While those involved in professional wrestling
kept up the illusion for many years that it was a legitimate sport, it is well known these days that it is mostly theatre with scripted plots, characters, and some level of choreography for the matches themselves
However, some settings that involve pro wrestling take a different approach. In an effort to heighten drama, they treat pro wrestling as a real, competitive sport, with the wrestlers giving their all to defeat their opponents and win titles. Each punch, kick, flying body press and steel chair to the face is delivered not to please the crowd, but to ultimately achieve victory in the match.
In such settings, the legitimacy of pro wrestling is not in question, and it is commonly accepted to be just as much a sport as any other competitive martial art. More fantastical stories can take it to another level entirely, portraying pro wrestlers as having supernatural abilities that allow them to perform their death-defying maneuvers.
This is the default assumption in most related video games
, as a game that reflected the reality of pro wrestling would be difficult to effectively pull off. There are a handful of games that work without kayfabe
, but they're mostly management simulators (where you either manage a promotion or a wrestler's career) rather than wrestling games
Compare to kayfabe, which is the real life practice of maintaining the illusion that pro wrestling is a competitive sport. It should be noted that while pro wrestling is staged in real life, it is still a highly physical and dangerous career. As Mick Foley
once said, while who wins may be predetermined, there's no way to fake falling 20 feet off the top of a steel cage.
Not to be confused with Real Pro Wrestling
, a short lived professional league of Olympic-style wrestlers.
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Anime & Manga
- In Ayane's High Kick, the eponymous protagonist dreams of becoming a professional wrestler and eventually winning the women's world title.
- Grappler Baki, in which professional wrestlers are up there with the rest of them. That said, the realness or fakeness of wrestling is evidently a matter of what promotion you're with - it's said that Mount Toba, a champion of "show wrestling", once wrestled in companies where the fighting wasn't fake. In any case, wrestlers are depicted as legitimate combatants; Mount Toba nearly kills Baki even though he hasn't been in a real fight for a very long time.
- In the Kinnikuman anime, wrestling is not only Serious Business, it's used to determine the fate of the world.
- Special A
- Tiger Mask is the Trope Maker for this in manga.
- Street Fighter has it both ways; R. Mika's actual wrestling matches (i.e., the stuff that happens off panel) are scripted, while Zangief is baffled by the concept and has never heard of such a thing before. This has roots in Street Fighter canon; the series takes place in the same world as the Saturday Night Slam Masters games. Not only is wrestling real, but Zangief's old sparring partner Biff Slamkovich is upset that some people think it isn't.
- In the later Super Street Fighter comics, Zangief, R. Mika, and Mike Haggar are on the Olympic Wrestling Council. Or, more accurately, they are the council.
- Both WWF and WCW had licensed comics at one point that depicted their product as real; WWF's was published by Valiant, while WCW's was by Marvel Comics. Later, Dark Horse Comics would acquire the WWF license, and began publishing comics featuring WWF wrestlers in their kind of stories (such as "Stone Cold" Steve Austin as a rebellious anti hero battling a corrupt corporate executive, and The Undertaker being the focal point of a power struggle in Hell).
- In Marvel Comics, wrestling is usually depicted as real. There are two notable examples:
- When Spider-Man first got his powers, he entered a wrestling tournament and beat a wrestler by the name of Crusher Hogan. Interestingly enough, Hogan came back years later, publicly stated that wrestling was fake, and that he purposefully threw the fight to Spidey.
- During The Thing's run in his '80s solo title, Ben was the champion of the Unlimited Championship Wrestling federation, which was full of fellow super-powered competitors in real fights. One of the notable characters to debut during this time was Vance "Justice" Astrovik. By the UCW's most recent appearance, however, they've switched to scripted matches and primarily employ non-powered wrestlers — though guest commentator the Thing and manager Deadpool were forced into a real battle against a wrestling-obsessed Galactic Conqueror.
- Antarctic Press' Gold Digger has it both ways with the "Ultimate Fighters' Federation"; the matches are all unbooked Mixed Martial Arts-style fights, but the contestants do take part in storylines and maintain kayfabe about their ring personas.
- Super Pro KO, which takes inspiration from Kinnikuman (without the whole "superhuman" angle, though). It's also somewhat notable in that while the fights are unstaged, wrestlers still have angles and scripted rivalries — you know, to keep it interesting.
- Sensacional de Luchas uses this, and pretty much every comic of this type that doesn't will make the wrestlers into superheroes outside of the ring.
- La Mano Del Destino justifies this somewhat by explicitly taking place in an alternate universe. At least, more explicitly than most — the setting not only features lucha libre as 100% real, but popular on a level unheard of in reality.
- In Just Imagine Stan Lee Creating the DC Universe, Wayne Williams, a.k.a. Batman, is a pro wrestler — the Batman identity even originated from his ring persona. Though the first time he's seen watching wrestling he calls it a "phony crock", once he's in the business it's depicted as totally real; Batman wins all his matches due to his strength, speed, and determination, and he has a reputation as a legitimate tough guy outside the ring.
- The Powerpuff Girls story "The Trouble With Bubbles" (issue #18, October 2001) had Bubbles running away from home after being scorned upon for missing her cue in a battle against a monster caterpillar with a wrestling motif. The caterpillar turns into a butterfly and proceeds to mop the floor with Blossom and Buttercup. Bubbles returns home to retrieve her toy Octi and sees her sisters getting pummeled. Feeling she's needed (the Mayor even says without Bubbles, her sisters and Townsville are doomed), she flies off to the rescue, with the news reporter stating the only hope left is "that wrestling is fake."
- The Wrestler, the original 1974 movie of that name, which was produced by Verne Gagne and starred Ed Asner, Elaine Giftos and Verne Gagne. It portrayed wrestling as a real sport, and featured a scene where a wrestler died after a top-rope kneedrop from Ray "The Cripper" Stevens.
- Nacho Libre, although the movie is (loosely) based on the true story of Fray Tormenta.
- The Hulk Hogan film No Holds Barred.
- Played with by Hulk Hogan again, in Rocky III. Rocky and Hogan's character Thunderlips are having a boxing vs. wrestling match for charity. Rocky figures they'll both go easy in the ring and script a fun show for the audience, but Thunderlips immediately goes nuts and starts legitimately kicking Rocky's ass all over the arena. Rocky has to take his gloves off and fight bare-knuckled to get on an even footing with the rampaging wrestler. Then, after the match, Thunderlips is gracious and friendly. Rocky is puzzled and asks him what just happened, and Thunderlips implies that he fought for real to protect Kayfabe.
- Mr. Nanny also works the same way, as it's mentioned that Hogan's character was blackballed from wrestling for refusing to take a dive, and the villain is the shady promoter who saw him ousted from the wrestling business.
- ...All the Marbles portrayed women's professional wrestling as being real (outcome not predetermined, both participants trying to win).
- Any of the Mexican wrestling films of the 1960s and '70s, starring real wrestlers like El Santo, who have to use their wrestling skills to save the world.
- The first Spider-Man film also depicted wrestling as real as a direct adaptation of his origin story. In that world, Spider-Man beat a wrestler named Bonesaw McGraw, played by Randy Savage. This is based on the real tradition called "hooking", in which a wrestler who actually is a skilled fighter is advertised as taking on anyone who cares to try their luck with a large cash prize on the line, and proceeds to mop the floor with the rank amateurs who come gunning for the prize while making the matches look more even and dramatic than they really are in order to entice more suckers — err, contestants to step up, pay their entry fee, and try to win. Frequently there would be some plants in the audience who were actually in on the scam and would win the cash prize in scripted matches, so as to further the impression that winning was actually possible. It was so named because each actual wrestler involved would have a "hook", or a simple submission hold they could quickly execute to end a match in seconds if it stopped going his way. Hooking isn't generally practiced in the post-kayfabe era, but was done recently enough that some of its practitioners, the most prominent of which is WWE wrestler William Regal, are still active in the business today.
- Ready To Rumble double subverts this: while the main characters insist "Wrestling is not FAKE!!!", everybody else around them knows it is, including the wrestlers. However, their favorite wrestler, Jimmy King, actually did get screwed in real life (in a manner reminiscent of the Montreal Screwjob), and the movie ends in a giant schmozz of a shoot fight (inside a steel cage, no less).
- Arn Anderson's autobiography is written as if wrestling were real - talking about the time the Four Horsemen ambushed Dusty Rhodes in a parking lot and broke his arm, for example - but modern wrestler autobios are more true to the business.
- The Fabulous Moolah's autobiography didn't break kayfabe. Much of it had to do with the considerable amount of skeletons in her closet, many of which were not a matter of public discussion until after her death.
- One Fall is a rare fictional example. Much of the conflict in the book takes place in the ring and is entirely genuine, but that is only because both the hero and villain wrestlers in the climactic match were forced by circumstance to go into business for themselves, making the entire match "off script".
Live Action TV
- An episode of Quantum Leap in which Sam leaps into the body of a wrestler playing an Evil Russian; in this episode, it's confidently declared that wrestling actually is staged - except for the title matches, and Sam and his partner's refusal to take a dive in a tag-team title match is the main conflict of the episode.
- In one episode of The Incredible Hulk David had a job as a trainer/medic at a pro wrestling arena. The wrestlers got along with each other well enough, but inside the ring it was all real.
- Tagteam, a Pilot Movie that was picked up but then canceled the day before shooting the first post-pilot episode. Jesse Ventura and Rowdy Roddy Piper play two wrestlers who refused to take a dive in a match so they were blackballed from the business. The eventually become cops and now They Fight Crime.
- Little House on the Prairie: In the 1979 episode "The King is Dead," the sport's early carny origins are exposed, although in the climatic scene the champion wrestler in this episode — an aging athlete suffering from heart failure — defeats a loudmouthed challenger using his own, legit athletic skills (putting the arrogant challenger in a legit bearhug and refusing to let go until the mouthy youngster passes out); he dies shortly after winning the match. The champion wrestler's manager, played by Ray Walston (of My Favorite Martian fame) is named Jimmy Hart ... the real name of a young musician who would become one of the best-known WWF personalities in the 1980s and 1990s.
- Rumor has it that Bonanza (Michael Landon's previous series) had a script featuring professional wrestling in development before the show's sudden cancellation in 1973.
- The A-Team: The 1985 episode "Body Slam" starred Hulk Hogan in a plot that made heavy use of Hogan's wrestling career (including footage from a 1984 match vs. Greg "the Hammer" Valentine, presented as legit), and featured several WWF faces as un-billed extras in a scene where they fight off that episode's villains. In the segment featuring the Hogan-Valentine match, the ending is altered to show the bad guys entering the arena to confront and assassinate Hogan (don't worry, they're stopped in time).
- In season four of Boy Meets World, Cory has to be in two places at once, and one of those places is ringside, giving tips to Vader as a favor to Vader's (fictional) son Frankie. Everyone, including Vader, treats the match as entirely real.
- Xena: Warrior Princess portrayed professional wrestling as real, however there was at one episode that involved a fake wrestling match Xena was trying to pass off as a real competition.
- The Baywatch episode "Bash at the Beach", which guest stars Hulk Hoogan and several other WCW profiles of the day as themselves, implies this to be the case.
- Naturally, this trope's use in wrestling itself kind of exists as a separate category. One can say that the entire show is "Pro Wrestling is Real," since that's what they're going for in the program. However, since we now live in an age where everyone knows wrestling is staged, there are sometimes slight references to the line between fiction and reality within the show itself. One example can be a shirt that Mr. Anderson used to wear which said "Pro Wrestling is Real." on the front, and on the back read: "People are Fake." Talk about reality.
- A similar example was the name of Mick Foley's book, Foley is Good: And the Real World is Faker Than Wrestling.
- Satoru Sayama's company is called "Real Japan Pro Wrestling". While it has sometimes included MMA and martial arts bouts in its cards, it mostly works with shoot-style pro wrestling.
- Fabulous Moolah, who was mentioned above under the Literature section, once did an interview on a radio show. She talked about the storylines she'd been in as if they were real, and eventually admitted that she found it very difficult to break kayfabe in the first place let alone do an out-of-gimmick interview.
- The Shadowrun supplement Shadowbeat described wrestling as real in a retrospective on sports in the Sixth World. It's unclear if the writers were taken in by Kayfabe, if they'd opted not to spoil the ruse for believers, or if wrestling actually is for real in the alternate universe where Shadowrun takes place.
- The XWF (eXtreme Warfare Federation) in Aberrant has its history in Professional Wrestling and uses most of its tropes. Despite this, it's a shootfight league. While the storylines and angles are usually made up, the matches themselves are real combat. (Well, mostly. Some of the lower-rung fighters aren't really the superheroic novas the league promises, so while they're not faking, the outcome is never in doubt. And sometimes, even the top tier stars decide to throw a match for their own reasons.)
- The WWE video game series has run up against this, especially as their aim became "replicate what is on TV every week as closely as possible". The developers have addressed this in interviews, explaining that matches where everything you do hits for 5 minutes, and then you spend 5 minutes helpless on the mat, and you keep swapping until someone hits their finisher and automatically wins simply wouldn't be very fun. They've basically had to throw up their hands and simulate pro wrestling as though it was a legitimate competition, but everything else was the same.
- Rumble Roses features a villain who plans to use a pro wrestling tournament to take over the world.
- Wrestle Angels
- Masaru's chapter from Live A Live is a great example of this.
- A weird example in Pro Wrestling. The fighting isn't staged, but then you learn the wrestling company you're working for is aware they are in a video game.
- Saturday Night Slam Masters
- Frequently this is the case in the fighting game genre as professional wrestlers are commonplace entrants in the various tournament (which is to say that they know that their moves are capable of doing real damage and thus can use it as a legitimate fighting style). The UDON Comics Street Fighter series plays with this. Pro wrestling is real, but the elements that back it (such as kayfabe, selling, etc.) are also accounted for, which confuses Zangief when he wrestles R. Mika. She uses chairshots and low blows, all the while congratulating Zangief on his ability to sell but in truth she's actually hurting him and by the end, he's battered and beaten while wondering how this is "pro wrestling".
- The round-robin story Magical Troubleshooting Crossover Fighting Federation ULTRA starts with the premise "what if all our favorite anime (and other fiction) characters were the stars of a pro wrestling tournament ... and the fights were not staged (also, Kasumi Tendo is God)."
- Many e-feds (essentially a combination of professional wrestling RPing groups and story contests) consider it bad form to have your character treat wrestling as fake.
- One of the early cartoons satirizing the sport was the 1951 Bugs Bunny cartoon Bunny Hugged. Bugs has to use his wits (and several conveniently available contraptions) to eventually upend the arrogant champion.
- íMucha Lucha! is definitely on the "supernatural" side of things, with moves that involve shapeshifting among many others.
- In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fast Forward, pro wrestling has become a legit sport. However, being from the past, Raphael is unaware of this and treats it like its all a show, at least until he gets his shell kicked by a disgruntled wrestler.
- Played with in Futurama, where the Robot Wrestling League is completely scripted, but kayfabe is still intact and very few people outside the industry realize that it's scripted. Bender then rebels when the script calls for him to start losing, so it becomes a real match—except Bender's massive, invulnerable opponent is being remote-controlled by a martial arts master, so Leela has to beat up the robot's controller. Leela wins her side of the fight, but Bender loses when the deactivated Destructor falls on him, pinning him to the mat for a three-count.
- The Rugrats episode "Wrestling Grandpa", being mostly from the babies' POV, has this trope in spades.
- Animaniacs had an interesting example. It was clearly shown that was fake (taking in only Dr. Scratchansniff). However, when the good doctor yelled "It's not FAKE!!!!, the wrestlers promptly pulled him up on stage, gave him a very real beatdown (thus convincing the Warners it was real), and then continued with the match.
- A recent episode of The Simpsons (in which Grampa Simpson turns out to be an expy of WWE Hall of Famer Gorgeous George) reveals that Mr. Burns believes that wrestling is legit.
- Pretty much the entire episode of "W.T.F." in South Park revolves around a coach trying to show people what real (ie classical style) wrestling is, but people keep mistaking that as gay porn.
- This was played with in The Flintstones (of all places, where Barney tried to earn money in a "hooking" event; Wilma and Betty found out about it and paid the wrestler and his manager to go easy on Barney, only to be double-crossed. After poor Barney was carried out, the two very angry ladies quickly confronted the two crooks, Betty knocking the wrestler out cold (he obviously had a glass jaw), giving Wilma the opportunity to threaten the manager, telling him they'd tell everyone Betty had knocked out his client unless he ruled Barney the winner on a technicality. As you might expect, he wasn't about to argue...
- Subverted in the "Mad Dog Hoek" episode of The Ren & Stimpy Show. Ren thinks being a pro wrestler is going to be a piece of cake and they can't lose because "we are the good guys." Ren & Stimpy suddenly find themselves on the receiving end of what appears to be a very real beatdown or so it seems until their opponents throw the fight. Turns out Pro Wrestling is fixed, but the pain is real and our heroes had no idea what they were getting into.
- Most detractors of pro wrestling seem to automatically assume that everyone who likes wrestling thinks it is 100% real, which is not true. Almost all wrestling fans are aware that it is "fake" but still enjoy wrestling in spite, or because of this.
- The history of pro wrestling is shrouded in kayfabe, but the general consensus is that pro wrestling was originally a real sport; Catch wrestling, which was invented in Lancashire, and matches were attractions at UK seaside piers and fairs that spread to American carnivals. It's believed wrestling became staged to provide a spectacle that was more entertaining and profitable than a real fight (more specifically, matches ended too quickly compared to boxing) but no one knows exactly when. All that's certain is that, at some time and in some place, pro wrestling was indeed real.
- Hooking scams were common during the carny days of wrestling, and even in isolated pockets afterwards. A wrestler would challenge members of the audience to a match, with a small amount of money required to compete and a much larger sum as a prize, much like boxers sometimes did. Usually, the first match would be against a plant in the audience who would fight the wrestler almost to a standstill, or even win occasionally, creating the illusion that it was possible to beat him. Any member of the public who got in the ring would be put in a simple submission hold, or "hook", for the three count and sent on his way. These could be considered "real" professional wrestling matches.
- In the Western world, wrestling has a stigma as a "fake" sport, meaning that fans of legit martial arts and combat sports like boxing or MMA, or even non-combat sports like football, look down on it and its fans. In Japan, this stigma does not exist, and the lines between "real" MMA and "fake" wrestling is blurred. Shoot and worked matches often appear on the same card and are treated with equal respect, and some of the worked ones are executed in a manner which makes them hardly or even fully indistinguishable from shoots. Given that the Japanese MMA were created by pro wrestlers, and that consequently their companies did retain part of their catch wrestling ancestry, it can be safely said that in Japan, pro wrestling is sometimes real.