One is considered a sport, the other scripted entertainment.
But an effort to regulate mixed martial arts competitions in ConneCTicut has some state lawmakers wondering why they are not also requiring more oversight of professional wrestling, an industry dominated for years by Stamford-based World Wrestling Entertainment.
Members last week passed a bill authorizing the Department of Public Safety, which oversees boxing, to adopt rules for conduct, safety and license revocation of mixed martial arts events. The form of unarmed combat involving jiu-jitsu, karate, boxing, kickboxing and wrestling is allowed only at the two sovereign Indian casinos.
Marc Ratner, a vice president with Las Vegas-based Ultimate Fighting Championship, in testimony submitted to the committee said the organization wants to establish mixed martial arts as a legitimate and sanctioned sport. Forty-four states allow UFC matches.
"UFC has always embraced the motto of running toward regulation," Ratner wrote.
WWE owners Vince and Linda McMahon, on the other hand, in the 1980s successfully convinced states, including Connecticut, to deregulate professional wrestling, arguing the staged matches should not be treated the same as sporting events.
But Sen. Eileen Daily, D-Westbrook, a vice chairman of the Legislature's Public Safety and Security Committee, said she and others are not convinced that mixed martial arts and professional wrestling are "apples and oranges."
"It does involve potential serious harm to peoples' bodies, and they've talked about the brain damage later in life," Daily, who voted for the mixed martial arts bill, said of professional wrestling.
Democrats used the McMahons' efforts to deregulate professional wrestling against Linda McMahon when she was the Repubican nominee for U.S. Senate last year. Democratic opponent Richard Blumenthal portrayed McMahon, who is considering another run in 2012, as a heartless executive whose policies, including classifying WWE talent as independent contractors, contributed to steroid and painkiller abuse among talent and the premature deaths of some wrestlers.
Dave Meltzer, editor of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, and Jamie Penick, editor of the online MMA Torch, said professional wrestling takes a greater toll on the body.
"You perform more often," Meltzer said. "A single mixed martial arts match is more dangerous than a single WWE match, but a career in WWE is almost surely more dangerous in the long term. The idea because one is real and one isn't real it is safer and shouldn't be regulated is a fallacy in my mind."
Pro wrestling author and blogger Irvin Muchnick, who covered the 2010 Senate race, said WWE and UFC compete for a similar audience and talent.
"There's been a lot of crossover. The biggest pay-per-view star of mixed martial arts is a former WWE guy named Brock Lesnar," Muchnick said. "A lot of guys have done both."
WWE declined to comment for this story. But Vince McMahon in an interview last summer told Hearst Connecticut Media, "There's nothing that any state could require that we don't ... We care about our performers and fans a whole lot more than any state or federal government."
Mike Benoit, father of late WWE-superstar Chris Benoit, who visited Connecticut at Blumenthal's request and lambasted WWE's treatment of its talent, was surprised to learn state legislators during the 2011 session had not already submitted bills to regulate professional wrestling.
"That's a mandate of government -- to protect workers -- isn't it?" Benoit said by phone from Canada.
Rep. Matthew Lesser, D-Middletown, who submitted the mixed martial arts Legislation, said there may be valid reasons to also look at pro wrestling, but he is focused on the former.
"We're trying to bring mixed martial arts to Connecticut ... creating economic activity, revenue," Lesser said. "The WWE's already as much in Connecticut as it possibly can be. And for whatever reason, WWE doesn't feel like they need to be regulated."