The Breakdown – Wrestling’s Future Is Doomed By Its Fans
I’ll never let you down, I’m a shine on sight
Keep your mind on your grind, and off mine’s alright? Right
Hard I’m a ball on them squares I float
Quarter million dollar cars everywhere I go
I know in the lead it may seem they might be
But no matter what they doin’, they don’t do it like me
Like a G I hold it down for the town I’m at
And I flash like that
Recognize I’m back!
Professional wrestling has been a staple of popular culture for decades. Like any good industry, it’s seen its fair share of changes, some intentional and some not. When Vince went on Raw and exposed kayfabe, he opened the door for sports entertainment, a collocation of old school pure wrestling and story-driven entertainment. As much as many fans complain about where wrestling has gone, without Vince doing this and leading the industry to it’s highest points, many of us wouldn’t be fans today. However, sometimes an industry can make a change and it’s fans and supporters can be adverse to it. Needless to say, the fans ultimately are the industry; after all, it’s our money and interest that feeds the machine. So, in cases like that, what should that particular industry do?
The first WWE Champion was crowned in 1963. “Nature Boy” Buddy Rodgers won the title after a tournament in Brazil. A month later, the great Bruno Sammartino won it from him, and went on to hold the title for 8 years. Wrestling was in a different time back then. The spectacle was purely in the ring. The athleticism and pure hooking ability of most wrestlers was what fans paid to see, opposed to the flash and verbal ability of stars now.
In 1963, the biggest sports in the United States were baseball and boxing. The World Series champions in baseball were the Los Angeles Dodgers, and stars like Sandy Koufax, Pete Rose, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Carl Yastrzemski were the marquee names in the sport. In boxing, Sonny Liston was the World Heavyweight Champion, nearing his showdown with Muhammad Ali just a year later. While the sports were king of this country in that time, fast forward 50 years later to 2013, and baseball and boxing are nowhere near as popular as they were back then.
The issues with baseball and boxing now can be attributed to one core issue: an unwillingness to adhere to necessary change. In baseball, the “powers that be” had refused to use the technology afforded to them to help the sport grow. Also, their rampant allowance of performance enhancing drug use came back to haunt the sport when Congress and the US Government got involved. Regarding boxing, a dearth of heavyweight fighters and too many governing bodies, promoters, and championships led to the decline of the sport. In both cases, changes could’ve been made at a much earlier time, and both sports could have possibly kept most of their momentum and popularity. Yet, in both cases fans played into the sports’ unwillingness to change. This is what worries me about wrestling in 2013.
If you read my columns, you guys know that I tend to be more positive than most. I see things from a glass half full perspective, and support the WWE and TNA (sometimes) as much as I can. I firmly believe that the fans are a huge part of the decline of wrestling. A good portion of fans pirate feeds of pay-per-views, chant what they want at shows, and complain about any and everything without taking into consideration all determining factors. But much like boxing and baseball, wrestling fans are adverse to change in key issues.
First off, wrestling fans need to understand that there can be more than one or two main event talents. John Cena and Randy Orton may be in a feud over who’s the face of the WWE, but CM Punk and Daniel Bryan are still main event talents. In this current landscape of wrestling, the main event encompasses a group of wrestlers. In TNA, AJ Styles may be the (nomadic) champion, but Bully Ray, Magnus, Kurt Angle, Jeff Hardy, and Bobby Roode are all in the main event scene. Some fans would argue that Sting, Samoa Joe, and Austin Aries are there as well. With so much wrestling content available on a regular basis, there is a definite need for numerous wrestlers to be called on to lead the company at any given time. Here’s proof of that point. From the beginning of this year, CM Punk, The Rock, John Cena, Daniel Bryan, and Randy Orton all have been the focal point of the company at their given times. While each wrestler was in their apex position, the other four were still in prominent feuds and positions as well. Just like at WrestleMania, there is legitimately more than one main event.
Another issue that WWE has adapted to fix is the blurring of the heel VS face dynamic. Face facts guys; we fans think we’re smarter than the actual people who work for the wrestling companies that we love. We write posts and columns about things like workrate, movesets, and who’s being buried. WWE realized this and adapted. John Cena is rightfully the top dog in the WWE. Whether you like him or not, he’s the consummate face of a company, he has a tireless work ethic, he has an unmatched passion for his job and the company, and he’s a damn good wrestler (yes, John Cena is a damn good wrestler!). Yet, fans consistently boo him because their tired of him. Okay then. WWE books him in situations regardless of his standing. They have pushed the idea of letting the fans decide who they like and letting each wrestler be their own character. The Shield has been a true heel unit since their debut, but you’d never tell due to the excitement that takes over the arena when their music hits. Fandango has his theme song literally sung out loud by the crowd. Daniel Bryan’s YES chant started when he was fully entrenched in his heel run as World Heavyweight Champion. It’s about time fans realized this and accepted it. There’s too much talk online about who’s a heel and who’s a face. WWE has their “entertainers,” and that’s exactly what it should be. Hell, it’s what we made it.
Because the WWE is rebranding themselves as a true entertainment company, whether we like it or not, entertainment matters. We need to realize as fans that any good company or industry will never cater to its core fans. They already have you, so it’s their job to get more people like you. For years, wrestling was shunned by the mainstream world. Now, John Cena is on Capri Sun cases, Fruity Pebbles boxes, K-Mart shelves, and hosting ESPN’s Sports Nation. This couldn’t and wouldn’t have happened 15-20 years ago. Yes, WWE was allowed to do more adult oriented shows like Saturday Night Live, but now they’ve broken into a bigger, more mainstream and marketable world. That’s why Total Divas might just be the most important show WWE currently produces. There are a growing number of women and people who watch reality TV and the E! Network that only care about wrestling because of that show. In fact, that’s the first time on a regular, consistent basis that the business has been exposed. But all we see as fans is that it’s new and not how it used to be 20 years ago. Things like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube weren’t around 20 years ago, and now, they’re legitimately how the world is run. How many of you get your news on Twitter, only keep up with friends and family on Facebook, and watch the majority of your viewing on YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu? You have to adapt to a changing world.
Most importantly, fans need to acquiesce to the fact that winning isn’t the most important thing all the time. This is something that we as fans used to know, but because our particular favorite isn’t being pushed, we forget this. Crowd involvement and how a wrestler maximizes their screen time is the most imperative thing, more so than how they may be booked or how much they win. Chris Jericho has said numerous times that he can lose every match for a year, and then the next night, credibly win the World Title. That’s because of how he carries himself and his crowd interaction. We forget that the basis of wrestling is predicated on one person (preferably a heel) getting over on the other (preferably a face) for so long until the crowd is insisting for their comeuppance. I can think of at least five wrestlers off the top of my head who weren’t pushed to where wrestlers wanted them to go at the time they wanted them to be pushed (Owen Hart, Jeff Hardy, MVP, Bobby Roode, CM Punk). With the exception of MVP (currently not wrestling in a major company) the other four all became major focal points of their company.
This is the part where most fans will scream “Daniel Bryan!” Daniel Bryan’s story is not finished, my friends. Most of you see the Bryan story in that he was screwed out of the title numerous times and never got a chance to avenge his losses. I see the story in that he won the WWE Championship twice, beat everybody he faced legitimately, and only lost due to interference, and knocked out Triple H and made Shawn Michaels tap out. If you suspend your disbelief and just be a fan instead of a pundit, wrestling will be so much more enjoyable.
Because we invest so much into the product, we have a right to demand the best out of our wrestling companies. However, they deserve our best too. And not just when we feel like giving it to them, because we all complain incessantly when we feel that their doing that very same thing. Clamoring for days in the past only hinders the current product from its growth. Disparaging current era wrestlers and comparing them to past superstars only makes the current guys’ job that much harder. In an era where wresters wrestle more dates than ever, under more scrutiny than ever, with less transparency than ever, the least we as fans can do is just support them. That is, after all, our job.