Professional wrestling is both a commodity and an art form, and that’s why I can sit in an audience of less than a thousand people in a small ballroom in Tacoma and watch one of the best wrestlers in the world do his job.
Will Ospreay is a British wrestler. He’s 26 years old. In 2007, he was a 14 year old watching this Latino kid called Amazing Red, who in turn was wrestling up and down the East Coast in a string of independent promotions and, for a while, in TNA. Whether or not TNA was the big leagues depends on who you ask. Either way, Red had the room to stretch the boundaries of his craft and Will was soaking it all in. He dressed like Red. He recorded YouTube videos of himself replicating Red’s moves.
I know this because Will Ospreay told us so the other night, after 27 minutes of passionate wrestling against his idol, his voice cracking with emotion. Red felt it too, but he didn’t want to put what he was feeling into words. He just wanted to hug Will Ospreay and speak directly to him, whispers in his ear.
“Look at the names on this belt,” said Ospreay, as he held aloft his IGPW Jr. Heavyweight Championship belt. “Look at them. It’s a crime that your name isn’t among them.”
From time to time someone asks me why I like professional wrestling. It’s a good question, especially since sometimes I don’t like it very much at all. This is the answer. There are so many stories being told at once in a classic wrestling match. Some of them are fictional.
The other night, Will Ospreay and the Amazing Red told a story about a smaller, semi-retired guy battling one of the best wrestlers in the world. Will Ospreay wrestles as a junior heavyweight, but this summer he also competed in the G1 Climax tournament. That’s for heavyweights. Will won 4 out of his 9 matches against some of the best in the world. He’s over six feet tall. Amazing Red is 5′ 4″.
Unsurprisingly, Red wrestled as the underdog and came spitting distance from winning. That’s a pretty great story. Also great: watching these two master craftsmen sell that story. It’s not even remotely believable, except that they both knew how to make each other look good. At one point, Red hit his big match-winning move, his finisher. Ospreay didn’t kick out of it, because that would have established him as clearly superior. He just barely managed to get his foot onto the ropes, which breaks the pin without diminishing Red. Subtle stuff.
They also told a true story about a younger man and the veteran he idolized. Ospreay spent months begging Red to come out of retirement for this match, and obviously succeeded. That emotion was all over the match, and that post-match promo. It was also entwined in the fiction. Would Ospreay forget that he idolized Red and fight as hard as he could? Would he realize that he needed to stop idolizing Red in order to beat him?
They also told a story about two athletes and artists working their hearts out to entertain us. Under a thousand people in the room, and S. and I were in the front row. At one point Red wound up in the lap of the guy next to me. He reached up, grabbed my hand, got ready to pull himself up.
“Should I help?” asked the guy whose lap he was in.
“Nope, let it play out,” murmured Red. He was smiling so hard.
Why do I love professional wrestling? Well.