“You know it’s fake, right?” These are the words uttered by people who don’t understand professional wrestling. How do I respond when people ask this ill-informed question? I say, “You know Darth Vader is fake, right?” Or, “You know the characters in This Is Us aren’t real, right?” Professional wrestling might as well be Rodney Dangerfield because it doesn’t get any respect. Despite the fact that professional wrestling has been around for more than 100 years, some people feel the need to cast judgment and view it as holding no redeemable value. I’ve been a fan of professional wrestling my entire life, and I’m proud of that fact. I’ve derived a plethora of value from my fandom, established friendships because of it, and had amazing experiences along the way. Professional wrestling is just as valid a form of entertainment as anything you’ll find on film, in print, on stage, or even on a sports field. This is the first in a series of posts where I’m going to take the time to help demystify professional wrestling in an effort to help those who aren’t fans understand why millions of us are.
Let’s address the biggest gripe people have with pro wrestling. Some people like to talk about how it’s fake. Wrestling isn’t fake. If it were fake, that would literally mean it doesn’t exist and that it’s a figment of our imagination. Clearly, that’s not the case. Is wrestling scripted and choreographed? Yes, to a degree. The finishes (i.e., who wins and who loses) are pre-determined. Some matches are outlined in great detail by the wrestlers ahead of time, while other matches aren’t. For example, “Macho Man” Randy Savage was meticulous about mapping out every move in a match because that’s the way he preferred to work.
Take the time to watch the match below between Savage and Jake “The Snake” Roberts, one of the most gifted professional wrestlers of all time. Heralded for his in-ring psychology and soft-yet-powerful vocal delivery on the microphone, Roberts was in a league of his own. Pay attention to how the crowd reacts throughout the match. These men may have been trained for how to properly take bumps (i.e., the act of a wrestler hitting the ground or the mat), but gravity is real. They’ve broken bones and torn muscles for the sake of entertaining millions of people the world over.
Unlike Savage, other wrestlers like to call it in the ring. They will literally talk to each other in the ring, calling moves on the fly. Think of how challenging that must be! Doing these high-risk maneuvers is hard enough. Then, on top of that, they have to call the moves and string it all together in a way that takes the crowd on an emotional rollercoaster ride that gets fans invested in what’s happening in the ring. Watch the match below between Hulk Hogan and Sting. This took place at Temple University, and I was live in the crowd that night with my friend Brian. We didn’t realize it at the time, but this wound up being Hulk Hogan’s final match. Pay attention to how the crowd roars for Hogan toward the end of the match, and at key moments during this contest. You’ll also notice that both competitors bleed during the match. This is real blood. Wrestlers will self-inflict these wounds using a hidden blade to “get color” during a match. This has been going on for decades. It’s a way to heighten the drama of a match, further investing the audience in the perceived reality of the situation. Think of how committed these guys must be to literally bleed for their job.
The next time you think of asking a fan of professional wrestling if it’s fake, don’t. We’re well aware that what we’re watching is scripted entertainment, just as you are when you watch a TV show or movie. But remember that, unlike most actors, professional wrestlers are intentionally putting themselves in harm’s way. They aren’t using stunt doubles. They’re experiencing the reality of gravity. The broken bones are real. The torn muscles are real. The blood is real. With this in mind, give them the respect they deserve. After entertaining us for more than 100 years, I’d say they’ve earned it.