A Kübler-Ross Model For Grieving Independent Wrestling Fans

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One of my favorite wrestlers, Claudio Castagnoli, was recently signed by the WWE. He’s since made his début for their Florida developmental territory, FCW, under the decidedly European (but not quite Swiss) name Antonio Cesaro. This, for the uninitiated, is what he looks like:

His signing didn’t get the same fanfare as the early-January signing of Mistico (now Sin Cara), who got a press conference and an almost immediate début, but this is big stuff for the WWE, regardless. After signing and releasing Castagnoli in 2006, they’ve brought him back with five more years of experience, during a period of transition that has seen the WWE pick up guys who aren’t just ex-football players or ex-bodybuilders or models-turned-“wrestlers,” but men and women of real wrestling ability. One look at Cesaro above tells you that he’s everything the WWE typically wants in a wrestler (height, build, continence), but watching his matches, it’s hard to ignore that the WWE have picked up an incredibly polished professional ready to make an immediate impact.

I couldn’t be happier for the former Double C, as most pro-wrestlers have dreams of making it in the WWE. Selfishly, I’m going to miss seeing him three or four times a year in 20-minute plus matches (I saw him wrestle in person four times this year, in four of the better matches I’ve seen since my fiendish appetite for wrestling returned in 2010), but I can’t wait for casual wrestling fans to be wowed by Cesaro’s very European uppercuts, his power and his charisma. Understandably, however, there are plenty of indie wrestling fans who, while they may be happy for Castagnoli on a personal level, can’t help but be sad to see him go. We’ve come a long way from ECW fans burying wrestlers departing for the six-figure paychecks of WCW and WWF with “You Sold Out!” chants and near-riotous responses as they exited the ECW Arena for the last time, but there’s still a very vocal contingent who don’t understand why somebody making a living as a wrestler would want to do it in front of a large audience. Not that they’re a group of uncaring jerks; they’re just in mourning. Here’s what to expect from your favorite indie wrestling fan as they suffer the period between Castagnoli’s signing and Cesaro’s eventual Raw or SmackDown! début.

 Stage One: Denial

Here, the independent wrestling fan will try to convince himself (or herself, I suppose) that the news isn’t true, despite the fact that his every message board post on the wrestler in question has been along the lines of “Well, it’s obvious that he’s lost because he’s going to the WWE!” The fan will frantically refresh the newly-signed wrestler’s official website, hoping to see a new booking at a county fairgrounds in upstate New York, and will grow even more despondent when the webpage disappears entirely, redirecting him to the wrestler’s brand new Florida Championship Wrestling biography page.

“Oh no!” the fan may scream. “I was going to use his gnocchi recipe this weekend!”

Stage Two: Anger

Denial is temporary, however, as the FCW bio page will reveal the indie wrestling fan’s favorite wrestler’s new name. Now, to an outsider, the leap from “Claudio Castagnoli” to “Antonio Caesaro” may not look like much, but to the independent wrestling fan, it means everything. This was not just a wrestler’s name–it was a mark, a badge of pride. This is a lot like hipsters debating the merits of their musical taste by dropping obscure band names on one another until somebody screams for mercy. The indie wrestling fan, when talking to a casual wrestling fan, loves to drop a name that the casual guy has never heard, as “My favorite wrestler right now is PAC” will lead the casual fan to admit the indie fan’s superiority before he can even think of naming Zack Ryder. In the future, “I’m a big fan of Claudio Castagnoli” will lead to responses of “Oh, Antonio Caesaro? He’s alright, I guess, but he’s no Chris Masters.”

The independent wrestling fan may also be driven to forums at this point in time, believing that it is his right to decry the departing independent wrestler for following his dreams of WWE Superstardom.

“I didn’t buy his t-shirt at the last show that I saw him at,” the post will begin. “I just told him how awesome I thought he was and that he looked ready for the WWE. Oh crap; is it my fault? I knew I shouldn’t have talked to him!”

Stage Three: Bargaining

If the departing independent wrestler has a Twitter account, he’s in for a solid week of Twit-spam from indie wrestling fans who foolhardily believe that asking him not to appear in Tampa will surely get him to appear at next week’s Combat Zone Wrestling show, being held in some grassy patch in Illinois. A smattering of Tweets:

  • @AntonioCaesaro: Please come back! I’ll buy six Ricola Bomb t-shirts!
  • @AntonioCaesaro: If you don’t sell out to Vince, I’ll buy something off your Amazon.com Wish List!
  • @AntonioCaesaro: Please come to next week’s show, Claudio. I’ll make you a cake. A Swiss cake.
  • @AntonioCaesaro: Can you say “hi” to CM Punk for me?
  • @AntonioCaesaro: RT this if Vince is keeping you hostage.
  • @AntonioCaesaro: #LeavetheMemoriesAlone

It’s a modern take on this:

Stage Four: Depression
At this point, the independent wrestling fan will go into a serious funk. Matches featuring the departing indie star, once favorites, will lose their appeal. His t-shirts will go un-worn, his DVDs will go to dust. Oh sure, there are still indie shows to watch and there are other indie wrestlers worth watching, who, like the departing indie star, have their own unique charm about them, but when the official YouTube channel goes un-updated and the news from Tampa has it that the ex-indie star is losing semi-regularly to an ex-bodybuilder picked from a random issue of Muscle & Fitness, it’ll seem to be over for the indie wrestling fan. You can suspend a pinata from a pole and have two Mexican luchadores fight over it, you can book a giant turkey to hatch from a giant egg on a Pay Per View, and you can have Snookie pick up a win at WrestleMania and the wrestling fan will come back. Horrendously misuse a favorite wrestler in the eyes of an indie wrestling fan, however, and there’s little point in even complaining about it online.

Stage Five: Acceptance

But lo, the first footage of the former independent wrestling star will emerge on YouTube, and it will be good:

The independent wrestling fan will view this footage, will note the small child to the right absolutely lose it for the duration of the clip’s three minutes, and his heart, dear readers, will grow like the Grinch’s upon seeing the solidarity of Whoville. After all, seeing a favorite wrestler get signed is like an affirmation from the big guy upstairs (Vince McMahon, who I assume occupies the top floor of Titan Towers) that, yes, independent wrestling fan, you’ve got pretty good taste. Not only that, but you may just be able to identify potential stars who, one day, casual fans will speak of with the same reverence you once did.

And if things don’t work out, hey, it’s no big deal. The future endeavored former independent wrestling star can always go back to the fairgrounds. His old gear is waiting. His old name is waiting. His old fanbase will follow.