The Role of the Wrestling Fan
These are interesting times in the world of professional wrestling. WWE is making headlines all over the world, even being a top story on the BBC news website, regarding the Daniel Bryan de-push and CM Punk’s departure. Rumours of TNA’s financial problems keep rearing their head at regular intervals and to top it all, Vince McMahon is aiming to revolutionise how we watch sport via the Network. Have there ever been so many disparate things to discuss?
Through it all though you have to look at the product. It is the same for any sport. Formula One and IndyCar strive to constantly develop the safety of the cars and with that comes the double-edged sword that the initial pull, that risk factor, is neutralised and we lose interest. One can’t deny the professional, sleek product we as fans are given though when watching it on television. The same can be said of soccer and pro football. We, as fans, demands big money transfers and famous names to join our teams. We’re irate when this doesn’t happen, despondent when they lose, and ecstatic when it all works out and our team, our passion, wins a trophy. Boxing and UFC can make us, as fans, angry too. In Britain it appears that Carl Froch is trying every trick possible to avoid the rematch with George Groves in the same way Floyd Mayweather danced around the dream bout against Manny Pacquiao. We, the fans, missed out on that.
Through it all, fans demand a product they can follow through thick and thin. In a way, that’s all we ask. Pick a sport, pick your favourite team, it’s the passion of following them through peaks and troughs, through angry sports phone-ins and open top bus parades. It’s the passion we want to feel. We know that times will be hard, ‘thin’, but as long as the good times come too then we’ll work around it.
Obviously, I’m heading towards the huge backlash to WWE in the wake of the Royal Rumble. What do we, as fans, expect to happen now? What can we make happen? What will happen? Being a fan of anything can be tough. There are various theories where the word ‘fan’ derived from, one being ‘the fancy’ which was attributed to fans of boxing in the 19th century. More commonly, it comes from ‘fanatic’ which, to follow the Latin origin, means ‘insanely but divinely inspired’. A ‘fanatic’ itself is defined as one ‘marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion’. So far, so English Dictionary. Look at some of those definitions though. Think about how you feel about WWE at this moment, or TNA, or ROH and put yourself in there. You might be ecstatic that Batista won the Royal Rumble, you might hate Daniel Bryan, you might think that TNA is better than WWE. This is all legitimate because it is a point of view and as worthy as the complete opposite to those statements. What we do expect though is a reward for being a fan.
Rewards in sports and sports entertainment come in many different ways. Your favourite team lifting their first trophy in fifty years. Your favourite tennis player winning their home Grand Slam. John Cena winning the title. Whatever it is, the rewards are different for each fan. In wrestling, we have our favourites. Some are more popular than others but every wrestler on any roster will have fans. At the moment though, a lot of fans are not getting any rewards.
I’ll make this clear at this point, I am a massive Daniel Bryan fan. I have been since watching his Ring of Honour matches online before his NXT debut in 2009. He is a big fan favourite right now and a reward for the fans is due. Did anyone really expect any other wrestler apart from Batista to win last Sunday night? Of course not. It was never going to happen. Did people want Bryan to at least be in the match? Of course. WWE knew what they were doing when they didn’t send him out at number 30 but let Rey get booed to holy heaven by the sold out crowd. In effect, they sacrificed a man who works hard and has just come back from another serious injury. Nice touch.
Obviously, we need to know how this all pans out. Although the creative department at WWE has a success rate only just better than TNA, they might have a long-term plan and making the fans vocal and angry is a brilliant way to not only gain mainstream publicity but also a huge pay-off. Let’s be honest, as far as ‘de-pushes’ go, Bryan’s not having a bad one. He had the match of the night at the Royal Rumble and by having Bray Wyatt go over him proved that a win over him is a big deal. He then opened Raw the following night before having another great match to close and is in the Elimination Chamber. Also, he beat Randy Orton clean on this week’s Raw. Dolph Ziggler can only dream of a de-push like that. There has to be a pay-off though or the fans will dissipate.
Whether you like Daniel Bryan or not, and I know a lot don’t, you can’t deny a large fan base does and they want, need, to see him legitimately win the title. If your favourite is The Rock, you saw his pursuit of the title against Punk and got a pay-off through the re-started match at the Rumble last year. If you liked Shawn Michaels, there were plenty of ups and downs but there was always a pay-off. Fans of Hogan and Cena have had more pay-offs than any fans in pro wrestling. What we need to be careful of though is being given what we want too often. We want Bryan to win the title (damn right) but if he held the title for as long as Sammartino then we’d tire of him. Where would the risk element be if we knew he was always going to win? This is where John Cena is now. He was a fan favourite, a big one, when he took the US Championship from the Big Show at WrestleMania XX. WWE listened and a year later he had the WWE Championship. Then he won title after title. He won match after match. Took on all-comers and beat them 1-2-3. It grew boring. There is no peril or suspense to a Cena match now. Yes, he loses but, the odd match aside, it’s rarely clean. Half the crowd still cheer him but half hate the ‘character’ of Cena because he has success after success.
Basically, if you give the fans what they want, fan favourite Cena, and shove it down their throats, they won’t take it anymore. So, should WWE reward us with a Bryan win? Yes, at some point, because a large part of the fan base are clamouring for it. Should it give us that moment when ‘we’ want it? No, that would be predictable and boring. One of the problems with the Daniel Bryan situation has been the awful booking of his main events last year. The Scott Armstrong quick count? Never explained. Triple H laying a pedigree on Bryan at SummerSlam but Kane can’t touch CM Punk and then choke slam Bryan this week? Lazy. Creative felt that by putting him in the picture and screwing him each time, then the crowd, that section of fans who support Bryan, would get bored and go away. To be honest, if the booking was strong last year and the writing was clear, maybe the anger at Bryan’s lack of Royal Rumble participation wouldn’t have been as bad but the problem was we paid for a product that was poorly written and assembled. In this day and age, the best way to make people angry is to make them think they’ve wasted their money.
Now we can focus down on one comment from Raw last week which, only with time, will become clear. When the crowd was chanting for Daniel Bryan, Triple H took the mic and, in his best kiddie voice said, ‘”Did someone not get what they want?” Now, to take away the fact that Bryan wasn’t booked into the Rumble and so taking the proverbial piss out of the audience is one thing so, let’s leave that to one side for now. If this is all part of the ‘story’ then the line was brilliant. If Triple H actually makes the decision to become a true heel as opposed to a sycophantic bad-guy then it was perhaps the best line he’s ever delivered. It made people angry. If, however, this was simply a genuine comment aimed at the ‘idiots’ who support a skinny 5ft 10in indie wrestler, then it was a slap in the face for those fans. Those people that paid money to attend Raw last week, who pay money to get the right TV package to watch the product every week. If they want to laugh at some of the fan base then that doesn’t bode well at all, not with the Network coming up. Like I said, if it was storyline it was brilliant, if it was genuine, Triple H should have a long hard look at himself.
To take this full circle, do I want Bryan to be champion? Yes! Do I want it to be how the internet news sites tell me it’ll be months in advance? No! If WWE creative want genuine emotions from the fans, they’re doing their best work in years, let’s be honest here. Fans of Daniel Bryan deserve that pay-off, at some point in the future, as much as a fan of Cena, Hogan or The Ultimate Warrior. Do we know what’s going on backstage? No, most of us don’t, I certainly don’t, but I can see and hear what happens at the live events in the same way a football manager or a tennis coach does. The fan reaction quite often must be ignored for the good of the product. An unpopular soccer player might score goal after goal for the team so the manager will play them, regardless of fan reaction, and they’re right to do so. WWE, while working on similar lines, is also a written show, it has a creative department and works on similar lines to a soap opera. To that end, the bad guy must get theirs and the hero will win out.
Look at those definitions for ‘fan’ again. What do they tell us about modern wrestling fans? Insane? Perhaps. Uncritical devotion? No. Regardless of which wrestler is your favourite, the downside of the internet is the critical eye is wide and blinking 24/7. Enthusiastic? Damn right. Whatever your sport. Whatever your promotion. Whoever your wrestler. Go at it 100%. Shout ‘Yes!’ or cheer Cena louder than the boo-boys. Whatever it is, have the courage of your convictions as a fan and one day, one day, we’ll get the pay-off because in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king. The problem is, we don’t know who is watching at the moment.
Please follow me on twitter @HughFirth or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org All constructive criticism is appreciated.
Ta ta for now and hopefully see you next week.