You might be thinking from the title that I’m a wrestler (who forgot to tell you about it) announcing my retirement from in-ring action. (How I wish I really were a wrestler, but that’s a tale for another day.) Of course, that’s only if you ignore this post’s main image. As you can see from it, that’s not me in the middle of the ring giving a bow.

That ring performer is actually Zayden Trudeau, who until recently has split his time between living overseas and wrestling here in the Philippines as part of local promotion Philippine Wrestling Revolution (PWR). In the image, which is a screenshot from a highlight reel of the promotion’s August 2018 show PWR Renaissance, Zayden is bowing to his co-performers and to the live audience after giving his farewell speech.

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Photos taken with Zayden. His signature hand sign is just an extended index finger (barely visible in the first photo.) But he’s also very comfortable getting on the #TooSweet train with most fans, as we did in the second photo. Really chill and down to earth guy.

It’s not a permanent farewell, by any means. Zayden himself said that his departure from PWR and from the Philippines is only for the time being, and that he will be back in the future. The non-permanence of his exit didn’t really stop the rest of the roster, who had flocked to ringside during his speech, from giving him a rousing sendoff. Yep, that’s them, pounding at the edge of the mat (also known as the ring apron in pro wrestling parlance.)

They weren’t just saying goodbye to Zayden, though. Sitting in the corner was Koto Hiro, one of his opponents in the immediately preceding three-way contest. Both he and Zayden exchanged words and gestures of respect right after the match and during their farewell speeches. In the same way that that match was Zayden’s last in PWR for the foreseeable future, it was also Koto Hiro’s. The masked wrestler is also headed overseas for the next step of his life’s journey.

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Photos with Koto Hiro. He seems to be a wacky and zany guy in real life – in a good way, I mean. And of course, he’s beside his manager (in storyline) and girlfriend (in both storyline and real life) Nina. A lovely couple, don’t you think?

I was fortunate enough to have been at PWR Renaissance for two reasons: first, the match between Koto Hiro, Zayden, and PWR mainstay Rederick “Mainstream” Mahaba was nothing short of fantastic. I got to watch two top-notch in-ring athletes in action before they left the country. Suiting their light builds, both Zayden and Koto Hiro use agility-based wrestling styles with fluid transitions and a little bit of technical grappling. I’m a sucker for athleticism, so I definitely enjoyed their duels during the match. (That’s not to take away from Rederick though, who might not be as agile of a performer but has perfect timing and is very entertaining on the mic and in his actions.)

Second, I witnessed a side of pro wrestling – and of pro wrestlers – that’s rarely appreciated. Accusing pro wrestling of being fake is nothing new. It’s what people who don’t know any better like to say to dissuade others from watching. What makes that accusation wrong is the fact that they’re confusing fake with staged. You can’t fake falling onto a hard surface on your back. The impact can be mitigated, yes, but you will feel it and your body will react to it. You can’t fake the exhaustion from running and jumping and lifting. You can’t fake the risks you’re exposing yourself to.

Those things can be staged, though. They can be predetermined to happen in a match. Wrestlers can intentionally put themselves through those things as part of a planned sequence, all for the sake of the show. And it’s in the masterful planning and execution of all those things that the art of pro wrestling is manifested as a form of storytelling. When we watch a wrestling match, we basically watch a story of two or more opposing characters doing genuinely painful things to each other in order to reach a planned conclusion to the fight.

There’s one more thing that can’t be faked, and it’s the rarely appreciated side of pro wrestling and wrestlers that I was talking about. It’s the bond between comrades. It’s the personal connections with fellow performers who go through the same hardships and enjoy the same sport. I saw that in the warmth that the PWR roster displayed towards two of their number who would be gone for quite some time. That kind of bond is nearly impossible to fake.

I count myself lucky to have seen how, at the end of the day, characters who beat each other up in staged fights are actually very much human. No less human than people who bid loved ones have a safe voyage, or friends who promise to meet again.

In that sense, pro wrestling is as real as it gets.