It’s amazing how you change over twenty years of marriage. When I discovered that my intellectual, graduate student husband was a HUGE fan of professional wrestling, it was difficult to put those elements together.
Really? I mean, isn’t wrestling fake and not a sport? Numerous documentaries, books, and discussions later, as well as Mondays and Fridays given over to reading romance novels while in the same room as Monday Night RAW and Friday Night Smackdown and I’ve got a whole new outlook. Not only are these men and women phenomenal athletes who train for hours in the gym and in the ring, but – unlike so many athletes who are great on the field and monosyllabic at best in front of the camera – the wrestlers from WWE also embody charisma, acting ability, and an incredible teamwork ethic.
Don’t Be Snooty: Look at the Market Potential
But since I am reading those romance novels while keeping one eye on the TV screen, it’s hard not to be struck by an obvious fact. With the rise of fabulous books having MMA and UFC fighters (like Kele Moon’s Battered Hearts series), to say nothing of the many, many sports hero romance novels (Jaci Burton, for example) why has no author used the rich world of professional wrestling as a basis for a romance series?
Before you get too snooty and turn your nose up at professional wrestling, consider how many people do that same thing with romance novels. They aren’t right, just ignorant, and while the WWE may not be your cup of tea, the fact remains that there’s ample fodder for significant romance novels here. I bet you didn’t start watching MMA after reading a book with an MMA hero, right? You don’t have to be a weekly viewer (although you may end up one) but take a look at some of the key elements of WWE wrestling and tell me there isn’t serious romance potential here. Oh, and take a look at the pictures and really tell me there’s not potential!
Part of that potential are the fourteen million fans who tune in each week (36% of them women) who certainly can understand the appeal. Those fans who choose to be in the know – regarding the idea that each wrestler personifies a character and who also understand that the WWE writes the storylines and conflict between characters – are known as “smarks” (a combination of the words “smart” and “mark”). Wrestlers are considered “faces” – usually good looking good guys – or “heels” – bad guys you love to hate (who can also be good looking). Being one or the other doesn’t guarantee a role for life; major storylines often dictate a “heel turn” or someone thought of previously as a good guy allying themselves with someone horrible or making a move to the dark side him or herself.
This is an incredible billion dollar industry covering television, film (see the documentaries below for a few examples), music (each character has a signature piece of music), magazines, books (mostly biography and about the industry), and video gaming. Vince McMahon, along with his daughter Stephanie McMahon, built the WWE into an entertainment force to be reckoned with, and while his on camera persona is one of the often evil boss (who Americans of all ages and backgrounds love to hate), watching the many documentaries about various wrestlers reveal a strong businessman who deeply cares for the entertainers who make up the WWE family.
And Then There’s the
Eye Candy Terrific Wrestlers
The wrestlers themselves come from backgrounds that seem ideal for romance novel hero status. Whether it’s John Cena‘s unbelievable Make a Wish Foundation work, C. M. Punk‘s difficult family background and earned anti-hero persona, or Randy Orton‘s family legacy of wrestling and the stresses it placed on him, these are men with a depth of personal story that seem very suited to our genre. The fact they earn millions of dollars a year also fulfills a popular trope of the rich entertainer, jaded by women falling at his feet like ripe pears, who is ready to find the love of his life.
Yet, challenges for romantic entanglements are many. These wrestlers spend over 300 days on the road and divorce is understandably common. Even with strong teamwork, their bodies get incredibly battered with injuries sidelining them for months at a time. Wrestlers often start off at seedy hole-in-the-wall regional proving grounds, sometimes moving on to international wrestling venues in Mexico, Europe or Japan before the select few make their way to the national venues of the televised WWE programs. These programs take place in your local huge arena where the wrestlers perform to crowds of tens of thousands of people, sometimes upwards of 80,000 people. Rock stars, eat your heart out!
The Divas (and please note that there is now a reality show about these women on the E! Network) are the female wrestlers who have been over sexualized in the past but are now attaining greater footing and equality. My husband used to fast forward through the Divas (and, no, not just because I was sitting there) since he felt that many of their story lines denigrated the women’s athleticism. As the WWE has become more family friendly (no more Stone Cold Steve Austin spraying beer on his opponents while giving them the double handed finger), I’m pleased to say the Diva story lines have risen in content accordingly. Sometimes male and female wrestlers are “involved” with each other or there is interpersonal conflict between Divas (and male wrestlers) to heighten tensions and allegiances. Not only are several of the Divas former athletes, but some come from dancing, professional cheerleading and modeling backgrounds. A wonderful plus of watching the divas is that a decent amount of them have strong, curvy and athletic figures – even the ones who are model thin seem to have that body naturally – promoting a healthier female body image for viewers.
Potential for secondary characters abound. Whether it’s the fans (so many adorable kids out in the audience next to rabid adult fans), caring support staff, or the wrestlers who provide villainous or comic relief (Google “WWE Wrestler Fandango video” and get ready to laugh), personalities are ripe for consideration when constructing additional characters who would support a hero and heroine and a strong story line.
So Watch Already!
Now that you have a sense of why the WWE is so interesting, your next step would be to actually watch. See if your local sports bar offers wrestling as an option or a particular WWE pay-per-view. It’s best when you’ve got a docent nearby to explain to you what’s happening (you can’t have my husband, after all) and any important backstory. It’s a lot like when your best friend in high school wanted you to get into her favorite soap opera. Remember how confusing it seemed and how over the top the story lines were? And then three weeks later you were totally into it. WWE wrestling is exactly like that.
The free shows are the easiest to access, either live or online, and introduce you to the characters and their current storyline. Please note that the WWE website is extensive and rich in information. You can look up any wrestler for biographical information, watch videos (usually “promos” where they outline their current grievance or conflict with another wrestler and promise a painful win in the ring during the next match), and look at each character’s customized merchandise. While there are many shows each week, the two most important ones are:
- WWE Raw (formerly Monday Night Raw) – airs Mondays on the USA Network (archived by the next day on Hulu)
- WWE Friday Night Smackdown! – airs Friday nights on the Syfy channel (archived by the next day on Hulu)
Pay-per-views are a big portion of the WWE business strategy and you get your money’s worth when the matches are so elaborately staged you find your jaw dropping. I’m definitely going to get my husband SummerSlam for his birthday in August, but it’s amazing the level of production that goes into some of these shows. Hell in a Cell actually puts a chain link kennel around the ring and wrestlers are locked inside to battle one another until one of them is pinned for the count of three or “taps out” indicating defeat. Wrestlemania is the big kahuna of the pay-per-views where several story lines come to a head, and you’ll notice if you ever watch any of the documentaries on the wrestlers that the big matches that happen during this event are the ones remembered with the greatest fondness and most emotion.
The Best Introduction: Documentaries
Speaking of documentaries, I think that watching them was actually key to getting me to be interested in the WWE as I could better identify with the hard work and background of each wrestler, as well as understand their many outside interests and talents. Sadly, while the attitude toward Divas has improved over the last years, I can’t find any documentaries that don’t look like a Girls Gone Wild video, so I’m afraid I can only recommend male wrestling superstar films. Here are a few of my favorites:
- The Shawn Michaels Story: Heartbreak and Triumph – Shawn Michaels not only possessed a brilliant and troubled career in wrestling but is known as being someone who was able to successfully fight the evils of drugs and alcohol through his religious faith and the love of his wife and family. I confess to getting choked up during this documentary as Michaels is so unflinchingly honest about the obstacles he placed in the way of his success as well as the tough love he received from the many people in the WWE who cared about him.
- Randy Orton: The Evolution of a Predator – While it’s not the most chronological approach to a biography, this gives a nice understanding of his dealing with the stress of his father’s legacy as a wrestler, as well as hints at his personal battle with his insecurities, which led to drug abuse. Sadly, the documentary focuses on the saving grace of his wife and daughter, but the news outlets just recently announced their divorce. After watching this you’ll appreciate why this happened.
- C. M. Punk: The Best in the World – This is a well-produced documentary which mirrors Punk’s own unflinching acceptance of his hard childhood and adolescence in Chicago as well as the many friendships which supported him in adopting the “straight edge” lifestyle and anti-hero persona that is entirely his own. He’s a compelling, complex person who would make a wonderful foundation for a romance hero character.
The Rock: The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment – Many people who have never watched one minute of wrestling are still familiar with “The Rock” or Dwayne Johnson as he has gone on to have a successful acting career. Between his wrestling legacy in his family as well as his cultural heritage, this charismatic, intelligent man comes across as not only devilishly handsome and playful, but also as a multi-faceted businessman who set the bar for WWE Superstardom. WWE: The Epic Journey of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is also an excellent resource.
- Stone Cold Steve Austin: The Bottom Line on the Most Popular Superstar of All Time – I became interested in the wrestling superstar Steve Austin when my husband wanted to watch the reality show Tough Enough, in which would-be wrestlers attempted to handle the many training sessions and challenges in order to earn a contract with the WWE. Austin reached superstardom during the height of the WWE’s more “adult” focus, but his anti-hero character embodied the hard working everyman with his tough Texas background and gritty determination in the ring. While this documentary makes no mention of his tumultuous divorce from his wife (domestic abuse and possible steroid use appeared to be factors), Austin does clearly state how he failed the most important people in his life while dealing with his own personal issues.
- Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows – While the WWE appears to be a nurturing business, it’s still a business, and this documentary following the career of superstar Bret Hart demonstrates the tensions that can arise from a strong and talented entertainer and the business interests who may believe in a different direction for his character. What is fascinating (and this documentary intersects well with the Shawn Michaels documentary because of his involvement in the match that severed Hart from the WWE) is the ripple effect of the damage this incident caused within the wrestling world – it’s hard to find a wrestler unaffected by it.
- The John Cena Experience – John Cena is actually my favorite wrestler, as I admire his work ethic, consistently great performance, and his many talents outside of the ring (he’s a songwriter/rapper as well as an extremely talented actor, watch the heartwarming family movie, Legendary, if you don’t believe me). This documentary not only hits on all his wrestling highlights and career but spends a decent amount of time on Cena’s amazing Make a Wish Foundation work and his commitment to entertaining members of the armed forces. Cena led the WWE in raising over $1 million for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation (which funds research to fight breast cancer) this past year. He’s really worth admiring!
Breaking the Code: Behind the Walls of Chris Jericho – Chris Jericho has certainly played both sides of the face/heel fence, but one thing that cannot be denied is that this superstar has much more than just wrestling as his talent. An excellent musician and a successful author, Jericho’s business acumen has been proven time and again to lead him in a good direction. His cockiness appeals to his fans and even his WWE associates seem to be able to tolerate his attitude, probably due to the fact that it stems from genuine belief in his own abilities. While his showmanship highlights his light up clothing and bad boy persona, in actuality Jericho is probably one of the most well-rounded talents in the wrestling world.
If the WWE Were Smart, They’d Have Their Own Romance Imprint
I certainly have a few story lines bouncing around in my head inspired by this rich world of sports entertainment, but I would strongly encourage authors to consider professional wrestling as a fantastic option for a setting and/or profession for characters in romance novels. While you couldn’t call it the WWE, a composite organization could easily be invented that built upon a familiar foundation. Heck, if WWE was smart, they’d use their publishing branch and hire some good romance editors right now to launch the line themselves!
There is a lot to admire in the world of the WWE and I’d encourage anyone who enjoys drama, humor, and physical entertainment to consider taking a closer look. You just might fall in love.