TNA: Eric Bischoff's Crusade Against Wade Keller Confirms Carny Connections

Mr. Ashley MorrisAnalyst IJanuary 27, 2011

I rarely use the terms “mark” or “smark” to describe a pro wrestling fan that has an unnatural loyalty towards a particular wrestling promotion.  The reason behind this is because ninety percent of the time, these terms are used incorrectly by fans.

According to Wikipedia, a mark is a fan who believes that the characters and events of some or all of professional wrestling are real.  A mark can also be a fan that idolizes a particular wrestler, promotion, or style of wrestling to a point some might consider excessive.

The term was originally derived from traveling carnival midway barkers who would spot individuals with large amounts of money and “mark” them with chalk by patting them on the back to alert others of the presence of a poor naïve soul cursed with having tons of money and spare time.

As the saying goes, “a fool and his money are soon parted.”

There are marks in pro wrestling because the sport had its beginnings in the United States in traveling carnivals.

In that sense, all pro wrestling fans are “marks.”   If you have disposable income, a free weekend or weekday, and a television set or computer monitor with any type of pro wrestling anything on it, then consider yourself a patsy (pun intended) along with the rest of us.

Having explained this, one can see that it is extremely pointless for a TNA fan to refer to a TNA detractor as a “WWE Mark,” and likewise for a WWE fan referring to a WWE detractor as a “TNA Mark.”  

Who’s the bigger mark?  Is it the guy that doesn’t support one company, or the guy that ACTUALLY supports that same company?  I call it “The Pot Calling the Kettle Black” Syndrome, but  I also digress.

On that same level, a “smark” is in actuality a “smart mark” (hence the moniker “smark”), someone who has grown wise to the barker’s tricks of the trade and, to some extent, has learned how to beat the barker at his own “game.” The carny equivalent to a smart mark is the “sharpie.”

Smarks are generally looked down on by wrestlers as well as other wrestling fans for supposed inability to suspend their disbelief, and may also be criticized for believing they know more than they do in reality about the workings of the wrestling industry.

A pro wrestling smark knows that the sport isn’t a true athletic competition, and that smark usually goes to all sorts of lengths to surface all the “real” stuff, whether it’s through a blog, a pro wrestling news site or even on sites such as Bleacher Report.

So if all pro wrestling fans are “marks,” only a select few of those marks are actually smart in the sense that they have at least some knowledge of what’s really going on.  

Modern day pro wrestling promoters make millions off of us (the marks) daily, patronizing us by patting our backs, dusting our wrestler-emblazoned shirts with white chalk as they shill their product as being better than that of their competitor.  

The smart marks, however, remain a constant thorn in the side of the promoters because they know they’ve been marked as an easy target.  Instead of playing along with the barkers, the smark chooses to add insult to injury by exposing the barker’s shenanigans in public as opposed to simply brushing the chalk dust off their shoulders and moving on to the next one.

The “I-Have-It-All-Figured-Out” attitude of the smark sparks the ire of individuals inside of the business like the scent of blood in water attracts sharks.

This is because the smart mark presents two distinct challenges to the promoters.  The smart mark will either: (1) destroy the magic of pro wrestling because they know too much, or (2) destroy the magic of pro wrestling because they think they know too much, but actually know very little.

After all, if the industry was built on enticing rubes and marks to pay you to see your sideshow, why the hell would any barker in their right mind allow a “sharpie” to wise up the other chumps?

Hence the target my tirade: Eric Bischoff’s crusade against the more well-known smarks and the IWC they represent.

As of late Eric Bischoff has taken time out to respond to the seeming nonsensical blathering of smarks that write for the “dirt sheets,” the IWC equivalent to The National Enquirer.  His current conflict is with Wade Keller, founder and operator of the Pro Wrestling Torch newsletter and website.

James Caldwell, Assistant Editor for The Torch reported on Jan. 13 that TNA was considering dropping the X Division.  The speculation spread like wildfire, eventually causing enough drama to warrant the intervention of TNA President Dixie Carter and Eric Bischoff by way of Twitter and Facebook messages.

While Carter chose the high road less traveled, opting to comment on the situation once and moving forward with her company, Eric Bischoff stood on his own man-made mountain of moral superiority and pro wrestling wisdom and responded with several scathing tweets and Facebook status updates.

Bischoff’s barbs were aimed squarely at The Torch, Wade Keller, James Caldwell, and Dave Scherer (for some odd reason); individuals whom he feels constantly create sensationalized stories with no basis in the truth whatsoever, and pass them off as solid, factual “news.”

Enter Wade Keller.

Keller proceeded to release a post that defended Caldwell, his report, and The Torch site/newsletter.  Keller also took Bischoff to task for his nifty ability to avoid admitting that the Bischoff/Hogan Era in TNA has done very little to make the company a threat to the ever growing WWE machine.

Bischoff then retorts by not only providing marks…err, fans…with the original piece from The Torch, but also redlining Keller’s argument to prove that he, Caldwell, and the site should admit that “they are nothing more than marks speculating.”

What’s the difference between a “fan” and a “mark?”  Both pay money to enjoy the product, right?

The difference is that the mark may be more constructively critical of what they’re willing to pay for; the mark may ask questions, demand some level of accountability for something they feel is a tad bit “shady.”

It goes right back to what was stated earlier: “After all, if the industry was built on enticing rubes and marks to pay you to see your sideshow, why the hell would any barker in their right mind allow a “sharpie” to wise up the other chumps?”

Eric Bischoff wasn’t just calling out an IWC pundit for an unsubstantiated report.  Bischoff was doing damage control in order to keep this rumor from either causing too much trouble or unearthing the truth. 

If The Torch reported something that was an obvious lie, why waste one’s time and energy ranting and reposting news to refute it?  The only reason I believe Bischoff would be bothered to respond to any of the many rumors that are leaked daily would be to crush one that had some semblance of validity in it.

Let’s take the stance that Caldwell’s piece was completely wrong, and that The Torch has proven itself to be a source of pro wrestling news that is not credible at all by posting and supporting this story.

What reason have we been given to believe that TNA hasn’t considered scrapping the X Division?  Should we believe it because Eric Bischoff and Dixie Carter said so?

Keep in mind that these were the same two people who had different comments about the cancellation of ReAction.  While Carter reported that the show was never intended to run into 2011, Bischoff contended that “they” didn’t find out the show was cancelled until the second to last day of their TV tapings.

So the fans, whether a part of the ninety percent loving the product or the ten percent against it, are still back at square one: witnesses to a division that hasn’t seen much growth or development since Jan. 4, 2010 with very little news of it being rebuilt outside of “big changes coming soon!”

No matter whether the facts are muddled or made crystal clear, we’re all still buying into the product and paying money to be entertained.  For the sake of the sideshow, the troublemakers will always be thrown out of the tent early on.

Given that we’re all being enticed in a way to buy into the show, we’re expected to suspend our belief at all times, even when the inner workings of the show finds its way into real life and is exposed for us to consume just as much as the actual show (i.e. The Matt Hardy Complex).

On one hand, we have to be open to accept the product for its entertainment value.  On the other hand, we have to respect the personal and real life lives of the athletes.  

No wonder why it’s so easy for someone to get a hold of false information, because there is very little separation between what’s real and what entertainment is.  

With so many people in the know and out of the loop being ambiguously vague (and at times reporting half truths), what exactly is the truth when it comes to reporting about pro wrestling?

Example: On January 13, 2011, posted a spoiler that Kevin Nash had agreed to a deal with TNA and was returning to reform the Main Event Mafia.  Gerweck even posted this on their Twitter account.

Kevin Nash, on that same day, responded with this tweet: “Glad you have so much info on me. I promise you I’m not signed.  I’m retired, Jackass.  Check your sources.  Don’t hold your breath!”

Nash’s very next tweet: “Not going back to tna.  I’m retired.  Wasn’t it leaked from tna office that I signed a month ago and I wasn’t?”

Nash’s next tweet: “I’ll be at HBK’s hof, if I’m not shooting a film in Costa Rica for 2 months.  If I’m at the hof, I’ll be at Mania.  Check @DavidHerro for info.”

All of these tweets can be read under the Jan. 13th date on Kevin Nash’s Twitter account.

Seven days later on Jan. 20, an interview with Kevin Nash was published from the Costa Rican newspaper La Nación.  Please excuse the Google poorly translated excerpts from the interview:

The question: “Will [Kevin Nash] return to the fight? There is talk of his possible return to TNA (Total Nonstop Action Wrestling).

Nash’s reply: “I am currently negotiating a contract with them. Yes there are many opportunities to return.”

Another question: “When we could then see him again in the ring?”

Nash’s reply: “In the first week of April. If signed, it will be for one year. [I] Would have to be traveling to Costa Rica to record and also be in TNA for not generate any conflict.”

Yet another question: “There is speculation that you would be in the Hall of Fame 2011 with his friend Shawn Michaels, but could not because it will be in Costa Rica...”

Nash’s reply: “That's in April, so it is too early to answer, but if I go back to TNA, I will probably not consider. If I go, is to accompany my friend.”

As you can clearly see, Nash had not signed a TNA contract on Jan. 13, so the report posted by Gerweck was indeed wrong.  

It is odd that Kevin Nash jumped at the opportunity to correct them, post a tweet saying that he was not going back to TNA, only to have an interview posted a week later saying he was negotiating a contract to return to the company for one year beginning the first week of April IF he signs the contract.

As fans, what are we to believe?  What if I was a fan that was excited to see Nash return to TNA, only to see him say that he wasn’t, then read that he’s in talks to actually return?  

The language here is quite simple: shut up and enjoy the ride.

Go back and look at all the links posted so far in this piece.  The argument is that The Torch falsely reported that TNA was dropping the X-Division.  Bischoff and TNA’s “fans” stand solidly on this notion.

But from the Jan. 13 piece I read from Caldwell, the report clearly says the following: “PWTorch has learned that TNA is CONSIDERING scrapping the X Division, which has been part of the company since its inception.”  

It may be very true that the powers that be in TNA never said they were scrapping or dropping the X Division.  However, that DOES NOT SAY OR IMPLY THAT THEY DIDN’T CONSIDER DROPPING IT.

To report the situation accurately, Bischoff makes it very clear in the comments section of his redlining that no one was “considering” dropping the division, and even points out that report is contrary to the truth of the situation (even though he doesn’t say anything about the truth of the situation).

Then again, this is coming from the same man that found out ReAction was cancelled with two days of taping left in 2010 when his boss knew from the very beginning that the show was toast at the end of the year.

What’s even more ironic about this all is that the man who penned the book "Controversy Creates Cash” is upset because a website reported a “false” controversial story in order to increase hits (and revenue) for the site.  “The Pot Calling the Kettle Black” Syndrome strikes again.

Bischoff had a previous encounter with IWC personality Mike Barton.  Their exchange amused me for many reasons, the main being the fact that Barton lost the back-and-forth for the same reason Bischoff won.

Barton simply didn’t have any evidence to back up his subjective opinion, and Bischoff used that weakness to his advantage.  Barton didn’t know diddley-squat.

Does this mean that Barton’s feelings, opinions, and views were without merit or some element of truth? No, not at all; the problem was that he used unsubstantiated claims to support his opinion.  

Barton’s main issue was that Bischoff should have been fired for running a business into the ground, and that any other company on this planet would have shown the man the door long ago for his lack of developing the company.

Bischoff challenged Barton by asking him to (a) name the businesses he’s worked for that held those principles, (b) provide the listeners with TNA’s financial growth or lack thereof in 2010, and (c) cite the source of his information that helped mold his stated opinion.

Without any hard numbers or evidence, there was no way Barton could have proved that TNA sucks under Bischoff’s watch.

Bischoff capitalized off of this fact, knowing from the very beginning that Barton couldn’t prove that TNA was losing money or that the company’s higher ups were considering firing him.  

He quickly recognized the white chalky substance on Barton’s back and pounced on him with ferocity equal only to that of a hungry African lioness.  

Barton never recovered from the fray, even after Bischoff ended the conversation and left him steaming for the rest of the show.

The big kicker in that exchange, however, was that Barton exposed Bischoff’s weakness briefly.  There was a point in the conversation where Bischoff backpedaled and declined to account for some of Barton’s accusations.

“I’m not at liberty to discuss that information,” was the response given by Bischoff when asked to reveal hard core facts about PPV buy rates, profit margins, and television ratings.  

While it is very probable that Bischoff did not have the liberty to discuss such matters, it was also very convenient that the man accusing Barton of not supporting his claims couldn’t even support his own claims that TNA wasn’t a sinking ship.

I respect Bischoff for being the ultimate pro wrestling barker.  He knows how to work a mark and a smark well, almost as well as Vince McMahon.

Bischoff’s feud with Keller, Caldwell and The Torch is similar to his fracas with Mike Barton; all of these individuals reported something about TNA that had to have some elements of truth present, at least enough to rouse Bischoff from his anti-Obama rants and shoot a retort their way.

In all cases, Bischoff never really answers for the claims made against his regime in TNA.  Instead, he attacks the weakest points of the arguments made against him and sits back to let the poor smarks hang themselves.  

In the instance of Wade Keller response, Bischoff continuously redlined his response’s weakest point: The Torch published a false report.

Why would The Torch make up a report as such?  To increase reads to the site, to entice subscribers to purchase the premium version of the newsletter, or to cover up any notion that they’re secretly on Vince McMahon’s payroll and/or genetic jackhammer?

For all we know it could be all of the above.

Or could it perhaps be that some unscrupulous individual within the company let it slip that TNA was considering phasing out one of the company’s hallmark and beloved divisions for no real apparent reason, and in order to keep all of the 1.4 million or so fans they have, both Bischoff and Carter went on the offensive to reassure fans that no such plans were being made?

Bischoff’s remarks come off as being a tad bit condescending, sounding more like self-righteous and flippant red herrings to the very cold and brutal truth that was mentioned early on in this piece:

All pro wrestling fans are marks.  Some are just a tad more inquisitive, vocal, and critical thinking than others.  The end result is Bischoff the Barker winning the battle against the marks.

Our collective search for the truth and enjoyment of the pro wrestling product should move beyond reporting false news and petty name-calling from those inside and outside of the business.  

If you choose to read the “dirt sheets” or simply follow news tidbits as they come, it cannot be denied that the excitement and speculation derived from these reports are far more exciting and engaging than the product produced by either of the two major promotions in the U.S. right now.

For this fan at times, that is the most unsettling pill to swallow.  It is truly a sad day for pro wrestling when a know-it-all wrestling promoter’s feud outside the sideshow with know-it-all wrestling fans is more thrilling than what’s going on inside the tent.

No matter what side we stand on or think we stand on, we’re all at the mercy of pro wrestling’s carny barkers that still view us as marks with deep pockets and plenty of disposable income to spare.

Bischoff’s crusade effectively shows us that he has successfully convinced some marks that they know absolutely nothing, and the other marks that what he has behind the curtains of his tent is worth our money.  Despite my personal feelings, I will still contend that Bischoff is the best thing to happen for TNA since Jan. 4, 2010.

The beauty of it all comes not from Bischoff putting pundits in their places, but rather comes from the noise generated by this feud, which attracts the marks that love him and that hate him.  Both cases have the same result: TNA gets our money and/or our attention.

“Step right up, ladies and gents, for the greatest feats of athletic ability you’ll EVER see in this grand country of ours…”


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