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    Thursday, May 7, 2020

    Don't Mark Out: Managing My Double Life As A Fan and As A Professional

    Editor's note: Five years ago, Smark Henry was founded in the hopes of being a watering hole for wrestling fans to engage in critical discourse about our favorite sport or form of entertainment. We're celebrating our fifth anniversary this week through these feature articles to bring back that spirit, even through these troubling times. 

    When we first launched Smark Henry in 2015, I was barely a year into podcasting about professional wrestling and I'd had a humble two live events under my belt as the Mr. Sy character in Philippine Wrestling Revolution. Back then, I could barely believe there was a burgeoning local wrestling scene, let alone that I was actually a part of it. Fast forward to today and I've built my career around my love for pro wrestling as a writer, podcaster, manager, and talking head.

    The ECQ Era has helped me appreciate more than ever how fortunate I've been to be able to do what I'm passionate about and occasionally make money out of it. Imagine just being a fan of something and having the chance to work in that industry. I'm particularly proud of having hosted Xavier Woods and Sheamus' respective meet-and-greets here in Metro Manila, where my wrestling fandom actually came into play in my job on stage. If I could bring the teenage version of me 15 years into the future, I'd bring him to those events to show that one day, all that obsession into "that scripted shit" will actually land you a couple of solid paychecks.

    My @wwesheamus story: I hosted his meet and greet today and after complimenting my haircut, he tells me to put it up in a mohawk like he does. He then goads the crowd into chanting for my mohawk. He even kept asking me about the status of my mohawk in the middle of signing autographs! At the end of the entire event, he asks if I got offended at all and tells me he was just messing around. Me: "I got ribbed by a WWE Superstar today. Come on! Dream come true! Best day ever!" He then proceeded to tell me that he enjoyed the interview we did on @wave891fm with @checklit and @giannallanes. And he took time out to show some love for my Celtics-themed Jordans, which I rocked for the first time specifically for him. Thank you for the interaction of a lifetime, Sheamus. You are truly a class act. 👊🏼 . . . . . #wwe #wwephilippines #wweseasia #sheamus #wrestling #philippines #philippinewrestling #centaur #centaurmarketing #host #hosting #stansy #stansyhost #eventshost #events
    A post shared by Stan Sy (@_stansy) on

    Hosting events for WWE where you actually have to be that diehard fan on stage is one thing. But having to compartmentalize your fandom because you have to be a professional when you get to meet some of the people you admire? In the words of my good friend, Rafael Camus, HOOOOOOOBOY. What an ordeal.

    I've never been shy about the mental pressure that comes with grappling between being a fan and being a professional. It really doesn't help that I'm introverted by nature and I tense up whenever I meet new people, especially if they're celebrities or performers. I clam up when I'm about to meet them and most times, I feel like I'm saying all the wrong things, overthinking as I'm talking so I end up stammering and stuttering. It doesn't come out when I'm cutting scathing promos in a PWR ring, but you should see me when I'm a ball of nerves backstage right before the MSG music hits. It's not pretty.

    Anyway, I was at WrestleCon last year during WrestleMania week and I told myself I'd enjoy the whole experience as a fan. At the time, I was already coordinating with media on behalf of PWR, just not in an official capacity. I didn't really hold a particular designation in the company—I still don't—so as far as I was concerned, my WrestleMania pilgrimage was a personal trip. After all, how awkward would it have been if I'd tried to ask for John Morrison's contact details after I'd marked out and had a photo taken with him? I had this idea in my head that I was there as a fan, so I turned my business hat off. I never even bothered introducing myself as someone affiliated with a promotion in the Philippines. Why would they give two shits about me and whatever small-time fed I'd tell them about, right?

    It wasn't until months later when I realized how wrong that was, even from just a networking perspective.

    Part of my WrestleCon experience included a brief conversation I had with one of the few English-speaking personalities at the New Japan row. I was just in awe that guys I've seen on my laptop screen like Minoru Suzuki and Katsuyori Shibata were there in the flesh. And then off to the side was the guy overseeing things without much fanfare, one Rocky Romero.

    I approached him and asked about that year's G1 SuperCard, as well as what the rest of the year looked like for them. I was planning a trip to Japan later that year and wanted to see NJPW live, so I figured I might as well get it straight from the source. I was having fun talking to Rocky and even took a photo with him, that I completely forgot to get his contact details, let alone introduce myself as someone affiliated with the industry in the Philippines.

    I didn't mind at the moment but looking back, it was a huge missed opportunity to network with one of the gatekeepers into the biggest wrestling company in Japan. I knew that PWR was working towards mounting PWR Homecoming, which meant that we were going big with the names we were about to bring in later that year. But it just never crossed my mind that I could have done a little extra work on the company's behalf by networking at WrestleCon. I still beat myself up over having dropped the ball there, just because I forgot to take my fan hat off.

    The funny thing is that I didn't even learn the lesson immediately after WrestleCon. I was too high off the experience of being part of the WrestleMania festivities for the first time. It wasn't until I'd gotten back and talked to some friends in the PWR locker room that I'd realized that I indeed should have networked. Whether it was an indy name or a fellow up-and-comer, there would be no harm in getting their contact details or following each other on Instagram or Twitter. What's the worst that could happen, right?

    In the "old normal," when I wasn't pissing people off and making children cry in PWR, I actually did some behind-the-scenes work for the company's PR department. That means I was responsible for scheduling media appearances, proofreading press releases, and making sure our messaging as a promotion is clear on all fronts. It honestly is more fun than it looks because the network I tap into is full of friends of mine—plus, I'm a self-confessed grammar Nazi, so I enjoy copyediting the press releases.

    Many people know the story of PWR Homecoming. My job before the show was putting together the media blitz for TJP and Jeff Cobb once they'd gotten here. Our team spent a couple of months organizing their schedules, which included booking guestings on TV and radio and shuffling schedules around to make sure that nothing would overlap and that the infamous Manila traffic—which some of us may or may not miss while we're all stuck at home—wouldn't mess any appointments up. I got this, I confidently thought, staring proudly at my Excel spreadsheet.

    All that changed when I'd met TJP for the first time a few days before Homecoming. Here he was, the guy we'd built our biggest show to date around. I'd corresponded with TJ before and I'd even been on a couple of podcasts with him. But I'd never met him in person before then. How was I supposed to talk to the guy who proudly carried our flag on WWE TV? Do I approach him like we'd already spoken before—which we actually have? What if he'd forgotten and I'd look like a douchebag acting like we'd known each other before? I had all these questions swirling in my head. I even dressed like I'd just come from the office, wearing a short-sleeved polo shirt to the dinner just so I'd look professional.

    TJP and his team would show up ever so casually at the restaurant we were at. He was wearing a snapback, a black T-shirt, and shorts. So was his PR guy. His agent came in wearing a Damian Lillard jersey. So much for me overthinking what I'd worn. But even then, as they sat on the opposite side of our long table, I was going over what I'd say to him when I properly introduced myself. Hi, TJ, my name is Stan and it's an honor to meet you. Too formal. 'Sup, man? FC (feeling close) much? I almost froze when it was my turn to go and say hello.

    "It's great to finally meet you! This is five years in the making!" I said when I finally shook his hand. He smiled and said, "Yeah, it's crazy!" as we talked about our friend Rey Moralde, who had initially introduced us all those years ago. All the anxiety that overcame me passed through like an emergency deuce as I breathed a sigh of relief. Our group broke bread with TJ and his team, then we took photos, and I'd sent mine to my buddy Rey so he can see that I had finally met The Fil-Am Flash.

    I'd like to think I was playing it cool in the restaurant. But inside, I was marking out.

    My interactions with Jeff Cobb had a lot less anxiety involved, but as they happened, I kept waiting for someone to snap me out of a dream.

    Before Homecoming was even a conceivable idea, I'd watched Jeff Cobb wrestle as Matanza Cueto on Lucha Underground, which was one of my favorite shows on TV for a long time. All of a sudden, I was having lunch and drinking beer with him at my favorite bar. I was ordering my favorite bar chow and sharing it with him. And then I was driving in a car, wading through Manila traffic on a Friday, with Jeff Cobb in the front seat. What the fuck is happening and how did I get here?

    He was telling me stories about Zack Sabre Jr. cutting promos about UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and how that would pop the English speakers in the New Japan locker room. We were singing along to Backstreet Boys songs that were playing on the radio. Meanwhile, I was trying with every fiber of my being not to scream, YOU'RE MY NEW FAVORITE WRESTLER WHY ARE YOU SO NICE AND COOL?! 

    Boss Cobb appreciation post: I was in awe of Matanza Cueto when I first saw him in #LuchaUnderground. I never thought I'd get to meet him, much less hang out with him for virtually an entire weekend. @jeffcobb is a wonderful human being, an absolute joy to be around. Hell, after his podcast guesting, I even got to take him to my favorite spot, Sonsi House of Longganisa! I'll never forget how generous he was in working with us during the 3-way @pwrofficial Championship Match at #PWRHomecoming. All my reactions during his feats of strength were absolutely genuine. Shout out to @bodyslammingqueen333, who just radiated positive energy the entire time we were together. I'll drive these two around and be their PA again in a heartbeat. Maraming salamat, Desi at Boss Cobb! 🤙🏼 . . Last image by @hubitall . . #jeffcobb #desiderata #prowrestling #pwr #philippinewrestling #wrestling #philippines #events #stansy #igers #weekend #vsco #vscocam
    A post shared by Stan Sy (@_stansy) on

    To keep my impulses in check, I had to turn to my inner voice, the one that said, Be cool. Be a pro. Just be their tour guide. Don't turn into a mark. Not right now.

    Looking back, it's just crazy how I've found myself in this position as both a wrestling fan and someone in the industry. Do I take it for granted? Absolutely not. I love what I do for PWR on all fronts and I feel incredibly fortunate to be in a position to do it. Who else will get to say, "I picked Jeff Cobb up from his hotel and walked with him towards the show's venue like I was his handler?" It's crazy that I can even put those words together as a factual statement.

    Inasmuch as the last five years have been a journey for me in overcoming my personal hurdles as an introvert, they've also taught me a lot about just connecting with other people on a human level. It's so easy to lionize our idols and these celebrities as demigods. And that's where the impulse to just mark out and fanboy comes from, at least for me. But then, I find myself in such mundane and random situations like Robbie Eagles eating his first meal at Jollibee or having a chat with him about rugby legend and Australian Survivor great Mat Rogers and I see these wrestlers as regular dudes like me. It probably takes me a bit longer than most people to get to that point just because I'm shy by nature, but when it does, it becomes easier for me to take the fan hat on and stop marking out.

    Maybe there's something more to that. I've always found myself wanting to shrink whenever I get recognized in public because I have never really seen myself as a celebrity. While the attention is flattering, I appreciate it more when we just talk like regular folks without the idol worship because it makes me feel more at ease. I can't speak for the wrestlers I've met; I can only assume it's the same thing for them. Maybe TJP, Jeff Cobb, and Robbie Eagles also see themselves as regular dudes like everyone else and appreciated not being overly exalted like gods by those who they interacted with. I know I do.

    Telling these stories and reminiscing on them is a bittersweet feeling, especially at a time like this. When PWR was beginning to gain momentum in 2015, I never would have thought we'd grow to this point this quickly. I didn't think I'd get to meet all the people I've met and worked with, let alone have these opportunities all before turning 30. With the pandemic going on and how it's been handled (and mishandled), it's been hard finding joy out of anything, wrestling included.

    It makes me long for a time when my biggest worries revolved around not stammering and not speaking in broken English when our international guests would arrive or making sure I didn't come across all awkward and weird for fear of giving PWR such a bad impression. With no immediate hope in sight, I'd give anything to get all anxious about wrestling with my fandom at a work event just one more time.


    Stan Sy (@_StanSy) is the Editor at Large of Smark Henry and is also a radio DJ on Wave 89.1, an events host, a freelance writer, and one of the hosts of The Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast. He also used to be one of the hosts and writers of The Wrestling Gods on FOX. He enjoys watching WWE, NXTLucha Underground, and the occasional New Japan match. You can ask him questions about wrestling, Survivor (yes, the reality show), or whatever you like on his CuriousCat account.
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    Item Reviewed: Don't Mark Out: Managing My Double Life As A Fan and As A Professional Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Stan Sy
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