Yesterday I was looking at Monday night's WWE fight between Sheamus and Jinder Mahal. I like both wrestlers, especially Sheamus, and if I still had a cable TV connection, I would be tempted to watch the WWE shows to see gods like Sheamus and Morrison and Punk do their stuff. Now I rely on internet videos and DVDs, so I can fast-forward through the mountains of promos and commentators who want to make the show all about them. (Nowadays the truism among wrestlers is that cutting promos is a good two-thirds of the job of pro wrestling. In the near future, ringside commentators will be the stars of the show.) The YouTube clip I watched of Sheamus-vs-Mahal lasted four and a half minutes. More than half that time was spent replaying last Friday's rapidly edited showdown between the two and close-ups of fierce glowering by Sheamus alone in the ring. Less than two minutes of wrestling, by my clock--and if I had wanted to make the effort of a third viewing, I might have been able to excise the pregnant pauses from the count and wind up with as little as, let's say, an even minute of actual moves and holds.
Here are Kevin Von Erich (in a rare appearance in footwear) and Jim Nelson. This was in August of 1981. It used to be that wrestlers grabbed hold of each other and would not let go, unless an opponent forcefully freed himself or the referee called for the break. Maintaining a long, tight, and controlling hold on an opponent used to be the point of wrestling. (Back then the truism was that working your man on the ground was a good two-thirds of the job of pro wrestling.) Sometimes wrestlers climbed the ropes and "flew," but such moves were climactic--the punctuation of highly charged drama and emotion, like an exclamation point. Sometimes, but not often--because to emphasize everything, when everything is a climax, when everything is in large block letters, means there really is no emphasis. Sometimes wrestlers threw punches--when tempers flared, for instance, but not often: they were wrestlers--the more colorful among them were rasslers--not boxers, not mm artists. In wrestling, the goal is to get in tight on your opponent, wrap him up, using only your limbs and superior knowledge of holds, and either pin him or make him cry uncle. It used to be that wrestlers wrestled for thirty minutes, with minimal time at the microphone (before Vince McMahon bankrolled the era of "talkies" to pro wrestling), only four or five minutes in TV matches, to accommodate the program's sponsors, yet still more than twice the time Sheamus spent wrestling Monday night. Once upon a time, wrestlers wrestled down on the canvassed ring floor--or, again rarely, the hard concrete of the stadium--clutching, twisting, wringing, squeezing, and bearing down on an opponent, breaking a sweat. I hate to lose myself in nostalgia, but those were the days of gods and heroes.