If you say you're a fan of professional wrestling, chances are that you'll probably get a snap back of "you know it's fake right?" and well yes, it is fake to a degree. I mean, is Game of Thrones a historical documentary? Professional wrestling at it's core is a stunt based story show, sharing many things in common with TV shows like Game of Thrones, Vikings and such like. Yes, there are accidents in the ring and people do get hurt doing their craft, much like stuntmen have done in the past, but lets take a look at the history of Professional Wrestling:
The origins of professional wrestling date back to the 1830s in Europe, when strongmen would fight each other in staged bouts and even challenge members of the public to matches for a cash prize if they won or survived. This tradition continued into the turn of the 20th century, when it became more akin to what we know today, with athletes coming from all walks of life and nationalities to grapple each other in the ring for cash prizes and championships.
Popularity declined during the 20s and 30s. But saw a resurgence in the 1950s and 60s across the globe, where it became extremely popular again. It was during this time that professional wrestling made it's TV debut on ITV's World of Sport in the UK and the territories of the US days.
During the end of the 70s and into the 1980s, Vince McMahon turned wrestling from a small independent promotion into a juggernaut. Taking over his father's company, he used TV to enhance the product and reach out to the youth of America. It was at this time that colourful characters like Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, Jake Roberts, Jimmy Snuka, Roddy Piper and Ric Flair dominated the scene and at it's core, it was more akin to a Saturday Morning Cartoon than the old days of wrestling and athletic competition. Hulk Hogan was the Flag Waving All-American and encouraged kids to do the same as he defeated evil villain wrestlers. 80s WWF was a product of American Cold War Propaganda, Hulk Hogan being All American as he defeated Russian wrestlers. How is this any different to say Rocky IV?
As the 80s drew to a close, the WWF went through a change. Vince McMahon was undergoing a steroid scandal from the 80s wrestlers. New competition through Ted Turner's WCW. It was during this period that a New Generation of wrestlers took to the stage and we saw the rise of characters like Lex Luger, Yokozuna, Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Diesel, Razor Ramon, Shawn Michaels, Mr. Perfect, the Undertaker and the British Bulldog. This was when things started to change and they took a slightly darker turn and went more towards a teen based audience, yet still retaining that original 80s flair.
In 1997, things changed again. As new stars began to rise in this new era of Attitude, where we had stronger characters and edgier, darker storylines that featured violence and sex that had never been seen before. Gone were the days of flag waving, all Americans, we now had characters like Stone Cold Steve Austin, a beer swilling, ass kicking red neck. Mr. McMahon, an evil promoter character that would screw people over. This was when the WWF was at it's peak and taking on the likes of WCW. RAW and SmackDown! in this era were rated TV-14 and MA respectively, which is not unlike much darker teen and adult rated TV shows like Game of Thrones or Vikings
In 2002, we got a new generation of stars making their way to the top of the mountain. Known as the Ruthless Aggression era, this was when the stars of the Attitude Era handed the torch over to new guys like Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton Batista and John Cena as new stars. We're still in the Game of Thrones ratings here and the use of violence, blood and sex is still evident in this era.
In 2009, when the WWE signed back up to the USA Network, it was announced that they'd be going PG to match current trends, what with families and young children were attending shows. It was met with much derision from fans and even people boycotting it. They dropped the violence and blood. People may hate the fact for the last several years John Cena became the new Hulk Hogan, but when you think about it and compare it to eras past, we've come full circle. The PG Era WWE is a modern day copy of the Golden Era of the 1980s. Sure, we don't have John Cena battling Communism in the name of Democracy and the USA, but the concept of bright and colourful villains and heroes is back once again.
Last yea Max Landis spoke about it here, using Triple H as an example
So what have we learned as we went on this journey through the WWE's rich history? Professional Wrestling is sports entertainment yes. It has more in common with Game of Thrones than it does UFC or Olympic Wrestling, but it has a rich history of characters that deserve their place in the books that are no different to say Ebeneezer Scrooge, Captain America or Flash Gordon.