There are few art forms that demand a person to have the athletic ability of an Olympian, the grace and balance of a high-wire performer with the charisma and personality of a theatric actor. One of those art forms is the art of professional wrestling.
While often mocked by mainstream media, professional wrestlers of both World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and independent promotions alike perform live, night after night, displaying incredible feats of strength and high flying acrobatics, all while facing the looming threat of catastrophic injury. Wrestlers from around the globe train their entire lives with the dream of making it to WWE and performing on the grandest stage of them all, WrestleMania.
In the ‘80s and ‘90s, WWE was socially accepted by the masses, reaching new heights in ratings and exposure while blending into daily pop culture. From wrestlers of the ‘80s like Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage, to the ‘90s “Attitude Era” wrestlers of WWE with The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. WWE was flooded with characters who could draw a massive crowd where ever they went.
It seems that kids and adults alike reveled in the greatness of the time, and professional wrestling shows like Monday Night Raw were must-see programs. In addition, millions lined up to see pay-per-view events such as The Royal Rumble and Summer Slam, both in live attendance and at home.
But somewhere along the line wrestling fans began to grow up and were unfortunately introduced to the harsh truth that wrestling was scripted, predetermined and “fake.” As a lifelong wrestling fan I felt like many others. It was like the wind had been completely taken out of my sails as if someone had told me that Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy wasn’t real.
You mean to tell me that Stone Cold Steve Austin didn’t actually despise his boss, Vince McMahon, and that McMahon knew all along that Austin was going to drive out to the ring in a beer truck and spray him with beer using a fire hose? (Yes…That happened. And yes…it was awesome.)
With the truth being out that the outcome and flow of matches are known by the wrestlers involved, while many jumped ship and stopped watching, loyal wrestling fans who have stuck around were forced to watch professional wrestling in a different way.
Why should the matches predetermined and scripted nature devalue the wrestler’s performances? Doesn’t that fact only add to the entertainment value like a Broadway play of sorts?
If anything, the predetermined fact of wrestling should be admired and respected as both performers literally have each other’s lives in their hands as the number one rule for a wrestler is to keep the person they are working with safe using proper technique. Wrestlers are as fake as Rick Grimes is on AMC’s The Walking Dead. Although he is not a real person, he is a character that evokes emotion from an audience that invests in his journey.
Behind the scenes performers spend years developing their character and crafting their moves that match with their persona and natural abilities. The ring is simply a stage where performers can unleash their natural abilities as entertainers. The Rock has always been known as the People’s Champion who has trashed talked and peoples elbowed his way to the top of entertainment. Now known by his real name, Dwayne Johnson, he is one of the biggest action stars in movie history.
The Beast himself, Brock Lesnar, came onto the wrestling scene with Division 1 national championship credentials as an amateur wrestler at the University of Minnesota. After becoming the youngest WWE Champion in WWE history, Lesnar went on to become Heavyweight Champion of the world in the UFC.
For both superstars, the WWE was simply a stage for them to showcase their legitimate potential as athletes and entertainers, and the ways they sacrificed their bodies were very real.
Sure, not all characters are as close to who they really are. Mark Callaway, also known as the legendary Undertaker, can be viewed as a ridiculous character who is supposed to be a supernatural undead being, hence why he is also called The Dead Man. But at the same time, the Undertakers’ legendary status has stood the test of time as millions of viewers from around the world have watched him perform at WrestleMania since the ‘80s and still do to this day.
Unfortunately WWE has suffered from simply bad writing and the plummeting ratings have reflected that. With the stars on display being a far cry from the ‘90s legends such as The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels and Mick Foley, the WWE has gone in a new PG-13 direction, showcasing performers like John Cena, Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose. Sure ‘90s stars of the past have come back for limited comeback runs like The Rock, Y2J Chris Jericho and “The Game” himself Triple H (Also the current COO of WWE), the mystique has not been the same.
But for any underground wrestling fans who feel embarrassed to watch and have feelings of wrestling being a lower form of entertainment, there is light at the end of the tunnel. With the emergence of essentially WWE’s minor league, NXT, the talent that has come into NXT has been anything but minor. Some of the most world renowned wrestlers from promotions in the US, Europe and Japan have made their way into NXT, and will be eventually placed on the main stage to help revive WWE once again.
For example, the current NXT Champion is Finn Balor, an Irish wrestler known for his unorthodox move set and a riveting entrance that can excite any crowd by unveiling his demon persona, entering the ring with ridiculously crafted body paint covering him from head-to-toe.
Even if you truly do not like professional wrestling, I implore you to respect the art form. For those who wish to get back in touch with their wrestling fan-hood, I highly recommend you simply give it a chance, and that’s the bottom line because Stone Cold said so.
Balor’s and others unbelievable performances can be seen on NXT, available on the WWE Network.
Nick Tocco can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org