By Drew Lapoint
As an avid fan and observer of professional wrestling, or perhaps a more modern term would be sports entertainment, I can tell you straight from the heart that there's nothing that gets my blood boiling more than when non-fans refer to wrestling as "fake." There are many other terms that us "marks" deem much more acceptable such as "pre-determined," "scripted," or perhaps even a "simulation." These same people calling wrestling fake are more than likely the same people lining up at their nearest movie theatre eagerly anticipating the next Fast and the Furious action adventure. I could sit there and criticize the films scripted and "fake" nature, the same way that they talk about my favorite television program, but in all honestly it would probably be a waste of time and energy. Some people just don't understand what draws us into the world of wrestling, but those that do, all may have a very different reason for why the enjoy the business. One thing for sure though, even in its pre-determined nature, the bumps, the blood, the sweat, and the action is anything but a farce, and us fans appreciate these amazing performers putting it all on the line for us 300 or more days out of the year. You tell me any sport that constantly goes, goes, goes and doesn't stop without an off-season other than wrestling? You'd be hard pressed to find a legit answer.
Perhaps there is one sport that can stake that claim however, and that would be the ruthless, aggressive world of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) lead by its biggest mainstream promotion, and Vince McMahons most threatening competition as it applies to pay per view buy rates, the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). Formed in the early 90s, the initial goal of the promotion was to take legit trained fighters and martial arts experts around the world and place them in real world competition with a "anything goes" mentality, battling within the confines of a cage in an octagon shaped ring. It was a new and unique idea to fans around the world because the scripted nature of pro wrestling indeed did turn many a spectator off that yearned for real, brutal competition, and lets face it, boxing was losing its edge in that market.
Similar to what McMahon did in the early to mid 80s when he bought out and put rival territories out of business, the UFC did the same with rival promotions to increase their popularity and get the best of the best fighters in the world. The president of the company, Dana White a saavy businessman in his own right has done an excellent job taking the UFC into mainstream spotlight over the last decade and the business continues to flourish. With no off-season to speak of, as well as men getting paid to put their lives and bodies on the line for every sanctioned fight, the parallels between the worlds of wrestling and mixed martial arts are certainly there. Coincidentally, UFC experienced its highest peak in popularity when former WWE world champion Brock Lesnar decided to try his hand in the MMA world. Setting pay per view buy rate records, and winning the UFC championship in 2008, Brock proved to the many detractors that even though he made a name for himself in a world where a script determines the outcome, he could also thrive in a world with no safety harness. With Brock becoming UFC's biggest draw in history, and word of his success spreading like a wild fire, there came a point where fans of both promotions could actually form a link between the two.
Fast forward to late 2011, after Brock Lesnar suffered a life threatening injury that would force him to retire from the UFC world, it did not take long for Vince McMahon to come calling and offer Lesnar a deal he couldn't refuse. Lesnar signed back in his original WWE roots, signing a deal almost a year to this day during Wrestlemania weekend for a 1 year, 5 million dollar contract to work a limited part time schedule. McMahon was smart enough to realize that Brock had become an even bigger star with his time in the UFC than when he originally left the WWE and I think its fair to say that this latest business venture has been successful for both parties. Brock seemed to be the only common link between the two promotions, (aside from a few WWE superstars such as CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, and Alberto Del Rio whom have legit MMA training) and the idea of a crossover between them would be what we like to call "fantasy booking." However, much to my surprise, Vince McMahon has indeed tried to make this venture happen.
Thanks to a good friend of mine @tymckeon who sent me a very interesting article this morning which can be viewed here. Dana White told a story about how Vince was actually willing to cross-promote the two brands and challenged White to a wrestling match at Wrestlemania. If White didn't want to appear on WWE's grandest stage, Vince was actually willing to travel to the Octagon and have a real fight with White. As the article explains, White turned down any and all offers citing "Vince is too old to be fighting, I'm over 20 years younger, and even I feel I'm too old to be fighting." My source also told me there was a time where Vince offered White a chance to cross-promote Lesnar on both UFC TV and WWE TV simultaneously. Obviously the deal was never worked out in that regard either and is perhaps the closest the two parties have ever come to working together. White had a point in that it was a liability letting Lesnar work both promotions. Say he gets injured in a WWE ring when he had fight scheduled a couple weeks later on a UFC pay per view? It makes sense, but you can't blame Vince for at least attempting to connect the two worlds with one another.
There will always be those that myself and many others will have to listen to that call wrestling fake, and to those people we just nod our head and go about our day. We know the difference between scripted fighting and a real physical brawl. The WWE and wrestling in general relies on physically gifted athletes going out on stage and doing exactly what the "E" stands for and thats entertain. Injuries happen however, and things go wrong just like in any other profession. With that thought in mind, MMA fighters also need to put it all on the line and make a name for themselves to get to the top of the world. Obviously, marketability and promo ability definitely helps more than it hurts in the MMA world, but definitely not as necessary as it is in pro wrestling which is much more character based. Even though both brands are entirely different, the connections are there and WWE has recently brought in athletes with MMA training, respecting what the sport accomplished and keeping things innovative. Will we ever see these two titans reach some kind of promotional deal in the future? I will leave that as food for thought. All I can say right now however is thank goodness the idea of Brock Lesnar/Triple H MMA rules match for 'Mania was scrapped! Horrible is the only word that comes to mind when I think about that catastrophe.