Wrestlemania 32 is coming up in less than two weeks and WWE fans are excited for the biggest wrestling event of the year. Household names like the Undertaker and former UFC Champion Brock Lesnar headline the card, giving it mainstream press that the company desires. WWE has even managed to garner coverage on ESPN the last couple of years for their big event and is expected to sell out AT&T Stadium in Texas and break the company’s attendance record.
Despite all of this, wrestling is still looked at in a negative light. All wrestling fans have heard the phrase “wrestling is fake” more times than we can count. This critique isn’t going away and articles criticizing the WWE and wrestling in general are easy to find. So allow me to defend something I greatly enjoy by explaining the appeal of wrestling and why a lot of the criticism towards it is misguided.
I grew up a wrestling fan, rooting for fan favorites like the Undertaker, the Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and countless others. You probably recognize these names even if you aren’t a fan since one is an internationally known celebrity while the others are iconic within the industry to the point where they transcended it. I watched these men throw themselves off of 15-foot cages, get hit with steel chairs, and cut themselves routinely for my amusement. Because of this, it gets to me when people dismiss wrestling as nothing more than a farce without actually delving into what makes it so popular.
“But it’s fake!” Yes and no. When people say this, it’s a way to denigrate wrestling and separate it from “real” sports. However, the company already did this themselves by creating the new category of “sports entertainment.” Saying it’s fake is an overgeneralization. Are the matches predetermined in such a way as to create running storylines? Absolutely, but virtually all wrestling fans know this (well maybe not this guy). Wrestlers are categorized as “heels” (bad guys) or “faces” (good guys) and this categorization allows for better storytelling than any other sports can dream of.
Fake implies that what these people are doing isn’t real and isn’t dangerous. It is dangerous and involves incredible feats of athleticism. “Sports entertainment” is the perfect classification for wrestling since it takes such athleticism but is mainly focused on entertaining the audience. Wrestlers are athletes putting their bodies on the line for the fans with the caveat that they know the result beforehand and they have to pull some punches, but telling fans it’s fake is like yelling “it’s fake” in a movie theater: We all know and we’re enjoying it.
Wrestling creates storylines that other sports can’t on a routine basis. Virtually every match is good vs. evil or David vs. Goliath, which gets fans invested in them even when there’s nothing actually on the line in a match. For years, the Undertaker’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania was (arguably) the biggest part of the show and when Brock Lesnar finally broke the streak, it became national news on sports outlets. Other sports that we love like football or basketball only get these storylines eventually and when they are lucky, but for many games that’s just not the case.
Why is an NFL fan going to get invested in a Jaguars-Lions game unless they are a fan of one of them? Fortunately for the NFL, football is so popular people will watch because they love the sport, but when you look at baseball they would love to have some of the storylines that wrestling creates to improve their ratings. Wrestling finds a way to get fans interested in the matches everywhere on the card and that’s a difficult thing to do that is only possible because of their predetermined results.
The predetermined nature of it also makes the fans a part of the show. The best example of this came two years ago when a man named Daniel Bryan won over millions of fans and started the “YES” chant that has become a pop culture image at this point. Bryan was
n’t supposed to be in the main event at WrestleMania despite fans wishes so they continued to chant and even booed the expected participants every week. Eventually WWE used this to their advantage by making it part of their storyline culminating in the fans “taking over” a show and Bryan getting a match against the boss, Triple H that would put him in the main event if he won. Naturally, Bryan won both matches and ended WrestleMania XXX performing his patented “YES” chant among thousands of people. Things like this make the sport malleable and able to adjust with the times in ways other sports like baseball have struggled to.
This year’s WrestleMania will be a good test of that as well. The fans have rebelled against the presumed “chosen one” Roman Reigns. He is expected to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship to close out the show but fans just haven’t taken to him. The company appears to be on a collision course with less than two weeks remaining and no change in sight, but there’s reason to believe something will change. The company doesn’t want their biggest crowd ever booing the champion to end the most important show of the year. This is what caused change when Bryan won the title and it should be what causes a change this time around.
That change doesn’t have to be to the detriment of other wrestlers either. Despite the hate for Reigns there’s still a way for him to win and fit with his image. He just has to adjust that image and become a heel. WWE has tried their best to push him as the next fan favorite, but it’s just not happening so why not change that. Despite fans anger, most of us believe the company will entertain us in the end. It’s this belief that makes us continue watching. It’s this belief that makes us wrestling fans.