By Austin Grinnell @WolfmanAustin13
How many of you have been around long enough to remember that slogan? Vince McMahon’s “Get the F Out” campaign to change the company name from the World Wrestling Federation to World Wrestling Entertainment happened in May of 2002, just 14 months removed from monopolizing the mainstream pro wrestling industry when the then WWF purchased their competition, World Championship Wrestling, in a coup that would make even the greatest of historical revolutionaries jealous.
It wasn’t just the end of a name though, it was the end of an era. It can be argued that we may not have professional wrestling today if it weren’t for the McMahon family, but I beg to differ. The sport would be very different today were it not for the McMahon family, but I do not for a single moment believe that there wouldn’t be buildings over-crowded with sweaty guys beating each other up with a pre-determined outcome. In fact, I would argue that Vince McMahon specifically has never been a great professional wrestling promoter. The best moments in WWE history came from a place of desperation and necessity. Once that desperation was gone, the moment that Vince McMahon buried WCW on live television in March of 2001… everything changed.
With no real competition to push him, Vince McMahon stopped worrying about what everybody else wanted to see, and went back to just doing whatever it was that he wanted to see. That nobody with any real depth to their pockets jumped into the battle after WCW folded only served to allow Vince to take the approach of believing that the fans will love what he gives them, and he doesn’t have to bend to the will of the disenchanted.
Those disenchanted fans, myself included, were to be known as the Internet Wrestling Community, or IWC for short. Grouping us together like that was a genius tactic at the time, as pro wrestling was starting to suffer due to the lack of competition and it was so very easy for McMahon and the triumphant WWF/WWE to claim that the show didn’t need us, but that we would be there anyways… so what did it really matter to him how we felt? It didn’t then, and it still doesn’t now.
The truth of the matter is that we in the IWC, who later became known as Smarks (or Smart Marks) when the internet was now in almost every home in the civilized world… we kept lining his pockets. We keep lining his pockets. I am just as guilty of it as anyone else, giving Vince McMahon my $9.99 per month for the WWE Network.
I am not happy with the product as it is today. I want change, and I want to do more to show that. In January of this year, I switched allegiances. I’m a traitor, but I’m enjoying the best professional wrestling in the world today, and it’s all thanks to the number one professional wrestling company in the world currently… New Japan Pro Wrestling. I’m not here to pimp out New Japan, its upcoming G1 Climax tournament or the New Japan World app (which you can get for just 999 Yen per month!)… so let’s get back to the meat of what I’m trying to say here.
It is incredibly difficult for me to just cut the cord on the WWE. They currently have assembled what is probably the best roster of talent that they have ever had under contract at one time. Some of my all-time favorites are under contract to the company (AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Chris Jericho, Sami Zayn, etc.) and they have started over recent years to collect some of the best talents from the independent wrestling scene to come through their NXT developmental program, including former IWGP Heavyweight Champion Shinsuke Nakamura.
The in-ring work on their WWE Network specials (or Pay Per Views) has been pretty damn good for the most part… but the reluctance to be a professional wrestling company continues to damage what good is coming out of the WWE currently. Illogical story telling, poor card placement for individual workers, pushing wrestlers beyond their capabilities, and a refusal to adapt when opportunity presents itself are all reasons why I consider on a consistent basis the cancelling of my WWE Network subscription.
Whenever one of my favorites from outside of the WWE signs with the company, I’m overcome with both a sense of satisfaction, knowing that they have signed guaranteed contracts and can support their families better, while gaining more exposure… but also the sense of dread, knowing that the WWE does not respect the sport of professional wrestling quite like I do, and wondering just how long it will be until that favorite of mine ends up on the wrong end of a garbage story, or winds up not getting the opportunities to showcase themselves because they don’t fit into what the big boss wants.
I don’t want to cancel my subscription, because I don’t want to miss out on guys like Styles, Finn Balor, Nakamura, Joe, Seth Rollins, The Fashion Police, and more. I want to be able to watch those guys do what they love to do, and I want to see them excel… but if things don’t change for the better, I do fear that there is coming a day that I won’t be able to reel myself back from the disappointment of the three or more hours that I just wasted on Vince essentially rubbing it in my face that he doesn’t care about me, or fans like me.
The WWE is doing a lot of awesome stuff, and I want to make sure that I make that known. The Mae Young Classic is coming up in August, the United Kingdom Championship tournament was amazing, and NXT’s Takeover events ALWAYS out-perform the main roster Network Specials. Perhaps the things that they’re doing right are the reason why I’m so angry these days. If there wasn’t a glimmer of hope for change and for the future, maybe I would be more willing to sit on my couch and let the WWE spoon-feed me whatever trash it is that they think I want.
It’s almost like they can’t decide what they want to be, and I would believe that entirely at this point. All of the things that have been high points for me as a professional wrestling fan in modern-day WWE have the fingerprints of two men all over them. These two guys are people that I hold in very high regard, both as professional wrestlers themselves, and as pro wrestling minds. Those two men are Triple H and William Regal.
There has been a lot of talk since the success of NXT about a power struggle between the pro wrestling oriented Triple H and his father-in-law Vince McMahon, who has done everything conceivable to try and distance himself from the sport of pro wrestling, short of removing the squared circle. I’m not sure that I would put a lot of stock int he idea that McMahon and Triple H are at odds, but they clearly have two very different views on what the future of the company looks like. Maybe I’m just blinded by good will, but if there ever were an actual power struggle, count me on Team Triple H every day of the week.
You may have noticed earlier in this column that I made a statement about New Japan Pro Wrestling being the number one professional wrestling company in the world. No, you didn’t just think you saw that. No, I won’t take that back either. I say that with full confidence because Vince McMahon hasn’t been in the professional wrestling business for at least a decade and a half. The WWE has been in the Sports Entertainment business, and while they may be very similar, it’s apples and oranges my friends.
Both provide a sustenance that we crave, but some people like apples better, some people prefer oranges. At the end of the day, I’m not here to vilify anyone for being happy with WWE’s product. One of my favorite sayings, and a personal mantra that I try to live by, is that “Art is Subjective”. Pro Wrestling… Sports Entertainment… it’s all art. You like what you like, I like what I like, and that’s a beautiful thing. I just want you to know, that if your idea of what professional wrestling IS, or is SUPPOSED TO BE, is what Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment have been providing for the last 15 years… what you’re actually a fan of is Sports Entertainment.
If I go to a chef once a week for a plate of spaghetti, I absolutely expect that over time he is going to want to change up the formula a little bit. As the person making that spaghetti, I imagine he might need some change here or there… and as the person consuming that spaghetti, I will probably need some sort of surprise here or there to keep me coming back… but there comes a point where it gets changed too much, and it’s no longer spaghetti on my plate, but a squash instead.
Now, I love me some spaghetti squash, but it’s not pasta, it’s a pasta substitute… and just like that, I do not believe any longer that the WWE is a professional wrestling company. I believe that it’s a professional wrestling substitute, and maybe with that in mind, I can go back to ravenously consuming proper professional wrestling, and enjoying the alternative that I get when I tune in to the WWE Network Specials with a slightly less critical eye.
Then again, maybe I just love to complain.