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Pro Wrestling Is Real

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"Is it not all a bit choreographed and is it not all a wee bit of a sham?"
— Irish sports reporter Jackie Fullerton to Giant Haystacks, just before Haystacks offered to demonstrate the slam-drop on him (and subsequently before breaking several ribs).

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 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. These days, outside of video games (and occasionally animation), pro wrestling in media is openly acknowledged as staged and kayfabe is portrayed realistically, meaning this is more or less discredited outside of the occasional shoot fights. TV being what it is, one of the more common aversions of this is showing wrestling fans who do believe in this trope and react with disbelief when told the truth—something that's similarly inaccurate, unless the fan in question is a small child.

Now, while the scripting and illusory theatrics of pro wrestling has been an Open Secret for decades, there is truth that pro wrestling is "real" insofar that it's still a very competitive sport, and that the reality of the field is less that "pro wrestling is 'fake'" and more "pro wrestling is predetermined." The medium is highly physical and dangerous, requiring genuine athleticism and training to pull off without causing severe harm to any involved performers, and while the medium is used to tell highly exaggerated stories and fiction, you're still watching people using their very real bodies to fight each other. It's also not uncommon for certain stunt work to involve "bumps" — genuinely dangerous set pieces that accentuate a fight to get a huge reaction from the crowd — and those are very direct sacrifices that can be (and often are) very harsh on a wrestler's body and cause long-term health problems. As Mick Foley once said, 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, or Real Japan Pro Wrestling, a professional wrestling promotion founded by Satoru Sayama.


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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.
    • The same happens in the sequel Tiger Mask W, to much hilarity when two idols think it isn't and go talking to a crazy heel in his dressing room.
  • Averted in School Rumble, but unfortunately Tenma isn't aware of that. When she offers to take Karen's place in her scheduled Greco-Roman Wrestling match against exchange student Lala Gonzales to allow Karen to go on a date, she shows up wearing a goofy mask and gets rapidly wrestled to the ground and painfully pinned by the unamused Lala while she desperately reaches for a non-existent rope.
    • At the same time, slightly played straight; while both Karen and Lala are Greco-Roman wrestlers, Lala was trained in the traditions of lucha libre by her father (which has nothing to do with Greco-Roman wrestling) and Karen uses a frankensteiner to counter Lala's lariat during the knight's battle at the athletics festival (both of which are pro-wrestling moves).
  • In Karate Shoukoushi Kohinata Minoru Pro wrestling is shown to have moderate to high effectiveness in this series. However, as this manga focuses mainly stand-up martial arts, like kickboxing and karate, it is usually used with or like a stand-up martial art. there have been a few Pro Wrestlers shown in this manga: The first wrestler introduced was a hardcore wrestler, Bad News Shiratori, in a Karate tournament against Minoru. While he was slower and had poor defence, his toughness to injury developed wrestling allowed him to keep fighting. The next wrestler introduced was the Cacao Kid Kurokawa, who is also the prsident of an adult movie company. His first appearance was in a pro wrestling match against Shiratori, where he countered his lariat with a high kick. Later on he showed skill in ground fighting and pinning during a shoot, getting the mount position. He was later shown to be quite durable, being able to take kicks from Minami Hiroki, and set him up for a spinebuster.
  • Outlaw Star has the Strongest Woman in the Universe Tournament, with professional wrestler Firecat as a competitor against a variety of other martial artists who fight with other styles. The real Firecat was Mugged for Disguise by Asha, who's species is Nigh-Invulnerable and has Super-Strength (which is why Asha needed the disguise), but it's still treated as a real martial art even without that.
  • Kengan Ashura has a good time with this. The story is very aware of kayfabe, as are most of the characters, who treat the idea of fighting Sekibayashi Jun (a pro wrestler) with actual martial arts as a joke. Sekibayashi enjoys playing up his pro wrestler imagery, including refusing to block in combat and assuming silly personas in the ring. However, he is also very happy to show his opponents that, scripted or not, he is still in extremely good shape and has a great deal of fighting skill, and with his skills as an actor, he's very capable of Obfuscating Stupidity. Another pro wrestler on Jun's team, Jose Kanzaki, demonstrates a far more agile, luchador-like style of wrestling (also in a real, no-rules fight), which proves to be just as effective as Jun's.
  • Wanna Be the Strongest in the World!: Pro wrestling seems to have much more in common with MMA than wrestling in terms of competitive nature where the two competitors legitimately try to beat each other up, and the titles/rankings mean a lot to them. In addition, storylines are more rooted in real life drama (at least where Sakura is involved) than most other pro wrestling storylines.

    Comic Books 
  • 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.
      • Or in short, some wrestling federations are scripted and some are real.
  • 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, Chaos! 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. Though there have been stories that shown that wrestling is as scripted as it is in real life, like the Crusher Hogan story co written by real life pro wrestler Scott Levy, better known as Raven, though it also states that his fight with Spidey was a shoot.
    • 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."
  • A Mickey Mouse Comic Universe story has Mickey investigate a group of wrestlers for a series of thefts. It's quickly made clear that the matches are worked... But the wrestlers have legitimate skills, as the police learns the hard way when the culprit is unmasked as one of the wrestlers and he starts mowing them down with ease until the other wrestlers, that Mickey had in the nearby room just in case, enter the frame. And the one who was beating up the cops was a skinny cruiserweight.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.note  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,note  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.
  • Racket Girls Women's wrestling is free of mob corruption—despite the promoter working for the mob...
  • 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".
  • The WWE Encyclopedia also never breaks kayfabe, and then some (The Undertaker really is undead, for example). This even extends to having separate entries for distinct wrestling personas who were portrayed by the same person. (A notable exception is their admission that "Giant Machine" really was André the Giant wearing a mask, although that doesn't really count as a breach of kayfabe because the similarity between the two characters was pointed out in-universe as well.)
  • Averted in Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex, when Butler tracks down Juliet at a wrestling match. Butler notes that all of the moves would be worthless in a real fight. The match between Juliet and her opponent Samsonetta has preplanned moves between the two, and Juliet's acting as the face while Samsonetta is the heel (although those specific terms aren't used).

    Live-Action TV 
  • An episode of Quantum Leap in which Sam leaps into the body of a wrestler playing an Evil Russian in 1955; 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 (1977) 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. This is based on real life; carny wrestlers usually knew a few "guarantee" holds that would put down any upstarts who decided to take it too seriously. 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 Hogan and several other WCW profiles of the day as themselves, implies this to be the case. This is made more hilarious in that it was filmed around the actual WCW event of the same name, and featured clips from it.
  • Played with in the It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode "The Gang Wrestles For The Troops." Dennis, Mac and Charlie plan a match with grizzled wrestling veteran Da Maniac, but back out when they realize he actually plans on hurting them (with weapons) instead of staging the fight. When Maniac gets arrested they sub in Rickety Cricket as the heel, and still seem to be planning to stage the fight before he starts legitimately kicking the shit out of them.
  • The Walker, Texas Ranger episode "The Avenging Angel" portrays wrestling as a legitimate, high-stakes sport, to the point where the titular wrestler is killed for refusing to throw a championship match.
  • An episode of Friends has Pete, Monica's boyfriend at the time, attempt to "brave the physical world" by becoming the Ultimate Fighting Champion. Ross, Joey and Chandler that the are no rules and that "anything goes, except eye-gouging and fishhooking". After just two matches, Pete is left in a full body cast, and he is ''still'' determined to become champion. And just before Pete's first fight, his opponent removes his dentures.
  • A variant occurs in an episode of Blackadder the Third. Prince George loves going to the theatre with Blackadder, but believes that the events playing out on stage are all real. Ironically, once Blackadder is able to convince him that the play they're attending is a work of fiction, an anarchist storms the stage and tries to assassinate him, nearly succeeding because George thinks it's All Part of the Show.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • 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 second 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.
  • Lucha Underground works on the premise that everything you see is real, with the understanding that it's not a "wrestling show", it's "a show about wrestling" that tells a dramatic Urban Fantasy story. That's why the roster can include a former US army black-ops sniper gone rogue, a female snake-themed international jewel thief who is actually the queen of an ancient Aztec tribe, a Triad princess out to avenge her murdered parents, a spaceman who can not only fly but travel through time, a walking avatar of death who becomes more powerful every time he returns from beyond the grave, a phoenix-man with the power of a thousand lives within him, an actual dragon in human form, a hulking man-monster possessed by an Aztec god of slaughter, and Marty "the Moth" Martinez.
  • In 1998, the WWF hosted the infamous "Brawl for All" tournament, a series of 100% legitimate fights. It was very poorly received for a few reasons: the wrestlers who participated in the tournament (all of whom were lower and mid card performers, along with a few past-their-prime veterans) weren't conditioned to fightnote , leading to sloppy fights and several injuries. The fans weren't interested, chanting "Boring!" and "We want wrestling!". The results were allegedly fudged to favor "Dr. Death" Steve Williams, who was the favorite of the bookers. The winner of the tournament, Bart Gunn, was placed into a real boxing match with professional boxer Eric "Butterbean" Esch, who knocked Gunn out in 35 seconds, and Gunn was fired immediately afterwards (it is speculated by many, including Gunn himself, that the match was a punishment for Gunn knocking out Dr. Death, even though this was a shoot). Overall, the Brawl For All is widely cited as an example of why pro wrestling shouldn't be real.

  • 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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. As the setting also has professional Blood Sport like Urban Brawl and a martial art style based on action movies, wrestling probably is real.
  • 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.)
  • Subverted in the All Flesh Must Be Eaten supplement Zombie Smackdown. The writers don't even try to pretend there's any truth to pro wrestling, and wrestling matches use significantly different mechanics than actual combat.

    Video Games 
  • EXTRAPOWER: Star Lore is the Shakun Star version of professional wrestling and is Serious Business. In Attack of Darkforce, he is delighted to discover that Earth's professional wrestling is similar to his Star Lore. Star Resistance takes this to the extreme as the spirit of an ancient Shakun warrior is disgusted to find out that Star Lore is used as merely competitive sport in the present day instead of as a tool of war and conquest.
  • 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.
    • While earlier games at the very least puts the players on control with the fighting and to this day, the multiplayer is, the AI is increasingly rigged as the series goes on as if the match outcome has been decided from the beginning.
  • Fire Pro Wrestling, like many other wrestling games that give players full control over the fight, is this. Subverted however that most of the over the top hazards such as barbed wire may or may not be real.
  • Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door: Mario enters a fighting arena called the Glitz pit to compete for the crystal star affixed to the Champ's Belt, possessed by the egotistical Heel Rawk Hawk. The whole flavor of the promotion is based on pro wrestling, but the damage and the competition are real, and the promoter Grubba only gives you a different set of win conditions for each match, such as 'the audience wants to see you do this', or 'you're not allowed to use this type of attack'.
  • 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 has him fighting through several of the world's greatest warriors to learn their moves, which includes a Hulk Hogan parody and a Luchador wrestler. As such, by the end of his storyline he can pull off German Suplexes and Frankensteiners on the final boss.
  • 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".
  • Skullgirls: Played with. The character Beowulf is a professional wrestler, and as his inclusion as a playable character would show, also a capable fighter. His career isn't really focused on, but he alludes to some elements of the fights being staged (he'll often ask his opponents if they're okay, for example), but the fights themselves are the real deal, to the point that in his story mode he doesn't even notice that his manager Zane isn't arranging fights for him but having him beat up other cast members for Zane's own purposes. Annie also tells him that hunting the Skullgirl isn't fake like pro wrestling, much to Beowulf's annoyance. It's later revealed that his most famous match was faked, but not in a kayfabe way, in an 'illegal match-fixing behind Beowulf's back' way.
  • In After the End: A Post-Apocalyptic America, characters who subscribe to the Sacred Heart religion can choose El Santo as their patron saint. Devotees of El Santo can follow in his footsteps, donning a mask and stepping into the wrestling ring to do battle, but this is centuries after the concept of kayfabe, and the luchadores fight for real.
  • One of the gangs in Saints Row: The Third is a group of masked wrestlers called the Luchadores. Their leader, Eddie "Killbane" Pryor had a falling out with his tag team partner, Angel de la Muerte and unmasked him out of jealousy. The annual wrestling event, Murderbrawl, is very real. Of course, this game also features a Japanese game show where contestants win big bucks by navigating a very real Death Course and gunning down hordes of mascot-suited people (who are trying their best to gun down the contestants), so pro wrestling being real isn't all that surprising.

    Web Animation 
  • DSBT InsaniT: This is discussed by Seth, Whitney, Dave, and Spoon in 'Store Story'.

    Web Original 
  • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • ¡Mucha 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. Fry also claims that he thought Robot Wrestling was real, like pro wrestling, "but it turns out it's fixed, like boxing."
  • 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, only hearing the "fake" part, 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.
  • The Simpsons: The episode "Gorgeous Grampa" (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 (i.e. classical style) wrestling is, but people keep mistaking that as gay porn.
  • Zig-zagged in The Flintstones: Stone Age SmackDown! (yes, it's a real thing), where Fred insists his wrestling promotion isn't dangerous because it's "entertainment" and "a show", and tries to encourage his stable of faces (and The Undertaker, who, while hot-headed, is nominally a face here) to pretend to be deadly rivals. Double Subversion: It doesn't really work until the heels show up and everyone starts actually fighting.
  • 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.
  • This seemed to be the case on Celebrity Deathmatch whenever someone from the WWE appeared, very much in-character to his or her on-screen persona. (Steve Austin actually killed Vince McMahon in this version.)
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, the Earth Rumble Earthbending tournament seems to be a mix of kayfabe storylines and personas combined with earnest bending competitions. After Toph Beifong defeats The Boulder to retain the championship belt, Xin Fu opens the arena to all challengers and actually pays up when Aang defeats her. Later, when The Boulder notices that Aang didn't do any Earthbending and concludes that Toph and Aang conspired for her to take a dive, Xin Fu is outraged at the thought that he was cheated.
  • Subverted in the Kim Possible episode "Pain King vs Cleopatra." Wrestlers Pain King and Steel Toe are first shown to be bitter rivals, but it's quickly revealed to be just an act and the two are actually good friends behind the scenes. Later in the same episode, after a monster attacks the wrestling arena, they both explain that they don't actually know how to fight when asked to help (though they end up helping anyways).
  • A later episode of The Proud Family involves Oscar standing in for the heavyweight champion, who got sick from eating Proud Snacks. Oscar, of course, stands no chance against his opponents and has to be saved by Suga Mama, and becomes known as "Mama's Boy".
  • Averted in Darkwing Duck; in the episode "Days of Blunder", Darkwing participates in a charity wrestling event and a conversation between him and Gosalyn reveals that both of them are aware that it's all staged. Launchpad, however, was under the impression it was real and is predictably shocked ("Fake? Wrestling is fake?!").
  • DuckTales (2017), however, plays with this in "Rumble for Ragnarok." It's shown that Valhallans were the origin of pro wrestling, with the more mundane staged version mortals participate in being their replication of it. Valhallan pro wrestling is mostly the same as mortal pro wrestling, which the creators of the show did extensive research on for the episode, but with the exceptions of the roster of fighters (which includes the non anthropomorphic wolf Fenrir, a pig with super strength and a prehensile beard and Jormungandr in a humanoid form), and the fact that if team Valhalla wins, then Jormungandr is obliged to bring Ragnarok and destroy the Earth.
  • Subverted on Garfield and Friends in the short "Binky Gets Cancelled Again". Binky the Clown, seeking work after his show is cancelled, gets a job as a pro wrestling commentator, but his usual No Indoor Voice is so distracting that the wrestlers can't read their scripts.

    Real Life 
  • 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 British seaside piers and fairs that spread to American carnivals. It's believed that wrestling became staged to provide a spectacle that was more entertaining and profitable than a real fight (more specifically, matches either ended too quickly compared to boxing or lasted for hours when the wrestlers were too evenly matched for one to gain an advantage) but no one knows exactly when. All that's certain is that, at some time and in some place, pro wrestling was indeed real.
    • The tradition of this sort of wrestling comes from further Oop North and has been known in Cumbria and Northumbria since the time of the Vikings. This stripped-to-the-basics form is still happening today on the English-Scottish border and may even precede the turn of the first millenium.
  • 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 line 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.
  • If the founders of the NWF told the truth in the documentary about their promotion, their title matches were unscripted because they believed that was how it was done in the other professional leagues.
  • In the olden days of American wrestling, some promotions and gyms would “break in” rookies by having everyone around them maintain kayfabe during their first weeks of training, including having the new kid wrestle shoot matches against legit tough guys or guys with amateur credentials. Once he had proven himself, he was brought into the business. So, for many old-time wrestlers, their first match was real:
    • One such example of this is Hulk Hogan. Hogan, who at the time was a bass player in a local rock band, wanted to be a wrestler so he was brought in to train under Hiro Matsuda. Hogan was such a mark that he thought wrestling was real (sounds silly now, but back in the '70s, wrestling was more hard-hitting and Boring, but Practical, thus it looked more realistic than modern pro wrestling) and Matsuda had no interest in training Hogan, so Matsuda not only shot on Hogan, but legitimately broke his leg out of spite. Hogan ended up coming back after his leg healed, and while he had earned Matsuda's respect, he still wasn't smartened up until he went to train with Eddie Graham. Hogan was so confused and felt so betrayed that he actually started crying in the middle of the ring.
  • In the glory days of British pro wrestling in The '70s, the Saturday early evening show hosted by Kent Walton as part of World of Sport might have five or six bouts in its programme. While most were of the pre-arranged and choreographed variety, every so often grapple-fans would be treated to a completely unscripted bout, operating to classic Graeco-Roman rules, where some of the younger and more athletic performers on the card would be wrestling purely for the sport of it and completely for the competitive element. The winner would genuinely be the better wrestler in a "pure" bout.
  • Giant Haystacks was being interviewed for Northern Irish television by sports reporter Jackie Fullerton, a man used to more mainstream sports such as football, rugby and Gaelic field sports. After being asked the loaded question as to whether wrestling is pre-scripted and prearranged and the moves choreographed, Haystacks offered to talk the interviewer through one of those prearranged and choreographed moves. he then talked the interviewer through his signature piledriver move, lifting him up about seven feet above ground level and then slamming him down to the padded crash mat. The hapless interviewer is then seen groaning in agony and unable to rise. Giant Haystacks looks down impassively and says at this point he should be following through with the belly-flop just to make sure. Having conveyed the point that even when it's pre-arranged and choreographed it can still hurt, he leaves the stage.

Alternative Title(s): Pro Wrestling As A Legit Sport, Pro Wrestling Gone Shoot, Legit Professional Wrestling