WWE Fans May Have Won The Battle, But The War Is Far From Over
If Vince McMahon was truly a genius he’d realize that all he’d have to do for WWE to be successful is put on a good wrestling show the fans want to see. I stated this last week to preface a conversation about the reaction to how the company handled the “hijacking.” Wrestling websites and fans alike took to the internet to praise WWE for crushing the evil disgruntled hardcore fans, but as I said, WWE “quelled the hijackers” not just to quell them, but to get the IWC to do exactly what some of them did; praise WWE for doing it. Well, here we are a week later and I see the IWC making the same mistake, only this time because Daniel Bryan was finally positioned for a potential title opportunity come April 6th. Again, all the same folks are declaring victory and giving WWE unearned adulation for finally giving them what they wanted. First off, all we got last night was the potential for a Daniel Bryan title shot, which is a far cry from Bryan actually getting the strap that night. Even if he gets it, it isn’t an indication of how his title run will be handled, and it only rectifies one of many grievances that hardcore fans have with the product at large. It’s premature to declare victory, to assume that WWE is moving in the right direction, and all is right with the wrestling world. With a little under four weeks to go until Wrestlemania 30, it’s really time to shore up our collective understanding of the state of professional wrestling. As I said last week, the hijack movement wasn’t about hijacking, it was saddled with that unfortunate label, it was really about passionate, hardcore, smart, long time fans, whatever you want to call them, protesting a lazy, subpar product that hasn’t made much sense and barely resembles what we have come to understand as professional wrestling. WWE understands this and knows what’s at stake. They understand that if they don’t deliver on some level, their biggest event of the year could end in disaster and it won’t take an organized twitter protest for it to happen. Leading up to the big event, they are going to do everything they have to do to assure the fans that everything is going to be all right, but I would urge the IWC, especially the self-professed smart marks to resist the urge to be placated to or worked. Wrestling fans need to remain ever vigilant and ever critical of the problems that still exist within the product. This has always been bigger than Daniel Bryan or CM Punk, and the fans can’t forget that. They need to capitalize on whatever momentum WWE has afforded them and keep pushing for real change. So what are our grievances? What is the collective lens through which we all can look to truly assess if WWE is positioning its product to “please the fans?” I was prepared to sift through all the twitter feeds, the message boards etc. in an attempt to produce some qualifying standards we can all agree on. Fortunately, I no longer have to compile a collection of tweets as all I have to do is look to none other than Disco Inferno. He appeared on MLW Radio this week, along with hosts Konnan and MSL and among the three of them, gave one of the clearest and most expansive assessments of the issues with WWE. Now, we all understand that WWE is a publicly traded corporation. They are all about the profit motive, but as recent months have shown us, WWE needs to find a way to have its cake and eat it too with regard to balancing a larger corporate agenda with the fans desire for good pro wrestling. As Disco Inferno pointed out, “It’s kinda weird that they made it a story line where they basically tell the fans to go screw themselves. “We’re not really going to give you what you want” but in the big picture I don’t really know if that’s the thing to do.” This really puts the whole situation into a great perspective. If this is a great work, the WWE is working itself. If WWE is truly interested in attracting new fans, this current storyline makes them look silly to a potential consumer and stupid to those who don’t really understand wrestling. To them, it looks like they don’t know what they’re doing, and you’re never going to attract a new audience that way. MSL (Mister Saint Lauren), said, “The biggest fued in the company right now is the company vs. the fans.” And I truly believe this is how “outsiders” would view this. Would you try a product that its most dedicated consumers are rebelling against? Probably not. Would you get a subscription to HBO to check out the new season of Game of Thrones if all your friends told you the last season sucked? Probably not. So what would be some things the WWE can do to get the smart fans back on their side? As Disco pointed out, “There’s two types of fans right now, there’s smart fans and there’s kids.” He further stated that the percentage of casual fans is small in comparison. WWE needs to come to terms with the fact that the smart fans aren’t going anywhere, but ignoring them is foolish as Disco said, “If you don’t please them (smarts fans) they’ll continue to do this (hijack/ complain) over and over and over again.” This is the conundrum that WWE has found itself in. In order to draw a new audience, it needs to satisfy the segment that it generally takes for granted. I’m sorry, but who is saying the hijackings haven’t worked? I mentioned a few weeks ago, the kids and families just go to have a good time. They are the rubber-stampers that are going to cheer for anyone wearing bright colors. So why focus on them? WWE just needs to elevate the product ever so to bring the smart fans back into the fold, and I believe they can do this without alienating the family audience. Well, how can this be done? WWE needs to stop being in denial about where the industry and the fans desires have gone and embrace that, “because the fans are smart, they have really put a premium on the quality of in ring performance. If you’re a good in ring performer, if you’re a good worker, where smart fans know what a good work is, they’re going to cheer for that guy cause he’s the good worker.” Disco further pointed out that, “The reason CM Punk and Daniel Bryan are over so huge, is because you watch their in ring performance and they’re just kinda like better than the rest of the guys.” This is an issue that I think certain fans (marks) take for granted. Wrestlers are grabbed from ROH or Dragon Gate, etc. to make it look like the Performance Center is actually there to produce wrestlers. It isn’t. It’s there to produce new characters that look good on t-shirts and could potentially star in a WWE movie (Scooby Doo anyone?). The independent guys, such as Rollins or Bryan, are there to make these WWE produced guys look good and look like wrestlers. That’s the way it’s been. They’re really kind of the stunt men, or in industry terms, “utility workers.” It’s unfortunate and incredibly disappointing because the in ring product has evolved and is getting really good, but WWE hasn’t seemed interested in that. Monday Night Raw is a television show about wrestling, it isn’t NWA televised wrestling. It functions much in the same way that Saturday morning cartoons in the 1980s did with regard to selling toys. I believe the smart fans knew this for a long time and gave it some time, hoping it would play itself out. It hasn’t and that’s why we got the reaction at the Royal Rumble and subsequent hijackings. As Disco said, “For the company to kind of ignore that that’s what the fans like these days, you’re working detrimental to their product. You can’t bury and keep burying the guys that the people like, because they (the fans) are just going to keep voicing their displeasure and keep hijacking the show.” Disco went on to say, “The main problem I have with the show, and the problem that they (WWE) creatively have; I watch a lot of the vignettes and the interviews, and I say, who are they writing that for; they’re writing that for the kids but the kids aren’t really the ones that are listening to that, it’s the smart marks. The reason Punk was allowed to get over is because he was allowed to get over as a smart guy.” He further stated that, “it kind of insults your smart fan audience that wants the conversations between the wrestlers and interviewers to be more acknowledging that they know what’s going on.” Finally, for the purposes of this article (please listen to the full interview there is so much more) he made a great point about a certain type of fan that we really don’t hear from at all and take completely for granted: the former fans. He said, “Real wrestling fans don’t watch anymore. They’re a fan of a different product. They’re not of a fan of the product that’s on TV right now. “ So to sum all this up, the FFKAH (fans formerly known as hijackers) essentially want three things. And if WWE is truly interested in pleasing them, we will see evidence of them in the weeks leading to Wrestlemania and beyond. (1) The fans appreciate and are smart enough to recognize good in ring work. They want to see the wrestlers, the truly talented workers, not the hacky sports entertainers, get the pushes and presumably the titles. By doing this they restore the meaning and prestige of the championships. (2) The fans want to see smarter storytelling with regard to interviews and vignettes. If anyone hasn’t seen Zack Ryder’s new video I was impressed by it. Yeah it’s a work, most likely, but for really the first time, I heard Matthew Cardona come out. I heard his passion and his desire. I think the smarts fans want to see more promos like that. (3) WWE needs to go back to what brought them to the dance. They need to look more like the WWE pre-IPO, the WWF. But they need to take it to the next level. As Disco said, the fans are too informed to suspend their disbelief. To me, WWE shouldn’t shy away from that, they should embrace the fact that fans are “smart.” They need to put the emphasis on the competition, in fact, don’t look at it as “smart” look at it as knowledgeable. They have a fan base that wants to see the sports aspect to it and knows it. In that regard, it can have a sense of competition, i.e. who can outperform the other. If they make it about the competition, about who truly emerges as the better worker, embraced and recognized by the fans, they allow a more organic flow to the product, that brings back the unpredictable nature to it that draws people to other competitive sports and restores that suspension of disbelief. Well, then, why wouldn’t you just watch MMA right? Because MMA doesn’t have storylines or gimmicks, they don’t have managers that get involved; they don’t have anyone coming off the top of the octagon to land an elbow or a do a 450 splash. Wrestling, in-ring wise, differentiates itself enough from MMA, that it can base itself on the in ring performance/ competitive nature of the sport and then bring in all the extras that sell pay per view matches, that captivates children, draws in the nostalgic old school fan, and you’re back on track again. And WWE didn’t have to, I’ll say it again, mind f**k anybody to do it. It sells itself. In the mean time, we can watch and we can maintain our smart. If and when WWE truly proves that they are moving the product along, then we can rejoice. In the meantime, I have some assignments for our readers: First and always, tweet me or post to the comments section on Facebook. This is a conversation we need to keep having and I want to hear everyone’s thoughts. Third, and this is for all of the fans that are still on the fence. Maybe they aren’t quite where many of us are yet. Perhaps they are just beginning to come out of their sports entertainment delusion. Please give Ring of Honor Wrestling a chance. If you are the kind of wrestling fan that would dismiss it because they don’t match WWE’s production values or hold their events in bingo halls, you aren’t really a wrestling fan. You’re a sports entertainment fan and it’s time to come to terms with it. For the rest of you, the kind of action you enjoyed during Cesaro v Zane at NXT Arrival, ROH is like that match to match, show to show. As always, keep it smart IWC, Andrew, on Twitter @AJarczyk.