The Catharsis of Live Wrestling
For some reason, watching men in spandex fight each other makes me feel so much better
One night this past summer, I walked into the gym of a Catholic church in Brooklyn to find a scene of utter chaos. Outlaw Wrestling, a New York–based pro wrestling league, had taken over the space for the night, filling the room with worship of an entirely different sort.
The gymnasium’s lofty acoustics brought the volume of the wild crowd to an almost deafening decibel. Fans close to the ring hurled insults at wrestlers while the burly athletes playfully taunted them in return.
Over the next two hours, I watched as bodies flailed around the ring; I saw a losing participant’s head get shaved live on stage; I narrowly missed the spray of beer from the mouth of an old legend who greeted the crowd by literally spitting it at them. The night ended in a grand finale with a live cello performance of Toto’s “Africa.” From the moment I arrived until the moment I left, I stood there slack-jawed, smiling, and in utter awe. This was the most insane event I had ever witnessed. I loved it.
I was baffled by how cathartic the evening felt for me. I expected to have a beer and watch men in shiny outfits enthusiastically hurl chairs at each other. I did not expect to be frantically looking up tickets for the next show during the car ride home.
I wanted an explanation as to why an event so outrageously outside my normal array of interests triggered such a sense of euphoria, so I turned to the internet for answers. Within minutes, I found dozens of stories from wrestling fans who admitted that watching the sport made them feel better and even helped them cope with depression.
“Part of the appeal is this vicarious way we can build our self-esteem by connecting ourselves to other people who are winners.”
In a particularly moving Reddit thread on the topic, two users said watching WWE helped them get through the death of their wives. NCalien23 writes, “[I] lost my wife to cancer [a] couple years back and was in a bad place in life. I found this sub[reddit] and [a] new found love of ‘wrastlin’ shortly after and it…