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A Mark's Eye View

A Mark’s Eye View: Winning isn’t everything — or is it?

Why do wins and losses matter in a fixed sport?

A Mark’s Eye View is a weekly look at some of the things that made me a huge fan of professional wrestling.

No matter what age a fan first starts watching wrestling, it’s not long before every they hear the inevitable question: “You know it’s fake, right?” If the fan is older, then the whole thing is almost insulting. “Fake” is such a strong term; “predetermined” would be more accurate. For younger fans, this is a much more difficult question to grapple with, however. Being told professional wrestling is fake is akin to being told there is no Santa Claus. The doubts always linger until one day it’s accepted the sport they love so much is in fact, fake. It was a sad day when I realized the only thing real about the industry is everybody has a price.

So why do wins and losses matter so much? The outcomes are determined well before the matches start. Some of the roster are always make to look good while it’s others’ jobs to make their coworkers look better. Plus, Vince McMahon and WWE have told us for years that wins and losses do not matter. One need look no further than this past Sunday’s Hell in a Cell match. After one match, The Fiend was awarded a shot at the WWE Universal Championship.

Vince and WWE apologists will try to convince you no one cares. After all, it’s about going with who is hot. This is simply an exercise in mental gymnastics. As over as Bray Wyatt’s new character may be, many fans questioned him receiving a shot at the top title so soon. (Daniel Bryan can also tell you all about WWE going with the hot hand.) Why would people care about a popular character receiving a title shot after one match? It’s simple: despite some trying to convince others (and themselves), wins and losses matter very much. Even in a fake sport.

Nikita Koloff is one of the best examples of being made to look strong. Debuting in 1984, Koloff was an absolute monster. The “Russian Nightmare” would mow down opponents. He rarely took punishment and within months was a part of the NWA Tag Team Champions with his uncle Ivan. By the summer of 1985, he was challenging Ric Flair for the NWA World Title. In 1986, he faced Magnum T.A. (another star who rarely lost) in a memorable best of seven series. Koloff is the template for someone the fans hated but were willing to accept in the World Title picture simply because he deserved it.

The Road Warriors are arguably the greatest team in the history of pro wrestling. They had the look, the music, and were like a stick of dynamite thrown in the calm waters of the early ’80s. Adding to their mystique was the fact they rarely lost. The were so powerful even a pair of area legends could do little against them. The longer they stayed in the NWA without winning the belts, the less intimidating their aura became. More often than not, the losses were tainted, but this still did not prevent fans from seeing the Roadies in a different light. (That is not even counting the WWF run that all but ruined their legacy.)

Hulk Hogan may be the prime argument for the importance of wins and losses. He was wrestling in a promotion with a creature that had a career long winning streak (Andre the Giant had a few more losses than the WWF cared to admit, but it was a cool wrinkle to their WrestleMania III match), but the Hulkster was easily the most popular wrestler in the company. He took on all manner of heels and never lost. I could not stand the guy and still could not fathom the idea of him losing. When his first WWF Title run came to an end in February of 1988, I was stunned. Over the years, it remained odd to see Hogan lose a match. All those victories in the WWF had instilled in me the idea that he was near unbeatable.

So why do wins and losses matter in a fake sport? Who knows. It’s certainly not a idea unique to the territory days. Steve Austin had one of the hottest runs in the history of the sport. He rarely was booked to look bad, much less to actually lose a match. The last great thing WCW did was Goldberg’s monumental streak. It left such an impression that almost a quarter of a century later fans still look back on it with reverence.

I blame how Vince McMahon looks at wins and losses on the The Rock. The People’s Champion proved a star could survive losses and still be massively over with the fanbase. Of course, he is also the biggest star in the history of professional wrestling. Decades of wrestling have shown Rocky is the exception to the rule and not a template to follow.

Next Week: Saving face.

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