This post comes to you from Patrick Jones, librarian and author. We recently published his book The Main Event: The Moves and Muscle of Pro Wrestling. I asked Patrick to share his thoughts on the recent International Olympic Committee decision to drop wrestling from the Summer Games, beginning in 2020.
The news that the wrestling will be dropped from the summer Olympics is generating, as they say in pro wrestling, “heat,” as people rant, blog, post, and tweet their displeasure at this epic-fail decision. There are hundreds of opinions in the ether, from sports columnists like Mike Downey to current WWE superstars. As with everything with the Olympics, the decision isn’t about athletics but rather money, politics, and TV ratings. Let me offer three reasons why this is the wrong call:
1. Tradition of the sport: let’s see, the first “modern” Olympics in 1896 featured wrestling. So the history goes back over one hundred years. Oh, wait, all the Olympics? Then you’d need to go back to 708 BC, when wrestling first became an event in the ancient Olympics. I don’t think golf or badminton have that kind of tradition. And say what you will about the Olympics, what makes them great IS that tradition. This is a Rowdy Roddy Piper-like eye poke. What’s next to go? The first sport? The foot race? What if track events drop in the ratings and the Olympic committee is filled with folks from countries that never win those medals?
2. Essence of an athlete: wrestling isn’t a team sport, but one on one, and nobody can help you out on the mat. Because wrestlers complete against only those in the same weight class, size can’t help you either. How well you handle a stick, bat, ball, club, or foil doesn’t matter. It’s hand to hand combat, but so much more: it’s a human chess match in leotards. There are no natural advantages save genetics, but even then strength alone won’t do it. To be a successful wrestler requires speed, toughness, balance, strength, skill, stamina, and smarts. And are those elements not the essence of greatness in any sport? No other sport requires the interweaving of those skills like wrestling, other than maybe boxing. And people don’t get concussions from wrestling (unless to save the sport and/or juice the ratings, they allow chairshots).
3. Breeding ground of greatness: While none of the current top professional wrestlers I discuss in The Main Event (like John Cena, Randy Orton, or The Rock) have skill in amateur or Olympic-style wrestling, there is rich tradition of guys turning medals into pro wrestling success. While not household names, greats like Danny Hodge from the U.S. or Hiro Hase from Japan are two examples. No doubt former WWE champion Kurt Angle will be the last medalist to turn to the pro game as mixed martial arts/ultimate fighting lands those athletes now. Current WWE superstar/former UFC champion Brock Lesner could have gone to the Olympics but choose the WWE instead. For future amateur greats, that choice has been taken away unless…
Maybe there’s no People’s Elbow or Rear Naked Choke in the Olympics, just a battle between two Spartan athletes in a sport so simple to understand yet so very hard to do that it deserves to be saved. If you agree, join me in giving the Olympics a Cena-like “attitude adjustment”: there’s a group Facebook as well as an online petition.