Ask ten wrestling fans if wins and losses matter, and you’ll get ten different answers. Ask Brandon Stroud, proliferate wrestling reviewer, and you get this:
That’s something I’ve been trying to figure out for a while. We’ve had a few wrestlers give interviews (onscreen and off) about how wins and losses don’t matter. It makes me mad, usually. Wrestling’s not real, so yeah, of course wins and losses don’t matter in the statistical sense, but they’re the building blocks of your stories. If a guy like Bray Wyatt never wins matches, what’s he doing? Championships exist to give pro wrestling context — these people are employed by a fighting sport organization to compete to see who can be the best at fighting in various divisions and weight classes. At the same time, the thing a lot of people watch wrestling for is the flashy decoration … the soap opera stories and ridiculous bullsh*t that happen in and around the competition. The way WWE pushes work, they can have a guy lose for years, then pluck him out of oblivion with a bunch of wins in a row to make us go, “this guy’s getting a push.” Cesaro can lose for years, and if he starts winning and looks like he has a shot, we’re gonna be all-in on it and forget the losses because we want to see him win. Right? But we don’t actually “forget” the losses. We’re just happy to be past them. So do they matter? SHOULD they?
Stroud has been chipping away at this point for years, and it’s one of those things that no wrestling troupe has ever satisfactorily answered, so there’s lots to play with. There’s a few angles here (and lots to unpack that for time I just can’t get to). Perhaps it might be valuable to ask, to whom might wins and losses in pro wrestling matter?
- The performer? A lot of evidence points to generally no, because the performer has little to no say in it. What they have control over (ideally) is the quality of the match. When you watch WWE documentaries, very little time is spent talking about wins, and a lot more on if a match was great. If they do care, it’s likely more they care about being given good material.
- The Writers/producers? What about the people who decide who wins and loses? Here, wins and losses are likely treated as a plot point. So they matter in the sense of story flow, but I doubt any writer is too concerned with having a character lose on any given show. I have trouble picturing bookers worrying about a character losing too much. It’s safe to assume decisions are a means to an end, to "move the chess pieces" to where they want the characters in the narrative.
- To the companies’ health? Possibly. This is more a question to ask Chris Harrington, or to perhaps figure out with math. Do popular characters winning more help the bottom line? Hogan won most of his matches during his high point, but did Austin?
- The fan? A theory I’ve held for a long time is that wrestling fans will generally cheer for heroes who win and boo villains who lose, but that goes out the window the second a wrestling match becomes really good. Wrestling fans aren’t dumb (they aren’t!). They know this is a choreographed performance, and they’re generally looking for a good choreographed performance. Of course, as Stroud said, wins and losses are building blocks of stories, and satisfying wins trump a cheap, crummy ending. But satisfying losses are equally important (especially in an instance where one performer has to win and one has to lose). But, of course, there are fans who don’t follow week to week. They show up to see characters they like do familiar things. As Stroud points out later in the column:
Like most of the Dudleys’ matches since their return, the result doesn’t matter. It’s just an excuse for a WWE live crowd to see the Dudley Boyz, cheer for their signature moves and yell GET THE TABLES.
This is enough for some people. It isn’t enough for others. But I don’t think there’s actually a canonical answer out there to satisfy even one out of the ten you’d ask.