Wrestling is Real, People are Fake
Wrestling is known for its big characters, larger than life, comic book sized characters. The entrances are often flashy and rehearsed to the point of a dance routine, and the outfits are things that would either get you arrested or institutionalised for wearing in public. The reason that trash talking is so closely associated with the entertainment industry is because Professional Wrestlers are not afraid to be absurd. Wrestling is perhaps at its best when it’s the believably absurd — where that person says the most ridiculous of things, but really seems to believe in it. The often used analogy is that the best wrestling characters are the ones where people have taken their own personality and turned it up to ten, so to speak, playing an exaggerated form of themselves. This is true, to an extent. People actually hone one or two aspects of themselves and use these things to define a persona that they can sell to an audience. As rich and deeply layered as any character can be, they can often be summarised in one or two sentences, some in one to two words.
Think about Floyd “Money” Mayweather. Think about Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. Think about Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. Think about all the fighters throughout the years that you instantly understand what their philosophy is by simply hearing their nickname. This a deliberate attempt to control perception by these men. It’s simple and it works.
As an example: in the early 1900s, when bare-knuckle boxing seemed like the sport of thugs, the idea for gloves and rounds was bandied about to make it seem more respectable, and the biggest star of the era was “Gentleman” Jim Corbett. This was a young, good looking, college educated man. He helped alter the perception of boxing, and drew new fans to the matches.
This is just basic marketing. Hyperbole and pageantry attracts a lot of attention. The thing is, there is the other side to that coin: the quiet personal moments.
Sports has a tendency to lean more towards the reality of the situation than the constructed drama. What the rise of new media has done is allowed the audience to come further behind the curtain than many decades previous. Because of the nature of Wrestling, there was understandably a reluctance to embrace this as fully as say the UFC did.
In the lead up to many of its biggest events the UFC has a series called Embedded in which the cameras follow the fighters of the marquee matches around as they ready themselves for their fights. It shows them training, it shows them dieting, it shows them interacting, it shows them promoting, it shows them when they potentially could be at their worst camera-wise, but it humanises them and grounds the events as something more personal than simple spectacle. We get to see what goes into these shows, and what it takes out of the people who perform on them.
Training montages are nothing new, but to see the person struggle as they have to make weight, or sit and have an everyday conversation with a parent, is not atypical of hyping up a fight fan. That’s because these videos are not for the fight fans. At least, they are not designed to stir up interest in the hardcore, but the uninitiated. People who are not interested in hatred, in anger, in the matching up of two competitors’ skill sets, come to know these people’s stories in an environment where the event takes place as a figure in the background in these people’s lives. Yes, their everything is going towards this fight, but life will go on regardless of a win or a loss.
It’s The Reality Era of Wrestling. It’s the point in time that the WWE is truly beginning to embrace that the internet is a thing, and it exists for more than just those who practically live on it. Podcasts now follow Raw, with people talking out of character and commenting on things that — shock and horror — do nothing to advance storylines. Whilst not taking the full step of simply providing an equivalent to a director’s commentary, we’re being allowed a further and further peek behind the curtain.
In NXT particularly, we’re given people who are simply sat down and talk to us, the audience. We’re given their backstory, which always includes acknowledging that other wrestling companies do still exist out there. Even though these people are in character, we can see a return to a sports-like presentation in this format, which, is probably fair to say, is somewhat down to the rise in popularity of the characters in the UFC.
Both have learned from one another: MMA in the overt, and Pro Wrestling in the subtle. Though both have managed to remain distinct by continuing to embrace what each format does best.