Does kayfabe have any place in modern wrestling?

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Kayfabe is defined as the portrayal of staged events within the wrestling industry as "real" or "true," specifically the portrayal of competition, rivalries, and relationships between participants as being genuine and not of a staged or pre-determined nature of any kind.

Seeing as how the cat is well and truly out of the bag about pro wrestling’s pre-determined nature, is there any real need for such an archaic practise to still exist?

The most recent example in WWE of a slavish devotion to kayfabe occurred last year when Rusev and Lana announced their real-life engagement whilst being engaged in an on-screen feud.


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If you recall, the seeds had been sown for the pair to split on-screen during Rusev’s feud with John Cena, and immediately following the then-Russian hero’s loss(es), Lana entered into a ‘relationship’ with Dolph Ziggler.

It didn’t particularly work as the new couple had no real chemistry together, but the real problem arose when TMZ publicised Lana and Rusev’s real-life engagement and ‘ruined’ the WWE story line.

Both appeared to then duly be punished on-screen by jobbing/being humiliated as per the company’s policy of putting talent in their place for any perceived slights.

The slight in this case was that the pair broke kayfabe and ‘exposed’ the business – which is patently ridiculous.

The zeal with which kayfabe was protected was illustrated brilliantly by Vader in 1997.

Appearing on talk show Good Morning Kuwait, the big man took offense when asked by his Iraqi host if pro wrestling was fake: flipping over a table, swearing, and roughing up the presenter, so offended was he by the accusation that wrestling might not be a real contest.

Vader has a history of becoming enraged at the wrong questions from journalists at home and abroad, but to defend kayfabe to such a degree was plain wrong.

Around six months later Vince McMahon would pull the fourth wall down in his famous taped promo where he announced the arrival of the Attitude Era. This was the precise point that kayfabe ceased to be a relevant concern.

Directly telling your audience that ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ are passe, and that the company was going to attempt to be more entertaining are the sort of sound bites that linger in the memory and put to bed any thoughts that business is stuck in the past.

And yet, last year WWE acted the way they did with Rusev and Lana.

The BBC’s Louis Theroux was subjected to kayfabe in a very physical manner during his visit to WCW and the Power Plant for his Weird Weekends documentary series in 1999.

So offended was Plant boss Dewayne Bruce at Theroux’s questioning of wrestling’s authenticity that he drilled the presenter to the point of physical illness.

‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage also looked deeply uncomfortable merely being in the presence of the BBC crew backstage, and refused to say a word. Kayfabe had to be protected against the interlopers.

The strangest example of kayfabe being dead came during an episode of TNA Impact Wrestling during the Joseph Parks-Abyss saga.

Parks was essentially playing his own brother as the Kane-alike Abyss had gone missing and his bookish, lawyer brother had come to TNA looking for him. Except as the story developed, it was revealed that they were one and the same person as Parks had a split personality.

Sting, as the General Manager of Impact at the time, knew the truth of the matter, though, and during one backstage exchange told Parks, “Are you gonna kayfabe me?” 

If the term is even going to be used as part of a promo, then surely the very concept is dead and buried?

Kayfabe is something that was always practised in old time wrestling as the idea of matches being a work is a relatively new occurrence in the sport, to extend the professional life of the performers, and kayfabe had its place during that transitional period.

But now? In an age of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram? We know that wrestlers aren’t actually their on-screen characters and that the events that play out on our screens are a fiction.

Kayfabe has no place in modern wrestling and should be consigned to the past.

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Vince McMahon

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