Professional wrestling has a lot of fans, but the 750,000 amateur wrestlers in high schools, colleges, and Olympic competitions across the country are probably not among them. These are the real wrestlers, participants in one of the world's oldest and most rigorously demanding sports. Ironically, in the '90s their biggest challenge is wresting the sport's image away from their tacky, big-time cousin. ''It leads to a lot of confusion, especially among young kids and their parents,'' says Gary Abbott, manager of media relations for USA Wrestling, the amateur sport's governing body. ''How many mothers want their kid to go in and get his head smashed against a turnbuckle?''
The difference between amateur and pro wrestling is the difference between sport and entertainment. ''The only thing we have in common with the pros is the word wrestling,'' says Abbott. ''A lot of their themes are played on ethnic differences. That's different from the sport of wrestling, where the only thing in common between two opponents is that they weigh the same. It has nothing to do with race, creed, or religion; it has to do with athletic competition.''
While not as ubiquitous as professional-wrestling videos, the real mat stuff is available for viewing.