For those who have grown up dreaming of being in the WWE as a superstar, it must feel incredible to realise that dream and to see all your hard work, sacrifice and dedication ultimately get you to where you want to be. Whether they were ‘discovered’ as a youth, scouted through sports or took the long route through the various independent promotions, it’s fair to say that once in WWE, they’re at the pinnacle, the Mecca of professional wrestling. The much-publicised ‘Big Leagues’.
The journey from being the new rookie on the WWE roster to top star, main eventing PPVs and selling merchandise can be a long and arduous one, and not all are successful in that endeavour. There are a select few however, who rise to the top of the mountain and capture gold, are paraded as champions and have their names reported outside of WWE, outside of professional wrestling and into the outside world itself, where non-wrestling fans sit up and take notice.
It’s from these outside sources that people see the star not just as a wrestler, but as a performer, as a well-known personality and a potential money maker. This wasn’t always the case with wrestlers. In years gone by, all it took to be a star was to look good and wrestle well. Granted, promos were important, but they were usually limited to a quick rant into a camera, threatening an opponent, promoting an upcoming event whilst towering over the interviewer. ‘Well, let me tell ya somethin’, Mean Gene.’
The main inspiration for this piece came from a recent interview Chris Jericho did with Dave Bautista on the Talk Is Jericho podcast. Bautista (to give the correct spelling of his name), told us how he enjoyed working in the film industry, screen tests he’d done as well as some stories from co-stars on set. All intriguing, honest and funny. Towards the end of the interview, he reminisced about WWE and to my surprise, said he’d love to come back and work a program with Triple H.
Let’s be honest for a moment here. Dave Bautista had a damn good run as a WWE star. Held titles, wrestled Undertaker at Wrestlemania, was part of Evolution with Flair, Orton and Triple H, and has since found success in Hollywood. That’s not an over exaggeration at all. Yes, he had one line in a Bond movie, but I’d be an extra in Bond for free if it meant getting my face on the big screen. He played an important role in that movie. He’s part of one of the most successful Marvel movie franchises ever with Guardians of the Galaxy and is an integral part of those movies – definitely not a bit-part player. So why on earth would he want to put all that on hold just to come back to WWE where he’d put his body through pain and fatigue all over again? The reasons: You. Me. Us. The WWE Universe. The fans.
Dave says he’d love to work with Triple H again, but is reluctant to go back full-time with WWE purely because of the ‘bullshit’ that comes with working for the company. Indeed, in a televised interview a few years back, when promoting the Bond flick Spectre, he said he’d love to just do house shows. No TV, little scripts (if any), and matches without a complicated backstory. Just two men in a ring surrounded by fans. That’s such a pure view of wrestling. Not interested in the TV or PPV side, just to engage with the fans around the ring. Absorbing the cheers and boos – the thrill of working in front of a live audience.
Bautista isn’t alone in this thinking. For all the success Dwayne Johnson has had in recent years, he always finds himself drawn back to WWE in some form or another. While I don’t think we’ll be seeing his donning trunks anytime soon in the squared circle, he does talk about his time in WWE with a warm fondness that gives the impression he misses being part of the machine in some capacity.
The same can be said about Chris Jericho. The guy has three books out, one more on the way and is a successful singer in the popular band Fozzy. Couple those with his podcast work (he does two new episodes every week), one would think; why does he carry on wrestling? Surely he doesn’t need to? While it may be true he doesn’t need to, I think it’s more because he wants to, and for the same reasons that keep drawing stars back who’ve moved on to bigger and better things – the live audience.
If all this sounds too farfetched, some blissful thinking on my part that these talented athletes actually care about people who’ve paid their hard-earned money to see them, or that they just want to feel the adrenaline rush and thrill that performing in front of a live audience gives, then don’t take my word for it, just see what others had to say:
“When you perform with a live audience, the audience comes back to you, so that you and the audience are giving to each other, in a sense. It’s an extraordinary thing. It’s wild turf up there.” – Al Pacino
“The great thing about a stage is that you have a live audience.” – Hugo Weaving
“Wrestling was like stand-up comedy for me. Every night I had a live audience of 25,000 people to win over. My goal was never to be the loudest or craziest. It was to be the most entertaining.” – Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson
“I’ve never not appeared in front of a live audience for any longer period than a month or two.” – William Shatner
It’s clear to see the allure a live audience has to performers, to entertainers and what are WWE stars if they’re not entertainers? There are those still working for WWE who have dabbled in movies (Miz, Kane, Cena etc.) and if they want to pursue a career in Hollywood and away from professional wrestling, then the best of luck to them. From what has gone before, I would imagine no matter their success, their stardom or their time in the limelight, there will always be a part of them that yearns for the crowd, the audience and the ring, even if it’s just for one last match.
I’d encourage anyone who hasn’t seen Guardians of the Galaxy 2 to do so, if just to see how good Dave Bautista is. I may chew some bubble-gum watch some old movies with wrestlers in tonight. Now, where did I put my copy of Suburban Commando?
Thanks for reading.