Pro-Wrestling, MMA, Brock Lesnar, Kim Couture and Keeping Kayfabe


Jake Rossen has been grappling with the baffling problem of MMA spilling over into Pro Wrestling. It's a classic "don't get your peanut butter in my chocolate!" sort of dilemma. MMA fans have become reconciled to Pro Wrestlers becoming MMA fighters (Brock Lesnar, Ken Shamrock), MMA fighters becoming Pro Wrestlers (Tank Abbott, Don Frye), but apparently Rossen can't handle the concept of TNA doing matches that incorporate elements like armbars and other "real" submissions. He asked the question earlier this week:

But even the most dyed-in-the-wool fan has to have a problem with wrestling's latest gimmickry: Aping a shoot-style MMA template in the service of a choreographed match. During Sunday's "Bound for Glory" TNA attraction, hybrid fighter/actor Bobby Lashley engaged in something billed as a "submission" contest against the very dangerous Samoa Joe. The contest ended when Lashley applied a choke.

If we accept that wrestling works for some because of its broad physical showmanship, I'm lost on the purpose of replicating submission grappling -- often a fairly low-key game of inches -- in order to satisfy their expectations of mega-violence. In an era in which you can get the real thing on television free and regularly, what purpose does a fake armbar serve, exactly? (I'm honestly wondering: A valid explanation gets a prize.)

Then he asked his readers to answer it. I thought a couple of them were interesting:

With that logic, why do people still watch "Bloodsport" when we have real fighting on TV? Why would someone read a novel about people surviving in the jungle when they could watch a reality show about it instead? The truth is, real life is pretty boring and fiction manipulates time and space so that we can see nothing but the good parts.
-- Rufus B.

The purpose of the "fake armbar" is simple: ENTERTAINMENT. Some people just want to be entertained rather that watch legit fighting. Some people prefer legit fighting to "sports entertainment." (See: yourself.) It's simply a preference ... and one I am glad is afforded to me.
-- Ryan B.

Pro wrestling and MMA have always been linked. If you go back and tune in to Hulk Hogan's matches, you can even see him throwing an armbar against some opponents. I think an armbar is just something that is, today, relevant in American society, so it's kind of predictable to see that kind of thing in American pro wrestling nowadays. They've been doing that with Japanese pro wrestling for ages, so it's not much of a shocker, really.
-- John

I think one reason that MMA fans get so defensive and contemptuous about Pro Wrestling is that we subconsciously know that we're being played by carnies every time we shell out for a PPV. This is even more true of boxing fans and they in turn crap on MMA every chance they get.

Let's face it, it's all the same stuff -- dudes fighting in a controlled environment. The only difference is the different combat sports and sports entertainments target different demographics. Pro Wrestling is for 10 year olds and old ladies. MMA is for young men douchebags. Boxing is for the old. Traditional Martial Arts are a fall back for the computer geek/progressive rock/Dungeons and Dragons set. There's something for everyone at the combat sports buffet!

I have expounded at length, many times, on the close family relationship between MMA and pro wrestling. But let's refresh our memories.

First off, the roots of MMA come directly out of the old professional catch wrestling tradition. Mitsuyo Maeda, the judoka who taught jiu jitsu to the Gracies, arrived in Brazil at the end of a long barnstorming run on through the North and South American carnival/catch wrestling circuit.

Secondly, at one time Pro Wrestling was both a real sport and more popular and respected than boxing in the U.S. But right at the time of its greatest success, "works" (predetermined endings) began to out number "shoots" (real matches).

Thirdly, I've written that modern MMA arose out of a collision between the Vale Tudo tradition in Brazil and the evolution of Japanese Pro Wrestling into proto-MMA.

Fourthly, so many Pro Wrestlers have come into MMA and made a positive contribution to our sport that we have to respect the athleticism and skills of at least a minority of the performers.

Fifth, even though I personally haven't watched Pro Wrestling since the old Gordon Solie NWA days in the early 80's, it was right up there with boxing and Bruce Lee movies in my pre-teen fascination with combat sports. I still think fondly of greats from those days like Terry Funk, Ric Flair, the Freebirds, and Bruiser Brody.

Sixth, the UFC is piggybacking off of the WWE's marketing of Brock Lesnar, currently their biggest star. With Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture fading, the UFC would be in a world of hurt without Lesnar. Only Georges St Pierre and B.J. Penn of their current roster of champs are legitimate big time draws. The Japanese MMA boom was built on the back of stars fans knew from Pro Wrestling and Olympic Judokas (plus the odd TV comedian). When MMA cannibalized the Japanese Pro Wrestling fan base, there was no place for new Japanese stars to emerge.

And lastly, f**k you if you can't take a joke. Like say, Kim Couture's botched debut in TNA wrestling. CageSideSeats breaks it down:

TNA has wildly overestimated Couture's appeal.  They never mentioned her name and assumed people would know who she was.  In reality (far from wher some wrestling executives reside) Couture was not a major television centerpiece during Rany Couture's reign as top dog over at the UFC.  She is, essentially, an unknown with a recognizable name:

The entire fiasco ended up being a waste of time. No one cares about Kim Couture in MMA and even fewer care about her in pro wrestling. Had TNA tried to glam it up, have a kitschy catfight and a little fun with it, things might have gone all right. It's the only way to play wrestling these days. It's like Batman comics. After a decade of grim and dark stories, you have to bring Robin back and have Batman smile now and again. Wrestling needs a few smiles too. This wasn't one.

The two women are now pretending that the showdown wasn't scripted at all.  They don't insult fans intelligence outright-admitting that Couture was scheduled to be there.  But that, they insist, wasn't supposed to happen.  Dozens, no doubt, are on the edge of their seats waiting to see what happens next!

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