7 Things You Didn’t Know About the WWE Returning to Honolulu
See your favorite wrestlers at WWE Live on Wednesday, June 29 at the Blaisdell Arena.
PHOTOs: COURTESY OF BLAISDELL CENTER
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson enters the wrestling ring to the deafening cheers of 7,500 fans. The wrestling legend-turned-Hollywood star flashes a wide smile and waits out the familiar chants of “Rocky! Rocky! Rocky!” Raising his famous eyebrow, he bellows, “Finally … the WWE … has come back … to Honolulu!”
Hey, it could happen. In the fantasy world of professional wrestling, anything can happen.
Johnson, who lived in Hawai‘i for a brief time (he attended McKinley High School as a sophomore), isn’t likely to appear at Wednesday’s sold-out World Wrestling Entertainment show at the Blaisdell. But that won’t damper the enthusiasm of Hawai‘i’s wrestling fans attending the event. What matters is that, yes, seven long years after the last Honolulu show, the WWE is finally back in town.
Why the big fuss? Hawai‘i loves wrestling. Here are five things you should know about the WWE and today’s professional wrestling scene:
1. THE WWE IS KING
Once upon a time, American pro wrestling consisted of a smattering of territories spread across the United States. Promoters took care not to encroach on each other’s turf, and wrestlers would hop from one territory to the next, keeping their characters fresh and marketable.
That all changed in the early 1980s, when WWE owner Vincent K. McMahon decided to transform his company into a nationwide brand. Using cable television to expand the WWE’s presence, McMahon began pilfering all the top stars from competing promotions. Bringing in Hulk Hogan (real name Terry Bollea) led to “Hulkamania” and launched the WWE into a global phenomenon.
Today, the WWE is a public traded company and dominates the pro wrestling industry. WWE programming reaches more than 650 million homes worldwide in 25 languages. Its online subscription service (the WWE Network) is available in more than 180 countries. In 2015, the company brought in more than $658 million in revenues.
2. IT GETS INTENSE
Just as basketball evolved from the two-handed set shot to rim-rattling dunks, pro wrestling has changed with the times. While ring warriors of years past utilized a variety of mat-based holds, today’s generation of grapplers often perform high-risk, gravity-defying aerial maneuvers—a wrestler leaping over the ring ropes and onto his opponent on the floor is almost commonplace at every show. Here’s a YouTube video of some of the WWE’s craziest aerial moves.
3. IT’S AN INTERNATIONAL PHENOMENON
Sometimes things can get a little extreme. In the WWE, wrestlers occasionally get body-slammed onto hundreds of thumbtacks spread across the mat, get hit with metal chairs, crash through wooden tables, get tossed off 15-foot-high ladders and get pulverized by baseball bats wrapped in barbed wire. Some promotions, particularly those in Japan, ratchet up the violence to jaw-dropping levels.
4. WOMEN WRESTLERS DON’T JUST RIP COSTUMES
There’s one more notable difference between pro wrestling eras past and present: female performers. Up until the 1990s, women’s matches were regarded only as an occasional special attraction. The WWE’s female stars were known as Divas, and they’d wrestle in gimmick matches such as the “Evening Gown Match,” where the object is to strip your opponent down to her undies.
Not anymore. Today, the WWE’s Women’s Division is much more than eye candy. The women are strong and athletic, and their matches are a regular part of the company’s shows. Their current champion, Charlotte, is among the WWE superstars slated to appear on Wednesday’s show.
5. IT’S ENTERTAINMENT
Old-time wrestling fans don’t like it, but the WWE rarely uses the term “wrestling” anymore. Instead, they promote their product as “sports entertainment.” Today’s WWE is similar to a Broadway production, with drama, comedy, music, costumes and stage effects. Every WWE performer has his or own entrance music and video introductions. The company even has its own film division (WWE Studios).
6. THE SECRET’S OUT
Until the 1980s, pro wrestling was a closely guarded fraternity, and great care was taken to preserve the “realism” of the matches and feuds. Portraying everything as real or authentic instead of performance hype was dubbed “kayfabe.” Well, kayfabe today is essentially gone.
WWE stars appear as their real personas on late-night talk shows and news programs. Sixteen-time WWE champ John Cena has co-hosted The Today Show. And wrestlers past and present have penned kayfabe-busting tell-alls detailing their lives in and out of the squared circle.
Today’s wrestling fan knows that the matches are scripted, and that’s OK. But don’t ever say the F-word to a pro wrestler.
“Yeah. Fake. Everybody says pro wrestling is fake,” says veteran local wrestler Edwin Flores, who goes by the stage name of Kaimana. “In the old days, if someone said that to a wrestler, he’d get choked out. Granted, we do know the outcome. But what happens to get to that point is up to us. We do get hurt. I’m never 100 percent when I’m in the ring. I always have aches and pains.”
7. HAWAI‘I LOVES PRO WRESTLING
“Hawai‘i and pro wrestling have been tied together for decades,” says Daryl Bonilla, owner of Action Zone Wrestling, Hawai‘i’s only wrestling promotion. “There’s a long history of top-notch wrestling here that people still fondly hold on to. It’s been passed on through generations, and it’s still something that the entire family can enjoy.”
And AZW holds monthly shows at the Waipahu Filipino Community Center. Several wrestlers who have performed in AZW are now in the WWE, including main event star A.J. Styles.
Among AZW’s loyal fan base is Kemamo Ho, a longtime wrestling fan.
“I remember watching Wrestling Hawai‘i on TV every Friday night with my Tutu in the late 1970s, early 1980s,” says Ho. “To me, pro wrestling is sports entertainment, with colorful characters—from good guys to bad guys to unusual guys. I love that I can be a part of wrestling events. I put on my favorite wrestling T-shirt and enjoy the show.”
WWE Live takes place tomorrow, June 29, at the Blaisdell Arena. See the featured superstars at wwe.com/wwe-live-honolulu.