WWE: Five Positive Counterpoints to WWE's Rebrand/Language Changes
Recently, there's been incredible buzz here at Bleacher Report and other such sites regarding WWE's decision to eliminate the word "wrestling" from their name, retitle themselves simply "WWE" and even issue an approved list of terminology that's acceptable and not acceptable by voice-over workers employed by them.
For the most part, the response to this news has been very negative among longtime fans, and to some extent, I can't say I disagree.
I've been a "wrestling fan" since the early 90s, so I can appreciate the fervor in fans who hate the idea that the "wrestling" aspect of their favorite "wrestling" company seems to be getting the shove.
However, being the balanced son of a gun that I am, I feel compelled to at least offer a counterpoint in hopes that all of us can see both sides of the issue at hand.
Even if I don't necessarily agree, at least we can look at other aspects and see if some optimism can be garnered.
Unrestricted Labeling of Competition Style
Point 1: Besides the very fundamental fact that viewers have had to be fans of wrestling programs in the past in order to appreciate WWE, look at guys like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan.
We refer to them as "phenomenal wrestlers," but those guys use about half wrestling and half martial arts moves. Lots of kicks, lots of strikes, judo holds, throws, things of that nature.
Yes, we can debate that the LeBell Lock and the Anaconda Vice require a certain level of skill in wrestling in order to stick those moves on effectively. However, no Greco-Roman or Olympic wrestler would ever utilize a Go To Sleep to win a gold medal.
Remember this guy in the picture? His name's Hakushi. Martial arts master, or at least that's how he was billed. He had an incredible rivalry with Bret Hart, well-known as "the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be" in wrestling.
For a well-respected wrestling champion to go against a martial arts master was amazing. Granted, they were doing it under the WWF banner, but with the sheer volume of talent employed in WWE that are not just wrestlers, removing the word isn't hurting them that badly.
Before we immediately launch into why eliminating the word "wrestling" is so bad, perhaps we should look at the glass half full. Many of us fans would love for WWE programming to be packed with even more fans than it has now, correct?
By no longer claiming WWE is just about wrestling, WWE can offer an "action soap opera" where "matches" occur between "superstars." And those "superstars" might not be just wrestlers.
They could be karate experts, parkour experts, ninjas, acrobats, street brawlers, Thai boxers, kickfighters, anything at all! Will they still employ wrestlers? Of course.
WWE's fundamental brand of competition is based around wrestling, and just because the word is removed doesn't mean that the talent employed won't be allowed to wrestle anymore.
Not only that, but with the boosting popularity in media such as UFC and other MMA outlets, WWE choosing to not be hindered by only referring to itself as a wrestling company allows them to take the upper hand.
You can watch UFC and boxing if you want the real stuff, but if you want a similar level of competition plus the added theatrics, drama and storylines, you come here.
It means that WWE's matches will involve a wider range of competitors. Granted, guys like Bruno Sammartino would probably get upset at such a corporate move, but the chances that Bruno would have been seen in the ring pit against a flashy leaper like John Morrison are slim to none.
Back then, WWE was only wrestling. Now? It's not just wrestling, it's far more than that. In fact, removing the label of wrestling ensures that people like John Cena, who have a fairly narrow moveset compared to our favorites in Bryan and Punk (who can wrestle, utilize martial arts, etc.), will end up being obsolete.
If all you want to be is a wrestler, go to the Olympics. If you want to compete in this league? You have to be able to adapt to just about anything!
Soap Operas Can Be Great, If Done Right...
Point 2: Before you even act like this picture looks gay, just remember, your favorite Superstars wear tights. They might not ballet flit around the ring, but all of our favorite stars wear tights. Rock and Austin wore tights. Punk and Bryan wear tights. Edge wore long tights. They wear tights same as these guys.
Thus, the term "action soap opera" seems like such a derogatory term, but in actuality, WWE is a lot like Shakespeare. For the life of me, I can't find or remember who said that first.
I think it was someone on a radio show when I was little, but it's truly a good way to look at the programming. I acknowledge that, and even as a hopeful novelist, I hate Shakespeare.
Look at it this way. What happens in a typical Shakespeare play? Someone will come out to the stage and pontificate about their rival. Basically, they cut a promo.
They say how the slithery cur who plagues their dreams does not deserve to wear the crown of someplace important, and that if it were up to them, their enemy would hang from a rope and be gutted (in far more flowery poetic language than that).
The actor on stage vows then and there to dedicate their life to ending the reign of the twisted mule that rules over all of that place that's important. Of course, who shows up? Their rival! And then what happens?
They battle it out!
Sounds awfully familiar, doesn't it? John Cena comes out with a mic, jabbers on a little, The Miz comes out, and they fight. WWE is basically a rip-off of classic impromptu theater, with the major difference being that, at times, everything is somewhat scripted and choreographed the day or week beforehand.
Shakespeare plays are classically known tales that have a distinct beginning, middle and end, whereas WWE storylines can last months, sometimes years, and can change in one weekly episode.
Do your best to not look at the term "soap opera" as something negative. Granted, I don't tend to use the term soap opera anymore, because I feel that's a little too easy a way to describe what's going on.
Besides which, many of us attribute "soap operas" to daytime and primetime nightmares of overpaid and artificially beautiful actors playing stereotypical parts in situations no one cares about unless viewers feel like they can relate somehow. Boooooo.
I prefer "drama." It's a little more general, but covers so much more. WWE is mostly about drama, whereas other "sports" aren't.
Trust me, it's a lot more fun to know that the drama that goes on in a WWE ring is mostly kayfabe (the Edge/Matt/Lita thing and the Morrison/Melina/Batista thing, notwithstanding), whereas if drama happens on a football field, one of the players decides to murder another player and they get sent to jail.
That's a reality that can't just be covered up or corrected one week later.
Sports Are Real, WWE Is...Less Real
Point 3: Apparently, the term "sport" is also not allowed to be used when referring to WWE, but again, it's really more of a restriction.
Look at most professional sports. Baseball, football, soccer, basketball, hockey. What do they all have in common? All of them are seasonal, yes, and all of them involve a tournament that occurs at the end of said season, whereby the teams with the most wins get to play for that year's championship. That's what happens in sports.
In WWE, success is more about making an instant impact. Doesn't happen often, but if a personality appeared next Monday on Raw, spoke for a couple minutes on the microphone, got massive laughs, was entered into a match they won, and left? That'd be a pretty fair impact in my opinion.
Of course, this technically means that people who get title shots can occasionally get them somewhat unfairly.
This week's WWE news was buzzing about R-Truth getting entered into the Gauntlet match on this Monday's Raw episode, and ending up solidifying a spot in a triple threat for the WWE Championship.
R-Truth could walk out of Extreme Rules 2011 the WWE Champion. Go ahead and drink in the pessimism of that, I dare you.
See, I'm actually very happy that R-Truth is allowed to get a chance like that. I relish it because it represents everything that I've loved about WWE since the beginning.
Even if he doesn't win, it's still good visibility for the guy, and besides which, Internet darlings like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan haven't had too many W's lately either.
Meaning, if WWE were truly a "sport" that focused on win-loss records, none of us...I repeat...NONE OF US would have any right to say things like:
"Bryan is so talented. He should be in the main event!" "Punk is the best on the roster! He should be in the main event!" "Christian puts on an amazing match! He should be champion!"
We can say those things because WWE is not a "sport" like other professional sports. WWE is an "action soap opera," controlled by General Managers (whether they be bald men who wear glasses and tacky suits, or Mother Brain speaking through laptop computers) that make all the decisions.
The General Manager of the MLB can't look at the World Series and before it starts, get on the loudspeaker and say "Ya know what? I don't like the idea of the Yankees being in the World Series this year. Nope, Yankees are out, and let's throw in the Arizona Diamondbacks instead."
Nope, we watch WWE for that.
Window to Alternate Media Outlets Open Even Further
Point 4: As it's been said in the initial announcements, one of the reasons for World Wrestling Entertainment's name-change to simply "WWE" is that they want to branch out into other forms of media besides just "wrestling" programs like Raw and Smackdown.
Already, to those of us who remember the XFL, this seems like a bad idea.
But honestly, that was a really stupid decision. How good could the XFL have really been? A WWE sponsored football league? I could've sworn the United States has some kind of "National Football League" already.
Even if some of the rules are slightly different, why would football fans tune in to the XFL and spend money to watch athletes play ball, when they could spend a little more and watch pro athletes that are nationally recognized as professionals.
In order for WWE to make good on its claim that they're branching out to other media besides just "wrestling programming," they need to flex their creative and dramatic muscles, but it needs to be done carefully.
I'm a huge video game fan, but aside from making a game geared toward little kids who like wrestling AND monster trucks and/or racing, I'm really not sure what the purpose of WWE Crush Hour could be.
Now, WWE All-Stars makes perfect sense! WWE is used to video game media that perpetuates its own brand of competition, and putting control of their best stars in the hands of those at home.
They've been putting out video games since the 90s, possibly even the 80s! So right there, All-Stars is a great start.
To say the least, WWE's movie production studio hasn't been the best. They tend to put on-screen "superstars" into roles that, on paper, seem to deepen the characters they portray in the ring, when in actuality, it kind of waters them down and ends up being confusing.
The Condemned, starring Stone Cold, was a movie about a deadly game where criminals get hunted in the wilderness. His character was close to being like Stone Cold, but not exactly.
You watch the screen and think, "oh yeah, that's vintage Stone Cold," but he's playing a completely different character. Most fans know that Stone Cold can't come to the ring with a bowie knife and slit the throat of a guy who talks trash about him.
Similarly, John Cena is a goody-goody hero most of the time he spends in the ring, yet those same fans know that if John Cena has his title belt stolen by a heel, he can't run them down and slap cuffs on them, like he were the cop from 12 Rounds.
The Chaperone, starring Paul "Triple H" Levesque, was a movie about an ex-con who gets out and plays chaperone on a field trip, only to get kidnapped by shady folks from his past. A zany comedy about kids foiling the bad guys. No way that's doing well.
Most of us know Trip to be funny and comical, but not to that degree. Wasn't he just making jokes about McMahon liking roosters a year ago?
Knucklehead might've been a moneymaker, as I'm not positive how many casual movie-goers know how comedic Big Show can be, but that didn't get half as much visibility as it needed to take off.
According to Wikipedia, the third-highest grossing movie from the WWE Films studios was Legendary, getting beat out by See No Evil featuring Kane at No. 2 and The Marine at No. 1. But while Legendary was a feel good story about a guy teaching a young kid how to wrestle, it didn't do anything to help John Cena's on-screen character.
John Cena's hardcore fanbase knows he can wrestle, and his critics aren't buying a feel-good story about him teaching someone else to wrestle as justification for his skills.
In my opinion, one good way for WWE to utilize their alternative media is to feature specials either on USA or SyFy about some of their on-screen characters specifically, in a direct attempt to tell more of their stories without eating up match time on Raw and Smackdown.
Feature them in interviews similar to TNA's ReAction program, only instead of them being shot as predominantly real, have them be fully scripted.
They can travel to where their character is billed as hailing from, and they can even feature actors or new superstars that WWE has in developmental contracts as past friends or enemies of theirs to establish relationships before they debut.
For instance, a special could be done on Kofi Kingston. His character can explain some of the motivating factors that brought him to be a WWE Superstar, an "old friend" can comment on him, even an "old enemy" can show up during one of his trips to an "old stomping ground."
Weeks later on Smackdown, during a match, that old enemy can appear and ruin one of his matches. And instead of that guy being completely unknown until the following week, we have some idea of who he is and why he's there.
Similarly, after Undertaker and Kane are both retired from active competition, what if a new special were done on a brand new character who's largely supernatural.
It could be an hour-long special, it could tell a great short story, introduce some friends and enemies, maybe even involve some existing WWE Superstars in some way, and after the special is over, short vignettes can air to announce their debut.
Guys like Taker and Kane had amazing backstories. As great as I thought See No Evil was, I'd almost rather WWE Studios do a movie telling the intricate details of Undertaker and Kane's relationship, leading up to their joining WWE, instead of a random slasher flick.
It would give the Superstars more time to flesh out the characters they play on TV, while telling us, and them, more information about where their characters are coming from. It would not only help us know more about who we're dealing with, it would help the competitors as well.
WWE could do this with guys they've introduced and never explained. Guys like Tyler Reks, Zack Ryder, Curt Hawkins, JTG, etc. It could help them guide fans to liking or disliking heels and faces and get more response out of crowds, which is what they want.
Obviously, the proper amount of disclaimers would have to accompany it, so that people didn't get the impression everything they saw was real, but if legal stepped in to double check it, I'm sure it could work out great.
WWF Has Done This Before!
Point 5: Finally, remember the days when the company was referred to as the World Wrestling Federation? Remember when people would say they'd be the next World Wrestling Federation Champion?
While it may seem bad right now, we got over the change. Sure, there are plenty of smart alecks out there who insist on saying things like WWE/F or the reverse WWF/E (I used to do it for a spell), but all in all, we've gotten over it.
To my knowledge, since the change to WWE, no competitor has once stated that they'll be the next "World Wrestling Entertainment Champion," which you have to admit, sounds pretty lame.
But that's because the full name ends in a buzz word like "entertainment" and not a powerful, authoritative word like "federation."
Still, the only time people say WWF anymore is when referring to really ancient matches and really ancient performers. WWE is a title more for the newer brand of talent, taking the company to new places in the future.
Look, don't get me wrong here. I do acknowledge that by changing the official name from World Wrestling Entertainment, a name that at least kept true to two words from the original name, to simply WWE, it further distances the company from its proud roots. I get that.
I acknowledge the fact that by the company branching out, it distances itself from the core entertainment product they provide, which is now basically being considered a wrestling substitute that shall not in any way, shape or form be formally referred to as "wrestling" any longer.
I acknowledge that WWE not wanting to be called a "sport" and not wanting its competitors to be referred to as "athletes" is a little disrespectful.
Even if the moves are choreographed to protect their bodies most of the time, they still exercise, work out, take care of their physical health and sure as hell move and look like athletes.
And I do acknowledge the fact that much of this move's decision and conceptualizing looks extremely corporate, and to debase a centuries-old craft simply because it's being artificialized to a degree, seems unfair.
However, our favorite programming won't change by much. If anything, the inclusion of talents like Punk and Bryan, the added variety of high-flyers like Morrison, Bourne and Sin Cara, the uniqueness of Awesome Kong, the grandeur, theatrics and mixture of talent of Alberto Del Rio, shows to me a WWE future that has a lot of potential.
Eliminating words from a company's description may seem disrespectful, but I'm seeing it as a way to break the chains that bind the company from being seen only one way.
A person who knows nothing about the wrestling aspect of WWE, but sees a movie, TV special, comic book or graphic novel about a character they end up enjoying, might just tune in to see more of that character.
Granted, even with a change like this that predominantly only we see in the IWC, people will likely still view WWE as a wrestling company.
If people aren't into wrestling, and they can't get past the stigmas that WWE is nothing more than a fake, scripted, choreographed program with bad actors, botched moves that aren't real and phony gimmicks, they still won't watch no matter what the company is called.
Then again, even if WWE is no longer World Wrestling Entertainment, now its name is just an arbitrary three-letter label, at least for the time being. No matter how you cut it, naming a wrestling promotion TNA, and expecting a name like that to skyrocket in popularity is gimmicky right from the start.
You can pretty it up by making it an acronym for Total Nonstop Action, but such a low-class idea cheapens it right from the get-go. I don't care how incredible at tag team wrestling Motor City Machine Guns and Beer Money are.
When a promotion can't even be creative enough to come up with a respectable title beyond being an abbreviation for breasts and butts (to put it politely), what's the point?
It's like naming a big budget motion picture a single noun preceded by THE. It worked for Stephen King's The Stand because Stand is extraordinarily general even for a noun.
The Fighter, The Dilemma, The Island, The Fountain, The Conspirator, The Tourist, The Covenant. Gimmicky and too general to garner any real interest in the long-term.
TNA's novelty was over a couple years ago. WWE changed one letter and still has a rich history. Even if its future looks considerably different.