Professional Wrestling was once the most popular "combat sport" in The United States of America. Over the decades, it's penetrated several markets the world over. Since the rise of cable television, however, it has increasingly slid toward polarizing status, with a growing number of people looking down on "fake" wrestling as well as those who like it. Being a wrestling fan is almost equivalent to being homosexual,note atheist, vegetarian, mentally ill or any other Acceptable Target. So why is professional wrestling so frowned upon for being fake when several movies, TV programs, video games, and such that equally qualify are not? The reasons behind this usually stem from the belief that Pro Wrestling is fake drama that passes itself off as a real, competitive sport. For a while, it actually was, but for better or worse, figures in the industry (including Vince McMahon himself) have seen fit to expose pro wrestling's secrets to fans who were already becoming more aware of what happens behind the scenes. Other secrets have been revealed via publications such as The Wrestling Observer Newsletter, the increasing availability of websites such as Figure Four Online, and good old common sense. This ensured that those figures can never go back on their word. Pro wrestling is presented as legit on-camera, but off-camera, pretty much everyone in the industry will openly admit to it being a work. Combining that with the newfound popularity of mixed martial arts (created to be everything pro wrestling is with real fighting) and several unfortunate scandals that have hit the business (The McMahon steroid trial in 1992, for example) pro wrestling has been given somewhat of a bad name.
Common stereotypes of wrestling fans:
- They all believe it is a real, competitive sport: Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of wrestling fans know and accept that wrestling is staged note . They'll become annoyed/angered by the statement not because they won't accept that pro wrestling is staged, but because they're sick of hearing that it's staged.
- They're rednecks: Rednecks are often portrayed as pro wrestling fans in the media, hence the detractor nickname "redneck soap opera". WCW had a strong southern fanbase and was a southern-based wrestling company, but WWE, at least in the early days, was mostly popular in the northern U.S. TNA, although also southern-based, is more popular outside the U.S. than in it. Pro wrestling is broadcast in almost every country, so even though there are "rednecks" who like pro wrestling, most fans are not, and not all rednecks are fans.
- They're gay: "You like to watch a bunch of shirtless, muscle-bound men in spandex panties touch each other? Is there something you want to tell us?" Professional Wrestling was originally a carnival sideshow attraction derived from "catch" wrestling in the 1800s, and these outfits were quite common and acceptable back then. Many other athletes, including "real" wrestlers, wear spandex as well. You sweat a lot doing it and heavy clothing can be more harmful than helpful, so it makes sense to wear as little clothing as possible. Plenty of wrestlers do not wear tights and there are female wrestlers who wear just as little clothing as the men, if not less. There may be a lot of Fanservice (women like wrestling too), but there is nothing sexual about wrestling. In most cases, at least...
- That wrestling is meant for children and adults shouldn't watch it: Professional wrestling has always had one of the largest demographics of all forms of entertainment and appeals to nearly every age group. Even though WWE's current day programming is without a doubt pandering to children, there was a little period known as the Attitude Era in which WWE (and to a lesser extent, WCW) most certainly was not for children. ECW has become infamous for its extreme violence, Cluster F-Bombs, and sexual innuendo. TNA, Ring of Honor and most federations on the independent circuit are more gritty and adult-oriented than WWE, so there is something for everybody when it comes to wrestling.
Common stereotypes of the wrestlers or business itself:
- It does not hurt: The winners and losers have been agreed upon before anyone has set foot in the ring, but that doesn't mean pro wrestling isn't as risky as any real sport. The ring is very hard and the athletes still drive and slam each other against it, and even the least convoluted moves are just a mis-timed step away from botching and causing very dangerous injuries. Moreover, wrestlers do hit each other with varied degrees of force, sometimes even full-force, and the accumulated damage is equivalent to a beatdown in its own right. The result is that almost every wrestler in the business has been seriously injured at least once (here are some examples of the most infamous and disgusting injuries in the business) and there have been examples of performers dying in the ring due to botched moves, and most of them end up being Dented Iron in their later years due to the long lists of injuries they sustained in their careers. An unfortunate example involves Chris Benoit, who upon his death, was discovered to have severe brain damage possibly stemming from multiple concussions he had received in the ring; it is generally believed that this brain damage may have been what caused him to kill his wife, his son and finally himself in 2007. Since that event, WWE has banned moves that are considered too dangerous (such as the piledriver), eliminated blading (see below) and weapon attacks to the head, in order to lessen the risk of injury, to limited success.
- Wrestlers are Dumb Muscle: Many wrestlers have at least a few years of college, and some even have Master's degrees. In WWE alone, David Otunga has a law degree (from Harvard, no less), Kane has a degree in teaching and sells insurance, Michelle McCool was a teacher, both Sting and The Undertaker sell real estate, John Cena has a degree in exercise psychology, and Xavier Woods is a PhD in educational psychology. And that's only the current American field: in Japan, just as it used to be on the old days of American pro wrestling, attending college and graduating with a degree is actually the fastest and safest way to become a professional wrestler, as the big promotions keep an eye on the university's specialized wrestling clubs and usually enlist trainees from them after they graduate. Just look how many of the wrestling legends of yore were academic athletes and college wrestling champions.
- Wrestling matches are completely choreographed: Wrestling matches are choreographed, with their structure, spots and finish being pre-determined, but how much of it is planned varies between the experience of the participants, and the styles and cultures within professional wrestling. Mexican lucha libre matches tend to be carefully choreographed in ballet-like sequences, while Japanese puroresu bouts can contain lots of exchanges done on the fly or even be improvised like martial arts sparrings until the planned finish (though those are increasingly rare). In the USA and Canada, the point is somewhere in the middle, as while wrestlers in mainstream promotions work on average 3/4ths of a year and thus don't have time to completely plan out and practice just every move (full rehearsal of regular matches is unusual, so much that wrestlers like Randy Savage and Diamond Dallas Page were famous in backstage precisely for always insisting to do so), they are subject to a strict control in order to make what happens within the matches fit the schedule and storyline. In any case, a wrestling match is not a fixated, monolitic theatre-like script(not even Jack Pfefer's so called "theater wrestling" or "Nobuhiko Takada's "Fighting Opera"); wrestlers perform in front of an interactive crowd and realize intricate sequences that can fail and screw things in every instant, so they have to perform in a flexible way to draw particular reactions and modify things if they need to in order to keep the match going. Padding parts of the match like taunting, brawling and leading to set ups are usually done on the fly in order to add live reactions, while rest holds are used to catch one's breath, control the pacing and allow the wrestlers to communicate.
- All wrestlers take steroids/are drug addicts: Definitely not all, but drug use is unfortunately a deep seated problem. Back in the '80s and early '90s, many wrestlers did take steroids, as promoters became increasingly interested in larger wrestlers. Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, Randy Savage, Sting, Lex Luger and many others have admitted to or have been caught abusing steroids in the past. Even Vince McMahon has used steroids and was on trial in the early nineties for supposedly supplying them to his employees (though he was found not guilty.) Steroids were also nearly omnipresent due to the intense work schedule, allowing wrestlers to recover from more minor injuries in time for their next match. Also, a lot of wrestlers have died at fairly young ages (including, famously, Eddie Guerrero) and many of those deaths have been either directly or indirectly caused by drug abuse. Wherever steroids are not the leading problem, overuse of pain medication, alcohol and other downers usually take their place, often in a vicious cycle where wrestlers would take pain medication to deal with their injuries, uppers to keep going in the ring and on the day-long drives to the next location, and then use alcohol or downers to be able to sleep (to use Eddie again, his pain came from returning to work too early after a car accident to avoid a fine for "faking injury"). Ever since they went PG in 2008, WWE has formed a much stricter drug policy, where wrestlers are fined, suspended or even fired if they fail a drug test. Drugs are part of wrestling just like in any other part of show biz, but not everyone uses them. The size of the NWA's World Heavyweight Champions remained consistent for six decades, showing that even in the USA not everyone was caught up in the steroid craze, and in more recent times, smaller or average sized wrestlers have been getting pushes, such as Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, and AJ Styles. There are also wrestlers who are Straight Edge, specifically Paul London and CM Punk.
- Wrestlers are not real athletes/cannot fight in real life: Since wrestling is "fake", it is often believed that wrestling is easy and that anyone can do it, and that its practitioners are harmless performers with no real fighting skill. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. Pro wrestling may be cooperative, but it does require a healthy degree of strength and athleticism to do, and most pro wrestlers have athletic backgrounds. Ernie Ladd, Wahoo McDaniel, Lex Luger, The Rock, Goldberg, Bob Sapp and Roman Reigns all played football prior to being wrestlers; "Dr. Death" Steve Williams, The Steiner Brothers, Hiroshi Tanahashi, The World's Greatest Tag Team, Brock Lesnar and Beth Phoenix were amateur wrestlers in high School and or college, and Kurt Angle won an Olympic gold medal (with a broken freakin' neck!) in amateur wrestling; Randy Savage played minor league baseball, Giant Baba played baseball professionally; Sting played football and basketball in school; Layla, Naomi, and Carmella were professional dancers; Mickie James played softball; Charlotte Flair competed in gymnastics and volleyball; Kevin Nash, The Undertaker and Big Show played college basketball; Kane played both football and basketball in college; Ken Shamrock, Brock Lesnar, Dave Bautista, Alberto Del Rio, Shinsuke Nakamura, Ronda Rousey, Shayna Bayzler, Matt Riddle, Bobby Lashley, and Jack Swagger competed in MMA... list is endless. And to those who think they can't fight in real life, pro wrestling was born from a real, competitive form of fighting called Catch Wrestling, and its roots are still there. In Japan, pro wrestlers not only come typically from martial arts/combat sports backgrounds, but they are expected to spar for real in the gym in order to build instinct and toughness. Meanwhile in the WWE, Layla, Maryse and Eve Torres are black belts in varying martial arts, Wade Barrett was a bare-knuckle boxer, CM Punk studied Muay Thai, and Shane McMahon studies boxing and Brazilian ju-jitsu. Even more significantly, it was a pro wrestler, the "First" Tiger Mask, who founded the first Mixed Martial Arts company ever, and there has been much crossover between the phenomenon and pro wrestling, with people like Kazuyuki Fujita, Brock Lesnar, Bobby Lashley, Minoru Suzuki, Ken Shamrock, Kazushi Sakuraba, Ronda Rousey, and Jack Swagger being the best examples. Let's also not forget those who served in the military prior (or even during, e.g. Road Dogg) their wrestling careers, such as Freddie Blassie, Jesse Ventura, Sgt. Slaughter, Randy Orton (controversial as his stint was aside), Bobby Lashley, and Lacey Evans. Finally, even the pro wrestlers who are untrained fighters still lift twice their body weight for a livingnote and are accustomed to enduring pain and hard strikes, so any of them could easily eat a lot of punches and still break your arm with one of their "fake" hammerlocks. So yeah, you probably shouldn't piss off a wrestler if you happen to come across one.
- The blood is fake: Blood in wrestling is almost always real. It is an occasional consequence that can't really be avoided, various gimmick matches introduce elements that make bleeding more likely and wrestlers will also purposefully draw blood with razor blades while the camera's not on them. The latter is called "blading". No matter how tough you are, very few people have the balls to purposely cut themselves. Not to mention if they cut too deeply they could hit an artery and lose a lot more blood than they intended. The infamous Mass Transit Incident is an example of this. These days, blading is incredibly regulated in the WWE, and almost never used. If performers draw blood "hardway" (meaning a punch or spot has been mis-timed and skin is broken), they are fined anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 (including, infamously, Batista and Triple H).
- When WWE decided to use blood capsules in place of blading, there was much backlash among the wider pro wrestling industry and the fan base. Their next attempt to replace blading involved telling someone to bust someone else's head open the hard way. This caused bleeding heavy enough to be legitimately life-threatening. As it turns out, there was a good reason blading had been in practice for some 80+ years.
All and all of pro wrestling is highly controversial; either you like it or you don't, with little middle ground and it is no different than any other media.