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John Cena, The Rock, Ric Flair, Dave Bautista, Hulk Hogan, Randy Orton, Roddy Piper, Randy Savage, Bill Goldberg, Rey Mysterio, and Eddie Guerrero.
Maybe you’ve heard these names before, maybe you’ve seen memes about them, maybe they’re renowned Hollywood actors, maybe you heard their names in songs, but these names all have one thing in common that you might not know about: they’re all WWE Wrestlers.
What’s the WWE? Well glad you asked, it stands for World Wrestling Entertainment and is the biggest company that provides sports entertainment in the world. The ‘E” – entertainment – plays a big role, because, unlike other MMA companies like the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), its main purpose is to entertain and not solely focus on fighting. Ultimately, the entire thing is scripted and performed in a ring.
So how is a scripted fighting sport so popular, racking up millions of viewers almost every day, selling out arenas, and exporting some of the biggest celebrities ever? Why, out of all things that people can entertain themselves with, would people choose the scripted and “fake” performance of the WWE?
Chris Mueller wrote on Bleacher Report “Wrestling is entertainment at its very best. It contains all aspects of almost every other entertainment medium. Action, drama, humour, infidelity, love stories, betrayal, overcoming adversity, facing tough obstacles, pain, both mental and physical, joy, happiness, and family issues are just some of the aspects of pro wrestling that make it entertaining.” In short, professional wrestling, unlike the commonly known Olympic sport, is focused on entertaining just like any other media. Take your favourite shows and movies. Why do people enjoy the Marvel Universe despite it being fake, or shows like Stranger Things or Harry Potter, if not for the exact same reason: entertainment?
However, you may ask yourself what the point of tuning in to watch people fight over a belt that isn’t even real is. To this, I answer: storytelling. WWE uses a share of villains - referred to as “Heels" - and good guys - “Faces." Lots of the people I mentioned earlier were “heels” in their careers. The Rock used to be a goofy-looking good guy named “Rocky Maivia,” who was so hated by the crowd that people would chant and hold signs saying “Die Rocky Die” until he switched his persona. He started referring to himself as “The Rock,” spoke in the third person, and became an amazing villain, so much so that he became loved by the fans and exploded in popularity. Additionally, John Cena wasn’t always the good guy we see today. If you go on YouTube and type “John Cena's most savage WWE moments,” you might hear or see things you would never associate with the John Cena you know now.
These people are entertainers. Some of them are just celebrities that found their way there, like Logan Paul and Bad Bunny. Some are former pro athletes who didn’t succeed in their prior sport and caught the eye of WWE. For example, Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar, and Bill Goldberg were all on an NFL team before becoming wrestlers, and The Rock played football before joining the WWE.
Others train their entire lives to reach this level of professional wrestling, working towards joining WWE as a life path. Two examples would be none other than Québec-born Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens, who just main evented WrestleMania, the “Super Bowl” of professional wrestling, to become the Undisputed WWE Tag Team Champions. Zayn and Owens are not what you might imagine when thinking of a WWE Superstar. You might be thinking of John Cena, The Rock, or Hulk Hogan: big buff guys built like machines. Sami and Kevin, however, are not like those guys. So, how could they be champions and the Main Events of the biggest event in all sports entertainment? Storytelling. Back in February 2023, WWE came to Montreal. An electric crowd kept chanting for Sami as he was facing his former mentor Roman Reigns for the WWE Undisputed Universal Championship. Sami ended up receiving cheers similar to a Montreal Canadiens playoff game, while Roman Reigns got booed out of the Bell Centre like a player of the Boston Bruins would be if they injured Montreal's prized Cole Caufield. Though the storyline behind these circumstances is more complex, this nonetheless proves how easily people can get hooked on a storyline. Much like just like TV shows or Movie series, it's entertainment. Despite being in an unusual setting, professional wrestling is one of the biggest influences in modern pop culture and one of the biggest entertainment industries in the whole world.