Grappling with an affinity for pro wrestling
WWE culture overshadowing athletic skill
Todd Colin Vaughan
“STONE COLD! STONE COLD! STONE COLD!”
I still remember Jim Ross, ring announcer for the then World Wresting Federation, screaming into his microphone as wrestler Steve Austin’s classic breaking glass introduction blared from the speakers of my set-top box.
Those were the days. Back when the world’s premier wrestling association was indeed a federation and not what’s presently known as World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). (In case anyone forgot, the name change came after the World Wildlife Fund challenged the patent of the acronym — damn panda bears taking all the glory).
Eight-year-old me jumped from couch to couch with my best friends — wrestling while our heroes did the same. When people asked, I gladly told them that I was a wrestling fan.
Things have changed.
Sixteen years later, I can no longer jump from couch to couch or speak openly of my fandom. I hide that Monday Night Raw still takes over my Monday nights instead of Monday Night Football.
Part of my childhood cannot be disclosed and I’m pretty sure it has something to do with the WWE’s depiction of unnecessarily mature themes. The sport is real, but the way they sell the brand turns people off and forces real fans into hiding.
Wrestling is a sport that requires years of training and dedication and is often misunderstood because of the overt marketing of the brand. It’s often painted in a harsh light because of steroids and inappropriate sexual content.
However, true wrestling fans, however, are more interested in the training and lifelong craft of being an elite wrestling athlete.
The way the WWE sells its brand turns the average person away from the sport or makes them miss the craft involved.
Firstly, wrestling is fake. Period. But, let’s have a look at the positive values being represented to wrestling fans while still keeping the element of fiction firmly in mind. Also noting that the violence represented appears comically fake.
Violence is an unacceptable part of society, but the choreographed gymnastic violence that takes place in professional wrestling is simply an act of athleticism.
It is absolutely an athletic skill to prevent performers from getting seriously hurt in the ring.
So why then are wrestling fans secretive of their passion? Why would anyone hide what they like? If someone is passionate about something that isn’t hurting anyone else, they should be proud to wear their Austin 3:16 shirt anywhere. After all, no one points at the Tom Brady jerseys wandering the hallways.
Both fans and non-fans alike are responsible for creating these outsider cultures of the sports world.
Non-fans have an issue of understanding. Part of not liking things is being uneducated about them. In short, “I don’t understand that, so it’s stupid.”
To say that non-fans rejection of wrestling is solely responsible for the sport being marginalized would, however, be incorrect.
The other half of the issue is fans themselves. Wrestling fans grew up with their sport. They bought T-shirts and went to all the hometown events.
Being a wrestling fan is a select club of sports fan in the same way that being a football, NASCAR, darts, poker or billiards fan is an exclusive club. The acceptance of wrestling in the greater sports world died in the ‘80s after the fakeness of wrestling was made widely known and fans don’t seem eager to get back in.
So should the greater sports world become more accepting? Or are niche markets inevitable? Is it possible to reconcile Wayne Gretzky with Hulk Hogan?
The answer lies in understanding that the key component of any sport is athletic prowess. Gretzky played an unscripted sport that relies on gifted athletes performing super-human feats. Hulk Hogan competed in a scripted sport that also relies on super-human action.
The distinction in this comparison is reality and people’s perception of it. So regardless on your own opinion of reality in sport, the actions themselves are no less amazing.
Indeed, there is no way to fake scoring 50 goals in 39 games, just like there is no real way to fake jumping off of a 15-metre cage onto concrete. The physical toll is the same whether the ending is planned or not.
The example of WWE superstar Mick Foley furthers this point. Foley’s physical gifts weren’t those of a traditional athlete. He could, in fact, be labeled obese.
However, Foley had one skill that few people in this world have: the unrelenting will to block out pain while performing at a high level.
This includes matches in Japan where the ring was wrapped in real barbed wire, set on fire and covered with thumbtacks. The blood and hits are real, the athlete just knows they’re coming whereas the action goes unscripted in other sports.
To be clear, violence should not be praised. The dedication to sport and athletic competition should be.
So whatever your perception on reality in sport, remember that athletic skill comes in many forms.