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Why Professional Wrestling is the Greatest Show on Earth
There is No Other Entertainment Like This
It kills me how when so many people hear the word “wrestling” they instantly scowl and start spouting out at the mouth about “how silly I am for watching it”. Then they commit the greatest travesty of them all and drop the infamous “F” word: Fake. Most wrestling fans’ response would be something like “it’s choreographed” or “it’s scripted”. I go above and beyond that and, in all actuality, don’t have enough time to explain to someone all the great things about professional wrestling. That’s why I have decided to break down the main reasons pro wrestling is indeed “The Greatest Show on Earth”. First you can simply look at the basics: There’s drama; there’s action; there are colorful characters; there are wars between good and evil. Hell, I think it sounds pretty darn good so far! But beyond the fundamentals are countless pieces of a massive puzzle that all play their part in making wrestling an amazing show. You won’t find stuff like this in any other sport or vehicle of entertainment.
Pro wrestling has always been about producing stars that stand out from the ordinary and display gimmicks that never deny them any attention. In fact, the most important trait of all storytelling is a cast of well-developed characters. Pro wrestling displays such characters in a unique and more often than not unorthodox way. I mean look at some of the famous characters in wrestling history. You have Gorgeous George, a man that dresses like a woman but fights like a rough, tough man. Then there’s The Undertaker, a monstrous harbinger of death that serves as an almost unstoppable force. And don't forget about the wrestling and film legend, the 500-plus pound Andre the Giant. The list goes on and on in a million different directions. Wrestling usually breaks its characters down in a certain way, however.There’s the jacked up muscular maniacs like Dave Batista and Brock Lesnar. These guys usually start out as heels because of their physical ferocity. Interestingly enough, these types of wrestlers often spend a period of their career as faces, too. Then there’s the technical mat wrestler like Bret Hart and Chris Benoit. These are the ones that exhibit that catch-as-catch-can style of wrestling, always good at countering moves and demonstrating the fundamentals of real wrestling. Next there’s the comic relief character like Santino Marella or Hornswoggle. These characters usually stay at a lower card status and, though some do possess a good amount of in-ring talent, simply provide an element of fun and often child-friendly entertainment to the product. Then there are the high-flyers like Eddie Guerrero and Jeff Hardy. These are the guys that defy gravity and pull off moves that you swear cannot be possible. Another commonly seen persona is one that is bizarre in nature. These characters totally defy the standards of anything considered normal and are usually over-the-top and often unsettling. Goldust, The Boogeyman, and Gangrel are three examples of this wrestling gimmick. Yet another common character in all of wrestling history is the luchador, a wrestler that wears traditional masks and, more often that not, is Mexican in nationality. In fact, Spanish for wrestling is "lucha libre", and Mexico has a very prestigious wrestling history of its own. Examples of this type of wrestler are the legendary Mil Mascaras and Rey Mysterio. Then you have the guys that don't really fit into any real category but rather reinvent themselves as totally unique characters. John Cena and AJ Styles are two famous wrestlers that fit into this category, if it can be called that at all. Finally, and not to be forgotten, are the women wrestlers, often referred to as “Divas” or “Knock-Outs”. They often serve as eye candy for the male viewers and, though they have a division of their own with championships to represent it, they are usually the B-players in a male-dominated business. All of these characters make up a larger, continuously flowing mixture of stories that will surely evolve into many more future rivalries.
The constant, weekly flow of wrestling’s entertainment is driven by complex and often outrageous storylines. Often considered soap opera-like, these storylines involve anything from rivalries over championship belts to romantic squabbles. Sometimes they are simply about ego. As human beings, we thrive on great tales and stories that are often larger than life. Pro wrestling gives you such stories and, more often than not, they feature a good guy versus a bad guy. These stories even have morals. The most recent one I can think of is the feud between Chris Jericho and CM Punk that lasted through Wrestlemania 28 and beyond. Y2J attacked Punk by tormenting his psyche with thoughts of alcoholism and drug abuse, things of which had been a part of Punk’s past. CM Punk, the self-proclaimed “Straight Edge” Superstar, had turned away from those addictions and now leads a life of purity as a drug-free fan fav. When Jericho continuously degraded Punk’s family and cowardly attacked him with a whiskey bottle and cans of beer, Punk started to slip into what he called “a dark place”. Ultimately, however, Punk ended up defeating Jericho in both of their matches, thus denying Chris the WWE championship and shutting the mouth of the villain once and for all. The moral here teaches the importance of rising above problems in life and using them to prevail in your endeavors.
One thing I always like to say about wrestling is that it’s just like watching a movie that goes on and on. And, just like in movies, we know that the storylines are orchestrated and played out in a predetermined way but we use our imagination and enjoy the entertainment value just the same.
In tandem with wrestler personas are the gimmicks. This is basically the routine of a character that forever becomes associated with them; it is the key element to their personalities. Gimmicks can be anything from physical appearances to catch phrases. George "The Animal" Steele bit and ripped off the turnbuckle pad with his teeth; Jerry Lawler wore a crown to the ring and was to forever be known as "The King"; Goldberg had the phrase "Who's Next?". The list goes on and on in a hundred different ways.
Perhaps the most important thing about a gimmick is how it resonates with the fans. It helps determine whether the people will love or hate them and certainly determines how they will always be remembered. Many gimmicks are outrageous, but that's really the whole concept behind them because it awes and entertains. A wrestler with no gimmick is a like a fisherman with no bait; it is needed to succeed in a memorable establishment of character and it is one of the fundamentals of pro wrestling. As Booker T. would say, "Now can you dig that, sucka?".
Rey Mysterio performs a hurricanrana on CM Punk
Talents of the Performers
The stars of professional wrestling have a massive amount of various talents, and they excel in them all. Not only do they have to flawlessly display their skills on a nightly basis, but they must do it in front of thousands and thousands of viewers. There is no messing up; if you do, let’s say a little too often, you may be given much less program exposure. Not only do wrestlers have to ensure their moves and acrobatics flow as they are supposed to, they must remember what to say during promos and must do so in a consistent, well-versed fashion. At least actors in Hollywood can try their stunts and speeches over again until they perfect it. Pro wrestlers, or anyone involved in the wrestling business, do it right the first time or make a fool of themselves. Most of the time they do it right the first time, and that takes enormous talent and discipline. The real marvel here is that the moves they are doing are often damn near impossible. Suplexes off the top turnbuckle; powerbombs; backflips; hurricanranas. These are just to name a few of the spectacles these stars can perform flawlessly in front of millions of viewers.
Wrestlers must spend years perfecting their craft, a craft that can be very real and very dangerous. Although football players and other athletes take great risks every time they go to work, pro wrestlers increase the chances of injury by performing death-defying moves and stunts that no ordinary person could do without severely hurting themselves.
Pro wrestling, unlike sports such as football or baseball, has no offseason. It is a show that is there for fans to enjoy year round and on a weekly, and sometimes nightly, basis. That’s nice because, if you’re a fan, you know you’ll always have it to look forward to each week rather than having to wait months on end before you can watch it again.
In sharp contrast to many other “sports”, wrestling features a plethora of multicultural superstars. Men and women from all over the world compete in WWE, TNA, and other top wrestling promotions. Men such as Alberto del Rio, The Iron Shiek, The Great Khali, Samoa Joe, Tajiri, and Vladimir Koslov are or have been regular parts of wrestling television. An Irishman, Sheamus, has held both of the premier championships in WWE. The rosters of wrestling promotions are in no way exclusively American. By incorporating these foreign wrestlers into the show, American fans get a sense of respect for a popular wrestler’s culture and a sense of elevated USA pride from heel foreigners. Wrestling is very popular in places like Mexico and Japan as well, with both countries having distinguished promotions of their own and both having great influence on American wrestling, as many of the Mexican and Japanese performers wrestle for U.S. promotions as well. Not only that, but many American wrestlers go to these foreign promotions and wrestle as well.
Another very important multicultural aspect of wrestling is the popularity of American organizations like WWE and TNA abroad. Some people in, let’s say, Japan may not be too fond of Americans but if that American is a superstar like John Cena or Sting they simply love them. You are more likely to find someone in India that is a fan of Triple H than someone who is a fan of Peyton Manning. That being said, pro wrestling (especially American) is a positive link between the U.S. and foreign countries. WWE, for example, regularly travels abroad to put on shows for legions of foreign fans, and those fans simply worship the Superstars. How often can you say that an American is idolized in such a way by a foreigner?
This aspect of wrestling may be the most important one of them all. People from all over the world, even those with conflicting cultures, can come together in the enjoyment and excitement that is pro wrestling.
As with any good contest, wrestling has many rules and regulations that keep the matches structured and legitimate. A wrestler has until the count of five to release a submission hold on his opponent once they’ve grasped the ropes. They have till the count of ten to get back into the ring once they’ve gone out of it. They are not allowed to use low-blows, eye gouges, and hair pulls (the fact that many wrestlers still do these things while the ref’s back is turned adds a whole different element to the excitement of a match). These and many other rules help reinforce the legitimacy of wrestling as a competitive sport and not just a show.
Hulk Hogan's Theme Song
Kurt Angle's Theme Song
Randy Orton's Theme Song
Everybody loves music, and every classic entertainment entity, from TV shows to films, has theme songs that we will always associate them with. Wrestling has tons of theme songs. The shows themselves have theme songs and, more importantly, each and every wrestler has a song that is designated as their own personal anthem. More often than not, those songs are really awesome. Some of the few that come to mind are Randy Orton’s “Voices”, Triple H’s “The Game”, and Kurt Angle’s “Gold Medal”. These themes are always played when the wrestler makes their way to the ring, whether for a fight or just a monologue. This music makes things way more exciting, too. Fans go wild when their favorite wrestler’s entrance theme hits. They know that in seconds that superstar is going to come walking out and the thrill of the moment is escalated tremendously. When the lights go dim and The Undertaker’s gong sounds (the beginning of his entrance theme) the crowd goes insane. Just that electricity from the fans alone makes the show all the more thrilling and engaging. It’s even more exciting when the music of their favorite superstar hits because that person is often interrupting a less favored superstar. Music never fails to let us down as a culture, and the music of professional wrestling is just as important as the wrestlers themselves.
The Undertaker's Awe-Inspiring Entrance
Going hand in hand with the music are the unique ring entrances that every wrestler has. Just before a wrestler makes their way to the ring, whether for a match or an in-ring talking segment, their personal music hits. Seconds later the star appears from behind a wall and steps out onto the stage. As they move towards the ring, they do so in a fashion that is exclusive to them. They walk a certain way (like the Undertaker's slow death march), dress a certain way (like Ric Flair's glamorous robe), and simply carry themselves in a way that flows with their character. If they're a fan favorite, they often smile, raise their arms, or interact with the crowd one way or another. If they are a heel, they usually demonstrate an overt conceitedness and look at the people with angry eyes (or won't even look at them at all). Some wrestlers, like the Irish Finlay and his sheleighleigh club or TNA's Bobby Roode and his beer bottles, carry props to the ring.
Two of the most important aspects of wrestler entrances include light and sound, and oftentimes pyrotechnics are used. These pyrotechnical entrances are very loud and usually quite hot (I've been to many shows so I've seen it first hand). As I already noted, a wrestler has a theme song that plays for the duration of their entrance. As this music plays, an incredible array of lights, also in some way representative of their character, flashes around the arena creating a spectacle for the eyes. Sometimes the lights are very dim and blacklights are a commonly used effect. Other times the lights are everywhere, like in Chris Jericho's new entrance: the entire entrance screen is exploding with multi-colored lights.
Ring entrances are a major part of professional wrestling. They serve as not only as a great introduction for the wrestler, but they hype the crowd up and send chills through the bodies of everyone watching.
The world of wrestling, just like other sports or shows, is based around the concept of championships and prestigious titles. The main event of a wrestling show, for example, is usually a championship match or some type of match involving a current champion. These honors are another example of what defines wrestlers as legitimate athletes and personalities.
There have been countless championship belts in the history of wrestling, and each one represents something different. Such titles include the Hardcore Championship, European Championship, World Television Championship, and X Division Championships. There are also titles for tag teams, women, and cruiserweights. The most important championships, however, are those that represent a wrestling organization as a whole. The WWE, TNA, and WCW Championships are three examples. These are the titles that, once captured by a wrestler, solidify them as "the" superstar of their brand and is their confirmation that they've "made it" to the top of the business.
Championships escalate the drama of pro wrestling. They make a rivalry really worth following because fans want to see if their favorite wrestler will capture, or retain, the belt against someone less favorable. They also, like the rules in the business, ensure a sense of integrity and sportsmanship and make wrestling more than just a show but legitimate competition.
Though not allowed in the majority of wrestling contests, certain weapons often come into play during or after match-ups. The most common weapons are steel folding chairs, garbage cans, wooden tables, ladders, and fire extinguishers, though other items such as kendo sticks, lead pipes or even sledgehammers are used. For some time now, wrestling has featured matches that do allow these weapons. In fact, the whole point of the match may be to use the weapon! Tables matches, hardcore matches, and TLC (Tables Ladders Chairs) matches are examples of such bouts.
One of the most revolutionary organizations in wrestling history, Extreme Championship Wrestling, or ECW, built its fame around these types of brutal matches. What organizations like WWE had pioneered in the world of hardcore wrestling, ECW took it to the "extreme". Some of the bloodiest and most violent matches in history took place in ECW.
The use of these weapons escalates wrestling beyond just traditional competition and adds to the element of action, just as in a movie. Usually it is the villains who take the cowardly way out and use the weapons unfairly. Make no mistake about it, though, as the heroes use their share of weapons, too.
Dedication of the Performers
Pro wrestling has some of the most dedicated individuals in all of entertainment. The performers in this industry take pride in their work to a whole different level than many others in the entertainment or sports industries. That’s not to say the players in those entities aren’t passionate about what they do, it’s just that wrestlers usually seem to have a type of love for their industry that goes above and beyond the norm. For example, wrestlers must perform oftentimes on a daily basis while training and rehearsing as much as they can in between. They sweat. They bleed. They get hurt like hell but keep on pushing to make sure the fans get what they came to see.
Professional wrestling certainly has more fan interaction than any other show. The shows are always live, so anytime the drama and excitement of wrestling occurs fans are right there to see it. They, much like in football or baseball, fill the stands in awe and with emotions raging. Unlike baseball or football, however, wrestling provides its fans with a very up close and personal experience, as spectators in the front row are often close enough to reach out and pat wrestlers on the back. More importantly, wrestlers almost always talk directly to the fans, whether it be the heel telling them how stupid and ignorant they are or the face telling them how much he or she loves them. In fact, another of the fundamental elements in wrestling is how a wrestler riles the crowd up either in cheers or boos. It is what defines that person as a superstar and insures that fans will recognize them, whether as a villain or a hero.
Wrestlers will often tell the fans how much they love them and that everything they do is for them. Most of the time, they are telling the truth. Wrestlers are often very people oriented and they rely very strongly on people to have encouragement and appreciation for what they do. They love the feel of walking down that ramp and listening to deafening reactions from the crowd as chills race down their spines. It serves as a sort of fuel for the wrestlers' performance.
Wrestling organizations are always getting involved in charity events, autograph signings, and special events that allow fans to have their dreams come true and meet, and spend a little time, with their favorite wrestler. Maybe it's just me, but it seems that pro wrestling organizations take this more seriously than other types of organizations.
Professional wrestling could be compared to a traveling circus. It has consistent performers that traverse the country, or even the world, day in and day out and put on their show in front of countless spectators. It is an orchestrated “play” that does not simply have several “acts” leading up to a dramatic ending. Instead, this play goes on and on, ever evolving with familiar faces and new. It is simply like watching a never-ending movie, a movie with lots of action and lots of memorable characters. It brings the world together in an outstanding way, provides entertainment for young and old alike, and teaches lessons through classic, albeit unorthodox, storylines. It is simply the greatest show on Earth.
Do you think pro wrestling is the greatest show on earth?
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