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Why Bother Having the Wrestling Match?
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By Paul Herzog

Professional wrestling isn't really a competitive sport, per se.  At best, today's business is "sports entertainment," and that's a lot of what interests me. I know that the winner of each match is determined in the locker room, ahead of time. Exactly how much ahead of time depends on the booker, but it always is. There hasn't been a real contest in a professional wrestling ring in my lifetime, and probably in   anyone's lifetime whose eyesight is good enough to read this. So they haven't been real contests...big deal. I'm entertained by the worked ones.

The World Wrestling Federation appears to be taking the "sports" out of it, in a way that's really bothering me. It isn't the fact that they rarely have a match on TV that goes as long as the weekly Vince McMahon interview.  Their product is solely angle-driven. Has been since the arrival of Hulk Hogan.   For every great match we got (Randy Savage/Ricky Steamboat at Wrestlemania III, Bret Hart/British Bulldog at Summer Slam 92), there have been hundreds of stinkers. The WWF's target audience didn't care about arm drags and high spots and near-falls. The triumph of good over evil was enough.

That concept is in full force again, only now it's the triumph of McMahon's Corporate Team over anyone who dares stand in their way.  The difference is that any possible rules of sport in "sports entertainment" have been tossed out with the bath water. 

Wrestling has always had managers interfering and foreign objects and blind referees missing tags. That's one thing. Another thing is when any outcome that McMahon or Shawn Michaels don't like is simply tossed out. So the odds are  stacked against one competitor, usually Steve Austin or Mankind. But when that competitor succeeds despite those odds, a knife gets stuck in his back. It happened to Mick Foley on the Rock Bottom PPV, then to the New Age Outlaws the next night on Raw. Both of these were main-event caliber title defenses.

First, Mankind puts the Mandible Claw on Rocky Maivia rendering him unable to continue and the referee stops the match. Instead of getting the belt, Vince McMahon comes out and says that the title can only change hands on pinfall or   submission and the referee stopping a match because a wrestler can't continue isn't a submission. He rules that Mankind wins the match but not the title. The next night, the New Age Outlaws defend the tag title against McMahon's team of Ken Shamrock and Big Bossman. One of the Outlaws gets knocked out, Shamrock apply the ankle lock and the referee stops the match. This time, the belts do change hands because it was Vince's team on the right side of the call.

What becomes the point of having a title, and having a wrestler strive to achieve that title?

Wrestling audiences have always shown to be an incredibly tolerant bunch of   people, but there's always something that drives them away in disgust. Most of the time they leave because a series of events causes them to question why they're spending their money. In Dallas, the demise of World Class was due in good part to Texas fans refusing to believe that Eric Embry, a man of average height and no obvious athletic talent, was the best wrestler in the promotion.  In Memphis, Jerry Lawler's humiliation as a heel in the WWF didn't balance his attempts to be the lead babyface for USWA.

If enough fans say "I'm tired of Mankind winning, only to have Vince McMahon change the rules of what constitutes a submission," could that be enough to drive WWF fans away?

Maybe it's unfair for me to judge the World Wrestling Federation in the same way that I would one of the "real" professional sports leagues. Those referees may not always be right, but at least there is some sense of impartiality within in the spirit of determining which man or team is better than another. So, you may ask, what happened in the Buffalo/New England game a few weeks ago?

Don't get me started....

Paul Herzog has spent far too many hours as a columnist for various Internet sources, and the Wrestling Lariat newsletter, over the past six years. He is a systems engineer at Tellabs in Bolingbrook, Illinois, and is lucky to have a wife that likes the wrestling business, too. He can be reached at grapsfan@aol.com.

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1998 Wrestling Classics: Frank Dusek, Mark Nulty
1998 Design: Jan Herod
Created: October 1998