In Seattle, the Question Isn’t That Matches Are Rigged — but if It’s Officially a Sport
SEATTLE — Among the enduring questions of modern times is whether professional wrestling is real or pretend. Washington-state bureaucrats have opened a new chapter in the debate by ruling that wrestling is a real form of sport even when it consists of a man in a banana suit performing fake kung-fu moves in a tavern.
A group called Seattle Semi-Pro Wrestling has for six years packed bars around this city with its lampoons of World Wrestling Entertainment, the pro league. Cast members have included a husky everyman who likes to tick off environmentalists by boasting about chopping down trees, and Ronald McFondle, a raunchy rendition of a clown character, who finishes off his opponents with a lewd gesture. They grapple on foam pads placed on stages in bars, not in rings.
Washington state’s Department of Licensing takes the high jinks seriously. Earlier this month, it classified the performances as "sports entertainment." The ruling means the spoofers must meet safety regulations and could force the league to post a $10,000 bond, station medical personnel at events and buy a regulation wrestling ring.
The league, "SSP" for short, says those costs would bust its shoestring budget. It says it will appeal the ruling but has halted matches for now.
The Seattle league calls itself "fight cabaret" — in essence, theater with singlets, suplexes and sweat, as unworthy of regulation as a Shakespeare play. "It’s a bunch of grown men and women in costumes pretending to be professional wrestlers," says David Osgood, the league’s lawyer. "It is to wrestling as ‘West Side Story’ is to actual gang relations."
The licensing department says it doesn’t care that SSP is faking it. State laws define a "wrestling show" or "wrestling exhibition" as "a form of sports entertainment in which the participants display their skills in a physical struggle against each other in the ring and either the outcome may be predetermined or the participants do not necessarily strive to win, or both."
Authentic pro wrestling "is just as much theater as these guys claim to be," says Christine Anthony, a department spokeswoman. The WWE is considered sports entertainment and needs a license to perform in the state, she says. A WWE spokesman says its matches are scripted, with a predetermined winner and loser. He declined to comment on the Seattle league.
The Seattle league debuted in 2003 as an "art joke" to make fun of pro-wrestling antics, says Nathaniel Pinzon, a bouncer at a gay karaoke club who started it with friends. There’s little in common between the physiques of muscular WWE wrestlers and those of SSP members, many of whom are under 6 feet tall and don’t appear to spend much time in the gym. SSP wrestlers are volunteers who don’t earn money from performances.