Wrestling: Sobering Reality or Scripted Reality?

By Peggy Butler
Updated: February 13, 2007

The RockNEW YORK, NEW YORK — In a sport that often seems to have more than its share of controversy, distinguishing between reality and fantasy has proven difficult for wrestling fans.

Since its origin, the chief question among wrestling enthusiasts has remained constant: “Is it real?” According to the millions of viewers who tune in to watch the WWF each week, the answer is, “Of course.” Granted, the men and women who profit from wrestling are good actors. How else can you explain the phenomenal popularity?

As a woman who is skeptical of the WWF, I finally got the opportunity to determine wrestling’s validity, or deception, depending on which side of the ring you’re on. The company I worked for was eager to publish an article on wrestling from a woman’s perspective, and assess the legitimacy of the “sport” from ringside. But there was just one hitch: none of the female employees wanted the assignment.

To sweeten the offer, the editor promised the winner a front page by-line, complete with photos and a surprise introduction. A terrific proposition by any stretch of the imagination. Unfortunately, no fish were biting. That is — until I gave more thought to the situation and decided to take the challenge.

Like many people, I view wrestling as more of a theatrical exercise than an authentic contest between two competitors who attempt to throw each other by grappling. On the night of the “Big Match” I was extremely nervous because I was unfamiliar with the rules of the game. But those jitters quickly disappeared when I was told by the referee that the match I would be viewing was a battle royal. According to the man, who has been a referee for 15 years, 20 wrestlers would be involved, and their goal was to throw each other from the ring via the top rope until only four wrestlers remained. The incentive was a $30,000 purse to be paid to the winner. Are we having fun yet?

As the match began, hysteria and pandemonium encompassed the ring. Wrestlers of all sizes began the roughshod ritual: choking, elbowing, punching, and kicking indiscriminately anyone in the ring. A flurry of blows and knees to the abdominal and thoracic areas gave rise to a flesh- colliding crescendo emanating from the barbaric attacks on each participant. As I watched, appalled, with mouth partially opened, huge men were hurled like projectiles from the ring until only 10 remained.

As the action continued, my eyes gazed over the audience. Boy, based on the obnoxious behavior of the fans, you would have thought we were watching a dog fight. Some fans actually appeared to be foaming at the mouth. And the frivolity was equally divided along gender lines. While the men screeched and unleashed a barrage of expletives, the women balled up their fists and mimicked the wrestlers.

With the contest down to eight, the crowd surged with excitement as they cheered for their favorites and taunted those who were less favorable. The names of the wrestlers were more formidable than the dastardly game they played.

Like most Americans, I am familiar with “The Rock,” “Hulk Hogan” and “Cold Stone Steve Austin.” But have you ever heard of “Goddammaged”, “Bahama Nightmare”, “Mr. California”, “The Big B”, “Thong” Maroney, “Snakepit”, “Dr. P” and “Knight Train”? Sounds like an orchestra for Weirdos R’Us.

The match ended with the victors triumphing over what seemed to be formidable foes. And with that awful fiasco still fresh in my mind, I walked away with a new perspective on wrestling. It’s not only boring, but one would have to be a moron to mistake this mindless exhibition for sports or entertainment.

Listen up, promoters. If you’re going to promote wrestling as a sport, at least employ guys with athletic prowess and the ability to move at will. “Snake Pit” and “Thong” Maroney were so huge that they had difficulty breathing, let alone moving. “Snake Pit”, who appeared to be in his mid- 60’s was, among his younger rivals, clearly out of his league. That’s why if wrestling were real, the rest of the guys would have wiped the floor with this grandfatherly figure. And speaking of “Thong”, that little piece of material emanating from his rear end should be called a “thang”, instead of a thong. At least try to find a pair of trunks that fit ,dude. Whew! talk about buttocks gargantuan.

As for those imposing moves, I have to admit that some of the wrestlers put on a good show. I noted with curiosity the playful antics of “Knight Train”, when “Dr. P” put him in a figure-four leg lock. Wrapping his arms around “Train”, “Dr. P” positioned his body so that “Train” was lying flat on his back. Next, he grabbed the man’s legs and twisted them. Sensing that it was his turn to offer a close up, “Train” let out a deep growl and peered into the camera. The crowd loved the bizarre display but, upon further inspection, I noticed a slight smile on both men’s faces. The guys were obviously enjoying the attention, as they basked in the absurdity.

So what is wrestling? Fantasy, of course. But to those who disagree, I have only one thing to say, “Bite Me!”