I found this video on YouTube showing the most iconic moment for each MLB team. And while I’m not enough of a baseball watcher to judge, I did have one thought: How can “Daniel Bryan winning in the main event of WrestleMania 30 compete with any of these?” And that led me to think about something that’s been on my mind for months: How can WWE compete with actual sports?
So, there’s a critic I follow on Twitter that also talks about WWE pretty regularly (I won’t name him because I don’t want to drag him into this if it gets messy.) Whenever his favorite baseball team loses, he always tweets about it saying “This is why I don’t complain about the current state of WWE”. His line of thinking is that WWE, no matter how good it is, can never compete with actual sports like football, basketball, or baseball because no matter what, you can’t hide the fact that pro wrestling is fake and it always has been, even way before Vince McMahon started branding WWE as “sports entertainment”. He also stated that the reason that WWE is looked down on is because in the promotions before the McMahons, promoters would present the scripted product of pro wrestling as real, which caused people to think wrestling fans are stupid hicks. Also, the fact that the results are pre-determined can turn people off from appreciating the supposed artistry and ability of people like Sami Zayn, Finn Balor, and AJ Styles (even though a lot of people in the industry have skills, even experience in actual sports) because they can’t get into something where the result is decided ahead of time when they can just watch a sporting event where the result ISN’T predetermined and anyone can win.
To the critic I’m talking about: the preordained result is the thing that’s the rub to people. Think about some of the biggest scandals and controversies in sports and you’ll notice one thing they have in common: the notion of trying to manipulate the result a certain way. Whether it’s the Black Sox Scandal of 1919, point shaving in college basketball, match fixing in boxing, Game 6 the 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings or the fact that the NBA Draft Lottery is the sports equivalent to The Kennedy Assassination, fixing/rigging/cheating/whatever you want to call it is seen as the cardinal sin of sports, regardless of what sport it is.
Do I agree with this? I’m not sure?
Which brings me back to Daniel Bryan. I’ve said before that I feel that the reason a lot of people get over and loved is because of meta reasons, namely that Braun Strowman destroying Roman Reigns is catharsis for Roman being shoved down fans’ throats, and that the pop for Shane-O-Mac’s return was partially for the fact that Shane represented a chance for change in the way WWE was being run, and I think one of the reasons that moment resonates with people is that it was what people love about sports: the underdog winning it all.
And since then? ESPN is following WWE to the point where you can get notifications about matches on your phone (though on TV interactions I’ve seen are non-kayfabe things, such as Seth Rollins talking about being the cover boy for WWE 2K18, or Stephanie or HHH talking about WrestleMania or SummerSlam), and some of the biggest rumors here on Cageside that gets people talking is UFC and WWE crossing paths, especially when it comes to Ronda Rousey. So, it seems that actual sports are starting to take WWE kind of seriously, even if it’s as a company and not as an in ring product.
As for scripted vs. unscripted? While real sports aren’t scripted, they can present stories that can be as compelling as WWE on its best days, if not better. Remember when Seth Rollins turned on The Shield? Do you think that can compare to the pain that Cleveland Cavaliers fans felt when LeBron James said he was joining to the Miami Heat? And while I’m a huge Becky Lynch fan, I’ll be the first to tell you that the title win at Backlash can’t hold a candle to seeing the Cubs win the 2016 World Series after 108 years of pain, heartbreak, and being a punchline and I’m not even a Cubs fan, and the critic I talked about earlier in this will say because the Cubs’ win wasn’t “booked” and no team the Cubs beat en route to their titles “put them over”.
To add onto it, LeBron James’s move to Miami and his return to Cleveland is, in my opinion, the closest thing actual sports has had to a heel turn and a face turn. And then Kevin Durant joins the Golden State Warrior, which was also seen as a heel turn, to the point where John Cena joked about it when he hosted The ESPYs. And I think nowadays, the Warriors are the NBA’s stable of monster heels. As a result, I can see the idea of a sports fan turning off of WWE, or any other wrestling promotions, if the storylines and feuds are garbage, because their favorite team may be in a storyline of its own.
The last angle of this relationship can be best summed up by one man: Lavar Ball. Remember how outlandish he was when he was on Miz TV? If you don’t watch basketball, let me tell you, and he’ll tell you as well, that’s not something he plays up for the cameras. When Lonzo Ball was drafted by the Lakers (my favorite team), Lava was interviewed and said that he would lead the Lakers to the playoffs, and when that happens, he’d have a hat on that said: “I told you so.” And that’s when I told myself, “I’m never going to complain about a bad promo ever again because I have to deal with the crap that comes out of this guy’s mouth.” The thing is, that what makes Lavar Ball so newsworthy whenever he talks: it’s not scripted. That’s why whenever you see a coach’s postgame meltdown in a press conference (here’s a good one), it’s so gripping. It’s raw emotion, no wondering if it’s a work or a shoot, and it leaves such a scorched earth that even the most diehard CM Punk fan would have to admit that his pipe bomb can’t compete.
Speaking of CM Punk, I think there’s another way that WWE can’t compete with actual sports. Looking back, do you really think that CM Punk, a guy that moved to UFC in his late 30s after being in the pro wrestling business for most of his adult life, stood a chance in the octagon? Compare that to Brock Lesnar, who’s kicked ass in both the WWE and the UFC. One could say that his MMA success could be attributed to the fact that he spent two years prior to his UFC debut pursuing an NFL career, which helped him adapt to actual and unscripted competition before he put on his gloves. Or Brock Lesnar is just a freak of nature that makes everyone shit bricks. Either way, he’s always been presented as a UFC fighter first and as a WWE Superstar second, and I think there’s a reason why.
This isn’t to take away from the accomplishments of those in WWE, nor is it to say that things can go horribly off-script in WWE (Owen Hart and Tyson Kidd are two examples of shit going sideways and things going HORRIBLY south). I love WWE, and I watch it every week. I love the characters that the wrestlers are, I love the action, and I love expressing my opinions on the product in my own way. I just think that comparing WWE to actual sports is just a confusing mess that probably shouldn’t be tackled except by those that can be considered those wise sages that live alone at the peak of a snow capped mountain. And I’m not one of those wise sages, and I never will be.