Photo by Love Joy Zenarosa

How Pro Wrestling Can Make You a Better Ilonggo

By joseph batcagan

Filipinos—if we’re to believe popular notions—can’t appreciate irony. We almost always tend to take something presented to us at face value as “genuine”. Ever wonder why some people in social media nowadays are just content at out-hoaxing each other with even more ridiculous claims? Exactly.

This anger at getting fooled unfortunately extends to the one medium that was also popular with Pinoy pop culture once: pro wrestling. It’s certainly odd to see, in my experience, that people I know who find wrestling absurd today are those who embraced it completely as fans when they’re younger. And really, who can blame them? Once the curtain was jerked and they discovered that the heroes they rooted for don’t actually kick bad-guy ass for real, I guess they’d find it hard to enjoy pro wrestling on its own merit. Consequently, I think that’s one’s risking social truancy by admitting oneself a pro wrestling fan—which I’m now doing right here, if the title above wasn’t obvious enough. So God help me.

However, if there’s only one event in the year where being a pro wrestling fan can be deemed as at least “socially acceptable”, then it’s during WWE’s annual ‘WrestleMania’ event, with the latest edition taking place this April 3rd. If you’ve no idea what WM is, then here’s the elevator pitch: it’s a celebration of all things people enjoy about pro wrestling—it’s not called the “Super Bowl” of pro wrestling, for nothing—and it’s probably the closest Pinoy wrestling fans have to their very own Misa de Gallo. And for “closeted” fans like me who have been sorta-privileged to write on a public platform like Project Iloilo, this gives me the excuse of selling to you the merits of what’s obviously an un-Ilonggo culture.

But then again, it’s pro wrestling’s “un-Ilonggoness” that makes it a perfect topic for this space. Just like in all guises of art, there’s so much truth to be gleaned from it that goes beyond abusing steroids, performing piledrivers without breaking necks, or looking like a Greek god or goddess. Pro wrestling may be weird, yet it has anchoring tenets that, when re-appropriated in reality, sounds practical. Yes, I’m totally serious; I’m even applying a few of its concepts to how I live as I write this.

So, if I somehow didn’t lose you up to this paragraph, then I hope you’re still willing to stick around! It may be hard to grapple (Hey, I made a pun!) on pro wrestling’s “relatability” to your life as an Ilonggo, but if I was able to find a few life lessons because of a fake sport, then I’m sure you could do, too! So, here are some common pro wrestling concepts below that I’m confident you can apply to everyday living!

Talk loud and with a big stick

Truthful or not, this is the one trait that has always defined Ilonggos: we’re a reserved lot. Many even say malambing, to a fault. Of course, this is a stereotype that many of us are proud to trumpet but when it manifests itself in highly specific circumstances—like during the times when we just want to keep quiet instead of speaking out just so we won’t be the center of attention and won’t have to argue ourselves till our laways dry—then I believe that quality could also be detrimental.

There’s always a semblance of self-consciousness at play when we speak in public. However, when applied to our culture, it almost always takes on an overbearing feature. Here’s why I wrote that: I knew one small-business owner who declined to be featured on a national TV show just because that person feared that his/her English and Tagalog verbal skills aren’t good enough and to do so would risk exposing his/her Hiligaynon accent. While that didn’t affect that owner’s business too badly, imagine how much bucketloads of free publicity that person willingly passed on… and all for the sake of not getting embarrassed on TV.

Of course, this fear of speaking is deep-rooted: the concept of huya is so strong that we think only extroverted types can stand and talk. On the other hand, the tendency for most BPOs and language centers to prioritize “neutral” (read: American-sounding) English speakers forces many of the local workforce to learn a skill that, frankly, is only feasible to a few people with the capacity to adapt verbally.

Well, if that’s the case, then all you have to do is to hear the Ultimate Warrior talk:

Warrior’s speech wasn’t totally incomprehensible, but the way he pronounced his words—each one very carefully, and with forced emphasis—sounded, dare I say it, charmingly Filipino in its own right.

Hulk Hogan’s ‘80s speeches, on the other hand, was more comprehensible. However, his bombastic delivery means that he would ALWAYS have the rest of the room turning to look at him when he spoke. But hey, Hogan don’t care; as long as he told kids to say their prayers and eat their vitamins, then everything was right with the Free World:

If you’re like me who grew up watching the outsized (both literally and figuratively) wrestlers from WWE’s ‘Attitude Era’, then you could probably recite The Rock’s and Stone Cold Steve Austin’s “If you smell” and “Because Stone Cold said so” catchphrases. Personally, I went back to following pro wrestling after a post-college hiatus because—no surprise—of this pro wrestler’s speech below:

What do their speeches and catchphrases above have in common except for their varying levels of enunciation or crassness? Well, it’s simple: unlike our local politicians, they don’t bother to address their audiences with multiple honorifics or even make the mistake of (subtly, but not obviously) pandering to them. They simply delivered their messages in the ways they knew how, and they just let the crowd react accordingly to what they’re saying.

Pro wrestling is a medium that’s more than just watching two wrestlers fake-grapple each other. The most effective stories told in the ring are those that feel real. For pro wrestlers, they can “sell” (more on that below!) their stories better through lots and lots of talking—even if, just like Warrior or Hogan above, about half of it doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Finally, if you want more reason to believe that it really doesn’t matter what your accent sounds as long as you believe in what you’re speaking, then all you need to do is to look at Ultimate Fighting Championship superstar Conor McGregor: not only does the verbal trashing of his opponents eerily sound pro wrestling-esque in its braggadocio, but it genuinely seemed like he doesn’t give a hoot on adjusting the “thickness” of his Irish accent for audiences who are otherwise unaccustomed to it.

Hey, if the world found Manny Pacquiao’s Visayan English to be charming, then you needn’t worry about even adhering to the basic rules of English. People will respond to you if it’s apparent that you REALLY believe in what you’re speaking, and that’s the bottom line because Stone Cold said so.

Putting people “over”

Here’s one thing about pro wrestling that casual audiences often miss: if it seems like one wrestler’s “offense” looks painful, then you have his or her opponent to thank for it. As much as pro wrestling matches rely on its performers to inflict the least amount of (real) pain to each other, the impetus also falls on the involved competitors to make sure that if they do get “hit”, they really have to make it look very, veeerrrry painful.

That particular technique is called ‘selling’, and it’s supposed to add context to a match. Not only does selling convey to the audience that a certain wrestler’s move is effective, but it also paints their respective opponents as legitimate threats. So, it should come as no surprise that a wrestler who knows how to sell an opponent’s move is frequently painted as an “asset” to a promotion. Indeed, selling is so essential to pro wrestling that a documentary was even based on that concept.

Selling, furthermore, also adds to another important facet of pro wrestling: a wrestler having to get an opponent “over”. Since we’re already getting jargon-heavy, I’ll just quote the definition from Grantland’s ‘Dictionary: Pro Wrestling Edition’ below:

over (adj.) — Popular with the fans. Getting over is the act of becoming popular or making fans care. Related: going over, which is the act of winning a match; and putting over, which usually refers to a wrestler making his opponent look good in the ring (“the Russian put Joe over”) or a company deciding to make someone a star. In backstage lingo, “put over” has a variety of interrelated uses, but it usually refers to paying someone a compliment, as in, “I put you over to the boss,” or sometimes in the negative as a synonymous phrase for “Don’t get a big head,” as in, “I’m not putting you over, but that match was great.” A popular traveling joke among wrestlers is when one asks the other to check his blind spot by asking, “Can I get over?” to which the other replies, “Depends on who you’re working with.”

Putting someone “over”, in non-wrestling terms, means that you’re willing to forego your ego to credit another person’s hard work. Putting a person “over” means that you know when to cede the spotlight to another who deserves it more than you.

If you want specific examples, then I’ve got a few: if I’ve got a co-worker who did a good job, I’ll sure as hell absolutely let the world know it; if I admire a local artist’s creation or even just his or her work ethic, then I do my darndest to spread nothing but only the “good” word around.

Does it sound like “paying it forward”? Perhaps. Besides, if this informal poll conducted by The Philippine Star painting us Filipinos as merciless gossips is any indication, then I think we do need more instances of putting over people just because… well, it’s just more positive!

If you need some reinforcement on why you should put people over more often, then chew on this: departing or retiring pro wrestlers always make it a point to have themselves lose in their final matches, with the reason behind it being that their “loss” will add legitimacy to the younger generation of wrestlers who have beaten. If an ego-driven business like pro wrestling can have moments of selflessness like these, then surely, we could do the same!

Embrace who you are

No matter how realistic, or even violent, some pro wrestling matches are presented, it will always remain silly. After all, if you just watched pro wrestling for the fighting, then you’ll probably be better served following boxing or MMA instead (and while you’re at it, better check out your local combat sports scene, would you?). Heck, UFC already has its cast of characters that can fit well in the un-real world of pro wrestling like McGregor and “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey. So, what does pro wrestling have that you just can’t get from MMA, boxing, or any other sporting event, for that matter?

Simple: pro wrestling isn’t a “real” sport. Hence, it’s not bound by a set of restrictive rules. In a sense, performers can be who they want to be within the confines of the ring.

Don’t believe me? Well, I’ll use the Attitude Era as another example (I’m really making myself obvious, aren’t I?): for every legit, real-life fighter like Ken Shamrock or Kurt Angle who made their opponents tap out with ankle locks, we’ve got Mankind who used a sock in his hand as a finishing maneuver, or a Rikishi who suffocated his opponents with his butt.

Since we’re a family-friendly website, this Mankind gif is probably more SFW than Rikishi’s. Behold:

At this point, arguing for pro wrestling to be more “believable” is moot. It can be as realistic or as ridiculous as you want it to be; it only needs to find a way to be unique. None evidences this more than, of course, the pro wrestlers themselves.

The best characters from pro wrestling are those people who just portrayed themselves: Stone Cold Steve Austin was a real redneck (who thankfully got more progressive as he got older) who despised authority; The Rock was a conceited jock who referred to himself by always saying “The Rock” instead of “I”; Goldberg was a freakish man-machine who went through pyro and preferred snorting and grunting to speaking, and that’s what he was more comfortable with because of his background as a former American football player who preferred to let his physicality do the talking for him.

Point is, many pro wrestlers come up with characters that are either so self-serious that it’s laughable or so self-aware that they just knowingly wink at the audience. However, what us, as the audience, can’t deny is that the best ones that stand out from the cookie-cutter pack are those who use either their sheer physicality, verbal skills, or that weird charisma of theirs that only they have.

You know, just like this Japanese pro wrestler below who entered the ring dressed up like HiStory-era Michael Jackson:

Would you believe he’s one of the greater stars of pro wrestling today? The fans just can’t point what there is about this guy—or what his finger gestures even mean—but they cheer for him anyway, logic and sense be damned.

So yes, of all the lessons I learned from following pro wrestling, embracing one’s true nature—or as I would like to call it, your inner buki—is the topmost on my personal list. Sure, there will be times when we have to conform to what society expects of us; much more so in the Philippines where almost everyone is defined by the roles they box themselves in, willingly or not.

But you know what? It can be exhausting trying to be “normal” all the time. And really, pro wrestling is one of the one most recognizable art forms I know where deviating from what’s expected isn’t just encouraged, it’s even rewarded!

Of course, there are more concepts you can learn from today’s pro wrestling that mirrors how we’re progressing as a society. Equal rights? Check. DIY entrepreneurship? Check. Inspiring success stories? Oh, there’s plenty more where this one comes from.

It’s surely strange to find life lessons inside pro wrestling—indeed, I never even thought about how much pro wrestling influenced my adult life me up until the time I pitched this topic—but then again, learning can come from just about anywhere, doesn’t it? Mine just happened to involve role models wearing lots of spandex and baby oil.

So, do you think there are more things to learn from pro wrestling that you could apply to your life as an Ilonggo? Suplex away in the comments section below!

Joseph Batcagan is the editor and a writer for Project Iloilo.