Column: The wild and wonderful world of wrestling

Published 10:38 am Monday, November 27, 2023

By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

I don’t make time for a lot of things in my busy schedule, but most Wednesday nights, I’ll turn on All Elite Wrestling: Dynamite on TV. It’s a nice, consistent thing to come home from work and church to every week and just relax while watching.

Wednesday night, Nov. 15 was not one of those nights.

Instead, I found myself at the side of a wrestling mat, taking in a historic doubleheader of matches with Thompson taking on McAdory and the University of Montevallo facing Midway in its first ever home dual.

I got a crash course in the sport from a quartet of middle-aged people in Hawaiian shirts, listening to fans cheer every hand movement and yell “two!” repeatedly.

For some of you, I’m speaking your language. For me, though, I was simply a curious outsider trying to learn more about a fascinating sport.

Up until that night, my only experience with wrestling was a meet I attended at my high school where pretty much the only thing I learned was that you can’t submit people like in an MMA match, as well as the scripted kind I’ve watched on TV that’s obviously different in so many aspects.

In fact, my first ever byline was for a feature I wrote for a journalism camp about a wrestler named Brandon Sorenson who competed for Iowa in college. That meant I got to walk around inside the Hawkeyes’ facilities, but I’m not sure I appreciated it as much as some wrestling fans would have simply because I didn’t know a lot about it.

Despite all of that, I’ve always respected wrestlers and wanted to learn more. I had classes with a few wrestlers in high school and saw the dedication and discipline they showed to their craft, whether it was showing up to practice, competing in outside tournaments or just trying to make weight.

Luckily for me, I had an incredible opportunity to learn and a community ready to welcome me with open arms.

I’m still getting down the scoring and only scratching the surface of the strategy behind everything, but it’s a simple yet extraordinarily deep sport to learn.

I’ve learned wrestling is much like chess, and it’s as much of outsmarting your opponent as beating them physically. It’s still pretty simple to know when someone gets pinned though, especially as someone who had to learn cricket and rugby union while he was abroad.

Throughout everyone, from the wrestlers to their families, passion and respect abounds. Not many sports exist where players shake hands before they try to take their opponent to the ground. During the entire match, fans were invested in every outcome, regardless of if their kid was involved.

That only amplified during the Montevallo match, as high school teams from across the region came out and cheered loud and proud for the many Alabama wrestlers on the Falcons.

The biggest reactions of the night went to the former Thompson wrestlers, who went 4-0 for Montevallo and helped the Falcons secure the win in the dual, earning loud cheers for every takedown and a roaring response to every decision and fall that went their way.

As I sat there mat-side, I thought about all of the people around the county and state who have never seen this fascinating sport, met this wonderful community and seen firsthand how great wrestling is.

Too often, we tend to focus exclusively on what’s popular, what gets the spotlight. As much as I love football, basketball and baseball, I’ve learned that there are so many sports that go underappreciated but are just as exhilarating as a playoff football game. Inside every one of those sports is a passionate community and a whole new world of wonder just waiting to be discovered.

We’ve seen just in the last few years what happens when more audiences are exposed to new sports. Think about the growth that sports like pickleball and lacrosse have seen in the last five years, and even sports that were already big like soccer, women’s basketball, softball and volleyball, that more people can watch them on TV or hear analysis about the stars of those sports.

As someone who covers these sports for a living, I will always be proud to champion these sports and explore new ones myself. Even if it leads to a small growth in our area, I believe it will have been worth my time.

I’m grateful for experiences like Montevallo’s wrestling match for showing me a new corner of the world, reenergizing me with the passion that was on display, and maybe just help me forget that I’m not watching the scripted wrestling on a Wednesday night.

But if you heard me cheer when a Falcons wrestler walked out to CM Punk’s entrance music, you might need to get your ears checked.