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'IT'S ALL A WORK!' Conspiracy theory comes to pro wrestling
Image credit: All Elite Wrestling

Pro Wrestling

‘IT’S ALL A WORK!’ Conspiracy theory comes to pro wrestling

What REALLY happened at AEW’s All Out media scrum?

Pro wrestling is a weird thing. Big news, right?

In a very real way, for decades and decades, pro wrestling was an actual conspiracy. Hundreds, if not thousands of people worked together to maintain the big lie that what the promoters and athletes presented was legitimate competition, when in fact it was, as people in the business now freely admit, a collaborative endeavor designed for everyone involved to make the most money.

AEW conspiracy scrum

CM Punk and AEW owner Tony Khan, at post-All Out 2022 media scrum

Of course, many on the outside saw through the subterfuge, especially as wrestling became more theatrical over time, but enough people bought in to keep the machine rolling until fans learned to appreciate that there’s real storytelling in this bogus sport. And the secret really was kept through a network of strength and heinous consequences, that could result in broken bones for whistleblowers and excommunication for those too weak to maintain the illusion.

It’s remarkable, when you think about it.

So when something you love is literally built on a massive conspiracy deliberately designed to fool the people who love it, it’s only natural that wrestling fans can be especially prone to conspiracy theory belief surrounding the business. Everything we saw was contrived for so long, when we glimpse the real inner workings due to the unprecedented access that comes with the Information Age, it’s hard for some to accept that they’re not still being “worked.”

Even in the most far-fetched of circumstances. When AEW world champion CM Punk first began ranting about some of his fellow wrestlers during a post-show media event Sunday night, it was natural to think it was a sly way to build interest for later in-ring confrontations. But as his barbs turned more personal, and news of an actual backstage dust-up between the company’s biggest stars began to leak, it became harder and harder to believe this was all part of a planned story.

For most, anyway. There are still some wrestling fans out there, scarred by a century of intentional manipulation, who sincerely believe that the vitriol and brawl that resulted in four key players being stripped of their championships, with possible firings on the way, was completely fabricated to grow interest in the product. Just like other conspiracy theory-believers can point to Watergate or MK-Ultra as proof that conspiracies do indeed occur, believers in this lower stakes conspiracy theory feel they only need to gesture toward wrestling’s history of dishonesty for justification.

But all those conspiracies were eventually uncovered. The bigger a conspiracy is, the harder it is to maintain, and while the conspiracy that wrestling was on the level lasted a long time, it was perpetuated solely by those with a vested self-interest. “Brawlgate” already involves legal professionals and other representatives not immersed in the carnival-inspired lifestyle of pro wrestling, who have little reason to perpetuate such a strange illusion. Think of all the sanitation workers and administrative personnel that would be needed to service a secret underground alien base, who somehow never come forward or even hint at their experience.

Of course, that silence is paradoxically often used by conspiracy theory-believers as further evidence that the conspiracy is real. It’s so important, the clamps are really in! And despite overwhelming evidence that an event happened just as it appeared to (plenty of reports from other wrestlers, video evidence of security scrambling during the fight, the derailing of clearly planned stories the fight causes), confirmation bias can make one small sticking point seem somehow more persuasive in comparison (why did AEW’s owner tell journalists they shouldn’t miss this press scrum?).

Why does this happen? Part of it is surely so the conspiracy theory-believer can feel more astute. Wrestling fans in particular still field the incredulous question, “You know it’s fake, right?” from the uninitiated, a doubting of one’s intelligence and awareness that can emotionally sting. Insulating yourself from never being duped by assuming EVERYTHING is carefully contrived is a broad way to make sure those snickers are never directed at you, while also providing a sense of superiority over the “marks” who fall for the con.

'IT'S ALL A WORK!' Conspiracy theory comes to pro wrestling

A more sympathetic reason is the desire, even in the worst of situations, for someone to be in control. Even if AEW’s officials and performers are condescendingly trying to trick us, that might be a less bitter pill to swallow than the idea that life is messy, and that giant ramifications in multi-million-dollar companies can arise from a little spilled tea and the immaturity of adults who should know better. At least if the Illuminati is controlling the banks and all world governments, we’re not at the mercy of the scariest of threats — incompetence and random chance.

AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.

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