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  1. #1
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Take Up Thy Wrestling Boots and Walk - State of the Wrestling Union (End of the Decade Edition)




    I have struggled with writing for a while. I don’t know what that means going forward. I’ve had too many returns from retirement to call this another one. I have learned that lesson, it is safe to say. I do not want to become the CF’s answer to Terry Funk – at least not in that respect. There are many other ways to emulate the Funker that have more appeal. But though I don’t call it retirement it is hard to see from here what would follow this, at least from my vantage point here, today.

    My solution is I’m not going to worry about form or bringing this all together at the end. It might end up being the worst thing I’ve ever written as a result. The inspiration here is in something like The Arcade’s Project, where I’m going to let the fragments speak for themselves – and I’m going to trust in the appropriateness of that for an end of the year, and end of the decade, review of where we are now.

    The decade has been an odd one for me. It’s been one that has seen my return to wrestling, and my drifting out again, within the span of a few years. It has seen me subscribe to, and cancel, subscription services. I have been a committed fan of more than one promotion only to end up with none.

    It is one that began with optimism and ends with nothing but a vision of the abyss. In hindsight, two different impulses were at work in those early days, and though one offered cause for optimism, the other turned out to be more telling, and have more impact. The changes to the in-ring mentality that have accelerated across the course of the decade mean, ultimately, that it doesn’t matter how much you return to sense in the overall presentation: it will always be undone.

    Or, you can’t reconcile a ‘sports-based presentation’ with hadoken spots, and the sooner people accept that the better.

    If there’s a way of summarising my experience of the decade it is of resisting the tide going out, like Canute. I have known for some time that the end of my relationship with wrestling was a reality; I’ve said it so often that it has probably become a cliché. I’ve only been able to save my enjoyment of older wrestling by taking active steps to stop the new dances ruining it for me. That sounds like a dramatic overstatement, but it’s nothing less than the truth. And it’s only been partially successful, too.

    Prolonging a relationship that exists for as long as my memory and the sadness that comes with knowing the sands were trickling away has characterised my last few years. But I’ve realised that while this is a personal sentiment, it is also one that can be scaled up, and is demonstrative of the state of wrestling.

    I do not mean the average wrestling fan like me. They are long gone. The decline in wrestling dates back twenty years, but there are some illustrative examples. On the final day of the Monday Night War, there were (roughly) eight million fans watching wrestling on a Monday Night. The following week there were around five million, give or take. WCW fans didn’t migrate en masse to the WWE, as some expected. A few promotions have tried to tap into that audience, but none have ever done so successfully.

    That is just one example of the exodus away from wrestling. You can point to the decline across 2002 and 2003 as another, and several others, but the point remains that most of those fans have been gone for 15 years or more, and I’m willing to bet they aren’t still thinking about wrestling the way I have been.

    Rather, the people I am referring to are those on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. It took me so long to realise this because they have won the day. Wrestling is now made in their image. Fans like me have been run off and practically every promotion operates in their image. Even the ones that do not, such as the NWA, are not free from the influences of other promotions that are heavily inspired by this mindset. I did not realise for so long because, having won the day, I assumed that these people would be satisfied.

    That they did not particularly care about the collateral damage of the fandoms destroyed in their modernisation has long been clear, but I had always assumed that so long as they had what they wanted in wrestling, they would be happy.

    It turns out that assumption was wrong. You only need to look around to see that in their own way, many on the other flank are ‘raging against the dying of the light’ just as much as I.

    I do not understand it but given the sheer volume of evidence it is hard to deny that a good percentage of that wing of the wrestling audience are fighting against the inevitable themselves.

    Most of the developments in indie wrestling have occurred out of the spotlight, which has led to a group who believe that what has worked there can work with a large mainstream audience. Now that theory is being tested, with NXT and AEW engaged in what is being called the Wednesday Night War.

    First, it’s no war. The audience would be growing, not static, if it were – and people also wouldn’t be watching predominantly on catch-up if it were. When you have a genuine war, you watch at the first opportunity. If it had the kind of hype a real war implied, then you’d be watching as soon as you can. So long as you’re happy to just put it off – if you don’t need to know right now – then it’s not a real war, or at least not one that deserves the name. Calling it one is just an effort to channel the heat of the 1990s, without warrant.

    But regardless, these theories are being tested for the first time – and they are coming up wanting. Their stars are not stars outside of their goldfish bowl, the buildings are not full, the expected TV audience is simply failing to materialise. Perhaps they will turn that around in time. Perhaps. But for right now, all the evidence points in the same direction that it did before this war – that wrestling of this stripe will never generate a mass audience.

    Never might seem a big word, but when the evidence of generations points in that direction, the only sensible conclusion is that it is true until someone proves it wrong.

    That is where the rage comes from – from those people who cannot accept the fact that they have won, but at great cost. Those people who are satisfied with their own enjoyment will live with it. But those who need to be right, who need the admiration of others will never be satisfied just to have the product they want.

    They will refuse to listen. They will ignore the facts. They will blame other fans for not liking things, accusing them of being close-minded. They will ignore the reality of the situation, that the things they like do not translate, and they must come up with an explanation for it that exonerates their taste. They do not need simply to win, but like the dictators of history they need to be loved, and they need you to convert. When that doesn't happen, they never look to themselves. The blame always falls elsewhere. We have already seen this happening.

    The irony being, of course, that in their inability to listen to other fans they are the ones with minds that are truly closed.

    When you look back at the wrestlers that have connected in a major way with a big audience, they all have one of three things in common: people either see them as stronger than the alternatives, as tougher than the alternatives, or as technically superior to the alternatives. All of those things are grounded in reality – or at the very least, in a sports-based presentation where realistic attributes have some meaning.

    Since that is what has always drawn people to wrestlers, it is hard to see how someone is going to become a star when the hype is ‘you gotta see this guy, he’s a great storyteller’.

    Nonetheless, people have eschewed reality and are surprised to learn that a significant portion of the fanbase have not made the jump with them. A common refrain here is ‘fuck off and watch MMA then’.

    As if they do not realise that is where most wrestling fans have already gone.

    We often divide ourselves by WWE fans, AEW fans, NXT fans, but the one thing all that obscures is that the biggest group of wrestling fans in the country is the one that doesn't watch anymore. The lapsed fans are certainly bigger than any other individual group - and they might even be bigger than all the other groups combined.

    And so, this, ultimately, is the state of wrestling right now. With every innovation that makes wrestling less real, the bulk audience gets disconnected a little bit more. The new crowd of people who are supposed to be embrace this free-floating world of possibilities show no sign of emerging to replace those running away from wrestling at an alarming rate. And we have a so-called war that shows little sign of pulling in even all the existing wrestling fans, never mind capturing the minds of those who have been left behind.

    And for both of these reasons we have an embittered group, who have no recourse left but to turn on those whose tastes continue to defy their expectations – those who prove them wrong simply by the twin sins of existing, and not being easily replaceable. They rage against the dying of the light as their dreams falls away in the first moment they are subjected to external scrutiny. Rather than turning their critical gaze within, where it belongs, they look for a scapegoat.

    As for me, I am no longer minded to try, and to be insulted for the sake of trying. If people are so inflexible that they will not listen to those being chased out and will simply default to our minds being closed, then I would rather surrender the ground; the battle has already been lost, anyway. I am content at this point to leave the handful who remain – for the lack of a better description, the cult – with what remains of the husk of wrestling.

    To finish, we return to the state of wrestling. It is in a position where some cling to their optimism of growth at the same time others who had all the hallmarks of being lifers turn away from it. This has been a decade that began with optimism on my own part and ends with me relieved and even glad to leave the whole industry behind. And we know, just from glancing about, that I am not alone.

    Perhaps we will be replaced, perhaps we will not. But I know one thing for sure. My emotional investment in the outcome is nil. In the next decade, this is truly someone else’s problem.

    So, to those who remain, there is not much more for me to say but good night…. and good luck.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  2. #2
    The Brain
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    Hard to know how to respond to this, Pete! On a personal level it's been sad to watch the distance grow between yourself and what wrestling is today. And I admit, though I agree with some of things you dislike and condemn in the modern scene, some of it I find immensely enjoyable. So it's a difficult thing to wrap my mind around, to have a respected friend say flat out "the things that make you happy will kill the business you love". And you may even be right, there is some evidence as you laid out here, though my feeling is it's far less clear cut that you may have implied. At the end of the day, if you're right it's a hard truth to swallow, and if you're wrong, well, then I suppose what you say will still be true on your own personal level since I don't think I see you coming back from this as a modern fan. Wrestling has changed, the world has changed, fans have changed, I'm sure even you have changed. It's hard to see what'll happen next. But even if you give up on watching wrestling completely, I hope you won't be a stranger, as our conversations are among my favorite here on LOP. Peace be to you my friend, and I hope one way or another wrestling surprises you one more time!

  3. #3
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    You've used a phrase there that I tried to avoid, which is 'killed the business'. There's two ways of looking at it, I guess. If you're talking about killing the business for individuals that ship has long since sailed. But if we're talking about killing it in the sense of everything closing up... I don't know about that. That's a big statement, especially as in the modern era you need fewer fans to keep something going.

    But I would prepare myself for the idea that the ceiling for what it has become is going to be low. In fact, it might not even be possible to do much better than where we are at now, no matter how hot a company or angle gets with those inside the tent.

    As for whether it's clear cut or not... I mean, so far as I can see, all the evidence points one way. There are reasons that evidence might have some mitigating factors around it, but that's all the cause for optimism I can find. Guesswork and extrapolation based on the gaps in what we can know. But all the actual evidence continues to point in the same direction, and so as far I'm concerned it is right until we have good reason to doubt it.

    You're right, though. I could still be wrong. That new audience could materialise. But I think it's now safe to say that I'm almost certainly not going to be a part of it. I don't think I'd have ever become a fan of *this* version of the wrestling business in the first place.

    I don't plan on leaving the site altogether, so no fears on that account!

    Many thanks for the feedback, for the kind words, and for being much better conversation than those other modern fans I was referring to in the column!

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  4. #4
    Member #25 SirSam's Avatar
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    Very sad to see you leaving your fandom behind man, it has been a pleasure to read your thoughts over the last few years that I've been around.

    Even going out you have put down something I want so many people to read. I feel like plundering it for quotes but the thing that stood out for me was this:
    That is where the rage comes from – from those people who cannot accept the fact that they have won, but at great cost. Those people who are satisfied with their own enjoyment will live with it. But those who need to be right, who need the admiration of others will never be satisfied just to have the product they want.

    They will refuse to listen. They will ignore the facts. They will blame other fans for not liking things, accusing them of being close-minded. They will ignore the reality of the situation, that the things they like do not translate, and they must come up with an explanation for it that exonerates their taste. They do not need simply to win, but like the dictators of history they need to be loved, and they need you to convert. When that doesn't happen, they never look to themselves. The blame always falls elsewhere. We have already seen this happening.

    The irony being, of course, that in their inability to listen to other fans they are the ones with minds that are truly closed
    This is such an astute point with where fan culture is at and also a very sad one.

    I feel like this runs both ways and that there are some who in their bitterness at seeing what they love change are taking a spiteful victory lap on anyone who dares enjoy wrestling that isn't succeeding on the mass scale it was hoped it would.

    Of course just as you would hopefully say I don't fall into the first category you highlighted here I certainly don't think you fall into the second I spoke of.

    I must say while for the most part I enjoy where wrestling has ended up I have long since accepted that wrestling will forever be a niche. Perhaps it is because I live in Australia where wrestling is far less exposed than what I perceive it to be in the UK or US, within my friends I literally have one other friend who enjoys it and even he doesn't keep up with what is going on in any aspect.

    Having said that I am immensely sad to see in the same few weeks you, 'Plan, Doc and Maverick all depart from writing or podcasting about wrestling. Admittedly Doc is doing it for different reasons but when you have people like yourself, Plan & Mav who have devoted innumerable hours to wrestling walking away it is clear there is something wrong.

    I know you didn't want to write this as a pity party though so I will simply say thanks for writing and I hope something is able to drag you back in some day.

  5. #5
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Hi Sam, thanks for reading and for your kind words in spreading this on Twitter. I'm pleased that even here in this rather messy affair there's things that you've found valuable.

    I think it probably does run both ways. I wouldn't say that I've necessarily done a spiteful victory lap, to use your phrase, but I'd be lying if I said that I don't recognise something similar in myself, in my weaker moments. I hope that I don't do it just because people like it. But those people who insist that you are just out of time, refusing to move with the times, and that it's simply an evolution - when that theory takes a blow, I won't lie, there's a little bit of schadenfreude that can creep in. Not a nice reaction, but a decidedly human one.

    I think when you've loved something as much as I loved wrestling - and I'll say to anyone, if you've never celebrated a wrestling result like it's an actual sports result, or if it's never been the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning, you haven't loved it the way I have, which is probably much more than I should have done at times - but when you've loved it that much, it's hard not to enjoy seeing the hubris of people who consider you out of touch, or surplus to requirements, fall flat. Even if you don't like that side of yourself very much.

    Interesting you say about wrestling always being a niche, because I think going forward that could well be the case. I'm not sure that anyone knows how to change that anymore, or that the people with the means even have the interest. The WWE are clearly content with their set-up, while AEW look like fish out of water right now, from a distance at least. I have the strong feeling Omega and the Bucks will die on the hill of what they like, so long as the option is there for them, rather than concerning themselves with drawing others in.

    But that's sad to me, because a good number of the people who are left have now never experienced a legitimately hot time in wrestling, and that a) honestly, inhibits their ability to judge things because they have no reference point, which is bad for their criticism and their writing, and b) is a real shame for them, because they've got no idea how awesome it is to be a part of that. I've ragged on 1999 for it's problems, and really a lot of what is wrong with wrestling can be traced back to that period, but at the same time.... I really can't get over just how great it was that, back then, you could talk to almost anyone about wrestling. Honestly, if you were a young man under 40, here in the UK you were more unusual if you didn't follow the WWF between 1998-2000. Honestly, if I'm right that we're either in (or heading towards) a position where that simply can't happen again, then it's a damned tragedy, as far as I'm concerned.

    You make a good point about a lot of us stepping back. Obviously, Doc is a different case. But to anyone who likes the current trends and direction in wrestling, I would just point to one-time superfans like Me, 'Plan and Mav all walking away and asking... how healthy do you really think this is? Doesn't this worry you at all? I like to think that smart people, even if they are optimistic, would be concerned by that. Of course, the less smart and those who feel the need to protect themselves will just blame us, but I'm done humouring them.

    As for coming back.... the only reason I came back last time was that Bret Hart returned to finally mend fences with Shawn Michaels. I don't know what could fill that role this time. It's not as if he can forgive him again! When I look at it that way, it kinda feels like the last decade has been a bit of a fluke, that maybe I shouldn't have had it at all. If that return had never happened, I'd likely not be here now. The CF return in 2010/11 would certainly have been hugely unlikely, and if I'd stayed at LoP it would have been almost exclusively in the sports forum, which is the one place I kept returning even in my first hiatus.

    So I'm waffling a bit now, but honestly, it's hard to see what could pull me back in now. The problem we have is that the first time around, I didn't trust the company to deliver what I wanted. And now, I don't trust the companies, but I also don't trust most of the wrestlers to give me what I want, and in truth even if they did I don't trust a lot of the fans not to ruin it. That's a tough place to come back from.


    But anyway. Down note aside, thanks again for reading - not just now but over the past 2-3 years!

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  6. #6
    LOP's part time glass ceiling DynamiteBillington's Avatar
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    I think people have gathered from a couple of my last columns that I'm in a similar place. I'm not sure wrestling is for me anymore, as more and more of what it presents is all the things I have grown to dislike about it. And although I'm a long way from considering retirement from writing here, I also don't expect to write nearly as much this coming year as I have the past few. I'll still be here, reading and commenting, as well as doing as much of the Fact or Fiction I can, but actual columns? Right now, I've got nothing.

    Going on to your piece itself, I find the most notable quote to be in one of your replies rather than the column itself:
    Honestly, if you were a young man under 40, here in the UK you were more unusual if you didn't follow the WWF between 1998-2000. Honestly, if I'm right that we're either in (or heading towards) a position where that simply can't happen again, then it's a damned tragedy, as far as I'm concerned.
    You're absolutely right about this. The thing is, back then Sky was pretty much the only option for a TV package (aside from the standard 4 channels of course). A good proportion of people had access to it. WWF was also shown on Channel 4 if I recall, mainly the highlight shows but I think they had a couple of the PPVs as well.

    Today, we're moving towards an era where not only is WWE not on free to air television, it is exclusive to the least popular subscription channel. WWE have made themselves inaccessible to new viewers - a decision they may regret in the longer term, especially now they have a company with the potential to become competition showing on a mainstream free to air channel. AEW have become the only hope to attract new wrestling fans here in the UK, and it's yet to be seen how well they will fare in the longer term.

  7. #7
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Billington - thanks for reading, and happy new year.

    Yeah, that sounds almost exactly the same place that I am at, except I've walked away from it pretty much entirely. Interesting point about SKY, too. I think you're right that moving to BT is a problem, especially as their UK ratings are through the floor anyway. Back then, of course, I remember people followed it even if there wasn't SKY in the house. People would watch at friends, pass tapes around, the whole nine yards. But yeah, even finding WWE is going to be tricky for most - makes you wonder if RAW and Smackdown will eventually be on the UK version of the WWE Network, even if just in edited form.

    As for AEW, we've no idea how they'll pan out long term, and the lack of clear, definable data for the edited ITV show makes it hard to say how they are doing for sure. But the full programme on ITV4 doesn't have a lot of viewers, certainly not compared with TNA in 2012-3. I don't think that bodes well for when the shine is off the AEW apple.

    Thanks for reading, both now and in the past.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  8. #8
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    As someone who has always watched only one promotion, I found myself falling out with WWE. Where I once couldn't wait to tune into wrestling every week I now find it a chore to watch WWE. I am burnt out on their product, a product that I've supported since the very beginning. But these days it's more of a business than a promotion. I'm currently in the midst of taking a break from WWE. And one thing I can say is that taking a break from WWE is one of the easiest things I ever did.

    Wrestling in general just seems like a dying form of entertainment. Sure, WWE is a well-known brand but that's due to them monopolizing the industry and because they are a well oiled machine when it comes to exposing themselves. But yet no new fans are tuning in. I think it's safe to say that the only real fans left are the ones who've always been around.

    This was a fantastic column, Prime.

  9. #9
    Al Snow claims the best match at WM 3 was not Savage/Steamboat, but Hogan/Andre because it drew the most money. He says the best matches are the ones that draw the most business or can be used to draw future business, with no regard to the work rate unless that in itself helps draw business. I wish all wrestling fans understood this.

    If I can give some advice on watching WWE, I suggest just trying to watch Smackdown every week, not Raw. Smackdown is only two hours and it goes by pretty fast. Bray Wyatt is currently champion and he's a pretty interesting character.

  10. #10
    LOP's part time glass ceiling DynamiteBillington's Avatar
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    the full programme on ITV4 doesn't have a lot of viewers, certainly not compared with TNA in 2012-3.
    Thing is, by 2012/13 TNA had been on air quite some time - several years instead of the several weeks AEW has had to date. We'll have to give AEW a few years to see how it's doing, but as it's on a better channel I think it has potential to over take TNA's peak - which was actually beating WWE in the ratings at the time due to WWE being behind a pay wall.

    Now WWE has put itself in a worse position and it's (potential) main competitor is in a better position, it could be interesting to see how things pan out inthe longer term.

  11. #11
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Don - If you watched only one promotion and you've taken a break from WWE, have you branched out or have you taken a break from wrestling in it's entirety? I certainly can't rule out the idea that wrestling is dying. It doesn't seem to be that drastic right now but I do wonder about where the low places we could go to are. But thanks for the kind words about the column!

    RIP - You can give advice about watching WWE, but I haven't watched their main roster for some time and given I've walked away from the products I liked more as well, I won't be returning to the WWE. I think their basic format is broken. The odd character here and there isn't going to make a blind bit of difference to that. But yeah, there's a lot of things about Andre and Hogan that were fantastic and that wrestling has lost, and if they could remember it again things would improve immediately. And they go way beyond cash, but I'm pretty sure they'd still translate to cash. Anyway, thanks for reading.

    Bill - I've seen this theory put forward before, but I'm not sure I agree with it. In UK terms, AEW has already been better advertised than TNA, and is on a channel that more people watch. It's also had more hype than TNA had at any point, and the internet has much more reach than it did in 2002 when TNA were trying to find their crowd. Long story short, it's not like people who might watch wrestling don't know about the existence of AEW, and plenty of people gave it a shot and tuned out. So they've already got advantages that TNA never had, and still have less, and I don't think the number of years means a lot. But as I said in the first post, yeah, we don't know how they will shake out long term, but there's plenty of reasons for believing it ain't going to be as well as TNA already, because as hot as they are with the internet fans AEW are more likely to cool down than heat up.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  12. #12
    Member #25 SirSam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RIPbossman View Post
    Al Snow claims the best match at WM 3 was not Savage/Steamboat, but Hogan/Andre because it drew the most money. He says the best matches are the ones that draw the most business or can be used to draw future business, with no regard to the work rate unless that in itself helps draw business. I wish all wrestling fans understood this.
    Why should I as a fan care about this?

    Sure it is true from the standpoint of a WWE shareholder or performer in the WWE but as a fan I watch wrestling to enjoy myself not to watch other people make money. If they want to maintain my audience and therefore their ability to make money off of me then the best match for them to put on from my perspective is one I enjoy.

  13. #13
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    As a fan you should care because money is only generated through fan interest. The match that is the best is the one that gets the most people interested and packs the most fans into the building.

    As individuals, we're a lot less important than the whole, and that's something that has been forgotten (and underpins the major problems wrestling has been having). '... From my perspective' can also just as easily be used to defend any number of practices that would hurt the show. Wanna savagely boo every babyface and cheer heel acts? If all that matters is the individuals perspective, then go for it. If they find it entertaining, who is to say that fans shouldn't throw beach balls during a match. And so on, ad infinitum.

    And finally, because wrestling doesn't have the kind of artistic history of other forms, money is the surest method of validating good and bad in wrestling. Most of the time when we talk in other ways, we're imposing other values on wrestling from outside.

    Now, I don't know that I think it's definitive as a position, but it's certainly a valid one - and one that has been forgotten about to the detriment of the entire industry.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

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