For Queen and Country #21
July 20, 2009
By: Daniel R. Browne of

Greetings. Despite the differences in the form, wrestling fans have steadily taken greater interest in mixed martial arts. Although lacking the glamour, pageantry and stage-managed absurdity of professional wrestling the various MMA groups, most obviously UFC, offer a product that through physical competition attracts wrestling fans.

Pro-wrestling sprang forth from the Greco-Roman/?catch-as-catch-can? traditions of the Olympiad. MMA finds it’s origins in bare-knuckle cage fights and unlicensed boxing. The modern day practitioners of these ancient disciplines have succeeded only in taking something grubby and making it spick-and-span for the modern world. The difference is MMA stayed true to the spirit of competition, where as the founders of kayfabe realised in order to maximise profits and marketability you needed to dupe the audience and leave them wanting more.

I have always been fascinated by the appeal of pro-wresting. One of the more eloquent takes on the form was provided by Paul Heyman, who characterised wrestling as a legitimate performance art (when executed properly.) Essentially speaking, those who watch wrestling are surrendering to a pre-conceived narrative; the lure being the possibility of a favourable outcome. The division between ?favourable? and ?unwelcome? is maintained by a simple abstraction: good versus evil.

In a sport where the outcome is not predetermined (as is the case with virtually every sport) it is harder to manufacture the desired response because the conventions that govern that response are entirely relative. Pro-wrestling uses obvious emotional archetypes e.g. women beating, familial abuse and personal cowardice to manufacture a response perpetuated by the person playing an oh so dastardly character. In legitimate sport like boxing or MMA, you must simply hope that one of the competitors is an arsehole. It makes things much easier.

Put more simply, there are a multitude of reasons why a person would (or would not) choose to support a particular athlete or team. Pro-wrestling is fascinating because if real sport is equivalent to pulling strings on a puppet then professional wrestling is attempting to conduct a full symphony orchestra. Like Terry Funk once said: ?It’s not who’s the best, it’s who the promoter wants you to think is the best?. Nothing is left to chance. Alas, the price for such control is high. It’s that quasi-guilt or vague embarrassment certain of us experience when people ask after our interests. You?re reticent to admit you like (or even love) wrestling because a certain unsavoury feeling arises.

To paraphrase the disaffected Pastor character (played by Harvey Keitel) in From Dusk Till Dawn: There comes a time when every man must look at himself in the mirror and ask, am I a fool? In fairness, this rhetorical question was aimed at religion but the point is pertinent and the emotional connections frighteningly similar. You love and enjoy wrestling and find your faith affirmed in matches like Undertaker/HBK at Wrestlemania 25, only to have it trampled on by the sight of fat Foley as TNA Champion and the sight of Christian (sorry) on ECW. Such things are sent to test us and a wrestling fan has a bittersweet time of it all?

The price I alluded to earlier is credibility. You may not experience this sensation quite so readily in the US of A as contemporary wrestling is an American convention. Growing up in England I?d have had an easier time of it admitting I liked prancing about the room singing ?Goodnight Sweetheart? in a dress than admitting any affection for wrestling. It’s not so severe now but wrestling will never be anything other than a drunken curiosity to the masses. Of course, in so many ways it’s their loss. I know wrestling to be magical and unique and totally bonkers when you get to the root of it all. I have room for it though. Spandex is a tad more flattering than a dress at the end of the day.

My favourite way of explaining (or attempting to explain) the essence of pro-wrestling is to ask the curious mind to tell me where the blood is found in wrestling. They all know the performance is but mere pratfalls and irony, yet they cannot countenance the notion that human beings voluntarily slice themselves open simply to enhance the performance. That’s the wrestling conundrum neatly encapsulated into a nutty artifice.

The outcome is important but the steps taken to arrive i.e. the journey, is what’s interesting and magical. It has been said wrestling (like Marmite) is something you either love or hate, get or don?t get. I?ve written this today to remind myself not to think so much about why and simply be grateful that I do. I hope you all don?t mind my little whimsy. We have to ask the question sometimes. I?m still liking the answer at the moment. When I hear the gongs and the lights dim and the Phenom strides amidst the creatures of the night, my faith soars. Then I see (and hear) Donald Trump. Sir Alan Sugar would have this clown for breakfast. Predetermined outcome or not, that’s one fight I?d pay real money to witness?

Until next time.

Daniel R. Browne.

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