The Sports Entertainment - Pro-Wrestling Divide

From the title, you might have the impression that I'm going to rag on Sports Entertainment and bask in the glory of CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan last night. I'm not. Really not. Well, I'm not ragging on anything, though I can't promise not to bask. Ah screw it, I'm gonna bask big time!

In my opinion, 2012 has given two pure definitions of differences between Sports Entertainment and Professional Wrestling. In a lot of ways, they're one and the same. But in execution, especially within the confines of a WWE ring, a Sports Entertainment match and a Professional Wrestling match are vastly different and it all lies in the devices used for creating drama.

The two matches which shine a light on this divide are: Triple H vs. The Undertaker from WrestleMania 28, and of course, CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan from Over The Limit. Both matches are critically acclaimed. Almost universally agreed that they were both excellent in their own right. But, in my view, they were excellent for different reasons.

Undertaker vs. Triple H was the epitome of a Sports Entertainment match, i.e. a WWE-style match. They are two of the best sports entertainers in the world. The match was compelling and dramatic. It was gruelling and intense. It told a phenomenal story, and it used multiple elements. It used the very narrative the story outlined beforehand to create it's drama.

Factors including Triple H knowing that to kill the Streak, he had to end The Undertaker. The questions arising over where special referee Shawn Michaels stood and whether he would, as he intimated beforehand, be a deciding factor in the match. The contests surroundings, Hell in a Cell, played into the story. The Cell itself a sub-story, another device WWE uses to emphasise the importance and intensity of a feud. The match swung back and forth, and the three men involved showcased what a WWE-style, sports entertainment match was all about.

In this contest, it was the emotional backstory and the consequences of a win or loss, coupled with the other devices which created the drama.

But if Undertaker-Triple H was the exemplification for a Sports Entertainment match, then what CM Punk and Daniel Bryan produced last night was a perfect example of a Professional Wrestling match. The contest was really only hyped by the fans, as WWE did little to build a decent narrative around it. On air, they touched on the history between them and what got them to WWE. On, they ran a piece thinly detailing their almost parallel stories.

Without the narrative to provide drama, Punk and Bryan had to rely on their abilities as the two best professional wrestlers in the entire world. They constructed their match perfectly around their strengths. The story of their match was tit-for-tat; Punk trying to show his submission-expert foe that Punk was no slouch in that department, either.

They evolved into a good old fashioned “slug-fest”, too, as during one hold in the middle of the match both combatants started just slapping each other. The crowd was divided between them because they knew that they were watching two masters of their craft have at it in the middle of the ring. Punk and Bryan put on a match which showed two men damn near as equal as two men could be. Whatever one did, the other had an answer for, and vice versa. In the end, it was only a matter of a second which separated a winner and a loser.

Punk and Bryan had a match centred purely around competition and it was the competition which created the drama.

Unlike Taker and Hunter, they didn't rely on the narrative because they didn't really have one. The only element they used was good old fashioned wrestling. No special referees. No match stipulations. Just two guys trying to pin or submit one another with the WWE Championship as the prize for doing it.

The divide between sports entertainment matches and wrestling matches are the devices used to create drama. In a match like Undertaker and Triple H, a perfect storm of elements set up in the build-up created the drama. But with Punk and Bryan, the drama was built up during the match and crescendoed at the end of it.

Don't get me wrong, when I call Triple H and Undertaker the two best sports entertainers, I say it with love and fondness. They do what they do very well. But so do CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, two men who don't really work a WWE style. To my mind, unlike Hunter and Taker, Punk and Bryan are at their best in a pure wrestling match. They're at their best when the emphasis is on competition over drama. And within the boundaries of pure competition, they manage to create drama.

And that's what is great about WWE, especially in more recent years. One month you can have a masterpiece in the art of Sports Entertainment, and just over a month later, you can watch a pure wrestling classic unfold.

Here we have two matches which differ greatly in execution, but produce the same result: a masterpiece.