Wrestling has been one of the most popular forms of entertainment since it began in ancient times. Initially a spectacle of strength, wrestling experienced a boom in the modern era (particularly the 1980s) that turned it into the massive entertainment industry that it is today.
The foundation of wrestling bodies, such as WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), also spurred the activity into the limelight. Yet, looking back, wrestling evolved in certain areas over the years and has become more than anyone could have predicted it ever would be.
One of the giant evolutions wrestling has undergone is its reach. While it is known that the sport was popular in many ancient cities, it was somewhat pushed to the side as societies evolved.
Initially promoted by Capitol Wrestling Corporation (which later became WWE), wrestling began being advertised as entertainment in the 1950s. For many years it seemed more of a pastime and less like a mainstream sporting or entertainment event. Despite efforts, it seemed this perception was not going to change.
However, in the 1980s, wrestling experienced a massive increase in popularity, commonly referred to as the boom period. From this point on, it quickly spread throughout the US and soon became popular in other countries.
Today, approximately 11 million American fans tune in every week to watch WWE programming—and other wrestling bodies like All Elite Wrestling also attract many fans.
Along with increased popularity, the value of wrestling as an industry also grew. However, this growth was phenomenal compared to just the number of people watching a match.
Again using WWE (easily the largest wrestling body in the world) as an example, the company was initially valued at $172.5 million in 1999 when the company was officially listed and began selling shares publicly.
Today, the brand is valued at an insane $6.55 billion—which isn’t even the highest it has been. Peaking at $7.53 billion in 2019, the brand lost value only because of limited sporting events in 2020 and 2021. Since normal operations have continued, it has again grown spectacularly.
When starting out and even many years into its success, wrestling was a sporting event dominated by males trying to prove they were the best. By contrast, women’s wrestling was not given nearly the same amount of attention or publicity, even though WWE actively tried to promote them.
Soon, women were invited to compete in the coveted WrestleMania event, and other wrestling groups, like WWE competitor Impact Wrestling, pushed for women to compete more over the years. Because of these actions, the industry underwent a massive change.
Today, women wrestling events are widely enjoyed by fans and have become almost as popular as those featuring men. Women in wrestling is a brand dedicated to these divas, as they have affectionately been termed.
Development of Wrestlers
Aside from the scandal that rocked the industry in the early 2000s regarding athletes using steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs to bulk up and train, wrestling lacked proper training facilities. Considering the nature of the sport, this was a massive oversight in the industry.
While schools like WCW (World Championship Wrestling) Power Plant opened in the late 1990s, almost no other professional training facilities existed. And by 2001, even this well-known school had closed down.
In 2013, WWE recognized the need for a dedicated training facility to mentor and train professional wrestlers. It founded the WWE Performance Center to help raise the next generation of wrestlers and beyond.
Training between 60 and 75 athletes at any given time, the school was a massive success and led to better entertainment during matches and safer training standards for wrestlers. By 2019, the training center expanded and now holds a permanent location in London, England.
One of the most significant evolutions of wrestling was its branching out into different industries, from being featured in Hollywood blockbusters to having merchandise like action figures and figurines. Slot Source even lists several slot games themed on the popular sport.
Aside from merchandise that lets fans take home memorabilia featuring their favorite athletes and events, video games are one of the most popular areas the sport has branched into.
Following the first game, WCW Wrestling, released in 1989 on the Nintendo Entertainment System, wrestling has spawned plenty of popular video games year after year. The newest WWE 2K iteration of games, developed by Take-Two Interactive, brings wrestling to life with vivid graphics and incredible gameplay physics.
Starting in 1998, providing glimpses into the workings backstage proved very popular with wrestling fans. To capitalize on this, backstage journalism was injected into the industry that saw constant footage of what happens backstage before the action in the actual arena even begins.
Before this, looking backstage was strictly prohibited, but backstage journalism didn’t just lift the veil between the action before the main event; it also helped turn it into its own form of entertainment.
With fans loving the behind-the-scenes drama and action, many wrestling shows began scripting entertainment that took place in locker rooms and green rooms. What was once snippets of reality morphed quickly into additional entertainment to be enjoyed by the masses.
Over the past few decades, wrestling has enjoyed incredible growth that has rendered it a popular form of entertainment around the world. However, it has also undergone various changes that have changed the landscape of the sport.
From new deals, including games and movies, to the inclusion of women and scripted backstage entertainment, the industry has proven time and time again that it can evolve. And there is no saying when, if ever, this evolution will stop.