Unless you've been asleep for the past year or so, you've probably noticed that professional wrestling is big news. There are wrestlers popping up in magazines, appearing on your favorite TV shows, governing your favorite states, and topping the bestseller list with their books. If you're like us, you don't like to be left out when there's something interesting going on; but, also like us, you might initially feel slightly perplexed as to what has everyone so excited. Isn't pro wrestling, like… FAKE? Isn't it a goofy pseudo-sport, only appropriate for viewing by guests of the Jerry Springer show?

We're here to tell you that just ain't so. Watching wrestling, if you get into it, can be tremendously fun, and that's why more and more people are getting caught up in it. We started out skeptical, but now we're as devoted as screaming face-painters. OK, it's fake, but it's real sports entertainment! If you'd like to find out what that means, and get in on the fun, then pick up a folding chair, heave it at your sister, and read on.


The fake

The first thing you need to understand about wrestling is that it's fake. We hope we're not ruining anyone's fun here, but those pro wrestlers are all just a bunch of big actors. What we mean by "fake" is that the outcome of each match is predetermined, the wrestlers cooperate with each other rather than compete, and the wrestlers are acting out characters, not their real personalities. Both the behind-the-scenes action and in-the-ring action are planned out and written ahead of time (though the wrestlers do some improvising of their own), and the wrestlers develop the characters they portray with the help of writers and executives.

The storylines, which set out the feuds and alliances that explain what goes on in the ring, are at least as important as the wrestling itself. The storylines are as turgid as any soap opera, containing "good" and "bad" characters, as well as characters that switch allegiances or team up against a third party. We're surprised that amnesia and evil twins don't play a stronger role. We'll talk more about the storylines in a second, but the main thing to know is that watching pro wrestling is just like watching The Practice, only instead of lawyers in suits in a courtroom battling each other, the lawyers wear speedos and go mano-a-mano.

To many fans, the storylines are more interesting than the wrestling. The effective use of storylines to enhance interest in professional wrestling was pioneered and perfected by Vince McMahon, the best promoter in the history of the wrestling business. Pro wrestling is, to use a phrase coined by Mr. McMahon, "sports entertainment." It can't be called a sport, because nobody is really engaging in a competition (to bet on pro wrestling would be ridiculous, because the outcome is already decided); but it is an entertaining charade of what a sport might be like in a world of ridiculously obnoxious, melodramatic, aggressive people. The ingenious storylines present us with hilarious morality plays, absurd situations, gratuitous titillation, and good old-fashioned machismo.

Storylines are mostly composed of gimmicks, feuds, and angles. A gimmick is a wrestler's, or a group of wrestlers', story or theme that can be summed up in a sentence. For example, Stone Cold Steve Austin is a mean, beer-swilling s.o.b. from Texas who doesn't take any crap from anyone. There's more to his character than that, but that's his basic gimmick. A feud simply describes the fact that two or more wrestlers are, at this point in the storyline, angry with each other and fighting frequently. For example, if Mankind and the Undertaker are continually talking about each other and fighting or interfering in each other's matches, then they are feuding. The reason why they're feuding is called an angle, and the angles are what make the storylines interesting. For example, at present, The Big Show is fighting The Rock because he believes that The Rock cheated in their match at The Royal Rumble. The only limits on angles are set by the writers' and promoters' imaginations. To sum up, a gimmick is who the wrestler is, a feud is who is fighting whom, and the angle is the reason for the feud. And yes, we do realize that the names are bizarre.

The real

Now, in the midst of all this fakeness, it's important to give credit where it's due and learn what is real about pro wrestling. The moves the wrestlers do to each other don't hurt as badly as the wrestlers pretend they do, but they're still no picnic. And the wrestlers really are, to varying degrees, athletes who are performing difficult stunts. Of course, there are some steroid beasts who just wander around the ring looking dangerous, but most of the wrestlers are incredibly acrobatic and talented at what they do.

Though the results are always predetermined, what happens in the match is not always perfectly scripted ahead of time. Good wrestlers can improvise most of what happens during the match. Some matches are choreographed and practiced move by move ahead of time, but most just have the outcome and some of the major happenings decided in advance. For example, two wrestlers might go into a match knowing which of them will win, who will start out dominant, who will interfere in the match, and what move will finish off the loser. The wrestlers will make up the rest of the match as they go along, in accordance with their skills and how the match is going. The wrestlers will often whisper moves to each other during the match, and they generally cooperate to make the match look good.

It is also real when wrestlers bleed. They rarely use fake blood (there are obvious exceptions, such as Gangrel's "blood baths," in which his opponents have gallons of blood-like substance dumped on them) in matches. The most common way for wrestlers to make themselves bleed is to keep a razor blade taped up on their wrists, hands, or fingertips, which is then exposed when it's time for them to cut themselves. When a wrestler cuts himself it is called "blading," and when he then bleeds it is called "juicing." These occur when a wrestler's opponent has landed a supposedly devastating move on him. He will quickly cut himself across the forehead, which will produce enough blood to give him a convincingly battered appearance. They almost never cut themselves anywhere else, as doing so would be extremely dangerous. Wrestlers also, occasionally, bleed from actual contact. They try to pull their punches, but they really do hit each other, and accidents happen. This way of bleeding is known as "hardway," and we're pretty sure it's less than popular among the wrestlers.

As we've stated repeatedly, this is meant to be pure entertainment. The fact that the wrestlers aren't actually pummeling each other into oblivion doesn't interfere with most fans' enjoyment of the phenomenon.