Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 26 January 2020

The Great Debate: Should pro wrestling be deemed a sport?

Two wrestling fans get together to discuss why they think (and don't think) professional wrestling should be considered a sport

Professional wrestlers are athletic but does that mean that professional wrestling is a sport? Courtesy WWE
Professional wrestlers are athletic but does that mean that professional wrestling is a sport? Courtesy WWE

Every week, we find two people with opposing (or at least different) views on a topic to discuss the day's big (and small) issues. This week, we're asking two of The National's biggest wrestling fans whether they think professional wrestling should be considered a sport.

Evelyn Lau: So, I’ve been a WWE fan for a long time. My dad originally got me into it in the 1990s, when I was a child, and even though I stopped watching for a bit when I was older, I recently got back into it. While I admit their moves, flips, jumps and body slams are impressive, and even though newspaper outlets and even ESPN cover the WWE as a “sport”, I believe wrestling isn’t, and shouldn’t be, considered a real sport.

Michael Coetzee: My professional wrestling fandom pretty much mirrors yours. In the past few years I have also started enjoying other promotions such as New Japan Professional Wrestling, which puts its own spin on the – and since I’m taking the opposing view to yours, I’m just going to say it – sport. At a glance, professional wrestling does, of course, look like it could be a sport. What makes you say that it isn’t?

EL: Well, my opinion isn’t based on the athleticism of wrestlers but simply the fact that the outcome of the battle is predetermined. If someone is set to win, where’s the competitiveness in that?

MC: The Oxford English Dictionary defines sport as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment”.

EL: I feel like I’m winning this debate when a dictionary definition has to come out.

MC: Humour me for a minute … So, physical exertion and skill – check. There’s no way someone can look at a Will Ospreay match and not be astounded by the sheer athleticism on display. And what wrestling fan could forget when, in 1998, the Undertaker threw Mankind off the five-metre Hell in a Cell and through an announcer’s table? Is it being done for entertainment? That, at least, is not up for debate – there are tens of millions of fans all over the world.

EL: I agree, risking your lives for entertainment is, well, entertaining – but that doesn’t make it a sport.

MC: The one thing that’s always used to claim professional wrestling is not a sport is the competition part, which you just mentioned. I would like to argue, however, that professional wrestlers do “compete against others for entertainment”. But it’s a different type of competition, different from the combat sports it most resembles. Instead of testing one another’s skills in a real fight, professional wrestlers are competing against one another to determine who can best entertain fans.

Professional wrestlers do “compete against others for entertainment”. But it’s a different type of competition, different from the combat sports it most resembles.

Michael Coetzee

EL: So, if people aren’t entertained by a match does that mean it’s not a sport? After all, I’m sure you and I have both seen plenty of boring matches in our time.

MC: I’d say a boring match is the equivalent of missing a shot at goal … It also needs to be emphasised that when two wrestlers are in the ring together, they are working together to both make each other look good. The competition happens on a more “meta level”, if you will. Wrestlers may work together in the ring, but like in all other forms of sport (and entertainment) there is a hierarchy – and everyone has dreams of making it to the top, to be the company’s star, to headline Wrestlemania. And the fight to get there is a brutal competition of its own sort.

EL: Speaking of Wrestlemania, I get it. Daniel Bryan’s WWE Championship win at Wrestlemania 30 was an amazing journey to follow as a fan. But, there’s no way a boring match is the equivalent of missing a shot on goal. Sometimes those last-minute shots are the most exciting part of a game, because even if it ends up being missed, there’s still a chance it could go in. It’s like something Wayne Gretzky once said: “You miss 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take.” That’s also what makes sport so exciting, the unpredictability of it all. And, sadly, even if professional wrestling is entertaining, even if there is some “meta level” of competition, it’s still a pre-determined outcome.

Unless something changes so the outcome isn’t written up by a room of a writers, then, sorry, it shouldn’t be considered a sport.

Evelyn Lau

MC: But there’s still plenty of unpredictability. The fans, after all, don’t know who’s going to win. Only the wrestlers themselves know that. After having resorted to the dictionary, I’m going to call on Ernest Hemingway. He famously said: “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.” I’ll concede that professional wrestling isn’t a sport, then, but merely one of all those other games.

EL: Ha, I knew it. Games aren’t sports. Professional wrestling is entertaining and wrestlers are definitely more athletic than you and I combined, but, unless something changes so the outcome isn’t written up by a room of a writers, then, sorry, it shouldn’t be considered a sport.

MC: Some games certainly are … but I think we will just have to agree to disagree on this one. Luckily, we don’t have to agree on the nature of professional wrestling to be able to enjoy it!

Updated: December 12, 2019 04:56 PM

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