We are now more than a decade from pro wrestling’s last “boom” period – the WWF’s Attitude era, which was bolstered by the Monday Night Wars against WCW and the overwhelming influence of Paul Heyman’s ECW. Since March 2001, the only game in town has been the WWF, now the WWE. TNA – aka the wrestling promotion with the worst name in history – tried to make itself a legit contender by going head to head versus the WWE in January 2010 and promptly got squashed, but that’s a story for a different time.
And boy, is it brutal. Every week, wrestling fans are treated to an endless array of garbage spewed out from the WWE trying to convince the fans that they aren’t watching wrestling – they are watching entertainers perform, as if this was Broadway and you were watching Jim Parsons in Harvey.
The backstage skits. The long promos. The contrived,over-produced segments. The constant pandering to Twitter. The insane “Did You Know?” segments that are almost always factually inaccurate. It’s painful.
Even the biggest WWE feud in recent memory between John Cena and the Rock had absolutely nothing to do with who was going win the match. For a full year, John Cena & the Rock traded verbal insults – via taped promo, via Twitter, via Facebook and sometimes actually face-to-face – about how who was the biggest star, who had the most fans and who was the best entertainer.
Somewhere, Steve Austin was drinking beer and smashing something.
However, it doesn’t matter what I write here. It doesn’t matter what the thousands of pro wrestling fans write every day on blogs, message boards and social media every second of every day. There is no alternative. If you’re a fan of wrestling, you have to watch the WWE.
Take myself for an example. I like pro wrestling. I don’t like the current state of the WWE at all. Yet, I have nowhere else to go. If I want to watch wrestling on my television, I have to watch the WWE. If I want to watch classic matches from the past, then I’m going to have to buy DVDs from the WWE, which also owns the footage of just about every former promotion in history. It is a monopoly.
And the only ones that are truly hurt are the fans. The WWE makes money hand over fist – even if their stock plummets and the company’s value is half of what it was 3 years ago. They are still making money, just less of it. And they will always make money simply by existing and improving its corporate infrastructure.
As for the weekly television shows and monthly pay-per-views? They continue to fall deeper and deeper into the morass. Whenever a glimmer of hope arises, it’s snuffed out quicker than you can say “monopoly.” In 2010, the Nexus appeared out of nowhere and seemed to be the next big thing – they were rendered meaningless in months.
Last June, CM Punk appeared to be the savior of professional wrestling with his now famous semi-shoot on Vince McMahon and instant classic main event against John Cena at Money In The Bank. Punk is the still the WWE champion – but has failed to main event a show in 2012.
Just 2 short months ago, Brock Lesnar – yes, THE BrockLesnar – returned the night after WrestleMania and shook wrestling fans across the world up. Finally, the thought was, we can get a break from John Cena, a break from the terrible acting, a break from the awful soap opera storylines and a return to when pro wrestling was merely about two guys trying to prove who was the best at their craft. Cena promptly won the match. Lesnar “quit” the WWE and has been moved into an already dreadful feud with Triple H over legalese and contracts.
If you hadn’t watched the WWE since 2006 and turned it on this week, just about everything would be the same, though some of the faces have changed. John Cena is still the man the show revolves around. The storylines are still ill-conceived. The word “wrestling” is still not uttered by anyone. The Raw set looks exactly the same. The WWE style of wrestling is still prevalent – meaning everybody looks, acts, talks and wrestles in a similar manner. Frankly, the main difference would be the constant, nonstop, counter-productive pimping of Twitter hashtags like a Glee episode gone bad.
Yet, nothing will change. Without a competitor or impetus, Vince McMahon will continue to plod along with his painfully stale WWE. The quarterly shareholders calls have almost nothing to do with pro wrestling anymore. It’s about diversifying the portfolio, about making the movie division profitable, about improving merchandise, about finding new global markets and about a pipe dream of a television network. I don’t begrudge Vince McMahon as a businessman – he knows what he needs to do to make money.
But what about the wrestling? No need to do anything there, because there are at least 4 million people each week that will watch no matter how terrible or how awful the product becomes. They like pro wrestling. This isn’t the NFL or NBA, where a terrible product means a sports fan can easily move onto another sport. There is no other pro wrestling.
So the 4 million of us tune in every week and we hate ourselves for it. I’d like to tell you I’ll stop watching Raw until it gets better but, I like wrestling, and I have no other options.
As a fan, I’m forced to watch garbage. I watch less now. But I still watch, even if I hate myself for it. And that’s why a monopoly is bad.
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