Surprisingly, I’ve made 316 posts to date on this blog and I have yet to make one about professional wrestling. Well, that ends here. If you’re unaware, I am incredibly passionate about professional wrestling. I’ll let that bias sink in (and the eye rolls) and this won’t be my magnum opus defense of wrestling, but I do want to attempt to approach this from an objective standpoint.
As I said, I love wrestling. I’ve been watching since I was four years old. I’m almost twenty-three. That’s a long time to watch a show that comes on every single week of the year and within the last ten years, has at least two or more shows a week. I think my parents and friends thought it would be a childhood phase for me and then eventually I would grow up to dismiss this wacky form of entertainment. I know many of my friends did. Yet, if anything, I’ve actually strengthened in my love therein, as YouTube, the ability to buy DVDs and PPVs related and going to shows has helped.
Moreover, just to further nerd myself up here, since 2005, I’ve been posting at a wrestling message board wherein we dissect, analyze and discuss everything related to professional wrestling. I assure you, we get just as intense about it, if not more so than people discussing the three big professional sports. And we’re not talking in a kayfabe context – in wrestling parlance, kayfabe means what’s “fake” about the show – we’re talking about the performance of the wrestlers and the job of the promoters, creative staff and the rest for booking those wrestlers. For instance, after a professional wrestling match, we’ll talk about how well each guy used psychology throughout the match, how well they conveyed emotions and the story on his face, if they connected with the audience, if the announcers did a commendable job in calling the action, how the match should have climaxed from a story standpoint and so on. The main point is this: we care about the story and the characters. And when pro wrestling matches are completed to their maximum potential, I truly believe it to be an “art form.” Yes, I said it.
Just to reiterate a point I made in that last paragraph that may have gone unnoticed; yes, professional wrestling is fake. This is the biggest criticism people seem to have of it and they toss it in fans’ face, as if it’s a trump card or as if we don’t know. We know. Wrestling is fake, as the bookers/promoters orchestrate the fights, decide who wins the fights and how and the characters are just that, characters comprised of good guys, bad guys and guys in between. For the most part, they don’t actually hate each other or wish ill of each other. It’s all a way to convey the story. Whoever is champion is who the booker wants to be the champion. There is not a necessarily a meritocracy here (wherein the best guy, even if that’s subjective, is the “champion,” as would be the case in real sports). It’s a television show, plain and simple. But for some reason, critics denounce it for that reason. Well, it’s not real, so who cares? Almost every other show one sees on television or in the movies is also not real. Bryan Cranston is not actually a meth dealer, as he is on Breaking Bad.
I know, I know, some will say, “Yeah, it is fake, but also, it’s for rednecks and the lowest common denominator.” I would not contend ever that professional wrestling is a well-written show on a consistent base. There have been well-developed storylines, feuds and the wrestlers themselves cut great promos (meaning monologues, essentially) and have great matches, but the writing itself isn’t Emmy-worthy or anything along those lines. That said, the charge that wrestling is for rednecks or dumb people in general, is a gross overgeneralization of the fan base and a stereotype at that.
Thousands of people in cities all over the world flock to the shows and millions more watch it on a weekly basis. Are they all rednecks and stupid? We begin to realize how silly that sounds. I’m not sure if anyone’s ever done a demographic breakdown of wrestling fans, their social status and level of education, but on r/squaredcircle they did a breakdown. Of course, it’s just of those people that post there, but it’s still interesting. Let’s check it out:
Most are male and most are between 19-25 years old. That’s not surprising. The majority has watched the show for at least four years, but the most are in the eleven to twenty years bracket. 34% have a bachelors or associates degree and a tad over 6% have their masters or PhD. Not all of them can be “dumb rednecks.” Additionally, as I said, I post on a wrestling message board and have for eight years now. I can genuinely say, I have met some of the smartest, most articulate and kind people on that particular forum. And they are wrestling fans. Part of the reason I get so passionate about defending not just wrestling, but wrestling fans is because of those people. They are freaking smart and deserve not to be dismissed so unnecessarily because they like professional wrestling.
Now, to get back to the question of reality in professional wrestling, yes, it’s scripted and that’s a better term than “fake.” For the most part, the wrestlers are out there to make it look real without actually hurting the other guy. However, even so, guys get hurt on a regular basis and sometimes to make it look real, they do actually make it “real.” We’re talking about a form of entertainment where wrestlers are wrestling four or so times a week for fifty-two weeks. There is no off-season or down time. As such, nagging injuries accumulate and sometimes, injuries are severe enough to require missing action and getting surgery. Why aren’t wrestlers afforded respect in this area? Yes, you don’t have to respect professional wrestling as a show, but why aren’t wrestlers given respect for what they put their bodies through? Not to say nothing of the fact that they are some of the best athletes in the world. They get dismissed, though, because what they’re doing is “scripted.” So? Or they get dismissed because, “Well, aren’t they all on steroids?” That’s another misconception about professional wrestling. If you had asserted that claim maybe ten years ago, there would have been far more merit to it. However, professional wrestling is far more clean than it has ever been. These guys are legitimate athletes.
If anything, the idea that they are trying to make it look real without it actually being real is what makes it an “art form” to me. When the best are doing it, it’s an amazing rollercoaster of emotion, drama, suspense and everything else you would find in a good book or a good movie. Now, go watch some local wrestling shows with no-names. Not to disparage them because even on that scene there are standouts, but many haven’t learned the craft yet. So, when they try to make it look real without making it real, it looks like shit. And it’s transparently so. In watching them, you get a newfound respect for just how good the best are.
The reason I felt compelled to defend professional wrestling at this point is because WWE, the main professional wrestling organization in the world, just had their second biggest PPV of the year, Summerslam. The main event of the show was John Cena, the WWE Champion, versus Daniel Bryan, the challenger. John Cena has been the top guy since 2005. Daniel Bryan is the unorthodox (per the usual big star WWE depicts) wrestler from the underground scene. They had a helluva match and one of the best I’ve ever seen. You can see the full match (for now until they likely take it down) here:
Check out just before the twenty-six minute mark where they make it real with some stiff slaps.
Now, the reason I’m highlighting this match in particular is because, if you notice, John Cena, the guy in the shorts, has his left elbow protected. That’s because it looks like this:
He had a torn triceps and fluid had collected at the end of his elbow giving him a huge softball-looking knot. Yet, he wrestled a physical match for over thirty minutes. I think some will scoff at that, but John Cena is a stud. Wrestlers consistently wrestle with injuries and some have wrestled and finished matches with severe injuries. For instance, one guy, HHH, finished a match with a completely torn quadriceps muscle. Wrestling may be “fake” or scripted, but the wrestlers are incredibly tough bastards and to me, some of the toughest athletes in the world.
Then some people will insult my intelligence and suggest, “Well, they don’t really get injured; it’s just part of the show.” Yes, they do sometimes incorporate “fake injuries” into the show or even real injuries into the show (mostly as a way to explain someone’s absence), but those of us that have followed the show for years and pay attention to the backstage happenings, can discern the difference.
— John Cena (@JohnCena) August 21, 2013
Look, I’m not saying you should go watch professional wrestling and like it; I’m simply stating, I do not, from as objective a standpoint as I can get, understand why they don’t get more respect for their skill, their athleticism and their toughness? There have been football players, UFC fighters, NCAA wrestling champions and an Olympic Gold Medalist that have wrestled; they are great athletes. I think they should be afforded some damn respect. That is all.