By Erik Clancy
I've been involved, in one way or another, with the pro wrestling business for a long, long time. I've been watching it since 1994, been smart to the business since 1997, and from 2004 to 2006 I was, in many different capacities, a founder and member of www.wrestlingepicenter.com which was the home of The Interactive Interview where James Walsh, Patrick Kelley, and myself interviewed everyone from Batista and Ric Flair to Rob Van Dam and Hulk Hogan. I was in the process of writing a book for ECW Press in 2004/2005 detailing all the reasons that the WWE Empire had crumbled but gave up on the idea when literally every book released at that time covered the same topic. I enjoyed being part of the "wrestling media" and had some fun covering something that I was so passionate about. Unfortunately something that I don't have as much fun with is looking at the media today (which is the same as it was back then, I just never felt like voicing my opinion about it) for our industry. This business has never been treated with much respect by the mainstream media and we don't help ourselves by being run on "our end" of the media by 14 year olds and unemployed slobs with no college degree. This isn't something we can easily remedy but hopefully by articulating the problem we can create more awareness about it.
-The Mainstream Media
Let's face it, we've never been respected by the mainstream media, be it sports or just regular news. ESPN, despite having wrestlers on it's morning shows to increase it's ratings, continually turns a sarcastic eye to our business and then, with a straight face, talks about how Tiger Woods is the one of the best athletes of all time. Anyone who claims a golfer is more of an athlete than a pro wrestler is in a serious need of a reality check. Yes, I know the match results are predetermined, the wrestlers are working together and not in opposition and the program is scripted but to suggest that these athletes (yes I do consider them athletes) are any less aerobically capable than 40 year old men with paunch and an ability to swing a piece of metal precisely (which wrestlers do with ease I might add) is seriously lacking in any concept of logic.
I've given up on trying to "convert" non-believers of pro wrestling because no one ever wants to listen to reason. The argument is always the same; "It's fake." To which I always respond by saying "Yes but that's inconsequential, that's like going to the Globe Theater and complaining that the actor playing Hamlet is still breathing after he gets stabbed." They'll stare at me blankly and then say "They stomp their feet when they punch." And I die a little bit inside.
Simply put, the mainstream audience does not want to accept pro wrestling at what it is, they want to ridicule it for what it isn't. No it's not a competitive sport; we've never claimed it is. No the wrestlers aren't trying to injure each other; we've never claimed they have. And yes, the blood comes from either blading (cutting open the forehead with a razorblade) or a capsule, just like in the movies.
I've explained these points over and over to people continually but no one seems to understand. They want to compare it to Monday Night Football and UFC as opposed to Cyrano de Bergerac or Heroes. When someone doesn't want to understand something, they won't, it's as simple as that. However the mainstream media and mainstream audience are nothing compared to the cancer that infects our industry from the inside.
-The Wrestling "Media"
If our position in the eyes of the mainstream media and mainstream fans is a bruise on the business then our own wrestling media is a breakout of acne. It's ironic that I used that metaphor considering that the wrestling media consists mostly of poorly made websites by 14 year old kids with poor social skills. These are the reporters of the wrestling world, our Stuart Scotts, our Matt Lauers, and our Al Michaels. They create sensationalistic websites designed not to professionally represent our industry or to inform viewers but to satisfy their urges to be relevant to an audience much like them. The stories are mostly unsubstantiated rumors started by one of them or third person hearsay that has no credence in the world of professional wrestling. When one looks at a NFL draft preparation site you generally see a well formatted page with citations, a use of spell check and just general restraint and human decency. Not so with these "wrestling news sites". Hell, even my former site has been besieged with spelling errors and a format that just doesn't please the human eye. It's this kind of "journalism" that makes us seem so bush league in comparison to the rest of entertainment/sports.
Now I mentioned these wrestling reporters as being our Lauers and Rokers. Well if that is the case then there is a man in our industry that represents our version of Peter Jennings and his name is Dave Meltzer. I'll give Meltzer credit; he certainly has more credentials than the average wrestling reporter, with a journalism degree from San Jose State University. But Meltzer has so many flaws in his game that it's ridiculous. First off he pioneered something we in the business call the "Star System". Basically the star system is a way of assigning stars to a match based on how good it is. Now, forgive me, but this is a problem that is rooted in the fact that unlike films (which still shouldn't be rated with stars but with descriptions) wrestling matches are an art that depends on a variety of factors that decide what it should be and what it is. Basically there are too many damn factors to determine in a match to give it a "star rating". How do you judge an emotional battle but largely unspectacular (in a technical sense) between Hulk Hogan and The Rock from WrestleMania 18 against the technical mastery of Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart from WrestleMania 12? You can't, they are two different animals. Another huge problem with the star system is that unlike acting or sports, the wrestling match is a constantly evolving art and matches today may seem more technically precise or impressive than matches from 1955. In theatre and film, while the techniques to achieve it always change, the goal is the same: to "be" on stage. In sports, the techniques have stayed largely the same from year to year. For example, a baseball game from 1972 is just as dramatic today as it was in 1972. On the other hand if you watch a wrestling match from 1972 you may fall into a coma if you are not properly prepared for what you are about to watch.
Meltzer has also created the closest thing our business has to a Hall of Fame, as I and everyone with a sense of history doesn't consider the WWE version to be even a shadow of a legitimate Hall of Fame. But once again we are applying the standards that applicable to normal sports to our humble art of pro wrestling. While I applaud the fact that Meltzer actually has a voting process and a system designed to give the HOF a truly international feel, it raises too many questions. Do we honor the wrestler with the most skill how may have delivered the best matches and was the master of his craft or do we honor the wrestler who has the most storyline accomplishments? Or do we skip all that and go by the ones who have drawn the most money or is it a combination of all? The problem is that we don't know it's never made clear and there is no way to judge.
So what standard do we have? What news medium do we have to truly regulate everything? PWinsiderelite.com? It's pretty much the only one but at the same time it's still extremely flawed, something I'll look at in a future column. But all in all, we don't have enough respected journalists able to take a look at wrestling for what it truly is, treat it with respect and treat you the readers with the respect you deserve. Hopefully this is where I come in here on Bleacher Report. Hopefully with me you'll realize you have a journalist with a college degree, a decent sized IQ and an unwavering devotion to the professional representation of the great art of professional wrestling.