I think it’s safe to say that when you look at the history of professional wrestling, there are two periods that stand-out when it comes to mass success within the industry–the early WrestleMania Era (I-III) and, of course, The Attitude Era. Although The New Generation Era (1992-1997) and the Ruthless Aggression Era (2002-2008) were my favorite periods of watching, Those are the only quite defined moments in history when the entire world was watching the WWE. Yes, you can argue that there were some other spikes over that period of time, but none nearly as significant as those two occasions when EVERYBODY was talking about wrestling around the water cooler.
When the wrestling business is down, it’s clearly attributed to the mass audience, or casual viewers of professional wrestling, no longer watching the product. For a number of reasons they have tuned into something else. The audience that you see watching RAW today, is the “core” wrestling audience, or the “wrestling fan base”. They are die-hard fans who eat, sleep and breathe professional wrestling, and will watch it for three hours every Monday night regardless of how good . . . or, bad it is. I always say this when it comes to the “hardcore” wrestling fans—if the word WRESTLING is somewhere in the title of the show—they’re watching it—PERIOD.
In my case, I am NO DOUBT a casual wrestling fan. Throughout my lifetime I have watched wrestling when I am throughly entertained by it—and shut it off when I’m not. If not for my responsibilities to this website . . . I WOULD NOT be watching wrestling today (12/8/2014) but I will this Friday.
So, as a casual wrestling fan, the type of fan that the industry NEEDS in order to one day thrive again, what exactly is it that turns us off to the product? Well, the truth is . . . there are a number of things, and during the course of the next few days I am going to be going over them one, by one.
So here’s the first disconnect:
1. WRESTLERS NEED TO LOOK LIKE WRESTLERS
When a casual wrestling fan turns on a wrestling show, they expect to see actual WRESTLERS. And, to the masses, the definition of a WRESTLER is much different from that of the “die-hard” fan, or “core” wrestling audience. You see, to a casual fan, the draw of a wrestler has little to actually do with the way he “wrestles”. To us, a wrestling match is a wrestling match. Yes, some are better than others, and some are worse, but—we’re not tuning in for the “match” per say. If that were the case then we’d be tuning in every week because we would indeed be “wrestling” fans.
When it comes to casual wrestling fans, we like the wrestlers who are “larger than life”. The guys with the big frames, or impressive physiques that we all wish we had, but don’t, so we live vicariously through them. Now there are exceptions to that rule, for instance take a Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart, but those guys have very distinctive characters which made up for their “lack of” physical presence. Casual wrestling fans are drawn to the wrestlers that we grew up watching, maybe the business was a bit more selective back then who knows, but whatever the case—all those guys just LOOKED like wrestlers. They didn’t look like you and me, regular guys, they looked “different”, “special”, they just stood out in the crowd. There was no one like a “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, or a King Kong Bundy, Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, Mick Foley, the “Rock” or, of course “Stone Cold”. No one looked like someone you would run into on the street. And, if they did, then they would be road kill much like your Barry Horowitz’s. In the mind of a casual fan, when you tune into a wrestling show—WRESTLERS need to look like WRESTLERS.
For whatever reason, I know of a few, that has changed over the years. For starters, the majority of the wrestlers of today are not as “jacked-up” as years passed, largely due to the decrease in steroids over the years. You read how in the past even though a wrestler was never “directly” told to go on the juice, it was implied that if they did . . . they would find themselves higher up on the card. And, let’s face it, many did it on their own accord because it was a “business decision” as they thought it would help their stock in the long run–regardless of what the consequences may be later on in life.
Today, with drug testing in place, the importance of being a physical specimen, has been replaced with the idea of being a “great worker”. One that can actually “wrestle”. Now, where that is a must to the “core” wrestling fan, it’s not as important to the “casual” fan. Again, remember, we don’t watch every week because we’re NOT necessarily fans of the wrestling. I’ve always said this when it comes to casual wrestling fans, when there is a guy on a wrestling show on TV that —regardles of his acrobatic performance in the ring—you actually BELIEVE YOU CAN TAKE—then you have a problem on your hands.
Look at current history. The guys that the “core” wrestling fans see as over are guys like; CM Punk, Daniel Bryan , Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose. Now again, even though the audiences who pay to see them are reacting to them, that doesn’t mean that the world is, or even the “casual” wrestling fan. All great wrestlers, and tremendous talents in their own right, but to casual wrestling fans these guys just look like “regular guys” when you stand them up next to a Brock Lesnar, or a John Cena, or a Roman Reigns even. Now granted, the WWE brain trust haven’t exactly stepped up to the plate in supplying these guys with defined characters that could help make up for some of their lack off physical prowess, but still, at the end of the day if I ran into any one of them on the street—they wouldn’t scare me. There is nothing “different”, or “unique” about them—they just look like ordinary guys (with the exception of Daniel Bryan, of course). That’s why the WWE never really pushed CM Punk, and were hesitant to push Bryan Daniel, not because of their wrestling ability, but because these guys may not necessarily appeal to the MASSES. And, that’s just fact, not opinion. Go back and look at your numbers when these guys were on top. No question that both Rollins and Ambrose are the two best “workers” on the WWE roster right now, NO DOUBT, but, when it comes to business . . . where are they getting the WWE? Look at the numbers . . . the casual fans are not watching.
The majority of the people reading this post are going to kill me with their comments, and you know why? The Internet Wrestling Community is made up of DIE-HARD wrestling fans! Casual wrestling fans don’t go to sites to find out about the insiders of the business. they don’t even know that they exist. To them, its real simple—WRESTLERS NEED TO LOOK LIKE WRESTLERS! They need to look different, stand-out, be unique and posses a LARGER THEN LIFE presence. That’s what we grew up on, that’s what we want! It’s just part of the wrestling business, and always has been. Without even knowing the card, go look at the WrestleMania I roster. Just look at what those guys looked like PHYSICALLY! Hogan, Piper, Bundy, Orndorf, JYD, Big John Studd, Andre the Giant (OK, an exception to the rule), Jimmy Snuka, Iron Shiek, Nikolai Volkoff, ALL THESE GUYS LOOKED LIKE WRESTLERS!!! Can you say the same about today’s crop? Now, face it, much of that also has to do with lack of character development, and I’ll get into that tomorrow, but out of all those guys listed—do you think you could actually take one of them? They all just had a “presence”, and the physical aspect played a huge part. Casual fans want super heroes—we always have . . . we always will.
But, at some point, the wrestling business actually started listening to the internet fans. Somewhere along the line “work rate” became more important than “physical presence”. And, again, when the vast majority of the casual fans could give two HURRICANRANAS about how good a wrestling match is, or a wrestling match at all—you’ve lost them. And, the WWE continues to go down that road. Just watching NXT last week I saw first hand how they are getting further and further away from what the MASSES want. Yeah, I saw some UNBELIVABLE wrestlers on that show, BUT—are they going to appeal to the masses—or, do they just look like regular guys?
I guess all that is a part of STAR POWER, and unfortunately, physical appearance has something to do with that in the majority of the cases.
Hey man, don’t hate the player . . . hate the game.
Tomorrow we look at how characters are built in today’s wrestling, and why they are failing to capture the interest of the casual fan.
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