Save your breath before you start saying you got tired of wrestling in the 1990s and hear me out: You should watch Wrestlemania 32 this Sunday night. There was a time when the subtitle “starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson” somehow struck chords of dread and indifference in my heart, but new and old fans alike will be surprised at the progress the WWE has been making in the past several years. It’s the same dumb fun you remember, but with better stories and surprisingly progressive stuff in the works.
Don’t believe me? Here’s what you can look forward to as you knuckle down for the live broadcast from Texas.
YOU CAN APPROACH THE JOY OF WRESTLEMANIA FROM ALMOST ANY ANGLE
So you think you’re too smart to see someone get slammed to the ground via their butthole? Fair enough. The wifebeater-clad sweat monsters will be mobbing the AT&T Stadium this Sunday afternoon, but all walks of life are attracted to the mega-company. The WWE has been growing steadily since its Hulkamania heyday and has boasted fans like Gillian Jacobs, Andy Kaufman and Jon Stewart—the last of whom got entangled in a critical storyline this past summer.
Sure, it’s always an option to crack open a thirty rack and decimate several hundred chicken wings while challenging the stretchiness of your own Levi’s, but it’s just as rewarding to delve into the inherent bizarreness of some of the characters that will get in the ring—whether it’s backwoods cult leader Bray Wyatt or triple-meta villainous public speaking group the New Day, who almost always bring a trombone into the ring for reasons that it’s best not to question.
THERE WILL BE BLOOD
We all know by now that wrestling storylines are fake, but don’t confuse that with its violence being manufactured. There may be workarounds to making the high-flying, hard-slamming moves of some wrestlers less harmful than they appear, but the blood it draws is often shockingly real. Simply google Mick Foley to see some classic bloody bouts, and as you watch Wrestlemania 32 keep your eyes peeled for the Brock Lesnar vs. Dean Ambrose street fight. Lesnar is a beast in the ring who’s notorious for drawing blood, and all rules are off in a street fight match.
THE CUTAWAYS TO THE AUDIENCE BEAT ANY OTHER SPORT, HANDS DOWN
There’s something special about wrestling superfans. They’ve got the best and worst parts of sports and soap opera followers mixed into one confusing persona—an obsession with a fictional universe suffused with a disturbing bloodlust. Plus, in an industry where fan support is so imperative, the crowd is more a part of the show than at nearly any other event, and you’ll hear it when they’re not on board with a creative decision. This Sunday, listen for the cacophony of boos when alleged hero Roman Reigns jumps in the ring. While the WWE has been pushing him as its top guy, the fans do not approve, and it’s fun to watch Reigns deal with it.
THE DEATH OF THE DIVAS DIVISION SHOWS THAT THE WWE IS MOVING IN A FEMINIST DIRECTION
For all of the sweaty, escapist glee rightfully associated with sports entertainment, the WWE has made admirable progress in representing female athletes fairly and giving them the airtime they deserve during their largest annual event. After decades of female talent being relegated to props and brief, often comical fights, the Divas Division (and its creepy belt) will be retired after Sunday in favor of the new WWE Women’s Championship, whose belt is rumored to look similar to the current WWE Championship belt for men. Look out for breakout stars like Sasha Banks and Paige.
Unlike a lot of entertainment, wrestling isn’t masquerading as anything else. We’re talking buff, greasy adult Pokemon repeating the same phrases over and over and beating each other up. We’re talking a seven-foot-tall man called Big Show being named strictly for being big and at a show. Turn your framed college degree to the wall for the evening and enjoy.
THERE’S FAMILY DRAMA ON PAR WITH THE CLINTONS AND BUSHES
One of wrestling’s more fascinating aspects is its firm basis in family dynasties, whether they’re integrated into a wrestler’s persona or not. Take three of the biggest stars getting into the ring this weekend: Charlotte is the talented prodigy of famous ‘80s wrestler Ric Flair (whoo!), Shane McMahon is the son of WWE head Vince McMahon and brother of branding exec Stephanie McMahon (both of whom have wrestled in the past) and current WWE poster boy Roman Reigns boasts fellow stars Rikishi and the Rock as cousins.
While the Mannings and Williams of the world need to save the family sporting grudges for Sunday dinner, this is wrestling we’re talking about. Because the matches and rivalries are scripted, family drama plays out for better or worse live on TV, and occasionally results in some pretty skeevy paternity charges.
IT’S PURE ADRENALINE AND ESCAPISM
In a world where no entertainment is safe from politics, the WWE remains relatively untouched and uninformed, making it the perfect three-plus hour escape from all the other cultural detritus that lurks just outside it. Love it or hate it, Wrestlemania is guaranteed to get your mind off of anything else, even if it’s due to the performers’ notoriously poor acting chops or the inevitable San Andreas 2 plug.
Go forth and order nachos, my friend, for all your barbed political news clickbait will be waiting for you when the livestream ends. Give yourself the gift of Wrestlemania this weekend and, unlike me, treasure every moment not spent bathing in the hot Texas sweat of 80,000 other fans.