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Are Pro Wrestlers Athletes?

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
June 28, 2023 3:01 am

Are Pro Wrestlers Athletes?

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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June 28, 2023 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, oftentimes when the topic of professional wrestling comes up, it’s almost guaranteed that someone will scoff that it’s “fake.” Yet those who enjoy watching professional wrestling won’t disagree. What they will likely say—in one form or another—is that they enjoy the characters, their athleticism and stagecraft. They know it’s scripted and they love the storylines that are carefully crafted, the same way we all enjoy watching any other scripted (read: "fake") story on television or in the movie theatre.

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Our American Stories
Lee Habeeb
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Listen to find strength in community on the MG journey on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. And we continue with our American stories. Oftentimes when the topic of professional wrestling, think Hulk Hogan, comes up, it's almost guaranteed that someone will scoff, that it's just, well, all fake. Yet those who enjoy watching professional wrestling won't disagree. What they will say or likely say is that they enjoy the characters, the athleticism, and the stagecraft. They know it's scripted. They love the storylines. The same way we all enjoy watching any scripted story on TV or in the movies. Here's Riley Evans to tell the real story about professional wrestling. A story he's titled, Pro Wrestlers Deserve to be Called Athlete. Over 200 days a year.

No off season. Just running, jumping, bumping and crashing into concrete, steel, and wooden rings with only the thinnest layer of padding. Bones break, ligaments snap, and even the absence of serious injury leaves the constant ache of smaller ones.

Short of something debilitating, there's no time off to recover because if you stop, there's always somebody waiting to take your place. Whether it's a high school gymnasium or a hundred thousand seat stadium, the show must go on for the entertainment of some of the world's most rabid fans. It's ironic that pro wrestling, the most grueling athletic endeavor on earth, is laughed at by most sports fans. Fans of most traditional sports often balk at professional wrestling being mentioned in the same breath as their favorites. Just read the comment section on any Fox Sports article on the WWE.

You'll see the word fake so many times that after the 50th comment, you'll start mixing it up with the word the. What these trolling keyboard warriors are missing, however, is that even if pro wrestling isn't quite your taste, it contains much of what we love about legitimate sports. Let's get one thing straight from the outset. Pro wrestling matches are not competitions. The results are predetermined. Furthermore, various major elements of each match are also determined ahead of time. The exact amount of which depends on the wrestlers in question. This has been the case since the start of the 20th century, when traveling carnival performers made the transition from shoot, AKA legitimate competition, wrestling to a more entertaining style of athletics that necessitated the fixing of matches. Modern wrestling is not fixed.

It is not rigged, dishonest or fake. It is exactly what Vince McMahon, hereby referred to as Vince from now until the end of time, told the New Jersey State Athletic Commission in 1989, an activity in which participants struggle hand to hand, primarily for the purpose of providing entertainment to spectators rather than conducting a bona fide athletic contest. Vince coined the term sports entertainment to differentiate his product known as the WWF from other pro wrestling organizations at the time.

But the term actually provides the perfect description for the industry as a whole. The problem is that so much time has elapsed between pro wrestling's divergence from shoot wrestling and the current era that people can't see the forest through the trees. They no longer see the sport that provides the foundation for the entertainment, despite the fact that pro wrestling is the most athletic that it's ever been. The top pro wrestlers in the world must possess a rare and diverse skill set. This is especially true for WWE superstars, as the WWE product is heavier on the entertainment side of the spectrum than anybody else. Wrestlers must be competent to great public speakers. They must have a keen understanding of storytelling to build compelling matches and programs. They also have to be skilled actors, both in the ring and in their promos. Professional wrestlers are great performers, but today more than ever, they're called to be better athletes because it always comes back to what they can do in the ring. Pro wrestling is an exercise of pageantry and spectacle.

It's a muscled up soap opera where larger than life personalities collide for the entertainment of paying fans. The fact remains, however, that all the promos and storylines in the world fade into oblivion if those collisions, those in ring encounters between athletes, don't live up to the expectations created by the entertainers. What would have happened if Hogan couldn't slam Andre at WrestleMania 3? What if Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels couldn't wrestle for an hour straight? Conversely, will we remember the Festival of Friendship in 10 years after Owens and Jericho underwhelmed at WrestleMania 33?

I might be reaching on that one. The point is that the entire purpose behind the showmanship and the storylines is to sell the in-ring product. We care more about the matches if we care about the people in them. But as fans, we still demand high quality wrestling to make the stories feel worthwhile.

And the bar for what constitutes high quality is higher than ever. While the Attitude Era pushed the envelope with edgy storylines and violence, today's talent pushes the envelope with acrobatics in the squared circle. It takes the red arrow today to get the reaction that a moonsault got over 20 years ago. I think it speaks volumes that while many pro wrestlers are failed football players recruited for their size and physiques, those performers are routinely outpaced by the likes of Kenny Omega, AJ Styles, Seth Rollins, or Sasha Banks. Smaller performers with the balance and body control of elite gymnasts. Fans are demanding bigger moves, more action, and a higher degree of difficulty than we've ever seen.

With more complex moves comes a greater need for the utmost precision, because your opponent's life and livelihood is literally in your hands at every moment. The outcomes may be scripted, but the impact of bodies on canvas, steel, and concrete are very real. One errant knee is a broken nose. One bad pile driver is a broken neck. Speaking of injury, let's talk about playing through pain, because pro wrestlers have the market cornered on toughing it out. We praise athletes for playing through injury, especially around playoff time. Imagine that, but every day is playoff time, and there's no offseason for surgery.

You just keep going until you literally can't bear the pain anymore. And if you're not already a star, your spot might not be there when you come back. By the way, if you're a WWE superstar pre-pandemic, you are working around 250 shows a year, all over the world. One of those superstars is a guy named Mark Callaway, who some of you might know better as The Undertaker. For my money, he's one of the two or three greatest professional wrestlers to ever breathe oxygen. But for anyone's money, he's one of the most respected performers in the history of the industry, not only for his talent, but for his toughness. He famously wrestled for months with broken ribs by putting on a flak jacket and having medical staff duct tape it around his torso. The Undertaker is six foot eight, and probably weighed around 320 pounds at a time. Do you think taking a 300 pound bump with broken ribs was fun? By the way, he's kind of needed a hip replacement since 1998.

He retired in 2020. Is he tough enough to be an athlete? Part of the reason that people like Taker do ridiculous things with flak jackets is because they're competitors. They want to go out there every night and compete.

Now, I can already hear a bunch of you yelling at your mobile devices. They're not competing. The matches are fixed. You even said that.

I said the results of the matches are predetermined, and they are. Nobody said that there's no competition. Every night, these performers go out and do what all other truly great athletes do. They compete to be the absolute best at what they do, better than anyone else. Every wrestler who still loves what they do wants to steal the show and have the best match every night. They compete for the adulation of fans. Many of them probably compete with the hopes of being recognized for what they are. High performance athletes, sacrificing their bodies every night that they walk down that aisle. Professional wrestling doesn't have to be your thing. And that's fine. Because we're not talking about the product.

We're talking about the players. The ones that spend all the hours in the gym, make all the sacrifices, and get none of the respect from so many people. I was incredibly proud to bring a taste of pro wrestling to Grandstand Central, as well as to the listeners of our American stories. I look forward to engaging with people who give wrestlers the credit that they deserve.

And great job on the piece by Greg Hengler and a special thanks to Riley Evans for telling the story, the real story, about professional wrestling here on Our American Stories. Week after week, Xfinity Flex unlocks access to premium networks and apps. So you can try fresh entertainment for free each and every week. Catch the season premiere of Outlander from Starz. Journey through the sounds of Black Music Month with pics from Lifetime Movie Club and Revolt.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-28 04:36:16 / 2023-06-28 04:41:58 / 6

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