Wrestler fights the current

All the world’s a stage and all the men and women in the ring merely wrestlers. When it comes to pro-wrestling it’s no holds barred and it’s all in good entertainment.

It was the form of entertainment in the late 80s to mid 90s, until a vast decline from its golden age heyday in the early 2000s. Today wrestling seems more like a back-alley whisper than the crowd-roaring event it used to be. But like the men and women roped in the ring, pro wrestling is struggling to keep a firm grip on its salad days and transition back into the limelight of mainstream culture.

“It was the hottest thing going on at the time,” said Sonjay Dutt, independent pro wrestler and former TNA eventer. “A couple years after that, the popularity kind of died down. I guess it’s kind of still like that now.”

Dutt, 28, started wrestling at the turn of the century, spending over six years contracted by Total Nonstop Action (TNA) which guaranteed him televised matches and a place under the spotlight—including a video game version of himself in TNA Impact! released for Playstation, Xbox and Wii.

The American based wrestler—also known as the Original Playa from the Himalaya—has been freelancing ever since, and most recently headlined a Toronto event with a few local wrestlers at the Hangar in Downsview Park.

The event took place in a ring erected in a gutted workshop that once housed aircrafts in need of repair. Bleacher-style seating provided wide-eyed children in luchador masks a vantage point from which to anxiously await the entrance of their superhero wrestler. Apart from the scanty audience of around 100, it wasn’t very different from what a match would have appeared like 20 years ago.

At its height, pro wrestling produced many long-remembered performers, many of whom would be perfect contenders for a where-are-they-now television special. There’s reality TV star Hulk Hogan, former Minnesota governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura, popular actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and actor “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Their gimmicks become the sort of typecast that either hurt or hinder their future careers. But for guys like these, they’ve been able to use their fame to build a career outside the ring, only to later shed their wrestling image.

It’s sometimes difficult to tell where the persona ends and the sports-entertainer begins. The fourth wall tumbled many years ago when spectators learned the trade secrets of pro wrestling—the outcome is rigged and the fighters were actually gimmicks. But that hasn’t put much of a damper on it—at least not prior to the early 2000s which many consider the time that pro wrestling exited mainstream culture.

Despite its mainstream exodus, there is still a huge culture of wrestling worldwide, the largest of which is based in the United States under the arms of World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.(formerly known as the World Wrestling Federation)—a multi-million dollar sport-entertainment company which has been billing some of the biggest names in the game since it was founded in 1952. WWE’s presence helped spawn other companies including TNA, which engaged younger wrestlers and reached their target audience of 18 to 25 year-olds—a group that pro wrestling had fallen out of favour with.

According to Rob Fuego, former pro wrestler and head trainer at Squared Circle Training, wrestling died down towards the 90s when the younger audience which it drew in the 80s started to grow up and shy away from the PG-rated performances. “It [started to cater to] the older crowd,” said Fuego. “It became a little more sexy and little more violent. Now they’re going back to the PG rating to get the kids back in.”

“I don’t think it’ll ever get as big as it was. Unless someone comes around that’s a huge star that appeals to everybody.”

Fuego believes the onset of internet which moved audiences from the television to their computers, and the popularity of reality TV that has shed light on the unreality of it all, can be partly to blame for the dissipation of wrestling.

What may have brought new attention to wrestling, and somewhat of a temporary resurgence in popularity, is The Wrestler, an Oscar-nominated film starring Mickey Rourke, which depicts the way the cookie crumbles for many wrestlers who have been in the game for most of their lives.

“[It’s] realistic for a lot of the old timers that wrestled for many years,” Dutt said. “Once they get that last pennant they don’t know where to go from there, there is no other avenue for them to make a living. After wrestling for so many years it’s hard to transition to a nine to five.”

The film brought attention to the harsh realities of wrestling: it takes a tremendous toll on their physical health, doesn’t exactly offer job security and when injuries happen, can leave a wrestler unskilled and unadjusted to real life. “It’s a tough life,” added Dutt. “Wrestling can either be really good to you or really bad to you. At the same time it can take everything out of you and chew you up and spit you out.”

Dutt, like many others, would perform in sequential matches night after night, travel for days on end and be left with little recovery time before he’s back on the road for another set of shows. “Everything piles on,” added Dutt. “At the same time, you love it so much that you look past that.”

“I bought a house, feed my family, make a living from wrestling,” Dutt said. “It’s the only life I’ve known, it’s the only life I would want to lead. I’ve had so many advantages with wrestling that I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon. ”

Unlike the majority of wrestlers, Dutt was able to turn his love for wrestling into a successful career, but because of its unpredictability (and the push of his parents who favoured education) he obtained a bachelors degree in communications with a concentration in public relations from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virgina. Should his time come to leave the road less travelled and walk the nine to five path, his education would provide him with a reserve of opportunity.

Until then, Dutt is sticking with performing; with his swift moves and acrobatic style, he still has a lot of kick left. “It’s my job, it’s my passion.”

With a consistent fanbase, and movies such as The Wrestler breathing new life into the sport, perhaps Dutt can continue living his dream and remain in the game long past his prime.

(Follow Sonjay on: twitter.com/sonjaydutterson)


Indo-Caribbean World, February 16, 2011


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: