It's all fake, right? A professional wrestler explains everything

It's all fake, right? A professional wrestler explains everything

It's all fake, right? A professional wrestler explains everything

Updated 4 October 2017, 21:05 AEDT

You've probably heard of professional wrestling.

You've probably heard of professional wrestling. But do you know what it really is?

It's not just people belting each other over the head with folding chairs.

There are compelling storylines, heroic acts of derring-do, blood-curdling extreme moments, and enough cultural complexities to make Slavoj Žižek grab his nose.

As a professional wrestler and journalist, let me take you through a few frequently asked questions that make me wonder what the hell they're teaching in schools these days.

So, wrestling. You mean the Olympic stuff?

No, not the Greco-Roman wrestling you might have seen at the Olympics or in Foxcatcher, where wrestlers try and pin each other to the mat.

I mean the other kind of wrestling.

The UFC?

You're getting closer, but no. The UFC, or Ultimate Fighting Championship, is a mixed martial arts competition that features people beating the snot out of each other using whatever fighting style they like.

Today's wrestling was borne out of "catch wrestling", a combat sport combining elements of Greco-Roman and European grappling.

Promoters realised that they could make more money if they started rigging elements of the competition to create stars and build anticipation for matches.

So you're saying pro wrestling is fake?

No, I'm saying it's scripted.

But wrestling did spend 100 years pouring energy into extending the illusion of legitimate competition beyond the fourth wall, to the point that rivals were forbidden from travelling together between shows.

This made it super awkward when mortal enemies Hacksaw Jim Duggan and the Iron Sheik were arrested while travelling in the same car in 1987. (They were arrested for drug possession, not for breaking "kayfabe".)

What's 'kayfabe'?

Kayfabe refers to the web of illusion that disguises the contrived elements of wrestling.

Giving away results, publicly appearing out of character or writing articles like this, spoils that illusion and reveals the inner workings of wrestling to outsiders — or breaking kayfabe.

Why the big illusion?

The original idea was that punters would be more inclined to buy tickets and emotionally invest in the wrestlers if they thought the competition was real.

Rigging matches and constructing storylines raises the stakes — but the more you mess with the legitimacy of the competition, the harder it becomes to maintain the illusion of that legitimacy.

Turns out it's a slippery slope from two wrestlers grappling in a believably competitive way until one deliberately takes a dive, to two wrestlers fighting over a magical funeral urn with one wrestler burying the other alive in a giant pile of dirt and then that dirt being struck by lightning to bring that wrestler back to life. (This actually happened.)

As the characters and storylines became more outlandish, the pretence to legitimacy was abandoned and today, the world's biggest wrestling promotion — the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) — has openly admitted that its wrestlers are performers engaging in storylines.

But the deception dies hard and wrestling struggles to overcome the stigma of its sporting pretence and be accepted for its theatrical reality.

So it is fake?

"Fake" is the wrong word. You don't call Wuthering Heights or Star Wars "fake", you call it fiction.

Also, while the events in wrestling are staged, the physicality is real. Like stunt performers, wrestlers execute feats of athleticism, fly, collide with each other and the floor — all while staying in character.

Unlike stunt performers, wrestlers perform these staged contests in one take, before a live audience. The ultimate theatre in the round, great wrestling is part complex choreography and part improvisation — with wrestlers feeding off each other and the crowd to create a unique work of art.

Still, you know how to fall, so it doesn't hurt?

It all hurts. Everything we do is designed to minimise damage, but it's inevitable.

A dentist knows how to drill but that doesn't mean drilling's not both painful and risky. Likewise, we know how to hit each other and crash to the mat as safely as possible but things can still go wrong.

Even when things go right, studies reveal the physical consequences of a match to be comparable to being in a small car accident.

Why would anyone want to do this? Why would I want to watch?

Because pro wrestling is a century-old artform deftly fusing ancient performance techniques with modern pop-culture sensibilities, capturing an audience with drama, intrigue, comedy and violence, bundling the whole thing together in a sporting context.

As a wrestler, I'm able unleash elements of myself that would have me arrested should I cut loose in a similar way on public transport.

For the audience, wrestling plays out all manner of cathartic fantasies that would see you sitting in a cell next to me were you to indulge them.