First and foremost, if you clicked on this article and started reading that means you maybe have some interest in professional wrestling. Whether you grew up in the 70’s and 80’s watching Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Bruno Sammartino, Andre the Giant or Macho Man Randy Savage; or you grew up in the 90’s watching Bret Hart, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H, Shawn Michaels or The Rock, it seems that a majority of people at one point or another are or were wrestling fans.
Even today, the likes of John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton and AJ Styles draw in millions of viewers every week to Monday Night Raw and Smackdown Live. The WWE labels itself as “sports entertainment” with fans from all different walks of life, ranging from professional athletes to celebrities, to kids and to everyday common people. Whether you love or hate wrestling, there is no denying its impact on the sports world and pop culture, and here is why.
Recently, ESPN produced and aired a 30 for 30 documentary on the life of wrestling legend Ric “The Nature Boy” Flair. It was powerful, emotional, and gave a glimpse into the life of a professional wrestler (Flair’s life seems to be more extreme than others from what I have personally seen).
One thing became very certain as I watched the documentary. Ric Flair is not just a wrestling legend, he is a sports icon.
Atlanta Falcons wide receivers Mohamad Sanu and Julio Jones recently paid homage to Flair by having custom cleats designed to show respect to “the man”. Former Indianapolis Colts cornerback Sergio Brown went viral after a 2015 playoff win against the Bengals as he impersonated Flair to celebrate after the game.
Flair has performed speeches for the San Francisco 49ers and the University of Michigan. You can find Flair attending Cleveland Cavaliers games with current WWE superstars The Miz and Dolph Ziggler. He truly is beloved in the sports world and I am willing to bet that virtually everyone alive today has yelled out, “WOOOOOO!” on multiple occasions.
Athletes tweet about him and teams bring him in to make special appearances. Flair’s popularity has been monumental for decades, especially in the sports world.
Current Smackdown Live General Manager and former WWE champion Daniel Bryan has also had his impact on the sports world. Bryan is an avid Seattle Seahawks fan who has previously taken over the Seahawks twitter account for a live Q&A. New York Islanders fans shout his trademark “YES!” chant after every goal is scored at home games.
Bryan has also been used by the San Francisco Giants in the 2014 playoffs as his “YES!” chant was used as a rally cry to fire up the crowd. He even was at the victory parade and presented the Giants with their very own custom WWE championship belt.
It has become customary that all sports championship teams receive a custom WWE championship belt after they win their respective title. Sports superstars LeBron James, Aaron Rodgers, David Ortiz, LeSean McCoy, Adam Jones, Yoenis Cespedes, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer have all been photographed celebrating their successes wearing and holding WWE championship belts.
The list goes on and on and on. Wrestling legend The Undertaker was a guest of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 playoffs as he snapped pictures with All-Star big man Kevin Love. In the NBA, the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns have hosted promotions like “WWE Night” to attract large crowds.
16-time WWE champion John Cena has hosted one of sport’s biggest nights, ESPN’s “The Espy Awards.”
WWE wrestlers are even being featured in many films as The Rock has gone from WWE champion, to one of, if not the, most successful movie stars today. Hulk Hogan was in Rocky 3, Dave Bautista is one of the stars in the ultra-popular Guardians of the Galaxy, John Cena has been featured in Trainwreck, Daddy’s Home and Sisters, and Stone Cold Steve Austin was featured in The Longest Yard and The Expendables.
In music, professional wrestling legend Chris Jericho has had a very successful career as the lead singer for the rock band “Fozzy”. Their song “Judas” is one of the most popular songs on rock charts today.
The influence professional wrestling has had often goes unnoticed, but it is around more commonly then you may think. You can even find athletes and celebrities attending live WWE shows today.
In the past, Shaquille O’Neal, Pete Rose, Mike Tyson, Dennis Rodman, Lawrence Taylor and Karl Malone have been featured on WWE and WCW television. More recently, Rob Gronkowski, Ronda Rousey, LaVar, LaMelo and Lonzo Ball, Floyd Mayweather Jr., and Ben Roethlisberger have made special guest appearances as hosts, guests or performers for the WWE.
The popularity of professional wrestling will continue to rise among pop culture and professional sports. I always find it interesting and entertaining when sports stars and wrestlers cross paths either on WWE TV or at games and practices.
However, people will always say wrestling is scripted, that the winners and losers are predetermined. People also always say that it is fake, when the physical injuries and physical pain that wrestlers go through is very much real.
I watch for the entertainment and the athleticism that is displayed on a weekly basis. Just watch guys like Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Dolph Ziggler, Samoa Joe, AJ Styles or Braun Strowman. What these guys can do physically is impressive and this is why I think they are so respected amongst other athletes.
That is also why I think sports figures are fans, just like a lot of us. It will be exciting to see which athletes cross over into the wrestling world in the near future and how wrestlers may impact the many different professional sports leagues and their stars.