I was working on my “Best of 2010” list the other day when I got severely sidetracked. When I got to “Biggest Holy Shit Moment in Wrestling” I was struck by how few there were that I could recall. As a matter of fact, the one I chose was literally the only one I could come up with.
This led to the article you are about to read (or skip if you are one of the millions… and millions of people who no longer give a shit about the only sport I would ever claim to have loved). I kind of went off, but towards the end I ran out of steam. Mainly because I just don’t give a shit about this once-great sport.
Pro wrestling started off with an emphasis on physicality. It was two guys in a contest of will, strength, wit and skill; and that is what captured America’s interest. Then television came along and guys like Gorgeous George made the sport more about showmanship and drama. During the seventies, pro-wrestling got physical again. It was once again about powerful men waging physical war against one another. The theatricality was certainly still present, but the fans really wanted blood. In the eighties, with the emergence of Vince McMahon Jr.’s WWF and Hulk Hogan, pro-wrestling veered back towards showmanship and downright silliness and earned its place in pop-culture history. And then the mid-nineties brought about the golden age of wrestling: the perfect marriage of athleticism and entertainment. The storylines were exciting and daring and the in-ring product was no less so. That lasted about five years. Ever since then the product has been experiencing a slow decline in entertainment value. Why?
WWE (TNA is a painful non-factor. The company is so poorly run and mind-bogglingly inconsistent that I can’t even begin to address their issues here. That would be a whole separate article that would require me to give a lot more of a shit about that company than I do to sit down and write.) has watered down their in-ring product to the point where it can barely be distinguished from the product we were offered even five years ago. I specifically remember lamenting the state of the WWE in 2002. I would have laughed at the idea that eight years later I would be looking back on things with fondness. Today’s on-screen product is suffering due to a self-imposed “TV-PG” rating, a slew of rules regarding the way matches can occur and a serious problem with star-making. This may seem obvious, but all of these problems come directly from WWE management.
The “TV-PG” rating was put in place both to appease WWE’s toy licensee – Mattel – and because of Linda McMahon’s recent (unfulfilled) political aspirations. The kinder, gentler rating should not be a huge problem. Smart people can entertain without working blue. Unfortunately, the people that currently write WWE’s material are demonstrably not smart. So we get the bland storylines and matches I mentioned above.
Another contributor to the dullness of the product is a set of limitations on what can take place in the ring. I am not totally informed about this (mostly because I do not work for the WWE, but also because I don’t follow wrestling websites nearly as closely as I used to) but I’m sure you could get more specifics if you want to do a little research. I just know that the old “NO PILEDRIVERS” rule has been expanded. A lot. While I can understand making certain moves legitimately illegal to perform in a WWE ring, even to the point of banning moves for lengths of time due to unfortunate circumstances (such as the Crippler Crossface); I really think it should be left to the wrestlers to determine which moves to use and when. There is also a “NO BLOOD” rule that may or may not include Pay-Per-View main events (I haven’t gotten a PPV in so long I can’t rightly say whether or not they’re bleeding on them). While I do think bloodshed should be used only sparingly as a storytelling device, its absence is jarring and ridiculous. This is wrestling, not chess. The stories we are witnessing occur because two people are so angry they have to beat each other up to reconcile their disputes. C’mon, people.
The final problem is the lack of talented people on screen. This, in my opinion, is the big one. And it isn’t solely the fault of the wrestlers. What we have now is a crop of guys who have learned everything they know from being in the WWE. This means that all of their words have come from scripts. All of their matches have been under ten minutes (most under five). They haven’t grown because there has been no need to grow and even worse, they have not been permitted to grow. Drew McIntyre is a prime example. He is not one bit better today than he was when he first walked onto SmackDown two years ago. I don’t think he’s incompetent. I don’t think he’s a bad talker. He just hasn’t had the opportunity to define himself and work hard to get to the position he needs to be in.
Kofi Kingston is also an interesting example. He was absolutely on fire sometime last year (or maybe even the year before – I’m not sure) when he was feuding with Orton. Kofi was giving great promos, having great matches and the crowds were going apeshit every single time he showed up. He was on the verge of being a viable contender to the title. And then Orton beat him up a bunch of times and he just sort of faded away. Granted, this is more an example of WWE’s stupidity.
I mean, I used to actually sit down and devote 4-6 hours of my week – every week – to wrestling. Now I sometimes can't even be bothered to watch the DVR recording. And I love pro wrestling. I still watch stuff from my huge DVD collection on a regular basis. I still purchase compilations of old material. I bought the new Jericho set the day it came out. The PCW shows we attended recently were some of the best things I did this year. So it isn't me.
I could go on, but I never intended to make this a whole thing. If most of it made sense, cool. If not, then I just had a nice, crazy rant and got it off my chest. Please return tomorrow for another fine toy review!
Until next time, stay creepy