Remember that old song, "If I Didn't Care?"
That's the perfect tune to sum up the current WWE audience.
One word seems to perfectly describe the responses of the “E” Universe: apathy.
Once upon a time, wrestling fans were so involved in the product that it appeared as though the very roof was blown off of the building (see Steve Austin or The Rock). Fans would break the barricades for one touch of their favorite superstar (see Shawn Michaels).
They would send their most hated superstars right out of their presence with the thunder of their boos (see Triple H). Respect and adoration would radiate through the arena for their most beloved wrestlers (see The Undertaker and Bret Hart).
Today, it is a very different story.
Fans simply seem disinterested…or unknowledgeable enough about a particular star to care. This response has been common in recent years. One need look no further than Monday Night Raw, when Triple H, a current babyface, officially challenged The Undertaker.
He seemed to be waiting for a stronger response from the audience, but it was in vain.
Another example is the Monday Night Raw, following Sunday’s Elimination Chamber 2011 Pay Per View. The responses to the returns of both The Undertaker, a longtime fan-favorite and WWE legacy character, and Triple H were bland. At one point, The Undertaker was even being booed.
At the previous nights PPV, the lukewarm response given to Trish Stratus was shocking, to say the least. Even worse, Booker T’s mention of Steve Austin—at one point the biggest name in the whole industry—was met with a smattering of cheers. The crowd gave this same tepid response when Austin guest-hosted Raw in 2010.
Even the recently retired Shawn Michaels received a dull response when he returned, following the announcement of his Hall of Fame induction. A couple of weeks ago, Vince McMahon, the most successful promoter in pro wrestling history, was also given a very nonchalant welcome.
These are four of the biggest names in the history of the business, and yet they were received as though they were that guy at the car shop. Why is that?
A number of reasons exist which may adequately explain the lack of enthusiasm in the WWE universe.
Perhaps the targeted demographic is to blame.
As it stands, WWE’s much complained about target audience is children and youths. WWE has recently brought back a number of former talents, such as Booker T, Kevin Nash and The Rock. While all three of these superstars were pleasantly received—The Rock garnering a response much like days of old—scanning the crowd, one could see that the youths in the audience were quite apathetic to these three historic returns. At one point, The Rock was booed by a few young boys in the audience.
Perhaps they are simply unaware of these athletes contributions to the sport.
Another reason could be the “tweener” status of some of the athletes/performers.
Tweeners first surfaced in the late 90's, with Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin, because, for a short period of time, both performers were neither face nor heel. Tweeners have recently resurfaced.
Michael Cole is a perfect example; sometimes, he appears to be a heel, with his increasing fanaticism over heel champion, The Miz, and intense dislike of babyfaces R-Truth, Jerry Lawler and Daniel Bryan. At other times, he appears to be a face, cheering John Cena and praising Michaels.
John Cena, himself, is another example. While the majority of male fans seem to intensely dislike Cena, while women and children love him, the crowd reaction changes when he is paired with an athlete who is a solid heel.
Cole portrays the type of tweener that is both heel and face; Cena portrays the type of tweener that is horrendously booed by a large portion of the crowd, but is tremendously cheered by a smaller portion of the crowd. Overall, this makes it difficult for fans to decide who to cheer and who to jeer.
Fans shouldn’t have to be placed in the situation of cheering for a person solely because their opponent is more hated. Take The Miz—he is a solid heel; yet, on Monday night, fans cheered him during his tag match with Cena against The Corre.
Both Alberto Del Rio and CM Punk, two major heels, have considerable fan-bases, while Kofi Kingston and John Morrison, two major faces, receive lackluster responses. Perhaps, if the “E” returned to the classic heel/face and eliminated the tweeners, fans would have less confusion about who to cheer, and that incredible excitement for a superstar's return.
Vickie Guerrero’s character is a perfect example of the benefits of a lack of confusion. She is solidly a heel, and the fans know exactly what to do when she comes out.
One last reason could be the quality of matches; the level of expectation for matches is low. WWE lost several big match wrestlers last year; namely Triple H, The Undertaker and Batista. They also lost two major “go-to” guys for big matches in Michaels and Chris Jericho.
Instead, wrestling fans are “treated” to mediocre matches involving The Miz, John Cena, Santino, Mark Henry and Jerry Lawler. Maybe there is validity here; if audiences have little in a match to look forward to, why would they be excited?
There are a few bright spots. The Rock’s return gave a glimmer of hope that WWE could be exciting again—that it could be a great time to be a fan again—but these! are a few gems in a midst of pebbles.
If the product isn’t remarkable, then the response won’t be either, and fans will keep waiting—maybe for their next bathroom break.