On the Bench: WWE wrestlers are actors, not athletes

It’s an open secret that anything that happens in the ring on Monday Night Raw is scripted and strategically planned. But fans still fill the stadiums in states across the nation for every single event. WWE, or World Wrestling Entertainment, is an entertainment platform that has taken an unexpected turn. Who would have imagined that a staged sport would make $730 million in revenue annually?

Professional wrestling, as it is called, involves these larger than life personas and massive events like SummerSlam, Wrestlemania, Royal Rumble and TLC (tables, ladders and chairs). These personas include celebrities like Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker, The Miz, John Cena and Roman Reigns who are known by their big personality types and general characteristics — which are heavily exaggerated for entertainment purposes. Shows like Monday Night Raw are mainly about talking points and disputes on the mic with short bursts of actual fighting. But a few actual fights in the ring and a few members of staff portraying officials does not mean it should be considered a legitimate sporting event.

These personalities are strictly enforced for these individuals to keep up with, including in the ring, in the locker room, in interviews and in the media. If they are found doing something negative which affects their image in the ring, they could lose their job. Quartz, a digital news outlet, addressed one instance of breaking persona. In the late 80s The Iron Sheik and Hacksaw were found hanging out and engaged in illegal drug use. Vince McMahon, the CEO of WWE seemed to be more insulted that these two employees, who were enemies in the ring, were hanging out in a public setting as friends. The CEO furiously ordered mandatory drug testing and remaining “faces and heels,” as they call it, to shun each other in public.

This wasn’t the only time that WWE wrestlers broke this code. In 2016, Hulk Hogan, or Terry Bollea, sued Gawker media for a sex tape of him they released on their website. Bollea stated in his testimony, “Terry Bollea’s a normal person. Wrestling is my job, it’s what Terry Bollea does for a living… It gives you artistic liberty when you’re Hulk Hogan to be a character.”

If Hulk Hogan is this extreme personality in and out of the ring and Hogan would be fine with a sex tape in the ring, why isn’t Bollea okay with the tape out of the ring? At least, that’s what the prosecutor and the public thought. Bollea tried to draw the line between him and the persona that he plays, but does that distinction lessen his authenticity as an “athlete”? Would someone who plays another sport claim that their actions were only related to their public persona?

The WWE stars are known to use weapons like tables and sledgehammers, other than their bodies against their opponents in a match. If you look carefully, it’s no secret that these tables are not exactly up to code. These tables, especially announcer tables, are mainly made of thin plywood which could be broken easily with enough force. You can’t deny that these stars feel the force of the break, but its still what Hollywood calls a “break-away.” These are items made to be broken easily for special effects. With the right camera angle, and proper training and skill these tables could be broken by anyone.

In 2014, a Monday Night Raw script was actually leaked into the media to sources like Deadspin. This third draft script outlines the entrances, exits, some dialogue and even proves that these matches are actually choreographed. One sentence reads “ Big Show [Paul Donald Wight] KOs Sandow [Aaron Haddad].” That means that way before it even happened, they planned out the match and knew who would be knocked out. It looks like the stars have freedom to trash talk and add in their own lines but they need to stick to this general outline. Which is probably the “artistic liberty” that Bollea was referring to.

That’s why it’s common to see people in WWE move into Hollywood; they’ve been taking these artistic liberties so long it’s easy to become an actor. It was just in a different medium. It’s hard to remember that, especially with the way that WWE is filmed. It’s supposed to seem realistic and be executed in such a way to be believable to a majority of audiences. But it’s not only the fighting that’s fake, it’s important to remember that the “fighters” aren’t…well, fighters. They’re actors.

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