Last week the wrestling crew over at 411mania.com posted a column devoted to popular misconceptions about pro wrestling. Since, as Ashley (after a heavy sigh and a roll of her eyes) can tell you, I’ve been something of a wrasslin’ fan myself most of my life, I thought I’d offer my own take on what I see as five big misconceptions about wrestling.
I read some wrestling blogs (Chris Hyatte, Scott Keith, the gangs at 411mania and InsidePulse, and of course Wrestlecrap, to name a few), and listen to some wrestling-themed radio shows (namely the LAW, and Between the Ropes). As a result, most of the misconceptions I encounter are ones that are held by so-called smart-marks, wrestling fans who read and listen to the same shit I do, and think that their supposed insider knowledge makes them smarter than those other non-internet-dirt-sheet-reading rubes who watch Raw and SmackDown, and maybe the people who actually produce those shows, too. Here in no particular order are the five biggest misconceptions I regularly encounter among my fellow smart-mark wrestling fans.
(And, as always, to those of you who had no idea what the fuck a smart-mark was and didn’t particularly care, I sincerely apologize.)
1. Vince McMahon hates wrestling.
This is one of the most persistent misconceptions I hear mentioned among wrestling fans, and one of the most ludicrous. Ever since Vince bought the company (then the WWWF) from his father in 1982 and began making it his own, some fans have speculated that he had some animus toward the business. Certainly, there have been times when Vince has shown contempt for particular aspects of his industry (his hatred of southern wrestling is well known). But how can anyone honestly believe that Vince McMahon, the most successful promoter in the history of the business, the man who will die a billionaire thanks to owning WWE, hates pro wrestling?
He calls his product “sports entertainment” instead of wrestling, which admittedly I find silly. He calls his workers “superstars” instead of wrestlers. Again, strikes me as kinda dumb. Neither of those suggest to me that he hates the business he’s in; they just strike me as the moves of a promoter who wants to brand his company as something unique.
He’s tried multiple times (usually without much success) to expand his interests into sports (the WBF and the XFL) or movies (the DOA film careers of Hulk Hogan and John Cena; and The Rock, who got the fuck out of the business as soon as his movie career took off). Verne Gagne tried the same things, albeit on a much smaller scale, in the 1970s. Somehow, he never acquired the reputation of a guy who hates wrestling.
Wrestling fans say that Vince hates wrestling because Vince is the sort of guy who naturally pisses people off. Old school fans hated him in the ‘80s for going national and destroying the old territory system that had been built and maintained by the NWA, and for booking his shows around guys like Hulk Hogan, who had cartoonish gimmicks and limited in-ring ability. Ten years later, some fans who had embraced the WWF in the ‘80s bitched about the new, more risqué direction, and the emphasis on soap-opera storylines over matches of the Attitude era. Today, some of those Attitude era fans, who got hooked watching Steve Austin swear and give the crowd the finger, are pissed off by what they see as a stale, sanitized PG-rated show, with John Cena at the top of the card as a clean-cut superhero babyface.
None of this proves that Vince McMahon hates wrestling, or is trying to destroy the business. It does show that internet-savvy wrestling fans are fickle and highly prone to snobbery, but anyone familiar with them probably knows that already.
2. TNA needs to sign X if they hope to ever compete with WWE.
This one takes many forms, but except for the names is always the same:
“TNA needs to sign Jim Ross to give their announce team some credibility.”
“TNA needs to sign Paul Heyman; he’s the only guy who can turn around their booking.”
“TNA needs to sign [Name your favorite Ring of Honor guy] and push him to the Moon.”
As someone who watches TNA a fair bit, and really wants them to succeed, I have to tell you — TNA’s problems are way too deep to be fixed by signing some new talent. For one thing, they’re constantly signing new talent. Four years ago they nabbed Kurt Angle and Jeff Hardy from WWE. They signed Christian and put their World Title on him almost immediately. They took AJ Styles and Samoa Joe from ROH and made them top guys (at least for awhile). Just this year they’ve brought in Jeff Hardy (again), Rob Van Dam, Ric Flair, Desmond Wolfe (who had a celebrated run in ROH as Nigel McGuinness), and, in a move they tried and failed to make mainstream news, Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff.
Have any of these major signings helped them compete with WWE? No. Why? I have no idea. But my guess would be that it has something to do with the fact that no one booking the show over there has any clue what the fuck to do.
Two or three years ago, TNA looked ready to catch fire. They had Kurt Angle and Samoa Joe putting on awesome matches, they had Awesome Kong as the Knockouts Champion actually making women’s wrestling credible in the United States for the first time I can remember, they had an awesome tag team division with teams like America’s Most Wanted, L-A-X, the Motor City Machineguns, and AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels — and most importantly, they seemed ready to put on a show that was different than what WWE was doing.
Then, for whatever reason, they jumped the rails. They took the World Title away from the great workers like Joe and Angle and gave it to wrung-out veterans like Sting and Mick Foley, they buried the tag and women’s divisions that had begun to set them apart from the competition, and they got behind Vince Russo as head booker, effectively running Jim Cornette — a superior person to Russo in every conceivable category — out of the company. Instead of having World Title matches in the main events of pay-per=views, Samoa Joe is a mid-card afterthought. Awesome Kong is gone after being pushed out the door amidst very ugly, racially charged circumstances, leaving the Knockouts division a T&A-filled imitation of WWE’s roster of Divas. And the Tag Team Titles are held by one man, Matt Morgan (another guy who should have been a breakout star by now), who is stuck with a stupid gimmick that doesn’t suit him.
Adding Jim Ross, or Paul Heyman, or yet another high profile roster signing might not hurt, but it certainly won’t be enough to help. The frustrating thing about TNA is they have such a great company on paper. Styles, Angle, Joe, Wolfe, Hardy — these are great wrestlers, fully capable of putting on a show to rival or even surpass what WWE is capable of. They just need the opportunity. With Hogan, Bischoff, and Russo running the show, I don’t look for them to get it any time soon. And that’s too bad.
3. Triple H sucks.
This is one I hear mostly from fans who are pissed off that their favorite guy isn’t being pushed as much as they’d like, and naturally blame Triple H for holding him back. If you were a big fan of Chris Jericho or Chris Benoit about ten years ago, chances you hated Triple H for not putting them over. If you were a big fan of Booker T or Shelton Benjamin about five or six years ago, same thing. If these days you’re a big fan of Sheamus or Jack Swagger or CM Punk, ditto.
The rep on Triple H among smart-marks is that he only puts over his buddies, and looks out for himself above everyone else. This is why, according to his critics, he married the boss’s daughter, and maintained a close friendship with long-time main eventer Shawn Michaels — to protect his spot on the card and guarantee his influence throughout the company.
Even if all of this is true (which I don’t think it is), my response is: So what? I’m a wrestling fan. That means I like to see a good wrestling match. Since becoming a top guy in 1999, Triple H has taken part in more awesome wrestling matches than just about anyone else I can name, with the possible exception of Shawn Michaels. He’s worked with Michaels, Steve Austin, Mick Foley, The Rock, The Undertaker, Kurt Angle, Shelton Benjamin, Batista, Randy Orton, John Cena, and had great matches with all of them.
And as far as putting people over — he did put over Jericho and Benoit. In 2004 he worked his ass off putting Benoit over as World Champion. A few years later he did the same thing for John Cena. Maybe he is a politician, maybe he does work Vince to keep his spot. But you can’t say the dude doesn’t put people over, and you can’t say he hasn’t put on some of the best North American wrestling matches of the last decade. He’s a great wrestler, he’s had a hand in making some of the company’s top stars, and — shit, after that match with Warrior at WrestleMania XII, doesn’t the guy deserve a little success, for Christ’s sake?
4. The Montreal screw-job was all Vince McMahon’s fault.
I’m as sick of the finish to the ’97 Survivor Series being rehashed as every other wrestling fan, but I’m just as sick of smart-marks putting all the blame for the screw-job on Vince McMahon. Certainly, Vince was wrong to do what he did to Bret Hart. Certainly, the lion’s share of responsibility belongs to Vince. But — and maybe I’m just too old school when it comes to this — all Bret had to do was drop the title on his way out. Would it really have been that hard?
Bret talks about dropping the title to Shawn Michaels in Montreal as if it would have been the worst thing that ever happened, as though the fans in Canada would have run home and eaten .45s en masse had Michaels pinned him clean in his last match in the company. Give me a fucking break. Bret was leaving the company, Shawn was obviously the guy to keep that top spot warm until Austin took over, so Bret’s job was to drop the belt to Shawn. Period. I know he hated Shawn’s guts, and probably with good reason. That shouldn’t matter. Bret prides himself for being a professional, for being able to have a good match with any opponent, for being able to work with anyone, for not hurting anyone in the ring. Putting Shawn Michaels over on his way out the door should have been no big deal.
Instead, Bret refused. And here we are almost thirteen years later, still talking about it.
5. John Cena sucks.
To refute this final misconception, I submit the following photographic evidence:
That’s from this year’s Wrestlemania, after he won the WWE Title. The t-shirt worn by the fan to the left says “We Hate Cena”.
John Cena rules.