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Sermon on the Mat (June 25, 2020): I love pro wrestling, but pro wrestling doesn’t love me back

Welcome back to the Sermon on the Mat, where we’re doing things a bit differently this week, because I am having a lot of feelings and I would like to share them with you, friends.

Let’s rewind, shall we?

Back to the fall of 2015, when yours truly was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and... no, that’s not right at all. In the fall of 2015 I was sad, repressed, and felt like I had no future.

What I did have was pro wrestling.

More specifically, I had Evolve. Not the sad WWE affiliate full of Performance Center trainees of the past year or so, but I had the real Evolve, firing on all cylinders, the place for technical wrestling in the United States. It was like catnip for me, the inarguable best weekend of every month.

And that fall, Evolve would lead me to writing.

I never wanted to be a writer. I call myself a blogger if pressed, and I hate when folks try to refer to me as a journalist. I am what I’ve always been, just a girl who wants everybody to love pro wrestling as much as she does. A hype woman, or, if you want to be less charitable, a shill. That’s me.

It’s a job that nobody has ever done better than Stan Lee, and I have, since I first put fingers to keyboard, deliberately (if crudely, at times) patterned my patter after The Man’s work. Sermon on the Mat has, since inception, been intended to be my own version of Stan’s Soapbox, more scattered in approach, but in intent, the same— no critical views, no negativity, just hype.

Except there’s one problem with that. Pro wrestling has always been a carny, sleazy business, one that every fan, sooner or later, has to have a reckoning with the true nature of and decide whether or not they can continue to support it. The conclusion I’ve come to time and again is that I’ll keep it positive, and if I feel I can’t support a given wrestler or promotion, well, I can just choose to not hype them, right?

That’s a tenable solution when the sleaze comes out in fits and starts, but when we have a week that pulls the curtain all the way back the way #SpeakingOut has, well... it’s a lot harder to summon up the energy to do my due diligence in order to avoid accidentally endorsing something I’d rather not.

I started writing to share my love for Evolve, and now Evolve is dead.

Evolve had been on a steady downward spiral ever since Drew McIntyre got signed to WWE while he was in the middle of leading an anti-WWE faction, and it had only gotten worse as the working relationship deepened. I stopped caring about Evolve, being honest, when Darby Allin failed to win the championship from Austin Theory last spring, so the end feels like a mercy, in a lot of ways.

It’s hard for me to process, really. Even though the Evolve I loved has been gone for a long time, Evolve started me on this journey, and writing about pro wrestling has changed my life. Writing has been my first and only real job, and it’s seen me through from the sad, lonely repressed days to coming out and being the woman I always wanted to be.

How do you deal with losing something that had once been so important to you?

Let’s go a little bit earlier in my personal timeline.

Chikara was my first indie wrestling love. Even before I started watching WWE again in 2010, I would read about Chikara and think about how it seemed like the perfect jumping on point for a closeted queer nerd in her 20s to get back into pro wrestling. I didn’t have the budget for DVDs, so I followed Chikara from a distance.

I’ve never followed Chikara show to show, but when I could dip in, I did. I bought every iPPV from High Noon on, and eventually when they started showing up on streaming services I’d check in on live shows, and it felt like seeing old friends, cozy and warm.

Because of that, when I moved to Philadelphia last year to carve out a life with the woman I love, I hoped that life would eventually include Chikara. With their family-friendly atmosphere and strong commitment to having women and nonbinary talent on the roster, it seemed a beacon of positivity and acceptance. Now, I’m not so sure.

I love pro wrestling from the bottom of my heart, deep and true, but pro wrestling doesn’t love me back.

I’m not giving up, though, and this certainly isn’t the end of Sermon on the Mat.

I still believe the words I end every week’s edition with— There’s a pro wrestling product that can hit you in the right spot and make you love wrestling like you thought you’d never be able to love it again. It might not exist right now, it might need to be built from the bones and ash of what exists now, but it can exist and it’s up to us to build it.

Next week we’ll be back with more freebies and maybe even an upcoming show or two, as wrestling slowly comes back to life. I have no doubt that some of these matches will feature terrible human beings— wrestling will continue as it ever has, hopefully cleaned up and better than it was, but the arc of progress is long and it bends slowly. Results take time and effort, and cracks will be slipped through.

In the meantime, I leave you with the greatest wisdom I know: Be excellent to each other.

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