When it comes up in conversation that I watch Pro-Wrestling, the first thing people say is “isn’t that fake?” or “like UFC?” And I just shake my head. People just don’t get it. So I thought I might explain it.
You see, I watch a lot of WWE Network, and WWE TV programming and would like to post some musings on it from time-to-time. Although, I’m sure nobody reads this, if they do, then I would like a reference point to point people to go back to when I do review a WWE PPV or muse about the sport. So this post will be all about why and how I appreciate Pro Wrestling; and a bit about the business.
Now, there are some people who may have watched it back in the day (either 80s/90s, or late 90s/early 00’s) and will have no idea what’s going on, so I will also give a brief summary to catch those folks up in separate post that I will link later.
The “Fake Issue” and How to Appreciate Pro-Wrestling
This whole “isn’t it fake?” question is probably the most annoying thing people say, because they know it’s staged, and are pejoratively implying that I think it’s real or that I don’t get it.
I’m not stupid.
So we begin by letting you know that it is scripted and staged, not fake. It is a show. If someone says to you “I’m going to go see Grease on stage,” would you respond by saying “but isn’t that fake?” No, you would not.
Two wrestlers having a match are performing a piece of art with their movement and often words. One has to appreciate professional wrestling as its own distinct art form.
Think of Pro-Wrestling more as athletic theater simulating fighting. Vince McMahon, WWE CEO refers to it as “sports-entertainment,” (though most hardcore wrestling fans will tell you that’s BS) but that is the category that Pro-Wrestling would fall under. It’s not like wrestling promotions try to pass it off as purely competitive anymore.
In summary: Pro-Wrestling is its own, unique art form.
So now that we’ve dealt with the whole “isn’t that fake?” thing I’ll get into the two ends of the fan spectrum.
I am what is known as a “smart fan” (Smark). A smark is a member of the “Internet Wrestling Community” (IWC). This is mostly males under 50 who have been watching it since they were young and haven’t stopped once it was no longer cool. We follow backstage news on “insider” web-sites such as Pro-Wrestling Torch and spend time Youtubing obscure matches and events, then discussing them. We also listen to several Pro-Wrestling Podcasts that talk about the business from an insider’s perspective. We talk about the business using “insider” terms. A lot of this news consists of keeping up with politics and real-life beefs between wrestlers behind the scenes. We tend to analyze (over-analyze, more like it) the product and judge the living hell out of it if we don’t like what was going on. We still watch it almost no matter what.
Think of it like Sci-fi fans loving Starwars, but spending time judging George Lucas’ decision to put Jar-Jar Binks in a movie and make Anakin a whiny little ______ while hanging onto and speculating about every bit of news that comes out about Episode 7 hoping that it will be better.
The other side of the coin is what fans like me refer to as a “casual” fan. This is someone who enjoys the show as a show, not over-analyzing and criticizing every little thing that happens (or doesn’t happen). These are the fans that will just stop watching if the show isn’t keeping their interest like any other show on television. A lot of these fans are children who some of the more outrageous aspects of the characters appeal to. Many are people who have watched it off and on since they were kids, but aren’t necessarily fanatic about following every aspect of it. They may not watch every week, but will often go to live shows.
Where as a “smark” would refer to a bad guy as a “heel” and a good guy as a “baby-face” and so-on with other industry insider lingo, a casual fan would just say “bad guy” or “good guy.” They wouldn’t judge the show through an analytical lens like I would.
Neither is better than the other. In fact, a lot of smarks really want more casual fans to watch. If there are more casual fans spending money, it will keep the industry going. Smark’s opinions often differ with WWe management on how to make this happen.
To clarify: I am a “smark.”
I enjoy, above all, the athletic entertainment aspect of wrestling. A great wrestling match is a combination of timing, chemistry, athleticism, and cool looking moves that are chained together and create a flow. The latter is known as “chain wrestling” and would look a bit more like amateur wrestling. There is brawling, which is a lot of punches, kicks, and throwing moves. There may be a lot of high flying acrobatic moves. The purpose of this is to tell a story.
A good match such as Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins from Raw in 2014 may not have all of the characteristics, but enough to make it entertaining. A great match, such as CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan from Money In The Bank 2010 combines most of the characteristics. A legendary match such as Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker from Wrestlemania 25 contains all of them.
The other aspect of the show is the “promo” or “mic-work.” This is the smack-talking that goes on to hype these matches and fuel the story-lines. A great interview may be funny, it may be intense, it may poetic, it may be dark, or it may be a straight-forward smack talk. Which direction the promo takes depends on the character. The Rock used humor and smack-talk. Mick Foley (Mankind) used humor and intensity. The Undertaker used a lot of darkness in his interviews.
One of the major complaints of modern wrestling is that the promo segments are often too long and are more prevalent than actual wrestling matches. Another complaint now a-days is that all of the promos in WWE are scripted by a writing staff and can come off as very unnatural and forced which takes away from the telling of the story.
As mentioned above, story-telling is what pro-wrestling is all about. Some people have called Pro-Wrestling a “male soap opera.” I suppose that’s an apt description though I’ve never been much of a fan of that term because it involved soap-opera. The combination of traits that make a match as mentioned above is the conduit for which the story is told. Whether it be the young up-and-comer trying to knock the veteran off of their perch, two power-houses trying to prove who is the bigger bad-ass, or an intensely personal feud between two-people. The promo aspect works to move the story forward and sometimes can be the major conduit for which the story is told leading up to a match. This is especially true if the match is between two older-wrestlers who can’t handle the physical toll of nightly action. A good example of this is Undertaker vs. Triple H from Wrestlemania 27 and 28.
The best part of Rasslin’ is live events. Pro-Wrestling made it’s reputation on live events. There is nothing quite like seeing Pro-Wrestling, especially WWE Live. I have been to a few live shows. some are televised such as Raw, some are House Shows which are not televised and often don’t do anything to further story-lines, and some are “PPVs” which are monthly big events that culminate and begin new story-lines. I went to Wrestlemania 29 in New York, NY in 2013. It was one of the coolest experiences of my life. 80,000 screaming fans from all over the world coming together to enjoy “the show of shows.”
That is probably the thing that I love about wrestling, the camaraderie between the fans of the sport. I think anybody can be converted into a wrestling fan on some level by experiencing being apart of a great wrestling crowd.
Now adays, with social media, Podcasts, and “shoot” (legitimate, out of character) interviews, fans can connect like never before with Pro-Wrestlers. Having Chris Jericho re-tweet something you write is pretty darn cool. Social media also gives fans a lot of power to influence the events of WWE by making their voices heard.
In summary: I watch Pro-Wrestling as a show. The physicality makes for telling a great story. Being a wrestling fan is an interactive experience… especially at live events and with social media. Yeah, it’s extremely cheesy sometimes and sometimes moves look really fake. Sometimes there are the stupidest characters. When there are just awful segments, you just kind of wade through the BS, suspend your disbelief in some instances, and enjoy the good stuff.
And if your a Smark, complain a little.