Cape Town – It may not be for everyone, and there will always be those who shake their heads at the product, but World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) global popularity is undeniable.
Cape Town confirmed exactly that at the Grand West Arena on Wednesday night.
The venue was packed, and the fans - known affectionately as the 'WWE Universe' - rose to every prompt. They belted out catch phrases - if you didn’t know before, WWE stands for 'Walk With Elias' - and they were unashamedly knowledgeable.
Much of the spiked South African interest in WWE is down to SuperSport’s recent commitment to the brand. The broadcaster screens two shows a week - RAW and Smackdown - as well as monthly pay per views that are all enjoying extensive re-run coverage.
The days of Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels may be over, but WWE is anything but.
Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman, Seth Rollins, Elias and Finn Balor are the headliners on this South African tour, and the Cape Town crowd on Wednesday took to all of them.
Character development is one of the more intriguing aspects of WWE.
Under the leadership of Vince McMahon, the company has, over the years, tried everything under the sun when it comes to finding new ways to engage crowds.
Ultimately, WWE needs to create and develop characters who people want to pay money to see – main-eventers who are at the top of the roster, week in and week out.
The 'Attitude Era' saw the likes of 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin, Michaels, HHH, The Rock, Bret Hart and the Undertaker engage in story-lines that would very likely get the company sued in 2018, but in the age of inclusivity and political correctness, WWE has been forced to find more family-friendly ways of pushing boundaries.
It has not been an easy task, but one man who seems to have mastered the art of staying relevant is Matt Hardy.
A wrestling legend, Hardy and his brother Jeff were pioneers of the extreme. They were the trailblazers of TLC (tables, ladders and chairs) matches and, together, the Hardy's ventured into new territory when it came to high-flying routines.
That fearlessness, combined with their execution, is what ultimately 'got them over' with the crowd and, as a result, Matt and Jeff became pivotal characters in WWE’s progression into a new era.
"There is a lot of mileage on this vessel … no doubt," Matt Hardy tells Sport24 in an exclusive interview, hours before the Cape Town show.
Now 43, Hardy will have been wrestling for 26 years this September. He has been in the WWE for 15 years.
"Father time is the enemy none of us can beat."
Hardy has had to re-invent himself numerous times, and he acknowledges that much of that has been down to the physical demands of the business.
"You can pull the moves off, but you can’t recover the way you used to," he says.
Hardy is not as flexible as he used to be, and he is in pain after every performance these days because of the scar tissue damage to his lower back and hips.
"I’m much more of a character-driven persona now than an athletically-based persona that jumps off ladders and through tables," he says.
"I think as you get older, most people get wiser, and I came to realise what a cool gig this is. To be able to come to Cape Town and South Africa and do something you love and be paid for it … it’s an amazing gig and something I dreamt about as a child."
Hardy’s current character goes by the name of 'Woken' Matt Hardy, and it is certainly unique.
Woken Matt talks like he comes from times past, yet his gimmicks are centred around modern and future technologies.
He is as weird as they come - his uncomfortable laugh and crazy eyes ensuring that he is a fan favourite.
That level of engagement is an art, and crucial to any superstar’s success in the WWE. Hardy, it seems, has perfected it.
"Your character, your persona, how you look, how well you can speak and connect with the crowd, being able to get in the ring and deliver … those are all crucial to a superstar’s success," he offers, before explaining his new character.
"There was a part of me that was very cognisant that if I could do something a little different it would definitely help with finding some longevity. You have to be open to change."
On the surface, it may seem like fun and games, but the toll this business takes on the athletes is more real than anything.
Hardy is living proof.
In the last year, he has visited every continent in the world and he spends more time away from his wife and two kids than he does with them.
"You know that if you come to WWE and want to maintain a certain level of success, you’re going to be busy and gone a lot. It’s part of the deal," he says.
"I’ve accomplished everything I ever wanted to do in my career. It went much further than I ever expected, so everything I do now is kind of extra credit. I know there is a lot more in my rear-view mirror than there is in my windshield so I’m just enjoying every moment. I know that it helps me provide a better life for my family."
Fortunately for Hardy, he has evaded the neck and back injuries that have cut so many careers short. That is even more impressive given the high-risk nature of his matches in years past.
But, after every night in the ring, Hardy's body leaves in slightly worse-off condition than it arrived in.
"Every night you go out there, you get hurt. It’s really the easiest way to say it," he says.
"People can describe wrestling however they want to, but your body is flesh and bone and it’s not meant to be slammed on wood and steel.
"That’s just not a natural reaction. It beats up your body every time in some way, shape or form."
Hardy was the first man out at Grand West on Wednesday, and the crowd erupted when his music hit. He is as popular as ever.
On some level, that must lessen the pain.