Greetings boys and girls. I was watching an episode of ?The Ultimate Fighter? on the English equivalent of a TIVO the other day and it got me to thinking. The emergence of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) as a major player in the pay-per-view scene highlights perfectly the eternal conundrum professional wrestling faces.
The similarities between the two are quite clear. Both are physical expressions relying on pageantry and superficial pyrotechnics to sugar coat the brutality of the product. Marketing and product tie-ins flood the coffers as garrulous announcers wax lyrical about larger-than-life stars and the build-up is always about the buy rate. Hell, if you want to split hairs what a splendid, venom-drenched juxtaposition Vince McMahon and Dana White make. However, there are profound differences and quite striking they are to.
Although silly trash talking and churlish banter is frequent in UFC, you won?t see the absurd interview techniques and scripted, sub-soap opera scenarios WWE and TNA performers oh so frequently find thrust upon them.
There is an obvious, athletic seriousness found in UFC, with such an equivalent too often absent in mainstream wrestling amidst a blaze of hacks and repetitive pages of dialogue. The spine of any decent wrestling product is always the story. Invariably there is nothing beyond the physicality and competition to articulate hostilities in UFC. I?m of course guilty of deviating from the issues at hand. We all know the real issues, looming large and undeniable as Jay Leno’s chin: Legitimacy and credibility.
Now, I understand it’s incumbent upon the wrestling business to promote a multi-faceted product that caters towards a variety of tastes, hence the outlandish promos and vivid characters typical to wrestling. My point however is for all the populous swayed by the latter day variety shows typifying a wrestling experience, there are legions and legions of people who will not even give wrestling the time of day because, drum roll please, its fake. I wish I had a fiver for every time a random observation was made that coincided with wrestling or a wrestler and ended with some variation of: ?Oh, that’s that fake (expletive of choice) isn?t it??.
Wrestling is fake. The matches are (to varying degrees) planned, laid out and executed with prior knowledge of the peaks and troughs and naturally the finish. In UFC its whoever’s the best who wins in a straight contest of mixed martial arts. For some people, wrestling can never escape this ultimate truth. The founding fathers of the business were by no means oblivious to this notion, hence the indoctrination of kayfabe as a means of protecting the sporting credibility of what was to become known as professional wrestling.
In the first days of the business (around the forming of he original National Wrestling Alliance) the man with the belt had to be legitimately tough as nails, as in a business in such deep denial about its essence there was nothing to stop script deviation. After all, how do you explain to an already expectant yet utterly duped audience that the man who won ?wasn?t supposed to do that?? Naturally, once wrestling became quasi-acceptable in the ?Gorgeous? George era (the onset of television) and men began amassing fortunes, the grubby truth of the sport at least had a shiny veneer to ease a man’s conscience. Modern wrestling began at this point and grew into the glitzy behemoth you see before you today with a wink and a nod and a shed load of vertically integrated cash.
Wrestling exacts a price, a very punishing, physical price that can ruin lives and destroy families. The lack of regulation in wrestling means a privileged few control the revenue streams and make fortunes in the process. They decide how and when a performer works and gets paid. A knowing dictatorship, if you will. This is the dirtiest truth of all in wrestling. The matches might be planned but the execution, though usually devoid of concerted attempts to injure or maim takes a massive physical toll. The UFC, as a legitimate ‘sport? is taxed as such and must adhere to the rules laid down by the State’s athletic commissions. The WWE, in particular, has been attempting to sidestep this eventuality for years by declaring the predetermined nature of wrestling’s existence, right down to labelling its independent contractors (employees, for those who don?t get the reference) ?entertainers?, so as to distance them from athletic credibility.
Wrestling is not the UFC and vice versa. It is interesting however to note the number of wrestling fans who see mixed martial arts as a kindred spirit. So many of the forms and styles found in MMA echo or even mirror those so appreciated in professional wrestling. The big difference is skill in execution and of course, a stated intention to hurt deliberately in order to win a contest. I believe wrestling should strive always to be true to its own unique form as this is a strange, beautiful thing that has captured (and will capture) the hearts of many. The business will never enjoy the affection of the mainstream sporting elite because to them wrestling is a freak show, antithetical to the principals of Olympiad and competition. This prejudice, however snobbish, righteous or justified will never disappear. Wrestling can only be true to itself. It doesn?t hurt on occasions to emphasise the seriousness of competition. To this end I don?t think a so-called prestigious world championship should ever be devalued for the sake of cheap thrills. The quality of the matches and the pride of championships, maintained by strong work ethics and infrequent title changes on major shows is an obvious imperative that, if nothing else, honours the physical sacrifices of the men and woman involved.
This is arguably a larger question though. Culture is what shapes the form and presentation of the thing, hence why the rules and truths of wresting remain constant while the styles and presentation differ so enormously. In truth this is a whole other debate destined for another time, quite possibly next week. What matters is wrestling has and will to continue to survive in the wake of legitimate sports like UFC because, at its core, its still a modern day variation of the old-school morality play of a type that captivated men and women for centuries. Professional wrestling is a hundred years old, steeped in the colours of culture and tradition, and fundamentally unchanged. In the end, there’s room for both MMA and professional wrestling in this world.
Until next time.
Daniel R. Browne.