What makes a sport? What distinguishes a sport from an activity? Oxford defines sport as “An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment”. Perhaps the following is more plausible; a competitive physical activity serving to maintain or improve physical ability and skills while providing enjoyment to the participants, and in some cases entertainment to spectators.
So what about the WWE? Many scoff at the suggestion that Pro Wresting is a sport, and dismiss it as mere theatre. But should the theatrics of a WWE match, diminish the remarkable display of athletic ability during the contest?
I’m not going to suggest that the WWE is 100% real. Yes, the WWE athletes play a role, a character. And, yes, the outcome of a given match is predetermined before it begins. But does that mean it’s not sport? Clearly it’s an epic struggle between elite athletes. The fans and viewers have no idea of the pending outcome. Just like watching any sport, you have underdogs and your favorites. An underdog can pull out an upset at any time, but if a favorite wins, you never know what the margin of victory is. There’s a level of mystery when it comes to the outcome of any sport, just as there is with the WWE. So why are some a sport, and isn’t the WWE?
Critics suggest “nobody cares about WWE, nobody wants to watch men in tights wrestle” The answer can be found in Social Media, and it would appear that those people couldn’t be more wrong. By ranking WWE Superstars, against the most popular athletes from the Big 4 sports (Hockey, Baseball, Basketball, Football) in terms of the number of fans they have on Facebook and Twitter, we can plainly see that the WWE athletes have a following as good as, or better than those from the major stars from those sports. The Top 20 looks like this:
|Athlete (Sport)||Facebook Fans||Twitter Fans||Total Fans|
|1. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (WWE)||47,770,453||8,541,129||56,311,582|
|2. John Cena (WWE)||36,244,349||7,043,535||43,287,884|
|3.LeBron James (NBA)||21,495,384||20,586,561||42,081,945|
|4.Kobe Bryant (NBA)||20,015,288||6,518,796||26,534,084|
|5. Michael Jordan (NBA)||26,180,431||DOESN’T HAVE TWITTER||26,180,431|
|6. Kevin Durant (NBA)||9,617,188||9,854,819||19,472,007|
|7. Rey Mysterio (WWE)||14,305,528||1,936,828||16,242,356|
|8. Dwyane Wade (NBA)||11,010,943||4,725,288||15,736,231|
|9. Randy Orton (WWE)||11,026,409||4,044,606||15,071,015|
|10. Shaq (NBA)||4,884,993||9,709,112||14,594,105|
|11. Undertaker (WWE)||14,127,763||DOESN’T HAVE TWITTER||14,127,763|
|12. Triple H (WWE)||11,132,532||2,146,361||13,278,893|
|13. Derrick Rose (NBA)||10,185,354||2,179,037||12,364,391|
|14. Carmelo Anthony (NBA)||5,039,944||6,544,088||11,584,032|
|15. Dwight Howard (NBA)||4,825,835||5,864,835||10,690,670|
|16. Shawn Michaels (WWE)||7,459,023||2,779,902||10,238,925|
|17. Stone Cold Steve Austin (WWE)||6,987,144||2,853,793||9,840,937|
|18. Sheamus (WWE)||7,368,650||1,813,427||9,182,077|
|19. Big Show (WWE)||6,982,775||1,854,923||8,837,698|
|20. Daniel Bryan (WWE)||6,688,649||2,092,444||8,781,093|
Some will argue, big names like Dwayne Johnson, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and John Cena are well known actors in Hollywood, and while that is true, it was their WWE success that spawned their movie careers.
If that list isn’t enough to convince someone of how popular the WWE is keep in mind Monday Night Raw is the longest running weekly television show in history.
Recall that Oxford deems entertainment as a key component in the definition of sport, Take a moment and Google WWE, and note that where the author states that the WWE is scripted, they still refer to the it as “Sports Entertainment”. Technically, that’s exactly what it is, a combination of the sport of wrestling, and the Entertainment from the theatrics.
Detractors maintain that, as long as the matches are scripted, its theater, and not sport. And yes, there is an aspect of performance to a WWE match. No WWE fan wants to see Mark Calaway and Michael Hickenbottom enter the ring, with no emotion, and proceed to pummel each other for 45 minutes. That’s why Mark Calaway throws on a black trench coat, a black cowboy hat, puts on some eye shadow, turns all the lights off in the arena, and becomes The Undertaker. That’s why Michael Hickenbottom sings his own entrance music, dances to the ring, with his leather chaps and turns in the Heart Break Kid, Shawn Michaels.
And that is when the performance element of the WWE, must make room for the wrestling. These performers are athletes, wrestlers. And this is when it goes beyond simple theatre and becomes Sports Entertainment.
These men and women are constantly fighting for their spot on the roster. They’re competing to get story lines and get television time every week. These things aren’t shown on TV, but go on every day behind the scenes…
Look at any sport, if a player doesn’t perform well, he will get benched. It’s the same with a WWE Superstar. If a Superstar is not performing at a high level, he will not be involved in any story lines, which in turn will lead to less TV time, which leads to less money.
Wrestling can be considered possibly one of the most competitive sports when it comes to earning and keeping your spot on the roster. There are more and more wrestlers entering WWE every day and only a limited amount of spots and even a less spots available for TV time.
Just like any other sport, serious injuries can occur. Even though the matches are scripted, the injuries are very real, and the bumps and bruises take a real toll on their body.
Whether by definition or anything else. No one can dispute the competitiveness of how the WWE functions. And by that, proves the WWE’s categorization as a sport. But the thing is, it’s so much more than a sport. The WWE superstars have to put in twice as much work each and every week to ensure the WWE remains ontop of the wrestling industry. Not only do they have to constantly hone their craft inside the ring, but they have to stay ontop on current trends, enhance their persona, and evolve their character.
By saying that the WWE is a sport, is certainly a statement that will be disputed forever. But, to me, saying it’s a sport doesn’t do the WWE justice. The WWE is in a league of it’s own, because it is ‘Sports Entertainment’.