This past December, former wrestling superstar Philip Brooks (known by his ring name CM Punk) announced his intention to fight in the ranks of UFC. Predictably, this announcement prompted a cavalcade of dismissive rhetoric from mixed-martial arts fans, many of whom believe Brooks isn’t cut out for the likes of UFC because he isn’t a real athlete.
In their eyes, he is just a performer in a fake sport.
Being an on-again off-again fan of pro wrestling for most of my life, I have been confronted with this kind of uninformed argument time and time again. And quite frankly, I’m sick of it.
While it’s true that the moves, storylines, and outcomes of individual matches are pre-determined, pro wrestlers still need an incredible amount of athleticism to succeed in their field.
Not only do they have to physically look the part, they also have to display tremendous self-discipline while performing in the ring. The skills required to properly deliver a German suplex or a power-bomb (so that you don’t cripple your opponent) take years to perfect. So much so that many wannabe pro wrestlers spend most of their early careers being taught these techniques in wrestling school.
But just like in any real contact sport, no matter how many safety precautions are taken, people are inevitably going to get hurt. Pro wrestlers show a kind of physical resilience and tolerance for pain that would put most “real” professional athletes to shame.
In traditionally rough sports like hockey, rugby, or football, most coaches will tell you they won’t allow their athletes to play unless they are 100 per cent. However, the relentless schedule of the pro wrestling circuit requires that their talent must wrestle two or three times a week, for more than 250 days a year, which doesn’t always allow for ample recovery time from a sore back or a tender mid-section.
Furthermore, because of the pure physicality of this type of entertainment, the risk factor involved is also very high.
As such, I would love to see someone in the “wrestling is fake” crowd spout their bullshit to someone like Joey Mercury, who had his nose completely shattered during a tag team ladder match in 2006.
Or they could talk to superstars like Shawn Michaels or “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, both of whom would be very receptive to the idea that they are not real athletes, especially since they continued to wrestle after recovering from a broken back and broken neck, respectively.
And I’m sure Mick Foley would love to hear about what a glorified actor he is, after making a career of brutalizing his body with folding chairs, barbed wire, and thumb tacks.
At the end of the day, CM Punk may or may not go on to become a great MMA fighter. But pro wrestlers like him should not be automatically dismissed as shallow entertainers, since they are some of the gutsiest athletes working today.