While Wesam El-Nemr could only have dreamt of seeing a WWE bout live in Abu Dhabi when he was a child, he was as passionate about the sport then as he is now.
“We could only watch it if we had cable, or we would wait for the videos to come out and go and rent them,” recalls the 31-year-old Egyptian who has lived in the UAE all his life. “All the kids loved it. There was a WrestleMania – I can’t remember which exact one – I stayed up until 3am watching,” says El-Nemr. “Then I had school the next day and I was so sleepy. But I was surprised because a lot of kids were doing the same thing. Basically, we all slept at our desks all day. It was a horrible day,” he laughs.
Despite this experience, El-Nemr’s love of wrestling hasn’t diminished, nor, he says, has the adoration for the contrived pugilism of WWE dimmed in the eyes of the people of the region. In fact, one of El-Nemr’s jobs now is editing the wrestling pages of the Abu Dhabi Media Sports website, www.admcsport.com. The wrestling section of his Arabic-language website gets millions of page visits per month, while the Facebook page he moderates has more than 400,000 fans.
El-Nemr says in terms of popularity, wrestling is only surpassed by football as the most read-about entertainment activity in the region. Meanwhile, the star wrestler John Cena only ranks behind the footballing greats Lionel Messi and Ronaldo, and the tennis ace Rafael Nadal as the most-searched-about athlete.
“I think it’s popular because people like to see fighting, but sometimes boxing or UFC [the mixed martial arts Ultimate Fighting Championship] are too aggressive and violent,” he contends. “There are so many bad things happening in the world, wrestling is a family-friendly version of fighting.”
El-Nemr is aware that WWE is not strictly a sport, yet this doesn’t detract from his enjoyment of it.
“I consider it a show rather than a sport, but a very long show. You watch Friends or other shows for seven years, or whatever. But WWE goes on and on.
“It always gives you a new story. You have love stories, you have comedy, you have properly aggressive moments. It’s a mix of all entertainment. Once you understand that, you get its appeal.”
El-Nemr’s colleague, Mohammed Awaad, a 32-year-old Jordanian, is also an ardent WWE fan. He believes it is this very fabricated nature that is behind its popularity. As the matches’ outcomes are predetermined, it removes any doubts of corruption.
“Sometimes when you watch other sports, you feel that there is some under-the-table fixing,” he says. “We have found this in cricket and in football, with bookmakers paying players and referees to fix the results.
“With WWE, this is not going to happen as we all know it is predetermined. Everyone is aware it is a script already, so there is no betting on it.”
Awaad believes WWE’s popularity could be furthered if the sport were to have an Arab wrestling star.
“I’d like to see an Arab wrestler but he’d have to be a good role model,” he says. “Don’t bring him in for two months as a heel and then he disappears. Make him like John Cena was, sometimes good, sometimes bad. Then people will realise we are just humans like everyone else and it would fight Islamophobia in America.”
But until then, they will continue tuning in weekly to WWE and hope to have ringside seats when it returns to Zayed Sports City this month.
“I love it because WWE is one of the best entertainment projects in history,” El-Nemr goes on. “I think Vince McMahon is a genius. I’m waiting for him to write a book, because he’s a mastermind in how he’s made his company so popular.
“Even in countries such as Afghanistan or Pakistan, everyone knows the wrestlers. All people know John Cena or Hulk Hogan. They are like the Mickey Mouse of this generation.”
• WWE Live takes place at Zayed Sports City, Abu Dhabi, from Thursday to Saturday. Visit www.wwe.com for more information
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