“BRAAUUNN!” How Mick Foley, Braun Strowman & WWE Turned A Lifelong Sceptic Into A Wrestling Fan

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I’ve been a professional wrestling fan for over twenty years. My best friend, for roughly the same period of time, has not. In fact, wrestling is probably the one hobby that Taylor and I haven’t shared over a lifetime of friendship. From our 90s-kid obsession with all things Pokemon, to sneaking Harry Potter books under the noses of our rigidly conservative parents, to all-nighter video game sessions in the summer – since grade school, we’ve pretty much done everything together.

Except wrestling.

Wrestling was always just “my thing”. Sometimes he’d come over and I’d be watching WCW Nitro or WWF Raw and he’d get a good laugh out of the fake punching and kicking, or the over-the-top gimmicks. At the time I didn’t really know how to defend the theatricality of pro wrestling; how it’s a television show, presenting good and evil through all kinds of characters, culminating in matches driven by scripted drama, and fueled by an intensely passionate fanbase. All I knew as a young kid was that I loved it, and he didn’t. So wrestling stayed just “my thing”.

Last year I moved back to Chicago to take over my family home, giving Taylor and I the unique opportunity to rekindle our friendship and fulfill a lifelong dream of living in the same house. Maybe it’s a little weird for two fully grown men in their late 20s to be moving in together, but with me moving across the country to hit the “reset” button on life, and him taking a brand new job and doing much the same, it’s really worked out to be one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.

The difference between childhood and 2017 is that now most of my life revolves around pro wrestling. When I’m not writing about it I’m guesting on a podcast; when I’m not doing that I’m staying up until 6AM covering New Japan, driving downtown for AAW, or to St. Louis for Glory Pro, or flying to Orlando for WrestleMania, or preparing for a trip to Los Angels or New York or Japan so that I can – you guessed it – cover more wrestling. Even in my spare time, I’m usually reading wrestling autobiographies, listening to podcasts, watching classic New Japan footage, or working my way through the PROGRESS on-demand library. I have a couple of hobbies in the rare periods where I need a break, but most of my life is professional wrestling.

Needless to say Taylor has been exposed to a lot of wrestling since we moved in together. For the first few months I would say something like “hey, I have to watch this show for work” and he would excuse himself to the tune of, “cool man, you do your thing, I’ll be around if you want to do something later.” There was no interest on his part in watching wrestling, and from a lifetime of experience I never pushed the matter.

All that changed a few months ago. We were approaching the end of the year and I had become grossly burnt out by the state of WWE at the time, so I did what I always do in those situations – I flipped on the Network and watched some of my old favorites. Taylor walked into the room just as I had started watching the classic Hell in a Cell match between The Undertaker and Mankind. He sat down, scrolling absent-mindedly through his phone, until that moment happened. You know exactly what I’m talking about.

best triple h title defenses

(Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images)

The moment Mick Foley’s body was launched off the top of Hell in a Cell, crashing through a table twenty feet below, Taylor couldn’t take his eyes off the TV. After a few seconds of jaw-dropped silence, he practically yelled “HOLY S—! WHAT THE F— JUST HAPPENED!?” And that was it. He put his phone down and watched the rest of the match, shaking his head in disbelief every time Mick made it back to his feet. “IS HIS F—ING TOOTH IN HIS NOSE!?”

I couldn’t stop smiling. Any long-time wrestling fan that has spent their life chastised – and even at times, bullied – for their love of professional wrestling knows exactly how satisfying it is when a friend has their first real taste of the industry.

Taylor told me afterwards that the Hell in a Cell match was one of the most brutally real things he’d ever seen. He very matter-of-factly told me that “you can’t fake being thrown twenty feet through a table”, which is absolutely true. I won’t say he was immediately “hooked”, but he was definitely interested.

So for the next few weeks I would occasionally throw on a match and make him watch it. I knew he was fascinated by Mick Foley, so I showed him the Hardcore match against Edge at WrestleMania, then the bloody affair with Randy Orton, and alternated in matches with guys like Triple H, Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker. I showed him “Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling” by Max Landis, and that helped open his mind to what wrestling is really all about; better than I ever could in two decades of being his friend.

The problem was, Taylor would consistently tune out any time I had to watch a modern WWE pay-per-view. He didn’t know the stories or the characters, and had no interest in me explaining them to him. I showed him some New Japan matches, and tried to explain to him the finer points of what makes Omega vs. Okada a “six star match”, but the promotion has a much higher barrier for entry, so I don’t blame him for being generally apathetic about their product. I did notice that he enjoyed the juniors matches, so I showed him some work from KUSHIDA, then the famous Ospreay/Ricochet match (which he loved), and slipped in some old school juniors content from guys like Ultimo Dragon, Tajiri, Jushin Thunder Liger, etc.

If anyone is interested in trying to get their friends into pro wrestling, try showing them that Hell in a Cell match. It bridges the gap between reality and fiction for most people who watch it, because as Taylor so correctly pointed out, “you can’t fake being thrown twenty feet through a table”. The trick, once their interested, is to find out what kinds of things they’re into, and mold their journey into wrestling around their interests. For instance, I found that if I turned on a pay-per-view Taylor wouldn’t care, but he really enjoys documentaries, so we’ve been watching through the Monday Night War series on the Network and he’s hooked. We watched all of the Mick Foley documentary and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so attentive to anything.

Over the last few months, a funny thing happened. I had a few friends over to watch the Royal Rumble, and Taylor opted to hang out and glance over whenever anything that interested him popped up. After all the years of wrestling just being “my thing”, I was grateful for even that level of mild curiosity. I had resigned myself to the fact that he may never be a real wrestling fan, but just understanding what made it work, and being open enough to appreciate my passion for it, was much more than I could have ever hopped for.

The Royal Rumble gave him his first real look at characters like Bray Wyatt, Kevin Owens, Charlotte Flair, and of course, the Rumble match itself. As we progressed closer to WrestleMania he would tell me how much he hated Kevin Owens and Bray Wyatt. How he liked TJ Perkins in all the Cruiserweight matches. How he really liked the women’s matches because “they’re good wrestlers that are fun to watch” and “they’re really hot” – it’s not perfect, but I’ll take what I can get. I was surprised when he said that he wasn’t a huge Randy Orton fan, but that he really wanted to see Orton kick Wyatt’s ass.

It was the weirdest thing – we had more and more conversations about the current state of wrestling as we got closer and closer to April. I assumed that when I came back from Orlando I would have to tell him all about the trip, and that we might sit down and watch WrestleMania together; I definitely did not expect him to watch the show without me, as he’s never done that before. But there I was, hosting a party in Orlando the Sunday of WrestleMania, and I get a text from my best friend: “omg John Cena just proposed to Nikki Bella!”

SERIOUSLY!?

Not only did he watch the entirety of WrestleMania on his own, with zero prompting from me, but THAT was the thing he decided to text me about. Freakin’ John Cena and Nikki Bella getting engaged. Needless to say, my mind was in a state of shock.

After I got home from Orlando I told him about my trip, and walked him through some basics of WWE programming. I explained to him about the two shows on Monday and Tuesday, and how the rosters were split up. He wanted to know who was where, because seeing everyone on the same show at WrestleMania was slightly confusing. But then I told him it might not matter, because the “Superstar Shakeup” was coming up in a few days, and it was probably going to shift around a lot of talent between the two shows.

So Monday night rolls around, and I get a call from Taylor on his way home from work. “What are you doing man,” he asks. I tell him I’m watching Monday Night Raw, about fifteen minutes into the show, and that we could watch it together when he got home if he was interested. And so he got home, and we settled in to watch the last two hours of Raw. I figured if the show was good, he might consider watching more of it whenever he was in the mood; if it wasn’t, we could return to our old state of occasionally watching some matches when I was working.

And then Braun Strowman murdered Roman Reigns.

Credit: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

I’ve been a fan of wrestling for twenty years, and that segment had me on the edge of my seat, chest pounding, feeling the anxiety pang through me. Long-time wrestling fans know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s that feeling in the last minute of a tied-up playoff game when your team is on the edge of making it to the finals. It’s that series finale moment when you figure out if the main character lives or dies. It doesn’t happen often in wrestling, but when it does, there’s nothing like it.

When Strowman threw the stretcher off the edge of that platform and Reigns crashed into the floor below – it felt real. When he came back a third time, and lifted an AMBULANCE – it felt real. It didn’t matter that there was probably a truck load of studio magic in place, and that every little thing could be explained; that was a moment that will go down in wrestling history. One we’ll be talking about ten years from now, that will play over and over again on Top 10 lists and random Network collections. I’ve specifically stayed away from articles that explain how it happened, because I don’t want to know. That moment captured us, creating the perfect suspension of disbelief – much like Mick Foley being thrown off the Hell in a Cell – where nothing else mattered except a monster of a man potentially crippling another human being on live television.

This was Taylor’s reaction. I recovered quicker than he did, and managed to take a candid picture of his complete and utter shock.

This was the legitimate reaction by my non-wrestling friend, watching Braun flip a damn ambulance. He’s still sitting here like this. #RAW pic.twitter.com/AFr5go901d

— Mike Killam (@MikeKillam) April 11, 2017

Tuesday night Taylor came home while I was watching Smackdown Live, and wanted to know who had been drafted. And then he said the words I genuinely believed I would never hear come out of his mouth: “I really want to make Monday Night Raw a thing we do on a weekly basis.”

It may have been Mick Foley who first captured the attention of a lifelong sceptic with no interest in professional wrestling, but Braun Strowman turned a fully grown man into a WWE fan on Monday night.

WWE succeeded in producing a moment on Monday Night Raw that took your breath away. A moment that made you think I NEED TO SEE WHAT COMES NEXT. Those are the moments we’ve been missing from wrestling for so long. There have been good matches, and good rivalries between compelling characters. The pay-per-views have always been very solid. But right now, with the “Superstar Shakeup” and the Braun Strowman program, and the idea of fresh rivalries on both brands, they seem to finally be creating television that I need to see live, as it happens. I don’t want to just catch the highlights on YouTube the next day, or skim through the DVR; I want to engage in Monday Night Raw and Smackdown Live for the first time in years.

But more important than myself – a fan of twenty years that is paid to watch these programs – is Taylor. Someone who hasn’t cared about wrestling for the two decades that I’ve known him. Someone that until a few months ago you couldn’t pay to watch wrestling. He’s the target, not me. Not the millions of us that continue to watch no matter how good or bad the product gets. Taylor, the guy who is now counting down the days until he gets to watch Raw and find out what happens next, is the target demographic that WWE is creating moments for. And the more they continue to do that, the more the ratings will go up. The more wrestling fans will be able to sit their friends down and say “watch this”, and create even more new fans. Fans that will pay for tickets to go see them live, or buy a t-shirt, or subscribe to the Network.

I’m normally the first guy to tell you when WWE is doing something wrong. If the show sucks, I’ll tell you it sucks. But today I just wanted to take some time and thank WWE for providing a few amazing moments that have not only connected with me, a lifelong wrestling fan, but that have consumed the interest of my friend. I hope they continue to deliver those moments. The roster is there, the talent is there, and throughout the last few weeks they’ve shown that the creative process is there. I hope they can continue to put those pieces together, because after years of not watching WWE television and drifting away from the show that brought me to the dance all those years ago, it feels good to be “home” as a fan.

After twenty years I can now watching wrestling with my best friend, and that is pretty damn cool.

Thanks for visiting my blog, article above “BRAAUUNN!” How Mick Foley, Braun Strowman & WWE Turned A Lifelong Sceptic Into A Wrestling Fan published at 2uptech.com .

Source : http://www.wrestlezone.com/editorials/828043-braauunn-how-mick-foley-braun-strowman-wwe-turned-a-lifelong-sceptic-into-a-wrestling-fan

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