Everyone now knows professional wrestling is a staged entertainment event – but this wasn’t always the case. In fact it only become truly public knowledge in 1989 when owner of the then World Wrestling Federation (WWF) Vince McMahon testified in Kansas State Senate in order to avoid paying tax on certain shows.
Before this, while it was probably apparent to audiences, nothing had been revealed to anyone outside the professional wrestling industry. Instead a system known as “kayfabe” kept the truth secret.
The term itself dates back to the travelling carnivals in the United States. The actual meaning of the word is up for debate, with some arguing that there was a mute professional wrestler named Kay Faybian whose name was bastardised into Kayfabe, as in “keeping silent like Kay Faybian”. A more likely explanation is that it comes from “pig Latin” for fake, which would be “ke-fa”.
The term is still popular in the industry. So important was it for the business to maintain kayfabe that some promoters banned certain wrestlers from fraternising in public. If one wrestler was a good character (a face), then to see them being friends with a bad character (a heel) would make the public less keen to see them fight.
Within the fake industry there are occasionally actually real fights, which subvert the true-fake divide. These are called “shoots”, which also derives from carnival slang – “straight shooting” as in telling the truth. So you have a real fight happening in what was meant to be a faked environment, which is pretending to be real.
Beyond this you start to get into the “faked shoot”, but that way madness lies.