I guess I should thank Vince McMahon for shunning the term “professional wrestling”.
As it is, and as a fan, I’ve never ran away from that term, even when Vince’s product was at its most vulgar, even when I was watching hardcore styles that defied logic and longevity of careers, even when I started to wake up and realize the perversions that have been portrayed over the years.
I still don’t run away from that term, even though what I’ve always considered professional wrestling is merely a pale reflection on what it used to be. For some strange reason, I’m still attracted to this crazy performance art, this mind-boggling industry where mostly grown men pretend to fight with each other in their underwear, this subculture of sports and entertainment that once could be called ‘legitimate’ in its own peculiar way.
Yeah, that’s a punch line, that last phrase there.
Wrestling is, was and may be in the future, some sort of ‘legitimate’ endeavor, partly based on PT Barnum’s maxim, partly based on the efforts of talented wrestlers, partly based on entertainment that makes sense, partly based on a more realistic relationship between promoters and fans.
But the trend these days is more to the ‘sucker born every minute’ notion, than any other aspect.
That remains the crux of my frustrations with both the WWE and its biggest fans.
Well, I’ve lived through generations of wrestling fans and know the arguments, the badgering and the sensibilities of people who are so rabid in defending the indefensible. I know it’s a no-win situation, and yet I battle it out far too often, for far too long.
If you point out that wrestling sucks, then you get the response that Vince is a great promoter. If you point out that wrestling isn’t the same as it once was, then you’re decried as someone out of touch with ‘reality’ – whatever that means in a worked/shoot environment.
When you wish that wrestling would catch fire, that either TNA (er, Impact Wrestling!) or the WWE would just let their talent do what they can do in the ring, well, that’s just the way it is.
We’ve seen a decade of Hollywood style decision making, removal of personal talent and increasing distance from the days when people in the ring performed, reacted and interacted to make an enjoyable match.
Yet the examples of what works and what does not are ignored all around.
Vince apparently met his goal this year in terms of getting One Million buys for WrestleMania. But what suited that goal? Was it The Miz & Snooki? Was it hotshotting the two biggest, current legends in the ring? Or was it the return of The Rock, who proved his worth to Hollywood and Wrestling in a few months span?
I’ll say it was two of the three.
And in those two reasons, it wasn’t exactly business as usual that spurred interest. Between HHH, The Undertaker & The Rock, and of course John Cena, there exists quite a few guys who just know how to work, how to hype and how to, well, call me a crazed fan, but they know how to wrestle professionally.
HHH learned it from Killer Kowalski. The Undertaker learned on the road in his early career, and moved around a few promotions and learned the hard way, and learned what works and doesn’t work through years of doing his own thing.
And The Rock?
Well, his family has multiple generations in this industry, and he’s obviously a student of the game.
I’ve always considered The Undertaker as the best gimmick of all time, and while gimmicks can make or break a career, there are few guys who took a gimmick and enforced it to such a profitable career. I’ve always considered HHH one of the most technically sound wrestlers, a true student of the game, and a guy who was perfect in his role over the past decade and a half. The Rock? In terms of the total package of wrestling – charisma, physical presence, working ability, drawing for his era: he’s at the top of the list
All three of these guys are unique and superlative talents. None of whom would be who they are if their careers were controlled as much as today’s top stars.
For example, John Cena.
Which is what the debate should be about today: whether the WWE can recognize that individual talents are what drive this unique form of sports entertainment. Guys like those who made a difference at WrestleMania were honed by real experience in the ring: they were able to develop their own talents, and can now truly interact with the fans-- like The Rock, who can truly deliver in the ring -- like HHH, who can more completely handle their gimmicks -- like the Undertaker.
What’s amusing is that the best of professional wrestling’s eras were driven by a guy at the top, who controlled his own destiny, and who worked both with and against the promoter in charge.
Today, we wonder why guys aren’t over, and we look at John Cena, and we see someone with most of the aspects of a true Champion, but he’s just not where he could be. And that’s because he’s a product of a product that has almost completely severed the connections between fans and wrestlers.
Proof in point?
What’s strange is that professional wrestling, as a term for this unique form of sports entertainment, is now being shunned by the biggest promotion on the planet. Shunned because of some weird concern about calling itself professional wrestling even though that same promotion is what has driven the mainstream recognition of that term, is synonymous with the term, and has conquered all rivals.
The WWE is now calling itself only that…. The initials: WWE. No longer even bothering with the name World Wrestling Entertainment, no longer wishing to be associated with wrestling, ‘rassling, or pro wrestling in any way, shape or form.
Which is odd, because when ESPN moved away from explaining the initials, it still was an outlet for sports, sports reporting and entertainment based on sports. And when KFC moved away from calling itself Kentucky Fried Chicken, they didn’t stop selling chicken. So when the WWE says it wants to be entertainment, not wrestling, so it ditches the meaning of Wrestling & Entertainment from its name, what’s left?
Wrestling that isn’t entertaining?
The joke, though, is on Vince McMahon, who will never remove his company from the concept of professional wrestling, and who will never escape the fact that he can be called the world’s greatest professional wrestling promoter, but has yet to translate that accolade (world’s greatest) to any other endeavor.
Vince has tried to promote motorcycle jumps, bodybuilding, football, boxing and a slew of really bad and/or really forgettable movies, none of which have done 1/10th of the business he has generated in that industry we all call “wrestling”.
What’s even funnier, is, that the WrestleMania buys are in, and Vince did indeed break a million buys.
How did the impresario of professional wrestling accomplish his goal?
He went back a decade, brought in Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and hyped up his appearance, brought back a lot of older fans, and created some moments of interest to old and new wrestling fans. Sure, Vince might say that Snooki generated interest, or The Miz generated interest, but this isn’t the MTV generation of the 1980’s, and MTV wasn’t exactly advertising the WWE.
With The Rock pulling in 86 million for Fast and Furious 5 two weeks ago, it looks like Johnson got the best of both worlds, proving to the wrestling world that he’s the biggest box office draw to come from wrestling, and proving to the movie industry that he is a prime time player that can generate money on the big screen, and on the big stage of wrestling.
Look for Vince McMahon to spend a lot of money in a lot of places to pretend to the world that his unique genius is not bounded by the terminology professional wrestling, but look for him to lose a lot of that money, and if the past is any indicator, look for him to lose it in a laughable manner.
Meanwhile, as professional wrestling fades as MMA grows, and the real wrestling fans look forward to The Rock vs John Cena at WM 28, let’s see if Vince the wrestling genius can maintain momentum.
But the strange twist is that The Rock is going to be himself, and will ultimately have his own way, because he’s earned it, he’s got to be accommodated to play along, and in essence, he knows his stuff far better than either Vince or his hired yes-men.
The Rock is a professional wrestler, using his well honed talents in the industry, being successful to a much larger degree than guys who have followed him in the past decade, have had bigger opportunities, bigger platforms to perform on, but have never achieved as much.
The point, as if I should start focusing on such a thing in my writing, is that when Vince is paired with a talented individual, is challenged and can do what he does best – promote, while the talent does what they do best – entertain, then strangely enough, things seem to go profitably.
But when Vince is steadfast in proving that he has both promotional proficiency and entertainment talent, he doesn’t do too well.
So why am I pointing that out?
Well, because in the end, I’m a professional wrestling fan above all, and I really don’t care who makes a million or a billion, as long as I can enjoy the product. And for the past ten years I’ve been driven to the fringes of the industry, and while I don’t begrudge the indy circuits, I’d love to really be able to watch professional wrestling on TV and not cringe or be insulted or wonder why I should bother.
Because in the end, if professional wrestling fans weren’t so insulted, maybe it would improve everything in the industry. And if Vince making gobs of money in other endeavors makes that happen, I’m all for wishing Vince good luck.
"Break a Leg", Vince.
But let's not take that in the wrong way....