CFL Smackdown: The intersection of football and WWE fandom

If you were anywhere near social media last night, especially Twitter, you probably noticed a ton of people talking about pro wrestling. Last night was WrestleMania, the granddaddy of them all, and a night that wrestling fans look forward to each year.

If you are reading this you are a CFL fan, and if you are active on social media, you likely follow a lot of your fellow CFL fans. You probably noticed a lot of them were talking about WrestleMania last night. The Venn diagram of CFL fans and Canadian WWE fans would see a lot of overlap. It seems that the fanbases share a lot of the same people in common. Obviously the WWE Universe (the term they use for their fans) is much larger than the CFL one, but plenty of Canadians who enjoy the CFL also enjoy their pro wrestling.

The thing is, it really isn’t all that surprising that both the WWE and CFL pull from the same pool of people. I should know because I am one of those people.

I have been a fan of professional wrestling since before I can remember. My father is the one who reminds me of my first wrestling experience when I was four years old. He said I sat bored until the Hulkster, Hulk Hogan came out and I jumped to my feet. Since then, I have been hooked. I have attended many wrestling shows over the years, including WrestleMania X-8 in Toronto in 2002 and the Royal Rumble in Pittsburgh in 2014. I attended many events at Copps Coliseum and Maple Leaf Gardens as a kid and even got on TV during the then-WWF’s pay-per-view event Breakdown: In Your House that took place at Copps Coliseum. In fact, if you watch the Edge-Owen Hart match, you will see me in all my 16-year-old glory wearing an nWo t-shirt and a dirty Oakland A’s hat, my standard attire back in 1998, as Edge runs through the crowd after the match.

My love for the WWE has been long lasting, just like my love for the CFL, and I am not alone in that regard. People who enjoy both seem to get into it at a young age. It is the childhood interest that never seems to go away. Ask any wrestling fan and they will regale you with a story similar to mine about how they got into it after seeing something spectacular when they were barely out of diapers. The same can be said about CFL fandom. While I was a little bit older — I went to my first game when I was six instead of four — that childhood introduction has stuck with me for nearly 30 years. My story is not that rare. Most fans of the CFL got into at a young age and stick with it through the rest of their life. It is just one of the many overlaps that exist between WWE fans and CFL fans.

Another is that both forms of entertainment are an acquired taste and that has a stigma attached to them. The world of pro wrestling is crazy to an outsider. It is grown men and women with muscles on top of muscles competing in a fight where the outcome is predetermined. At its core, it is really silly. Believe me, I know this. The silliness is part of the fun. But for a while, basically from the end of Hulkamania in the 1980s until the rise of Stone Cold Steve Austin and the nWo in the mid-to-late 1990s, openly admitting you were a wrestling fan would get you mocked, and as a result interest in wrestling was at a low point. The CFL, while clearly not predetermined, suffers from the stigma of not being good enough for its detractors. How often have you heard someone say to you that the CFL sucks and isn’t as good as the NFL? Probably more than you would care to admit. You scoff at that notion, and rightfully so. You know that if the league’s detractors would just watch the game for what it is worth and not compare it to the NFL, you know they would like it. The CFL, much like the WWE, suffered a massive dip in popularity in the 1990s and have only just rebounded, with the CFL being more popular now than really at any other point in my life. Both the WWE and CFL have dealt with incredible highs and terrifying lows in regards to fan interest, with each trying to find their place in the vastly expanding pop culture marketplace.

Another reason why a lot of people seem to be fans of both could be tied to how many former CFL players have become WWE superstars. The man who won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship last night at WrestleMania, Roman Reigns, once played for the Edmonton Eskimos. Another former world champion who once played for the Esks is the late Gene Kiniski, and we all know that Angelo Mosca not only terrorized opponents on the field, but also in the ring for many years as King Kong Mosca. There is also Stu Hart, patriarch of the Hart wrestling dynasty that gave us Bret “Hitman” Hart as well his brother Owen Hart, played for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Funny side note, when Owen made his entrance at the Breakdown pay-per-view in Hamilton that I attended, he came to the ring wearing a Toronto Argonauts jersey. He was booed instantly.

But all of those former CFLers pale in comparison to perhaps one of the most well-known pro wrestlers in history, and now one of the most well-known entertainers in the world, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who once tried out for the Calgary Stampeders in 1995. He even mentioned being cut by the Stamps on an episode of Monday Night Raw back in 2012.

But maybe the biggest similarity is that both feature tremendous athletes that rarely get their due from outsiders. For CFL players, they have to hear about how they aren’t playing in the NFL and therefore must be inferior to the players who have made it down south. The CFL is stacked, and always has been, with tremendous football players who for one reason or another do not get a look from the NFL. But that in no way makes them a lesser player, they just have a skill set better suited to the Canadian brand of football. Pro wrestlers deal with people telling them what they do is “fake” as a way to belittle their in-ring accomplishments. But when you see guys jump of the roof of giant, enclosed cages — like we did last night during the Hell in a Cell match between The Undertaker and Shane McMahon — I defy anyone to not be impressed with the physical toll these men and women put their bodies through.

So to all the non-WWE CFL fans out there, the next time you see your Twitter timeline or Facebook feed flooded with wrestling content during the next big wrestling event, do not panic. You have not friended or followed the wrong people. You have just come to find out what many of us now know: that the WWE and CFL share a lot of Canadian fans.

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