Real Talk: Challenging the Age-Old Belief that WWE is "Fake"


Photo Credit: forbes.com

It’s about 10:50 pm on Monday night, and I’m watching some T.V. on my living room couch. At this point, my parents have already called it a night and headed off to bed. My brother, a newly developed Pokémon fiend (which I fully support), has knocked himself out trying to beat the Elite Four. Now, it’s just me and my sister, doing something we haven’t done in years—tune in to Monday Night Raw together.

We used to be obsessed with WWE (or perhaps it was just me and she was playing along) to the point that we not only knew all of the wrestlers, but practiced the moves on each other. I can’t remember how many times my mom would walk into my room, see me attempt to F-5 my sister onto my bed, and proceed to nearly have a heart attack. She was so freaked out, which I don’t blame her for in the slightest, that she banned me from watching. Of course I still watched, though I had to quickly change the channel every time she walked into my room.

Unfortunately for me, my sister “outgrew” the WWE and its “ridiculousness” a long time ago, while I’ve remained a fan to the present day.

Back to Monday night.

It’s the main event of Raw, and John Cena is taking on WWE champion Seth Rollins. My sister asks “Are we really watching this?” And I reply by saying “Heck yeah we are,” and she rolls her eyes.

Cena and Rollins are having an unbelievable match. They’re pulling out all these creative moves—Cena with a Springboard Stunner, Rollins with a Phoenix Splash—and I hear my sister say “Whoa.” Her amazement certainly provided some validation for my obsession.

It’s an incredible match, and the fans are super into it, chanting “This is awesome!”

Then something crazy happens. Seth Rollins goes to kick John Cena in the head, but winds up legitimately kneeing him in the nose. As a result, blood pours incessantly from Cena’s nose.

My first reaction is that perhaps this was planned since the WWE loves to surprise its fans. However, when the camera focused on Cena’s face, you could see his nose was the size of Texas. Not to mention, it was totally crooked. There was no doubt something was off since you obviously can’t fake disfigurement. This was a real injury. All my sister could say was an exasperated “Holy shit, Mack” with a few “I can’t believe he’s still going” thrown in.

Despite his now Triple H-esque honker, Cena (the human being, not the character) persevered and finished the match, which lasted for about seven more minutes.

It was an unbelievable site. He was truly “Super-Cena” that evening, and I gained a ton of respect for him.

It’s these types of moments that made me fall in love with WWE—the moments when something that isn’t supposed to happen happens. Cena breaking his nose served as a dose of reality sprinkled into an already entertaining contest. I was completely enthralled by his superhuman performance.

Despite this excitement, most people I talk to dismiss the WWE for various reasons: It’s overdramatic, it celebrates masculinity and degrades femininity, etc—which I get. The knock on the WWE I can’t stand, which is also the one I hear most, is that it’s fake.

It’s true that matches are scripted and that both wrestlers know who will win before the contest begins. That has always been true in the WWE. But does that make the wrestling fake?

Television shows and movies are scripted. There are literally scripts that actors read from containing plans for how particular storylines will unfold and how characters will develop. Does this type of pre-ordained arrangement somehow delegitimize the fictional television programs? Not at all.

As far as I’m concerned, fictional shows that convey real human emotions and situations, as well as elicit an engaged response from their audiences are just as real as any shows inspired by true events (or documentaries). You can’t convince me Jason Street’s devastating injury in the first episode of Friday Night Lights didn’t tug on a few heartstrings. I was on the verge of tears even though it wasn’t something that happened in “real life” to a “real person”.

That’s what you have to accept with WWE. It’s a fictionalized account of a sporting event. But perhaps this is another place where people find problems with the WWE model.

In any other sport—basketball, tennis, boxing, MMA, etc.—the matches or games are not scripted. The NBA did not determine prior to the series that the Warriors would defeat the Cavaliers for the NBA title. UFC did not decide that Ronda Rousey would submit Cat Zingano nineteen seconds into the match. The winners emerged victorious based on their own superior performances.

But the WWE is not basketball or MMA—it’s fictional. WWE chairman Vince McMahon explains perfectly what distinguishes his company from other professional sports. The WWE is not just sport, it’s sports-entertainment. It combines athleticism and soap opera esque drama, making for the ultimate reality show.

Could this be why people have such a negative attitude toward the WWE? Because the company merges two worlds (sports and scripted entertainment) that don’t mix? If the NBA Finals, for example, were to be pre-determined somehow, fans would call it rigged. There’s no room for cheating or fixing in professional sports (ala disgraced referee Tim Donaghy), but the WWE violates that principle.

While it may seem like a foreign concept to have scripted matches, there’s a method to WWE’s madness. They’re able to ensure highly competitive contest that give the fans exactly what they want to see, and then some. Other professional sports cannot promise their audiences an incredible game, match, or fight. Often times, marquee events fail to live up to the hype.

The WWE model is unique since it can guarantee that you’ll see an awesome match.

The other major reason why people deny the WWE credibility is because they believe there isn’t any real violence. No one is truly getting hurt—the punches, kicks, submission holds, and various slams are fake.

In theory, this should be the case. The maneuvers aren’t meant to cause physical harm. In fact, before wrestlers are allowed to take the ring, they’re taught how to properly execute a move without injuring their opponents or themselves. Employee safety is crucial since it allows WWE superstars to go out and compete the next night when they’re in a new city.

But of course, safety can never be guaranteed. Wrestlers have broken their necks, dislocated their forearms, and even died. Those are extreme examples, but wrestlers run these types of risks every time they step into the squared circle.

Even the best wrestlers aren’t immune to injury or injuring, which was displayed in the John Cena-Seth Rollins match on Monday night. Rollins and Cena botched a simple knee to the face maneuver, leaving Cena bloodied and disfigured. Cena’s injury and subsequent emergency surgery were real.

We also can’t forget how the wrestlers are constantly throwing their bodies around and crashing to the mat with great force. And these mats are not your run-in-the-mill, soft and cushiony gym mats. They’re apparently pretty hard. The top layer of the mats is made of an extremely thin foam sheet, while underneath rests a one-inch piece of plywood. Below that are steel beams. Ouch-town.

It’s the frequent crash landings on an unforgiving surface that leaves the wrestlers perpetually bumped and bruised. The question doesn’t seem to be if they’ll wind up needing surgery but when. How much can a wrestler take before he or she needs to go under the knife (or at least take significant time off)?

It’s the risks and an injury-filled lifestyle that potential WWE superstars must consider before getting into the wrestling business. Edge, one of the most popular superstars throughout the 2000s and early 2010s, was forced to retire prematurely because his back was nearly destroyed after years of TLC (Tables, Ladders, and Chairs) matches. Doctors told him his central nervous system was deteriorating, and that if he continued to wrestle, he’d soon end up paralyzed (or worse, dead).

Daniel Bryan is another upsetting story. He took the WWE by storm in 2013 and 2014 and became one of the most universally beloved superstars I’ve ever seen. In arenas all over the world, fans chanted his catchphrase (YES!) (it's a lot cooler than it sounds) whenever he made an entrance. They willed him to a main event spot and victory at Wrestlemania 30. It was the ultimate underdog story.

But Bryan paid for his physical and high-flying style in the ring. He suffered a horrible neck injury that sidelined him for almost a year. The injury got so bad that he was unable to open a car door with his right arm. Bryan made his return at the end of 2014, but his health was short-lived. Concussions forced him back out of the ring, which is where he continues to be. Bryan may never be able to compete in the WWE again.

The devastating injuries suffered by Edge and Daniel Bryan, as well as many other wrestlers before them, leave me curious about something. Who came up with the idea that wrestling is fake? Premature death and bad health, two things inextricably linked to the WWE, are very real (and scary) matters. Calling wrestling fake de-legitimizes the hard work and sacrifice of people who are trying to make a living through self-expression.

I’ve given my opinions on the WWE, and for anyone still here I deeply appreciate you letting me rant. Now, I’m interested in what you have to say. What are your views on the WWE? Is the content awesome? Is it so ridiculous that you can't take it seriously? How about the political side of things? Is the company too exploitative to ever gain your support?

Let me know what you think in our comments section! I’m always game for an in-depth conversation about WWE so please don’t be shy!