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  1. #1
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Take Up Thy Wrestling Boots and Walk - Why So Serious?


    I probably have a reputation as a bit of an old grump when it comes wrestling today. Iíve been called a nihilist, for example. Certainly, if nothing else I imagine people whoíve read my work over any length of time think that Iím a bit of an old cynic.

    With that in mind, I have to acknowledge that there all sorts of things that I hate hearing in modern wrestling. We donít really get Ďwhatí chants with the same frequency anymore but thereís no doubt they were the bane of WWE TV for a long time and spread to infect other products too. Iíve also stressed time and again my objections to the Ďthis is awesomeí chant.

    But these things all pale in comparison with the one thing that I hate hearing more than any other thing that I routinely come across in the modern wrestling landscape.

    You take wrestling too seriously.

    Make no mistake, this one little sentence is enough to make me seethe. For those people for whom wrestling is just a bit of fun, a silly little form filled with daft comedy and larger than life characters that we cheer or boo as we please, this will make little sense. Iím sure theyíll agree that I take wrestling too seriously.

    But the alternative to taking wrestling seriously is to not really invest yourself emotionally in it, and thatís the primary reason why people donít enjoy the WWE the way they have done before. If you want to get to grips with the real reason that the WWE feels stilted and sodden, and why they are unable to make new stars, then this is where you need to look.

    It has nothing to do with part-timers not putting talent over. In the main event of each Wrestlemania from 31 to 33, a current main roster talent defeated a part-time wrestler. Frankly, Wrestlemania 33 should have ended that as an argument, as up and down the card part-timers fell to the full-time stars. Shane McMahon lost to AJ Styles, Kevin Owens beat his former friend Chris Jericho, and Shield members Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns get victories over Triple H and Undertaker, respectively.

    If simply passing the torch and putting people in high profile spots were enough, that night would have made stars out of half the roster. It didnít. Smackdown, routinely headlined throughout the year by AJ Styles and other members of the full-time roster, would have made a clutch of stars. It hasn't. And the reason for that is simple. People who still like the product need an easy out because thatís easier than acknowledging that things you like can still be part of the problem.

    Iíve experienced this myself. Itís only with hindsight that things that didnít bother me about the New Gen era now stand out as holding the product back. Do not think I am getting at you when I say this, because you simply walk in my own footsteps some time later.

    But what this does in the current environment is inevitably causes an unnecessary focus on things that are ultimately inconsequential. They do not realise that the problem lies not in the kind of trivial details they suspect, but in the very bones of the product itself. Because accepting that would mean accepting that the product they like Ė that has driven away so many millions of other audience members Ė is fundamentally flawed. It is the very nature of the show itself that prevents people from reaching the heights of their predecessors; for those unfortunates, headlining Wrestlemania would make as much difference as trying to piss out an inferno. I admire the optimism, and canít dispute that the reliance on part-timers is a short-term strategy at best, but their limited, nibbling at the edges response will yield no long term result.

    The real problem lies in that old realm of seriousness. Matches are run three, four, five times, with less and less importance and consequence, so people invest far less in the outcome of each match. Everyone basically realises that it doesnít matter if a wrestler wins or loses this match, so there is no need to invest emotionally in the result. If you wonder where the live audiences fucking around will beach balls and shit all started, it was right there.

    You can go further. People donít take heels seriously, and even cheer their worst antics, so consequently, they arenít as invested in the babyfaceís comeback, or in his triumphant return to beat the odds. In fact, theyíre probably booing the ass off of him, because the earnest fella canít compete with the short-term entertainment of the heel.

    You can run through almost every aspect of contemporary WWE and find the same trend. People donít take gimmick matches seriously, and they donít really add very much to a showís appeal. Look at how far Hell in a Cell has been degraded between, say, the HHH vs Foley match in 2000 and what it has become today. Titles arenít taken seriously, either; not only do they look like cartoons and get made up for anyone who wants to pay, or that wins in other sports, but they are dropped, or even invented. Am I really expected to consider the abomination of a Universal Championship as a world title, when they literally pulled it out of their arse because they wanted a world championship for RAW?

    The obvious retort on this is that all wrestling championships are essentially nothing more than props, with nothing more to them than what we invest. But that is not the full story and betrays a certain historical ignorance. Wrestling championships did not emerge out of a grey area but out of a time when the wrestling was very real. The NWA Championship may have been first worn by Orville Brown at a point when modern wrestling was very much the norm, but that title gained its legitimacy from its connection back to the lineal world title worn by George Hackenschmidt Ė at a time when wrestling was, for the lack of a better word, legitimate. The WWWF, forerunner to the WWE Championship, gained its due to being seen as an offshoot, or branch, of that title, as did the AWA title. Long story short, those titles which were truly seen to matter were created in a different time, when their fate was considered important and they were built by association over time. You cannot just invest that into something new at the drop of a hat.

    What really bugs me, though, is that saying you take wrestling too seriously is nothing less than ignoring what the underlying story of wrestling is supposed to be. This is a narrative of a combat sport. To erase that while claiming to love wrestling is like claiming to love someone while knowing nothing of their personality. And combat sports are serious business. I was reading an interview with a boxing manager a few weeks ago, and I came across this line:

    ďItís very hard and emotional, is boxing, and when your fighters win itís great, but when youíre round them theyíre like family, and when they get beat, you get beat. Itís heartbreaking. And you have to go home to your wife and your kids, and you have sleepless nights. And it doesnít even balance, because a defeat hurts more than the high feels good. And itís very brutal. Itís a brutal game. When Robbie Barrett lost to Lewis Ritson, I went back to my hotel room and cried. I felt his pain.Ē

    That is what combat sports are. They are hours and hours of people training, and tremendous exertion both in the gym and in the arena. They are families and training partners living and taking every blow with you. They are consequences, and hardships, and Ďmaybe he really wonít come back from this oneí. They are hearts in mouths, and sweat, blood, tears, and glory.

    And if wrestling is going to be wrestling that is what it has to be as well. Thereís always going to be room to open things up and include a little more in it because of the theatrical nature of the medium, but the minute that seriousness, that emotional weight is completely missing, then wrestling frankly has no business approximating a combat sport. In that case, Iíd go further than just saying it loses something, but when you consider what people go through in boxing or MMA or in other forms of wrestling that arenít predetermined, then thereís really actually something fucking distasteful about doing what amounts to nothing more than a lampoon for your own profit.

    And the funny thing is wrestling fans, when they arenít rolling around in the nonsense, know this too. Daniel Bryanís rise to stardom wasnít remotely based on his booking in WWE but was founded on his travels around the world, his efforts to hone his craft, and the blood, sweat, and tears that he put into making himself the very best wrestler in the world. When people talk about Seth Rollins Ďdeservingí the mantle of the top babyface in the aftermath of Roman Reigns hiatus, they are invoking the same idea.

    You only need to look outside the WWE to see how this can still work. New Japan has an in-ring style that doesnít generally enthral me but there is no denying that the way they have booked their main events over the last few years has given a huge impetus to certain matches, especially those between top stars, and around top events like the G1 Climax and the New Japan Cup. The popularity of NJPW is based not solely around the hugely impressive athleticism of the wrestlers but also around the fact that the underlying stories are treated with a certain weight. I still donít believe, personally, that the wrestling is as great as some people would have you believe, but it doesnít seem to matter. When Tetsuya Naito gets beaten up, there are women in tears around the ring, in a way that I havenít seen in the WWE Ė at anything scripted, at any rate Ė for twenty years.

    I canít see a way back to police accosting wrestlers or managers having to wear stab-proof vests Ė those days are well and truly behind us. But there are places and stages in which wrestling still means something, and if you want to build up a new generation of stars in the WWE, one that can truly replace those part-timers who are on their last legs, then it can only happen by treating those stars and their endeavours like they matter. And thatís the reason why, when someone tells me I take wrestling too seriously, Iím proud to raise a middle finger and say Ďyou donít take it seriously enoughí.

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

  2. #2
    This was a truly great column, Pete. I could tell this came straight from the heart. And I'm with you all the way on this one. Part of wrestling falling so far from grace is the fact that nobody takes it seriously anymore. You were speaking about something that really chaps my hide and that is how unimportant titles seem to be. That is a serious pet peeve of mine and one I've constantly written about in my columns.

    Perhaps the fact that WWE doesn't seem to take wrestling seriously anymore is why fans can't take wrestling seriously anymore. The inconsistent booking, allowing matches to become stale by running the same match into the ground and the overall "fuck wrestling and the fans, shareholders come first" attitude that Vince seems to employ.

    It's because we care about wrestling that we take it seriously I suppose. We want the business to succeed but if Vince doesn't take wrestling seriously it just makes me feel like why should I, you know.

    Great column!

  3. #3
    Member #25 SirSam's Avatar
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    I gave you my short review on twitter but thought I'd jump in here for some more detailed feedback because this is a piece that well and truly deserves it.

    I think you have hit the nail on the head here in so many ways, when the WWE doesn't even take itself seriously either as a pseudo sport or as I see it, as a work of fiction, then how can it's audience? To me that doesn't mean it has to be a pure sport like presentation World of Sports style but it needs to set up a fictional universe and stick to it.

    I don't even have a problem with things like supernatural powers in wrestling, if the consequences of those powers is taken seriously. It is why I have a huge problem with Bray Wyatt because his 'powers' never actually do anything. In his match with Orton at Mania he changed the ring canvas to maggot infested grounds and Orton casually rolled out of the ring and the commentators went 'eeewww' in response to this reality bending event. The point is that with all the fiction I consume, I want something that takes its own world seriously, where people act believably to what is happening and too often in the WWE that just doesn't happen.

    I also think when people take the fiction seriously they get the most out of it. It is why I enjoy talking to Plan so much about Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, because they are two characters that have taken their fictional relationship seriously and he is keen to dig into the fictional details. We've been mocked by commentators on this site (not the forums or by forum peeps though) for taking it so seriously and been told people like us try to read too much into it. I'm not going to name names, but I find it very distasteful that on a wrestling site where we devote many unpaid hours of our lives to this world that people would be mocked for wanting to dig into what should be a serious fictional product, instead of treating the product with distsin and like it is something to be mocked.

    As you alluded to, as new fans we were engaged by wrestling because we took it seriously, we bought into the stakes of it and were able to go on the journey with the wrestlers. Approaching it with that attitude is what ultimately reaps the most enjoyment, at least in my experience.

    However, I now get back to my first point, too often the WWE serves up something that didn't reward taking that view of it, something that probably should be mocked because digging into it only reveals more and more holes.

    Great piece.



    @Sir_Samuel

  4. #4
    This is why I always say "When wrestling is great, it's the best thing there is. The other 90% of the time it sucks."

    It sucks because WWE doesn't take itself seriously. It doesn't focus. It doesn't build. It doesn't keep track of what it said last week, or last month.

    That isn't to say that there can't be comedy, or everything has to be high stakes, life-or-death. But it means that professionals can't half-ass it(not talking about the performers, obviously) when they're building shows, and yet they either are half-assing it, or they just suck at their jobs.

    Do people know when they are bad at their jobs? I'm honestly not sure. Maybe it's like when someone stinks, but they can't tell because their nose is used to it. Maybe WWE's creative staff's nose is numb.

  5. #5
    Member #25 SirSam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Burn11nMyLight View Post
    It sucks because WWE doesn't take itself seriously. It doesn't focus. It doesn't build. It doesn't keep track of what it said last week, or last month.
    I remember reading a backstage article from a writer that left and he said that he got laughed out of the room when he suggested creating a 'character bible' where they would keep track of all the wrestlers characters, their motives, values and relationships they had with other wrestlers.

    You can never be quite sure how accurate those kind of anonymous stories are but it rang very truly for me and makes me shudder that a writer would be laughed at for suggesting they keep track of those kind of things.



    @Sir_Samuel

  6. #6
    LOP's part time glass ceiling DynamiteBillington's Avatar
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    The trouble is, as long as WWE keeps making money those at the top will continue thinking everything is OK. They don't need to build new stars, because the WWE brand is what sells.

    It's only when that changes and the money stops rolling in that something will happen to change things, in much the same way WWE continued living in the 80s until WCW started beating them in the ratings. Back then, competition forced the change.

    In the future, I can see the same thing happening, not because another promotion has grown and overtaken them, but because WWE has shrunk to independent levels.

  7. #7
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Don – Thanks for the kind words! Yes, this is definitely something close to my heart. And you’re right, and obviously something didn’t quite come across here because I wouldn’t want to suggest anything else – the primary culprit is absolutely the WWE, who spend most of their time doing silly shit and still want you to treat the occasional thing like it has emotional weight. Well, that shit doesn’t fly. Totally get where you’re coming from with that last sentiment too, it chimes very much with my thinking – and ultimately Vince and his attitudes will have far more bearing on the question than ours ever will. It’s kinda why I’ve basically given up.


    Sam – Thanks for taking the time to leave such detailed feed, glad you think this was worth it. Quite how close that needs to get to a sporting environment is something we can potentially debate, but I’ll agree with you to a degree that whether or not this does involve those kind of elements or not, taking what is presented as if it is serious, and has consequences, is absolutely a bare minimum that needs to happen. Personally I think you’re still necessarily going to lose more audience members than you gain going too far off sports – but nowhere near as many as you lose by treating the whole thing like a big joke.

    I’m totally with you on getting more out of the product when you invest yourself massively into it, and understand where you’re coming from with regards to that storyline. But then again, I also understand the other point of view, because digging into a product where the angles are so transparently disposable is going to strike people as strange. I suspect, though, that a more engrossing and involving world would see a lot of your critics crossing over and behaving as you are now. God knows 1998 had millions of people talking like that, even though everyone now likes to pretend they were always the smarkiest smark that ever smarked.

    Burn – Thanks for reading. Y’know, that ratio is really only something that has been around for the last couple of decades. Before that, wrestling was usually fine. It wasn’t always the most riveting thing you’ve ever seen and I’m not going to pretend it was utopian before the Attitude Era, but genuinely bad stuff was actually a bit of a rarity in the WWF days pre-1998. Now, I agree with you that there’s absolutely room for comedy and the like in wrestling, but there’s a way to do that, and I think more importantly, that can’t be allowed to distract from an overriding sense that what you are watching matters. If that isn’t there, then I don’t care how well any of the elements in the story are done, it’s basically a failure before you’ve started. I think the nose being numb analogy is a pretty good one.

    Sam – that analogy made me think of the way Chris Kreski is supposed to have written his angles, with boards and the like so they could dovetail and interweave and separate back out over the course of months. Not really a traditional ‘wrestling’ way of writing things and was mocked at the time, but his run was probably the last time I enjoyed more of the WWE product than not. Boy, that was a long time ago now, when you put it out there like that.

    Billington – I don’t know if that’s the trouble necessarily, so much as just the reality. But yeah, there’s definitely a sense out there that the WWE brand is what sells, which is exactly what Vince has wanted all along. He’s never wanted stars that are bigger than the company, because then you are always partially hostage to those stars. I’m not sure I see WWE sinking to independent levels, though. Financially they are set-up for the remainder of the McMahon tenure – not wishing him ill but he honestly can’t live long enough to see their position topple – and then it’ll all depend on who takes over and what the vision is for the company going forward. Based on NXT, I actually think that if it’s Hunter and Steph, if H is the top dog then things might change for the better. But that might just be me being uncharacteristically optimistic.


    All right guys, thanks to everyone for reading. Half expected this one to get a fairly withering reaction so very pleasing when you put yourself out there and people like it.

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

  8. #8
    LOP's part time glass ceiling DynamiteBillington's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Prime Time View Post
    Financially they are set-up
    Are they though?

    Considering the amount of money that gets thrown at them by TV channels, and the amount of money those TV channels throw at any content they can get their hands on, it's not out of the realm of possibility that those TV channels end up in debt and potentially bankrupt.

    With no TV, WWE follow sooner rather than later.

    I just think back to not so long ago when Carillion went out of business. They had lucrative contracts left, right and centre. It was hard to go anywhere without seeing their logo. Trouble is, they'd hidden the fact they were bidding deliberately low for those contracts and were moving the money from elsewhere to cover the income shortfalls.

    In comparison, those TV channels have bid deliberately high. It's unlikely their advertisers (who ultimately pay the bills) will accept a similar increase in their charges, so that money has to come from somewhere. What if they start creatively accounting with finances that don't actually exist?

    It's an extremely extreme outcome admittedly, but similar things have happened.

  9. #9
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Well, the people who have their rights are under the umbrella of some of the biggest corporations in the media landscape, so we're talking 'seismic' shifts if something like that happened. It's massively unlikely any of those channels go out of business given the size of their parent companies.


    I'd also be willing to bet that the McMahon family are seeing way more of the profit than they are putting back into the profit, which knowing the family would quickly become a war chest to fight back if Vince felt his back against the wall.

    So yeah, I'd say I'm as sure as you can ever be about predicting the future that they are financially set, at least to see them through the Vince era.

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

  10. #10
    The Brain
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    As usual, you and I are on the very same page on a basic level, though no doubt we'll differ greatly in the details. For me it comes down to context, weight, and meaning. If actions have consequences, if characters have depth, if stories have integrity, then I'll be happy even if you throw in time travel, mind control, and gods incarnated.

    Tons of great thoughts in here, particularly picking apart some false narratives about why WWE struggles creatively today and the strawmen that get blamed for the short comings. You're on a hell of a roll lately Pete, this is another great one.

    I remember reading a backstage article from a writer that left and he said that he got laughed out of the room when he suggested creating a 'character bible' where they would keep track of all the wrestlers characters, their motives, values and relationships they had with other wrestlers.
    God bless the memory of Chris Kreski, for sure!

  11. #11
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Mizfan - I guess I'd just repeat what I said in the feedback to Sam above. "Quite how close that needs to get to a sporting environment is something we can potentially debate, but I’ll agree with you to a degree that whether or not this does involve those kind of elements or not, taking what is presented as if it is serious, and has consequences, is absolutely a bare minimum that needs to happen."

    I'm sure we probably would debate the specifics, and I do believe that the potential audience for wrestling is - or at least was, as I'm not convinced that the damage hasn't been done - at it's biggest when those kinds of elements are absent. But what I will say is this - those kinds of elements treated seriously would be better than pseudo-MMA treated as a joke. So yeah, I don't doubt we're on the same page even if we'd struggle to find complete common ground.

    Glad you liked it my friend, and thanks for checking it out.

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

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