Pro Wrestling Vs. Mixed Martial Arts
Ever since mixed martial arts was legitimized with rules and weight classes back in 1997, it has steadily gained popularity, to the point where it is largely recognized as a legitimate sport, alongside boxing and football. Meanwhile, professional wrestling, which has been a mainstay of television and pop culture since the addition of theatrics and showmanship in the mid-1950’s, has often struggled with mainstream acceptance, for various reasons.
Despite being two very different beasts, pro wrestling and Mixed Martial Arts are usually mentioned in the same breath. At their core, they’re the same: two fighters, with no equipment or pads, duke it out for supremacy. Of course, so much else separates the two – showmanship, production, attitudes, styles, legitimacy – that it’s almost unfair to compare one to the other.
However, many people do, and so shall we. Even fans of both sports typically prefer one, and those who only like one have strong opinions about why the other is no good. There are good arguments for, and against, both pro wrestling and MMA, many of which are highlighted below.
Yes, it’s choreographed. Yes, the winners and losers are scripted. Despite all this, almost anybody who has trained to wrestle will tell you it is one of the most difficult and demanding forms of athletics out there. Many legitimate athletes have attempted to do it, and have failed miserably. Professional wrestling requires an insane amount of conditioning, athleticism, and a sharp mentality, not to mention complete trust in your opponent, who could well be considered your dance partner more than anything.
Then there’s variety. Not every match is the same. On one show, you can see all-out brawls, technical showcases, high-flying acrobatics, and pure comedy. In some cases, you can see all of the above in the same match! In addition, some characters are righteous and good, some are evil and treacherous, some are serious and dark, and others are silly and goofy. Pro wrestling literally offers something for everybody.
Finally, a wrester’s schedule eclipses that of a mixed martial artist. Full-time pro wrestlers put on matches 3-4 times a week, sometimes more. For the longest time, it was common for a wrestler to be on the road 300+ days a year; even today’s “softened” schedule has them travelling for around 250 days a year. They don’t have an off-season, and they don’t take months to prepare for their next bout.
Mixed Martial Arts
Mixed martial arts are legitimate fighting, with real winners and real losers. There’s no script, and championship are won and lost based on pure merit. Brock Lesnar left pro wrestling for MMA, and part of the reason was that he wanted to actually compete for something, instead of being scheduled to lose to guys he could easily beat up in real life.
MMA has no outlandish gimmicks, and nobody wears a cartoonish Halloween costume to combat. Some of the fighters showboat, to be sure, but no more than a boxer or any other pure athlete would. There are no crazy, nonsensical storylines beyond “two guys are fighting and both want to win.”
Finally, each fight is treated as special. Even undercard bouts have weight to them, as they all go toward determining future championship contenders. Speaking of championships, there are no secondary titles in MMA; each championship is just as important as the other, regardless of weight class. A Featherweight Championship match is just as likely to main-event a PPV as a Heavyweight Championship match.
What fans call choreographed, detractors call fake. The fact that pro wrestling contests are not actually contests kills its athletic credibility immediately. For many, athletic contests need to be on the up-and-up, and the athletes should be out there to prove that they’re the best. Professional wrestling simply does not provide that.
The outlandish gimmicks and costumes, not to mention the absurd, horribly-acted storylines that wrestlers are scripted to play out, make wrestling look even sillier. It’s extremely difficult to take an athlete seriously if they’re dressed like a clown, or reciting clumsily written dialogue to advance a plot that would seem hackneyed even on the worst of soap operas.
To add to this, many matches are treated as a pure joke, and the championships mere unimportant props. Major championships have been won and lost on the same day, and non-wrestlers like David Arquette, Vince McMahon, and Vince Russo (head writer for WCW) have actually won World Championships. It makes one wonder why actual wrestlers bother to “fight” at all.
The number of injuries that pro wrestlers suffer is extremely high, due in large part to the lack of rest that they allow their bodies. Wrestling full-time while injured is commonplace, which can be detrimental for one’s future; for example, MMA legend Ken Shamrock was a WWE wrestler for three years and, upon return to MMA, the injuries sustained as a wrestler drastically harmed both his career and reputation.
In mixed martial arts, athletes can go months and months between bouts. A year-long title reign can include one or two defenses, tops. While it’s understandable that you can’t go out and get punched in the face and legitimately bloodied every night, hearing about an MMA champion who has only defended the belt five times in a 1000-day reign still comes across as less-than-impressive.
Despite becoming far more mainstream than ever before, with over a dozen weight classes and tons of rules and regulations designed to promote fighter safety, MMA is still seen by many as “glorified cockfighting,” to quote John McCain. It’s still banned in several states and countries and, while that’s a marked improvement from the days when it was banned virtually everywhere, it’s still outlawed more than most every other mainstream sport.
The majority of pro wrestling’s injuries are lingering and nagging, and can be worked through. MMA injuries, however, are typically brutal, and sometimes life-threatening. Even a winning combatant will often leave the Octagon bloodied and bruised, and broken bones are rampant. Worse still, especially in the age of concussion awareness, frontal headshots are permissible and, oftentimes, encouraged. Rabbit shot (shots to the back of the head) are largely illegal, but the front of the brain can be concussed too.
The debate over pro wrestling versus mixed martial arts boils down to what you care about. Do you care about legitimate, no-frills competition between two people with an intense desire to win and be considered the best? Or do you prefer a showy, over-the-top, choreographed, highly-physical performance, with scripted winners and losers? Has pro wrestling’s track record of giving major wins to celebrities and non-wrestlers turned you off to it completely? Or does MMA trotting out one muscular, tattooed, barefooted jock after another bore you after awhile?
In short, are you casting your vote for Brock Lesnar pounding an opponent into submission in the Octagon, or for Brock Lesnar wearing a sombrero while doing a Mexican Hat Dance in mockery of the Hispanic challenger to his WWE Championship?