SA Radio - Interview with author of Ring of Hell: Chris Benoit and the Fall of Pro Wrestling



People are constantly surprised that I'm such a huge fan of professional wrestling and I honestly believe the wide difference in tastes when it comes to this undeniably low-brow form of entertainment, is indicative of just how differently people think.

For example, as a child, the very notion that I was duped into believing these grown men, with outrageous gimmicks and the personalities to match, were actually constantly engaged in never-ending feuds with other wrestlers; yelling and screaming even as they left the parking lot after an evening of matches, simply to convince the kids like me left standing around that it was all real - is as endearing in my mind as is my former belief in Santa Claus. Others might say I was just a stupid kid.

As an adult, that grown men behave like maniacs for a living, and that unlike actors, their characters are actually who they really are (Sylvester Stallone is not Rocky Balboa, for example, but Stone Cold Steve Austin remains Stone Cold 24/7) and that while they get zero respect as athletes, wrestlers suffer more injuries than the entire NFL - intrigues me. Some might say I'm just a stupid wrestling fan.

I like pro wrestling for exactly the same reasons most deplore it - it's redneck, embarrassing and completely unrespectable. I find this appealing, particularly because I feel the same way about the overwhelming majority of popular entertainment, and have little use for folks who take it seriously, yet look down their nose at me for my tastes. I know what I'm watching is stupid and am engrossed in it for precisely that reason. I'm in on the joke. I'm not so sure the average reality TV show fan draws the same conclusions about what they're watching or themselves.

Thinking differently - I find professional sports the most boring, god awful waste of time imaginable and am fascinated that the geographical location of a base, foot or basket ball dictates the happiness of some of my dearest friends, particularly when the handler of the ball might be playing for an entirely different team the following year, which will make the same athlete completely irrelevant to the fan. I realize this is rationalizing sports down to an absurd level to make it sound foolish, but when folks make light of the absurdity of pro wrestling (which it is, and it is also the beauty of it); this is where my mind wanders. I get why Andy Kaufmann was so fascinated by wrestling, although I'm not sure his admirers do.

The irony is, personally and politically I remain a populist and I'm not the least bit elitist, or try not to be - except when it comes to my love for pro wrestling. I'm not even elitist about movies or music, which are typical snob favorites. Just rasslin'.

I have found that when it comes to diehard wrestling fans, they are either some of the dumbest people you will ever meet or the most intelligent. There's no intellectual middle class in pro wrestling, compared with American Idol viewers or NFL fans, where I would imagine the IQ level of the vast majority of fans likely hovers around the pedestrian level. I was not shocked to learn that Flannery O'Connor liked rasslin', for example. I get it.

One of the smarties is Matthew Randazzo, author of the new book "Ring of Hell: The Story of Chris Benoit & the Fall of the Pro Wrestling Industry." I can't recommend this book enough to wrestling fans and non-fans alike, as it is a fascinating look at one of the most bizarre subcultures in America.

In fact, after reading Randazzo's book, for the first time in my life I actually felt a little guilt and embarrassment for being a fan.


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