I used to be a big wrestling fan. I was on vacation with my parents and my dad was watching wrestling on the hotel television. I thought it was like boxing, two guys go in, fight for a while, and that was it. I wasn’t interested. Then I saw Hulk Hogan get betrayed by “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Ordorff and realized “hey, they actually have stories going on and there are characters and stuff and good guys and bad guys”. Of course I thought the wrestling part was real back then; they wouldn’t come clean for a decade. But the fact that they added stories to make it more interesting got my attention. That belt up there is part of a series I made myself, and I still have them all, except for one I gave to a friend. (This is the only one still blank because I never did anything with it.)
Somewhere around the time of the WWF’s “new attitude” and the change to “WWE”, I started losing interest with the organization and drifted more towards WCW. I would drop that long before the buyout. Wrestling just wasn’t as fun for me anymore.
Why am I bringing this up? You may have heard that the WWE isn’t doing as well as they had hoped to the point where Vince McMahon may no longer be a billionaire anymore. My Reviewers Unknown colleague Rowdy C. Moore wrote an opinion piece for Yahoo Voices (which sadly no longer exists) going over why he thought the stock dropped as much as he did, but he’s focusing a lot on behind the scenes stuff, which is probably the biggest part of it. Speaking for myself, however, I know why I faded away from wrestling and why I haven’t really been inclined to go back.
“Who do I root for?”
This is the big problem I had with pro wrestling. It went in a direction that I just didn’t care for. The colorful characters were going away. Or at least the Elvis impersonators, life-size superheroes, and Mad Max ripoffs were being replaced by porn stars, pimps, and some guy who inhaled himself while trying to kiss other male wrestlers despite a hot girl by his side. I could adjust…if I knew who the good guys were.
See, in wrestling you have two sides, the hero, or babyface (sometimes just “face”) and the bad guy, or heel (sometimes words I don’t use on this site). It’s this good versus evil that intrigued me, although which side they were on was based mostly on audience reaction or where the wrestler wanted to try for a while. (Some wrestlers, like Ric Flair, changed sides so often you could get whiplash.) The face doesn’t cheat, doesn’t use weapons unless it’s a no-disqualification match, and wants to win based on his own skills. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin up there changed that. He was still the same foul-mouthed barfighter he was as a villain but because he was fighting the “evil” McMahon (I’ll get to that later) he became the people’s hero or something, the guy who did what the proverbial “we” wanted to do to our bosses. (I actually had a decent boss at the time.)
He would also break out the chairs, two-by-fours, and other weapons, push referees around, and throw up the middle finger. He was the bad boy wrestler and he had fans, fine. It’s when all the faces started to slowly bend or break rules as much as the heel that I started having trouble telling them apart. It’s like now the only difference is how well they get along with the fans. Bret “Hit Man” Hart was wrestling clean but fans booed him for coming down on the new hardcore style of wrestling. The WWE was trying to replicate Extreme Championship Wrestling…which wasn’t what I wanted to see in wrestling. Again, if people like that fine. I’ve tried to not join the “everything for meeeeeeeeeeeeeee” crowd by demanding darkness and violence go away. I’ve only advocated that what I like not be turned dark with nothing to replace it, and that goes for wrestling as well. And I haven’t seen a lot of difference the few times I peek at it while my dad is watching it.
The Villains Running The Company
It started with the nWo, the New World Order of World Championship Wrestling. Now the top two current surviving organizations, the WWE and TNA (which sounds like the new GLOW–speaking of things I’m getting to) both have had or currently has the management out to screw over certain wrestlers and practically promote the heels because now they’re tow the company line. When Eric Bischoff joined the nWo it took the storyline to an interesting place but it went on too long. The WWF copied it, however, with the McMahon/Austin feud and the WWE continues it today with the McMahon family, including Hunter Hemsley, working to push away anyone they don’t like. Since they’re in charge they can push the wrestlers any way they want to the point where you have to wonder why they’d work there? Contract, I guess, and maybe they want, say, Daniel Bryan to violate his contract so they don’t have to give him a severance package and sue him since they hate him.
And yet the fans love him and actually got mad when Bryan was screwed over not only in story but they felt out of story as well when Batiasta was given the title shot instead of Bryan by winning the Royal Rumble. In story, Hemsley doesn’t think Bryan is the right choice for the face (in this case referring to the face of the company rather than the hero character) of WWE. Again, why would you go to a company you know is going to screw you over? (Insert DC Comics joke here.) It doesn’t work nearly as well as the nWo story and that went on too long as well. You’d think the higher-ups would put them in their place but they obviously don’t care. (Insert Warner Brothers joke here.) In the case of WWE, though the McMahons ARE the higher-ups. I’d quit as soon as I could.
The stories have left the ring
While you had your heated rivalries and personal vendettas the storylines in wrestling used to be about one thing, the belts! Everyone wanted to be champion and to get the title shot you have to beat the next person in line ahead of you. That was pretty much it. That made the heated rivalries taken to the point where a steel cage or falls count anywhere match special because they were rare and thus more exciting. Now it seems like it’s all about the heated rivalries. The titles have become less important that making some other guy pay for a wrong done to them. So they all turn vicious, matches get interrupted and if that’s all it was that would be bad enough.
The biggest problem, and my Twitter feed (I follow a number of people who happen to be wrestling fans and live-tweet comments on Raw or TNA Impact or the current pay-per-view event) complains about it as well, is that most of this takes place outside of the ring. There have been complaints that a show will have only a couple matches if that while all the real action takes place in the locker rooms, hallways, and parking areas of the arena. Whether it’s the McMahon crew or the Shield ambushing each other or guys being kidnapped by ninjas and committing other crimes so bad the wrestling contract shouldn’t be protecting them from legal retribution, most of this stuff doesn’t take place in the ring unless it’s a PPV and I’ve heard of one or two to those where a storyline that used to be ended at these events were actually extended with indecisive victories if they even had that. The sign says wrestling. Let’s not take the idea that wrestling is soap operas for men and take the wrestling out. The fact that the subject of wrestling is even worth discussing on a STORYTELLING CRITIQUE SITE like this one should tell you something.
Now I need to add a few disclaimers to this one in addition to the fact that I don’t watch a lot of wrestling these days. The big one that I know will be thrown at me is that the only division more poorly treated that women’s wrestling in even smaller promotions is midget (or whatever they call it now) wrestling. I’m also not saying that the WWE is turning their ladies division into GLOW (anybody remember Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling?), although some of those GLOW wrestlers actually could have made it in a decent ladies wrestling match if they wanted to. I hope they at least had fun doing what they did.
However, you’d think McMahon could take the progressive step and not have the ladies wrestling in mud or where one lady wrestler was trying to get another to sleep with her…actually that might be lower than GLOW. GLOW didn’t seem to hide the fact that they were there to titillate. (I used to call it wrestling for drunk horny guys. I’ve heard of actual porn wrestling that makes GLOW looks like the old WWF’s women’s division.) You have A.J. Lee, a certified hottie don’t get me wrong, bouncing from male wrestler to male wrestler like a superball. And still you’re lucky if one women’s wrestling match gets on the card.
Like I said, women’s wrestling has never gotten a fair deal. Not as many women want to be professional wrestlers so it’s a smaller division. I get that. Still, you’d think the ladies deserved better. At least they get into the WWE Hall Of Fame, so that’s something for them.
Gimmick Matches–FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP!
The occasional gimmick match, or even like the Survivor Series, keeps things fresh and gives the wrestlers an extra challenge. Sometimes it’s also a good way to settle a feud. When the belt’s on the line, it should only be used if there’s a feud or never been a decisive victory.
However, I see too many reports of gimmicks used just to screw over the face not playing with the evil company overlords who want the title in the hands of their friends or sometimes themselves. The worst to me is the round robin or three-way matches, and this was mostly a problem in smaller promotions I’ve seen on TV back in the day, like the GWF. At least then you still had to pin the champion to gain the belt and that’s how it should work if for some reason you’re going that route. If the champion is the first one pinned, that’s his or her tough luck but the others still have to pin everyone until only one person is left standing. And that’s PIN! No battle royal or Royal Rumble because that’s really not fair to crown a champion, even if you’re fighting over a vacant title. That’s what tournaments are for. This doesn’t happen as often but I wanted to mention it.
By the way, whatever happened to tag-team wrestling? I know Bischoff hated tag-teams and tried to get rid of the belt (he succeeded with the six-man tag belts) when he ran WCW, but there seem to be more stables than teams, and the stables seem to be to favor one wrestler. I could be wrong about this, which is why this isn’t an official category. I’m just curious what the status of tag-teams are and if the championship means anything.
Wrestling vs Brawling
I remember when there used to be at least four styles of wrestling. You have your brawler, your power wrestler, your technical wrestler, and your high-flyer. Each had their own specialties and I liked watching different styles go at it. If you had, say, two technical wrestlers, you could see who was better at it. If you had a power wrestlers (who would toss you around or beat you down) versus a high-flyer it was strength versus speed.
According to my dad, and I’ve seen little evidence to the contrary, it seems to be all brawling now. They beat on you, use weapons (going back to my first complaint), smash you into things, and just fight like they’re in some back alley. There’s no style versus style or seeing whose better at one style over the other. There’s no finesse. It’s just beat them until they’re unconscious and hope you get the three count before the manager, the guy you’re feuding with, or some gang doesn’t pop up and ruin the match for you (and the fans). Where’s the variety?
So that’s why I fell away from professional wrestling. I’m not saying you shouldn’t enjoy it, but it’s not the wrestling I want to see. I don’t necessarily want to go back to the days of “the bad guy” or evil tax agents but I don’t have fun watching this new, angry wrestling. Wrestling used to be fun and for me it isn’t anymore.