The Midnight Experience: A Mission Statement – An Exercise in Passion

Hello and welcome to my new column for Shooting the Sports Ish. I, personally, won’t be doing any weekly recaps any longer, but instead, I will be focusing entirely on this, giving a solid look into what I think about wrestling and my reactions to the major events that occur throughout. I dubbed this column the Midnight Experience for the obvious wrestling references (pun on multiple tag team names) and the truest fact that I live the third shift life of being up most of the wee hours of the night and watching tons of wrestling content without the sun in the sky.

I feel like opening up with an introduction of sorts – some context as to who I am so that the following nonsense that occurs (this column and its following entries) has at least some context. Good luck applying that where necessary.

My name is Dylan Tracy. I currently live in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin, but I used to live in the oil-filled hole in the Midwest (South? Who really knows?) that is Oklahoma. I watched wrestling from a very young age – as far back as I can recall – and I was introduced to the entire wacky world of professional wrestling by my stepfather. He was a Stone Cold fanatic, pushing me to “flip people off” and “say the Austin 3:16 line” to close friends and people for entertainment. This got out of hand when I would just flip off anyone, including random cars in the drive-thru at a taco joint. The curse words are still a problem.

So, what brings me to today’s wrestling? After giving up entirely on wrestling as a whole (since I never really watched indies, TNA, or really anything outside of WWE) after the Summer of Punk and his subsequent firing, I picked things back up only three-ish years ago in 2018, fresh off the heels of the New Japan show Dominion. I was told by a co-worker at the time that Dave Meltzer (a name no wrestling fan that knew of him could really ever forget or forever ignore) broke his scale. I’d known of previous instances where Japan matches had done 6 stars. But when he told me that Kenny Omega, “a Canadian-born wrestler who loves video games and uses a lot of references as part of his move set,” defeated the ace of New Japan – something I had never devoted even minutes of my life, much less the countless hours I’d soon spend – Kazuchika Okada, the Rainmaker, in a seven-star match. It was an unprecedented move in my eyes – the scope of all of this was more than interesting to me.

This video was an experience. I still get goosebumps.

So I found a way to watch the entire Dominion show, and let me tell you… It obviously changed my life. I wouldn’t be writing this or even remotely be the fan of the sport (fight me, I’m calling it a sport) that I am today had I not seen this PPV. To easily identify with something within the first moments of starting the show, (okay, the first match of Despy/Kanemaru vs. Roppongi 3K wasn’t the greatest thing in the world but stay with me) I knew I was hooked. I knew I needed more of this. Luckily, I had literally three more hours of it. And, whoooooooooo, it was a hellacious three hours.

I could go further into what really defined my love for this show (tell me on Twitter [@buffdrinklots] if you’d like me to talk about this show), but the general idea is this – I discovered immediately that I had been watching a form of wrestling that wasn’t important to me. I was watching something I couldn’t relate and grasp onto like I could as a child. There was no feeling except maybe disappointment or disdain for the entire industry after years of stale stories and repeated-to-death feuds. Something clicked finally.

The best way to explain my point is this: I once got a message from my brother, explaining something he heard in a podcast (18:55, if you wanna find it) that features a creator we are both fans of, Super Eyepatch Wolf. He does do some wrestling content on his YouTube (embedded below), but his audience and the majority of his content are there for his anime videos. In this podcast, Wolf explains, among other things, his first experience with NJPW.

“Imagine you had something you loved your entire life… And then one day, you found out that there was just a completely better version of it. In every way. A superior version in every way.

He goes on to explain his feelings with watching Wrestle Kingdom 11 and I felt this. This was an affirmation – someone had felt the exact same way I did about NJPW. And while I wouldn’t exactly devour years and years of history maniacally like a fiend, I did continue to keep up with all the wrestlers, creating a second Twitter account (you guys don’t like weird loud guitar music, it seems) specifically to follow fans and wrestlers and to insulate myself in the Internet Wrestling Community – the most divisive thing I have ever experienced in my life. Politics and religion are tame to me, in comparison.

Straight up, probably my favorite video discussing wrestling on the internet.

So while I am someone that hasn’t been here for 30 years (I’m only 26), nor have I ever been someone to vehemently defend my favorites, or scream at random strangers about how my opinion is somehow more validated than others’ opinions – I am one of the legion. This column is a declaration that I am tired of hiding behind some weird second Twitter gimmick thing; I am tired of feeling like I’m on the outside of the discussion; I am becoming a voice in the chorus. I want to speak and not just recap things.

So where do we go from here? My relationship with wrestling currently is fixated on the Forbidden Door of NJPW & AEW and its hinges being blown off the frame by KENTA in the latest episode of Dynamite. The aspect of those two companies working together is beyond doing literally anything to WWE – it is the pure perspective of the best talents in the world working together. Do I think that Kenny Omega is going to be facing Kota Ibushi in some crazy build to Wrestle Kingdom next year? No. I don’t even think there will be more work done with these two for a while after. The excitement is boiling to an all-new high and spilling the entire pot isn’t going to keep everyone satisfied. But even a Mox vs. KENTA match completely pushed by both companies is just too fun to not be joyful about.

(Edit: This was written before Kazuchika Okada was reportedly announced to come to the US and perform in Impact or AEW. This makes the Forbidden Door very not forbidden any longer. “Forbidden shmurshmidden.”)

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!

And what of wrestling in general? The pandemic era has shifted a lot of perspective away from normalcy, pushing tons of newer stars in many different promotions. Impact, ROH, and the collective of the indies have championed more and more stars-to-be, really giving us a big push for a new era. Even if things are deeply worrying all around and the constant fear of these events making things worse for people are growing more and more every day, companies like AEW and NJPW are making strides in showing the world what wrestling can really be.

WWE has, for far too long, given the American audience a product that continues to go against the grain and deliberately ignores the actual industry, choosing to do their own hybrid brand of sports entertainment. For years, WWE has given us a developmental brand to give us actual wrestling and for too long that expectation for NXT has been too high. Now that it’s up against AEW, less and less eyes are on the “prize” that WWE wants us to be mystified by. We no longer are indebted to them as the only wrestling voice in America. Now, AEW has a seat at that table.

I feel like we’re at a very important time in wrestling – things have been changing at a rapid pace and more and more about this industry is getting better at a fundamental human level. Sure, it’s still a very skewed, if not downright scarred place in history, but taking the last couple of years in context with the grander scheme, wrestling is great right now. We are getting some of the best wrestlers in the world at a level rarely seen before in the middle of a pandemic.

It’s mindblowing on the surface, but even taking in the fact that we’ve been living in a world with Kota Ibushi as a double champ in NJPW, Kenny Omega as a main-belt champ in the US and Mexico, and guys like Drew McIntyre (a man who has deliberately told he’s the future star of the company, was fired, then rose above in a fantastic build) get to run a main-belt in WWE. Sure, we’re still getting Roman Reigns shoved down our throat, but at least he’s finally a persona we can understand.

The independent scene is one of the most interesting and passionate sectors of wrestling, beaming with tons of pride from all kinds of places like Synergy, GCW, ICW, Beyond, and tons of others. Take any one of these promotions and you’ll find some very good wrestling, some very fine entertainment, and a lot more in between. I wish I could watch more and more of it every day because it really does give a lot of more unknown players the time and eyes they deserve. The recent GCW Fight Forever (my favorite match was AJ Gray vs. “Hoodfoot” Mo Atlas) extravaganza was a massive success in terms of not only giving the people what they wanted in every single block but also giving the wrestlers the funds necessary to continue living comfortably in a world where a lot of their bookings and their opportunities have dried up.

And, I will leave with this thought. Women’s wrestling is something that I have been deeply affected by since coming back to wrestling. When I was watching as a kid, it was still PUPPIES!!! and Bra & Panties matches and really, really bad stuff to look back on. Now? It’s a dynamic force that can legitimately make or break a single show. Ask AEW how many fans hit them up on social media after “mishandling the division” every single event. Say enough out loud and they’ll book a giant tournament from two different countries with fan favorites like Yuka Sakazaki and Maki Itoh. WWE has been properly managing and pushing a handful of women – Bianca Belair, Rhea Ripley, Io Shirai, Tegan Nox (can’t wait ‘til she’s healthy again), Dakota Kai, and honestly more than a dozen other women are going to be stars for WWE for the foreseeable future, not to mention the many more names they will add and have added, like Gigi Dolin (Priscilla Kelly) and Cora Jade (Elayna Black). When can you ever look back and say that for them, in particular?

I’ve went back and watched this like a dozen or so times over the past week.

So, hopefully, this was at least a fun experience for you. If you continue to come back for the following entries, I plan to specifically dive into not only the current landscape but also dive into some older stories or promotions I’ve never really got into. The next edition of this column will focus on wrestling video games and the current landscape of what’s around and to come. I hope that you enjoyed this new beginning. And I hope you come to bother me on Twitter since that’s probably your best bet to contact me if you wanna discuss anything. @buffdrinklots is the handle.

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