A view in to the World of Pro Wrestling from an Australian living in London.
Rob Conway, former three time Raw (World) Tag Team Champion, 2 time NWA World Heavyweight Champion and owner of one of the most significant, televised losing streaks in recent memory. He is predictably most memorable, however, as a man whose most celebrated sojourn in World Wrestling Entertainment was playing an American serviceman who literally turned his back on Old Glory when he used it as a weapon and sided with the evil Frenchmen of La Resistance. The Away Supporter is no different to the WWE Universe of 2003 who remember this action clearly but my reaction when I heard JR use those words “French Sympathiser” was probably slightly different to most as it provoked a feeling of content rather than contempt.
Ever since your humble narrator viddied his first athletic contest as a malenky malchick I always had a bit of a soft spot for the underdog. Kasabian told us in their aptly titled hit of 2009 that “The local loves a fighter, loves a winner to fall,” and growing up I couldn’t help but feel a fantastic sympathy towards any sportsman or athlete who had the odds stacked against them. The strength of this sympathy was only matched by the amount of vitriol I felt against the all powerful, baby-faced overlords who enslaved their weaker opponents. Had I grown up in a different era, or in a different locale my life as a sports fan may have been very different, but I began watching cricket in the era of Australian dominance led by a cavalcade of main event draws like Tugger, Junior, Warney, Pidgeon and Punter; so of course I was the only 11 year old Australian boy who asked for Michael Atherton’s jersey for Christmas in 1998. Where I grew up in Country Queensland, rugby league’s popularity was riding the crest of a wave in the early 1990s with the success of the, local lads turned heroes, Brisbane Broncos who dominated the Australian competition throughout this period. Once again, if you’re following the trend of my debut article, it should come as no surprise to you that I was a die hard, cry when they lost, North Sydney Bears supporter; a club who had not won a premiership since 1922.
So, “Cool story bro, what’s this got to do with wrestling?” I hear you ask. Well apart from digesting any form of live sport I could as a tin lid, my favourite pastime of all was renting one of the half a dozen WWF tapes my local video store had to offer. I didn’t realise at the time but today when people patronisingly ask why I became a fan of the pro graps I always tell them that a major factor was the unpredictability for a young child. When I watched Captain Planet, I knew that eventually The Planeteers would combine their powers to summon the World’s Greatest Superhero and he would destroy, the unquestionably hansy, Doctor Blight. The same was true with the Power Rangers, no matter how much I wanted and willed Rita Rapunzel to get that allusive “W” The MegaZord always went over. But professional wrestling was different, one of the tapes in my local Civic was a “Hulkamania” best of Hulk Hogan kind of deal where you’d assume he would win every match right? Wrong, November 25th 1989, The Genius defeats Hulk Hogan by count out on The Hulkster’s very own “best of” and immediately becomes a young Away Supporter’s first ever favourite wrestler.
Fast forward almost 3 decades and not a whole lot has changed. Except I now find the underdogs that I support in wrestling have nothing to do with the amount of matches they win, and I certainly have no real issue with the WWE’s booking, or their heroes being “rammed down my throat.” This is because my real passion now lies in Camden’s sleazy, grungy Electric Ballroom (or York Hall at Bethnal Green, or The London Cockpit etc.) and with independent wrestling; the perennial underdog that will never compete with The Fed but can certainly outshine, outperform and out-entertain the Stamford Conglomerate on any, and most, given evenings.
I have this theory rolling around in my top paddock, granted with a few stray roos, that losing, like criticism, galvanises your support in a sports team or personality. I don’t think that individual Tottenham fans are necessarily more passionate than Manchester United fans but I do think that when The Spurs finally break through and win that first title of this century it might mean more to their community of supporters than when United won their 6th title in 8 years in 2003. Similarly, after “your boy” breaks through and wins the big one you might never quite feel the same about a win ever again. You will continue to chase the dragon (think Trainspotting more than Fish and O’Reilly) trying to recapture that feeling of the first major victory that you, as a fan, truly earned through a lifetime of thought and suffering and prayer. Herein lays the issue with barracking for an underdog, because they will either; continually break your heart with soul crushing defeats or, even worse for true tragics, get good and no longer be an underdog. The same principle applies in the World of Wrestling, if you would have told me 10 years ago, during my stint as a card carrying, forum posting, dvd purchasing ROHbot that Jimmy Jacobs would be writing WWE shows that have Bryan Danielson as a GM, AJ Styles and Kevin Steen as World Champions and essentially the rest of the roster that I loved unconditionally like a childhood dog as major players you’d think I would be ecstatic. Instead I spend every single Raw, Smackdown and most WWE broadcasts half listening to the commentary of Stirling James Keenan or Austin Aries while I snapchat, socialise and swipe right. Of course The Away Supporter wants success for their idols, when CM Punk made his last appearance for Ring of Honor at Punk: The Final Chapter, the beaming smile on my face cloaked the single tear that ran down my cheek, but still there will always remain a conflict of emotions that the English language can’t quite explain.