Greg DeMarco offers his thoughts on a controversial question in the world of pro wrestling: Do Wins And Losses Matter?
Professional wrestling is based on the carnival act of staging a fight, originally in a boxing ring, and challenging members of the audience to pay for an attempt to knock the big act off, with the promise of winning back a larger portion of money for a win. Eventually someone would win, but they were also part of the show. It was all about the work–from day one.
But wrestling (minus the “pro”) also has its Olympic roots, as a true competitive sport. In the 1896 Olympics, Carl Schuhmann pinned Georgios Tsitas on the second day of their match, as the first day saw them grapple for 40 minutes before the match was suspended for darkness.
There were five Olympians total in this open weight competition, with Schuhmann scoring the events only pinfalls in both of his matches. Schuhmann was a gymnast, by the way. The four matches in these Olympic games were contested with Greco Roman Rules, but there was no time limit and no scoring. The two non pinfall “finishes” saw one wrestler retiring from the match, and the other ended due to a shoulder injury.
While completely different in nature, scope, and presentation, both of these early wrestling examples shared one common thread: Wins and Losses Mattered.
Wrestling, the professional variety anyway, evolved from its carnival roots to start staging multiple matches, not using audience challengers or plants. Matches were still staged, but the stakes were changed. At first the biggest stake was a championship, with other stakes usually coming in the form of… you guessed it… wins and losses!
The carnival roots still held strong, since early champions tended to be a champion you had to overcome. Fans traveled miles and paid good money to see championships defended in the main event, and men (and sometimes women) battle for wins and losses on the undercard.
Boxing also had an influence on early wrestling, as early boxing was more of a fight. The earliest written rules of boxing that I could find reference to was in 1713, and they included headbutts, chokes, throws, and even eye pokes! Boxing obviously changed, but it established the idea of rankings, championships, and the structure of a card. Wrestling (and later MMA) would take this format on.
But even in eras we are old enough to remember or read/watch, wrestling was still about winning and losing. Even when personal issue was added in as a stake, in the end you got your revenge by making your opponent suffer a loss–not being set on fire, buried alive, being sacrificed to the Gods, etc. Granted, those things are still losses, but they weren’t deemed necessary.
Something else came to the forefront as professional wrestling progressed–it was really a form of entertainment. While being presented as a sport, it was selling because it was an entertaining one.
Again, WHAT HAPPENED?
Well, this answer is easy: Vince McMahon happened. Or more accurately, Vincent Kennedy McMahon.
Vince McMahon had to fight to get into the wrestling business, but you also have to understand why he fell in love it to begin with. When his father took him to his first ever show, he didn’t fall in love with sport. He fell in love with the characters and the showmanship- the larger-than-life characters. “Larger than life” is in his own words, and that’s why it’s so often used to describe the ideal WWE Superstar.
It was Vince McMahon who had to make a balloon payment to his dad and his business partners, a payment that if he missed even by a day, would have meant Vince lost everything. WrestleMania was the gamble that allowed Vince to make that payment. It was seen by 19,000+ at Madison Square Garden, and over a million paying normal ticket prices to watch on closed circuit television.
What made WrestleMania different? Spectacle. Liberace was the timekeeper for the main event. former Yankees manager Billy Martin was the ring announcer. Muhammad Ali the referee. The Rockettes performed in the ring. Hulk Hogan and Mr. T won the main event. It wasn’t built–or sold–on competition. Wins and losses really didn’t matter. It was built on larger-than-life characters performing in a larger-than-life spectacle.
And it allowed Vince McMahon to fully own what would become the WWE we know and love (love to hate?) today. Pushing wins and losses aside allowed the the business’s most powerful figure to take full ownership of the business’s most powerful entity.
Dammmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmnnnnn man! That is a huge statement to swallow!
Let it sink in: once Vince McMahon put on an event where wins and losses took a back seat to being a larger-than-life spectacle, the business took off. Once Vince has his moneymaking model, the rest of the business was ripe for the picking. Vince couldn’t have gone national–thus running in others’ territories–without a larger-than-life spectacle. Without Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, John Cena, Brock Lesnar, and Roman Reigns. As Vince himself has said, they “broke the mold.”
Once Vince McMahon created Sports Entertainment, there was no looking back. It was about performing first, winning second. Pro wrestling became a show, but more importantly it became about the show. And in some parts of the story, the show would be about Vince McMahon.
The regional territories couldn’t compete with Vince McMahon, and most of them died off. Killing the territories wasn’t Vince McMahon’s intention, but it was a byproduct of his success. He bought a lot of his competitors, paying them handsomely in the process. Others refused to be bought, and that decision was usually futile. Vince McMahon, using Hulk Hogan, had changed the business, and they had to change or get out.
So…do Wins and Losses matter?
Wrestling is a show. The wrestlers in the ring are telling a story, and the best stories have a stake that the performers–and the audience–are invested in. That stake is the biggest part of the story. Sometimes that stake is a championship (or the quest for a championship), other times it’s a personal issue. Rarely do two wrestlers stand face-to-face in the center of the ring, with an invested crowd hanging at each movement, with the main stake simply being a win. And the match is rarely judged on the stake, it’s usually judged on the performance.
That is the biggest way the wrestling business has changed. At their simplest form, wins and losses do not matter. The result of a win or a loss is the true stake, although there are plenty of times where a winner loses in the end. That’s part of the story.
But the importance of a win–or a loss–can be built into the story. It can be sold by the promotion…the performers…the announcers…the fans. It’s a simple principle: the stakes matter. If wins and losses are the stakes, then wins wins and losses matter. When the stakes are something else, wins and losses don’t matter.
That’s why I have coined the phrase that I maintain today: “Wins and Losses don’t matter–except when they matter.”
Good Reads On The Chairshot
- Eric has more details on IMPACT Wrestling’s move to the Pursuit Channel, which is going to be a big 2019 story
- Could DIY work as a heel tandem?
- Lots of great feedback on my Supply & Demand article–thank you!
- Cook discusses Big E vs. Daniel Bryan, and I must say I’m on board with 100% of his ideas in this one
And that’s it for today’s blog post! Thank you for reading the 7th Daily DeMarco–here’s to many more!