The End of Secrecy in Wrestling; Openness is the New Normality – by Mike Sanchez

I’m at a point now in my life where I’m beginning to realize that things I took for granted aren’t widely known today. Mainly in regards to words, phrases or things I always thought were common knowledge that today don’t resonate or are unrecognizable to younger people. For example, my kids have no idea how a rotary telephone works and life without the internet seems like the Stone Age to them. Even DVDs are quickly becoming a thing of the past now that we live in a digital age and some old VCR tapes I found in my attic were met by blank stares from my offspring. ‘What are those?’ was probably the question from them that made me realize I’m getting older.

The same can be said for some of the younger generations of wrestling fans. Though I and fans around my age were lucky enough to see the Attitude Era and the best wrestling content at its peak on TV, the same fans sometimes react with a blank stare when you talk about the infamous wrestling term ‘kayfabe’. Now, I’m not going to pretend to be a ‘smart fan’ here and say I know all about the term, but it bears remembering that it was an important tool for a wrestler at one time, in an era when secrecy was the key to success and the difference between making money or not. For those few reading this who don’t know what kayfabe is or was, it was basically protecting the wrestling business by hiding your real life from fans. If you want to know more, Google is your friend.

Times have changed, and it’s safe to say that kayfabe has bitten the dust. Perhaps the final nail in the coffin was the behind the scenes documentary of the Undertaker on the WWE Network – the last superstar who lived his gimmick for the last 30 years and rarely if ever, appeared out of character. The Undertaker also did a lengthy interview with Steve Austin on WWE Network late last year where he let us know more about Mark Calaway’s life as “The Deadman” through his eyes. I fully appreciate the irony of the final nail in the coffin being delivered by a man known as The Undertaker. I make no apologies for it.

The shift in attitude from wrestling stars and the business in general has been widely appreciated by fans around the world. The behind the scenes shows are nothing new and have been a staple of fans for a long time. Speaking personally, I find great interest in hearing the personal side of these people you watch and admire on TV. I started out by purchasing autobiographies and anything wrestling related. I yearned to learn how companies started out and how they continued to put out high-quality content in the competitiveness of the Monday Night Wars. The photo below is some of the collection of wrestling books I currently own, and yes, I’ve read all of them. There were more, but over the years I’ve either donated them or others have borrowed them. My personal favorites being Bret Hart’s and William Regal’s autobiographies.

My willingness to know more led me down the Podcast route. I’m normally not a radio guy as I work in a busy environment, with no time for radio, and my spare time at home is filled with family. However I did have a lengthy commute to work for nine years, so I’d download and listen to Chris Jericho, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and others when travelling to and from work. This then expanded into wrestling-related shows like Solomonster, Wrestling Soup and many more. It got to the point where I didn’t listen to music anymore, but people talking about wrestling. As a fan, I enjoyed it and would subscribe to the podcasts to make sure I didn’t miss a show or guest. These shows provided more opportunities to hear the real side of wrestlers; who they were, where they’d come from and what they’d done to get to where they are now. I would eat it up.

There was an obvious clamor from fans who wanted to see and hear more from wrestlers and to their credit, a lot of wrestlers and federations have embraced this. They see it not only as another opportunity to provide content, but also to allow performers to be more for the audience and allow them to see a more personal side. Documentaries have been around for a long time and not all of them have shown wrestling in a positive light. The infamous ‘Beyond the Mat’ documentary from 20 years ago paved the way for fans to see what really goes on in professional wrestling. Like many others, I watched it several times and gained a new respect for all involved. The whole Mick Foley part with The Rock still resonates with me today.

Beyond the Mat: Ringside Special Edition (1999) - Now Available on DVD Trailer

Fast forward to now, and I’ve been watching a lot of Dark Side of The Ring shows. I haven’t been able to see the Owen Hart one yet (nothing on mainstream TV in the UK at the moment, but have got a few links for other media), but I have caught up with the first season on Vice. The Macho Man doc is probably the best I’ve seen out of those. Programming like these show the tough, raw side of professional wrestling where the glitz and glamour is replaced by pain and angst. The showmanship is removed and the veil of secrecy drawn back and it’s not always pretty to see. It shows these larger than life performers as their real selves and also what their peers thought of them. It’s not the most comfortable viewing, yet remains compelling for fans and non-fans alike.

World Wrestling Entertainment has begun to show a lighter side with their programming. From Total Divas and Total Bellas where the ‘reality’ part is questionable at times, to their Table for Three, WWE: 24, Stone Cold’s Broken Skull Sessions to the recent Undertaker: The Last Ride documentary. The whole notion of secrecy has been turned on its head and openness and accessibility is the new norm. WWE wants you to see the person behind the mask and the wrestlers themselves (for the most part) are happy to take part and divulge their secrets to success and the dues they paid to get to the top.

If this is to be the new normal for professional wrestling, then long may it continue.