WWE: The State of Wrestling, WWE and Otherwise, from a Lifelong Fan
Unlike most other articles on Bleacher Report, today I want to take the opportunity to give insight into the mind of a wrestling fan.
More stream of consciousness than anything, the following paragraphs describe what I, and many other fans just like me, feel about wrestling. This article is an acknowledgment of the past, a lament for the present, and wishes for the future.
Perhaps you prefer the standard “top five” lists or the rehashed headlines of wrestling dirt-sheets. If so, don't bother reading any further, because this article is not what you're seeking.
I don't expect everyone to agree with me. Far from it, actually. I expect I'll be met with both high praise and extreme ridicule for writing what I am about to write. But write it I must. I owe it to my readers to explain my perspective on the sport we all love.
As some of you may know, I'm not that old; I was born in 1987. The "territories" like AWA, Georgia Championship Wrestling, and countless other NWA territories are something of a mythological story to me, since I never experienced them. I've read the books, seen the DVDs, watched matches on YouTube.
But because of my age, I never saw any of the territories. By the time I knew what wrestling was (age 8, or 1995), it was WCW, WWF, ECW, and that was about it.
I'm a nut for history, especially about subjects that I love. Older fans need to know that younger fans like me want to know this stuff. It may be memories for people in their 30's and up, but for me it's only known from the people who saw it.
But just because fans like me like hearing about the history of pro wrestling, that does not mean that it's the style of wrestling we want to see.
I know that much of the so-called "Internet Wrestling Community" is middle-aged, but people my age are a different breed of wrestling fan from a different generation.
I grew up during the Attitude and Ruthless Aggression eras, so as far as pro wrestling on TV goes, ECW, WCW, and WWF/E (and now TNA) is all I know. It's the only wrestling that I've ever seen live.
Many older fans that I know personally have disdain for fans like me. People my age grew up during the edgiest, most violent and wild period in wrestling history. And many like me want that back; that's wrestling to us.
People of my generation like the "worked shoot" style that epitomized 1997-2005. Doink the Clown, Hornswoggle, and other "silliness" just doesn't fly with us. Childish wrestling storylines and characters don't appeal to us. John Cena and the company policies that created him sicken us.
That's why WWE ratings are so low compared to the era we watched as kids.
And make no mistake, as an 8-year-old kid, I had all the games, the toys, the clothes. I watched. Every single male friend I knew watched. The violence, the adult themes, did not deter a young audience. Quite the opposite happened. Fathers who never were fans got interested and watched with their sons.
A generation of wrestling fans was born. Wrestling was cool. It was everywhere. Ratings were through the roof. Profits soared. WWE even went public. Everyone watched. And if they didn't, they were missing the best thing on TV.
It was 2005, when WWE (with Cena at the front and center) made the conscious decision that they wanted to be "family friendly." It was at that time that the Attitude Era fans, who had already begun leaving in 2003, started bailing in earnest. I didn't, but nearly every single one of my friends did. And it was because WWE went "family friendly."
Do I hate Cena? No. Not at all. Cena is a hard worker who does what is asked of him. I can't fault him for that. But I hate with a passion every last thing that his character represents.
Every corny, childish joke makes me sick. Every match where he gets beat down for 15 minutes and then by magic hits his "Five Moves of Doom" and wins makes me want to never watch again.
But I keep watching in the hopes that one day Cena will eventually retire. Things can only get better at this point...unless they don't.
Since 2005, ratings have dropped even more (even including DVR and tape delay). Profits have diminished. The WWE stock has lost significant value.
Perhaps the future is bright for pro wrestling. The NWA is finally back on TV. The indies are strong, acting almost like a new territory system. And some very good new guys are filling rosters across the country.
But CM Punk is right. As long as WWE is able to monopolize the wrestling industry, we'll keep getting the same lame, dull, stupid stories that don't appeal to the adults with the money.
I don't want "wow moments;" I want entire shows to be excellent. Top to bottom, Raw could be amazing. Instead we get endless Twitter garbage and five recaps of the same event.
The industry once was must-see TV for even casual fans. Now most people don't know the names of the biggest stars in WWE aside from Cena. And mention anyone (other than Hulk Hogan and Sting, both geriatrics) from TNA and people look at you like you're speaking Chinese.
The industry needs competition. WWE needs competition. Vince, as long as he draws breath, will continue to try to recreate the 1980s. It's the style he knows. It's the style he loves. Build one mega-star and bury everyone else. By the end of the 1980s, wrestling was decimated by that style.
Vince tried it again with Cena, and sacrificed a generation of talent to feed their Cena-mania campaign. All that's left is a legacy of increasingly low ratings and buy rates and lifelong fans sick of the product.
Only a rival promotion willing to push WWE to change will truly restore the wrestling industry. But there is no Ted Turner this time. No massive media conglomerate backing a major wrestling company. No blank checks for Eric Bischoff.
I'm a fan, but God knows TNA is not the company to rival WWE. Ring of Honor is too small to do anything short-term. The rumors in 2010 about what would become New Breed Pro Wrestling were sad jokes in retrospect.
No, there won't be much outside pressure on WWE anytime soon. That push must come from within. But WWE has sat still, content to bask in the glory of its now-ancient victory over WCW.
Fans like me may never get what we want. Wrestling may well be a dying sport, unable to compete in the era of the Internet. If things in WWE keep moving in the positive direction that started last year with The Shield, Damien Sandow, Punk, Bryan, and other young guys, then wrestling and WWE will live on and have success.
But if this year we just see more of the same, meaning Cena burying young guys to try to salvage ratings, WWE will keep losing viewers.
I still believe in wrestling. I want to believe it will come back. Only time will tell if WWE builds for the future or mortgages the future for short-term ratings.
"It's still real to me, dammit!"
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