The other day I was sitting here browsing my beloved wrestling sites and I started wondering about today’s wrestling product. Sure, most of the online fans and message boards seem to be against the current WWE product and everyone condemns TNA for being too WWE-esque, but I thought about today’s product from a different standpoint. I thought about it from my standpoint – the standpoint of a once hardcore wrestling fan who has been a fan of sports entertainment for two decades, if not longer.
What I discovered was not pleasant. Frankly, there is a strong argument to be made that WWE is actively trying to reject all that is “old” – including their long-time fans. There are circumstances to the contrary which I will write about later on, but by and large it seems that long-time fans need not apply to be fans of today’s product.
The biggest example I can give revolves around The Undertaker. Make no mistake about it, The Undertaker’s largest fan base is not WWE’s largest fan base: very young males. The Undertaker is a guy who is loved by the older fans, many teenage fans, almost every person in the wrestling business, and some of the younger viewers. There are legions of guys like me who have enjoyed watching this man’s career in WWE. We’ve waited for years for him to be a serious World Championship contender and when he finally received his payoff at WrestleMania 23, we were robbed of his title reign thanks to a weird injury.
Thankfully, our patience as Undertaker fans paid off because not only did he win another World Championship at WrestleMania 24, but he kept is streak alive, too! Yet through all of this positive energy WWE managed to find a way to disenfranchise my generation of wrestling fans by stripping The Undertaker of his title. What a worthless, pathetic storyline that came completely out of left field and doesn’t even make sense. As Mick Foley alluded to on Smackdown – we’re supposed to believe that The Undertaker should have his title stripped for using a move that was legal at the time of its use? Poor, poor continuity by the writers on that one…
I admit that I’ve been watching more Smackdown! lately and that it really is a great show (cue TBLWrestling.com Webmaster Eddie T. jumping for joy), however having one of my favorite wrestlers for the last twenty years subjected to a sorry ass storyline like this one is grounds for me to stop watching on Friday nights.
Over on the RAW side of WWE the situation is even worse. In my opinion (and the opinion of many other long-time wrestling fans), JPL (the current WWE Champion) had his best days as a goofball in D-Generation X about ten years ago. I would think that JPL even agrees with this assessment since he’s had the same gimmick for the last decade, but I digress.
I often talk to wrestling fans that are much older than I am and everyone has the same opinion on JPL – he’s got a deathgrip on RAW and whatever he wants he gets. For the older wrestling fans in their 30′s and 40′s, they don’t want to see this on a wrestling program. It is likely that they deal with similar situations in their chosen occupations; wrestling is supposed to be an escape from the daily grind. Seeing JPL politick his way into a championship and spit out the same promo each week for the last decade is tiring, boring, and another example of how long-time fans need not apply to be a WWE fan.
Then there is the Tuesday night show that WWE calls ECW, though no one with any respect for professional wrestling would use those call letters. With the overusage of Smackdown! wrestlers on this show it may as well be called Smackdown Lite. Anyway, the ECW brand was once a cult hit. This column will not get into the history and legacy of the original Extreme Championship Wrestling brand, but simply using these letters for a pathetic one-hour show that should be called Heat is insulting…and honestly, it’s false advertising. ECW means something to the long-time wrestling fans – it means excitement, crazy matches, unparalleled intensity. Today it means nothing.
Other areas where WWE proves they do not want older fans any more? How about the horrible use of piped in crowd reaction during the women’s match last week on Smackdown? Look, I’m not a wrestling fan because I want my intelligence insulted, okay? Of course it must piss off WWE that TNA has a pretty good women’s division which actually gets crowd reaction, but that’s because the TNA Knockouts aren’t simply eye candy – characters have a chance to develop. Long-time fans of women’s wrestling need not apply to be a WWE fan today.
And through all of this there are a few signs of hope, though dim. For example, the growing use of excellent wrestlers such as William Regal and Fit Finlay is good to see. The Big Show coming out a few weeks ago and declaring that he is going to be the giant that he is – that’s a great move in the right direction. Even using high-definition broadcasts is good since most older fans are both HD-ready and using digital cable. But these are just small rays of sunshine trying to break through a hurricane.
My take is that with today’s product, long-time fans need not apply.
What’s your view? I’d like to hear it over at The X-Forums!