Welcome to the first wrestling column of 2014!
It is funny to read as a type this. I do not need to remind anyone the WWE programming is scripted like any other televised sitcom, drama, or comedy. It is a TV show, plain and simple. I think about how long ago when I was a kid, I acted like it was real. Colorful characters, good guys and bad guys, you really thought it was as real as any other TV show. You get older and you realize this stuff is staged, you question how fake it is. You get a little older, mature in the brain a bit, and you form the conclusion which WWE is, it is exactly as Vince McMahon says it is, Sports-entertainment. You realize the wrestling, the physical action in the ring is not what is “fake” or “staged” but it is the end result of the contest. Just like a sitcom. You have your characters who start the show, and they progress through the episode to reach its conclusion. WWE television is pretty much the same way. You have your “superstars” and by the end of the match, you have your winner and your loser.
During the Attitude Era of WWE, it was more about shock value and envelope pushing more over than storylines. The wrestling became a less focused part of the overall program. It was about fistfights, arguments, schemes, backstabbing, rebellious behavior, and everything which made for edgy television. It became “what could they do next” or “how can they top that” over the sort of programming we have now. In the early 2000, wrestling took back the spotlight with popular submission-style and mat-based action which paved the way for UFC and MMA fighting to gain a foothold in mainstream media. With wrestlers like: Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Perry Saturn, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle, Mark Jindrak, Sean O’Haire, Booker T, and others with the absorption of WCW and ECW into the WWE roster, there was a boom of exception talent with exceptional wrestling ability. For those of you who watched, the most common chants were “Tap! Tap! Tap!” during intense submission holds. The Suplex-fests dominated matches with Edge, Angle, Benoit, Guerrero, and Lesnar. Yes, Brock Lesnar was at one time a wrestling machine and not a MMA move-set guy.
Now, modern-era, we all know it is scripted. Even the six-year-olds who scream for John Cena know it is just a TV show. I look at it differently. I watch wrestling very differently than when I was a child, during the Attitude Era, to the way I watch it today. I enjoy watching the story unfold, and then talking with my wife or my friends about what could be scripted next. It is just like when we watch How I Met Your Mother, Justified, Law & Order, or even Pawn Stars. We talk about what the producers and script writers have in store for us next.
It is no secret, and a simple Google search of my name will reveal I was once employed by WWE. Did working there change the way I watched wrestling? Was I still a fan? The answer is yes on both counts, but in a positive way. I looked at the business side of the program. What makes for good television and what does not. Sure, we always want Dolph Ziggler to win, or we want a guy like Daniel Bryan to be WWE Champion forever, but where is the fun, the entertainment if it is not compelling. To be honest, when WWE turned CM Punk into a heel while he was holding the WWE Championship, it was a great decision and made for great programming. He went up against The Rock, he cut more scathing promos, he then was paired with Paul Heyman. I thought it was genius. With a guy like Punk, it was the same as Edge from years ago. Book him as a face, book him as a heel, it will never, ever matter because Punk, like Edge is a guy we want on TV every week because he is just that damn good.
I miss Edge.
I forsee a WWE where there will be no obviously stated faces or heels. I believe, and I expect it fully after WrestleMania 30, where the characters will be exactly who they are, and fans will either cheer or boo who they like and dislike. In the past year Dolph Ziggler was booked as a major heel, but yet he was cheered in every match. Remember his run as Money in the Bank contract holder? How many nights on RAW, SmackDown, or at a pay-per-view did the crowd chant “We Want Ziggler” whenever Alberto del Rio, a babyface, was out to defend his World Championship? The times are changing again, changing for the better.