The face of the WWE
BY BRANDI BALL World Scene Writer
Thursday, January 13, 2011
1/13/11 at 8:29 AM
The longevity. The drama. The boisterous fans. The Superstars. The Divas.
None of the electricity has dimmed, despite the fact that World Wrestling Entertainment has taken steps to change its culture.
"(WWE fans) are the most excited fans that we have come through our doors," said Paige Laughlin, director of sales and marketing for the BOK Center. "It's something they watch every week, they follow it and it's a part of their life. ... The place is rocking with excitement because the fans are allowed to show it. They make signs, dress up and just cheer constantly."
Part of the still-booming appeal of WWE is that in recent years, storylines were edited - no more fake prop blood, and language and adult themes have been toned down. All WWE programming is now rated TV-PG, which has opened the gates for new fans who take a swipe at projected stereotypes.
Don't believe it? Just ask sweeter-than-pie actress Florence Henderson, aka Carol Brady, who appeared on a WWE episode and afterward gave the experience rave reviews, even indicating she'd come back as often as she was asked.
"You know what impressed me, was the size of of the organization and how nice everybody is," Henderson said in a YouTube video released by WWE.
Carol Brady she isn't, but Sapulpa's Brandi Coffey has her own bunch. As a hands-on mother of six - five boys and a girl - Coffey said she monitors the broadcasts closely.
The younger Coffey boys - Braydan, 11; Coleson, 9; and Preston, 7 - are huge wrestling fans, and their mother said, "We have the cracked sheet rock to prove it."
Brandi Coffey said her sons are so enamored by the WWE, that when they get into trouble, it is the first thing she grounds them from.
"And I really have to watch them when they are on the trampoline. They tend to go a little overboard sometimes," she said.
Eleven-year-old Brad Richardson watches WWE with his dad, Jim, an engineer, and the two have plans to catch the WWE SmackDown event at the BOK Center on Tuesday night.
"I wrestle at Jenks Intermediate, so it's hard sometimes because I wish I could do pro wrestling moves," Brad said. "But we have rules."
Brad's memorabilia, counting nine title belts, was destroyed when the Richardson's home recently caught on fire. Jim has since tried to rebuild his son's collection, but the loss was quite a shock to Brad.
"I kinda wanted my dad to sue the person who built the heater that caught on fire," Brad said. "I mean, it burned up all my cool stuff."
The WWE is taking strides to improve its image and impressing even the most unlikely of people - those like Tulsa's Amber Wyatt.
"The cool thing about wrestling is that you can see socioeconomic chain at work at an event like that," said Wyatt, a high-school drama teacher who humors her husband's affinity for the sport. "People think only rednecks like WWE, or they have these stereotypes built up about what they think it is. When I have been with my husband, I see all types of people from all types of backgrounds attending, and they are all having the times of their lives."
A few Tulsa fans of the WWE define their obsession.
Gentle and soft-spoken, there's a trick to getting Brick Smith to open up. Just ask him about WWE.
"It comes on TV on Mondays and Fridays and I don't ever miss it," he said. "And if I ever miss any news, the WWE sends me a text."
Smith, a 20-year-old from Cleveland, has had anything but a gentle ride through life. At age 3, he was diagnosed with Medulloblastoma, a cancer that attacks the brain. Ask him if it's tough being sick so much, and he just shrugs and grins.
In his bedroom, he has every WWE DVD ever sold. He has a John Cena watch and autograph. He has posters. He has belts. Action figures, still preserved in plastic, sit on a shelf, high above his 3-year-old brother's reach. His closet houses what he estimates to be "probably a hundred" WWE T-shirts. That prompted an official count, which required an intermission at No. 38. Brick just looked up and grinned.
Smith's mother, Rhae, isn't really a WWE fan herself, but she ensures her son has all he needs to keep his hobby going. Every time a new DVD is released, she makes the 25-mile drive to the Sand Springs Walmart SuperCenter.
But when it comes to the T-shirts, Rhae joked, "I used to dress him all preppy when he was little, but I don't really get a say-so anymore. We'll be ready to go somewhere and I'll say, 'Why don't you wear this American Eagle shirt, it's really nice.' He won't have any of it. He'll tell me that he's dressed already."
Just how much is Brick entrenched in his hobby?
"He likes wrestling better than he likes food," Rhae said with a laugh. "He doesn't talk or take phone calls when it's on. We know better than to disturb him."
In between sipping coffee and discussions about Chaucer and Milton, 19-year-old literature major Jacky Tideman is counting the minutes until it's time to watch WWE on the tube.
Yes, really. The perky, cute college student pretty much shatters the fan stereotypes.
Tideman hasn't been to a taping or to a live event, but the Tulsan, who is a sophomore at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, said it would be "a dream come true, just being in the same room with the people I admire so much."
Her interest in pro wrestling began when she was just a little girl. She and her brother would watch with dad. Tideman said the physical prowess of the wrestlers keeps her watching.
"I just really admire their athleticism," Tideman said. "OK, so it is acting. But they really have to do all of those stunts themselves. They are athletes and they are stunt men 24/7."
With WWE Divas like Kelly Kelly catching the attention of casual fans likely because of their blonde locks and flawless features, Tideman makes sure to remind that the Divas aren't just there simply to decorate the set.
"Definitely very cool when they get in the ring and they just whoop the guys," Tideman said. "I watched one of the girls in the ring with a whole bunch of guys, and she held her own for like 20 minutes.
"It takes a lot of strength to do stunts like that with big, muscular guys. Seeing that was awesome for me. I kept thinking, 'that could totally be me out there beating up on boys.' "
Like most kids who grew up in the 80s, Justin Wyatt couldn't escape Hulkamania. Wyatt watched the action on TV, bought the action figures and loved the Hulk Hogan cartoons.
But it wasn't a passion his entire family shared.
"My parents never liked it," Wyatt said. "My dad would tell me and my brother it was fake and I'd get so upset."
Wyatt said he's been to about 20 or more wrestling shows, and he and his brother even took the trek to Houston to see Wrestlemania in 2000. Tuesday's event at the BOK Center is next on his list.
Wyatt said he watches wrestling when it is on TV, but that doesn't compare to the exhilaration of a live taping. Adrenaline and TV cameras often take hold of people, and the 35-year-old printing specialist is no exception. It happened the last time he attended Monday Night Raw.
"You know it's going to be on national television, and I was in the front row," Wyatt said. "We went pretty crazy. When we got home we watched (a recording) and just laughed at ourselves and what we looked like. Here we were yelling at men in tights."
Amber Wyatt's great-grandmother and great-grandfather loved professional wrestling. Because of that, it isn't very difficult for her to understand husband Justin's obsession. Amber has accompanied Justin to a few tapings, not because of the athletes, but because she is interested in the show's high production quality. A drama and theatre teacher at Edison High School, never did Amber think she'd pick up classroom tips at a pro wrestling show.
"The atmosphere just reels you in," Amber said. "The energy is like it is at an NFL game." It was honestly the most thrilling thing I'd ever attended."
The pyrotechnics and acting, "playwriting, the technical details, it's all just pretty amazing," she said.
"I think professional wrestlers get a bad rap. People are like, 'It's phony.' But they are acting, and a lot of the time it is improvisational ... It is very physical acting, which is pretty difficult. The body language required to get a crowd involved is not easy to do."
The last show the couple attended gave Amber some ideas for her annual Halloween production at Edison. She scoured the Internet when she got home and research revealed that chilling the fog keeps it from dissipating.
"The Undertaker makes his entrance, which is pretty grand, and here I am screaming and going pretty crazy with the rest of the crowd," Justin said. "And my wife is like, 'Wow. Do you see that? I wonder how they get that fog to do that?' "
Where: BOK Center, 200 S. Denver Ave.
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday
Tickets: $60, $45, $35, $25, $15 at tulsaworld.com/bokcentertix or call 1-866-7-BOK-CTR
WWE Wrestling fans Braydan, 11, Preston, 7, and Coleson Coffey, 9, of Sapulpa. CHRISTOPHER SMITH / Tulsa World
Brad Richardson, 11, and father, Jim, of Jenks. CHRISTOPHER SMITH / Tulsa World
Brick Smith. Courtesy
Jacky Tideman Courtesy