Professional wrestling may be fake but it is still dangerous

Neetzan Zimmerman has unearthed a video in which apparently you can hear the people taking part in professional wrestling talking to each other and giving and responding to cues.

Of course, the fact the pro-wrestling is scripted and fake comes under the ‘dog bites man’ category of news. I am actually glad that the wrestlers warn their opponents of what is to come and suggest what moves to make since they can then brace themselves and reduce the chance of injury. But even if the participants know what is coming and can take precautions, it still seems likely that their bodies take a dangerous pounding.

What I don’t understand is why people would want to watch these spectacles when they surely must know that it is fake. Could it be that they don’t they realize what is so painfully obvious and actually watch it as a sport? Or do they see it as a drama, the way people watch other scripted performances, deliberately suspending disbelief and just enjoying the acting for its own sake? Either way, it just does not appeal to me.


  1. Lukas says

    “What I don’t understand is why people would want to watch these spectacles when they surely must know that it is fake.”

    You mean like Game of Thrones? Or Lord of the Rings? Or any other TV show/movie/book/videogame/thetre/insert your own spectacle that is actually fake here?

    It’s a TV show, and like pretty much every other TV show ever created, it’s scripted. But the fact that it is scripted doesn’t make it worse, it makes it much better than “real” sports.

  2. scottparrish says

    Santa Claus and Pro Wrestling were the first things I can remember being skeptical about. I started watching wrestling on WTBS in the early 80’s as an eleven year old. I remember spending hours watching the matches, but it was always the personalities and interview/promo sections that I enjoyed most. After a bit I noticed that wrestlers seemed to be unusually tough and quick healers, which quickly morphed into fake. But that was ok, they were doing a performance, being very physical, but not actually trying to hurt one another.

    Why I still love it is harder to pin down. First there is the spectacle, being in the crowd when the entrance music of a fan favorite is amazing, as indeed it is when a particularly nasty bad guy comes out. The wrestlers strut, chant, give speeches and rants, all playing up how good they are and how badly they are about to beat their opponent.

    The match itself is interesting for the physicality itself, but also for the story of the match and the psychology of how’s it is played out. Knowing when to move from frenetic action into less active wrestling hold periods gives the crowd a chance to catch their breath. Every near fall (when one wrestler almost but not quite pins the other), every time the bad guy cheats, every time the good guy comes back from impossible odds, every burst of action and every submission move is choreographed, normally by the wrestlers as they are wrestling. They are working the crowd, trying to build excitement, playing the crowd through their choices, furthering the story lines that brought the two into conflict in the first time. And when the bad guy wins that just means the crowd is that much more excited when the eventual comeuppance happens, and these story lines can play out over years of time and dozens of individual matches.

    The personalities are athletes, side show barkers, smack talkers and bigger than life. The good guys can be scrappy little longshots, affable everymen, an ex-bad guy seeking redemption, or a competitor that wants nothing more than to win the belt. Bad guys can be conniving, or sneaky, big bad monsters or tiny guys with a body guard in their corner. Fans will have favorite bad guys as well as good guys, because who can resist the creepy entrance music of the Undertaker, or the sheer size and menace of Brock Lesnar.

    Pro Wrestling is scripted, packaged, choreographed, edited and polished, but it is not fake. The men and women who participate are trained professionals, who take their craft seriously, and who are responsible for the safety of everyone in the ring with them. There are all sort of tricks to make things look real (and sure often the wrong camera angle will spoil those efforts, but every impact, throw, hold, punch, kick and submission are done for show and not to hurt the other guy.

    While I am a big fan, I certainly understand that it isn’t for everyone. I cannot stay awake though a Ballet, but I can watch 2 sweaty men throw each other around the ring for hours. Tastes differ.

    For an interesting scholarly look at wrestling, check out

  3. besomyka says

    Everyone is different, but it might be easier to understand if you think of wrestling (arastlin’) as a stunt show, or a circus performance. Only in some ways it’s more interesting because generally large sections of this stunt performance are improvised.

    I can do without all the macho bravado and sexism, but the athleticism on display (not the combat, mind) is pretty impressive.

  4. cotton says

    I was a fan when younger. I always knew it was fake, but grew to like the acrobatics and over the top characters. It’s cirque du soleil with cartoony characters.

  5. unbound says

    Well, we have a wide variety of “reality” shows in the US. The fake wrestling is just one of the older versions of it. Good vs evil when I watched it for a few years when I was young (back in the 80s), so it was at least more entertaining than the soap operas. There were even a few wrestlers back then that pulled off some really nice acrobatic moves, but it got boring for me since most of the wrestling was slapping each other around.

    I would still rank wrestling as being better than most of the current crop of “reality” shows like Real Housewives of Whatever City/County/State.

  6. Mano Singham says

    Thanks for that analysis. So it seems as though people watch more as a show and less as a sporting competition. I have never actually watched it for any length of time, but your description is tempting me to take a better look. I mainly did not want to watch it because I hate to see people possibly hurt themselves badly for the amusement of other people but the more scripted it is, then (I assume) the less prone they are to serious injury, which takes away my main objection to it.

  7. sundoga says

    It is possible for someone to be injured (seriously, and there have been deaths) but this is pretty much invariably when something went seriously wrong with a stunt or move. The wrestlers really do everything in their power to ensure basic safety, but then, it is effectively a scripted contact sport and things can go wrong.

  8. R Johnston says

    Actually, serious injuries in professional wrestling are commonplace and not just the result of things gone wrong. Addiction to painkillers is endemic in the industry. Professional wrestlers die young at an alarming rate. Serious brain injury leading to mental instability is commonplace, with Chris Benoit being the most notable example; the WWE has made the NFL look in comparison like progressives on concussion treatment for my entire lifetime. Professional wrestling may be scripted and noncompetitive, but it’s quite real in terms of the athletic prowess needed and the injury risk incurred. The punches may be fake, but the chair shots, turnbuckle leaps, slams, etc. are all injuries waiting to happen.

    If professional wrestling were unscripted and regulated as a sport it would be a lot safer. Professional wrestlers, unregulated as they are, work perhaps 50 times as many events a year as do MMA fighters or boxers, are constantly on the road, are more-or-less forced to work through concussions and any other injuries that leave them able to walk, have shitty contracts and health care, and are derided for being fakers. The brutality of professional wrestling is a far greater impediment to enjoying watching it than is the scripted nature of the event.

  9. Psychopomp Gecko says

    They can tell good stories in the ring, along with plenty of humor and some great moves, while showcasing good technical ability (yes, holds aren’t done in a way meant to cause real pain, but they still use a lot of real holds).

    Botchamania has had a long running bit about people talking in the ring and being heard, so a video where they are saying it like that is nothing new. A lot of moves can go very badly if you aren’t trained and if there’s a crucial miscommunication with the person you’re wrestling with. As they bad guy is usually the one in more offensive control of the match, they tend to be a little better about taking care of the other guy.

    Now, there are cases where people work a stiff style, i.e., they don’t pull their punches as much as they should. Taking advantage of another wrestler like that could just be hazing, but it can also turn out badly for the stiff wrestler. I believer Vader once got so tired of newbie Ken Shamrock’s stiff style that he wound up and nearly knocked him out for real.

    Another type of miscommunication that can go bad is sandbagging. That’s when you don’t cooperate on purpose, either to haze the person or out of spite for some reason. This makes your opponent look bad, but can backfire. Hardcore Holly, a legitimately tough fellow, sandbagged rookie Brock Lesnar in a match when it came time for Lesnar to powerbomb him. Unfortunately for Holly, Lesnar was too strong to sandbag and the resulting powerbomb broke Hardcore Holly’s neck.

    There’s also some incidents where someone’s too impaired to wrestle, like TNA’s Victory Road with Jeff Hardy Vs. Sting, but those seem to be more on the rare side.

    Thing is, even if they break arms, ribs, legs, necks, tearing quads, whatever, the show must go on and they still have to finish the match. It’s also not the easiest to handle the insurance side of it, as they aren’t considered to be in a real sport enough to join sports unions, nor are they considered actors enough to join acting unions.

    A lot of your enjoyment can come from what styles you enjoy seeing too.

    In it’s own way, wrestling is like a fight scene, sometimes with ridiculous characters, choreographed entirely on the fly. You can know that the story isn’t real and still respect what they do. It’s not like you go around to everybody reading fiction and make fun of them for liking something that isn’t real.

    As for me, I favor Chikara/Wrestling Is…, with stuff like this:

    And this:

    Or this:

  10. Psychopomp Gecko says

    Well said. I remember Mick Foley relating that Lloyd’s of London once thought they’d make out like bandits covering wrestlers, you know the “fake” sport. Then it turned out they were paying off people for career ending injuries all the time, but the wrestlers themselves just healed up and got back in the ring anyway, pocketing some extra money.

    It is anecdotal, but it still says something if they’ll cover hurricanes and earthquakes but not Mick Foley.

  11. Psychopomp Gecko says

    And it’s definitely more realistic than Long Island Medium. That’s the reality show where you can watch a woman scam desperate people out of money.

  12. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Either way, it just does not appeal to me.

    Doesn’t appeal to me either. But it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my bones that some people volunteer to take part in it or pay to watch it so, meh, why single it out for criticism? Plenty of things don’t appeal to me but if it floats your boat, well hey, fine by me.

  13. Neil Rickard says

    I would also like to point out that the professional wrestling show did not develop out of nothing. These shows developed within a specific cultural context. Professional wrestling is often compared to a soap opera, but I feel that comparison is effectively dismissive in much the same way as saying “it’s not even real.” Tracing the development of professional wrestling offers some insight into the appeal, and into the relevance of wrestling as an art form, and I do think it’s fair to call it an art form.

    As with boxing matches, vaudeville, and the spectacles of PT Barnum, wrestling shows were closely linked to travelling vendors (many of whom were simply the antecedents of modern woo-peddlers). While vaudeville flourished and found its way into film, and boxing matches drew more and more spectators, wrestling fell out of favor largely because actual wrestling isn’t as visually stimulating from a distance. To compensate, wrestlers began adopting even more of the aggrandizing crowd banter that typified these events. Performers like Gorgeous George took this to a new level, and adopted personalities that overshadowed the wrestling itself. This developed into wrestling as we see it now.

    It’s often said that the constraints put on an art form serve as a spur for creative development, as with rhyme schemes and meter in poetry, and I would argue that the attempt to maintain the trappings of the athletic contest produced such a result in professional wrestling shows. The resolutions of all conflicts are defined: all issues can be and must be solved by a wrestling match. As such, all of the characters, the participants, and the ordering features of the show are exploring everything about conflict but the conflict itself. Wrestling becomes a stand in for war, for politics, even for moral and spiritual development at a personal level. A successful professional wrestling show is about crafting and developing these narratives (granted with an aesthetic that revolves heavily around tights, but I would argue that it’s no weirder than kabuki).

    I would point out that these narratives are a major feature of our lives in other forms. Just as few people can speculate about the actual mechanics of a wrestling match, few people could identify the workings of legislation. Media coverage of politics is similarly dependent on similarly structured narratives that bear investigation.

    This is all off the top of my head, and I’d encourage people to fact check it. My general point is that there’s a lot going on with readily dismissed cultural products like wrestling. I don’t mean to be confrontational to anyone about this, but it’s easy to dismiss something as being unworthy of one’s intellectual attention, especially when it’s got all the trappings of “low art,” and I think that it would be a mistake to do so.

  14. R Johnston says

    Growing up I learned to think of professional wrestling as a sport not in the sense of a competition having clearly set objective victory conditions but rather as a largely scripted athletic display that could be judged on artistic and technical merit, like figure skating. Wrestlers weren’t competing against their in-ring opponents but rather with their opponents against the other matches on the card to see who could put on the best display. It’s not formally judged that way, but there’s no reason it couldn’t be, and it is informally judged more-or-less that way by Dave Meltzer, Wade Keller, and many other fans and industry observers.

    There is, of course, also the story telling aspect of pro-wrestling, but that was generally very poorly done and often cheesy enough that paying attention detracted from the athletic display. It got to be more distracting as I got older, so I drifted away from fandom. Now I look at professional wrestling and I see a sport that distinctly surpasses the NFL, boxing, and MMA for how badly it treats its athletes, and combined with the dreadful story telling it just doesn’t appeal to me any more.

  15. Psychopomp Gecko says

    Ultimately, though, even if people find it stupid, it’s ok to like such things. Some people are bronies, others obsess over Star Trek, and some people prefer to smell what the Rock is cookin’. Talk about a personality that overshadowed the wrestling itself.

    Plus, it’s one of the only times you’ll ever see real life millionaires voluntarily getting hurt and hit with chairs.

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