World Wrestling Entertainment. Professional wrestling. Sports entertainment. Scripted violence.
Some love it. Some hate it. Point in case, WWE superstar John Cena. The crowd is literally split right down the middle. Chants of "Let's Go, Cena" quickly get washed over by chants of "Cena Sucks." There is no middle ground. None. I happen to be one who loves it.
Wrestling fans flock to arenas, events and their TVs in droves to watch this male soap opera play out twice a week on television, once a month on pay-per-view, and almost nightly at various venues throughout the world. Wrestling fans get labeled. They are given stereotypes. The detractors say wrestling fans live in their moms' basement. The haters say it's time to grow up.
The reality is that wrestling fans come in many ages and races, from many socio-economic and educational backgrounds, and from more than just the male gender. Wrestling is also enjoyed throughout every region of the country.
I happen to be a fan of it dating to the late 1980s and early 1990s. I ate the WWF ice cream sandwiches as a little kid. Had the wrestling action figures and would watch it every Saturday morning with my dad.
In high school, there was the "Attitude Era," and all the guys on the football team got together every Monday after practice to watch Monday Night Raw on USA. It's the perfect weeknight broadcast to get your testosterone-driven adrenaline fix.
A few things made me connect and gravitate toward wrestling as a kid and even into my early adulthood. One was just the sheer athleticism of some of the competitors. From a high-flying "cruiserweight" doing things that defy logic and gravity to a 7-foot-2 individual tossing around guys who weigh 250 pounds like ragdolls, it's truly a spectacle to witness.
Then there was the entertainment factor with guys on the microphone. As someone who speaks into a microphone for hours on end about sports, I respect a guy who can "cut a promo" flawlessly and get the crowd into a frenzy with just a few catch phrases. From Hulk Hogan to The Rock to Paul Heyman, there have been many masters of the mic inside the squared circle. If you don't have a trash-talking component to your character, chances are you won't succeed.
How successful is this sport? And yes, it is a sport. It has been one of the top-rated shows, if not the No. 1-rated show, on cable for roughly 20 years. There are times when more people will watch the WWE than baseball and hockey. It even has beaten ESPN and other networks during that time slot. And the WWE isn't bashful about letting the audience know about it, consistently posting graphics that show the numbers, courtesy of Nielsen.
I always compare the WWE to other pop-culture success stories that get ripped by some people. You know who they are. The same people who can't stand Nickelback. The crowd that says fantasy football is for nerds. Some of the critics are actually fans, just too afraid to admit it. You know who you are.
On Sunday night, Wrestlemania 31 will invade Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., home of the San Francisco 49ers, and will fill that venue to the brim, 70,000-plus-strong. That's 70,000-plus of the so-called basement dwellers, nerds and losers gathering to watch scripted matches. Then there will be the millions who watch on pay-per-view and on the WWE Network.