The art of professional wrestling
Dillon Begley | Tuesday, October 1, 2019
Ask someone their opinion of professional wrestling and you may receive a multitude of differing answers. One might simply claim it to be a “fake sport,” whereas another may declare it the perfection of sport due to the prowess of the athletes it involves. Yet, even among those who consider themselves fans of wrestling, there is much disagreement as to what exactly professional wrestling is and what it should mean to those who watch it. To offer an alternative look at professional wrestling, however, I challenge one to accept that it is an artform in many ways — not pure sport, not pure pretend, but a little bit of both.
With origins dating as far back as the early 1900s, professional wrestling reoriented itself in the ’70s and ’80s through the likes of now famous wrestlers Ric Flair, Andre the Giant, Sting and “The Hulkster” Hulk Hogan. The sport transformed into a blend of athletics and soap-opera, which bolstered its popularity until, in the ’90s and 2000s, it ascended to become a global phenomenon with the rise and fall of World Championship Wrestling (WCW). Now, professional wrestling is a massive form of entertainment for millions of people from all faiths, cultures and backgrounds. Fans from around the world both live stream primetime events and watch them on cable.
Today, the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) that rose to global fame is renamed World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). It continues to be a global source of enjoyment for millions of fans, but not without its bumps in the road. Recently different forms of professional wrestling have arisen to challenge WWE. Fans have started to turn to New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), their local wrestling companies or the newly-found U.S. based All Elite Wrestling (AEW).
That very brief history of professional wrestling withstanding, it still needs to be explained how such a sport can be described as an art-form. After all, what even is pro wrestling? Simply put, professional wrestling is a dramatized spectacle that has real athletes put their health at risks in matches for the entertainment of millions of people watching around the world. It is definitely not fake, as there are no stuntmen and people do suffer real serious injuries and in some cases death from their partaking. However, results in WWE’s matches are clearly predetermined. The storylines, drama within them and even the names of the wrestlers are often made up. It is a form of art in how the producers, wrestlers, writers and sometimes owners present this material to an audience.
To be a professional wrestler, one has to be extremely skilled. They have to know how to act similarly to a movie star while, simultaneously, being able to perform their own technically-sound wrestling stunts. All of this takes place in front of a live audience, and the wrestlers constantly have to improvise depending on how that same audience reacts.
Furthermore, there is a lot of hard work that occurs behind the scenes of WWE. All of the writers and producers of the events have to also demonstrate some type of artistic ability to bring to life the classic wrestling matchup of good vs. evil.
One only has to look at Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to understand why professional wrestling is art. Listening to him ask thousands of people about if they can smell what he is cooking before he performs his signature move, “The People’s Elbow,” really illustrates the duality of skill and artistic nature that is inherent in pro wrestling.
I want to leave those who have read this article with an assignment. No matter your opinion on professional wrestling, please watch Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s match against John Cena at Wrestlemania 28. The match will exemplify what I have said all along: professional wrestling is not a sport. It is a genuine art-form that only a few can master. The art of professional wrestling is that it is, in fact, sports entertainment. There is a real risk on behalf of the performers and scripted amusement for those who choose to watch.