For the longest time, professional wrestling has been on its own island when it comes to entertainment, but may it’s time for that to change.
Professional wrestling is a bit of a misnomer when it comes to describing the sport. Sports entertainment is another name for this athletic theater because it blends scripted entertainment with athletic practice.
At the dawn of World Wrestling Entertainment’s Attitude Era — a time period when pro wrestling shifted to a more contemporary and reality-based presentation — then owner Vince McMahon delivered a promo to audiences explaining what changes were coming. In it, he described the direction WWE (then World Wrestling Federation) was going.
Even though we call ourselves sports entertainment because of the athleticism involved, the key word in that phrase is entertainment. The WWF [WWE] extends far beyond the strict confines of sports presentation into the wide open environment of broad-based entertainment. We borrow from such program niches like the Days of Our Lives or music videos such as those on MTV, daytime talk shows like Jerry Springer or others, cartoons like the King of the Hill on Fox, sitcoms like Seinfeld, and other widely-accepted forms of television entertainment.Vince McMahon, Executive Chairman of WWE
Since that shift in 1997, WWE and a handful of other companies began focusing more on the entertainment side of wrestling so much so that 26 years later, these performers can hang with the best on TV.
With the improved acting and storytelling inherent in pro wrestling, it’s high time for these wrestlers to garner Emmy nominations for their performance
To get to this point, there are several obstacles that need overcoming. If these challenges are met, then it could get us to proper recognition for some of the phenomenal acting and writing in pro wrestling.
What Should Be Recognized
As is the case in traditional acting, not all professional wrestling is created equal. When it comes to recognizing acting ability in wrestling, it should be limited.
Wrestling is more than just putting people through tables and performing intricate moves. This is the sports side of sports entertainment and deserve recognition but maybe not via the Emmys.
What makes professional wrestling unique is its ability to mix in-ring combat with promos and non-combat segments. It is here where a wrestler’s acting prowess can shine.
Wrestling is largely about the matches, but weekly segments on Monday Night Raw and Smackdown both offer chances to build these stories heading into the premium live events.
It is these segments where Hollywood first took notice of Dwayne Johnson, Dave Bautista, John Cena, and Mercedes Varnado. It is also these segments that deserve recognition via the Emmys.
The Bloodline Saga
Let’s take a look at one such storyline that has really drawn attention to potential Emmy nominations. The Bloodline Saga has proven extremely popular with the fans with fans flocking to Smackdown each week.
This story has centered on Roman Reigns (Joe Anoa’i) and his dominance alongside his cousins Jimmy and Jey Uso (Jonathan and Joshua Fatu), Solo Sikoa (Joseph Fatu), and several other non-family members.
This story hasn’t been your standard wrestling storyline. This story has been deep and layered. Reigns is the narcissistic champion who has emotionally and physically abused his cousins into falling in line under his stable called The Bloodline. To this point, Reigns’ title run has lasted over 1,000 days.
This started with Roman breaking Jey and then his twin Jimmy. They get Stockholm Syndrome and help Reigns to win the company’s top two titles. The Usos also win both Tag Team Championships in the process.
It is here The Bloodline welcomes in outsider Sami Zayn (Rami Sebei) who starts out as comedic relief before being the catalyst for the dissolving of The Bloodline. Zayn betrays Reigns, teams up with friend Kevin Owens (Kevin Steen), and takes the tag titles off of the Usos.
Reigns then continues to worsen his abuse on the Usos until they both turn on him, leading to Jey pinning Roman for the first time in four years in a non-title match.
The story is still ongoing but it only works because of the phenomenal acting on the part of Reigns, the Usos, and Wiseman Paul Heyman. Particularly, Reigns and Jey Uso have really shown range throughout this story.
Anoa’i does a phenomenal job at playing the narcissistic Reigns. It’s not just what he says that’s phenomenal, it’s what he does. Reigns tells his story through a lot of little things such as facial expressions, body language, and even the inflections in his voice.
For his part, Jey Uso has risen to the mantle and played a fantastic foil to Reigns, even when he’s in line with the head of The Bloodline. Uso does a great job at conveying his message through passionate promos, but also saying a lot with his face.
Honestly, both deserve awards for their performances. This story wouldn’t be nearly as impactful if neither Reigns or Jey sell their performance. That’s not easy to do, especially in such a unique format as professional wrestling.
Challenges to the Emmys
The trick now is to get those outside of wrestling on board. This can prove to be difficult for a number of reasons.
For one, it wasn’t until recently that pro wresting fully embraced its scripted nature. Up until 1989, pro wrestling would present itself as legitimate completion and wrestlers would maintain kayfabe whenever in public.
Kayfabe is presenting the scripted product as genuine. The secret of kayfabe changed when McMahon acknowledged the true nature in an effort to avoid meddling from state athletic commissions and to avoid paying taxes designated for athletic competions.
Despite McMahon’s admission, it still took many years for wrestlers to fully embrace a non-kayfabe world. WWE is still trying to blur the lines between reality and fiction in a different version of kayfabe.
I’m not sure how willing wrestling promotions are to fully embrace a non-kayfabe world, but that doesn’t mean wrestlers shouldn’t be recognized for their amazing acting.
Another challenge is the stigma of pro wrestling. Many see it as a lesser artform, derisively calling it “fake.” What’s funny about this to me is any scripted TV show is also “fake,” but no one seems to have a problem with that.
Wrestling’s presentation may be different, but it’s scripted nature is no different than Succession or The Last of Us. In fact, it’s not crazy to believe that Anoa’i could appear in film once he’s done portraying Reigns.
Despite this unique storytelling method, I’m not sure others within SAG-AFTRA are willing to embrace this form of entertainment let alone have them pooping on the floors of the Emmys cathedral.
That’s not to say SAG-AFTRA is oblivious to wrestlers. In 2020, WWE fired Zelina Vega (Thea Trinidad) after she wouldn’t hand over the reigns to her Twitch account to the company along with the profits. This firing attracted the attention of SAG-AFTRA and Vega ended up having a conversation with then-union president Gabrielle Carteris.
It doesn’t seem like much came from it but it may have been a good starting point. If wrestlers and SAG-AFTRA could get on the same page, it could help bridge the gap.
In my opinion, wrestlers should absolutely be winning Emmys if their acting deserves it. I strongly believe that both Anoa’i and Joshua Fatu deserve at least a nomination for their performances as Roman Reigns and Jey Uso, respectively.
There’s a lot that needs to change to get to this point and the unique nature of professional wrestling further complicates matters. Still, the wrestlers themselves should absolutely be in the conversation.
There may be some semantics in the eligibility criteria that could complicate things, but the rules do say that “eligibility will be considered on a case-by-case basis.”
It’s high time NBCUniversal (which hosts Monday Night Raw on the USA Network), Fox (which hosts Smackdown on local Fox channels), and even WWE to submit their wrestlers for Emmy consideration.
It’s also high time those in charge of the Emmys realize that wrestlers add a lot to the industry and embrace this unique form of entertainment.
Professional wrestling is in the midst of another surge with WWE and All Elite Wrestling having shows on most nights of the week.
It’s not going away so the entertainment world needs to do as Roman Reigns demands each week and “acknowledge” professional wrestling.
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