Past OTL Shows

True confessions: Inside the mind of a 'rasslin fan

Behind the scenes with the script-makers

Is it a sport? Pro wrestling in the context of real sports

Sound off: Readers react to issues raised in series


Hollywood Hogan explains why wrestling has become so popular.
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 Bill Goldberg tells how he prepares for a match.
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RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8

April 2, 1999
True confessions: Inside the mind of a 'rasslin fan

Ron Buck,

Pro wrestling isn't a regular part of ESPN coverage or culture. So to explain the sleeper hold that pro wrestling has on the American public, we turned to news editor Ron Buck, who plays journalist by day and channel-surfing wrestling fan by night. Here is his report:

Yes, I smell what The Rock is cookin'.

I'm also one of the "millions, and millions" watching, as The Badd Ass Billy Gunn proclaims each Monday night.

I knew Hollywood Hogan when Hulk-a-mania swept the wrestling world in the '80s. I was still watching when Hollywood Hogan started New World Order in the '90s. My all-time favorite wrestler remains Roddy Piper. I only wish I still had the "Hot Rod" T-shirt I bought back in 1987.

Upcoming on ESPN
ESPN will examine the world of professional wrestling and its impact on spectators and participants in a one-hour Outside the Lines: Pro Wrestling's Hold on America on Friday at 12:30 a.m. ET (Thursday at 9:30 p.m. PT), and April 8 at 3:30 a.m. ET.

Among the themes explored in the show: the reasons for wrestling's appeal, the impact of its sex and violence on children, former pro athletes now in pro wrestling, and incidents of wrestlers dying young.
I've had a beer with Jimmy "Mouth of the South" Hart, then watched Brutus Beefcake take a 16-ounce bath on his way to the ring later that night at the old Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento. I've seen Wrestlemania in person and on pay-per-view. I rented copies of the shows I missed while studying for finals in college.

Yes, I did go to college. Surprised? Well, you shouldn't be. Today's professional wrestling fans aren't your father's wrestling fans. We are well-educated, well-adjusted, reside above the Mason-Dixon Line -- and understand we aren't watching an actual sporting event. Some of us even cover those so-called real sports for a living.

I guess I realized I was one of those people when watching World Wrestling Federation or World Championship Wrestling became more important than Monday Night Football. I'll admit, I've missed the second and third quarters of a Redskins-49ers game in order to keep up with Stone Cold Steve Austin's feud with The Undertaker, or Sting's decision on whether or not to join the Wolf Pack.

Vince McMahon, owner of the WWF, once recalled a conversation he had with Ted Turner, who had just bought the WCW. Turner had called McMahon and told him he'd gotten into the wrestling business. McMahon replied, in essence, That's great Ted, but I'm in the entertainment business.

And he's right. I really don't care who wins. In fact, professional wrestling isn't about who wins and loses anymore. Sure, there are winners and losers, but it's the theater that keeps us fans watching. At the very least, professional wrestling is the best prime-time soap opera on TV. And as someone who can remember who shot J.R., the WWF and WCW know how to keep viewers watching week after week -- 21 of the top 25-rated shows on cable in February involved wrestling.

 Bill Goldberg
Bill Goldberg represents the meeting of muscle and mouth.

Around the office here at ESPN, to admit you watch these live-action cartoon characters is blasphemy. I, however, am not afraid to stick a WWF sticker on my cubical, or sneak a peak at rebroadcasts of WWF on Canadian television during office hours. And when my boss told me "Big Sexy" Kevin Nash was a once a center on the University of Tennessee basketball team, I suspected he knew more about professional wrestling than he cared to admit.

The popularity of wrestling today lies not with the moves inside the ring but the words that fly outside of it. Sure, watching Val Venis fly off the top rope, or Goldberg spear another victim, remains the essence of professional wrestling. But before those wrestlers earned top billing, they proved they could talk as well as wrestle. That's what drives this industry that now generates more than $1 billion in annual revenue.

We fans can't get enough of the trash-talking -- or should I say yelling. The wrestling is a product of the screaming. The screaming is a preview to the action inside the ring. The action in the ring is the climax to sometimes weeks of buildup.

I love to watch a guy who's nearly busting a blood vessel tell me how he's been cheated, lied to, or just plain ignored long enough. He's got something to say and he's getting it off his 52-inch chest whether you want to hear it or not.

  We're the Wile E. Coyotes of modern day. We get hit with chairs and hit with this and that, and we get up and here we go again -- or at least I do.  ”
— Bill Goldberg
No longer is the chair or 32-inch biceps the professional wrestler's most important prop. Wrestlers are now demanded to speak, or should I say preach, the truth as soon as they climb over the top rope. And if they aren't holding a mic in the ring, they are being featured in videotaped segments, or doing color commentary ringside. The better the shtick, the more airtime the wrestler gets.

The people who write this stuff are the unsung champions of professional wrestling. When Ric Flair is spouting off about his latest conquest -- or McMahon is screaming at Stone Cold, "You're Fired!" -- it's some of the best writing on television.

This is what I'm hooked on each week. And McMahon, better than anyone in the business, knows what we wrestling fans like: A testosterone-filled, no-holds-barred, two hours of viewing pleasure that borders on tasteless. It's that lack of taste, that keeps nearly five million viewers tuning in each week.

Wrestling gives us masses what we have always been told not to watch. Let's just say those seven dirty words George Carlin wasn't allowed to say on TV find their way onto a WWF or WCW broadcast in some form or another.

So, if you don't like professional wrestling, I've got two words for you ...

We wrestling fans know the rest.

Do you agree with Ron Buck? Send your responses to Selected comments will be published on Friday at the conclusion of the series.

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