“MOVIES ARE FAKE! The things that happen in them don’t really happen! The people in them don’t really know each other! The monsters they fight don’t actually exist! Movies suck because they’re FAKE!
Oh and by the way plays suck and video-games suck and TV drama sucks too! Because it’s FAKE!”
Sound like a reasonable argument? If so then you’re probably reading the wrong website right now. But this is the standard reaction of pretty much any non-wrestling fan when the subject of pro wrestling is raised. They dismiss the sport – and it IS a sport, among other things – out of hand as the doyen of young children, fat middle-aged man-boys, and idiots who can’t understand how the green man in the traffic light box is able to stay in there so long without taking a break. That these same people can then launch into a discussion about the characters in Breaking Bad as though they were next door neighbours is in many ways the ultimate irony.
By now, everyone save possibly the aforementioned young children KNOWS that it’s fake. The promoters know the results of who’s going to win and lose before the matches happen. The “opponents” often help one another pull off moves that are meant to hurt them. The ring is padded. That big man in the black cloak isn’t ACTUALLY able to raise the dead. But that’s the fun of pretending that non-fans capable of sitting through Clash Of The Titans without pointing out that the monsters are CG seem to forget about when it comes to wrestling.
Oh, by the by, Sylvester Stallone knew he was going to beat Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV before he got in the ring with him.
But this is not “Pointing Out Why Wrestling Doesn’t Suck,” or “Debunking Wrestling’s Detractors” this is “Why Pro Wrestling Is Awesome.” This is about the things that make it unique within the two worlds it straddles, sport and entertainment, and why those things ought to give you a hankering for some squared-circle action.
First of all, there’s the athleticism. Yes, the punches are pulled (sometimes) and the moves are sold as painful while they in fact protect the opponent, but the bodies being thrown around are real, and as the saying goes “you can’t fake gravity.” There’s something particularly impressive about watching someone fit and agile enough to bound around the ring, leaping the ropes, climbing the turnbuckles and flipping this way and that for up to and including an hour in general, let alone when doing so in choreographed tandem with someone else, while at the same time telling a story to a crowd.
Even the big plodding behemoths who take up so much room they’re barely able to run provide entertainment as they hoist even bigger behemoths and fire them around like human Kaiju. A good wrestling show is like watching Chinese Circus acrobats mix with performance artists and strongmen in a Jackie Chan stunt show that, when done properly, makes watching an Arnie movie with all its stunt doubles and multiple set ups seem…well, a bit pants.
Next, we have the characters. Big and bold and broad, often cartoony to be sure, but wrestling is the only place where you could ever find a wrestling pig-farmer facing off with an All-American hero, or where a Warrior from Parts Unknown can come up against a wrestling tax-man. Be it shit-kicking tough-as-nails S.O.B.s, corporate lowlife pastiches, or just plain crazy-folk, all of them step into the ring to bring delight and dread to the crowds, like a live-action version of Street Fighter that doesn’t ruin the game.
The best of these come alive to fans and viewers, and the stories they go through are sometimes more riveting than even the best TV drama. Mind you, very often these storylines are left by the wayside in favour of the central reason they exist; the match. Two good characters with a decent background will often produce icing so good you forget the cake that came before it.
But perhaps the most important thing that makes Pro Wrestling awesome where other methods of storytelling are just good or even okay is the one thing it does that movies, games and even music can’t; it makes the fans part of the action. The average moviegoer can boo and hiss at the screen all they want, but it won’t make a damn bit of difference to the outcome of the story. Wrestling is the only form of media where if the audience boos a wrestler, then they can turn around and tell them exactly where to go.
We’re not even talking about something as simple as the “he’s behind you!” tomfoolery of a panto; imagine you’re watching an episode of your favourite soap, and Richard is about to attack his former best mate Gezza because he stole his woman. Now imagine that the second you say “what a rotten fellow” Richard turns around, tells you to go swivel, then attacks Gezza even harder just to piss you off. At a wrestling show, the crowd engage with the characters on real, personal level, and even though we know that it probably won’t affect the outcome of a match, you get to feel like it will.
It’s not so much breaking the fourth wall as it is opening a door in it and inviting everyone inside to be a part of the story.
So that’s pretty much what makes wrestling the awesome thing that it is – a combination of soap opera, athletics, plain weirdness and audience participation that transcends what even the best film or TV show or play can do. It’s often ludicrous, often painful to watch, sometimes boring, but then again, so is life, which, as we know is imitated by art. Pro Wrestling is art, it’s sport, and it’s life. Life that features people getting hit in the face with ladders.
FIVE THINGS YOU SHOULD WATCH TO GET TO LIKE WRESTLING
1. Botchamania Videos
A sort of open-source version of “It’ll Be Alright On The Night” the Botchamania series clubs together blooper reels of those moments when all the choreography goes pear-shaped; fluffed lines, mishandled moves, production gaffes and other mis-steps. It singlehandedly says “wrestling is fake, but damn it’s fun” through the universal medium of people falling over.
2. Kenny Omega vs 9-year-old Haruka
If ever there was proof that wrestling is a performance art, it’s this video from Japan – home of nuts wrestling gimmicks – of wrestler Kenny Omega making a 9-year-old girl look like a proper contender. That the girl puts this situation over with the same gust is perhaps the best advert for having a child in the modern day.
3. The Wrestler
There have been many wrestling movies, mostly terrible, but Mickey Rourke’s Oscar-baiting tale of fictional wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson is the perfect insight into what makes wrestling a lifetime occupation for many, and comes closest to explaining the “wrestling bug” that bites so many around the world. It’s also a damn good drama to boot.
4. Chikara Pro Wrestling
Taking the character element to the next level and upping the fun quotient, Chikara combines some really innovate, action-packed wrestling with obscure and out there characters to make for a really great product. Where else would you get a character like Player Uno, whose costume is a game controller which the opponent can use to “pause” him during a match?
5. The Self-Destruction Of The Ultimate Warrior
You could watch almost any of the WWEs excellent DVD documentaries, but The Self-Destruction Of The Ultimate Warrior not only details the rise and fall of one of the sport’s more interesting in-ring characters, but gives a glimpse into the life of one of its more loopy out-of-ring personalities too, a man who only recently had his name changed from Jim Hellwig to “Warrior.” A must-see chronicle of one of the iconic names in vintage wrestling.