Pro-Wrestling: Why Sports Entertainment is as Much a Sport as Anything Else
Professional Wrestling. When you hear that term it brings up many emotions. For non-fans, it can cause eye rolls and confusion. It’s been called acting, performance art, scripted “not real” and my least favorite word of all, “fake.” To non-fans or people who used to be fans, (and there’s a lot of those nowadays) it’s dismissed as entertainment. Scoffed at as something that’s just out of what nowadays is called Nerd Culture. Well, Pro-Wrestling, or Sports Entertainment, as WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon insists it is referred to as is just as much a sport as every other sport you have ever watched. The first reason being that wrestling is filled with such incredible athletes. Countless former college football players have made the transition to wrestling after their playing days are over. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, of course, played college football at the University of Miami. WCW Icon Goldberg played at the University of Georgia and was taken during the 1990 NFL Draft. Arguably wrestling’s current biggest star, Roman Reigns, played at Georgia Tech. You get my point. The sport that pro-wrestling is most comparable to is MMA. UFC over this past weekend had the return of their biggest star, Conor McGregor. But, why is he their biggest star? Sure, he’s a dominant fighter, he’s 22-4. He won last weekend’s fight in just 40 seconds. But, what’s his biggest selling point? Most would have to agree it’s his over the top personality. That’s what his fights are really sold on, you never know what he’ll say or do. Similar to over the top wrestling personalities such as Ric Flair, Stone Cold Steve Austin, or The Rock. It’s a safe bet that that has been influenced by one of the three if not all. Let us also not forget that several UFC fighters have made the transition to wrestling. Ronda Rousey spent a year in WWE and has been on hiatus since April of last year because she’d like to start a family and the WWE schedule is too grueling for her to do full time. Cain Velasquez recently made the jump to WWE late last year after signing a three year deal with Vince McMahon’s organization. Ken Shamrock was a wrestler first and then went on to become a UFC Hall of Famer and since 2018 has transitioned back to wrestling. Brock Lesnar is arguably the most successful athlete to do both MMA and WWE. In just his third fight he won the UFC Heavyweight Championship. In an interview with ESPN in 2015, Lesnar said, “Dana White is promoting fights and we’re promoting fights. It just so happens that we get more longevity out of our fights and our fighters.” Brock Lesner can certainly speak to the legitimacy of both. If he says it’s the same thing then it’s probably the same thing. If Lesnar is right, then why is MMA considered a sport but pro-wrestling is not? The answer every non-wrestling fan is quick to give is: it’s scripted. More on that in a few minutes. Another reason pro-wrestling should be considered a sport is the punishment the wrestlers take inside the ring. Everyone who knows anything about wrestling knows that the falls, or bumps as they’re referred to in the business, hurt and that the mat they wrestle on and the ring they work in is far from a mattress. I could bore you with the details of the guts of a wrestling ring, but all you really need to know is there’s a lot of plywood and two-by-fours involved. It’s not exactly as soft as the cotton you can get at your local store. Wrestling beats down your body similar to the sport of football. Some wrestling legends are doing all they can to get around these days and they are just north of age 50. Wrestling legend Mick Foley comes to mind. Watch him walk to a ring in recent years and then you tell me why wrestling isn’t “real” enough to be considered a sport. Now, you may be thinking well he wrestled a very extreme style, and you would be absolutely right. Guys like The Undertaker have worked a more traditional style and he’s had both his hips replaced. He also has a limited range of motion in his shoulder. He is in pain every day, similar to a great fighter at the tail end of his career, The Undertaker continues to wrestle for WWE on a very limited basis. Hulk Hogan has had ten back surgeries and is not medically cleared to take a single bump. If it was acting, or fake, there wouldn’t be any harm in taking one bump in the ring. If rumors are to be believed he wasn’t even medically cleared to throw punches in November of last year. Something so punishing shouldn’t be so easily dismissed as “fake” or “acting.” Wrestlers and wrestling fans view those terms as extremely disrespectful. John Cena in recent years has moved into a part-time role with WWE due to his blossoming acting career, but he’s made very clear that even if he didn’t have opportunities in Hollywood he wouldn’t be working a full-time schedule in WWE anyway due to age and the grind of the schedule. He’s 42. That’s not very old and John Cena is certainly in fantastic shape and if he can’t do the full grind anymore, that says a lot. Now, let's go ahead and address the elephant in the room. The biggest reason that people say that pro-wrestling isn’t a sport is because of the fact the outcomes of the matches are predetermined. They most certainly are. That shouldn’t disqualify it from being a sport and here’s why: those two wrestlers in the ring are having a competition with each other and the rest of the roster to have the match of the night. How do you do that in wrestling? You have to get the crowd hooked, they have to believe in the story that the wrestlers are telling inside the ring. The wrestlers have to properly execute the moves. How so? Well, let me put it like this: a great Quarterback has the throwing motion of Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. When a Quarterback isn’t as skilled as they should be they have the throwing motion of Tim Tebow. It’s the same thing in pro-wrestling. The wins and losses may not matter but there’s still competition. Hulk Hogan was well known to do everything he could to make sure he was better than everyone in the 80s and 90s, by hook or by crook. Wrestlers, like every other sport, are out to be the best. You don’t see actors having the same friction and competition with each other. If what UFC does is a sport, then pro-wrestling should be in that same class. Dana White is a promoter who sells the public fights based on personalities and the ‘what if’ factor. If you watched Conor McGregor’s return fight this past weekend, I ask you did you watch for the fight or did you watch it because McGregor is such an over the top personality? Pro-wrestling does the same thing. This Sunday is WWE’s annual Royal Rumble pay-per-view and it’s being sold on the fact that Brock Lesnar will enter the Royal Rumble match? Why is that the selling point? Well, He’s Brock Lesnar and his accolades and reputation are self-explanatory. In pro-wrestling, the wins and losses may not matter but besides that, they do a grind and a job that most of the top sports stars couldn’t handle. Wrestlers go to a town, have a match, sweat, bleed, and pay the price. Then they get up and do that night after night until they’re Mick Foley, Hulk Hogan, or The Undertaker and countless others. Washed up, broken down, with no benefits, no healthcare, and no retirement. They just work until they are long past the point that they should be there. If it’s not a sport then what is it? Acting is an insult. Acting isn’t nearly as hard on the body. Fake? Then why the battered bodies? If it’s not good enough to be a sport because who wins and who loses is predetermined then is wrestling not good enough to be a sport, or is the word sport too good for pro-wrestling?