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I wanted to take a realistic approach to pro wrestling when it came to world-building. If you are not a fan of pro wrestling, I would tell you that pro wrestling is an insane concept when taken seriously. You have guys hitting each other with weapons and bare fists. There are crazy gimmick-based matches like the steel cages match or a ladder match. Matches can be interruptedd by other wrestlers that are not even involved in the matches.

Pro wrestling is like a modern-day version of pankration.

In my world, I wanted to use pro wrestling as an analogy to real-world MMA. When MMA first came on the scene, society didn't accept it at first. Some people even compared MMA to cockfighting, and said MMA was the human equivalent to human cockfighting. Now replace MMA with an even more violent sport like pankration. How seriously would that sport be taken in modern society?

Pro wrestling and pankration are like illegal underground fights with a boxing/MMA aesthetic/theme. A hybrid sport that is also televised live for millions to see. By televised I mean pro wrestling takes place in front of a kayfabe (wrestling term) crowd. Pankration took place in front of a Greek crowd. In the modern-day, this hybrid combat sport would be live on TV, including PPVs, too.

What should a writer consider when taking the worldbuilding aspects of combat sports like pro wrestling and pankration seriously?

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    This reminds me of "The National Pastrime" by Norman Spinrad, in which a variation of US-style football, called "Combat Football" is introduced, in which players do not wear protective gear, and may punch or kick the ball-carrier. Eventually the police refuse protection to anyone in the stadia, and games are scored 3 ways: by points, by injuries to fans, and by deaths of fans. This was satire, but IMO it worked as such. See the link for publications. Jun 8 at 21:22
  • Your question is basically asking for help crafting the ideas of your book's world. It's not really about the craft of writing. see writing.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic
    – levininja
    Jun 14 at 2:42

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#1 aspect is athlete's injury. This is why martial arts like pankration and other "no holds barred" contests are relegated to underground in modern world. Pro wrestling exists because it has its own way of addressing the risk of athlete's injury.

Either your sport has to have a way to lower the risk of injury, or your society have an unrestricted appetite for such injury.

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What Story Are you Telling?

[Something] enables brutal combat sports to go mainstream. What is that something? Some examples could be:

  • Desperate people do desperate things
  • Charismatic entrepreneur sees an opportunity
  • Corporate greed unleashed

You need to know the driving force behind your story, because it's going to be intimately involved in the two key changes listed below.

Key Changes

A pankration style no-holds-barred Combat Sport (especially one that involves ad-hoc weapons) is going to kill people. The original pankration regularly maimed and killed participants. You'll need to explain why:

  1. Athletes are willing to compete to the death
  2. Broad parts of Society are interested in watching

Worldbuilding

If the story will revolve around "Desperate People do Desperate Things" then it could take a "Squid Games" approach to worldbuilding. Crushing debt drives poor people to fight to the death to have their obligations forgiven. Society needs a distraction from the daily grind of of wage-slavery, and embraces the drama of people slightly worse off then themselves literally fighting to the death over scraps.

If you are more interesting in a Charismatic Entrepreneur "disrupting" the sporting industry, then the worldbuilding is completely different. Instead of concentrating on debt, you need to concentrate on communications. How does the "prophet" reach their faithful? How do they inspire the fighters and convert society? What are the unintended consequences? (like: faithful violently defending their leader, copy-cats using the same arguments to mainstream other fringe activities, etc.)

The worldbuilding needs to flow from the focus of your story, and the focus needs to explain why fighters are willing to risk their lives and what enabled the sport to go mainstream.

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