”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE’s top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a worldwide 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.
QUESTION OF THE DAY: Can you see a difference between protesting for, say, Daniel Bryan to headline WrestleMania versus Beach Ball Mania or the Rumble countdown during last Sunday’s Ironman Match?
Unfortunately, the biggest talking point coming out of the most recent WWE special event was the reaction that the Pittsburgh audience gave Dolph Ziggler and Seth Rollins during their Ironman Match for the Intercontinental Championship. Using the countdown clock from 30 minutes to zero as an excuse to pretend they were at the Royal Rumble, chanting as if awaiting the imminent appearance of the next entrant into the most popular gimmick match in modern wrestling lore, the crowd – regardless of its possible reasons, which will be discussed momentarily – did its best to ruin vocally what aesthetically had featured two very talented performers offering their take on a rarely used stipulation.
Previous instances of the crowd distracting other fans in attendance and the pay-per-viewing audience from watching a match were obviously just recent (at each of the last three core WWE Network specials, including WrestleMania), but what made last Sunday’s exemplification of the phenomenon unique was that Roman Reigns was not involved in any way. Did Pittsburgh just not get the memo that New Orleans, New Jersey, and Chicago had revolted so vociferously in defiance of the generally-agreed-to-be-horrifying purer babyface push for The Big Dog restarted on the Road to WrestleMania and agonizingly continued through present day, or did many of us misread the situation as a Daniel Bryan-esque crowd revolution for polar opposite reasons when in reality it had actually been a general statement of anger and frustration directed more widely at WWE overall; or maybe it was just an isolated incident that boldly proclaimed a dissatisfaction with Ziggler’s renewed position after a year-and-a-half of borderline irrelevance or with The Architect’s white-meat babyface act?
That three of the most prominent examples over the past two years that do not involve Roman Reigns all involve Seth Rollins has got to be a little disturbing to traditional thinkers who suspect that unforeseen crowd response has a considerable impact on a favorite wrestler’s career. Against Finn Balor at Summerslam 2016, the focus of the Brooklyn attendees for the first half of what some would have called an anticipated showdown was the color of the new Universal Championship belt – the color of the friekin’ title leather. At Summerslam last year, Beach Ball Mania tried to run wild in the Barclay’s Center during the Rollins-Ambrose reunion opposite The Bar, whose Swiss member luckily squashed that ridiculous nuisance before it could get much momentum. Then at Extreme Rules last Sunday, one of the most annoying chants in pro wrestling history steadily barraged the presentation during another Rollins match. Goodness, it is possible that Rollins is just nowhere near as over as his most ardent supporters would like him to be?
All of those thoughts, plus others still, make for good conversation that could carry into the weekend, but the question perhaps most suitable to ask, as reflected in the column title, is whether or not what the Pittsburgh crowd did a few nights ago was appropriate. One additional explanation for the “buzz”-erds that needs to be added to the above list of possibilities is that a few vocal live viewers just decided it would be funny, and then thousands of others promptly flocked to it, which speaks to a wider problem that has developed in recent years of fans paying money to watch a WWE show, only to amuse themselves with things that have no bearing on the fiction in the ring. Distracting your fellow fan by hijacking the viewing experience…is that OK?
This is not a black and white issue. There has been a legitimate outcry about Sunday night’s main-event, but no such outcry (or at the very least nowhere near as prominent an outcry) was had about Roman-Brock, Roman-Joe, or Roman-Jinder from April to June. Is it possible that one was appropriate and the other not? It would be wise of us as fans to come together and figure out the answer to that query because it seems fairly unclear as to what role WWE would like us to play during this odd period in history.
Granted, yours truly is a big Rollins fan, but I would argue that it was inappropriate to hijack each of the three aforementioned matches involving The Architect because, in each case, the general consensus was that his match was one of the most appealing on the card to diehard fans – one of the primary reasons to be excited about attending those shows beyond just being live at a WWE event. If hijacking is done to protest something, then make intelligent use of the protest so as not to harpoon some of the best and frankly most genuinely over (as in not “we hate the way you’re pushed and we’re mad about it”) acts in the game. Some have argued that the buzzerds were rebelling against the Rusev-AJ match not going on last or Rollins not facing a more contemporary star, but Rollins has been the game’s hottest act since February and his attempt to regain the title, it should be reasonably fair to state, was certainly worthy of the first bout for Intercontinental gold main-eventing a PPV in so very long. Those excuses were a paper thin foundation for outrage, if you ask me, which prompts my thoughts to trend toward Pittsburgh hijacking that match simply to amuse itself.
The Roman push has been a long-standing fundamental WWE creative problem for years, following in a line of more appropriate reasons for fans to exercise their paid-money-earned right to chant whatever they please. It was generally thought to be maddening when Bryan was slated to face Sheamus at WrestleMania XXX instead of headline the show; that felt real because it hit so close to home with anyone who had ever been passed up for something that they deserved more than anyone else. A decade earlier, the dirtsheets exerted heavy influence at WrestleMania XX and set the stage for a soon-to-be-departing pair of disgruntled juggernauts, in Goldberg and Brock Lesnar, to be unceremoniously booed out of Madison Square Garden; most probably had two words for the WCW retread, but considering Brock had gone over Rock, Taker, Angle, and just about everyone else, putting him in a position to be our focal point as enthusiasts for a decade, it was a bit of a punch to the stomach to see him bail so quickly. All such instances have welcomed fan protest because they each represented a consensus issue among diehard enthusiasts.
So, how are we going to come to an agreement on this, I ask you, dear wrestling fans? To be clear, hijacking in protest is very different than brazenly amusing oneself at the expense of another paying customer’s experience. If a patient yells at me because he/she believes that I have done a poor job, then that is an acceptable protest; if a patient sings Taylor Swift tunes while I am trying to learn about his/her case, then that is most definitely unacceptable. In my opinion, the red belt nonsense, the beach balls, and the buzzerds all fall into the Taylor Swift tunes category and are inexcusably disrespectful.
Interestingly, all three Rollins matches brought up here, including the Ironman with Ziggler, were actually quite good, but that was in no thanks to the crowds on those nights. I have often preached, “You can’t watch wrestling in a bubble” as a suggestion that the audience was part of the experience and therefore could not be ignored, loud and proud or quiet as a mouse. These sorts of situations make me reconsider that stance because the reality is that crowds should never be the biggest talking point about a show unless there is a generally acceptable reason for it; it is time for us to collectively set the terms for what is deemed an acceptable set of reasons for hijacking a match.
Please take a moment to like the Facebook page for The Greatest Matches and Rivalries of the WrestleMania Era (which will be released in two weeks on August 1st!) for excerpts from the book such as, “For The Hitman, in contrast, the Austin saga shoved the heroic, genuinely likeable persona that he had used to become the cornerstone star of The New Generation violently into the counter-cultural movement that had defined much of the 1990s while the WWF continually tried to replicate the virtuous formula that had worked so well the decade prior. Vince McMahon could be called an idealist, a boy at heart who just wants his on-screen world to be as simple as a youthful game of cops and robbers. Bret was the every-man hero in a simpler time, down-to-earth and not the slightest bit over-the-top, with an aw-shucks charm that made him an idealist’s role model, so it was a twist of fate when Stone Cold thrust the WWF into the more complicated throes of real life.”