MMA vs. Pro-Wrestling: FS Reprint

January 07, 2011

I wrote the following for my “Storm Front” article for “Fighting Spirit” Magazine, back in September, and it is being reproduced with permission from Uncooked Media Ltd.

This commentary was inspired by an email I received from one James E. Cornette. The email was in response to the “Breaking Kayfabe” article I wrote a couple months ago. He thought it was a great article and appreciated the plug I gave his book. At the end of his email he included a brief comment on a statement made by Eric Bischoff about MMA and Pro-Wrestling. Cornette’s exact comment was:

“So Bischoff just said he's mystified at why people compare pro wrestling and UFC. I'm sure he is, and that's the problem.”

I laughed when I read this statement, because as usual, Momma Cornette’s baby boy hit the nail right on the head, and it only took him 8 words to do it. “I’m sure he is, and that’s the problem.”

Before I go further we need to look at exactly what Bischoff had to say:

“People have a tendency to wanna compare MMA to professional wrestling, and for the life of me, I just can't figure out why. It's not even apples & oranges as I've said before, it's apples & bricks. One is a real sport & the other is scripted entertainment, and beyond that, if anyone can point out any similarities between the two and why wrestling should modify its business model based on what's happening in MMA, I would be very interested in hearing it, because last time I checked, they are two entirely different products."

I don’t want to get into a big war of words with Eric, but I do have to take great exception to what he had to say. Keep in mind I’m not attacking Bischoff personally here; I’m just fulfilling his wish. He did after all say, “…if anyone can point out any similarities between the two … I would be very interested in hearing it,” All I can say is, be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

Eric’s apples and bricks comparison is of course quite ludicrous. The defense that one is sport and the other scripted entertainment is such a narrow and inaccurate view. Why do you think fans watch sporting events? They watch them because they find that sport entertaining. UFC is an entertaining sport, where Pro-Wrestling is sports entertainment, to deny that both are drawing from largely the same potential fan base is absurd.

I will go even further than that because I think UFC and Pro-Wrestling are a lot closer than even apples and oranges. What is the UFC product? Their product, at its core, is two guys competing in a physical contest to see who the better man is. They kick, punch, and wrestle in accordance with an established set of rules to find out who the winner is. On top of that guys often have personal issues or their egos clash, which create emotional conflicts between the two leading to more compelling grudge match type fights, which are hyped up with interview and promos to draw big money. Feuds like Ken Shamrock vs. Tito Ortiz come to mind, or more recently Frank Mir vs. Brock Lesnar.

Does any of this sound familiar Eric? It should because this is exactly how pro-wrestling was presented for years. Now granted the outcomes in UFC are real where in pro-wrestling they are predetermined but apart from how that actual winner is determined, everything else is pretty much exactly the same.

What do you think The Ultimate Fighter and the UFC Count Down specials are? They are structured, loosely scripted shows, intended to build conflict between two individuals in order to hype interest in their up coming fight, which the company then charges fans money to see. Does this not sound like the pro-wrestling business model? Or at least the pro-wrestling business model from when pro-wrestling was it’s most successful?

UFC fighters even admit that most, if not all, of what they say to hype a fight is just trash talk to hype the fight. They are basically admitting that the hype and feuds are fake, yet for some reason fans don’t care. Fans of UFC are able to suspend their disbelieve (sound familiar), when it comes to promos and trash talk and buy into the grudges, and at the end of the day they care enough about the matches to spend their money to see them.

UFC’s entire business plan is structured from what pro-wrestling used to be, yet for some reason pro-wrestling now wants to completely abandon that business plan claiming to be in the entertainment business rather than just admitting that they are losing the promoting battle to UFC.

The real crazy thing, especially in TNA’s case, is that TNA actually tried to adopt more of a UFC style approach to hyping a PPV event once, and they pulled the biggest buy rate in the company’s history. Remember the Samoa Joe vs. Kurt Angle feud from, Lockdown in 2008? I’m guessing Eric wasn’t following TNA back then, because if he was maybe he would have learned something. That was the show where TNA put all the scripted entertainment bullshit aside and promoted a serious conflict between two athletes. They built to this match with a real UFC style approach and the buy rate for this event almost tripled their normal company buy rate.

There are a ton of pro-wrestling fans out there that want a competitive sporting style product and since pro-wrestling isn’t provide this for them as often as it used to, many of them are switching to UFC to help fill that need.

Pro-wrestling fans are switching to UFC; that is a fact. You need only look at who is sitting in the crowd at UFC events to figure this out. We constantly see guys like Steve Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker, Jim Ross, etc. attending UFC events. These are guys who grew up loving pro-wrestling so much they pursued a career in it, yet now they are spend their time following UFC.

I too am a big UFC convert and I’ve never been a sports fan before in my life. I never followed football, boxing, or even hockey. I grew up a pro-wrestling fan, because I liked the one on one athletic competition and conflict pro-wrestling provided, but needed a bit more drama and flair to grab my interest.

The way I see it, there are sports fans, entertainment fans, and a huge middle ground of sport/entertainment (SE) fans that want the best of both worlds. The majority of pro-wrestling fans fall into this third category, and it’s with this fan base that UFC and pro-wrestling are competing. In addition to the strict sports fans UFC is managing to draw SE fans as well with their Count Down specials and the Ultimate Fighter series which build characters and feuds. By claiming apples and bricks Eric is turning his back on the entire SE fan base that still wants some sport with their entertainment, and when you are pulling a 1.0 or less TV rating every week, turning your back on any portion of your fan base, not to mention ignoring a successful business model in lieu of your own unsuccessful one is, as Jim Cornette so accurately stated, the problem.

Lance Storm