Chances are that even if you have never attended a local pro wrestling meet, an idea of what one looks like probably comes to mind. You might imagine a tightly packed room in a small arena or community center. You might think of the sounds, or even the smells that inhabit the space - sweat, beer, hot dogs.
Before the World Wrestling Entertainment rose to prominence, Milwaukee's wrestling scene was strong in the '80s and '90s, according Milwaukee Magazine contributor Rich Rovito. He and Tom Conroy revisited local pro wrestling’s past in Milwaukee and compare it to the state of the spectacle today in this month's Brotherhood of Bruisers article.
In contrast to the dominance of WWE both in known wrestlers and distribution, the local scene is still filled with unique characters - filling the niche that existed 20 years ago before the rise of WWE, Conroy says.
"There's such a difference in experience between going to a WWE show... it's this huge spectacle and that's such a contrast to the almost intimate setting of the VFW Hall in West Allis where there's a hundred people there and they're right there in front of you... It's this interactive experience," he explains.
Wrestling has remained a go-to source for entertainment in Milwaukee, Rovito adds. "It's inexpensive to go to these shows," he says. "There's a great deal of accessibility too; the wrestlers interact with the fans at intermission and before and after the events."
To this day wrestling events remain "quite the spectacle" with loud music, vendors selling figurines and "men of all ages (who are) very, very animated at these events," says Conroy. "I think there are a lot of folks that still truly believe that this is real... They like the term 'scripted' instead of 'fake' and they will argue that the moves are difficult, they're challenging and there are a number of injuries that are suffered."
Whether people believe the sport is "real" or not, Rovito says, there is no doubt that the audience is seeking a unique and entertaining distraction. "Several of the promoters I talked to talked about this as being escapism. It's a way to get away from your day-to-day life, it's good versus evil, and sometimes you're not always rooting for 'good.'"