Goldstein On Rasslin – Why WWE Network Is The Final Nail In The Coffin For Wrestling Of Our Youth

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.

Post your thoughts, opinions, feedback and comments below.

About Andrew Goldstein: Andrew is a former WWE creative writer who is now a morning TV producer and comedy writer.

  • Scott

    While I get where you’re coming from, at the same time I wonder why you can’t go to an Indy show three towns over at the local VFW? They exist, and tge $10 bucks a month will not cut that much into the discretionary budget. If anything, I’m thinking about canceling my Cable subscription now.

  • Pat

    The Lore of pro wrestling as you describe was mostly in the 80s and 90s. When there was only a few PPV events a year that was a lore but ever since WCW and the attitude era ended wrestling has been just total garbage and I dont give 2 shits about any of the wrestlers, the storylines, the skanks who call themselves divas, the terrible PPVs that come out every month, or these horrible episodes of raw and smackdown. I only read about Raw and smackdown on PWTorch then I can fast forward through 90% of the crappy matches and commercials. I read about the PPVs and wont even bother to download them for free because I just dont give a rats ass about it after I read what happens. The good thing about this WWE network is I can watch the old 80s and 90s stuff and not have to care about this current trash they show week after week now. The one thing that worries me is if the network will crash or not from all the viewers. They say its only 10 bucks a month now but who knows how long that will last before they double the price. Nobody gives a flying fuck about mystique or lore of Pro wrestling, we mostly watch it because its there and then we say how much it sucked and forget completely about it till next week. The only reason many people watch wrestling is so they can say how bad it is. TNA is so bad I gave up on that a long time ago and they should just close down. Most of the stuff on the WWE network will just be replays of garbage that nobody cares about.

  • Aaron Wrotkowski

    Does the Internet not provide some of that lore today?

  • NyuBomber

    I get where you’re coming from, but your sights are on the wrong target. The “mystique” has long been dead and buried since the Internet matured into a information-churning machine in the late 90s/2000s. Ryback’s clothesline concussing Ziggler would’ve turned into a dirtsheet report and tossed aside just as easily in 2001 as it will be in 2014, with or without a looming Network.

  • samwich

    Fantastic piece. Couldn’t agree more. Even at my age (A University Student) it seems like this Network is a great idea, to relieve all those moments (instead of looking them up on YouTube) all in HD. I’m not really a live watcher, I haven’t been for years now. But it upsets me to see shows like Smackdown, Main Event, Superstars etc.. They don’t need all those shows. Hell, i’d be happy with Raw and NXT. All these side shows (although Total Divas is great, Nikki Bella and Nattie, wahoooo) are just not needed, and now this legends reality show? I don’t know what to make of it. What is my opinion of all this you ask? … None of this, and i mean none of this, compares to Prince Devitt’s carnage attire at Wrestle Kingdom 8. Touche.

  • David Garcia

    I agree with your sentiment, but I don’t know that maybe your fear has already happened and theoretically, WWE Network could be a remedy.

    What I remember about my childhood was being introduced to wrestling by WWE and Hulk Hogan, then the British Bulldogs, JYD, Tito Santana, and Paul Orndorff made me love individual wrestlers. Then after awhile, my interest dropped off, until I discovered JCP and the more mature and realistic Magnum TA, Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes. This made me love wrestling and I started buying PWI, where I read about more guys. Then I found the old reruns of World Class and then the AWA and then the UWF. I was even lucky enough to have a video store owned by a wrestling fan who stocked All Japan releases.

    What WWE did long ago was kill this variety, where a fans taste could not change or mature, rather it had to remain stagnant. However, JR mentioned something on Jim Cornette’s podcast that makes me think HHH knows that WWE needs to recreate the dynamic variety of our youth for kids today. JR said that HHH has long lobbied to recreate the territory system, where it is set up like OVW back in JR/Cornette’s day, where the creative/production is independent, with talent sent to gain experience. JR said the Network was necessary because HHH wants these territories to run towns off of TV in their region.

    Now if HHH is allowed to have this baby and runs it as JR laid out, then I think the discovery process of which you speak is reborn and potentially there is a variety. Maybe a kid loves the WWE, but then he decides he loves spot guys, so he watches the New England territory. Later he likes a more gritty, realistic, mature wrestling, so he watches the Southern territory, etc, etc. And in the process, more well-rounded, diverse, and experienced talent is created, talent WWE can cherry-pick…just like they did back in the day.

  • Kyle

    YouTube was WWE Network before there was a WWE Network. The death of our childhood wrestling “lore” died with the Internet.

  • The Doctor

    What is the difference between watching WWE on YouTube 24/7 and watching it on The Network? You get more quality with the network and you have been doing this for years already.

  • bengalsmarvel

    I understand your point but i also hate ahving to go to ebay to try and find old PPV tapes and DVDs and having them cost 40 to 60 bucks and sometimes higher i cant wait to watch the old matches in HD

  • Craig Eyles

    My thoughts? The Internet dirt sheet (leaks I call it) has ruin wrestling. I never read them anymore since last years Royal Rumble, where a “sheet” ruined the 2 main results.
    I too used to buy the mags. We, too, only had WWE (WWF) as our weekly staple. The mags provided a real mystery about the other organisations. Remember the Top 500 days?
    I say to my 10 year old about the days of the Stone Colds, Jake Roberts, Undertaker. I’m also thankful that the attitude era ended so my kid can watch wrestling.
    imho, wrestling is now shoved down our throats. Remember “Superstars” weekly & 4 PPVs (we had them actually televised BEFORE fast track came in, week later).
    Another query: $10 p/mth vs $50 (in the US) for each PPV? How will Vince make money? On your data usage with the change to the laws coinciding with the release.
    I’m avoiding it like the plague.