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Pro wrestling remains a strange world within a strange world

By John Burbridge

Authors who fancy themselves as “literary” sometimes strive to be difficult to understand yet become infuriated when misunderstood.

Hermann Hesse sure wasn’t out to make things easy for his readers with his seminal work Steppenwolf. But he had less sympathy for reviewers failing to make sense of it all — Hesse reportedly was more incensed by clueless praise than astute criticism.

Readers exhausted by page after page of riddles to solve can become incensed, too, if they feel they’re being punked.

I was about to wade into a third read of Jame Joyce’s Ulysses confident I was getting closer to fully grasping it when I stumbled upon an alleged quote by Joyce gloating “I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant.”

At a more contemporary level, fans of Haruki Murakami are still arguing about what he meant in his magnum opus 1Q84.

The 1,000-plus-page novel is set in a fictional year of 1984 with a parallel “real” one. Or at least that’s how Wikipedia describes it. Even though one of the main characters inadvertently slips through a portal leading to another similar but different world, it’s not a case of “parallel universes” as an enlightened confidante in the story explains — or even as Murakami has pointed out despite the term being used in some English language book-jacket synopses.

Parallel universes — or even multiverses — can be easy to understand even if you’re not Stephen Hawking. If there are multiple universes, the vastness of numbers will determine the chances of one — or more than one — being similar to ours.

What makes the setting(s) in 1Q84 stranger than the strangest of hard-core science fiction is that the worlds depicted somehow overlap yet with only a few residents aware of the duality.

The concept is hard to comprehend, until you consider professional wrestling.

Classified as entertainment rather than sport, pro wrestling projects an alternative world not contained to itself, often spilling into the real world. And vice versa.

And a prime example of a dual-existing character is World Wrestling Entertainment superstar and multiple yet former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar.

After a stellar wrestling career at the University of Minnesota where he was an NCAA champion and runner-up, Lesnar joined the WWE where he promptly won his first heavyweight championship at just 25 years old — the youngest WWE champion ever. Lesnar slipped back into the real world for a short stint with the Minnesota Vikings before becoming a mixed martial arts fighter and winning the UFC heavyweight championship in 2008.

Seamlessly traversing back and forth, Lesnar returned to the WWE in 2012 and has won five more championships.

Other pro wrestlers and MMA fighters have lived if not thrived in both worlds (or universes), sometimes simultaneously.

When the UFC took off earlier this millennium, pro wrestling sustained a market hit with combat sport fans favoring real combat. But pro wrestling — which should be credited for helping the television set become a household item as it provided the cheap entertainment needed to fill the airwaves during the technology’s infancy — continues to be resilient.

As any more-than-casual fan will tell you, pro wrestlers at the pay-per-view caliber are among the most talented “entertainers” in the world when considering the athletic prowess and theatrical chops that are required.

Though matches are usually determined before the opening bell, most are not scripted like many people believe. To script a match would require rehearsal. For pro wrestlers coming up through the ranks and needing to travel across the country for five matches in five nights in five different cities against five different opponents, rehearsals are not practical.

Thus, pro wrestlers must improvise like jazz musicians.

One pro wrestler I interviewed likened it to playing chess on your feet — or on your back — thinking three, four or five moves ahead while hoping your “opponent” is on the same wavelength.

With no live sports to fill up program space as of late, ESPN, Fox Sports and other networks have been replaying WrestleManias, Royal Rumbles and other WWE pay-per-view events while salvaging decent ratings.

One replay was WrestleMania 32, which allegedly drew a record crowd of 101,763 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Tex. during the spring of 2016.

The figure has been disputed, but if anything it outdrew the latest WrestleMania (No. 36) which took place this past weekend over two nights.

Originally scheduled for last Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Fla., WrestleMania 36 was moved to the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, where the organization normally trains prospects.

The two-day attendance grand total, not including participants, “talent” and production personnel, was Zero.

If there is a parallel universe where WrestleMania 36 resets the attendance record — “Ray Jay” has a listed capacity of just under 66,000, but that’s for football — we can only pity the aspiring author who imagines another world where Lesnar loses his WWE title to Drew McIntyre in a nearly empty gym during the main event of what is annually one of the biggest sports and/or entertainment spectacles on the planet, and has the nerve to pitch this dystopian manuscript to a publisher.

The rejection could only be SmackDown-like: Pro wrestling may be fake, fiction may reserve the right to be incomprehensible … but this is ridiculous.