Written by Matt Bradley
Looking at the #CancelWWENetwork “Movement”
You have to appeal to the casual fan. Get the celebrities for guest appearances. Throw in some comedy segments. In rhetoric and action, drive home the point that you’re in the entertainment business. The diehard wrestling fans will always be there.
But what if they aren’t?
For many of the diehard wrestling fans who made the decision to stop giving out that $9.99 every month, cancelling the network wasn’t about one match, one wrestler, or one show. It was the culmination of years of decisions where the dedicated fan is taken for granted, as decision after decision gets made to appeal to the casual fans.
The first thing a lot of people are saying about the #CancelWWENetwork trend is that fans were hypocritical in that, when it came down to the final two wrestlers in the very same event last year, they were begging for Roman Reigns to eliminate Batista. This, though, is missing the point.
The fans at the 2014 Royal Rumble – an event that almost always draws a highly vocal crowd of diehard wrestling fans – booed Batista because he embodied WWE’s decision to try to bring in the casual fans, rather than push Daniel Bryan, the wrestler with the most momentum and fan support leading into the event. Reigns was only cheered because, when it finally came down to two men, the fans came back with an “anybody-but-Batista” response.
Fast forward one year later, and Roman Reigns gets put in Batista role. After fan-favorite Daniel Bryan, fresh off of a return from a neck injury, was eliminated early in the match, fans knew the outcome was set in stone. A chorus of boos rained down as the minutes went on, only letting up when stars like Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler – two wrestlers also with the support of the diehard fans – were wrestling in the match. But, by the end, WWE repeated its mistakes of 2014, and the fans once again fought back with an “anybody-but-Reigns” response. This is illustrated by the fact that Rusev, the anti-American heel who is usually one of the most hated wrestlers on the show, was cheered over Reigns in the final moments of the match.
Reigns, a surefire future main eventer, did not deserve this treatment, just as Batista did not deserve it in 2014. But Reigns was put in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it has potential to greatly hinder what could have been a great face push to build a new real superstar.
Another point detractors are saying is that Daniel Bryan can’t win every match, and can’t always be in the main event. I would argue that this wasn’t about Daniel Bryan. While he was the overwhelming fan-favorite to win, it was not Daniel Bryan losing that caused this harsh response. It was WWE sticking with the same formula that has slowly been driving away their diehard fans. If Dean Ambrose, the only Shield member not yet put into the title hunt had won the Royal Rumble, there would not be a #CancelWWENetwork trend. If Dolph Ziggler had surprised everyone with a Royal Rumble victory as he did with his amazing performance at Survivor Series, there would not be a #CancelWWENetwork trend. If Rusev had snuck back in and thrown Reigns out, there would not be a #CancelWWENetwork trend.
WWE made a statement last night by having Roman Reigns win the 2015 Royal Rumble. And that statement is that they do not need to cater to the diehard wrestling fans, and that they take those fans for granted. They don’t need to listen to those fans, because they’ll keep buying tickets to shows, keep watching Raw and Smackdown every week, and keep subscribing to the Network month after month. And, for once, the diehard fans are doing more than complaining on r/squaredcircle. They’re voicing their displeasure with their wallets.
I canceled my subscription network about 20 minutes after the end of the Royal Rumble pay-per-view. I’ll probably be back, at some point – I am, after all, a diehard wrestling fan. But, for the first time since the Network went live, my $9.99/month is no longer a sure thing.