UFC and Pro Wrestling

Yesterday (9/27/16), John Cena, the Miz and Connor McGregor all cut notable promos (all notable because they were praised heavily by observers). There is a bit of a disagreement on Twitter because Dave Meltzer said that Cena was not in the same league as McGregor as a promo which led to another instance of wrestling fans being upset with Meltzer for two things: one for dismissing Cena’s promo (which he probably had not seen when he made the comment) and secondly for comparing wrestling to MMA (UFC in particular)

I usually agree with Meltzer about wrestling business simply because he is the person who analyzes it how it should be analyzed which is metrics, I truly believe that he is probably the most objective analyst in wrestling (and is still likely the most well-sourced) which is why I pay for the observer every month. The problem here is that I think that we are well past the point where MMA and wrestling can be compared. WWE did it to themselves, but the framework has been damaged to the point…let me put it this way, while I love Talking Smack-Cena’s promo should have been on Smackdown where the largest audience can see it. What I am saying is that the best promos in WWE are not on WWE television, they are on the Network or the website. It’s not just the promos either, WWE does not take the idea of selling fights as seriously as it should (and that is an understatement). Meltzer asked when Cena drew 1.5 million PPV buys on multiple occasions, Cena’s promos are not always great (even though they have been for the last year)-but he does not have a chance with the way WWE is structured (and that was before the Network). No one does.

UFC (or MMA) and pro wrestling are not the same thing. WWE (and other promotions) can learn a lot from MMA…and maybe if they were more similar WWE would be better off. It’s just that the comparison makes less sense as time goes on.

 

Bryan Alvarez and Wade Keller…

seem to have a lot in common. Am I the only one who has noticed this? They are both more facilitators of discussion on their respective podcasts as opposed to being people relied on for their wrestling knowledge. They both disrupt great wrestling discussion (especially by Todd Martin who I am a big fan of when he is serious) by interjecting lame attempts at humor (subjective of course). Going back to the first point, neither of them are what I would call wrestling people. They are people who talk about wrestling, but they are not historians. They basically use their real-life beliefs to push their wrestling beliefs and narratives. They are also both relatively close-minded in a business where it is much better to be open-minded as an analyst because all kinds of things can be effective or ineffective (my next post is actually going to be about the fact that wrestling should be analyzed backwards in this era-I’ll explain in that post). They also do not watch as much wrestling as they should considering their jobs.

Repeat Complaint (PWTorch)

I hesitate to talk about this again, but Wade Keller and Travis Bryant have really annoyed me by telling fans that they are wrong for liking who they like. The best responses in wrestling are organic. I don’t think that people cheering for heels like A.J Styles or Kevin Owens are necessarily trying to prove how smart they are. There is a chance that those fans just like them. There are reasons to boo heels that you like, but it is not a necessity. More importantly, to me it doesn’t put the company in the best position to draw money and ratings because it is a fake response.

If I was psychic and knew that every fan was simply playing along with the storyline, I would be disappointed because I want to know how fans really feel. Let the promotion adjust, not the fans. I am not saying I like heels getting cheered, I’m saying it’s fine either way as long as it is a passionate and organic (there’s that word again) response. If someone is not emotionally invested in the characters or the storylines, who cares how they respond? The last thing I want are fans who are robots.

Keller actually said that people have always known that wrestling was a “show” and people still booed heels. To me that means you have to look at what changed, since it wasn’t the knowledge of the fans (generally speaking, the volume of knowledge has obviously changed), then it must be the product not getting people to react appropriately. I should make an aside (that is not really an aside) here, I am more into the economics (think Brandon Howard) than I am into crowd reaction. The crowd reaction is a signal that something is wrong (considering that many of their metrics are down), but it is possible to have a hot product without crowd reactions in line with face-heel dynamics. I love listening to engaged crowds, but the specific reaction doesn’t bother me either way.

Going back to crowd reaction-Dash and Dawson are perfect examples of two heels that get the desired reaction because the goal is to get people to forget it is a show. Booing the heel because he is a heel and to “honor him” is recognizing that is a show which means it is a flawed reaction. Keller says that people should have fun booing the heel. My answer to that is wrestling is supposed to be fun so I am sure that the fans (for the most part) who go to arenas are “having fun” cheering the people that they like. Organic and visceral is what I care about. It should also be what promotions care about.

 

 

 

Close to a Breakthrough?

Granted the ratings are still close to record low levels and most my Twitter is “Wrestling Twitter.” I still think WWE may be on to something if they don’t screw it up (that’s such a IWC cliche). It seems like the people who are still watching are more invested/interested than they have been in a while. I don’t know if WWE can keep it up and even if they do, I don’t know if the “casuals” will follow, but there might be an opening.

My Own PWP

 

 

There is a feature on the “Wrestling with Words” website titled “Pro Wrestling Punditry” where a wrestling fan of some regard and esteem is asked 10 questions about his (or her) wrestling fandom. I figured that since I am probably a long way of being interviewed for the site, that I would use my platform to answer the question.

Question1: How old are you?

Answer: I turned 35 in January

Question2:  When did you first start watching wrestling?

Answer: I don’t remember a specific time. My younger brother was a big fan. I used to look at the television when he was watching and remember being scared of Kamala. This must have been around 1986 and so every time Kamala came on, I ran into the other room. In fact, Kamala was the reason that I hated wrestling when I was first introduced to it because I was scared he would come on every time my brother had it on. I don’t know how I got over my fear, but eventually I did sometime in 1986 (so I was five years old) and have been watching ever since with no breaks. Once I started we watched WWF Superstars, Wrestling Challenge and the AWA. My relatives in Lynchburg, Virginia had cable and we did not (we lived/live in Brooklyn, New York) so we were really excited to watch the World Championship Wrestling show on TBS every summer and winter when we visited (we did not get cable until 1995).

Question3: When do you recall first thinking critically about wrestling?

Answer: I think this happened in stages (warning: I don’t know how I can keep this answer short). I always knew that it was a show because I have a relative who wrestled in the Southeast and my uncle was a fan so my brother and I knew it was a show well before we were even 10 years old. As far as match quality went, there was a big part of me that liked the NWA better than the WWF because the match quality of the former even though I had more access to the latter. Moreover, I always liked technical wrestling which is why I had the favorites that I had (more on that later). When it comes to thinking critically about match quality, I think even now that I don’t look at what works as deeply as those on the prowrestlingonly.com board. I just know what I like.

    My critical thinking about wrestling is more about booking than match quality. I started with that when I was around 12-13 years old. This is where my stages of thinking critically really took shape because even though I thought about booking a great deal, my first inclination was to think about it from my perspective. I remember once in 2003 (so I was 22), someone did a recap of Raw for the Wrestling Observer website and criticized WWE giving away the WM 19 rematch between Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho on Raw. He said that it was entertaining, but “wrestling is not about entertainment, it is about drawing money.” I was taken aback by that statement-“wrestling is not about entertainment? Isn’t that exactly what it is about? “Then I started getting the Wrestling Observer Newsletter and the more I read and heard Dave Meltzer…the more I began seeing wrestling as a business more than art. Right now, when I think about booking-I think about how it can increase, decrease or keep interest (i.e.: draw money). In fact generally speaking, I am most entertained by wrestling that works. When I say wrestling that works, I am talking about drawing money, drawing ratings and getting good crowd reactions. I never think about wrestling based on my personal preferences anymore, which is kind of weird for two reasons. The first is because wrestling is my favorite form of entertainment and secondly while I am relatively positive about the products that I watch-I am still critical. It’s just that if something works…I’ll put it this way if the Roman Reigns push was working-I would not be saying “push Cesaro” even if I like his work better than Reigns because the fans getting behind Reigns would be entertaining because it is always fun seeing a crowd engaged. I should also note that a big part of my analysis of any promotion is considering how it could do what it wants to do the right way. For instance, if WWE is going to take the approach it takes to its product, I want to figure out how they can make that approach work as opposed to living in the proverbial “fantasy world” where the company overhauls the way it promotes.

Question4: What is your favorite promotion of all time?

Answer: Despite what I said above-it’s WWE. Like I said, I grew up in the Northeast and my only regular access to wrestling was WWE. Moreover, my two favorite years watching wrestling was mostly because of WWE (even though I had cable by then and was watching WCW regularly). I always get defensive (even if it is in my own head) when people criticize WWE heavily and say it sucks. Let me change that a little, I get defensive when people suggest that anyone who watches WWE is an idiot and that Raw is the worst show on television (not just wrestling). I think that is a bit overboard…

    Also my favorite wrestlers of all-time are from WWE. I would say with the exception of Ric Flair, the other 9 of my top 10 favorite wrestlers of all time had their biggest success in WWE (notwithstanding what they did in other organizations or the independent scene). WWE encompasses a lot about what I like in wrestling. I like the music, I like the Titantron, I like the pageantry of Wrestlemania and now that the in-ring is very good-there is little not to like in the macro (it’s the specifics in how it is presented which is problematic).

   I should say that I am a huge fan of Jim Crockett promotions and WCW from 1995-early 1999. I like the serious/sports like approach to wrestling that the NWA had and I was/am a big fan of the New World Order.

Question5: Who is your favorite wrestler of all-time?

Answer: Bret Hart. As I said earlier, I was a big fan of technical wrestling growing up and Bret Hart was the master of that type of wrestling. I also enjoyed his heel run immensely (more on that below). In fact when Bret turned heel, it was the first time I ever rooted for the heel because I wanted to stay loyal to him. I used to appreciate heels, but I could not bring myself to root for them until Bret turned and reunited the Hart Foundation. As an aside, when I hear Hart Foundation-I think 1997, not 1987 even though I was a fan during both time periods.

      On the favorite wrestler discussion, there are two things that will draw me to a wrestler-tremendous in-ring skills or a personality similar to mine. Bret was my favorite in-ring worker so he was my favorite of all-time. At the same time, I am drawn to anti-heroes like Steve Austin, CM Punk, Eddie Kingston and the Undertaker. With that said, I am also a huge fan of “traditional babyfaces” such as Ricky Steamboat, Bayley and Sami Zayn…it just depends. Daniel Bryan was my favorite wrestler before he retired and while I appreciate the fact that he is seemingly a great person, honestly he was my favorite because I enjoyed watching his matches the most.

Question6: What is your favorite era of wrestling?

Answer: The Monday Night War. The reason I say that is because WWE 1997 and WWE 2000 are my two favorite years as a fan. Moreover, I am a fan of invasion angles done correctly and the New World Order was the best American invasion angle in history. I like the in-ring of the pre and post Monday Night War era better than the in-ring of the Monday Night War, but as you can see from my earlier answers a lot of the Monday Night War appealed to what I like as a fan. For instance, I think the fact that a pimp and a porn star (and a porn star whose treatment of women was questionable) were babyfaces is hilarious. I like the Godfather and Val Venis, but I was never huge fans of either (in comparison to others)-I just think about the fact that they were heroes and I chuckle. It’s too strange not to be funny. Those two are just small examples as to why I thought the Monday Night War/Attitude Era was so appealing. With that said, 1998 and 1999 were not my favorite years-even though I actually like the Wolfpac and was a fan of Goldberg’s streak.

     I like what is going on now because I like the in-ring product and I watch more wrestling now because I have WWE Network, I watch ROH every week, I have my ways of catching some New Japan, I do random searches on YouTube and watch some obscure stuff and I even enjoy TNA. I actually think the next 5-10 years could be my favorite era if the creative and star making processes of the companies that I watch become consistently good because the talent is there and the exposure is just going to become more prevalent.

      Question7: What is your favorite style of wrestling?

Answer: This again goes to several earlier answers. For the most part, I like what I like. In other words, I am not looking for a certain style of wrestling. At the same time, Bret Hart is my favorite wrestler of all-time primarily because of his in-ring work and to that end I would say that I like technical wrestling. I remember a message board poster who I have great respect for asking “what is technical wrestling?” I actually think that poster was right, but I would say that technical wrestling is whatever is pushed by announcers as technical wrestling (or at least has been, that term is not used often anymore). I would say that technical wrestling is what Bret Hart, Daniel Bryan, Ricky Steamboat, William Regal and Ric Flair did.

     As far as spotfests go, I am not opposed to them-I am more worried about how it affects the wrestlers’ health than I am my personal enjoyment. In other words, I can enjoy a match where there is a lot of as Steve Corino would say “crash and burn” if I was not worried about the health of the wrestlers. It’s not my favorite style, but the style in and of itself is not an inherent turnoff. My least favorite style is probably the walk and brawl…but those can be entertaining as well.

One more thing…I love watching the Young Bucks (I wanted to put this somewhere).

Question8: What are the elements that make up a talented pro wrestler?

Answer: This is tough because all wrestlers are talented in their own way. Some are big, some are highly athletic, some are technically sound and some are very strong. I don’t look for “talent” in terms of physical attributes or natural ability as much as I look for how the wrestlers use that ability. I would say that Dave Meltzer can be overly complimentary of someone who is a great athlete because I don’t equate that with great wrestling or being a great wrestler. This is not acrobatics, this is wrestling.

Question9: What is most important to you when it comes to spending time with a pro wrestling product?

Answer: Two things: access and context. I am single and I freelance…in other words I have a lot of time to watch wrestling. If I can access the content, then I am likely to watch it. When it comes to context, I really need to understand what is going on. For instance, I do not watch every New Japan show-but I always know what is going on so that when I do watch I have the context needed to appreciate it.  Actually New Japan goes to access as well, New Japan World is too annoying to sign up for so I have not as of yet. As far as older wrestling such as the Network or YouTube clips-I rarely watch entire matches. I watch more for moments that will make me smile and/or big angles. Most of the time, it is just because I have a few minutes to watch something and/or I am reminded of an angle and just want to watch it again. Honestly, there are other times where I just need to use or leverage wrestling just to get out of my own life like when (hypothetically speaking) I am crushing on a waitress who is flirting with her co-worker. To mess with the wording of this particular question, wrestling itself is very important to my life. It is by far my favorite form of entertainment so going back full circle, I will spend time with just about any pro wrestling that is accessible, but I am too set in my ways/routine to watch anything where I don’t have context.

Question10: What major changes do you see in the pro wrestling landscape 10 years from now?

Answer: Well, I think technology is going to be a big part of change. I am not sure where wrestling is going to fit in as a weekly cable television show. At the same time, I do not believe that WWE (and maybe they will be the only company) will be forced into a television situation that will compromise their business. Indeed, they may not make the same amount of money in television rights fees-but the only way that Raw and Smackdown will be network exclusive shows is if it makes financial sense for WWE. Other than that, I think that WWE will still be on television, but I am not ruling out that everything in WWE will be on the network. I’m just not entirely sure.

I think other companies are going to leverage technology to increase their visibility…I mean even more than they do know. I do not know about television because I am not sure how any of the secondary companies are going to convince television executives (major stations) that they deserve a prime time slot without a major star or stars and lesser production values. I still think that wrestling will be successful because I have a feeling that promoters are going to super serve the hardcore fans in a way that will draw those fans in to major events. In other words, what we see now is just going to increase with knowledge as to what ardent fans desire. Perhaps another way to say it is that the loyalty of wrestling fans to wrestling in combination with more delivery methods is going to help wrestling survive. The thing is I do not know that it will thrive unless these companies find a way to create major stars.

I also should say that while the in-ring style may slow down because of injuries, in-ring work is going to become the most important aspect of wrestling. In other words, the big draws (such as they will be) are going to be the best wrestlers or the best wrestling events. Charisma is still going to be important, in terms of separating the mechanics from the stars-but the thing that is going to draw the hardcore fans I discussed above is a product that they know is going to deliver quality in-ring action.

Fundamental Belief #2

Fundamental Belief#2: Whatever Works

I am a big believer in if something is effective in terms of getting crowd reaction, drawing ratings or drawing money-then it’s good. As I have said in previous posts, I don’t have that much in the way of personal preferences except that I like things that work. In other words, while it may seem that my perspective is too objective for someone who is not a paid wrestling analyst nor someone who has a financial interest in any wrestling company, it is just as subjective as the point of view of someone who “doesn’t care about business.”

With the above in mind, the goal of a company should not be to please “FAN X”, it should be to please as many fans as possible. I see way too much analysis (or that passes for analysis) that suggest that a company “should” do something because it would please that fan. A fan could like whatever he or she chooses to like whether or not it is good for the company’s business, because a company’s business is not a fan’s business (unless the fan has stock in WWE). At the same time, being critical of something that is effective because you “don’t like it” is a flawed opinion and is certainly not credible analysis. With that said-if a fan or fans like something that is not working or doesn’t seem to be working-that fan is (obviously) under no obligation to like it less because it isn’t making a great deal of money. People should enjoy whatever they like…but they should not be overly critical if a direction that is not working changes.

Examples to the point that I am making include the Attitude Era, Goldberg, this year’s Wrestlemania, John Cena, WCW in 1992, the Young Bucks and even NXT to a degree (one of those things is not like the other).

It’s interesting that people bemoan how much the Attitude Era has been romanticized because from what I see people are very critical of the Attitude Era because the wrestling was not as good as other eras, it was too raunchy, babyfaces were too “edgy” and the storylines were too “wacky”. The problem with that analysis is that it worked. Is wrestling suffering now because people in charge use that as a reference for how the shows are today? I believe so…but I also think that it is the promoters’ fault and the wrestlers’ fault (to some degree) for not figuring out what people want now that is different than what people wanted in the Attitude Era. In other words, the Attitude Era was great for its time because it drew big audiences. The problem with wrestling is what I just wrote, which is that promotions are not doing a good enough job to find out what this audience wants. As an aside, I think it is a matter of tapping into society like WWE did in its 1980’s and late 1990’s (along with 2000 and early 2001), but don’t ask me about today’s society-I spent Friday night watching Law and Order reruns.

On the other hand, I see a great deal of praise for WCW 1992 which was not as successful, but it had and still has critical appeal. The people who praise WCW in 1992 are not wrong, because no one is wrong to enjoy whatever it is that they enjoy. My argument is much less about not praising things that do not have commercial appeal and more about giving credit to things that do have commercial appeal. My favorite era of wrestling was WWE 1997 because of the Hart Foundation storyline. WWE lost in the ratings every week in 1997-including the heart (no pun intended) of a storyline which prominently featured by favorite wrestler of all time (Bret Hart) in a story that entertained me greatly. I don’t like it less because it did not do the numbers that the Attitude Era did. I still watch the Hart Foundation segments from those Raws regularly (on the WWE Network), but I’m not talking about enjoyment…I’m talking about what a company should do based on what they are striving for and companies are (or should be) striving for fan engagement at a very high level.

Pro Wrestling Only

I am a member of Wrestling Observer, Pro Wrestling Torch and Pro Wrestling Net. All of those sites have their strengths, but by far the best site for wrestling discussion is prowrestlingonly.com. Here is the thing, I pay $25 in total for the aforementioned sites, but there aren’t many people on any of those sites that can touch prowrestlingonly for actual wrestling discussion and prowrestlingonly.com is free. Keller’s head would spin after about two minutes on the site because of his limited wrestling knowledge. Jason Powell is good to talk to about wrestling (I recently asked him three questions for his weekly Q & A and he had a tremendous job in answering all of them), but he isn’t on this level.

I’m intimidated to post on the site even though I am a member because I don’t feel I have the wrestling knowledge. I have been watching for 30 years and have a very good memory of things, but I am mostly a WWE, WCW, ECW guy so I couldn’t participate in PWO’s top 100 wrestlers of all-time list. I still wanted to acknowledge the website because I visit it multiple times a day.