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The Bizarre World of Professional Wrestling

The crowds love it.

The crowds love it.

It Is Not Sport

There are masked villains, 700+-pound “athletes,” combatants screaming abuse at one another, and flamboyant costumes, all wrapped up in an extravaganza of hucksterism. It's three-dimensional comic book superheroes, and millions of people love it. And, while there is athleticism, it's not sport.

The World of Kayfabe

The Australian wrestler who goes by the stage name of KrackerJak tells us that “Kayfabe refers to the web of illusion that disguises the contrived elements of wrestling.” It's considered important among the fraternity not to reveal the truth—to keep the kayfabe.

Storylines are created by promoters that dictate the outcomes of bouts between good guys (known as babyfaces, or just faces) and bad guys (heels). The operative phrase here is that pro wrestling “is not fake. It's scripted.” This is kind of like saying lies are “alternative facts.”

That said, when a wrestler gets whacked across the back with a folding chair (a fairly regular occurrence) it does hurt, as do many other things that go on in the ring. The combatants know how to hit the mat with the least amount of damage, but injuries do happen.

However, it's still fake. There's no other way to describe the match between Invisible Stan and Invisible Man. People paid money to watch the fight between two men who were not in the ring, or anywhere else.

Does it get any nuttier than this? Yes, it does.

Wacky Wrestling

Some aficionados of grappling say the heyday of wrestling buffoonery was the 1980s and '90s, and it was mostly about the madcap cast of characters.

  • The McGuire Twins were large, very large. Billy weighed 723 pounds, and Benny clocked in at 745 pounds. As a tag team, their signature move was the Tupelo Splash that featured one of the two doing a belly flop on a prone rival. This was followed by The Steamroller as the poor sap on the mat endured the twin rolling back and forth over him.
  • Doink the Clown appeared in a green fright wig, clown make-up and clown suit. He didn't wear giant, red, clown boots as they would have hampered his fighting abilities. Doink was a heel, if you are keeping up with this, who liked to pull practical jokes on his adversaries. A lot of the time, this was dumping a bucket of water on his opponents, the sort of accessory, along with folding chairs and random bits of lumber, commonly found beside a wrestling ring.
  • The Gobbledy Gooker was a gimmick that went awry. For a few weeks, a giant egg was paraded around World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment—WWE) events. What was inside? When would it hatch? Fans in Hartford, Connecticut were privileged to witness the reveal. As the egg burst open, a human-sized turkey character emerged, portrayed by wrestler Héctor Guerrero. The fans were not amused and booed the bird. Organizers quickly realized they had made a mistake and the Gobbledy Gooker was sent back to the farm, making only occasional appearances since.
  • Mantaur was a character dressed as half man, half bull, but there were those who suggested he was all bull. His wrestling technique came straight out of the Plaza de Toros, with charging, mooing, and trampling being his main skills.
  • The Moondogs were a tag team that sported shaggy hair and tattered jeans. They also carried large animal bones that they gnawed on and used as weapons against their opponents. World Wrestling Entertainment explains that “The habitat of Parts Unknown has churned out many strange individuals, and The Moondogs were amongst the most bizarre groups to ever crawl out of the mysterious wasteland.”
  • The Boogeyman's main gimmick was that he ate worms—yes, real, live earthworms. He came later to the pantheon of loopy characters, in 2005, and has had a long career, where many of those above faded into obscurity as their shtick wore thin with the crowds. His character was very hairy with garish, voodoo-style make-up and a tendency to smash oversized alarm clocks on his head; don't know why. Another gross trick was to discharge a mouthful of worms into the mouth of a defeated rival.

These are just a few of the outlandish characters that populated the WWE universe, but adding to the fun are other wrestling genres.

The Boogeyman.

The Boogeyman.

Wrestling for All Tastes

While the WWE dominates the world of pro wrestling, there are many other feeder leagues from which a few talented people graduate to the big time. There are also wrestling circuits and forms whose grapplers never move up.

  • Mud Wrestling. We have to reach back into the 1930s for the beginning of this amusement. Contestants are almost always women in bikinis, the skimpier the better, who “wrestle” in a pool of mud. The mostly male fans are gathered around hoping for a wardrobe malfunction; there is a sub-branch of the contest that turns those hopes into reality—that would be nude mud wrestling. There's really not much more to be said about this.
Wholesome family entertainment.

Wholesome family entertainment.

  • Christian Wrestling. The Christian Wrestling Federation (CWF) is based in Houston, Texas. It is an “outreach ministry that shares the love of Jesus Christ, through wrestling events around the world ... [and] our goal is to convert them (fans) to Christ’s love.” The CWF employs many of the elements of the WWE, such as good versus evil; you don't need to be an ordained minister to figure out who represents good. Founder Ron Vaughn adds that contests feature “three, four, five matches, we have testimony between some of the matches, we share scripture. And, in the end, we do a gospel presentation and we have an altar call.” A promotional video shows the events can attract a crowd seated as much as two and three deep.
  • Dwarf Wrestling. We are supposed to call them “little people,” but dwarf and midget wrestlers prefer to avoid the politically correct euphemism. There's exploitation going on here, but the question is who is exploiting whom? It can be argued that turning up to watch people afflicted with dwarfism fight each other is akin to the midway freak shows, such as the bearded lady and the human gorilla. On the other hand, wrestling dwarfs could say they are exploiting the ghoulish instincts of a public that wants to see them beat the snot out of one another. After all, there are limited employment opportunities for midgets.

It's all about the money, and that applies to all branches of professional wrestling.

“Who thought up professional wrestling? I mean if there was no professional wrestling, do you think you could come up with this idea? 'I have a tremendous idea. Why don't we have huge guys in bathing suits pretend to fight?' Millions of people will come out to see this.”

— Jerry Seinfeld

Bonus Factoids

  • Until 2002, World Wrestling Entertainment was known as the World Wrestling Federation but the acronym conflicted with that of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature. A lawsuit settled the matter with the environmental group, as the older user of WWF, being awarded rights to use it.
  • Pro wrestling grew out of carnival attractions in which members of the audience were challenged to take on the show's grapplers. In his book The Squared Circle, David Shoemaker creates a come-on from the carnival barker, “Easy money, boys. Step up and get it, boys. You get a dollar for every minute you stay with one of these ‘rasslers. You get a dollar, a clammo, a buckaroo for every one minute! You get fifty-yes, fifty-large dollars, boys if you can throw any of these wrestlers! Who’ll try his strength and skill for fifty dollars, a half hundred-enough to buy a plow, a horse, or a winter coat for the little woman?” But, the game was rigged and the hulking farm boy who stepped up never had a chance. Shills in the audience, knowing the outcome, made bets with suckers and that's how the wrestlers earned their money.
  • In 1993, the short-lived World Championship Wrestling organization introduced a new character—The Shockmaster. He was to take part in tag team wrestling match, but the news conference at which he was to make his entrance went comedically wrong. After the two teams shouted abuse at each other, and following a minor pyrotechnic display, The Shockmaster was to make his dramatic appearance by smashing through a sheet rock wall. You can see for yourself how this turned out. It was The Shockmaster's one and only appearance.

Sources

Written with the assistance of Chris Taylor.

© 2022 Rupert Taylor