Wrestling is a theatrical production, combining violence & dialogues, sweat & spandex, and real blood & fake tears. “The emotional response which professional wrestlers seek to invoke in their audience… is significantly different from that experienced by other sports fans who want to see their favorite athlete or team win a contest” (Craven & Moseley, Actors on the Canvas Stage, 332). The “contest” wrestling fans come to see is just the manifestation of the drama swirling below the surface that erupted into that moment in the ring. When Shield member Seth Rollins turned on teammates Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns in June 2014, the resulting feud between Rollins and Ambrose was more engaging because of the backstory of betrayal. It was not simply two men’s physical strengths that were pitted against each other, but “the eternal conflict of good versus evil personified in the physical struggle for dominance.” Ambrose wanted revenge, something he might not be able to get in the real world. The fans come to watch the drama, “the Portrayal of Life;” the actual wrestling is just the means. A standalone Rollins-Ambrose match would not be uninteresting in itself, but the larger context of the drama makes every move more significant.
Seeing wrestling as an entertainment business is easy: there are drama-heavy storylines and larger-than-life characters that are the physical manifestations of some form of good and evil. We all know that wrestling is not a show of physical prowess, with wrestlers fighting with all they have for glory and a big belt, yet we still get upset when a match doesn’t look “real” enough, whether that be because of no-selling or overselling a move. If we know that wrestling is “fake,” why are we offended when it looks that way? These next clips exhibit three cases of move selling: the no sell, the over sell, and the perfect sell. As Triple H goes for the Pedigree, his finishing move, the commentators know that the end is near for the Ultimate Warrior. Luckily, the Ultimate Warrior wore a mask of steel instead of paint for this match, apparently, and is able to rebound from a Pedigree like a champ. Triple H returns in the next clip against Randy Orton, who makes Triple H fall onto his outstretched leg. Triple H is bound to go down after that, but manages to stay on his feet for a staggering 70 seconds before hitting the mat. I guess Orton’s boot takes a while to kick in. Finally, we have my favorite seller, Dolph Ziggler, who can make every move look great. That’s what fans want to see, and while instances that stray from the mark may be humorous in small quantities, the real entertainment—and the ability for audiences to suspend disbelief—comes from great sells like those of Ziggler.