The transition from pro wrestling to sports entertainment

Posted: January 20, 2011 in Professional Wrestling

It has always bothered me to hear of professional wrestling spoken of as sports entertainment. While the term ‘sports entertainment’ itself rather aptly describes our trade, its heritage and roots are in what the age-old marquee reads: pro wrestling.

Is there a difference then between sports entertainment and pro wrestling, or are they the same thing?

Sports entertainment is a term that was created by WWE mainman Vincent K. McMahon, to distinguish his product from every other product in the pro wrestling industry, period. Vince is our industry leader, and everyone else follows suit, sooner or later. Vince sets the trend, the monkeys follow, because Vince has the mother of all banana trees.

The thing is, Vince does what is successful for business. Were it not successful, he would discontinue in the said vein, because WWE has shareholders and Vince must answer to them on Wall Street at the end of the day. Therefore, whatever WWE produces under its banner must work, otherwise it ends up being cut short and Vince will try something else.

Now me personally, I come from a very true-grit background, which prides itself on the physical sporting heritage on which professional wrestling was founded on. I credit a lot of that to my first mentor in the business, Karl Moffat. Names like Lou Thesz, Farmer Burns, Ed Lewis, Ric Flair and Buddy Rogers paved the way and established the SPORT of professional wrestling, which I dare say is a distant cry from sports entertainment’s banner. I am talking about a sporting endeavor, not bells and whistles akin to what you will see on much of WWE programming these days.

StarBuck’s first wrestling coach Karl Moffat, as Jason the Terrible, wrestles the late Brian Pillman:

So what is sports entertainment, and how did it get that way?

I strongly argue that professional wrestling was forced to become sports entertainment, led by the WWE, spearheaded by the evolution of American television programming. Where glitz and hi-tech became the norm, WWE had to follow suit to remain current and viable in a highly competitive primetime market.

Then came reality TV, which changed the television landscape for good. Professional wrestling had to adapt, bringing more drama and real life emotion into the mix, thus hooking the viewers, who were being offered the same approach across a slew of channels and shows.

This in turn, meant less actual wrestling action, and more background story on why this guy is feuding with that guy. It became an era where investing in a said wrestler’s personality became a must, because people must buy into your character above all, in order to feel a connection to the person they are watching. And the way to invest in a wrestler’s personality and character is to give them a voice. Thus, the ridiculous amounts of time spent on promo and mic work versus the actual wrestling done inside of the ring (speaking mainly about WWE once again).

In this light, professional wrestlers became more than actual wrestling personalities, WWE transitioned them into what they now term ‘performers´.

Now me personally, I hate the term ‘performer’ when it applies to what we do. I am a professional wrestler, first and foremost. I do happen to incorporate performance aspects into my work, but that is a necessary part of charisma and appealing to a wider audience. However, what I do inside of that ring is serious sport and extremely physical as an endeavor. I most certainly am not ‘performing’ my matches; I actually am fighting my matches. Perhaps only a select few true-grit pros will understand my point here, speaking of those who pride themselves on being athletes and making believers out of people. Nonetheless, the fact remains.

I believe that reinventing professional wrestling as sports entertainment has had more of a detrimental effect on our game than the sunny side of the coin. I believe that too many fans at large just take everything that we do to be a show, where I can most certainly attest to the fact that the truth is far from that.

WWE sets the pace, and the rest of the industry dances along to its drumbeat in some form or another. Even the haters copy what works, because everyone wants to cash in. That’s why people in even our own nook here in Finland that diss America still buy Coke, Levis, Adidas, Nike, Hollywood and everything else that is marketed by the mighty US of A. That is also why every wrestling company out there lends and borrows from WWE, because in reality, they have little other choice.

Money talks and BS walks, and Vince McMahon’s sports entertainment is here to stay … until and if Vince decides to change his mind and bring wrestling back to its roots.

Doubtful, but then again, we are still allowed to dream.

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