By Commissioner Mike (CM) Shannon
Just recently, I was asked a very simple question: What does kayfabe mean to you? And to my surprise, it was a very hard question to answer.
Almost immediately, my mind flashed back to the summer of 1994 when the then-WWF came to Manila for Manila Mania, an event headlined by Bret and Owen Hart in a rematch of their classic at Wrestlemania X. The crowd was hot- so hot in fact that people took our seats and we had to watch the rest of the show by standing on the isle.
What really left an impact on me was the presence of the Undertaker. On the weeks leading to the show, I found myself frightened at the thought of seeing the Undertaker and Paul Bearer. Somehow, in my mind, I worried I might have done something bad that when the show was over, he would certainly creep into my room and take me to the crypt.
And then it happened… There I was, perched on my dad’s arms when the lights went off, the crowd hushed and not a moment later, the iconic “dong” of his entrance music hit the Araneta Coliseum. The crowd erupted as the Undertaker and Paul Bearer made their way to the ring. The electricity was deafening and I was scared. I tried to look but when I saw that cowboy hat eerily creeping closer and closer, I broke into tears and buried my face on my dad’s shoulder.
“Look, it’s the Undertaker!” my Dad said.
I kept crying and I couldn’t stop. In fact, I spent the whole match crying in his shoulder.
Now, I could easily be a smark ass and hate on my 5-year-old self for not watching the match. But at the same time, I can look back at myself and proudly think, “I was so invested and I was such a mark that the Undertaker actually SCARED me!”.
I GOT WORKED AND IT WAS BEAUTIFUL!
Flash-forward Twelve Years Later
It took the WWE eleven years to come back to the Philippines, and when they did, they did not disappoint. In the middle of the infamous Peninsula siege of 2006, just as the country was on the verge of military lockdown, the WWE went ahead with their set of back-to-back shows.
By then, I was 17-years-old, and I was somewhat dissatisfied with the product at the time that I turned to tape-trading to fulfill my needs. But even with all that, there was an electric purity to the entire event that you don’t often get.
The show started off with a one-on-one between Eugene and Snitsky and if there’s anything I remember most, it’s how fans popped at the simplest things:
Bodyslam? Bigger pop!
By the time Eugene hit the sleeper hold, I could have sworn the fans were gonna blow the roof off the arena. We were so deprived of live wrestling that the smallest things actually meant something.
Sure, I could go on about how awesome it was to see RVD in person or how Triple H vs. Big Show was the best match of the night. But seeing a sleeper hold warrant such an intense, emotional reaction made me realize how hungry we really were for live wrestling.
Where are We Now?
Kayfabe in the 21st century is so hard to define because it means so many different things to so many different people. A term that once fiercely protected the business and encapsulated many of its esoteric traditions is now used as a mere plot device to keep a feud going on social media. But then again, it is understandable…
In today’s world, wrestling is prominently covered by sports and entertainment outlets, including ESPN and Rolling Stone- which, if anyone remembers, was almost unheard of 10-15 years ago. The public perception around wrestling has changed. Mainstream audiences accept it for what it is, and that’s huge.
15 years ago, many fans were still trying to process the very concept of wrestling and there was hostility. It was hard for people to give into the suspension of disbelief when, for better or worse, the business had spent decades lying to its audience.
That trust took a long time to gain back, but here we are- wrestling fans with a concept that begs to be defined by the changing attitudes of the 21st century.
A Most Beautiful Thing
As I sit on a quiet weekend afternoon, I sip tequila and look at my WWE action figures while I try to answer the question for myself and myself only… The veil has been lifted, and there is a weird balance promoters everywhere are trying to find. Because the fans want to know everything, but they also want to lose themselves in the moment.
It’s up to promoters to remain true to the traditions of the business, while adapting to the modern logic and the natural trend of the times. But most importantly, for fans, workers, and promoters alike, I think everyone has to remember what it’s like to be a mark and cherish that.
Everyone involved in the business today started off as a passionate mark who wanted to believe in this grand, limitless universe bound together by what is arguably the most refined variant of the oldest sport in the world.
In short: being a wrestling mark is a beautiful thing.
At the age of five, I believed in the darkness of the Undertaker. When I was sixteen, I understood the magick of the Undertaker. And as I approach my thirties, having spent a significant chunk of my adult life involved in the industry, I still believe in the darkness. It doesn’t scare me the way it used to, but I can’t say that I’m not attracted to its allure and danger.
Knowing what I know, I think I’m at the best age to really appreciate wrestling as a mark.