One question comes into mind every time someone insults the integrity of professional wrestling as a sport; is it really a sport or a soap opera on steroids(no pun intended here)? This is a question that has plagued fans and critics alike since its invention at the turn of the twentieth century. There is no easy answer, however. It becomes necessary to look at the foundations of professional wrestling for a clue to its true nature.
The nature of professional wrestling lends itself very easily to the soap opera format. The definition of sopa opera is simply a daily or weekly televised melodrama with a continuing storyline. Pro-wrestling obviously has this. Week after week we watch in awe as the plot unfolds. It is what draw us into the program and grasps our attention. I, for one, am currently enthralled with the Triple H, Kurt Angle and Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley love triangle which is expected to reach its peak at SummerSlam. Or who could forget the rivalry between DX and the Harts or DX and the Nation? These feuds also help move the story lines along. Each week one wrestler is out to get another. The story continues until reaching its final climax and apex at the monthly pay-per-view. Each match’s outcome is predetermined to follow the particular storyline.
Another theatrical component of professional wrestling is in the characterization. What storyline can be portrayed without an acceptable and somewhat believable cast of characters? A definite set of faces(good guys) and heels(bad guys) must be established to give the stories meaning and make them interesting to the audience. If the audience does not care or attach themselves to the characters, they will not tune in to watch your program. (For more information on characterization you can see my article for August 1998, It’s All About Hype.)
The theatricality of the event itself demonstrates the soap opera-like qualities with an edge. Pyrotechnics light up each event for entrances of superstars. The excitement of these stunts help to build up the mystique of the characters and grab the audiences attention immediately.
The athleticism of the performers is hard to deny. Whether watching Jeff Hardy fly through the air or Chris Benoit putting on the Crippler Crossface, the athletic ability is clearly seen. How do you describe Chyna, a woman who competes against men only because she has always wrestled men and against other women she would have an unfair advantage? The other women wrestlers are equally impressive. Women such as Lita, Ivory, Madusa and Jacqueline are equally atheltic in their own right.
These men and women risk life and limb to perform for the crowd. Injuries occur often. Blow-out shoulders and knees are not uncommon. Broken bones are a matter of everyday occurence for any wrestler. Chyna has even had an breast implant burst during a match. Owen Hart tragically lost his life performing a stunt for an entrance last May at Over the Edge. These men and women take the same risks as any other athlete.
The only major difference is the pre-determination of the match’s conclusion. But does pre-determined mean fake? I think not. I would like those who criticize professional wrestling as being fake step in the ring as see just how fake it is.
In conclusion, professional wrestling can neither be categorized as a sport nor as a soap opera. It blends together the characteristics of both so simply and perfectly that the edges are blurred. This is why it is SPORTS ENTERTAINMENT.