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So, can we stop calling pro wrestling 'sports entertainment' now?

Katie Notopoulos   

So, can we stop calling pro wrestling 'sports entertainment' now?
  • For years, the WWE has called itself "sports entertainment" instead of pro wrestling.
  • But on Sunday night's Wrestlemania 40 with John Cena and The Rock, the ancient phrase was uttered.

Sunday night's Wrestlemania 40 was full of surprises — most notably a shock appearance from The Undertaker, who wordlessly chokeslammed The Rock.

But to the ears of those who have followed the WWE's business closely for years, there was one big surprise uttered by the announcer Michael Cole: "Dammit, I love pro wrestling!"

Since the early 2000s, back even when World Wrestling Entertainment was still called WWF, the company has carefully referred to its scripted grappling as "sports entertainment" rather than "professional wrestling." Use of the term was so mandated that The Rock's autobiography, published in 2000, was titled after the tagline he gave himself: "The Rock Says: The most electrifying man in sports entertainment."

The WWE isn't alone here Many companies use specific jargony phrases to refer to their products in an ambiguous, sometimes legally-mandated way — think Velveta's "pasteurized recipe cheese product."

Using the term "sports entertainment" eschews any confusion that you're watching real sports or true competition — the kind of stuff that might be regulated for things like steroids or fairness. It also signaled the broader ambitions of the WWE to get into reality television or the XFL.

The WWE just signed a $5 billion deal with Netflix to bring its live show "Raw" to the streaming giant over 10 years. The company is facing significant internal change, with Vince McMahon stepping away from the company he ran for decades after facing serious sexual misconduct allegations, which he has denied.

Now, it seems that the verboten phrase — "pro wrestling" — is back as part of a series of changes made after McMahon left the company. Wrestling blogs and podcasters who follow the broadcasts closely noticed the subtle shift in terminology.

A source familiar with internal policies at WWE told Business Insider that use of the term "pro wrestling" has been relaxed in the past year.

In perhaps a poetic move (the WWE is not known for subtlety, so I feel licensed to interpret this as an overt metaphor), during Wrestlemania 40's big match, John Cena and The Rock came out and did a few moves on each other.

But after The Rock knocked Cena out of the ring, the biggest cheers from the audience came at the ominous "DONG," signaling the entrance music of The Undertaker.

Cena and The Rock are the WWE's biggest mainstream successes, true Hollywood A-listers, but The Undertaker never had much of a career outside wrestling. For the moment, pro wrestling did indeed win out over sports entertainment.

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