Retro Classics is a collection of articles and web posts I have written in the past, re-published verbatim in their original form. I have been writing about my hobbies on various “free” websites dating back to my days in high school. Now a great deal of my topics of then current events would be considered retro themselves. Some of these may only be amusing to me. Others might have more broad appeal, but I really doubt that. Enjoy!
The Flaws of Sports Entertainment
(Originally published 06/16/2007)
I have been watching wrestling for as long as I have been walking and talking. When I used to see Ric Flair talking into the microphone on TV, I would pick up the dog leash and talk into the loop on the end of it like I was putting on an interview. At the time I was still only babbling so my interview probably sounded very similar to any Ultimate Warrior classic.
The point is, I have been watching the sport for over twenty years now and have witnessed several changes within the industry over that span of time. I watched the WWF very avidly for a period and also watched the NWA, and later WCW so I have been exposed to many angles and styles that are presented in North America. Although I have not watched a lot of lucha libre or Japanese style wrestling, I still think I’ve seen enough of the sport to forge some worthwhile opinions.
As big a fan of wrestling as I am, I barely watch any of today’s product. It seems that whenever I start getting into a match something completely ridiculous happens that completely destroys the suspension of disbelief, angers me, and forces me to change the channel. For example, a few weeks ago on I was enjoying a match on Friday Night Smackdown between Fit Finlay and Chris Benoit. The match had a lot of great ring psychology and both wrestlers are among my favorite to watch. Benoit with his high flying high risk taking style and Fit Finlay with his stiff, tough guy gritty wrestler persona really worked well together. The match was portrayed in a great light. The referee kept a lot of order in the ring and the commentators seemed very interested in what was happening rather than hyping up something else.
Unfortunately we were treated to a screwball ending when Fit Finlay’s Leprechaun apprentice came out and ruined the match. Here was this great technical wrestling match, with all of the right elements, and the ending was a complete let down. I hate when things so implausible (like Leprechaun’s running in) ruin a fantastic bout. Then of course after the bout we were “treated” to some big breasted blonde bimbo hyping her Playboy issue. If I wanted to watch busty blondes flaunting themselves, I’d order a PPV movie. When I turn on wrestling I want to see just that; wrestling.
The problem with wrestling today is the dominance of “Sports Entertainment” over just plain “sport”. In other words, the angles, pyros, entrances, exits, match endings, interviews, and so on have far too much emphasis placed on them, and the actual wrestling has far too little of an emphasis.
People might wonder how I could enjoy the 80’s and early 90’s WWF product if I’m not a fan of Sports Entertainment. I counter by saying Sports Entertainment itself is not all bad; it’s the overabundance of it that is nauseating. Yes the old WWF had a lot of emphasis on story, but not nearly what we have today. If you turned on a wrestling program, you’d see an assortment of small, pre-recorded interviews in front of a backdrop or blue screen and most of the show consisted of wrestling. Today, the wrestlers often walk to the ring (of course, with their theme music blaring and fireworks blazing) with a mic in hand, climb into the ring, and cut a huge 10 minute promo while reacting to the live audience. Then, they are inevitably interrupted by another wrestler (who is also introduced by his theme music… which really gives a sense of spontaneity since the sound guy just “happens” to have that theme cued up) who also comes out with a mic and challenges the wrestler in the ring to a match. The crowd should be thinking, “what gives these wrestlers the authority to book their own matches”? That’s the problem with wrestling today.
Most people who watch wrestling are aware of the fact that the outcome is predetermined. But it is a lot more fun and engaging to watch when the viewer can pretend otherwise. The suspension of disbelief really allows a viewer to get sucked into the action and to feel suspense during intense moments. If the whole presentation comes off as hokey or fake, then the viewer cannot enter this suspension of disbelief. They just think “that can’t happen” or “this is just stupid”.
What organized professional sport would just allow matches to be set up on a whim? In the old days, a challenge could be laid down, but a “board of directors” or “president” or “championship committee” would have to approve the challenge and give the match a nod. Today wrestlers can just challenge each other to matches “tonight” with out any problem, and even lay down stipulations. By pretending that there is a governing body that needs to approve an action, the sport comes off as more legitimate and more entertaining in my eyes. By allowing the wrestlers to rule the roost, or by allowing some “evil owner” or “evil producer” to make up crazy stipulations, the product seems too phony to come across as enjoyable.
Another issue: why are wrestlers constantly allowed to run out or escort each other to the ring? I know run ins used to happen but they were far less frequent than today. When is the last time you saw a full episode of a wrestling program that did not have a run in? By having wrestlers run in constantly, the impact of it has been diminished. It is now just commonplace and no longer a reason to get excited. Instead it is just a reason to get disappointed again. On top of that, why are wrestlers allowed to escort each other to the ring if they are not participants in the match? I liked the old idea of an escort needing a “manager’s license” to be present at ringside. Again, this added to the suspension of disbelief while making a run in seem more meaningful.
More of an emphasis needs to be placed on wrestlers winning and losing. Today it does not seem like wins and losses really amount to anything. The last time you saw a wrestler get disqualified; did it look like anyone in the ring really cared? If the wrestlers could care less about winning or losing, why should the fans care? When a wrestler is treading on the edge of being disqualified, the announcers need to play it up like he will lose his share of the purse money if he gets DQ’ed. The wrestler needs to protest the referee while being reprimanded; especially if he has been disqualified. Wins should be hyped and losses hyped as well. When wins and losses start to seem important, the match is a lot more suspenseful, and the viewer has another reason to sit on the edge of his seat. Right now there is no suspense involved and the viewer has no reason to feel antsy since the outcome is not considered important.
On the same note, I think there needs to be an official ranking of where wrestlers stand within the organization. A ladder of sorts which determines who the number one contender is to various titles and how far back other wrestlers are. Think about this for a moment. For the past twenty years, a wrestler could lose an Intercontinental Title match (or US title or what have you) and for no real conceivable reason, his next match or feud can be for the world title. What makes that guy the number one contender? It’s confusing. A ladder should be made that establishes a wrestler’s rank on a specific circuit. For instance, the singles wrestlers should be broken up into maybe three circuits, and the tag team wrestlers should have their own circuit (with tag teams being established but more on that in a moment). So let’s say there are three singles titles in a promotion, the World title, the Intercontinental title, and the Television title. There should be a ladder showing where wrestlers stand on the World, Intercontinental, and Television circuits. Wrestlers could face each other from circuit to circuit. IE, wrestlers in the World Circuit could face wrestlers in the Television circuit. If the wrestler in the World circuit wins, his rank should not be boosted much; but if the wrestler in the Television circuit won he should get a huge rankings boost. So matches between wrestlers would not be limited any more than they are now. The only difference would be the fact that a wrestler that is low on the totem pole would not be granted a title shot. Only deserving wrestlers would get a crack at the belt. This would force bookers to establish feuds that make more sense than to simply have one night and forget it feuds.
I also think there needs to be established tag teams who are NOT singles wrestlers, and singles wrestlers should not be able to team up and become the Tag Team champions. I would love to see the revitalization of a tag team circuit that has its own angles and wrestlers and a return of the old style tag matches as opposed to sloppy tag fiasco’s we see today. With the depth of talent available today, this should be easy to revitalize.
Pyrotechnics, fireworks, fancy lighting effects, and other special effects do not add to the excitement in my opinion. They simply detract from the reality of the sport and take time away from what I want to see. If a guy is a jobber just have him be present in the ring when the match is about to start. Why do we have to suffer through so many long and drawn out entrances? Is it really necessary to give every wrestler several minutes to get to the ring? Tag team matches of today are the worst because most tag matches consist of teams comprised of singles wrestlers. Rather than come out as teams in a timely manner, each wrestler has to be introduced individually. It takes 6 or 8 minutes for the match to finally start… a tremendous waste of time. Give each wrestler a minute to get to the ring and start the match. I would much rather see longer matches and more interviews in a show than so much time being wasted on wrestler entrances.
Speaking of time spent on matches, so many matches of today are short and unsatisfying. So much time is wasted on entrances that the match length suffers. By the time the wrestlers start building up emotion and telling a story, they have to send it home. I would much rather see a good solid 15 to 20 minute match that goes somewhere on a weekly wrestling show than I would like to see a hodge podge of 8 minute matches and lots of time wasted on long drawn out entrances and long drawn out interviews.
Angles should at least try to be realistic. The WWF started going downhill because of gimmicks. Wrestling clowns, garbage men, tax men, Mounties, policemen, dentists, racecar drivers, dean’s, baseball players, turkey’s, and yeti’s made the show seem too hokey and turned people off. I have no problems with the occasional gimmick, but when gimmicks dominate the legitimacy of the sport suffers. Today, gimmicks are not the problem. Outlandish angles are the problem. I do not think that angles need to be restricted to good guy vs. bad guy, heel beats up babyface who now wants revenge affairs. However, when the show cuts to cameras outside of the arena at a house where one wrestler pulls a gun out at another, things are getting too goofy. Stretching things a bit is ok, but making the story completely outlandish does nothing but to take the viewer out of it. Angles need to be kept to stories that can take place within the confines of the arena, and should not be so unrealistic that they come across as stupid.
Women have a place in wrestling. Unfortunately today they play far too great of a role. I am a male in my twenties and like looking at beautiful women as much as the next guy. But when I turn on wrestling, I want to see wrestling, not a parade of women for seemingly no reason other than having them out there. On top of that, I’m sorry but the women’s title is uninteresting as are women’s matches. Women in my mind should be used as valet/managers and should only occasionally be the focal point of an angle. T&A only brings in the teenage crowd.
Lastly, the title belts need to become more of a focal point and there needs to be fewer of them. Right now there are so many “world” champions within the WWE that I do not even know what their significance is. The belts have been devalued and only come in as an afterthought. Angles focus more on one wrestler getting back at another rather than a wrestler chasing the gold. To become the champion of a sport is usually the ultimate goal of that sport. Wrestling needs to be the same. Title changes need to be less frequent and when they occur, it should be put across as a big deal. There should be only one world title within the promotion, and it should be defended less frequently than the lower titles. A world title match should be considered a huge deal and a treat to watch rather than the near weekly affair it has become. Seeing the world champion should also be hyped as a big deal.
Some people may think that I’m simply trying to “turn back the clock” and that my views are archaic. However, I am only in my early twenties and should be in the North American wrestling target demographic. Instead I consider today’s wrestling shows to be low class, trashy, adolescent aimed programs. I am not a purist who wants to see only wrestling and nothing else. I think a show that was focused only on the in ring action and never had any real angles would be boring. The problem is that there needs to be a nice balance between sports-entertainment and wrestling to make things work, and today the scales are tipped far too heavily on the sports-entertainment side. Long entrances, crazy stories, devaluation of the titles and win loss records, and a lack of in ring action have driven me away from the sport I still love. Unfortunately there are not a lot of alternatives in North America and no company really gives me what I want to see, so I am stuck watching the wrestling of yesteryear or trying to import stuff from other countries. I am hoping to see the pendulum swing back the other way a little, but watching today’s product does not give me a lot of hope.