Don't believe that there's a mash-up of entertainment and amateur wrestling?
OK, what was the biggest story to come out of last Saturday night’s dual meet between top-ranked Penn State and No. 3 Iowa in Iowa City?
No, it wasn’t that the Nittany Lions won seven out of ten matches on the way to a 24-12 victory.
Nor was it that Penn State got its first win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena since 2006… or that Iowa’s loss ended their 13-dual home winning streak.
Nope, it has nothing to do with the fact the PSU-Iowa dual was arranged on Twitter by head coaches Cael Sanderson and Tom Brands.
Since last weekend, the entertainment media has been all over this story nonstop, speculating on why a hot young Hollywood couple would be spending their Saturday night at a college wrestling event far from L.A. or New York. (A number of Hollywood reports have pointed out accurately that Kutcher, who grew up in the Cedar Rapids area, wrestled in high school… and that he attended University of Iowa as a student until he was discovered by an agent who thought he could be a model or an actor.)
It’s not normal for E! or Entertainment Tonight to report on a college wrestling dual meet. That said, even the sports media wasn’t immune from noting the presence of Kutch and Kunis at the PSU-Iowa dual. The Big Ten Network showed the couple (seated next to another couple, Kathy and Dan Gable) during its telecast… and College Wrestling Examiner mentioned the actors in attendance in its recap of the meet.
Kutcher-Kunis isn’t the first example of the intersection of entertainment and wrestling this year. All year long, the wrestling community has been eagerly anticipating the movie Foxcatcher about wrestling brothers Mark and Dave Schultz. The Hollywood Reporter and Variety (among others) have been writing about wrestling in the form of a movie with big-name actors (Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Steve Carell, Vanessa Redgrave) and a big-time director (Bennett Miller) that had heavyweight advance Oscar buzz until Foxcatcher’s original Dec. 20 release date was delayed indefinitely, knocking it out of Academy Award contention for 2014.
And, yes, College Wrestling Examiner has been reporting on Foxcatcher developments, arguably a Hollywood entertainment story that wrestling readers can’t get enough of, based on readership numbers.
A more entertaining Olympics
The entertainment factor has been an important element in actually shaping the action on the mat, as well. This was evidenced as FILA, the international governing body for amateur wrestling, in its efforts to restore the sport to the Olympics after the International Olympic Committee had eliminated wrestling after the 2016 Games. In the months that wrestling was out of the Olympics, FILA floated ideas to make the sport more appealing to TV viewers, going so far as to propose Greco-Roman wrestlers abandon singlets for a shorts/no shirt look. (New FILA president Nenad Lalovic was quoted in a Swedish newspaper: “We propose that wrestlers in Greco-Roman style should be shirtless. We think it will be more interesting and better for the spectators.”)
In the end, FILA modified rules and revised weight classes -- but did not change the uniform for Greco grapplers -- while the IOC reversed itself in September, putting freestyle and Greco back on the roster for the 2020 and 2024 Olympics.
Entertaining new paid wrestling ventures
What’s more, entertainment considerations were arguably a factor in the launch of a number of new wrestling ventures such as Agon Wrestling, Association of Career Wrestlers (Tour ACW) and Victory Wrestling Challenge that offered wrestlers an opportunity to continue in the sport they love, and make money doing it. All three of these ventures implemented rules designed to make the action more entertaining for diehard wrestling mavens as well as general sports fans… along with varying degrees of promotional showmanship, including some elements which seemed to be straight out of big-time mixed martial arts events.
As for WWE… the powerful pro wrestling organization announced the signing of Chas Betts, 2012 U.S. Greco-Roman Wrestler of the Year after competing at the London Olympics, to a developmental contract in November, fulfilling his long-time dream of going pro.
Wrestling purists may cringe at how Hollywood, MMA and WWE may be having an impact on their sport. However, if all this coverage can generate positive publicity for the oldest and greatest sport – and help preserve and grow wrestling at all levels, including in college and at the Olympics – then the collision of entertainment and wrestling is a good thing.
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