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THWD: MMA and Wrestling?
by Tink Holloway on 25 April 2008

I’d like to make a survey asking fans of professional wrestling why it is that they watch it. I wonder how many of them would answer because it’s a form of combat? I only wonder about this because over the last 3 or 4 years I’ve become increasingly perplexed at the close proximity of sports-entertainment and the ever-growing world of Mixed Martial Arts. Now I admit to not knowing an awful lot about MMA just that, having given it a go, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not for me. I don’t have anything against its brutality or its violence and I have no other ethical or moral qualms with it. My problem with MMA is that it keeps infringing on publications, programmes, websites and other media outlets that were originally professional wrestling in theme.

There has undoubtedly been a link between pro-wrestling and legitimate fighting competition for quite some time. Back in 1995, eager to cash in on the popularity of legitimate hard men in the UFC, the WWE brought Kama , the supreme fighting machine into its roster. Unfortunately Charles Wright, the former Papa Shango, did not have the charisma, presence or athleticism to do the gimmick justice and after his yawn-inducing feud with the Undertaker, quietly disappeared back to obscurity for a few years. Having tried to use a wrestler to play a shoot-style fighter and failed the WWE chose next to go after the real thing and, in 1996, attempted to sign Kurt Angle, an Olympic gold medallist in wrestling, to a multi-year deal. At the time Angle rebuffed the WWE’s advances and instead the company plodded for Olympic option number 2- Mark Henry. The fact that Henry was a weightlifter, not a fighter of any kind, and had absolutely no aptitude for the industry, didn’t seem to bother WWE executives and Henry was signed to a humungous 10-year, $10 million deal. Unbelievably we are still not rid of this useless waste of space 12 years later.

The WWE, in its quest for credibility, next went straight to the UFC and picked out one of its most celebrated competitors-Ken Shamrock. Shamrock was given a big push at first, refereeing one of the main matches at Wrestlemania 13 and entering a feud with top-liners the Hart Foundation. Once his push ended, Shamrock began to make his own success as his transition from shoot-fighter to worked wrestler passed seamlessly. Granted old Kenny had a problem with the talking side of things but his in-ring work was decent and his feud with the future Rock, Rocky Maivia got him over big. Seeing the success that Shamrock had, the WWE decided they wanted more of this and raided the UFC again.

Dan Severn had already been taking part in professional wrestling matches, having held the NWA title for the best part of 3 years so it was believed that Severn ’s adaptation would be even smoother than Shamrock’s. This however wasn’t to be, Severn was even worse on the microphone than Shamrock and was unable to master the art of a worked fight rendering him useless in a professional wrestling organisation. As such he was promptly dropped and never heard from again. Meanwhile, Shamrock’s progress was slowing, though he held a high-mid card position on the roster, he was unable to break the glass ceiling and was soon sent back to UFC to try to regain some of the much sought after credibility. He never returned to the WWE although had a fair run in the early days of TNA.

Wrestling wasn’t done with its imports from UFC yet, WCW decided they wanted a share of the pie and signed Tank Abbott to their roster. It’s not known whether Tank would have been a Shamrock or a Severn as he never really had the chance to prove himself thanks to his appearance coinciding with the infamous Vince Russo era but he did initially seem to have some potential. Wrestling Promoters hunger for stars that had genuine fighting experience under their belt however, was unrelenting and in 1998 the WWE finally got its original target.

The WWE went back in for Kurt Angle and this time managed to secure a contract with him after his well documented introduction to ECW had threatened to put him off professional wrestling for life. After 18 months of training, Angle made his debut at the Survivor Series 1999 and hasn’t looked back since. Angle mastered the in-ring attributes and more surprisingly was able to become one of the most talented acts behind the microphone. In his debut year he managed to win the World, Intercontinental and European titles and the King of the Ring. He is now considered as arguably one of the best ever and his performances in TNA, despite the Russo plague being widespread there also, have remained nothing short of exceptional.

Dring this time Mixed Martial Arts saw massive growth, with the emergence of a vast number of fight leagues and bigger and bigger audiences. Now we have come full circle and MMA is doing its best to lure some of professional wrestling’s top stars to the MMA Arena. Kurt Angle’s wild comments about his own ambitions on this front are well known but have not come close to being a reality, another former pro-wrestling star however has put up, shut up and got down to business.

Brock Lesnar was the biggest sensation in professional wrestling since Kurt Angle himself. His rise to the top in 2002 was even quicker than Angle’s, managing victories over The Rock, Undertaker, Flair and Hogan all in his first 9 months. He was limited on the mic but that wasn’t a problem with the maniacal Paul Heyman by his side. After headlining Wrestlemania 19 opposite Angle (despite stiff competition from Rock Vs Austin and McMahon Vs Hogan), it seemed the WWE would be dominated by Lesnar for years to come as, despite his blown Shooting Star Press, he and Angle put on a super match that played before great heat. One year later however and Brock was done with professional wrestling and on a mission to become a pro-footballer.

Ill-fated it may have been, but at least Brock will not be able to say he regretted not having a go at his dreams. However it was not to be and after accepting that his chances in the NFL were not high, his next move was to the lucrative world of Mixed Martial Arts. Though, as I previously admitted, I do not know all that much about MMA, I am told, by those who know what they’re talking about, that Lesnar’s performances have been naïve but promising thus far and there is still hope that he could actually make it in the sport. All I can say is best of luck to him, if he doesn’t manage it however, I’m sure old Vinny Mac wouldn’t be completely adverse to seeing him back in the WWE at some stage.

Whilst all this crossover has been notable and news worthy it has been no more frequent than the number of NFL players who have participated in wrestling matches and angles over the years or the number of music acts who have contributed to a wrestling show in some way. Thus I return to my original point- why am I hearing so much about MMA when I’m trying to get the latest news on WWE, TNA, ROH and all the rest? Why is it that wrestling magazines, websites and even The Wrestling Channel (a cable channel dedicated to wrestling in the UK ) have placed more and more focus on MMA? As far as I can tell there seems to be little cross-over appeal to justify such a merging of interests.

Before I continue, let me make it clear that I’m not saying that nobody who likes professional wrestling or MMA could like the other. On the contrary I’m sure that both do equally appeal to some people, but not for the same reasons, and not any more so than pop music and wrestling or Boxing and wrestling or any number of things. In my view the two are not related. MMA is a legitimate fighting sport in which 2 competitors wilfully beat down the other until they are unable to fight on. Professional Wrestling is a worked athletic performance between 2 people who are cooperating to put on the best show possible without actually hurting each other. This is not a knock on wrestling, it is the reason I enjoy it. Wrestling is loved by so many for precisely the reason that it is not real, because in every match, the wrestlers have the chance to put on the most enjoyable show they can rather than potentially bore the audience with a defensive and tactical match up. It is for the same reason that millions of people like the Rocky films but don’t like boxing- because with the ability to use your imagination and suspend your disbelief, the matches are actually much more exciting than the real thing.

In the same way that this site wouldn’t have any reason to provide coverage on movies unless The Rock or some other wrestling personality was involved, the coverage of MMA in wrestling circles should be limited to a passing interest in Brock Lesnar’s exploits and the increasingly hard to believe claims of Kurt Angle’s impending entrance into it. Other than that, I shouldn’t be able to hear anymore about MMA unless I go out there and specifically buy a magazine dedicated to its coverage.

My argument is not with MMA itself, it has as much right to promote itself and have its own publications and dedicated websites to it as much as anything else. I’m sure that there is somebody on the opposite side of this argument who will agree with me- surely MMA enthusiasts must be getting fed up of all the time it has to be mentioned in the same breath as its ‘fake’ counterpart? It’s the perceived belief that the two are inter-linked and the consequential ‘watering down’ of the mix that raises my heckles. Put it this way- if this connection continues then there is no reason why sites like this shouldn’t feature this weeks billboard chart information and reviews of the latest movie releases, until we come across the crossover of them all, starring The Rock- MMA: The Movie.

Number of views: 7073


One Response to “THWD: MMA and Wrestling?”

  • Wrestling is jokes, yeah it may be all set up but it is one of the most entertaining things I have ever watched.

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