When most people think of “sports,” the first thing that usually pops into their heads is a game involving a team of players, working together against another team competitively to reach a certain goal, and usually played with a ball of some sort. But that is only a mere generalization of what a common sport may be, because as Dictionary.com defines it, a sport is simply any kind of “physical activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively,” involving “physical exertion and skill.” Additionally, a sport must have “side by side competition, a scoring system,” as well as “a margin of risk for injury.” So in order to be called a real “sport,” an activity must consist of physical exertion and utilization of skill, include side by side competition, be governed by a set of rules and a scoring system, and have a margin of risk for serious injury.
Today competitive activities such as basketball, football, and baseball have become popular around the world as some of the most renowned “sports” of our time. The players are seen as role models, as icons, as celebrities. But alternatively there is a much more controversial activity in which its participants engage in the same kind of physical activity, take the same kinds of risks for injuries, are bound by a similar system of rules, and are also fueled by a competitive desire to perform. That activity today is known as professional wrestling, often referred to as “sports entertainment”
Professional wrestling is merely a form of performance art in which the participants engage in simulated sporting matches. The wrestlers, or “superstars” as they are referred to, are both athletes and performers, having not only wrestling ability but also the ability to act and perform in a variety of different ways in front of a live crowd. Professional wrestling originally started out as part of carnival shows in the -igth century, where various “strong men” would take on challengers in fights for money and prestige. This was often referred to as hook wrestling, or catch-as-catch-can wrestling, which primarily involved grappling and grapple-related moves. Over time “wrestling” gained promoters who introduced the element of gimmicks and angles into the sport, in an attempt to create a more dramatic feel to the previously random match-ups.
During the 2oth century, promoters stopped pitching professional wrestling as a “legitimate sport,” and instead introduced the concept of kayfabe, which is basically the portrayal of the different storylines, gimmicks, events, and feuds within the promotions and among the wrestlers as “real,” and not as works, which is what they were and still are. Kayfabe refers to the fans suspending their knowledge that professional wrestling is worked, staged, and scripted, into believing that everything that happens is a “shoot” rather than a work.
Sport or not, professional wrestling, unlike professional basketball, football, or any other popular sports of the zoth century, made its slow climb into the mainstream over the course of the second half the century, with the creation of wrestling’s most popular and well-known promotion, World Wrestling Entertainment. Vincent J. McMahon, father of current WWE owner Vincent Kennedy McMahon, built the company originally as the World Wide Wrestling Federation in the early 196os, and in-1980 his son Vincent K. purchased the company from him, giving birth to the World Wrestling Federation. Over the course of the last few decades, WWE has taken professional wrestling to a whole new level, relying much more on gimmicks, angles, storyline, feuds, and kayfabe, creating what today people refer to as a hybrid of sport and soap opera.
What has become most important to the wrestling world is never “breaking kayfabe,” that is, always making sure to portray all happenings in the industry as being “real” and not scripted. If a superstar is out or unable to wrestle due to injury or personal reasons, a storyline will be implemented to account for their absence. According to the article Cultural Politics and Professional Wrestling, new superstars have often been given gimmicks and old ones often repackaged new gimmicks, such as being a “demonic monster from hell” or an “evil adulteress trying to take over the company,” to name just a couple that have been created over the years. Yet the vast majority of wrestlers are just athletes trying to make themselves known to the world.