I became a pro wrestling fan in the summer of 1992. At a time when fans were fleeing the Big Two promotions in droves, and a year after the once-mighty AWA faded, I fell in love with this crazy business. Like most kids, I discovered WWF Superstars when a new kid moved into the neighborhood. Ironically, that kid’s fandom would fade in less than a year. But for my brother and me, our love affair was just starting.
Our dad took us to our first pro wrestling show on October 24th of that year. We took the thirty-minute trek from our house in Bartlett, Illinois, to the Rosemont Horizon (now called The Allstate Arena) to watch Bret “the Hitman” Hart defend the WWF World title against Papa Shango. There isn’t much I remember about the show itself besides that match and the Ultimate Warrior and Kamala. But, I’ll never forget the trip or the time I spent with my brother and my dad. My dad didn’t take us to many places. I can count on one hand the number of movies, ball games, and other events we all went to together. That’s why this was special. And something I’ll never forget.
In February of 2016, I became a father to a little boy of my own. I’d be a liar if I said the idea of taking him to his first wrestling show wasn’t one of the thoughts that rumbled through my mind during my first twenty-four hours of fatherhood. As a little one, my son would often sit on my lap and cuddle while watching Kenny Omega’s Tope Con Hilo or Kento Miyahara’s Shutdown Suplex, before he never paid much attention until the past year. In December of 2020, one of my childhood heroes, Sting, made his triumphant return to pro wrestling as part of All Elite Wrestling. I lost my mind when the AEW video screen read “STING.” For a moment, I was that eleven-year-old kid, marking out for his favorite wrestler again. Unaware to me, my little boy saw how excited I got and wondered just what was so cool about this show.
Over the next year, my son fell in love with pro wrestling on his own. He’s got his own favorites like Jungle Boy, Jon Moxley, and Darby Allin, but he has a special place in his heart for Sting because he’s “Daddy’s favorite.” Last summer, rumors spread about the possible return of CM Punk, Chicago’s favorite wrestling son. When AEW announced a special taping of Rampage at the United Center, I knew I had to be there. This was the same arena where my dad took my brother and me to watch another set of brothers fight inside of a steel cage at Summerslam 94 (Bret and Owen Hart). I told my son about the show I was going and thanks to Youtube, I introduced him to Punk. Instead of being happy, a tear welled up in the corner of his little blue eye. When I asked what was wrong, he replied, ” I wanna go too!”
I asked my wife if that was something I should do. Her reaction was, “no way, he’s five!” Which was my first thought as well. Instead, I took my best friend, who shared the seat next to me when Chris Jericho interrupted the Rock in 1999, and watched as he rediscovered his love for wrestling. When my son woke up the next day, he wanted to hear about CM Punk challenging his favorite, Darby Allin. I told him all about it and wondered if maybe I couldn’t take him the next time AEW came to Chicago, which is frequent.
After much debate with my lovely and understanding wife, we agreed to let our son attend last weekend’s AEW Dynamite taping as an early birthday present. She didn’t love the idea, but he begged and pleaded so much that she eventually relented, even if she still isn’t thrilled with the idea of him watching the show. He decorated a sign to hold up before the cameras the night before. To my surprise, he chose to draw Danhausen of all people. “He’s so funny! He’s also very evil!”
I picked him up for school (we live almost two hours from the city these days, deep in rural Illinois) for long the trip to Wintrust Arena on Chicago’s Lakeshore. Though we missed the early day blizzard that ripped through the state, we found the remnants deep in the city that made finding parking rather tricky.
We parked in the deck across from the arena. We walked into the building to meet that same friend who sat next to me at what we thought was a random Smackdown taping when John Cena and Batista first debuted. To our surprise, he greeted my son with his first pro wrestling t-shirt (Danhausen got some of my buddy’s human monies with that purchase). The shirt was way too big, but it didn’t stop him from draping it over his sweatshirt.
The show began with Mox and Wheeler Yuta. To his surprise, Danhausen made his way to the ring to unsuccessfully curse Moxley. When Brandi Rhodes came to the ring, she was showered with a collection of expletives that confirmed every single fear my wife had about taking my son to the show. Let’s just say we had a talk on the way home about acceptable language.
The highlight of the night for me came as AEW Champion Hangman Page tried to climb into the ring with Lance Archer stalling from behind. My son threw his hands to his head and screamed, “Look out, Hangman!” at the top of his lungs a second before Archer swung a chair at his back. I assured him it was all part of the show and Hangman would be okay. Shortly after, we got a snack from concessions, where he informed the nice lady at the counter that it was his birthday. She kindly gave him a free slice of pizza.
My son hates MJF with the white-hot fury of a thousand suns. He’ll never forgive MJF for hitting Darby Allin with the Dynamite Diamond ring (an action we have to act out every time we play wrestling, only in his version, Darby always kicks out at two). He booed MJF as loud as his little lungs could. The forty-minute match was a big ask for a near-six-year-old, but he bit on every false finish and flashy move. He had no idea what a Pepsi Plunge was but reacted accordingly when Punk came off the top rope. But when he saw MJF once again knocked out one of his heroes with the same ring, he seethed.
“Dad, I wanna go home.”
“Are you sure, buddy?”
“Yes. MJF cheated again.”
“You know this is all pretend, right? MJF isn’t really a bad guy. He’s just acting (maybe?).”
“I wanna go home.”
I talked him into staying for a little bit of Rampage. He likes Sammy Guevara and thinks Adam Cole is “cool, even if he’s a bad guy.” It’s probably the song. When Darby Allin came out to even the score when Sammy stood against Matt Hardy and Andrade, he jumped up on the seat and waved to Darby. My son hoped that Darby would see him waving when the daredevil climbed the ropes. After that, we were good. He was tired, and we had a long ride home. I offered him to stay home the next day, but he declined. It was more important to tell his friends everything he saw that night.
As I put him into the seat and locked the seat belt, he hugged me and said, “thank you, Dad. This was the best day ever.”
He was right. It really was.