May 24, 2018

Going for the Gold (Belt): Let’s Put Pro Wrestling in the Olympics

With the Winter Olympics now wrapped up, I would like to make a proposal that, on its face, might sound absurd: Professional wrestling should be made an Olympic sport.

I know, I know. Snicker all you want.

But please just hear me out. I’m saying this with 100% sincerity. I believe that pro wrestling would make a phenomenal addition to the Olympic games.

Let’s start with the obvious argument against such a thing: Pro wrestling isn’t a real athletic event. It’s fake. Or, to put it more accurately, choreographed.

This argument would hold water if things like this weren’t already a major part of the Olympics:

or this

What? You think Red Gerrard is just out there free styling with no pre-planned moves? Or these ice dancers are just winging it?

These are all amazing, Olympic-worthy athletes and competitions. But these are highly choreographed athletic events, no different than professional wrestling.

The basic end goal of, say, a figure skating run is to produce a aesthetically and emotionally pleasing athletic display within the confines of that sport. To do that, the figure skaters painstakingly choreograph an entire routine in order to achieve that desired effect.

For pro wrestling, the end goal is exactly the same. Regardless of the bravado and machismo that comes with pro wrestling, all the wrestlers want is to produce an exhilarating match that produces an emotional reaction in the viewer. To be able to do that is the mark of a true pro and easier said than done.

In fact, if anything, pro wrestling wrestling is less choreographed. For a figure skater, their entire performance, every muscle movement, is planned down to the millisecond. A snowboarder has their jumps planned out for the whole of their run.

In professional wrestling, there are choreographed spots, sure. But it’s a mistake to think that wrestlers plan out the entirety of their match. Instead, for any wrestler worth their salt, it’s much more of a give-and-take, relying on timing, intuition, athletic prowess between the competitors. Rather than knowing every little detail of the performance, wrestlers “call spots” based on the flow of the match and the audience reaction. In other words, if the crowd is not reacting, one of the wrestlers will call for a big move to bring crowd interest back into the match.

Can you imagine if figure skaters had to do this? If the crowd wasn’t reacting to their cantilever or chasse and they were forced to ramp up the action to gain the attention of the audience and judges?

That’s basically what pro wrestlers do on a nightly basis.

So, if we adjust our thinking on professional wrestling and consider it at least the athletic equal to an event like figure skating, the feasibility of this Olympic idea begins to take shape.

Let’s begin to consider this, then. How would pro wrestling on an Olympic stage work?

The Wrestlers

First, you have to have the athletes. With professional wrestling being a worldwide sport, this wouldn’t be a problem. Consider for a moment:

Team USA: AJ Styles, Johnny Gargano, Seth Rollins, CM Punk

Team Canada: Kenny Omega, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho

Team Japan: Kazuchika Okada, Tetsuya Naito, Tomohiro Ishii, Kushida

Team Great Britain: Will Ospreay, Pete Dunne, Zach Sabre, Jr., Tyler Bate

Holy crap, that’d be a ton of fun. And those are just some of the big-time guys. Think about John Cena in the Olympics. Or Brock Lesnar.

Or go the other way. How awesome would it for the lesser known indie darlings to get their big breakthrough at the Olympics? Guys like Matt Riddle or Keith Lee could break through to the mainstream with a great Olympics run.

That’s not even considering countries like Mexico, Tonga, and Germany (among a multitude of others) that consistently produce quality professional wrestlers.

In short, finding talent wouldn’t be an issue.

The Format

If it were up to me (and this is my brainchild, so it is), I’d split wrestlers into blocks or pods. To borrow again from figure skating, they have 30 individual contestants. For this example, let’s use roughly that same amount. I’ll say 32 would make a good number for pro wrestling.

I’d divide the wrestlers into eight pods of four wrestlers each. From there, it’s a simple round robin format. Each wrestler would have matches against each of the other three wrestlers in their pod. The wrestler with the best total score (more on this in a minute) at the end of those matches would advance. That would give us a final eight.

Those eight would be divided up into two more pods. After three more round robin matches, we’d have the final two wrestlers. Those two would have a match to determine the Olympic champion. The bronze medal would be awarded to the highest scoring wrestler outside of the finals from the final eight.

So, hypothetically, the competition would look like this:

Round 1

From there, the winners from each pod advance.

Semi-Finals

Then, obviously, the finals.

So a wrestler would have, at most, seven matches, with a minimum of three.

Here’s the cool part: These wrestlers would be going balls out each and every match to have the best match possible. That requires them to not only put on their own personal best performance, but also to work with the other man to create the most enthralling match possible. After all, if your opponent doesn’t look good, you don’t look good.

In other words, you’d have the best wrestlers in the world trying to tear the house down each and every match.

Now, because there has to be some sort of limit to how long these matches can go on, I’d have a 30 minute time limit. That’s long enough to develop a story within the match but not so short as to make the match a total sprint.

Otherwise, no gimmicks. No tables, ladders, or chairs. No hardcore rules. No cage matches. Keep it simple, clean, and classic.

The Judging

There has to be some sort of scoring metric. If you’re anything like me and the other 99.5% of Olympic viewers, you have no earthly idea how events like snowboarding, figure skating, or ice dancing is judged. No clue. So, to me, it seems pretty much a given that I can come up with some sort of scoring system for professional wrestling that will make at least as much sense as the metrics used for those other events.

First, though, you have to have judges. Obviously, as with the other olympic sports, these judges need to have extensive knowledge of professional wrestling. To go back to figure skating for a moment, U.S. Figure Skating has outlined the four characteristics of a good judge:

  1. A sincere desire to be of service of the sport.
  2. Ability to make an independent decision.
  3. Proper temperament and ability to handle stress.
  4. Knowledge of the sport.

Because this is my fantasy, I’d advocate for a group of well-informed, respected wrestling aficionados. This would include Dave Meltzer (the most prolific and well respected pro wrestling journalist in the history of the sport), Wade Keller (founded the Pro Wrestling Torch newsletter in 1987), and David Bixenspan (a pro wrestling freelance journalist). Those guys have followed wrestling long enough to know both the technical and psychological aspects required to put on a quality match.

In real life, there’s little to no chance that wrestling journalists would be allowed to judge in the Olympics, but because this is strictly a hypothetical, it’s the best I can do.

The judges would rate the individual performers in each match based on the following criteria:

  • Technical aspect: Are moves hit with precision and intent? Are spots botched or crisp? Do some matches have a higher degree of difficulty than others?
  • In-ring psychology: Does what is happening in the ring make sense? Is the wrestler working the crowd? Does the wrestler work the leg early but forget about it in the latter half of the match? Is there palpable “heat”?
  • Individual overall performance
  • Overall match quality

Make each category worth, say, 10 points. The end result would be a score from each judge that is transparent and easily understandable by the average viewer. That’s more than can be said for most Olympic sports.

Imagine with me, for a second, the possibilities of professional wrestling in the Olympics. Professional wrestlers are the ultimate showmen. Give them an Olympic-sized audience and virtually no in-ring restrictions or company BS and turn them loose. You know that these guys are just dying to work with each other anyway but can’t due to contracts with their respective promotions.

Kenny Omega vs. Johnny Gargano

AJ Styles vs. Tetsuya Naito

John Cena vs. Kazuchika Okada

Seth Rollins vs. Tomohiro Ishii

Good freaking night.

Yes, you’d be watching matches with no “angle” or buildup. But look on the bright side: there wouldn’t be weeks of slogging through half-baked storylines on Raw. There’d be exposure to guys that you’d never otherwise see. There’d be wrestlers forced to create interest in their matches not through promos or tipping over semi-trucks. In other words, we’d get to see who the real talents are. And it would be awesome.

Professional wrestling could work as an Olympic sport. I truly believe that.

The crazy thing is, I think both pro wrestling and the Olympics would be better for it.

Could pro wrestling work in the Olympics? Who would be your dream pairings? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @JMitchellTGS.

Jason Mitchell
Jason Mitchell 29 Articles
Staff Writer

Jason grew up in Iowa but couldn't bring himself to like Iowa or Iowa State. Instead, he married a Cornhusker. Jason has taught junior high, high school, and college English but is now a stay-at-home dad to four kids. He also has an encyclopedic knowledge of reality shows and 1990s professional wrestling.

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