Breaking The Fourth Wall: When Wrestling Gets Real

The first question a wrestling fan is usually asked after exposing themselves as such is, “You know it’s fake, right?” which is often met with a groan and a despondent sigh.

Of course, it is common knowledge that wrestling (or sports entertainment for that matter) is indeed scripted, not fake, just like other TV shows. Although the superstars themselves may hold back on connecting with a sweet right hook or a kick to the mid-section, it is clear that a powerbomb to the outside of the ring or an awkward landing from a high-risk manoeuvre hurts – it definitely does.

However, amongst all the grappling between big, muscular men and the over-the-top storylines, real life can sometimes sneak its way into the madness whether that’s in the form of a promo or by a serious injury sustained in the match.

Promoting the upcoming match

In the past couple of weeks on Monday Night Raw, a feud has been brewing in the build-up to the next pay-per-view, No Mercy, with it featuring two of the WWE’s poster-boys and main merchandise sellers: John Cena and Roman Reigns.

Like any other normal big draw fight (whether that’s MMA, WWE or boxing), the build-up is crucial to the fight itself as it will sell tickets in the arena and the online subscriptions across the world. In wrestling, the two superstars will cut ‘promos’ to either hype up their opponent or cut them down to size in an attempt to draw the audience in.

This is common practice in the WWE but it has been a bit more intense than it normally would be in the past fortnight or so. The aforementioned Cena and Reigns have each been cutting ‘shoot’ promos on each other, which is when a wrestler deliberately goes off-script, either by making candid and unplanned comments while referencing real life events.

Breaking the 4th wall

During their contract signing to make their match official on Raw, the two superstars were exchanging insults when Reigns seemingly appeared to forget his lines; quick to pounce on this, Cena intervened:

“It’s called a promo kid…if you want to be the big dog, you’re going to have to learn how to do it.”

When context is added, this is a big no-no in the company’s eyes as it points out a big weakness of one of their most protected stars, who has been criticised in the past for lacking charisma.

Reigns, who is amped up at this point, responds by hitting out at his opponent’s wrestling ‘character’ labelling him as a “fake ass bitch”, while referencing that Cena will still ‘bury younger talent with his shovel’ – a reference to how Cena stays on top of the billing by not giving younger stars a chance. The crowd reacts with ‘oohs’ and excitement that their criticisms of Cena are finally being voiced.

The two continue to take lumps out of each other to close out one of the more riveting bits of television that WWE has churned out this year. However, it wasn’t until a couple of weeks later until stuff really starts to go down. Things start to get personal when Reigns takes a jab at Cena’s somewhat mediocre career in Hollywood, saying:

“You need WWE and the fact of it is, well… he can’t break into Hollywood.”

This appears to touch a nerve with the veteran who decides to fight fire with fire, responding:

“At No Mercy, consider me a drugs test – you ain’t getting past me.”

Ouch. Bringing up another colleague’s microphone skills is one thing, but referencing his previously failed drugs test (in June 2016, which he served a 30-day suspension) would be something that the higher-ups definitely don’t want bringing back up.

The Consequences

Breaking the fourth wall is often seen as a taboo by WWE Chairman Vince McMahon, as breaking ‘kayfabe’ (when professional wrestling is showcased as non-fiction and entirely real) for real-life beef between two wrestlers backstage can often open up a can of worms, despite being more appealing to the viewers. It is regarded as better viewing rather than being fed a fabricated storyline that has no passion or heart behind it. However, once you take the plunge, it can often be hard to come back from that so it is a risk.

From the moment the feud started, it has smacked fans in the face with several ‘holy cow’ moments. This is something different, a new angle, a breath of fresh air. These moments rarely happen in a heavily scripted, televised show that is family friendly and mainly aimed at kids. It pushes the boundaries and puts a lot on the line and this time, the gamble has paid off.