Pro wrestling is currently on the way to an upswing. Popularity is finally moving upwards which is a great thing; I thought I would look at why it has taken so long for this to happen.
I am a child of the 1980s. I have been watching wrestling since the age of four and remember the first time I saw it on TV. It was from a dingy hall in Stoke on Trent and Big daddy was ruling the airwaves. This was the pantomime stuff. Great to watch as a child. Then in came the WWF (at the time) and everything was brighter, the wrestlers where bigger and the presentation looked like something that couldn’t be missed. I was hooked. Initially my favourite was Macho Man, mainly because he had a beard like my Dad.
This was the first upswing in popularity for wrestling in my lifetime. Looking back on it now there were three reasons for this. The first being that the WWF ran a better show, a bigger show and they just crushed everyone else in terms of the show aspect of professional wrestling.
The second reason, and the one I think is more important, is that there was a varied roster of wrestlers who believed in what they were doing 100%. No one was pretending, they all believed. From the Honky Tonk Man to the Ultimate Warrior. Each served a different purpose, some for comedy and somewhere serious. But everyone believed in what they were doing.
The third reason was also a key consideration. If the people got behind someone, the WWF decided to go with them and give them a push that matched their reaction. Hulk Hogan obviously got the monster push, but that was equal to his reaction. They hitched the wagon to the Hogan rocket and it was the perfect match.
The 80s gave way to the 90s, and everything changed. TV got edgier, music became grunge and wrestling fans wanted something different. But the way WWF did business didn’t change. They had gone through the Bret Hart and HBK era, gotten through a steroid scandal (although how is it a scandal in a fake, cosmetic ‘sport’?). The WWF needed a change, and through a series of random events (Triple H missing the king of the ring tournament), Steve Austin was given an opportunity.
Why was he given the opportunity? Because the people were beginning to respond to him. As the Ringmaster, he was intense but bland. When ‘Stone Cold’ began appearing, the people began to respond. This lead to him winning the tournament and cutting that promo. The Austin 3:16 interview was retold in school the next day and we were off to the races.
Again, the WWF had allowed the fans to choose who their next star would be, and built everything around it to a monster success. Austin had a supporting cast that was stellar. The Rock, Triple H, Mick Foley, The New Age Outlaws along with the tier below them D-lo and Val Venis. Everyone believed what they were doing and the competition was real.
But, like everything, the up becomes a down – which brings us along to the mid 2000s. John Cena started as a beige, boring and colourless wrestler who looked great but didn’t have much to him. I was at a show in Belfast where he got booed so much he started to give it back to the crowd. He showed personality. Then he dressed up as Vanilla Ice, started rapping and the WWE (the panda took the F out) and he became the most important cog in the WWE wheel.
The problem, however, was that the WWE changed their method of star creation. They decided to start pushing Cena above the reaction he was getting. Assuming that he was Hogan or Austin for this generation, they pushed him hard. In the beginning this worked. But it quickly leads to boos from the people. Remembering his reaction in Belfast to boos made me think he would be ok, and he was.
Now we get to the proof that WWE have completely lost their way in creating stars.
Daniel Bryan came along and from day 1 elicited a reaction that in any other era would have led to him being given the keys to the castle. But he was too small, boring and had minimal personality. Instead of working with him, WWE just closed the door on him.
Again, in any other era, Bryan would have been pushed to the moon. They picked Roman Reigns instead. This isn’t a piece about being anti-Reigns, because I like the lad. He is very good. Hugely charismatic and is a star. The people made WWE put Bryan in the main event of Wrestlemania and he had a moment that will be on WWE programming forever. Then they chopped him down and he is gone now because of the massive shots to the head.
Reigns is here, they have closed the door on Bryan, Cesaro and even Ziggler back in the day. Aside from changing the way they create stars, they have depleted the supporting cast with nonsense gimmicks and storylines that are lazy. Thirty writers and this is what they come up with?
WWE used to be able to create a roster that had huge money in them, but now they depend on TV rights fees and merchandise to prop up the bottom line. It is easily fixed, but arrogance and private jets mean we could be stuck here for a while.
Neil Keegan, Pundit Arena