Not too long ago, I went into detail – speaking about how one of the greatest issues in pro wrestling is the media. While that is definitely true, the media isn’t the only thing that is holding the sport back from reaching its true potential. When you consume any kind of entertainment or product of any sort for that matter, the provider usually lets you know that it is in fact you that keeps their brand running. This mentality is embedded in our brains since childhood. Companies have lived off that classic “The customer is always right!” motto for years, and dammit is it ever wrong within the world of the squared circle. That being said, there are some fans who are right – and that is exactly what we are going to explore within this piece today as we look for The Wrong in Wrestling, and see just how the Universe of fans are actually hurting their own passions.
I think you can only begin speaking about wrestling fans by starting with the obvious. Pro wrestling is a scripted product. The bumps are real, the athleticism is real, and the passion the performers have for their audience is real, but the results are fixed – just like any reality show or product of television. Most of us know that, and the ones who don’t will finally accept it one day and begin to enjoy the product from an entertainment standpoint – rather than a competitive one. Anyway, I feel like I needed to start there because a lot of fans who understand the business and follow every beat within the industry usually are the most problem. You know that guy who sits in the front row, gets drunk, and screams at Seth Rollins with death threats as the six people around him cringe in embarrassment? That is what we call a mark, and that is Vince McMahon’s best friend. This guy is also a friend to every guy in the locker room, as his reactions are responsible for their paychecks. If marks didn’t react, we would have never had a Hulk Hogan. We would have never seen The Rock shoot to fame, and Triple H would have been one of the most ineffective heels in history. These fans just don’t care about how they look as they are so into it, they allow themselves to suspend reality to get every cent out of each ticket. Sure, they are ignorant and they should know – but they are believing in Santa for their own entertainment and I think it is our duty as more in tune fans to just let them react and continue to keep the product alive through cheers and jeers.
A Smark is the next unique branding to speak about. This is more than likely anyone reading this article on the internet. You have a passion for the product, you buy a ton of merchandise at the live events, and for the most part, you are directly responsible for the product today. Don’t feel bad on that last statement, as I am right there with you guys, being the guy who feels embarrassed for the crazy fan who is just a little too into it. I am a Smark – and for the most part, I am rather pleased to admit that. It is not the worst thing ever to understand or be educated on something you love, and I feel that when pro wrestlers criticize this grouping of fans, it is usually because they are a bit out of touch with the current mindset of the pro wrestling audience. We have always had Smarks, dating back to the ring rats who would attend every single local event in the territories, to the Attitude Era fans who would feverishly wait for their dial-up to load so they could jump into their Yahoo Messenger chat and go at it for a night of debates and fierce conversations. Smarks are what keep this world of wrestling interesting because they have always never settled for anything other than what they feel is the best. They sigh when we see a repeat match within the same month, and come across as most critical when the guy who they wanted to win does not advance to that next level.
The third grouping is simply the “fans”. You know, the ones who make up 50% of the audience? These are the people who casually watch for a while, have their favorites who are usually the most attractive members of the roster, and keep up through Facebook, ESPN and TV Guide (maybe I am a little behind on that last one, is that even a thing still?). Not a lot to detail on this grouping aside from the fact that the casual market is the most targeted because they are the most responsible for ratings, merchandise sales, and so on.
Go back fifteen years now and watch a nice episode of Raw. Heck, make it eleven. The other day I was re-watching an episode from May of 2005 and to compare that crowd to the crowd of today is like comparing night to day. The fans back the reveled in the product they received. These were better times. The fans were eating up mid card feuds as if they were main event level disputes and cheering for almost every face that walked through the curtain. Sure, there were chants during this era, but most went along with the product, with “You Suck” chants being chanted at Kurt Angle, and just raw cheers and screams greeting the likes of London and Kendrick, Chris Benoit, and Rob Van Dam – who were just a few of the most over talent of that era. WWE knew if there was no response, a star needed to be repackaged. There were still Smarks, believe me – as I spent my time in forums during and after every show during this era and saw the praises for Jericho and the resentment of Triple H for “burying the roster” with his twenty minute opening monologue that grated on the nerves of the audience. That said, it was a different time, as Smarks were not ignorant. They knew what was in their control and what was not. They supported the way WWE wrote it for the most part, and did not get too involved outside of little debates of talent that have always buzzed through the internet.
Fast forward to today. We can not even make it through a show without seeing the fans attempt to hijack it. A man debuts who the fans think is supposed to be good and they chant “this is awesome!” until they are blue in the face before he even gets in the ring. Heck, we hear that chant during any match that clocks in over ten minutes these days. Speaking of chants, that pretty much is the show now. Fans from each end are so desperate to participate in the show that they have completely forgot how to do that very thing. Instead of applauding and cheering for what they like, they bellow out the most extreme feeling they have for each spot, with one fan’s chant turning into ten thousand quickly. To those fans, it is not o.k. to chant “HOLY SHIT!” to a weak announcer’s table spot. Because of that we see one end almost every go-home episode of Raw. Also, chanting “WHAT!?” to the Undertaker, Kevin Owens, or anyone else other that Stone Cold makes zero sense, and that goes double for the “YES!” chant that follows any news that Shane provides about an upcoming bout in the future. The fans of today are so desperate to be the show that they are willing to kill the flow of a match or moment to get in or create a chant, despite how much relevance it may not have.
Chants are the selfies of a wrestling crowd for 2016. It is our way of showing we were there, and while it is fun to chant something bizarre, it is also confusing and cringe worthy to those watching at home because those in the audience are turning it up to eleven for the most mild of moments. When you applaud a child for getting a C on a test every single time, he will only bring you that grade as he knows that he doesn’t have to strive for greatness to gain your gratitude. It works that way with the writers in the back as well. Why strive for excellence with compelling television when the fans are going to give more love to No Way Jose for dancing than to Dean Ambrose who is throwing his body through a table?
This is where the criticism of the Smark comes in. For years, there have always been fans who want Guy A and Guy B to get a push, only to see other talent get a higher place on the card, with the online complaints soon to follow. Sometimes, that is legitimate. Daniel Bryan’s entire title run was fan-funded, and it was interesting to see how far he made it up the ladder due to the feedback of an audience. Since then however, the audience now think they can do that with just about anyone and will destroy a wrestler personally if they have to in order to get what they want. I am a Smark, but I sit outside a good majority of today’s fans because I feel like a lot of the grievances are total bullshit. Take Eva Marie for example. She is the Diva who was in Total Divas before she got in the ring. Because of this, fans just don’t boo her, but attack her personally on a regular basis because she was not trained rigorously for years. In retrospect, early on and throughout most 2015, she legitimately had serious issues with her work. It was rough as she didn’t know how to carry a match or tell a story – and seemed to be working like a blind bull in the ring. Watch something recent however and you will see a completely different Eva Marie who has learned to feed off the crowd’s criticism and make it work to get her over as a heel. She has improved greatly in the ring, and even though her skillset is still average, has now found her niche by simply playing off the crowd. Even with her improvements, the fans continue to chant “You can’t wrestle” and “Boring!” during her matches. These chants would make a little bit of sense a year ago, but to hear them now sounds like a bully who is attacking a smart kid with “YER STUPID” insults for being educated.
Look at Candice Michelle, Ashley Massaro, and even Trish Stratus. They didn’t have a gram of talent in the ring when they came in, but they worked hard and eventually became great workers in their own unique way. Sure, it was a different era, but these ladies went from bra and panties to legitimate feuds that could capture an audience over time because those crowds gave them a chance. We have also lot of great workers that were completely ignored due to the fans simply being so caught up in one movement. David Ortunga, Justin Gabriel, Drew McIntrye – all great workers who never got over because no one gave them the time of day because they were distracted. Instead of enjoying a low-card feud which is a developmental level on its own (AS THIS GETS THE TALENT OVER TO START WITH), Smarks chant “Boring” or start singing random theme songs to entertain themselves instead of watching what is actually occurring. How insulting do you think it is to go out there and come home sore from working hard with the chants of another man’s theme song still ringing in your ears, when they were not even in the match?! Some may say that they should work harder, but WWE control their talent. This is a scripted product and men receive fines in this industry for getting out of line with what the powers that be want.
That brings me to Roman Reigns. WWE wanted Reigns to be their next “it” guy. There were two big problems with this however, as number one – it was 2014 and every fan was aboard the YES! Express. The crowd was so obsessed with Daniel Bryan that they didn’t want to see another “face of the company” like Cena, so they rejected him entirely. John Cena was the posterboy for the PG era, as he not only preached good values to kids, but also defeated nearly every man who he stepped in the ring with – creating a rather stale and predictable main event scene for years. While your friend of a friend knows and loves him, he is the equivalent to what Nickelback is now to rock fans. We as wrestling fans do not want to be represented by someone who we didn’t create. Moving on to the second issue, we can speak of actual talent. Before I go too far, I want to reiterate that this is pro wrestling and it is scripted. One guy may be amazing in the ring, but is told not to do anything special because the powers that be simply do not want to change the image of their character or put him (or her) at risk. I totally get that and feel a lot of current fans do not understand that very thing – but with Reigns, talent isn’t really subjective at this point in his career. It has been two years and Reigns is still bad on the mic, only performs with the same punches and spears with the occasional powerbomb in the ring, and does not really make the match look believable with his poor selling and bizarre taunts and crazy gestures. WWE still are rather adamant about his push, but the fans have voiced so loud that we are now being muted. When even the casual fans and kids are booing Roman as a face, maybe there is an issue. Then again, maybe we are still so blind that we don’t want to see any improvement, which is something that I am personally debating as I watch Roman with the same disdain while others become more accepting.
What I am saying overall is that sometimes the fans do matter. I didn’t write this to shit on the audience that was reading it, I just think that Smarks sometimes look like jackasses and are only making matters worse for the product they so badly want to improve. If you want something to change, you have to raise your voice. BUT! And this is a big but – like it or not, we are in the world of entertainment, where everyone has a different preference and we do not have control. The WWE Universe is not a democracy, it is a name to give the fans so they feel like they are a part of the experience. Our cheers shape the lives of humans, and assist in creating moments will live on for generations. We should start being more responsible both in a crowd and online as we are shaping the current product. It is perfectly fine to sing along with a theme song, or yawn at an unappealing match. It isn’t fine blow your load over nothing or attack a Superstar personally because don’t care for their shtick. For the first time ever and due to the now broad accessibility of the internet, we have Smarks sharing their voice on a platform and the casual fans and marks alike absorbing that content which will in turn change their perspective as they become “educated”. Are we giving them the right information, or are the ones who think they know everything beginning to be the main reason why the product are more stagnant? These are serious topics that fans should debate. With the best roster of talent in years, we now have very little room to complain, and perhaps it is time to finally sit down and enjoy the show and eat out of those large hands that feed us.