Wrestling Is STILL Not A Sport
The fallout from last week’s column.
by Raywat Deonandan
October 30, 2002
This column is a regular feature on 411wrestling.com. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission.
“You’re an idiot.” –Bluedog
That pretty much sums up the kind of email I got after the last column. Most people, however, did agree that wrestling is not a sport. Particular attention goes to Marcus M., a wrestler in several backyard feds, who said that he performs for the audience reaction and not any sort of match outcome. That, by definition, places wrestling squarely in the theatrical camp.
Many people also made the comparison between professional wrestling and figure skating, saying that if wrestling were given judges and a scoring system, like skating, it would qualify as a kind of performance sport. I agree, but then what’s the point?
You see, figure skating doesn’t pretend to be anything other than effeminate boobs in sparkly outfits doing incredible athletic feats on ice. It doesn’t pretend to be a race, for example. It can therefore be judged strictly on its elements: mandatory moves, synchronization and goofy grins.
Wrestling, on the other hand, pretends to be a fight. If, as reader Kris N. suggests, we were to implement a system for Olympic-style professional wrestling, involving a judging panel and a set of mandatory moves (e.g., bumps, near falls, mat and aerial manoeuvres), then where does the pretend fighting fit in? It doesn’t. It just becomes two guys helping each other bounce about the ring: just like figure skating, only a lot more gay.
My point is that the fake fight is the core of a wrestling match. The athleticism is cool, but –wait for it– not overtly necessary. Oh, I can hear the keyboards banging away already. I love a Benoit and Angle match as much as anyone, and they usually tell a good a story, too. But the story can be told without the athletics, and still be good professional wrestling. The athletics without a story, though, is something more akin to NWA’s X-division: a lot of guys pointlessly flopping about. Under the aforementioned Olympic-style judging rules, the latter is what we’d get.
A good example of non-athletic-yet-good wrestling is Hogan-Andre at Wrestlemania III. Or any 80’s Hogan match, for that matter. Hogan has never, to my recollection, produced a 5-star match by Internet smark standards, but there’s no denying that the man has been a part of some of the most memorable and gripping bouts in professional wrestling history. His battle with Andre the Giant was by no means an athletic triumph. A more boring outing, in terms of workrate, cannot be imagined (unless you were to throw the Undertaker, Sid or Kronic in there). Yet, we fans were sucked into the microcosm of the match by the mastery of its fakery and build-up. And that, my friends, is what professional wrestling is: suspension of disbelief within the context of staged antagonism.
To translate that amorphous quality to an Olympic-style judged format would be impossible. You would not only need to judge the individual match on its merits, but judge the weeks of angle build-up leading up to the match, as well. In true modern professonal wrestling, no match exists in a vacuum, but is rather the outcome of much time spent in both storyline and character development.
As for my assertion last column that wrestling and sport demographics don’t necessarily overlap as much as people think (the stance that garnered so many allusions to my freely confessed idiocy), I still stand by it. That’s the beauty of not having any facts. (You don’t have any, either. None of us, except maybe WWE, has the figures to tell us whether the two fan groups are one and the same.) In the absence of actual information, we are free to speculate and base our preposterous conclusions on spurious reasoning and anecdotal evidence. But, as I constantly tell students in my profession, “the plural of anecdote is not data.”
**Let me clarify something first. By “sports fans”, I don’t mean the majority of North Americans who occasionally watch a ball game. I mean the people who buy the jerseys, buy season tickets, know players’ stats and occasionally lay down some betting cash.
One reader suggested that a scan of the audience at any Raw or Smackdown! telecast would prove me wrong, since so many of them are wearing sports teams’ emblems. My response is twofold: wearing the logo of a sports club is almost unavoidable under today’s youth fashion diktat, and not indicative of any hardcore sports beliefs or behaviours; and the audience of a televised wrestling event is not necessarily representative of the huge wrestling television audience. How many of us enjoy watching WWE on TV, but would never consider actually laying out actual cash to stand next to some kid with a “Kane is innocent” sign?
Under that reader’s logic, the email I get would be just as representative of today’s wrestling audience. Most of it concerns Buffy or Greek tragedy. To conclude from this self-selected sample that these people are the core wrestling audience would be just as spurious a conclusion as his. You see now the problems with stating positions not based upon any real evidence?
I get away with it because, Hell, this is my column. And frankly, I’m running out of things to talk about. Quite honestly, though, I do believe that there is a substantial overlap between sports fans and wrestling fans. But as I stated clearly in the last column, I also believe that that overlap is overestimated and it is waning. Hence, WWE’s target marketing needs to diversify away from the hardcore sports group. For example, find ways of getting cheap heat that don’t involve insulting the home crowd’s sports team. See my point now?
I think WWE management has made the same conclusion, but has decided upon a faulty solution. While a growing segment of wrestling’s audience is more atuned to episodes of Buffy and CSI than to Monday Night Football, this does not translate into a need for necrophilia angles. (Note that I wrote growing, not larger. The devil is in the details, kids.)
Speaking of CSI, has anyone else noticed that commercials on Raw incessantly plug CSI on Monday nights, while CSI is a direct competitor to Smackdown! on Thursday nights? Dumb-asses.
Until next time, apparently I’m an idiot..