This question has perplexed me for some time, why do people love Ultimate Fighting Championship and love fake-wrestling, but it took a miraculous, “come from behind” story to save Olympic Wrestling? My answer to this is inevitably, confusion mixed with lack of story lines equals uninterested viewers.
Vince McMahon, owner of the most successful fake-wrestling federation was once quoted as saying, “With the WWF we’re in contact with our consumers more than 200 nights a year. They cheer, they boo. That’s how they tell us what they like, and we’re good listeners. Our shows are totally interactive. The fans are part of the show, and sometimes they surprise me. I believe FreeStyle and Greco-Roman wrestling need to take lesson from the world of Entertainment. Wrestling needs SUPERSTARS and storylines. There needs to be some level of hype, otherwise no one is going to care about a 6-minute bout.
The NBA creates storylines by delving into what Kobe Bryant thinks of his teammates. The NCAA tells us what scandal Joe Paterno got into, and how many autographs Johnny Manziel signed. We learn of players contracts, player disputes, controversy, agony, defeat, heroics and so much more which keeps us captivated, and glued to our seats.
If the world can care about 5 teenage gymnasts on their journey to an Olympic Gold, then surely the same type of effort can be put into “who’s going to be the next Cael Sanderson”, and more ESPN pieces on who historical storylines, like, “The Life of Dan Gable”. Wrestling can be equally as compelling as anything, the public just must be educated to care.
Finally, people don’t understand wrestling. It’s not the easiest sport to understand. John Madden used to get made fun of constantly for “stating the obvious” during Monday Night Football. Well sure, 95% of us rolled our eyes when he said “If the quarterback throws the ball in the endzone and the wide receiver catches it, it’s a touchdown.”, but this type of dumbing down, made football watchable for even the most lamen. Announcers need to break down the sport, and make the sport a thrill. Olympic wrestling needs an Al Michels “Do you believe in miracles?!?! YES!” moment, so that it may be played again and again on SportsCenter.
There are so many sports that the public cares about, only because SportsCenter tells them they must. The same is true with Freestyle and Folkstyle wrestling.