How I’d “fix” professional wrestling
I watched a lot of wrestling when I was growing up in the early 1980s. The AWA had a major presence in Chicago, and I have vivid memories of going to wrestling cards at the UIC Pavilion to see stars like Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura, Nick Bockwinkel (with Bobby Heenan in tow), and the Road Warriors mix it up on a monthly basis.
I never missed All-Star Wrestling (the AWA’s syndicated show), which ran locally on Sunday mornings. I pounded many a Capri Sun with my dumb buddies as we thrilled to the weekly matches, and appreciated the interviewing awkwardness of “Mean” Gene Okerlund.
Around the time my enthusiasm for the AWA was peaking, I became aware of the WWF. They ran a goofy, but not totally ridiculous to my young mind, show on the USA Network called Tuesday Night Titans. Through that show, I became aware of Roddy Piper, Sgt. Slaughter, Lou Albano, Adrian Adonis, and Brutus Beefcake. Yes, Brutus Beefcake. The WWF was more over-the-top than the AWA, if that’s even something you can measure in professional wrestling. I didn’t enjoy the WWF nearly as much as I enjoyed the AWA back then, although I did like watching a handful of its main-eventers (Piper, mostly).
Once high school got into full swing, I stopped watching wrestling altogether. In the same breath, I also walked away from comic books. Wrestling and comics are very similar: both feature larger-than-life heroes and villains, and both aggressively chase away girls.
I returned to reading comics a few years later. The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen had come out, and even Swamp Thing was getting mainstream press. It was “okay” to dip my toe back into the four-colored water.
Wrestling, however, I continued to avoid. In fact, I started to flat-out hate the “sport” when I was working at Q101 in the late 90s. The “attitude era” of the WWE (formerly WWF) had found its way into the station’s culture, and a handful of colleagues would frequently use WWE catch phrases in meetings, conversations, and memos. JVO 3:16: that’s lame.
A few years back, my son started becoming interested in wrestling. I wouldn’t let him watch the shows, because I remembered hearing about the things that went on during the “attitude era.” That material wasn’t suitable for kids. At all.
Then I learned that the WWE had scaled back the attitude, and all of its broadcasts had been downgraded to “PG.” I let my son watch an episode of Raw with me. Then Smackdown. While it wasn’t necessarily wholesome entertainment, there wasn’t any profanity, or suggested rape or murder. It was safe enough to watch, I reasoned. I credit CM Punk for much of my enthusiasm—the Chicagoan has a smart, smartassy, style that advances everything I loved about Bockwinkel and Piper back in the day. I’ve since become immersed in the WWE storylines (some of which are much flimsier than others), and have accepted the fact that I’m back in the fold.
This brings me to a divergent point, one which I frequently drag out: I hate the notion that entertainment designed for kids has been commandeered by mouthbreathing adults who demand more “grittiness” in their entertainment. Comics have “evolved” to the point where my son can’t read Batman or X-Men, and for a while there, wrestling was off-limits, too.
The WWE is entertaining, but I feel like there’s a lot that needs fixing. With the clarity (and perhaps naiveté) of fresh eyes, here are some thoughts on how to improve the WWE:
Less is more. There are just way too many “superstars” bouncing around the system, making it difficult to focus on the ones who should really matter. This audience needs less R. Truth and Brodus Clay, and more Dolph Ziggler and Cody Rhodes.
Pushing stars that will never happen. Continuing that train of thought, the WWE seems really vested in flimsy one-trick ponies. Remember in Mean Girls when Gretchen tried to force the catchphrase “That’s so fetch?” That’s the way I feel when I see Santino marching around with a title belt.
Tag teams. The tag team pool is completely shallow. Epico and Primo? The Usos? Tag team matches are almost as uninteresting as …
Diva matches. I “get” that young boys like pretty girls, but diva matches are pandering beyond what is necessary. I can’t imagine anyone actually enjoying them, let alone not fast forwarding through them when they’re watching a DVR’d episode.
General Managers. Since I started watching again, one of the big subplots has involved the General Managers of Raw and Smackdown. File under “who cares,” and move on.
Heel turns. I remember them coming more frequently when I was younger. One of the problems with the concept in the present day is that there are too many anti-heroes to make the concept totally work. The Big Show’s move to the dark side was a welcome one; his character was an absolute stiff up until that point.
Let the wrestlers wrestle. I remember the days of long submission holds and marathon matches. You believed that the grapplers in the ring were wrestling. Let’s see less ADD-motivated contests.
Pay-per-view. The PPV events are completely cost-prohibitive. Price the non-Wrestlemania events at less than $20, and then I’ll consider them.
Matches are too predictable. The back and forth seesaw give-and-take, resulting in a rapid turnaround/surprise comeback, then immediate pinfall, is by-the-numbers, no matter who’s wrestling. The only recent exception I can recall was the 18-second title match between Sheamus and Daniel Bryan at Wrestlemania. Moments like that keep things interesting, and create a sense that you never know what to expect.
Commentators. Outside of Jerry Lawler, I don’t think much of any of the commentators. Booker T. sounds foolish, and the “broadcast voiced” Michael Cole and Josh Matthews are too distracting. I don’t know what the solution is, but the problem is sure annoying.
Finally, is Lord Tensai supposed to be Asian? Really?