The wild and wacky world of professional wrestling always draws a crowd in Charleston, especially when there are live television cameras panning the audience.
Such was the case Monday night when a return of a live session of WWE Raw packed North Charleston Coliseum with cheering fans hoping for a brief appearance on national TV.
Organizers predicted a sellout crowd of about 8,000, and there weren’t many empty seats.
A closer look at the fans shows just how wide the appeal of this thing is.
Take 91-year-old Mary Lazar of Summerville. Her neighbor was surprised to find out that Lazar has been a wrestling fan for years, so he bought her a ticket for her first live event.
A native of Ukraine, she had a hard time explaining how she got hooked, but you could see the enthusiasm in her face.
“I like the fighting,” she said. “Pick ‘em up, throw ‘em down.”
Then she went on to say she used to milk 22 cows by hand every day when she lived in Germany.
Her neighbor, Bill Fetzer, is a retired manufacturing representative and also a wrestling fan.
“We worked in the garden together,” Fetzer said. “Then I found out she liked wrestling and knew more than I did about it. It shocked me.”
Fetzer also bought a ticket for his son-in-law, Jay Schwab, an emergency-room nurse.
“She reminds me of my grandmother,” Schwab said of Lazar. “She was a big wrestling fan too.”
A young boy with a bald head was sitting behind Lazar and her friends, totally intent on the action. A chemotherapy patient, the boy’s father was holding a sign that said “Never give up.”
The boy’s name is Owen Plasman, he’s 9 years old, and he is fighting cancer, according to his parents, Paul and Gillian Plasman of Florence. They drove down with Owen and 4-year-old Layla for the show.
“He knows all these guys,” Paul Plasman said of Owen. “He knows all their finishing moves. He studies them.”
The first couple matches were not for television. The Miz, a good guy, forced villainous Wade Barrett into submission with a figure-four leg lock. Then a bad guy pinned a good guy in the second match.
Then came what the crowd had been waiting for. The floor crew changed the banners around the stage to read “WWE Monday Night Raw.” “Charleston, SC, Live” appeared at the top of the television screen. The lights and cameras panned the audience, whose members stood, cheered and held up signs.
The first televised match took place mostly outside the ring. Bearded Daniel Bryan and the much bigger Randy “The Viper” Orton crashed into the announcers’ table and kept fighting on the floor until they were separated in a double disqualification.
That’s OK. The crowd was really here to see John Cena, the main attraction. He was not scheduled to compete on TV, but the fans got their fix by listening to an in-ring interview.
It’s a night to get lost in bright lights, loud music, bravado, back stories and drama.
A 91-year-old immigrant and a 9-year-old cancer survivor are smiling.