Thomas M. was able to attend a recent All Elite Wrestling event and gives us this special report on what one can experience when going to their first live wrestling event.
I have been to a few indie wrestling shows, but I still consider myself a newbie to the whole scene. Every time I take a seat in the stands and take in a show, I feel like an outside observer to a cult of believers who are 100 times more invested than I am in the performances, twists, and behind-the-scenes details of everything taking place in the ring.
You know what’s neat? None of that diminishes my own enjoyment of wrestling shows. Professional performers enact actual stunts night after night, pushing their bodies to the limit. Everyone has their own gimmick to get across their character’s personality and fighting style. Costumes, special attacks, character arcs, rivalries… pro wrestling is like drama club plus acrobatics mixed with lots of real and accidental danger!
If you are considering attending your first wrestling show, there are some hallmarks you are likely to encounter. You won’t feel like an outsider to not know them, but the more prepared you are, the sooner you can participate and contribute your noise and flair to the din of excitement. Here are ten things you can expect to see and hear at a wrestling show:
This one’s a little obvious, yeah? You cheer the face (hero) wrestlers and boo the heels (villains)! Or maybe the villain has a neat gimmick or a cool attitude, so you go the other way. A couple of my favorite moments at a recent show involved the crowd dividing into equally passionate name chants for their favorite side. The effect made me a bigger admirer of both performers just for being able to get the entire arena so worked up!
2. Hype Canaries In The Promo Coalmine
A cool wrestling entrance has many pieces: lights, music, strutting, perhaps a posse. The most important, though, is watching the people around you pop when the first notes of a wrestler’s theme play or seeing rows of people jump to their feet. There’s some herd mentality to this, some peer pressure to like the thing other people like, but it can also happen on an individual level. One person shaking in joy convulsions after a soaring moonsault or satisfying finisher sends out a powerful signal: “You are watching something exceptional! Enjoy it!” It’s a feeling that has to come from an honest reaction, or at least observing one.
Have you ever watched a superhero movie as an adult with a vocally impressed kid in the audience? Same idea. One day you’ll see Spider-Man swing into action one too many times and feel indifferent until you hear some kid shout, “Whoa!” and see it through their eyes instead. The rush can be infectious.
3. Unaired matches
At one AEW show I attended, they had several quick matches before and after the televised main segment. The early matches played out almost like a tutorial demonstration of how wrestling matches work, with a basic pin, a ten-count outside the ring, and teammates interfering when the referee’s back is turned. Also, the short rounds made the action easy to digest and prevented boredom, at least for me. Great warm-ups.
The post-show matches felt like bonus content, with unsung personalities able to show off their moves even if nothing dramatic was on the line. A fight doesn’t have to “count” in order to be entertaining, and these matches demonstrated that really well, especially a finale singalong to the Golden Girls theme in memory of Betty White.
You might have the good luck to sit near a heckler with a chill sense of humor. This person wants to keep the mood light and get some chuckles. You might find them funny, might not, but still appreciate how their jokes bring the immediate crowd together. Sure, the jokes could go sour or interrupt your focus. At the same time, there’s no reason the crowd can’t entertain itself too, right?
You might have the misfortune to sit near a hater with no sense of humor. This person wants to keep the mood tense and shout some obscenities. You might find them offensive, might not, but still resent how their insults turn the crowd apart. Sure, the screams could feel silly or underscore a serious moment. At the same time, there’s no need to get so genuinely angry, right?
You would think this is a heads up about people waving signs of wrestlers’ faces and making some inside jokes. You would be right, but the inside jokes are on another level. On the obvious end, someone will hold up a neon-bright sign visible from space that says, “Who farted?” There will also be obscure videogame references waved around in hopes of appearing in fans’ wrestling montages online. If you decide to bring a sign, be courteous about how long you block people’s view with it. Use thick black letters on a white or neon yellow background. Make sure people will know who farted.
6. Political Nonsense (Getting Shut Down)
At the show I recently went to, a group of four or five guys in an upper row began chanting, “Let’s go Brandon,” a partisan dogwhistle that indulges a moment when a news correspondent didn’t want to repeat a vulgar crowd. After just a couple of chants, someone else shouted back, “Shut the fuck up!” and they stopped.
Isn’t the reigning narrative of the rightwing that politics don’t belong in entertainment? These dimwits should have taken that to heart before injecting this show with theirs.
7. The Match You Wish Ended On The First Count
I don’t mean that every wrestling show will have an overlong match. I’m saying there will most likely be at least one match whose dynamics are not as interesting to you as everything that came before. Different weight and talent classes of wrestlers tend to use certain fighting styles, and everyone has preferences on this.
8. The Match That Looks Twice As Cool In Person
After the show, you might look up a match on YouTube and try to relive a certain glorious moment. Problem is, unless you were sitting right below the TV cameras, the angle, lighting, and impact of that moment will look very different on a screen. You’re holding onto a memory, now. Squeeze it tight! This is what live shows are for.
9. The Match That Makes You Someone’s Fan
What was that wrestler’s name? Someone say their name again! You weren’t expecting them to pull THAT move out of their spandex, huh? The kid in front of you screamed when the match ended in a triple-reversal pin using a hold nobody saw before. That superfan in the front row with the Waluigi sign nearly passed out. Sure makes you forget about that previous match that seemed to go on forever, huh?
10. Merch Rush
If you have a performer you enjoy, then you had better hit their merch table while you can! Once the show is over and the lights dim, the company might pack up and hit the road faster than you think. If there is an intermission and the talent are representing their various wares, take the time to pay them directly and let them know you enjoyed their show. Showing appreciation is the sincerest form of gatecrashing.