Are the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) fights staged or not?
City Press posed this question to wrestlers in the US last week – and they openly responded to it, some with mixed views. But what was clear was that the physicality of their contests was real.
The fundamental question of whether the WWE fights are staged or not has been hotly debated in many households and by avid fans of the sport in South Africa and other parts of the world.
Over the years, the WWE fights have graced local television screens and the sport is loved by thousands around the world, especially in the US.
This was evident as City Press witnessed first-hand fans descending on the 21 000-capacity Staples Centre in Los Angeles last Friday.
The arena was packed to capacity by fans, who wore T-shirts bearing faces of their favourites.
Some carried replica championship belts. They cheered them on for hours.
The event was the main attraction.
It symbolised the historic move to the Fox network on which SmackDown Live will debut as part of the WWE’s 20th anniversary celebrations this year.
While fans were filling up the venue, outside legendary wrestlers and newcomers walked the blue carpet, waving to fans while reporters jostled for sound bites.
Blue represents SmackDown’s brand colour and the spectacle was reminiscent of Hollywood’s star-studded show – the Oscars’ red carpet.
Ahead of the main event, the City Press and journalists from other international media houses who were all guests of the WWE, toured the venue.
This was part of the WWE’s programme to showcase its infrastructure, which makes it possible for such events to be broadcast worldwide.
Part of this huge production includes an engine room known as “Gorilla” – named after wrestling veteran and the WWE Hall of Famer Gorilla Monsoon.
This engine room gets ferried around the world wherever the WWE hosts events, except in the UK, where a similar structure already exists.
During the tour, City Press learnt that fights could be spiced up through the introduction of scenarios when fans appear to be getting bored.
In an attempt to finally put to bed the debate on whether matches are staged or not, this question was posed to several wrestlers.
American wrestler Baron Corbin, who arrogantly refers to himself as King Corbin in the ring, said: “I think it’s anything you want it to be. I think if you believe in it [staged matches] and you buy into what they [performers] are doing and connect emotionally, then it can become real to you.
“It’s just like a movie. If you are watching a scary movie, an action movie [or] horror movie and [it] changes your heart rate, it makes you move uncomfortabe in your seat like a horror movie or something like that. We are trying to achieve the same thing. We are trying to make people believe and buy into what we are doing and connect emotionally,” Corbin said.
However, he said the sport was very physical.
“My body gets beat up. Guys have career-ending injuries. We’ve had guys with neck injuries who are no longer able to compete. So, it is very physical, very demanding and we just want people to buy into these stories and connect anyway they can,” Corbin said.
Titus O’Neil said fight outcomes were predetermined but the physical pain was real.
“Try being thrown on top of the table or take a steel chair and bash it on your back and tell me if that hurts or not. What we do is very real, very physical. There is an art to it. It is predetermined. We know who is going to win or lose – we are in the entertainment business as well, O’Neil said.
“And so, it’s sports and entertainment. So, people have to understand when they go to the movie and watch a movie and see somebody dies in a movie and see them walk on the red carpet two days later. Does that mean it was fake or was it art? What we do is art. We do get hurt. You see people get concussions and things like that.”
Drew Gulak said people questioning whether their fights are staged or not need to relax and chill out.
“There is a reason we are not boxing. There is a reason we are not soccer [players] or UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship]. It’s because we are better than all of those things and we are more fun to watch.
“And if you do engage us I guarantee you will see stuff that you’ve never seen before ... your entire life. And you will feel stuff you’ve never felt before on TV,” Gulak said.
Wrestler Bayley – real name Pamela Rose Martinez – said it was fine for people to have opinions about the sport.
“But I think it’s our job as performers to make it look as best as possible and make people believe in what they are watching because what we’re doing is literally putting our lives on the line every single night,” she said.
“You can ask numerous wrestlers who got hurt in matches. Like I’ve separated a shoulder in a match. Like so many things have happened during matches where people got stopped. It’s something we face every single day and for people to say it doesn’t look good or it’s not real, whatever they want to say to me, it’s kinda like ‘come here let me show you’.”
Her colleague Lacey Evans said those questioning whether fights were staged or not were missing the point.
“The chances of them doing what we are able to do are slim to none. I would tell them not to try this at home but do what you can to get in a school and attempt it because what we do is so much more than something that doesn’t look right. We entertain and we bring our A-game at all times.
“We go through so many injuries and sore body parts but we are expected to continue to entertain. If they [fans] are so focused on that [whether it’s staged or not] then they need to re-evaluate what it is they are looking at because they are missing the story. They are missing the point. They can’t do what we do, honey,” Evans said.
She said the physicality of the sport was real.
“It’s metal, it’s wood, it’s fists, it’s body parts. We fight for titles and we fight for entertainment. I mean we could go at it and if they [fans] think that something isn’t real, like I said they are missing the point. They are not looking hard enough. What they are looking for is something that they will never be able to enjoy and see.”
Australia-born women wrestlers, the IIconics, said everything in the WWE ring was real. Billie Kay and Peyton Royce are tag-team partners.
“What you see is exactly what it is. We always get hurt but we are trained professionals. We know how to protect ourselves but accidents do happen all the time. We do our best to put on a good show and entertain the fans and everyone watching all around the world,” said Royce.
Swiss wrestler, Cesaro – real name is Claudio Castagnoli – said they were punched for real.
“We do that close to 200 times a year. It’s sport and entertainment. Just watch and enjoy. It’s like a comic book coming to life. Just enjoy it, it’s fun,” Cesaro said.
Msindisi Fengu was a guest of the WWE
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