Professional wrestling – think Hulk Hogan, The Rock, WWE – is a fake sport, to be sure. The WWE likes to call its “sports entertainment.” Honestly, there’s really no other way to describe a sport where the results are all predetermined. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that what happens in the wrestling ring isn’t, in many ways, real.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways “fake” wrestling is very much real:
Injuries: Just like athletes competing in real sports, wrestlers get injured. A lot. From torn ACLs to broken bones to concussions, professional wrestlers get hurt at least as often as other athletes, perhaps even more. Because, even if you decide who’s winning and who’s losing ahead of time, the action in the ring, not to mention the hours of training required to develop the pro wrestler “look,” is most definitely athletic.
The truth is that you can only fake a punch to the side of the head so much. To maintain the illusion of reality, wrestlers do actually hit each other. Sure, they might let up a bit, and stomp their feet on the mat to make it seem like they’re making a bigger impact, but they are actually hitting each other. And when you do that night after night, those soft blows start to add up
Storyline: Many people – wrestling fans included – find the typical wrestling storylines to be simple and amateurish. And often, that’s very true. After all, the world of professional wrestling tends to market itself to young people, many of whom are not up to parsing detailed stories.
But there are times when those fake stories actually blur the line of reality. Take, for instance, the famous wrestling storyline called “The Montreal Screwjob”: Canadian wrestler Bret “The Hitman” Hart was getting set to exit the WWE (then the WWF) for a rival organization. On his way out, he was asked to drop his championship belt to another competitor. But when he balked, WWE owner Vince McMahon took matters into his own hands, rushing to the ring to take the belt from Hart in front of a live crowd and payperview audience. Hart responded backstage by punching McMahon in the face. For real.
Audience: In most sports, the crowd can do nothing but root for the home team and boo the opponent. But in professional wrestling, audiences have all the power. They ultimately decide who’s a good guy and who’s the bad guy. In fact, some of the most significant character “turns” in wrestling history – like when Hulk Hogan faced The Rock at Wrestlemania 18 in Toronto. Hogan came in as the “heel” (bad guy) while The Rock was the “face” (good guys). That night, though, the crowd decided, for whatever reason, that they wanted to cheer for Hogan. What resulted was one of the most fascinating moments in professional wrestling history, as the crowd forced the wrestlers to change their plan mid-match. You can’t say that about any real sports.
The next time you deride professional wrestling as fake, it’s worth remembering that, while the winners and losers are definitely predetermined, there’s a lit of reality to everything else that happens in the ring.