Read the title. It isn’t, is it? Tell me, to how many of your workmates have you expressed your love of Professional Wrestling? How long do you wait until you tell your partner that you’re willing to stay up until four in the morning on a Sunday night to watch a PPV? That you’ve taken the Monday off to get more sleep instead of using your finite holiday time to spend with them?
The entertainment industry knows it too. Maybe during the run-up to WrestleMania, you’ll get someone on Fallon to try and sell more PPV buys (or these days, the Network), or some utility player will show up on a Saturday morning cooking show to get housewives thirsty for some mano-a-mano. Other than that, all the mainstream channels won’t touch it.
Even though wrestling is one of the sports generating the most traffic for the Bleacher Report, you won’t find a mention of it in its top home bar. You find it tucked away under the vague sounding “More”, the same place they put the college sports and curling. Even then it’s not wrestling. It’s just WWE.
Even SteelChair, the very site you are reading this upon, was only created when a wrestling section wasn’t deemed cool enough to make it into our sister publication VultureHound. Stories about grown men wearing spandex and hitting each other with pieces of breakable wood and bendable steel didn’t fit alongside stories about rockstars and prestigious actors.
Even WWE banned the word ‘wrestling’ for years. That’s how uncool it is. The biggest wrestling organisation in the world can’t even bring themselves to say the thing that they are. They repackaged it as “Sports Entertainment” and called all of its wrestlers “Superstars” in order to bring it closer to the mediums they’d rather be compared to, like music and movies.
That kind of cultural relevance has always alluded the world’s purest combination of drama and athleticism. But it only has itself to blame.
The nature of wrestling from its very conception has been destined to find itself distanced from where cool is in the 21st century. The fact that it is live theatre means it isn’t too suited to a world that has become dominated by living room entertainment. The fact that it is pre-determined means it will always struggle for relevance in a world that celebrates authenticity, and the fact that they insist on keeping their inner workings a mystery doesn’t mesh with an audience that is ravenous for juicy backstage details.
So what could wrestling do to make itself a mainstay in the hearts of the majority? Firstly, it has to be comfortable in its own skin. Only when it no longer looks like it is frantically vying for the attention of Action Film Stars and country and western singers will people ever take it seriously. Desperation is the least attractive prospect in anything. And once wrestling starts to understand its place in the universe, then they can concentrate on doing what will really make the medium popular. Creating a quality product.
Let’s face it. Wrestling can be good, but there’s only one company right now going for appeal beyond the IWC and that company is WWE. And WWE is a bit shit, isn’t it? For those of you who don’t know what I mean, try watching the full three-hour live broadcast of Raw without Sky+ing it and fast-forwarding through all the bits you know will be tosh. Then your broadcast won’t be an uninterrupted barrage of Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins. You’ll have to go through all the kiddy crap as well.
Oh yeah, that’s one thing that is really hurting the WWE product. Trying to please too many audiences at once. Mixing in the Dean Ambrose crazy train with the Los Matadores children’s hour shows a lack of focus not befitting the calibre WWE would have you believe they create. Coolness requires a certain maturity. You can’t be taken seriously when you’ve got Adam Rose running around with a bunny rabbit like he’s gotten stoned and stumbled upon the set of The Banana Splits.
Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t yet another blog post begging WWE to go back to the R rating, but it is a call for them to separate their adult content from their Saturday morning cartoon show. Make Raw for adults and Smackdown for kids.
It would also allow WWE to start producing edgier storylines. Not the Attitude Era style of edginess which sometimes looked like the sketchbook of a socially repellent 13-year-old, but an edginess that closer resembles the television programming of companies like HBO, Fox and AMC. Once those companies started producing original content they soon realised that the way to get people talking about their product wasn’t to pander to populist sensibilities but to create the best possible shows they could.
WWE have already started down that road by giving such huge victories to tremendous Indy darlings like Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe, but they need to go further and give these talents the storylines that could elevate their statuses into legend. Give them real plot lines and real character development. And to facilitate this development WWE could do something so bold that it would change the face of the company, and wrestling, forever.
Stop pretending it’s real.
The lengths wrestling goes to to protect an authenticity it hasn’t had in decades is astonishing. David Schultz once slapped a journalist around the face repeatedly for suggesting that wrestling is fake and one time, a guy actually swapped identities with another man after a plane crash so his fans wouldn’t find out he was travelling with his bitter rival. That man was Ric Flair.
This sort of stuff has given wrestling a legendary mythology, and is one of the reasons it is so compelling today. But with the internet exposing more of the inner workings of the wrestling industry by the day, there simply isn’t anything more that this mentality can add to the business. In fact, it’s still suffering from a reputation of fraudulence that is still hurting its claim to mainstream relevance, even today.
The Undertaker has always been a hard sell on the interview circuit and that’s a shame because, as rare as they are, he’s a great shoot. What would be easier for Letterman (or Colbert now) and his ilk to swallow would be booking his real-life counterpart, Mark Calaway. After all, they don’t book Robert Downey Jr. thinking they’re going to get Tony Stark. People don’t find as much interest in fictional characters as they do in the people who bring them to life. Reality gives people something to hold on and relate to when it comes to their media choices.
If you do this you can finally rob people of the criticism they’ve been laying on wrestling for years. That wrestling is fake. Yes, some people find great sanctuary in the idea that wrestling fans are a secretive cabal, where they have access to all this privileged information. Yes, the relationship between the believers and non-believers lends wrestling fandom and an incredibly compelling us-vs-them dynamic. But by demolishing it, we are opening up the doors to a whole new era in professional wrestling. One where you won’t have to hide your love of Pro Wrestling from your workmates.