In the entertainment era of professional wrestling, many fans are asking: “Where has all the wrestling gone?” While WWE seems to be pushing the “entertainment” concept for their global company, TNA is in the midst of a “Wrestling Matters” campaign. This is not a new concept for WWE, as fans may remember Jim Cornette ranting about the death of pro wrestling and the birth of sports entertainment in the late 90’s on WWF vignettes. However in recent months, there seems to be a trend moving towards the roots of “sports entertainment” in pro wrestling.
I was not alive to enjoy the glory days of the territory system of the NWA. I was born into Hulkamania. Some of my earliest memories are of Hogan’s rivalries with the Undertaker and Ultimate Warrior. I thought that I was watching the greatest sport in the world, pro wrestling. Little did I know that wrestling was in a transitional phase, from technical in-ring work of the NWA and early WWF, to flamboyant, over-the-top promotional theatrics of the WWE and the new WCW.
This is not to say that wrestling has not always had a theatrical base, but sold in-ring work was a must for the majority of main-event wrestlers. The WWE seems to have forgotten this concept somewhere along the way. This is most evident in the reinvention of Hulkamania through the birth of the Cenation.
I'm not a Cena-hater, like some of the IWC. I respect him in a lot of ways. There is no doubt that his genuine demeanor and charity work should be praised. Although Cena is a great personality, his in-ring skills have been described as boring and predictable. Cena’s limited in-ring performances and Superman status are a deterrent for many older fans.
The top sports entertainment company has a reputation for pushing big guys with limited in-ring ability. However, WWE seems to have taken measures to incorporate solid pro wrestling back into their entertainment conglomerate. Stars like Cody Rhodes, Sin Cara, Wade Barrett, Daniel Bryan, and Dolph Ziggler are solid in-ring performers that are starting to get recognized. CM Punk is no doubt one of the most talented in-ring performers in the company. However, the self-proclaimed “best wrestler in the world” seems to be on his way out of the organization after being neglected by creative for almost his entire tenure.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is TNA’s Impact Wrestling. Everything the WWE seems to have in their entertainment package, TNA seems to lack (and vice versa). TNA has very solid in-ring performers. Their main event wrestlers are the likes of Kurt Angle, Sting, A.J. Styles, Christopher Daniels, and Ken Anderson. These guys are great in the ring and most are good on the microphone. TNA’s recent Destination X pay-per-view was one of the most exciting wrestling events I have seen in a long time. While TNA has the advantage of unpredictable outcomes in their matches, their creative department’s storylines often come across as confusing and poorly structured. Their current “Wrestling Matters” campaign is very appropriate for a company that relies on breath-taking in-ring performance to sell their product.
So where has all of the wrestling gone? WWE has buried it in the depth of their roster, while TNA relies solely on in-ring performance. WWE needs to remember that their young fans might change their interests after a few years. They can’t rely on predictable superhero comebacks in their main event matches forever. TNA must realize they need to structure their storylines to let their exciting in-ring performer’s shine. Matches like Undertaker vs. Michaels should not be the only memorable in-ring performance of the year. Lets hope that frustrated fans can be optimistic about their future.