The sound of clobbering footsteps from the All Elite Wrestling (AEW) mat fills the bright lime-green room in which the Pro Wrestling Fan Club resides.
Smirking faces retain awe and excitement as the pay-per-view of Maxwell Jacob Friedman’s (MJF) Championship Match projects onto the flatscreen TV, a staple in all study rooms in the Sheldon and Tracy Levy Student Learning Centre (SLC).
"He's huge!" Tony Ho exclaims to his group of like-minded fans as they watch MJF pridefully trot around the ring.
The humble club officially began this semester, holding its first event in a small room on the SLC's seventh floor. The haven for wrestling followers is new to the university—in fact, it's the first of its kind. The club is a space for wrestling fans—of both amateur or professional—to share their passion for the entertaining sport.
"There was no real space where [I] myself, along with other people around campus, could meet and talk about pro wrestling," club founder and sport media student Alex Antoniadis said. "There clearly is a passion that people want to express around campus."
Pro wrestling consists of mock combat with theatrics engaging the viewers instead of the lure of unpredictability usually present in sports like hockey or basketball. The competitors, first and foremost, are entertainers who use incredible athletic feats to achieve their goals of providing dynamic storytelling while claiming wrestling championships to grow their lore. In the sport, storylines are predetermined but nobody knows the result except the competitors and organizers. Still, the set outcome makes the sport inauthentic to some.
It is a hot topic among sports fans. On one hand, people may think the scripted storylines take away from the sport. Pro wrestling fans often feel embarrassed or invalidated when people bring up the scripted aspect. The predetermined winner, in the eyes of some, makes the sport lose the mystique other competitions, like hockey or basketball, have. Regardless, the devoted fan base at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU)—and worldwide—advocate and defend the sport because it‘s entertaining—which matters most at the end of the day.
That passion also extends beyond the confines of the SLC. Antoniadis roamed TMU's campus to find like-minded fans like himself to celebrate Steve Austin day, which falls on March 16. Steve Austin day is a holiday celebrating the famed World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) superstar Steve Austin, commonly known to fans as “Stone Cold,” whose impact in the ring is still felt today.
The date, March 16, is significant due to Austin wearing the number 16—in reference to a Bible verse—back in 1996. The conversations on how Austin helped grow the phenomenon of wrestling helped curate a video
for the club's Instagram page, HomeBase_TMU
—a platform to grow its recognition and wrestling fanbase on campus.
Growing the community is vital to Antoniadis who said he and the other club members are hoping to sway people's perceptions of the sport many view as "fake, scripted or stupid." Rather than viewing the sport as fake, seeing it through a new lens can be an eye-opening experience to draw in those skeptical of the spectacle.
“Wrestling is like a choreographed dance," Antoniadis said. "Once you start to understand the ring psychology and what goes into crafting an excellent match, it's a work of art you are proud to have witnessed."
Almost like how one would be drawn to a soap opera, the art of wrestling is what captures Antoniadis’ attention. The drama between its competitors and rivalries among viewers, entertainers or anyone engulfed in the culture makes it a thrill. The Iron Man Match, a 60-minute match where two wrestlers competed to have the most falls at the end of the allotted time, brought the tenacity fans to yearn for. Antoniadis remembers how MJF threw items at fans, bringing frontcourt seats to a new life. And the post-match press conferences embody trash talk, with MJF’s ego too galactic to articulate in any match debrief properly.
"The storylines make me emotionally invested in the match's outcome," said Adam Ianetta while viewing AEW Revolution. "Even though the outcomes are predetermined, a good match makes every pin feel real."
The range of storytelling within pro wrestling is a driving force of fandom among the club's members.
Those who want to participate can look forward to arm wrestling competitions, public street interviews with students in the community and more fun activities.
Their most recent addition to the club's trophy case is an epic, yet expensive, World Championship Wrestling belt straight from the WWE website. The belt is bejewelled with red gems along the edges of the gold-coloured material. The iconic script is surrounded by a glistening gold zinc alloy, with black leather straps extending on either side, reaching a meeting point in the back. Small gold plates line up along the leather, leaving no aspect of the belt un-shimmered or dull.
The club looks to parade around the belt as a symbol of its pride in wrestling. A genuine leather strap is quite expensive; however, the club's founder and financial coordinator felt it was an authentic item worthy of signifying that the club deserved notoriety throughout the school.
To get a chance to see the belt in action, find the Pro Wrestling Club every Thursday at 6 p.m. in the SLC. The meeting room varies weekly, with updates on the room number posted to their Instagram page.
To those who are sceptical or think pro-wrestling is a gimmick—or simply don't understand the appeal— Antoniadis understands how you feel and encourages you to take a chance on the sport because he once thought the same.
"I used to loathe pro wrestling, the fakeness of some matches, the all-too-real feel with excessive blood… at first, I was hesitant and resistant to the sport," Antoniadis said, reflecting on his younger self. "The more I started to watch, the more I understood and saw the beauty of this sport. It's not all perfect; however, to this day, I resent some parts, but I can find the gems, and it makes me so proud to be a fan."