Hey Rasslin’ fans, well, they did it, didn’t they? The WWE pushed all in and showed their hand revealing what everyone else at the table had suspected for a long time: They’ve been sitting on (what they hope is) a Royal Flush. (Not to be confused with what you call it when Jerry Lawler pulls down the strap in the locker room bathroom) I’m talkin’ about their long-anticipated plans for the vaunted WWE Network – announced last week with all the typical pyro and ballyhoo we’ve come to expect from Vince and co.
Now let me be honest right up front, I’m not going to pretend like I know how this is going to turn out for the McMahons. You won’t find a prognostication for success or failure in this column, nor will I waste your time trying to predict subscription numbers and the effect they’ll have on the future of the pay-per-view business. I’ll leave that to the Meltzers and the Kellers and the terrified Direct TV executives of the world… ‘cause honestly, I’m about as reliable a media analyst as I am an Iron Chef. What you will find in this essay is my honest reaction to what the WWE Network announcement means to me: A die-hard, passionate, lifer of a wrestling fan. You know, the kind who breaks out into full Batista music and entrance at the gym when “I Walk Alone” shuffles onto his iPod?
So here goes: Call me a curmudgeon and tell me I’m living in the past all you want but as I watched the WWE’s grandiose Power Point presentation from CES – complete with charts, graphs, corporate suits speaking in analytics, and more DX shtick than you can shake a neon green glowstick at… all I could think was, “This is the end.”
Pessimistic view, sure. Am I a hater? Not at all. Let me explain. When I was a kid and the seeds of my super-fandom had just begun to sprout, the only wrestling I had access to was WWF “Superstars” and “Challenge” on Saturday mornings, NWA Worldwide on Saturday afternoons, and the 5-star matches I used to put on between my Big John Studd and Ted Arcidi LJN action figures. (The Arcidi doll was dope because his arms were situated in such a way that you could recreate all the best moves and he kinda looked like Steiner Brother so you could stage all sorts of invasion angles in your bedroom) Besides that, you had wrestling magazines. Man, I used to beg my dad to take me to the old Keystone News Agency shop in Bensalem, PA where I’d grab the latest issues of PWI, Inside Wrestling, Wrestling All Stars and my favorite, Wrestling Eye magazine. Holy sh*t did the Eye have the best covers. One week it was a bloody Abdullah the Butcher wielding a fork, the next week it’d be Kevin Sullivan with his blacked out eyes and a dog collar around his valet, the “Fallen Angel” (aka Woman, aka the late Nancy Benoit) I was captivated by these grizzly figures eventhough I never actually saw any of them wrestle!!! All I had to go on were the glossy, gory magazine covers and centerfolds and where the outer reaches of my mind could take me – apologies to Damien Demento.
The point I’m trying to make is how crucial a role “mystique” played in my wrestling origin story. Wrestlers had backstories. They had lore. They had unconfirmed tall tales about their misdeeds in far away lands. For crying out loud, Ox Baker once killed a man in the ring with his dreaded “heart punch”!!! Did you hear????? – Ok, look, I know those days are long dead and buried, and they were pushing up daisies long before the announcement of the WWE Network. What I’m saying is, as I watched the McMahons roll out their plan for a total and complete a la carte wrestling viewing experience (aka world domination), I couldn’t help but see it as the final nail in the coffin for the pro wrestling of my youth. Look at it this way. It’s like if one day all your favorite restaurants closed down and your town opened one, giant, communal casino buffet that serves all your favorite dishes from all of those restaurants, ALL THE TIME. It sounds amazing, right? So amazing that the second the doors opened, there’s no doubt you’d be first in line to gorge yourself on all the wings and pizza and General Tso’s chicken you could shove down your throat. Problem is after about a week, or maybe a month… besides the “itis” setting in, you’d start missing the wonderment that went along with how you used to dine. How you used to follow word of mouth to a new restaurant. How you’d sit at work all day sometimes dreaming about that chicken parm sandwich three towns over. You’d miss reading a review of a new burger joint in the New York Times and promising yourself next time you’re in the big city, you’re gonna try that patty! Bottom line: You’d miss discovering all your favorite foods on your own.
My belabored point is, half the fun of being a wrestling fan is and has always been the discovery process. Look, everything all at once sounds fantastic. It sounds too good to be true. It sounds like a bona-fide game-changer. But like anything in excess, there’s always a hefty downside. With the advent of the Network, that time-honored process of wrestling discovery has been widdled down to a single click.
As a result, there’s no longer anywhere for the mystique and lore of a wrestler’s character to prosper because all the answers, all the proof, all the footage will now be instantly available to us in one, nice, neat organized 24/7 buffet. Don’t get me wrong, that’s an amazing thing – that swath of access. What I’m saying is, a new wrestling fan will no longer have to wrack his brain imagining what the impact of Ryback’s concussive clothesline on Ziggler must’ve looked like ‘cause that fan will have already watched the match a million times on the bus ride home from soccer practice. A happy accident like that on a show barely anyone saw should’ve done for Ryback what tales of the dreaded “heart punch” did for Ox Baker 30 years ago. It should have created a must-see mystique around the Ryback character in the imaginations of every fan in the WWE Universe. Instead, now it’ll just be another piece of content on the WWE Network.
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About Andrew Goldstein: Andrew is a former WWE creative writer who is now a morning TV producer and comedy writer.