Celebrity involvement in Professional Wrestling is an acutely divisive issue. Even more so when said celebrities find themselves competing in the squared circle itself. While some see it as an advantageous opportunity for different sports fans to temporarily pay attention to wrestling, others see it as a slap in the face to members of the roster who do not get the same opportunities to compete in such high profile matches.
Earlier this week we saw the latest instalment of the controversial WWE Crown Jewel show in Saudi Arabia. One glance at the promotional poster for the event and you knew celebrity involvement was going to be a big theme, with both Cain Velasquez and Tyson Fury making signature appearances.
It’s difficult to say whether Crown Jewel 2019 was ultimately an endorsement of celebrity involvement in wrestling. It was very much a tale of two matches, with Strowman vs. Fury hitting many of the right notes, and Lesnar and Velazquez essentially negating them all. Of course, with the latter example there was much more to it – another Lesnar victory that failed to tell a compelling story being one particular drawback.
One aspect to the Fury vs. Strowman match was the realisation that, putting all prior reservations aside, certain celebrities have the ability to inject some fun into Professional Wrestling. It was clear from his overall demeanour that the undefeated British boxing legend was having one hell of a good time. And while it might be easy to dismiss this as not taking Wrestling seriously – one thing that fans in 2019 tend to forget is that Wrestling doesn’t have to take itself seriously, and is often most effective when it doesn’t.
Fury is from a generation that likely grew up watching wrestling during the Attitude Era, or perhaps the tail end of the Hogan era, when larger than life characters reigned supreme and Wrestling was much more distinct from other ring-based combat sports. It was an era when the emphasis was more on entertainment than straight-up competition.
Fury was very much channelling that ethos in Saudi Arabia. Everything from his entrance to his pandering to the fans came across as someone fulfilling their dream to be a pro wrestler with all the fanfare and spectacle that brings.
Indeed, it was also a strong indication of how wrestling has influenced other sports over the years. It is no secret that the worlds of boxing or UFC do better at the box office when they have the larger than life personas like Fury or Conor McGregor at the helm. And they all owe their character style to the heydays of Pro Wrestling when what you said and how you said it mattered more than what you could actually do in the ring.
Wrestling is a different animal these days, and there are many modern, compelling aspects of the sport to enjoy. But the industry must be careful not to forget what originally brought it to the world’s attention. 25 minute, 6-Star classic matches are all well and good, but at the heart of Pro Wrestling is variety, and often the best way to remember that is to reach out to the worlds of boxing, UFC or even Hollywood and allow recognisable celebrities to channel their inner child and make wrestling fun again.