I know I'm probably going to attract some major heat for this, but it has to be asked: Are sections of the IWC amongst the biggest marks in wrestling?
If we're to answer that question fairly, the first thing we have to do is establish what is a mark.
To answer that question we have to jump in our time machines to go back to the early days of modern wrestling and its roots in the world of traveling shows and carnivals.
In those days, the agent (operator) of a show would employ callers and barkers to try and attract customers into their tents to watch the matches.
But as with every other stall and sideshow at the carnival, they didn't leave anything to chance.
Agents sent out spotters to look for likely customers, particularly those who looked like they could afford good money and could be easily convinced to part with that money.
When a spotter identified a likely candidate, he would sometimes give him a friendly slap on the back, leaving a chalk mark so other carnies would be able to identify him.
Therefore, gullible customers became known as marks.
The term has continued into modern wrestling today and still refers to gullible fans who believe that the characters and events of professional wrestling are real and to fans whose support is over-the-top or obsessive.
So do sections of the IWC qualify under that description?
Well, much derision is often directed at eight-year-old children that cheer on Hornswoggle, or at ten-year-old boys who scream "hustle, loyalty, and respect" as they line up to buy another t-shirt.
However, are they the most obsessive fans, and the most gullible?
When Hornswoggle disappears under the ring, or John Cena walks back up the ramp at the end of a match, do those fans continue in their fantasy world?
When Cena loses his title, and the arena is filled with the boos and tears of ten-year-old boys heartbroken at seeing their hero lose, do they spend the next few weeks obsessing over it?
Or do they just tune in next week to await the return of "the champ," with hope in their hearts that he'll reverse the loss?
What about the IWC? How do they react to the rise and fall of their heroes, and the events that unfold, in the WWE?
Let's take a look at a couple of recent incidents.
Just over a week ago, we saw the three-hour Viewer's Choice Monday Night RAW. Now, in the lead-up to this event, a number of fans became somewhat overexcited, and inexplicably felt that they would be given carte blanche over the nights proceedings.
Obviously that was never going to happen, but it didn't stop some fans believing in it (which on its own qualifies for the description above). It was always going to be the case that the options would be limited, chosen by the company, and employ various tricks and gimmicks to try and steer the viewers towards various answers that they could better prepare for.
However, although the choices that the viewers were left with were somewhat limited, they were left with choices and voted in the hundreds of thousands for their preferred results from the options available.
What was the reaction to this, from certain sections of the IWC?
Well, having bought the concept that it was going to be a completely open night, there was obviously some consternation. It became clear to some they had been marked and drawn into watching a show that wasn't as they thought it would be, but that wasn't the beginning and end of it.
When the results were revealed, and certain sections of the IWC found that their favorite wrestlers were not actually the WWE universe's preferred wrestlers, their reaction was breathtaking.
I have stood behind six-year-old Hulkamaniacs at the height of Hulkamania who, after being informed by their mom that they can't have a Hulk Hogan t-shirt, have thrown themselves on to the floor of the aisle in their local WalMart screaming, crying, and thrashing about, throwing the mother of all tantrums.
And I can sit here hand on heart and say their reaction was less over the top than the reaction of some members of the IWC upon finding out that the rest of the world would rather see Hornswoggle and the Great Khali than a proper tag team matchup with a team they've never became familiar with.
Don't get me wrong here. I gain absolutely no pleasure from any airtime given over to that damned leprechaun and the immobile Indian giant that was selected as his partner for this comedy matchup.
Like a number of other wrestling fans, rather than sports entertainment fans, I'd have much preferred either of the other options. However, I was in no way willing to overreact to the level that some members of the IWC were, as they screamed about "fixed votes," and any other nonsense they could think of over the next week as part of their tantrum upon discovering that they were a minority.
A lot of mileage has been made of some disparaging comments that Hulk Hogan directed at the IWC, but that incident alone should be enough to explain why Hogan feels the way he does. Not only does it demonstrate that certain sections of the so-called IWC are a minority, but also that those sections are often not particularly well-informed, in tune with the desire of the majority, or able to put their case across in a reasoned and balanced manner.
Had the Dudebusters won the public vote, do you think that the eight-year-old Hornswoggle fans would have spent the next week or so throwing quite such a big tantrum?
The second example to look at is the Bryan Danielson story. When we look at the anatomy of the Bryan Danielson case, we can see it went wrong for the IWC from day one.
On the day it was revealed that Danielson was going to be in NXT, the marks came out in force, proclaiming the arrival of wrestling's messiah and making ever more ridiculous claims about what would happen next.
Now don't get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for Danielson's in-ring abilities, but I also have my feet firmly enough on the ground to know that the reason he was in NXT in the first place was because, as a possible future star of Sports Entertainment, the company still had doubts about his ability in other areas.
Bryan Danielson, contrary to his rookie status on NXT, is no rookie—he's 29 years old now and has been active in the wrestling industry for 11 years. To try and put that in perspective, Danielson is one year younger than Randy Orton and has been wrestling for one year longer than John Cena.
From the moment that he started training under Shawn Michaels at the Texas Wrestling Academy, it was clear that Danielson had so much talent that he became one of the youngest athletes in history to earn a WWE/F developmental deal, which was the beginning of a long-term relationship with the company.
But the fact that he's gone on to be released, resigned, and have repeated WWE tryouts without becoming a Superstar in that period shows that there are doubts over other aspects of his game.
So right from the start, certain sections of the IWC had overestimated the importance and value of Danielson in terms of his place within the industry, and miscalculation continued through his latest tenureship at WWE, right up to his negotiated release.
Having got it so horribly wrong in the first place and miscalculated his popularity with the masses, the IWC were already so far from anywhere resembling reality when the release was announced that what unfolded next was, at times, frankly just strange.
At first, the IWC wrote it off as a work. However, as the possibility that it might be genuine started to dawn on them, they began to demand answers to questions that weren't based in reality.
They wanted to know what would happen to his world title attempts and his place as leader of the NXT revolt, or how his demise would be explained to his legions of fans.
They did not realize that these were constructs of their own making, and that no title attempt was booked, no place as leader of any revolt was scripted, and the legion of fans was somewhat smaller than they realized, given that the majority of fans weren't even aware of his, or any of the other rookie's existence.
If you can, go watch a re-run of last night's Raw.
When Wade Barret is standing in the ring, Jerry Lawler reminds us who he is and who the rookies are. Then Michael Cole does the same, whilst Barrett himself tells the viewing audience, "For those who don't know me..."
Does Randy Orton come out and feel the need to say "For those who don't know me...?"
How about Evan Bourne?
Or even Hornswoggle?
Of course they don't, because we all know who they are.
This is where the whole "it's a work" argument started to look weak, at the very least, because for this to be a work it required the fans to be aware of who was being released, the fact that they were being released, and to care that they were being released. In reality, none of these criteria were met.
Remember that most of the WWE fans don't watch NXT, so they didn't have a clue who any of these people were. Hence, Barrett and the WWE felt the need to explain, in idiot terms, for the watching public.
Let me put it this way, if Trent Barreta walked out, unannounced, at the start of next week's Raw, and then moments later Danielson walked out, two-thirds of the audience would have more clue who Barreta was rather than Danielson.
There might be a huge pop from a small section of the Internet watching their TV screens, but most of the WWE Universe would be unmoved.
When Jeff Hardy came back, or Chris Jericho came back, this was a big wow moment, as the world knew these people. But if the world doesn't know the person, then where's the wow, and without a wow, what's the point of the work?
Secondly, as I said, for it to be a work the public had to know about it. Did they?
How many people read the news section of the WWE website, or other wrestling websites?
Look at Matt Hardy's recent "suspension." He's been in the spotlight for over ten years. He has an incredible amount of followers, but WWE still had to spell out his "suspension" in an idiot proof way during a couple of primetime shows to make the idea stick. Then, when he's appeared since, they've still felt the need to remind the viewer in case they missed the fact.
If it was buried in a few lines on a website's back page, do you think the audience would have noticed so much?
The work argument just didn't work, and was finally killed off last night, when Danielson's release was barely explained in a one-sentence throwaway that received no real reaction from the audience.
Had it been a work they would have stuck to the script, but they didn't.
As the IWC realized that this might be legitimate, the rumor mills began to turn. But seeing as the IWC was already so far off base with this, they turned in the wrong direction.
The first mistake made by someone was to assume it was a direct firing.
There was no basis to this rumor. It was just a guess started by someone, an uninformed member of the IWC, and the community picked up and ran with the idea without question.
The truth is this: If we look at the WWE website, and the very announcement itself, we can see it wasn't a straight case of anyone being fired.
When someone is fired it's standard procedure, not just in wrestling, but in almost all industries, to state that the person's contract has been terminated, and then to give the disciplinary reason.
When a person isn't fired, but instead negotiates a release, or their contract expires, the standard procedure is to explain that you've come to terms with the release of that employee, and to wish them well in their future endeavors.
It's like in the military, where you have an honorable discharge and a dishonorable discharge.
It's standard etiquette in compliance with employment law.
If you look at the WWE website you'll see they act no differently.
When a wrestler is fired they state, "X has been released." When a contract expires, or a wrestler negotiates his release they state, "WWE has come to terms on the release of X."
For example, when Carlito breached the wellness program, the WWE announced "WWE Superstar Carlito (Carlos Colon) has been released from his World Wrestling Entertainment contract as of today May 21, 2010."
But when Bryan Danielson was released, the WWE announced "WWE has come to terms on the release of NXT first season rookie Daniel Bryan (Bryan Danielson) as of today June 11, 2010."
Right there, this tells you that this wasn't a straight disciplinary release.
From there on, having made the initial mistakes, the rumor mill went further and further out of sync with reality until we had stories of Mattell, and shadowy Republican politicians, calling the shots to have Danielson released for destroying their lives over a 10-second clip of him strangling someone with a tie in the invasion angle on Raw.
I can't tell you exactly why Danielson and the WWE decided to terminate his contract. But I can tell you that it wasn't for the majority of the reasons stated on the Internet, and that 90% of the so-called experts, with secret inside informants, were just disgruntled fans making it up and then copying each other's theories.
And the reason for this is because they'd marked so hard for Danielson that they were a million miles from reality, even before his release.
You see, beyond a small section of the Internet and a few independent wrestling fans, Bryan Danielson wasn't a big star, and to the majority of fans his release won't make any difference and will probably slip by almost unnoticed.
The rumors of a certain world title, or of Danielson being co-leader of the NXT rookies, were never more than day dreams and wishes from certain sections of the IWC, and therefore there was no need for any great conspiracy theory concerning his release.
There are no storylines to wrap up and no angles to drop. The world will keep spinning, and we'll wake up tomorrow and slowly begin to forget this ever happened.
But this isn't about Bryan Danielson, this is about the IWC, where once again we found certain sections going a little over the top with their obsessive support of a hero, and buying into every rumor about him on the Internet.
Is the average nine-year-old so caught up in the fate of their favorite wrestler that one week later they'd still be obsessing about their release, and trying to make sense of it all, with fantasy theories?
I don't think so.
So does this mean that certain sections of the IWC are amongst the biggest marks in wrestling?
Bigger than those annoying eight-year-old members of the CenaNation, or the Hulkamaniacs?
Of course they are! And while I know I'm going to get a lot of heat for this, I do want to add that, personally, I don't think it's a bad thing.
There is nothing wrong with being a fan. There is nothing wrong with showing your passion. There is nothing wrong with wanting the best for your heroes. Although I do think some people need to take a deep breath from time to time and remember this is just Sports Entertainment, and not life or death.