For how big of a franchise WWE is in America, most of the public really doesn’t seem to get wrestling. Attitudes toward pro wrestling range from indifference to condescension. For example, Keith Olbermann tweeted out a week or two ago “You guys are kidding, right?” in response to an MLB game having Braun Strowman on for a quick conversation to promote SmackDown.
There have also been lots of articles ranting about “people who hate the WWE are dumb” though, too many to count. They usually follow the line of “most people like Game of Thrones, but don’t like pro wrestling! They’re hypocrites!” or some similar argument. They’re never a direct appeal to the non-wrestling fan, but a circlejerk talking point for the fan who isn’t the one who needs to hear it. Sure, there is truth in it, but it doesn’t help explain to the non-fan WHY pro wrestling should be taken seriously.
So how can you, a wrestling fan, properly explain why pro wrestling should be watched? Or at least why it shouldn’t receive the disdain it receives from people like Keith Olbermann?
First and foremost, drop the “its real, just scripted” line. No one is going to watch pro wrestling simply for the athletic ability. Most people don’t avidly watch strongman competitions unless it’s 2 in the morning and you’ve fallen into a very specific YouTube hole. So if anyone wanted to watch actual athletic ability involving combat sport they would… you know… watch real fighting such as MMA. Not something they know is choreographed and preplanned, because there’s always going to be something that’s more real that provides the combat sport aspect. So do not make your appeal based on the athletic angle alone.
So what does grab non-wrestling fans and make them want to watch a fake sport? Well the same thing which makes anyone want to watch/read/listen/engage with any fiction: the plot and the characters. The issue at hand, though, is trying to get people to understand that that is what wrestling is: it’s a play, a fictional story. Most people already have the preconceived notion of “pro wrestling is a fake sport” and won’t be able to just mentally jump to “it’s actually a really unique medium for storytelling” with a comment about Game of Thrones.
So your goal as the pro wrestling fan should be to embrace the fakeness of the medium. Not in a snarky way by saying “well, you watch Game of Thrones, don’t you?” (although comparing it to a fictional TV show can be helpful) but by showing just how fake wrestling is. Fun examples that could be used of obviously fictional plot lines within wrestling are, like WWE’s Ministry of Darkness or Allie’s plotline from Impact Wrestling. This will establish that it’s not only fake but A) everyone knows it and B) stories can be told within the medium of wrestling.
Another thing that can be highlighted is how pro wrestling is different and unique within its medium of storytelling. For instance, the crowd and fans can shape how the story is told and how things play out. The fans cheered Becky Lynch from just another midcard heel turn into the most popular female wrestler in recent memory. Or the dynamic of Washington state never booing Daniel Bryan and the effect that has on not just the episode for the night, but the character himself. It truly is an interesting dynamic you really don’t see in other mediums.
The one thing I would avoid discussing, at least at first, is the element of kayfabe blurring into real life. I realize this is a huge part of wrestling storytelling and some people’s favorite parts of wrestling. Hell, Jim Cornette thinks that any wrestling promotion that doesn’t do this is bad and ruining the industry. However, you, the wrestling fan, just spent the past couple minutes trying to explain to the non-fan how wrestling is nothing more than storytelling. There is no need to make them start to think “wait… they keep saying it’s fake, but they’re starting to make it sound like they’re dumb enough to think it’s actually real.”
Lastly, and this goes along with embracing the fiction of wrestling, embrace the cheesiness of it. Because, admit it, wrestling is at its core a pretty cheesy thing — two men cutting promos in the ring and then pretending to beat each other up is extremely cheesy. A heel distracting the ref in order to cheat when literally THE REST OF THE STADIUM saw a disqualifying chair shot is cheesy. A heel insulting the city they’re in as the worst city ever is cheesy. But cheesy can be a lot of fun. People like slasher movies, reality TV, dad jokes, and silly Halloween costumes. Cheesiness is not something to be shied away from, but embraced.
Even if this doesn’t convince the non-fan to watch wrestling, what it does is it helps to de-stigmatize wrestling. They may not want to go out and watch it, but they’ll understand why people do like it.
And if all else fails and if they still don’t get it, just tell them “wrestling is an episodic Medieval Times.” That will work. People love them some Medieval Times.
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