"Wrestling fans want to watch a wrestling program with wrestlers who wrestle."
— Jim Cornette
Talking about wrestling to non-wrestling fans is tough. Trying to do so makes you realize exactly how "niche" wrestling really is. But I'll try my best to convey my thoughts about the last few months of watching professional wrestling and I'll do it as succinctly and as coherently as I can.
In a nutshell, the largest wrestling company in the history of the world, the WWE, is killing an American artform. And I can't even blame the WWE for it. I have to blame a single human being: Vincent Kennedy McMahon.
Now, when I say that professional wrestling is "an American artform," I'm not using hyperbole or sarcasm or even irony. I mean it with all sincerity. Professional wrestling, for all its broken noses and cracked skulls, is a method of communicating stories. In my mind, that makes it an artform. Sure, pro wrestling has been vulgar, misogynistic, crude, violent and racist… but that isn't the art form. That's what people do with the artform. It's like pointing at Glenn Beck as an example of all American journalism. Or holding up a copy of the film Jackass as an example of all American cinema. It isn't a fair comparison. I won't say that professional wrestling has no blood on its hands–my favorite wrestler of all time was Chris Benoit and that's a damn ugly story that deserved more attention that what folks like Nancy Grace gave–but still, it is a method for communicating stories.
Sometimes, it is vulgar, crude, misogynistic, violent and racist.
And sometimes… sometimes… it is sublime beauty, creating moments in my life I will never forget.
And last night, I'm firmly convinced Vincent Kennedy MacMahon did his damn best do murder one of my favorite art forms.
You see, "Vince" is tired of being known as a professional wrestling promoter. He tried expanding out into different areas. He tried a running a restaurant chain, he tried a professional bodybuilding league, he tried a professional sports league, he even tried buying his wife a seat in the Senate. But other than professional wrestling, VKM has been a failure at everything he's ever attempted. And he's bitter about it.
So, instead of getting out of the wrestling business, Vince has tried to change the wrestling business. It's not professional wrestling… it's sports entertainment. They aren't wrestlers… they're superstars. He's gone so far to change the terminology of the business, his "superstars" don't even wear belts anymore. They're "championships." Here are some more examples from a list–sent out by the WWE–to news stations as a "guide" to how they should speak about the WWE:
- * “Wrestling” or “catch” is banned. Some European countries still use the term “catch” to describe pro wrestling and “catchers” to describe wrestlers. “The Language of WWE” states that the following phrases are incorrect: “Wrestling is broadcast in 145 countries,” or “Catch is broadcast in 145 countries.” The correct terminology is: “WWE is broadcast in 145 countries.”
- * “Sports” is incorrect. “Entertainment or Action Soap Opera” is allowed. For example, “WWE is exciting entertainment” or “WWE is an exciting action soap opera” is allowed. In the last example, “action soap opera” is printed in bold, presumably to make sure there’s no confusion.
- * “Catchers” or “wrestlers” are not allowed. Incorrect examples are “Catchers are unique characters” or “Wrestlers are unique characters.” The term "WWE Superstars” is allowed.
- * “Athletes” or “Sportsmen” are not allowed either. WWE gives the following example to use: “WWE Superstars are entertainers with tremendous athletic prowess.”
- * The term “fight” is not allowed. Matches must be referred to as “match” or “bout.”
- * “Fighting” is also not allowed but the term “action” is.
- “The Language of WWE” printout concludes with the following “Key Soundbytes”:
- * WWE is pure entertainment
- * WWE is an action soap opera
- * WWE Superstars are entertainers with tremendous athletic prowess
Now, I usually don't have a problem with folks reacting to a new audience, allowing an artform to naturally evolve. Hell, I love watching that happen. But all of this comes from a different place. It comes from a place of pure shame. Shame from being a wrestling promoter.
"I'm not a wrestling promoter. I am an entertainer."
But it isn't only the terminology Vince wants to change. He's been slowly changing his show as well. That means less wrestling. And when we get wrestling, it's usually not that good. Or, we get four to five minutes of it. After all, we have to make time for all those whacky skits Vince has thought up for us to watch!
Now, let me say something here about Vince McMahon's sense of humor. He and I do not laugh at the same things. That's fine. I'm all for folks having differences in taste. But what Vince finds funny is calling up one of his announcers–Jim Ross–and telling him, "You're announcing for a show in Chicago." So, Ross gets on a plane and hauls himself out from Oklahoma to Chicago… and Vince tells him, "Just kidding! You aren't on the show!"
I'm dead serious. That's exactly what happened.
Or, what happened last night on Raw. The show was in Oklahoma. Jim Ross, if you haven't figured it out, is an Oakie. He's proud of his home state. He lives there with his wife and children. And last night, with Ross's wife in the front row, Vince McMahon (through his mouthpiece, Johnny Ace) told Jim Ross that he was fired.
Ross did not know what was happening. Nobody told him. He was fired in front of a crowd of his fellow Oklahomans and his wife. And then, the crowd was urged to cheer that he was leaving. Fellow announcer, Michael Cole, stood and clapped and cheered. He said, "This is the greatest night in the history of Raw!"
Jim Ross heard the news. He immediately tipped his hat and walked out. He shook his friend Jerry Lawler's hand and left the building without saying a word.
And Vince McMahon did that in front of Ross's friends and his wife. Because he thought it was funny.
Ross is fired, by the way. It was funny, but it was no joke.
Vince McMahon has never been a nice guy, but what he did last night was fucking cruel. That was cold-hearted bullshit. (Please note my first use of profanity in this essay. I've been holding on to it for a while.)
And that's because Vince McMahon is a bitter, angry, selfish, short-sighted old man who has lost all perspective.
Did I say that Vince is an old man? Let me do that again:
Hey Vince, you're so old, you can't get your dick up without chemical assistance.
Man. That felt good.
Vince doesn't want to be a wrestling promoter anymore? Fine. I've got some advice for Vincent Kennedy McMahon:
GET OUT OF THE WRESTLING BUSINESS.
Last night's show was a walking, talking example of how low the WWE has gone in standards. And I'll demonstrate that to you in a few short, simple steps.
First, to understand wrestling, you have to know that it's a pretty simple formula. There's a guy. He's got a belt. And everybody else wants it. Some guys, the babyfaces, will fight fair to get it. And some guys, the heels, will do anything but fight fair to get it. The babyfaces and heels duke it out for the right to face the guy with the belt at a big event that the fans will pay to see.
And that's how wrestling works: the promoter convinces the fans they want to watch people fight. They do it by building characters and rivalries between the characters. The "hotter" the rivalry–the more "heat" the wrestlers have–the more willing fans will be to spend their money to watch the wrestlers fight.
Sounds simple, doesn't it? Well, it is simple. Except the WWE is fucking it up. Vincent Kennedy McMahon is fucking it up.
Now, on last week's Raw, we ended with a cliffhanger. Hunter Hearst Helmsley–better known as "Triple H" has become the new "on screen boss" of the WWE. (That's because he's Vince's son-in-law and he will eventually be running the company for reals.) A bunch of wrestlers–heels (bad guys)–have been complaining that Raw is "an unsafe work environment" and they want HHH to step down as boss. That's a good heel angle. The bad guys are acting like bad guys. Instead of settling their differences in the ring, they want to settle them in court. Great! Bad guys acting like bad guys.
But there's a problem with this plan. It isn't just the heels who are saying it. It's the babyfaces (the good guys), too. They're complaining about how dangerous Raw has become. And so, at the end of the show, HHH has all the wrestlers gather 'round the ring (while he stands in the middle–looming over them all) and he listens to their complaints.
And every single complaint they have, HHH has a reasonable and rational response. He shoots them all down. And here's the kicker: he's right. He's right about all of it. The wrestlers say Raw is too dangerous. HHH says, "Raw has always been dangerous. What's different now?"
One of the B-level heels says, "I speak for all my co-workers here when I say the workplace is too dangerous." And HHH says, "Weren't you part of the crew last year who came down to the ring, beat the hell out of John Cena, destroyed the set and the ring, attacked the commentary table guys and threatened to shut down the show?"
What the hell is the B-level guy gonna say? "Uh, yeah. I did that. But Raw is still to dangerous!"
In short, all the complaints the writing staff gave the wrestlers were lame. And all of HHH's answers were awesome.
In one fell swoop, Hunter Hearst Hemsley made every single person in the company look like a wimp. A pussy. A crybaby. Only Triple H–THE MIGHTY TRIPLE H–stood in the right.
He turned every single "superstar" on the roster into a heel, leaving himself as the only face.
And what's worse, everything about the show communicated to me that HHH was absolutely right. They were all wrong. They were dumb, stupid, gullible, petty, wimpy ass pussy crybabies. The tag team champions of the world were right there. And they were pussies. The world champion was there. And he was a pussy. The US champion and the intercontinental champion were there. Pussies. Every single Superstar on the roster was nothing compared to THE MIGHTY TRIPLE H.
It made me sick. The industry is filled with stories of the sons of wrestling promoters who are pushed into golden spots over real workers. But I never, in my whole life, thought I'd see a promoter's son get pushed ahead of an entire roster.
And that was only last week. This week, it got even better!
HHH came out to the set alone. He said, "All the other superstars are outside, and I'm here by myself. But I could get a broom and have a better match with that broom than ninety percent of the bums who refuse to come in tonight."
Again: way to make your talent look good. If they're such bad workers, why don't you fire them and hire better ones?
And then, one by one, the three biggest faces in the company–John Cena, Sheamus and CM Punk–came out to the ring. And each of them, one by one… kissed HHH's ass.
I watch Raw with my friends Dan, Mike and Rob. Mike and Rob watch with Dan and I via Skype. Already sick from last week's demonstration of incompetence, we had agreed that we might not make it all the way through this week. And when CM Punk–the voice of dissent in the WWE–came out and kissed HHH's ass, Mike turned to Rob and said, "I'm done."
I was already done from last week. HHH has a long history of burying other guys on the roster that are getting popular–to protect his own spot on the top of the company–but this was…
… I have no words. I just don't.
For three months, CM Punk has represented me. He's a young wrestler who calls himself a wrestler. He isn't a superstar. He isn't a sports entertainer. He's a wrestler. And he had a six minute promo a few months back that voiced exactly what all of us disgruntled wrestling fans have been feeling for years. You can watch it here.
That promo got Dan, Mike, Rob and I watching pro wrestling together. I had not watched wrestling in nearly a year, but that promo told me, "You can watch me. And I'll be your voice."
Of course, that little promo did spike business. It got people like me interested in what the WWE was doing again. But they killed the story. They murdered it. And here's how they did it.
At the next WWE pay-per-view event, it was Punk (my voice) against John Cena (the corporate shill). It was a fantastic match. Both guys worked their asses off. And in the end, Punk won. He won the belt. And he did exactly what he said he was going to do: he "left" the WWE. And all of us were wondering, "What the hell are they going to do now?"
The angle (storyline) had great potential. Punk showing up at shows, showing off the belt to the fans. He showed up at Comicon with the belt and showed it off. He bitched about how the WWE was ashamed of being a wrestling promotion. He said, "I'm the best in the world." And when others said, "You're wrong," he held up that belt and said, "I've got this. And that makes me right."
It was classic. All of us were having fun. But then, it started going wrong.
Punk re-signed a new contract in the very next week and then he lost the belt at the very next show.
"Nice push, kid. Hope you liked it."
And then, Vince booked Punk to lose. Over and over again. Why? Because nobody likes to root for a loser, that's why. In wrestling terms, this is called "burying a guy." You kill his career. You murder his heat with the fans. And how do you do that?
By having the voice of all us disgruntled fans walk into the ring and kiss Triple H's ass. They shook hands. They're buddies now. After Punk spend weeks talking shit about Triple H. After weeks of talking shit about Triple H's wife. After weeks of telling the fans that HHH is just a bully, a guy who doesn't understand wrestling, a guy who buries other guys who might be getting more popular than him… Punk and Trips are buddies now.
Fuck you, Vince McMahon. Fuck you.
My friends and I have been watching your product for four months now. And last night, we all agreed we had enough. CM Punk isn't the only reason we watch Raw, but he's the reason we came back. He was our babyface. He said things that we were saying to each other. And you have murdered that character's integrity. Because you are ashamed of being a wrestling promoter.
Well, Vince, I have to agree with Jim Cornette. We are wrestling fans. And we want to watch a wrestling show with wrestlers who wrestle.
And that means Mike, Dan and I will not be watching your program next Monday night. Instead, we'll be watching Ring of Honor wrestling. Because maybe, just maybe, if their numbers go up and yours continue to go down, maybe you'll notice.
And Punk, we'll be waiting over here for you.
— John Wick
A Wrestling Fan