The results of professional wrestling matches are scripted, but that doesn’t mean some of it isn’t easier to believe than others. WWE Hall of Fame legend “Rowdy” Roddy Piper was once quoted as saying he couldn’t make people believe that wrestling was real, but he could damn sure make you believe he was real. Every minute of professional wrestling programming is based on that idea—fans know that it isn’t a legitimate contest, but the people who get cheered and booed the loudest are the ones who make us believe it actually could be, if only for a few moments. Not every wrestler is Roddy Piper, so unfortunately plenty of them have failed at the realness on more levels than one, but WWE isn’t always to be blamed for that. There are, however, certain things that WWE specifically does to break the fourth wall and cause fans to suspend disbelief that the more dedicated amongst them have been complaining about for years.
Just how real wrestling is supposed to be is up for debate in the first place. Some fans embrace WWE’s mindset of entertainment over sportsmanship and feel quibbling over kayfabe is a silly waste of time. Wrestling traditionalists would disagree, saying that believing in the wrestlers is the foundation of a good wrestling program. Whatever your ultimate stance on the issue may be, it’s still obvious which moments would upset the people who prefer a level of verisimilitude. On a deeper level, people simply don’t like having their intelligence insulted, and some of the more severe cases of WWE creating their own reality definitely border on doing just that. Keep reading to learn about 15 ways WWE expects fans to suspend disbelief just a little bit too much.
15. The Impression They Are Underdogs Doing What’s Best For Business
WWE is owned and operated by the McMahon family, and it has been since it was created in the 1960’s. Vince McMahon started to change WWE from a small company into a global enterprise in the 1980’s, and since then he’s essentially been the leader of a company that has a monopoly on the business. Even when they were embroiled with their most bitter competitions, most wrestlers say WWE as the ultimate goal and watermark of the wrestling world, where all the true stars eventually wanted to end up. With a near monopoly comes a hell of a lot of power, and especially more recently, McMahon and his family have portrayed themselves as former underdogs who beat all the bad guys and are now ruling the world by doing what’s best for business. Some of it is overwrought heel sentiment on television, but even in serious interviews where they drop all the pretense and give honest opinions on the state of pro wrestling, McMahon, his children, and Triple H all steadfastly inform reporters they act only on the mindset that what they’re doing will be mutually beneficial to themselves and all of their talent. This is despite doing things like shunning Cody Rhodes as their ineffectual writers turned down his ideas and firing CM Punk on his wedding day, to only name two obvious recent moves inspired more by vindictive revenge than any form of forward thinking business strategy.
14. Smiling Baby Faces Have Fun When They Lose
If traditionalists can take any solace in this one, it’s that there hasn’t been much of a spotlight placed on it. However, eagle-eyed fans who pay close attention to what happens inside and out of the ring have noticed a questionable new trend which sees babyface wrestlers leave the ring smiling and interacting with fans as though there was nothing wrong after serious beatings and major losses. Not only will they instantly get chummy with their fans, they can even immediately forgive and forget their opponents, as fans learned during the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 32. As if the bizarre surprise appearance of Shaquille O’Neal wasn’t shocking enough, fans were equally surprised and utterly confused by his antics post elimination. Shaq and The Big Show had a WrestleMania-worthy encounter with a test of strength during the match, but both were pushed over the top rope and out of the match together in short order. Despite their intense battle literally seconds earlier, as soon as the two were out of the ring, Shaq and The Big Show shook hands and patted each other on the back, smiling at their appreciative fans. It’s hard enough to believe wrestlers are really fighting when they act like they hate each other, but seeing them immediately become pals with former opponents really drags fans out of the action.
13. The “Comedy” Is Absurd And Gross
We’ve covered several times that WWE’s understanding of comedy isn’t exactly in line with the more mainstream versions of the concept. To be more specific, most WWE attempts at comedy typically take a turn for the gross, disgusting, and downright bizarre, and leave fans more confused and upset than in fits of uproarious laughter. However, regardless of the era or where they fall on the heel/face spectrum, WWE announcers uniformly find WWE style humor hilarious. It’s gotten significantly worse in recent years, with Michael Cole and JBL constantly telling fans how much fun they’re all having, laughing and chuckling at moments that aren’t even supposed to be comedy in the first place. Weirdly, the very few times WWE actually create some kind of comedy that fans actually get behind, the announcers take the other position and degrade it. When Enzo and Cass made their Raw debut and fans were unsure how to react to their catchphrases, the announce team called them an “acquired taste” and downgraded the very thing that got them over as a cult act. It’s not that the commentary team should be in complete agreement with the fans on terms of comedy, but by force-feeding fans the exact opposite of what most reasonable people believe, WWE is ruining whatever little credibility their announcers have.
12. They Forget Wrestlers’ Pasts
WWE has long established their reputation as the final or at least most important destination for every wrestler who went on to mean something in the business, but that hardly means they are the only company in the world. They might be the most successful, but even that wasn’t always true, as most fans remember WCW actually defeated them in the ratings for over a year and a half. On a lower level, literally hundreds of independent wrestling promotions exist throughout the world, many of which have sizable fan bases amongst their local communities and on the Internet. Major promotions exist in Mexico and Japan as well, and several major stars have been making the jump from those promotions to WWE in recent days, too. Aside from some very special cases where little detail is given, WWE’s primary policy on this fact has been to completely ignore it and act like there isn’t wrestling outside of WWE. As they get more desperate and rely more on more on stars from around the world, this problem is slowly going away, but remnants still remain. Many fans couldn’t help but laugh when John Cena mentioned AJ Styles having worked for PWG, ROH, and NJPW, but failed to bring up TNA, where Styles spent 12 years and arguably grew the majority of his fan base. And that brings us to our next point…
11. They Ignore The Competition
Arguably much worse than ignoring their competition is the fact that WWE regularly ignores or even changes its own history. A popular wrestling trope is called the “three month rule,” which indicates that if something in wrestling happened longer than three months ago, fans can pretty much forget it happened. This isn’t that big a deal if a wrestler is trying to reinvent their character or officials want fans to forget about a series of losses, but it starts becoming a problem when WWE and the announcers start outright lying about history. Most of the problems in this accord fall under sins of omissions, with announcers and WWE.com specifically trying to do everything they can to erase any trace of certain wrestlers who, despite some varyingly horrible things they may have done in their lives, were extremely important to WWE history. The three wrestlers most affected have been Chris Benoit, Jimmy Snuka, and Hulk Hogan, who all revolutionized the business, and later did some terrible things that WWE is far more ashamed of than any accomplishment those wrestlers may have made. We don’t even necessarily blame them for refusing to promote terrible people, but there are certain times when it’s unfortunately relevant, and it’s better to just admit it and move on than try to brush it under the rug.
9. Nothing Happens During Commercials
While the whole debate between serious wrestling and sports entertainment is the main focus of this article, a similar debate worth talking about is the question of how important the actual in-ring match performances are on a given wrestling show. Certain wrestling fans can discuss their favorite wrestlers work rate all night long, while others who are just as big fans might not even necessarily know what the word means. In essence, it’s how technical and competitive an individual match is, and how enjoyable it would be to watch if allegiances to the winners or losers was ignored. Fans who feel this is the most important part of wrestling hope to see long drawn out matches on television, but that always comes with the catch there will be a commercial or two throughout the match. Fans needn’t worry, though, because the referees have earpieces and get informed of such things, and the wrestlers make sure absolutely nothing important ever happens during the commercials. Fans of work rate also know a term called rest spot, and that’s about all you’ll see when the announcers tell you what happened during the break. Fans know it’s just a TV show and this is how TV works, but actual live sports don’t follow the advertising schedule.
8. Nothing Happens At House Shows
Even more disappointing for fans than the fact nothing is happening during commercials on TV shows has got to be the fact that the endless live events produced and promoted by WWE are often completely meaningless. The fact nothing happens on commercials is only an issue of trying to trick the fans into thinking a show is more exciting than it is, but they already paid for the show and don’t actually want anything special to happen in the first place. Outside of Raw, SmackDown, NXT, and seemingly nonstop other TV shows these days, WWE superstars put on full length live shows around the globe just like they would on TV, with a small catch. Outside of Seth Rollins needing to vacate the WWE World Heavyweight Championship due to injury in late 2015, no major WWE title has changed hands on a house show in years. NXT broke the trend when Samoa Joe won the NXT Championship earlier this year, and that immediately proved fans would find unbridled energy and excitement at such a shocking development. Nonetheless, as house show attendance continues to dwindle, WWE is only becoming less likely to make a move like this and spoil a big moment when there aren’t any cameras running.
7. Everyone Stops For The Music
WWE has been accused of being formulaic in certain ways as of late, but that doesn’t necessarily require suspending disbelief. Wrestlers stick with what works and beg for the spotlight in repetitive ways, which fans are used to and understand. However, one of these recent trends is that wrestlers will walk out to the ring one by one for long, stretched out interview segments, that always involve the wrestlers all pausing whatever they’re doing and waiting a minute or two for a drawn out musical entrance. It’s even worse when this trope is overused in matches, with either a goofy babyface or a dastardly heel playing their music to signal a run-in, causing whoever they’re feuding to fall victim to a shocking small package usually causing an upset loss. Like we just said, WWE sticks with what works, and this trope is a simple way to prolong a feud and give a few wrestlers a compelling story all at once. During the Attitude Era, nothing beat the thrill of glass suddenly shattering and Stone Cold running out to wreck havoc, but it rarely turns out quite the way Stone Cold did it. Another problem was it also makes all the wrestlers come off as idiots who are stunned by music, and it always gives the impression they don’t care about the matches they’re wrestling at all.
6. Extremely Contrived Moves
Every wrestling company in existence is guilty of this problem, but to give credit where credit is due, WWE is actually the least guilty in the wrestling world these days. Certain styles of wrestling, some of which has been seen on WWE and NXT in the work of some extremely talented cruiserweights, have been increasingly criticized for being overly showy and acrobatic to the point of completely taking fans out of the contest. The WWE Universe isn’t exempt, but opponents of the style have been pointing towards Lucha Underground, EVOLVE, and a match between Ricochet and Will Ospreay from New Japan Pro Wrestling as the worst offenders. While most fans are completely blown away by the wrestlers completely redefining the sport as an artistic medium, several major names have spoken out against them as arguably killing the business. Wrestling legend Vader and former manager and promoter Jim Cornette have both taken to the Internet to voice their displeasure with increasingly unrealistic matches, worrying fans won’t be able to believe any kind of wrestling after viewing matches like the ones we just mentioned. This is hardly a new trend in wrestling, however, as during the Attitude Era, plenty of fans were already complaining about the acrobatics of people like WCW’s lucha libre superstars and Rob Van Dam.
5. The Sledgehammer Of Plot
We could go on and on about all of the weapons, plunder, and literal garbage WWE superstars have used to beat the tar out of each other with over the years. It gets even worse outside of WWE, with hardcore promotions like ECW and ultraviolent followers like XPW and CZW practically inventing weapons so the wrestlers could discover brand new ways to maim each other. History has proven one of the most deadly weapons was actually the most common, as repeated chair shots to the head may be contributing in a rise of CTE and other brain damage related problems in recently deceased wrestlers, so it’s easy enough to believe anything actually hurts a lot more than it does. However, for a long time fans have noted something ridiculous about the fact Triple H has chosen a sledgehammer as his weapon of choice. If a sledgehammer is used to attack someone, it isn’t to temporarily knock out an opponent; it’s a murder weapon. Triple H has given countless beatings with his Sledgehammer, lifting it as though it was light as a feather and smashing it into people’s faces as if it couldn’t actually crush their skulls for over a decade. Triple H also covers the hammer with his palm to absorb the damage, which were it a real Sledgehammer would probably only serve to break his hand.
4. The Undertaker And Kane
There are quite possibly thousands of terrible and absurd wrestling gimmicks that forced fans to throw any level of legitimacy to the wind and simply sit back and enjoy the show if they were going to get passed it. Far too many of those gimmicks were just too terrible for fans to do that, but The Undertaker and Kane are the two wrestlers who prove it might be worth trying every time. Textbooks could be filled with the ridiculous and literally unbelievable things Kane and The Undertaker have done in the ring. To keep it brief and utterly impossible, we’ll just mention that both men can shoot magic beams out of their hands, and The Undertaker has been able to manipulate the weather since the Attitude Era. There’s also the fact Kane went from having a horrifically scarred face to being a professional looking (if giant) businessman later in his career. The evolution of The Brothers of Destruction is one of the sillier in-jokes fans get to discuss and laugh about, so although it takes serious leaps away from reality to enjoy it, we’re not going to get too hard on fans who are willing to do so. Whether you love them or are one of the few people who feel they’ve just gone too far down the rabbit hole of craziness, it’s hard to deny Kane and The Undertaker are two of the most enduring legends of sports entertainment, proving that nothing is too “fake” for wrestling fans to look past and enjoy.
3. The Camera Is Always In The Right Place
WWE is more of a television show than a wrestling show, and a scripted television show has the obvious benefit of the camera always being in the right place at the right time. It’s obvious why WWE does this for storytelling reasons, but in certain instances it gets really hard to understand how the camera ends up in the places it does during a given wrestling show. Pre-taped vignettes are a double-edged sword, in that certain cases are obviously filmed for the camera itself, so of course it would be there, but other events are supposed to be live, despite occurring in restaurants, hotel rooms, and places that no wrestling cameraperson would have a reason to visit. The worst example of this in wrestling history has got to be during the famous Halftime Heat in 1999, when Mankind won the WWE World Championship from The Rock. After an intense, hardcore Empty Arena Match, Mankind pinned The Rock by nearly crushing him with a forklift carrying an empty crate and pinning the crate. Impossibly, the camera was inside the crate, and captured a close up of The Rock’s reaction to losing. A similar face camera found its way inside The Undertaker’s coffin at the 1994 Royal Rumble. Reaction shots like these might be examples of strong storytelling, but they don’t make any sense when viewed in an entertainment or realistic perspective.
2. The Irish Whip
There are plenty of wrestling moves that require just as much effort from the person pretending to get hurt as the person pretending to do the damage. It might be a little bit different if wrestling was an actual athletic competition to decide the best fighter, but since the whole point is for no one to get hurt, wrestlers work both ways to make things look as real as possible while being as painless as possible. Fans complain about a move like the Canadian Destroyer or the aforementioned Ricochet-Ospreay match for looking perhaps a little too contrived, but nothing in wrestling is guiltier of this than the Irish Whip. The Irish Whip is quite possibly the most common wrestling maneuver this side of the open hand slap, and it can most easily be described as a wrestler throwing their opponent running into the ropes by their arms. 99.9% of the probably million times this has happened in wrestling, said opponent willfully runs into the ropes, turns around, and runs back into their opponent, usually to end up on the receiving end of a clothesline, punch, or some other high impact move. Any rational person should be able to realize by the third or fourth time they’ve seen this that there’s a pattern here, and as soon as their opponent let go of them, they’d stop running and re-strategize. As it stands, almost no wrestlers have tried this, and it’s one of the least believable things in wrestling.
1. The Announcers Lie About The Fans
Everything on our list thus far have arguably been meaningless quibbles. One would be hard pressed to find a fan who actually learned something reading this list, as they all understand how weird wrestling can be and look past it with a smile. However, virtually everyone has been complaining about a recent trend at the announce booth, which has seen Michael Cole and JBL in particular outright lie to the audience about what they themselves are doing. Roman Reigns is the golden boy of WWE today for whatever reason, or as he says on television, he’s “The Guy.” Fans around the country pretty much can’t stand the guy, and respond by booing him out of the building almost every time he appears. Cole and JBL treat these constant occurrences as rare anomalies of wacky fans who just love having fun, which is both patronizing and a bizarre refusal to admit the reality of thousands of screaming people who paid to see the show. It gets worse than just the announcers lying when recap segments are edited to have fans cheering Reigns and booing the opponents who usually end up overshadowing him, covering a few of the points on our list all at once in a big ball of lies that just leaves staunch resentment.