Pro wrestling goes way beyond just WWE. Free use photo by Anton Jackson on Flickr.

Professional wrestling. Those two words mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. As I begin to roll out weekly wrestling content for The Painted Lines, I think it’s important to understand my journey through professional wrestling as a fan.

The Early Days

Like many fans of wrestling, my fandom started at a very young age. While my parents were working or were out for a date night, my babysitter would always watch wrestling with me. Four-year-old Matt would dive off the couch like Randy Savage, do the Ultimate Warrior running splash on my pillow, I would even jump around like Earthquake. From there, my love continued to grow. By the time I was ten and my brother was seven, the wrestling matches began. For the next decade we would watch our favorites and use their moves to put on our own match. We would always use my parents’ bed since it was the biggest bed in the house. No 5-star classics, but we had fun and we truly believed we could be the next big stars.

By the time we were teenagers, it was the time for ECW, the Monday Night Wars, and the attitude era. Our matches started incorporating cardboard boxes, aluminum serving pans and trays, and other random objects we would find in our travels. We made sure to set up two TVs every Monday night so that we could watch Raw and Nitro at the same time, scared of missing even one second. Our parents knew to never schedule anything on Monday night because wrestling came first. We tried to make it out to a live show every year when WWF and WCW would come through the Philadelphia area. We got all the PPVs, we got all the magazines, we couldn’t consume enough wrestling.

The Down Years

Following WWEs purchase of WCW, things started to change. My brother and I started to change as people and as wrestling fans. The things that we once enjoyed seemed to have subsided and the Monday Night Wars that brought us close together were no longer there for us. ECW was gone. The independents were barren in 2002.

We both pretty much gave up on wrestling for the next three years. It didn’t excite us, it didn’t surprise us, and it didn’t have the same effect. After watching wrestling every single week for the previous 12 years, it was no longer a priority and we lost that connection.

The Turning Point

On August 7, 2004, a couple months after I graduated from high school, my brother got a call from a friend of his who told him that he had two extra tickets to see a wrestling show by a company called Ring of Honor. My brother asked me if I wanted to go, and truth be told I remember not really wanting to go, but I figured I’d give it a shot. It was my first independent wrestling show. On the card that night was a literal who’s who: Nigel McGuinness, Roderick Strong, BJ Whitmer, Alex Shelley, Jay Lethal, Too Cold Scorpio, The Brisoces, Homicide, Low Ki, Rocky Romero, CM Punk, Colt Cabana, Samoa Joe, Austin Aries and Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan). I had no idea just how special this was, and looking back, I am in shock. This was the show that reignited my love for wrestling.

I started posting on the ROH message board, buying the DVDs so I could watch every show and keep up with the product, and I started learning about all the wrestling I was missing out on. I learned about Japanese wrestlers and Japanese promotions. While in college I would spend entire weekends watching Misawa, Kawada, Kobashi, Taue, and Akiyama. It was wrestling like I had never seen it before. Like many wrestling fans, I was met with disdain and ridicule for watching something as “fake” as wrestling. Every time someone said those words, I genuinely wanted to powerbomb them to see if it felt fake. Most of my friends did not care about wrestling at all and quite frankly, I was OK with that. I liked what I liked, and no one was going to change that.

Here We Are

I could go on for pages and pages getting us to the present, but I am going to fast-forward to the present day. I follow at least 15 promotions around the world, and I keep my eye on WWE, however, my focus on WWE has dropped considerably. Some of my favorites of all time are currently in WWE, but I can only be bothered to watch NXT Takeovers and major PPVs at this point. For someone who watched just about every episode of RAW to quit on WWE TV altogether about six months ago was a big deal to me.

WWE has become the ex-significant other. The one that was your first love and even though it’s bad for you, you can’t help but keep tabs on them. Japanese wrestling has become the one you are super attracted to but know deep down they’re out of your league and you can’t keep up. Independent wrestling is the one that you know you should probably be with, but you talk yourself out of it repeatedly. Lastly, AEW is the one that gets you over your messy breakup and makes you believe the world isn’t so bad after all.

I have been following AEW since its genesis, a Twitter battle between renowned wrestling personality, Dave Meltzer, and AEW Executive Vice President Cody Rhodes. I’ve followed the Young Bucks popular web series, Being the Elite, since the very beginning. This is clearly the dawn of a new era of wrestling and the possibilities are endless. There will be plenty more content to come regarding AEW and the wrestling world, but for now I’m just happy that wrestling is cool again and I can enjoy it like a kid.