‘Anything can happen in the World Wrestling Federation!’
Those famous words, synonymous with WWF/E programming for much of its lifetime is something that many wrestling fans think of when they remember pivotal moments throughout the company’s history. Hulkamania, Austin 3:16, Super Cena, The Yes Movement – all moments and stories that are individual to wrestling in a way many art forms cannot emulate.
A viewer cannot influence a film as they watch, just like someone cannot influence an album as they listen. But a wrestling fan can influence the wrestling show they’re watching. If a wrestling fan doesn’t like someone, they make it heard. If a crowd at a wrestling show don’t enjoy the match, they make it heard. And that is exactly why we all love this mental world that gets ridiculed by everyone else. Because it’s fun and us, the fans, are as much a part of the show as the performers. And WWE is a massive, arguably the biggest, cog in that wheel.
But, can that honestly be said for a WWE fan in 2019? What is the life of a WWE fan in modern-day times? It’s not as clear cut as it once was. With everything in life, nostalgia plays a large part in formulating opinions of something you have loved for a long time. There are many individuals who will assert, to death, that the Star Wars’ prequel trilogy is the best despite the obvious and clear flaws. Why is that? Often it is because they were the first films in that franchise they grew up with. Likewise many would argue, consistently, that ‘Sharkboy and Lavagirl‘ is a cinematic triumph that should be touted as a masterclass of cinema despite it being absolutely awful. Why is that? Well, they watched it when they were six, so love it. As they were a child where life is great.
Wrestling fans are no different. Nine times out of ten, the ‘greatest time in wrestling’ was whenever that person started watching as a kid. Someone in their, now, late 20’s/early 30’s will say the Attitude Era was the best. Others, older fans, would argue the NWA and late 80’s Era was the best. Kids of today would probably say WWE programming now is the best ever as it’s their first introduction. Because it’s all subjective.
So when something is bad, as an adult, we can look at the product objectively and don’t have much bias behind it… most of the time. So when WWE is currently enduring their lowest ratings in decades – rivalling that of the infamous days of 1995 WWF – more fans are vocal about it than ever before. So why is it THIS bad, especially if you listen to the constant barrage of social media?
The first reason WWE programming is tailing is the largest reason – no solid competition. Whilst yes, the entire wrestling community of hardcore fans are almost cult-like in their admiration for All Elite Wrestling and New Japan; it is foolish to suggest they pose a viable, economical threat to World Wrestling Entertainment.
Ask your mum and dad about wrestling. Ask a friend who doesn’t watch it. Ask a person you work with. When you ask, they’ll go; ‘Aw- like the WWE?’. Vince and Co have managed to make his company and group of wre…’superstars’ eclipse the smaller world of professional wrestling and into the general world of fame, television and media as a whole. And that is, undeniably, through hard work and commitment to a product over thirty+ years.
However, this has, in the modern day climate, created a monopoly over wrestling. The entire mission statement of AEW is ‘to provide an alternative’. And why are they doing that? Because WWE programming is the only show in town and, as a result, has become stale beyond belief. You can describe every show like the back of your hand – Show opens with a 15 minute promo, sets up a tag match/main event, random backstage interview, another promo, random singles match with no story, more interviews, women’s segment and then the main event. Rinse and repeat, 52 weeks a year. That creates stagnation, lack of creativity and boredom amongst viewers.
Jon Moxley describes this in detail. In his incredible interview with Chris Jericho, the former Dean Ambrose detailed how multiple writers were used for multiple promos with the same performer and that is easily apparent to the watchers at home. Nothing feels real, nothing feels natural. Everything feels scripted to a T.
Even when you move away from the admin side of the WWE, the political and social situation is perhaps even more worrying. As I write this, WWE is currently flying all male, main roster talent to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for ‘Super ShowDown’ – the latest of shows held in the country after WWE agreed a 10 year contract with the nation back at the start of 2018.
I don’t need to go into the detail of what the Saudi Royal Family and Government have been involved in and what laws they have as, I’m sure, you know at least the basics yourself. But a fully fledged, publicly traded, first world company should not be advertising their nation as a ‘progressive, great nation’ on national television and on their own private streaming service. Their women are not allowed to travel to the nation or appear on the shows, certain members of the roster either refuse to attend the shows or are explicitly told they cannot and, in the most recent show ‘Crown Jewel’, mass media attention and scrutiny was brought forward by the Late Night Show host John Oliver on his show ‘Last Week Tonight’.
WWE are just not doing themselves any favours just now. And it affects fans. As previously mentioned, ratings are at a historic low due to, in part, awful, inconsistent, illogical television and the rise of alternatives, most notably AEW and NJPW. But… it’s not all bad.
The biggest positive that WWE and Vince have is that, as of June 2019, the current roster is easily the most talented the company has EVER had at their disposal. With stars such as Seth Rollins, AJ Styles, The Revival, The Usos, Rusev, Shinsuke Nakamura, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, The New Day, Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Bayley, Sasha Banks(?), Tyler Breeze, Drew McIntyre, Alexa Bliss, Andrade, Finn Balor, Ricochet, Cesaro, Zelina Vega, Samoa Joe, Daniel Bryan… I could literally talk for days and that’s just on the main roster. When WWE get their programming right, nine times out of ten it’s when they just let the talent be wrestlers. They go out and have fantastic, intricate and well-thought out wrestling matches and that’s exactly why we all watch wrestling.
Secondly, as just hinted at, WWE is quietly putting out the best wrestling product in the world right now. Yes, whilst the weekly TV episodes aren’t anything to write home about – when NXT come to town and have a Takeover, there is always at least one match of the year candidate and every single show delivers and somehow eclipses the one before. Triple H, as known by everyone, is at the helm of the black and yellow brand and gives EVERY wrestling fan hope for the future of the main roster product.
Overall… it’s really hard to adequately state the current mindset of a WWE fan. Because, despite all the terrible writing, the terrible shows, the awful political messages – fans keep coming back for the in-ring content. There are characters we’ve fallen in love with and don’t want to leave behind. We’ve gone on journeys with these characters and want to watch them succeed. So will I stop watching WWE in the near future? No. Honestly I won’t. But, if AEW in particular continues to grow as a brand and WWE does not change with the times…it will be harder to justify tuning in to truly see if anything CAN happen in the World Wrestling Entertainment.
You can find me on Twitter @McIverTheMark. Thanks for reading.