemed grateful to have someone to chat with. He told me he had been to these shows a few times, and that they usually don’t even have the doors open until five or ten minutes to the opening of the show.
“Damn, that seems like a waste,” I said. “If they opened earlier, people would have more time to find seats, to peruse the merchandise, maybe the wrestlers could move some of their wares…”
“Right?” He replied. “If they opened earlier I could get a beer in before this thing started…”
Prime Time Wrestling has been running monthly shows out of the KoC for some time now, generally performing to sold out audiences who seem to come as much for the cheap drinks, decent food, and loose conversation as the wrestling. There is a constant hum of chatter which hangs in the air all night, regardless of what is happening in the ring, which makes for an incredibly odd atmosphere to catch a show. Yet the chatter was not an indication of a lack of attention, as the crowd found a way to catch its cues, clapping, booing, cheering and chanting at all the appropriate moments. It was a good crowd that hit its spots and made the action look good, even if at times it felt more like they were there out of habit than out of interest.
I walked the perimeter of the crowd for much of the show, just to get a taste for what these folks were all about. In many ways, it was a crowd that was typical of the indy wrestling scene: families whose children wanted an up close look at the sort of thing they watch weekly on TV, aging fans wearing dated t-shirts of wrestlers who have long fallen out of popularity, and awkward twenty-somethings adorned in the latest pieces of merch, often bootleg rather than official, supporting ‘net favorites like Daniel Bryan or Dean Ambrose.
In spite of this familiarity, the crowd was also something of a clash of two worlds. On one hand, the “family friendly” product scene was represented, the families with children who are accustomed to a PG product through watching their weekly programs, while on the other hand a more hardcore and adult fanbase was in attendance, drawn by the wrestling and made a bit surly by the booze. At one point a man, clearly quite drunk already while gripping not a glass but a full pitcher of beer, unleashed an incredibly loud and vulgar insult at a wrestler in the ring, only to be met with instant anger and ridicule not from the ring or any of the performers, but from the rest of the crowd, who openly ridiculed the individual for his profanity. While the man in question never did quiet down, he at least made his commentary a bit more family friendly to adjust to the audience.
The wrestling scene is hard to explain to people. While that man’s drunken tirade brought jeers and discomfort to the folks in attendance at the KoC, in a different venue it’s likely that his same vulgar expressions could have ignited cheers or sparked a chant. Being a wrestling fan is much like being a fan of music, in that fans tend to run with their own circles, but it’s much more difficult given the nature of wrestling. Wrestling has a reputation for being classless, low-brow entertainment, often lewd and (the most annoying word to a wrestling fan), “fake,” and because of this stigma, wrestling fans are often unwilling to admit to partaking in their particular brand of entertainment. This reputation divides fans further as they group themselves into the categories which have been set up outside their influence; I have heard fans on the way to a show at the Target Center declare that “wrestling fans sure are ugly, huh?” and proclaim themselves as “good” fans because they (claimed) to be handsome. I have seen wrestling fans put down others for enjoying a particular performer, and proclaim themselves to be better because liked someone more obscure (a sentiment which is likely very familiar to those in the music scene). The stigma of professional wrestling forces individuals to define themselves separately from the group, to proclaim themselves better, because to allow themselves to be recognized as the same brings with it the fear that perhaps they are “classless” “low-brow” and “dumb.” But what fans need to recognize (and what seems to be happening of late) is that wrestling is like any other form of entertainment.
Wrestling is fun. That’s really all there is to it. Being into wrestling is no different from being into any other television show, or really any sport. It’s about finding a character that appeals to you, and watching that character develop over time. Wrestling is less about wins and losses than it is about how the story unfolds in and out of the ring, and the individuals who are performing locally are becoming very good at their craft.
I left the KoC last night a little early to beat the crowd. On the way out the door, I passed a wrestler dressed like a clown, waiting to sneak through the crowd for a run-in. As I walked into the evening, I considered the state of local wrestling. Minnesota and wrestling went hand in hand for decades, with many of very best to ever step in the ring coming from this state. “Mr Perfect” Curt Hennig and “Ravishing” Rick Rude were born here. Ric Flair was trained here. Minnesota was the place of legends. Yet for a time, it seemed as though that sort of legacy would be lost
Now, there are a number of promotions that are thriving on the scene, with events running weekly. This weekend alone there are shows in Chanhassen, Ham Lake, and Forest Lake, the latter two being a bit of a haul from the cities but available none-the-less. Over the next month, there are shows running every weekend, many of them in St Paul. A few local promotions even run TV tapings, which broadcast on local stations. With all that in mind, it seems obvious that wrestling is on the rise again in Minnesota.
And that’s incredibly exciting.
If you’ve never been to a show, give it a shot. It’s no more expensive than going to a movie, and it’s definitely an experience worth having. MinnesotaProWrestling.com is a solid website with a calendar of upcoming shows, and in all likelihood, something will be showing up in your area soon. Who knows? The next Ric Flair may be working this scene right now.
And when you’re watching, and things seem to be stretching your suspension of disbelief to their limits, just take a little piece of advice from another old Minnesota staple: “Just repeat to yourself ‘It’s just a show, I should really just relax.'”
We all know it’s fake. Doesn’t mean it’s not fun.