Doc’s Note – The King of the Columnists Tournament is currently in its Quarterfinal Round in our LOP Columns Forum, started by Mr. Tito back in the early 2000s and the starting point for your favorite LOP columnists for much of the past twenty years. I’m judging this competition and two of the entries this week really stood out to me as thought-provoking pieces, so I thought I’d share them with you. Below you will find the second one, written by our resident purple brand reviewer, 205 Clive. Also, my podcast, The Doc Says, is coming back this Sunday; I needed an extended break, but I have some new ideas to break the monotony of the popular modern wrestling podcast format, so please check it out this weekend!
All Elite Wrestling will take over the world. Cody, The Young Bucks, and all associated with The Elite are sticking it to “the Fed”. The Revival, Mike & Maria Kanellis, seemingly countless other WWE employees are unhappy with how their careers are panning out. These are but a few of the declarations that have recently made their away around the wrestling pockets of social media, growing arms and legs by the repost. It is not the first instance of the world wide web being used as a breeding ground for a wide array of unfounded reports, and it certainly won’t be the last. What is dangerous about these comments, however, is the increasing lack of consideration given to what is fact and what is mere fantasy.
We are now, more than ever, in a world where an all expanding game of Chinese Whispers is at play. Wrestling news sources, personalities’ interviews, or intentionally vague Twitter posts from underutilised performers. No matter how the gossip comes to be, or whether or not the actual content is accurate, what is initially a whisper becomes paraphrased, contorted, and moulded into a roar. The truth is lost along the way with alarming frequency. The final product regularly results in false verbatim, accepted by perhaps not an overwhelming majority, but a very vocal minority. The problem, however, is that this minority’s voice is growing in volume by the week, as wilder rumours replace the already outlandish ones that came before. The line between fact and fiction becomes exponentially more difficult to determine.
Why, though, is the necessity to know more about what occurs off screen more urgent than what takes place in front of it? Furthermore, is this compulsion the ultimate reason fans are turning their back on WWE?
Admittedly, there are other factors that could be to blame for the malaise. On the surface, one could assume WWE’s writing team is stuck in a creative quagmire, brought about by the unnecessary reliance on certain individuals being presented as the focal point of the product, whether they be full- or part-time talent. Other companies, within USA’s borders and even across oceans, are putting out a product that some audiences can latch on to more naturally, immediately conjuring up unfair comparisons to a company that is a different beast entirely. Last, but by no means least, is the emergence of AEW. Although an untested wrestling entity, many who subscribe to the above opinions believe this new venture will secure market dominance at WWE’s expense.
It may be hard to argue against the above points, but it would be irresponsible not to at least entertain the notion that a certain amount of the criticism directed towards WWE is based upon the voices and words of a select few; an inner circle whose opinions and interpretations of the fictional programming presented to us is heavily influenced by their supposed knowledge of backstage scuttlebutt. For some, whether we want to admit it or not, this is a culture that is eradicating the reason we fell in love with wrestling to begin with.
As a result, the fascination for what happens behind the curtain, rather than that of the on-screen and in-ring stories, now dominates social media feeds around the world. What seems to have been forgotten is that professional wrestling is, at its heart, a work of fiction. By design, it should be considered in a similar category of entertainment to that of the episodic television drama that not only has us gripped by its characters, stories, and themes, but is also immune to the dense criticism and analysis which WWE is regularly subjected to.
The disregard for WWE’s base intention is not just applicable to present times, but also to moments throughout history. Although firmly rooted in our memories, these events are forcibly dug up and replaced with gossip and hearsay, all done with the purpose of gaining insight into the creative processes of times gone by. Having said that, blame should not just be placed solely on the shoulders of the Meltzers, Satins, and Sapps of the world for this behaviour. There are those in the wrestling industry who adopt a tell-all approach, in the form of increasingly popular podcasts, who should also be held accountable. So, too, should the autobiographies penned by legends of the business who lift the lid on the inner workings of the great machine. These sources of information piece together for us, the consumer, the political and creative jigsaws that were assembled in a time where technology was still in the dark ages, in comparison to today.
Consequently, a dangerous path has been taken. Classic matches, character arcs, and angles in wrestling history are being revisited with a different and perhaps unnecessary motive in mind. People are now armed with a newfound retrospect with which they were not supposed to approach the product in the first place. Events which some may hold dear to their hearts are no longer safe from scrutiny.
Although probably not the most infamous of examples, a time that immediately springs to mind is the WWF World Title match at Summerslam 1999; a triple threat between Steve Austin, Triple H, and Mankind. “Mrs Foley’s Boy” would be the one to surprise us all when he came out on top ahead of Austin and Triple H, both locked in the beginnings of a long and bitter rivalry. Mankind’s underdog status won the hearts of many a fan at the start of 1999, and that feeling of joy did not abate several months on. The heartache that followed as he lost the title to Triple H the very next night was a sore one to take for his loyal followers. The story that has come to light since then, however, of Steve Austin refusing to lose the title to Triple H due to a lack of faith in his credibility as a top villain, and using Foley as a go-between to eventually crown The Game, paints a bitter picture of a man too caught up in his own self worth to play ball. This tabloid-esque scandal may be a fascinating insight into the man behind the legend that is Stone Cold, but is this story any better than that of the plucky underdog overcoming the odds? Does this not, in fact, tarnish the legacy of all three men, especially Mankind, who was used as a mere pawn throughout?
There are countless more scenarios almost identical to the above where politicking has influenced WWE’s canon. So many examples are now readily available, they are considered as reference points that enable analysis of the product for reasons other than what was intended that much more commonplace. This is almost certainly how the internet wrestling community’s biggest influencers form their opinions which, thanks to the snowball effect afforded them by today’s technology, is gaining them more believers. A hive mind mentality is taking shape before our eyes.
An important question to ask, however, is how accurate is this inner circle’s intel today? More worryingly, why are some not questioning the accuracy? Not a week goes by where a report or opinion is accepted as fact and, in turn, the events that transpire on our screens are met with derision, even when what takes place doesn’t fall in line with said report. The resulting consensus is that WWE is at fault regardless. If it is different from what fans expected, it is considered a failure. When it is as forecasted, the product is deemed too predictable. WWE are in a lose-lose situation as a result.
It is with this unhealthy thought process that fans have latched onto a story that has taken WWE by storm in the form Becky Lynch’s rise from mid-card purgatory to possibly etching her name in history as one of the first women to close out a Wrestlemania PPV. Since Summerslam 2018, Lynch has thrown caution to the wind and laid waste to her peers, in unrepentant fashion, to stand atop the summit of women’s wrestling in WWE. The main reason for her change of tact, as she reminds us on the microphone and online every week, is her frustration with how management play favourites with certain wrestlers. Lynch’s most ardent fans firmly believe that Becky’s rise to superstardom is in spite of WWE. But surely that Lynch has been so dominant these past six months is an indication that Vince McMahon does indeed consider her a top star? She has, repeatedly and emphatically, embarrassed the apparent chosen one, Charlotte Flair. She has looked strong against Ronda Rousey, a wrestler with significant mainstream appeal, not to mention her credibility as a genuine mixed martial arts star in her own right. The perceived narrative that the possibility of Charlotte or Ronda having any hint of momentum heading into Wrestlemania is management clipping Becky’s wings behind the scenes is arguably not the case, as evidenced above.
What better way, then, than to face the battle between fact and fiction head on, embrace the paranoia that has given these detractors such a loud voice, and use it to your advantage? In storyline, by inserting Charlotte Flair into the Raw Women’s Championship match in Becky Lynch’s stead, Vince McMahon has taken her fans’ worst insecurities and amplified them further. Those with a keen eye, however, can reasonably assume the mounting adversity that Becky now faces is a tool used to make her potential coronation at Wrestlemania that much sweeter, further cementing her as the top star that WWE have wanted her to be from the beginning. Should she be reinserted into the match, of course…
Admittedly, this occasion of using fan paranoia brought about, in part, by those apparently in the know to further a storyline for the better isn’t a commonly used practice by WWE’s writers. Perhaps this is a flash in the pan. Perhaps a story this captivating won’t be matched again for some time. However, if Vince McMahon and his team of decision makers were to infiltrate the ongoing game of Chinese Whispers more astutely, it could see some good will restored. If the end result has the desired effect, maybe fan resentment will diminish. Maybe the unwarranted negativity towards WWE will wane. Maybe, just maybe, fans will truly embrace the fiction once again.