The streak is over !

Let's talk about the great American show par excellence : wrestling.
An attempt to explain the hidden side of sports entertainment.

WWE

Gladiators of modern times

If you don't follow American wrestling, you will not be able to understand the meaning of the title of this article.
And if wrestling is repugnant to you, I can't blame you. The sulphurous reputation of sports entertainment is well established, which is unfortunately (partly) justified.

Before continuing, we must understand the dimension of professional wrestling in the US and Canada. Across the Atlantic, a wrestler has the same status as a Hollywood star or a fashionable singer. While on our side the wrestling is only followed by a minority (but which, however, is growing), the big pay-per-view events such as WrestleMania1 fill stadiums of 75,000 places and are bought by hundreds of thousands of viewers. The biweekly shows bring together between 2 and 6 million viewers for each broadcast. In terms of star programs in the US, we find the NBA (basketball), the NFL (American football) and the WWE.

NBA NFL WWE

The audience rulers

As an integral part of American culture for an eternity, the professional wrestling however finds its origin in Europe from the middle of the 19th century. At that time, wrestlers accompanied the circuses that crisscrossed the continent before emancipating at the dawn of the 20th century. At this moment, there are several federations throughout the Old Continent.
The World War I and the shadow that begins to bring to the professional wrestling the sacrosanct English boxing have plunged the professional wrestling in lethargy, for a long time.
It will be necessary to wait for the crossing of the Atlantic and the 50's before seeing wrestling wake up. Since then, the sport show is dominated by one family : the McMahon's. Gradually transforming a combat sport into televised sporting entertainment, Vinnie Mac's2 family has found the goose that lays the golden eggs. The involvement of TV stars (Mister T) or recognized athletes (Mohamed Ali3) during the first WrestleMania will propel professional wrestling to the rank of entertainment king during the 80's. Since then, it's customary that the celebrities go make their promotions at WWE.

Many other federations exist alongside the WWE (formerly WWF4), such as TNA, Ring of Honor, ex-ECW (pre-WWE) or CZW5 but they can’t (or don't want to) match WWE in terms of influence and world domination. Only one federation (WCW6) has stood up to the McMahon Empire for a decade but will eventually be engulfed by it. Japan (with Puroresu) and Mexico (with Lucha Libre) are two other countries where wrestling is almost religion, but in a different style than in the United States.

Vince McMahon

Vince McMahon, the all-powerful boss of WWE.
Is the greed of the diabolical boss character so far removed from the real personality of VKM ? Not so sure...


Wrestling is rigged !

No, wrestling is not rigged. Professional wrestling is a sporting entertainment, that is, it is scripted. If the result and the matches of the match are planned in advance (we are talking about scripting or booking), the shots are actually given. Obviously, everything is staged to make believe in an extraordinary violence but the wrestlers have learned to carry their shots to inflict as few injuries as possible to their ring partner.
Wrestling has many similarities with popular soap operas in the United States. Several stories are told, more or less related, betrayals, reconciliations, disputes, tragedies, and so on. With the small difference that the actresses are siliconed and the actors under steroids and wearing underpants. In addition, most intrigue takes place in a boxing ring. Sometimes, we also find a cage, a kendo-stick or a chair on which they don't sit (but that comes at the right time to martyrize the back of his opponent).

To be able to play their role, wrestlers endorse a character (gimmick in jargon) devised by themselves or by the writers. This ranges from the supernatural character (Undertaker, Kane), to the superhero without fear and blame (John Cena), to the Irish brawler (Sheamus) or to an ultraconservative clan on the edge of racism (Antonio Cesaro, Jack Swagger and Zeb Colter). If some traits of these characters are from the wrestlers themselves (Sheamus is actually Irish and CM Punk is actually Straight Edge7), most of the time, it's just a composition role. And there, the acting talent of the wrestlers doesn't leave any pity to those who don't have the level. Wrestlers usually officiate under aliases to mark the difference between the character and the people behind it.
Charisma and mic skills are also sine qua non conditions to keep you on the top. Many wrestlers have athletic qualities that are out of the ordinary, but without the talent of actors (or simply not in the management's good books), they are condemned to the role of stooges (Kofi Kingston, Drew McIntyre, Tyson Kidd, etc.). On the other hand, certain stars not being able to enchain three correct moves are attributed all success thanks to their verve, their profitability or their pistons (John Cena, Randy Orton, The Miz, Batista, The Rock, etc.) . This last point annoys a large number of WWE fans. Some prefer to turn to smaller federations (independent circuit or indy wrestling) where they will be sure to see real wrestlers. Finally, a new generation of wrestlers from the independent scene is beginning to take power. They manage to handle both the theatrical and technical aspects of wrestling (CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Antonio Cesaro, The Shield, etc.).

Kane - Glenn Jacobs

Dear reader, here is Glenn Jacobs, aka Kane (demon, half-brother of the Undertaker and not very sane).
Could you recognize his role and his true personality ? Be careful, it's not easy.

Besides the role played by the wrestlers, we finally find the history of rivalry, or storyline.
Scripting, gimmicks and storylines form the kayfabe. If it is well conducted, the kayfabe manages to make believe that wrestling is not scripted. That the stories told are real and that all that is unforeseen. This job, perhaps the most difficult to manage, is also devolved to writers.
In this respect, breaking the kayfabe is frowned upon in the world of wrestling. To get an idea, imagine a theater actor stopping his role on stage during a performance.
However, it happens that the kayfabe is broken, following a real injury, the death of a wrestler, a real rivalry between wrestlers or a change of scenario decided last minute (as the Montreal Screwjob8).
Since the Internet era, the secret of kayfabe is increasingly difficult (if not impossible) to maintain for wrestling federations. If in the past, it wasn't easy to know the true identity of the wrestlers, it is not uncommon nowadays that different scenarios are leaking on the Internet. Sometimes, these leaks are orchestrated by the federations to scramble the tracks (and thus ensure the attention of the fans), sometimes not.


Guys in underwear and in a ring ? Really ??

What can be attractive in a TV show showing muscular and unkempt guys, dialogue worthy of a moron and young ladies in very enticing outfits ?
Exactly, ladies in very seductive outfits !
Besides that, wrestling is for me the double moment of weekly relaxation. No need to use your brain to understand the plot, we sit on the couch and watch easily.
Pyrotechnics and games of light are also there to catch the eye. To top it off, the duo of French commentators (Christophe Agius and Philippe Chereau) managed to promote the second degree of wrestling through a pleasant humor. In short, wrestling rests neurons and that's all we ask. It is an (sports) entertainment and it plays its role perfectly.
Wrestling seems less stupid than reality shows, and if you miss one episode, you can always follow the thread of stories without being lost.

CM Punk

CM Punk at RAW, defying commentators Jerry Lawler and Michael Cole in 2012
© WWE

SmackDown and RAW9 are my only TV habits. There is from time to time a documentary I watch but the rest, I'm not a TV's addict.


Ultimate Warrior, Randy Savage, Eddie Guerrero and others

The bad reputation of the WWE also comes from the limited life of its stars.
Closing the eyes on the steroids, drugs and alcohol taken by the wrestlers, the Stamford federation has for several years with a list of ex-wrestlers who passed from life to death when they hadn't reaches 60 (or even much less) : Randy "Macho Man" Savage (58), Eddie Guerrero (38), Andrew "Test" Martin (33), "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig (44), "British Bulldog" Davey Boy Smith (39) and Chris Benoit (40). Benoit's case is even more gloomy10.
Since then, forced for its image, the WWE is finally intransigent in relation to the use of illicit substances and it forces the wrestlers who have suffered a concussion to rest.
But as to remember the dark days of the company, it's the turn of the Ultimate Warrior (54 years) to die unexpectedly. In open warfare with the WWE since 1998, he had reconciled with the federation only a few weeks ago. This return to serenity allowed him to be inducted into the Hall of Fame11 and finally to have the recognition that was due to him. He may have felt his time... Two days after his induction and the day after his only visit to RAW12, his death is announced.
For the old glories lucky to still be of this world, life is not very simple. Rey Mysterio is on the seventh knee surgery. It's a safe bet that after 40 years, he will not be able to walk normally. Another star, another problem with Edge (40) : forced to take early retirement at age 38, the slightest additional shock to the neck could permanently nail in a wheelchair, or worse.
Others, finally, almost sank in alcohol before finding their salvation. Jake "The Snake" Roberts and Scott "Razor Ramon" Hall have also returned to the Hall of Fame.

The Ultimate Warrior

The Ultimate Warrior, shortly before his death
© WWE

This list of deaths or cripples’ challenges sports entertainment. Should we really go further in risk-taking to please shareholders and the McMahon clan ? What example do these dead or wounded give to young fans ? Besides the passion that drives the wrestlers, are they really aware of their risk taking ? Highly lucrative contracts obviously tip the scales on the wrong side. Recently, a company's flagship wrestler slammed the door. Claiming a well-deserved rest (the most prominent wrestlers are in the ring several days a week, and all over the world - to compare with the cushy lifestyle of our footballers) and especially after a hurting of ego, CM Punk13 disappeared from the screens overnight. Having suffered multiple injuries for months, his employer has never deigned to allow him to heal. CM Punk preferred to take the front and leave. Definitively or not, silence is on this case.
All don't have the stamina of a Mick Foley14, a living legend of hardcore wrestling. Although he still stands, Foley looks more like a bedridden than a dashing and young man in his fifties.


The streak is over

The Undertaker To finish, and to close a chapter more than twenty years old, it's impossible not to mention the most emblematic wrestler of all : The Undertaker.
It certainly has neither the prize list of John Cena or the celebrity of Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) or Hulk Hogan, it represents to me the prototype of the perfect entertainer. In this regard, the quality of a wrestler is not measured in his prize list. As already explained and being athletic only by the athletic side of the discipline, the titles are given to wrestlers offering the best investment-profitability ratio (or to friends of the McMahon family...) and following a scenario.
Technically speaking, Mark Calaway (the real name of the Undertaker) has always been vastly superior to the above three. But his undead (or biker) gimmick didn't help to make him the character adored by children (marketing requires).
His moderate ambition hasn't served him throughout his career. Far from having an oversized ego like most other stars in the company (including the three stars mentioned above), he will never hesitate to lose d to promote a young guy and when it would be beneficial for the WWE (at like Big Show, Christian or Chris Jericho).
Yet Calaway had a unique feature in the world of wrestling : his invincibility streak at WrestleMania. Holding for 21 years, it has been finally be buried during the 30th edition of the famous show. And this very small defeat led to a real earthquake among the followers. The unimaginable had arrived.
The oldest employee of the federation (arrived in 1990) had the privilege of choosing his end and his final opponent. Beautiful (and rare) proof of esteem from the WWE for Calaway. It must be said that the guy spent half of his last four years in hospital. The will may still be there, but when the body can't do more, stop fees.

Undertaker 21-1

21 - 1

The era of the pioneers of the wrestling industry, as well as some of the extravagance of the 1980's, seem to have died out with the defeat of the Taker and the death of the Warrior.
Now it's time for "real" wrestling, where characters can be everyday people, where gimmicks psychology should take precedence over the spectacular and where ex-demons (Kane) play the role of director in costume- tie.
This may allow wrestling to no longer be considered a redneck hobby.

Video entry of the Undertaker
© Jim Johnston & WWE

16

April 2014

Return


Notes

  1. WrestleMania is the annual high mass of wrestling. Organized for the first time in 1985, the event has grown to the point of becoming the ultimate goal of any wrestler. To be able to perform on "The biggest stage of all" is like receiving an Oscar at the cinema.
  2. Promoter, owner, and "the one who has everything to say" within WWE, he is entitled to his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
    He also has the controversial reputation of being able to create stars or to break the career of a wrestler, and in the past, to worry little about the health of his employees.
  3. Mister T was one of the stars of the famous The A-Team television show and one of the icons of the eighties in the United States.
    As for Muhammad Ali, useless to introduce him.
  4. World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) was established in 1952 as a wrestling promotion. In 1979, it was erected as a company and has been listed on the stock exchange. Currently, its value is approaching hundreds of millions of dollars.
    In 2000, she was forced to abandon her former name (WWF, World Wrestling Federation) following a lawsuit by the World Wildlife Fund, a famous environmental NGO.
  5. If the TNA and the Ring of Honor offer a more or less comparable product as the WWE, the CZW is differentiated by the hardcore and extreme side of wrestling. They regularly fight with barbed wire, neon tubes or tools (drill, brush cutter, screwdriver, etc.). You must love the blood and have a sadistic side enough to appreciate this kind of show.
  6. World Championship Wrestling (WCW) was the rival of the WWE between 1988 and 2001. Belonging to billionaire Ted Turner (CNN and TBS), it has sinked following the catastrophic scripting that will discredit the most prestigious title of the company.
    WCW has been bought by its hereditary enemy in 2001, before completely disappearing.
  7. The Straight Edge emerged in the mid-1980's and is a subculture and sub-genre of hardcore punk whose members consume neither alcohol, nor tobacco (or drugs in general), nor even pharmaceuticals. Some members are even vegetarians or are against sexual freedom.
    Some American states consider this movement as a gang, while the majority of members advocate non-violence.
    The fact that CM Punk is Straight Edge denotes a bit in an environment where illicit substances are commonplace.
  8. The Montreal Scrwjob is a real (unscripted) affair between Vince McMahon and the star of this time, Canadian Bret Hart.
    Hart was about to leave the WWE and rally the rival and rival federation, the WCW, at the end of 1997. At that time, Hart was the defending champion and it was out of the question for VKM to see his belt going at the opponent. With the help of some accomplices (including Triple H and Shawn Michaels), the end of the fight between Hart and Michaels was tampered with to make Hart lose the fight. This event provoked an uproar among the spectators of Montreal and it took little for that to turn to the general fight.
    The tension between WWE and WCW was at its peak at that time.
  9. SmackDown and RAW are the two main shows of WWE, broadcast Saturdays and Mondays evenings. There are others (like NXT or MainEvent) but it's a question of not falling into TV bulimia. Two programs a week are more than enough.
  10. Chris Benoit (1967-2007) was a Canadian multi-titled wrestler from WWE.
    Addicted to doping products and painkillers, he put an end to his life a few hours before an umpteenth title defense.
    Visibly demented by repeated concussions and drug use, he also killed his wife and son.
    Since then, WWE has totally distanced itself from Chris Benoit.
  11. The WWE Hall of Fame is an institution that honors former WWE employees and other figures who have contributed to wrestling and sports entertainment in general.
  12. The Warrior on RAW offered the sight of a diminished person, having trouble shaking the ropes of the ring (former favorite gesture of the wrestler).
    The Warrior was known to be a regular consumer of steroids.
  13. CM Punk is an inactive wrestler from WWE.
    With the longest reign since 1984, he reportedly broke his contract following WWE's refusal to spare him, and most importantly, after the return of Batista, a wrestler who was absent from the WWE for four years. Batista had been guaranteed to win the company's supreme title without effort, which had the gift of irritating CM Punk.
    Another element that has fucked Punk upset : his reign deserved 434 days was brutally interrupted to spin the belt to an old star, The Rock.
  14. Mick Foley is a retired wrestler who has been active at WCW, TNA, WWE and Japan.
    Specialist in hardcore wrestling and reference in the ring, he has collected since his beginnings : 8 concussions, multiple fractures (nose, jaw, cheekbones, shoulder, thumb, wrist, ribs, toe), 4 lost teeth, 2/3 of the ripped right ear, dislocated left shoulder, sprained right shoulder, double disc herniation, second degree burns on arm and shoulder, damaged

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