What is Professional Wrestling?
As a combination of traditional wrestling and theatrics, professional wrestling is one of the top major sports activities that’s the most viewed mainstream. The addition of story-lines and in-ring segments / promos gives it the reality TV show vibe. The entertainment aspect of pro-wrestling usually draws more viewers to the sport, however there are also those who love it for its versatility in wrestling talents and how their techniques wow and astonish the spectators. For instance, non-wrestling fans have heard of wrestlers like John Cena, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Hulk Hogan because they gained more notoriety from being in movies and TV shows while also selling a lot of their merchandise. On the contrary, they are unfamiliar with a lot of other wrestling competitors that are dedicated to the sport.
The argument when it comes to pro-wrestling is that it’s fake and entirely scripted, even during the matches. The known claim bares some truth, yet it depends on the wrestling companies and their sports ethics. World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) could very well fall under the stigma since it mostly focuses on the promotion’s lucrativeness of merchandise, sponsors, and anything trending instead of its wrestlers. The head chairman of the company, Vince McMahon, also had a history of giving major pushes to wrestlers who were considered generic to several critics. In other words, they were typically big and muscular or fit his own physique, like Triple H. Then you have the independent circuit that consists of many underrated wrestling promotions that house many wrestlers who strive to be future world champs. Two well-known indy wrestling companies are Ring of Honor (ROH) and New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW). The WWE is partially comprised of several wrestling talents that have once been a part of these indy promotions, however the difference is that indy wrestling companies have more flexibility and creativity since they aren’t televised on mainstream TV. As a result, wrestlers won’t have a limited move-sets or time duration in matches.
The general types of pro-wrestling techniques are powerhouse, hardcore, high-flyers / cruiser-weights, lucha libre, and technicians. Some of them follow the same fundamentals as amateur wrestling. 1997 Olympic Gold Medalist Kurt Angle would exercise his amateur wrestling techniques within his matches, with his finisher and signature moves composing of slams and suplexes. Most wrestlers would regularly stick with their respected craft, yet there have been performers who implement other styles in their wrestling repertoire. These particular competitors are birthed from indy wrestling promotions and they have the capability of adapting to any styled matches. One example of these hybrid talents is current WWE wrestler “The Phenomenal One” AJ Styles. When I first saw him in action, I was amazed by his in-ring abilities and how proficient he was in applying many wrestling techniques and exploiting them in his various matches. Another one is “The Samoan Submission Machine” Samoa Joe. An expert in grappling and powerhouse techniques, the 282 lbs wrestler can do some high-flying maneuvers despite his size. Both are highly – respected wrestling veterans in the business who opened the door for many other talents that defy all wrestling logic. They are actually the reason why I became interested again in pro-wrestling.
There have also been some wrestlers who tried to implement other wrestling methods as well, but failed miserably. In his match against Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar once did a shooting star press, a high-flying move, off the turnbuckle, but then landed on his head straight into the mat with the threat of receiving a concussion. As a result, the move was since banned with the exception being for cruiser-weight wrestlers.
Sports Rituals in Professional Wrestling
When it comes to sport rituals, pro-wrestling has plenty of them. The common one is crowd chants. In crowd chants, the audience would vocalize their amazement or disdain during matches and in various in-ring promos. For instance, they would chant “this is awesome”/”holy sh*t” if they see a match / promo that’s entertaining, “let them fight” if two wrestlers in the ring are at each others’ throats and personnel stepped in to break them up, and “boring” / “you suck” are pretty self-explanatory. Additionally, the audience would boo or cheer depending on the wrestler’s kayfabe (staged performance) role whether it be babyface or heel. However, the responses seem reversed because fans would cheer for wrestlers that are presented as a villain and boo those who play the hero. These chants are relatively new since they came up in modern times. Most of them are used at live events for wrestling promotions that are gaining more popularity. Not just in the WWE, but also in indy promotions, particularly ROH and NJPW.
Another one is in-ring promos / segments. This type of ritual provides wrestlers the opportunity to express themselves in a speech-like manner. Most of them last up to 15 minutes, and the amount of time the promo has depends on the wrestler’s status. The promos can be used as a buildup for the wrestler(s) as well as their upcoming match. In the WWE, a handful of promos are scripted. I noticed that in several of the promos, they seemed less innovative and more so rehearsed. It’s usually the big named stars that can cut their own promo, yet there are some exceptions where few selective wrestlers in the company could add authenticity to their in-ring promos.
Although the WWE is the top wrestling promotion in the world, there is a reason why plenty of great wrestlers refuse to venture there. As I said before, the WWE nowadays deals with the political aspect of wrestling, like selling merchandise or putting part-timers over, which in turn will overlook other participants and even jeopardize their well-being. Well that’s exactly what happened to former WWE superstar CM Punk (Phil Brooks). The video above shows Punk’s most controversial promo that entailed the irregularity and unfairness of WWE management. Though it was a “work”, it did implicate Punk’s mistreatment in the WWE. The story definitely caught my attention because he gave his insight on what goes on behind the scenes.
On Colt Cabana’s Art of Wrestling podcast, Punk explained how detrimental his tenure in WWE was. He emphasized on how his health became the determining factor as to why he departed the company. Even so, he constantly felt undervalued while under contract. Following his iconic promo, a lot of sponsors contacted Punk and he mentioned this to Vince mentioning how it will expand his market and draw in more money, but Vince opposed it. Punk then disclosed how he messed up his knee, elbow, and eye, so he requested some time off yet ended up working double time at house shows and live events. At the same time, Punk recognized that there was a lump growing on his back that was left untreated. Later on, following his departure from the company, Punk was informed that that same lump was a full blown staph infection that could’ve been fatal.
Portrayal of Female Pro-Wrestlers
Another addition that pro-wrestling has is female wrestlers. The history of female wrestling stems from the women’s equal rights movement. One of the biggest issues was that female sports competitors were limited to sporting activities that were perceived to be feminine, and they were prohibited from participating in more masculine sports. Then around 1972, Title IX was enforced and gave female athletes the opportunity to participate in any sport. As time progressed, female wrestling competitors from all over the world demonstrated their astounding in-ring abilities as well as being able to adapt to any wrestling environment.
Their wrestling styles can be the same as the men. There are those that are powerhouses, hardcore, hard-hitters, high-flyers, technicians, and many others. Furthermore, some have participated in-ring with male wrestlers and sometimes overpowered them. In the past I’ve seen this versatility of women’s wrestling in the promotions WWE and Total Nonstop Action (TNA). My favorite occurred in the latter where former WWE female wrestler Gail Kim went toe-to-toe with a much bigger female wrestler named Awesome Kong. Their matches were 5 star caliber, and at one point they had a match in a steel cage. It absolutely redefined what women wrestling is and not just glamour and hour glass figures in wrestling attire. The same ethic is still practiced at TNA but majorly in global indy wrestling promotions. Unfortunately, nowadays the WWE doesn’t wholly utilize nor admire their female talents’ in ring abilities. Not only are they focused more on the glamour, but most of the matches are very short as well as predictable. In addition, the WWE has hired females who just couldn’t wrestle but looked good on camera. I find that to be very disrespectful to not just the wrestling division but also to the fans.