If you're a professional wrestling fan, chances are you are thinking this to yourself anyway, but go ahead and say it:
Wrestling sucks these days. It sucks ass, truth be told.
There. Feel better? Good.
Because the truth is that if you are a professional wrestling fan, you are not alone. Not by any means. From the completely botched relaunch of Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), to Vince McMahon's apparent fascination with displaying the naked male ass on television, the past several months have not been good times for fans of professional wrestling.
This is because Vincent Kennedy McMahon, the man who for all intents and purposes single-handedly controls our beloved "fake sport" of wrasslin', seems to have developed a very unique way of clutching defeat from the potential arms of victory.
And here's the bad news.
From the looks of things, it doesn't look to be getting better anytime soon. For those of us really hardcore fans, like myself, who keep telling ourselves week after week that the turnaround is coming, the truth is it may be time to stop deluding ourselves.
We've suffered through similiar downturns in the popularity of our beloved "fake sport." Remember the early nineties? Me and my ever shrinking circle of wrestling buddies, who've long since gone on to find more productive and entertaining ways to spend their Monday nights during the off-football season (not to mention the once a month all day Sunday pay per view extravaganzas) sure do.
The post-Hulk Hogan glory years, which should have brought fans the greatest boom in wrestling history, instead brought us the early nineties. This was a wasteland of missed opportunities and botched gimmicks. This was where the dream match of wrestling fans everywhere, Ric Flair vs. Hulk Hogan, had to be put on hold because of the steroid scandal. Instead what did we get for Wrestlemania? I can't remember exactly, but I want to say it was something like Sid Vicious vs. Randy "Macho Man" Savage.
What I know for sure was that it sucked.
My circle of wrestling buddies (which is again ever-so-shrinking these days) often refer not so fondly to this period as "the shit years." In addition to the botched dream matches and angles, this period is best remembered as the time Vince McMahon attempted to launch a body building promotion around the talentless, 'roided up freak, Lex Luger.
Of course there were also the numerous bad gimmicks of the day. Anybody remember the Voodoo man Papa Shango? How about Bastion Booger or Duke "The Dumpster" Droese? Talk about your "garbage wrestling." For those who need a refresher of this little trip down memory lane, I highly recommend turning your browsers towards Wrestlecrap, the online shrine to the worst of professional wrestling.
Somehow wrestling still survived the "shit years." The reason why had everything to do with competition. Sensing blood in the water, Ted Turner's WCW (World Championship Wrestling) gobbled up Vince McMahon's WWF stars from Hogan to Savage in the mid-nineties.
Then, and not without a little luck and a whole a lot of ego involved, a guy named Eric Bischoff came up with the idea of going head to head with Vince's USA show on Monday nights on Turner's TBS. Bischoff had no problem shamelessly ripping off McMahon's ideas, and even named the show Monday Nitro (a cheap knockoff of Monday Night Raw).
Vince eventually won the legendary Monday Night Wars when Bischoff's one original idea, the renegade NWO (New World Order) group led by newly turned heel Hulk Hogan went about three years past its expiration date. By this time, Vince had developed an array of new stars ranging from original WCW rejects like the beer swilling "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and "Mankind" Mick Foley, as well as charismatic new blood like The Rock.
But the real way Vince won the war?
He made the storylines seem real. The beauty of professional wrestling lies in the suspension of disbelief. At the end of the day, it's those "holy shit" moments that bring us so-called wrestling "marks" back to the tube every Monday night.
You can dangle all of the eye candy and gratuitious T & A in the world (and in those nineties glory days of Sable and Sunny, there was enough of it to stick an encyclopedia of Playboys together without the benefit of glue).
You can do untold ECW-inspired "hardcore spots," putting guys through flaming tables and the like (which has long since been toned down since the nineties "Attitude" era when legitimate injuries we're as common as twice a month Pay Per Views).
But at the end of the day, it is a compelling, believable story — one which enables suspension of disbelief — that brings wrestling fans to the party week after week.
It's something that harkens back to the sort of wrestling stories I grew up on as a kid. Back then, there may have been the occasional wildcard like the fire-throwing Sheik (these days it would be the supernatural bullshit of somebody like The Undertaker). But at the end of the day, it was the time honored story of the virtuous babyface getting his against the insufferable prick, "heel," bad guy, or whatever you want to call it.
Whether it was Nick Bockwinkel kicking Ripper Collins' ass in Hawaii in the seventies, Hulk Hogan body slamming that "big stinky Andre The Giant" in the eighties, or Stone Cold Steve Austin shoving a thermomater up Vince McMahon's ass in the nineties, it all boils down to the same thing. Wrestling fans are willing and eager to suspend disbelief if the story is a compelling one, with a real hero and a real villian.
And on that note, Vince McMahon's WWE, the only game in town these days, seems to have really lost its once golden touch.
Since winning the "Monday Night War" at the turn the millennium, the WWE has been a series of missteps with no end in sight. They famously botched the golden "WCW Invasion" angle. They infamously launched the doomed-to-failure XFL (shades of that God-awful post Hogan body building federation built around Lex Luger). They switched networks from USA to The Nashville Network (TNN, now Spike TV), and overnight dropped from regular 6.0 ratings to the 2s (they've since switched back and have climbed to the 3s).
Most recently, the WWE has re-launched the Extreme Championship Wrestling brand (after two great pay per views). ECW at its best revisits the old school wrestling formula of great morality tale based storylines and hardcore matches to resolve the disputes of same. As of this writing, the weekly ECW on the Sci-Fi channel is enjoying decent ratings. But there is not a wrestling fan I know of that plans on sticking with it if things don't start changing soon.
What that means in plain English is this. ECW needs to be its own brand with its own stars for starters. Not some cheap WWE knockoff.
We don't want to see Big Show (a WWE star) against some other WWE star (for the past three weeks it's been Ric Flair, Undertaker, and Kane respectively) for the ECW title. We want to see ECW guys in ECW storylines. We want to see guys like The Sandman and Tommy Dreamer winning actual matches rather than jobbing to WWE guys. We want to see Rob Van Dam back in the thick of the storylines, once he is brought back after fucking up the first week in by getting busted with pot. We want to see promising newcomers like C.M. Punk developed into ECW stars, rather than failed WWE guys like Test pushed.
We want to see an actual ECW, rather than a WWE C level brand. That's what we want to see.
We want to see some actual wrestling, rather than lame storylines involving male cheerleading squads and way, way too much male ass.
We want the morality tales that allow us to suspend disbelief, rather than lame, unbelievable storylines about necrophilia and the like. Speaking of which, how much does it suck to be Kane anyway? Poor fucking guy.
We are waiting Vince. But trust me, our patience, and our suspension of intelligence, which you so arrogantly underestimate, will only go so far.
Fire the Hollywood guys, and let's back to wrestling okay?
Thanks for listening.