By former Lords of Pain 205 Live reviewer, “205 Clive“.
Powered by RedCircle
What constitutes a star in professional wrestling today? It’s a question that many seem to have an answer for among the fandom’s online community. Or at least one that some of its members like to think they have an objective definition for. Personally, the criteria for what makes a star is, just like that of match quality, entirely subjective.
Is it that a wrestler has become a household name out with the bubble? Like what the Dwayne Johnsons, John Cenas, and Dave Bautistas of the world have accomplished? Is it that they have cemented themselves as a long term, main event player, whose name comes to mind first when considering companies’ poster boys and girls? Such as Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, and the like? Are these parameters exclusive from each other, or is it a mixture of both?
The above women were mentioned, specifically, as they are among the names of those missing from cynics’ cliff notes when they mount their soapbox, proclaiming that WWE isn’t in the business of making stars anymore. This particular gripe is louder than normal just now, due to legend and veteran Edge’s insertion into the world title scene, thanks to his second Royal Rumble victory. Now, of course, a debate can be had about the merits of such creative direction while other guys wait perpetually in the wings. On the same night, however, what is forgotten is Drew McIntyre’s addition of Goldberg to his collection of scalps. In so doing, Drew’s already impressive time at the top of WWE is that much more significant, elevating him further towards “star” status. Which, by the way, only began its manifestation at last year’s Rumble event.
What else is forgotten from the same night is that Bianca Belair, not even a year into her main roster run, outlasted several veterans and mainstays to win the Women’s version of the Rumble. In only its fourth iteration, no less. An hour or so earlier? Sasha Banks retained the Smackdown Women’s Championship in what is now becoming a healthy reign of respectable length. Long enough for her to still hold the title while millions not as familiar with wrestling worldwide are introduced to her by way of Star Wars’ much lauded fictional universe. Let’s not forget that this reign came at the expense of Bayley, the only woman to have won literally everything there is for WWE’s fairer sex to compete for. The same Bayley, might I add, who was involved in one of the longest – and arguably the most memorable – title reigns in modern history.
It should be noted, too, that all of the above has only really occurred in the last couple of years. Incorporate a few more points from the last decade, and the Bella twins have become a powerhouse in the reality television genre. So, too, has The Miz (with now – count ’em – TWO different shows on USA). Paige’s career has been documented Hollywood style, thanks to a helping hand from a certain Brahma Bull. Daniel Bryan’s “Yes” chant, as well as many more WWE Superstar themes, are blasted from sports arena tannoys on a regular basis all around the world. This list IS exhaustive.
A few things can be taken from people discounting many of the above. One that is more alarming than others is that an underlying misogyny runs rampant within the internet wrestling community, so regularly forgotten about are the accomplishments of these exemplary women. Other potential takeaways are that those who have garnered crossover appeal, thanks in no small part to the WWE machine, simply aren’t fawned over to the point that they fulfill an individual fan’s criteria. Or, more succinctly, said wrestlers aren’t on the list of who the soap box occupiers demand the world for. The more disgruntled among the IWC will twist anything to fit a narrative they’ve either had spoon-fed to them by the usual suspects, or one so ingrained in their mindset, they refuse to see the forest from the trees.
It feels like this latest from yours truly is going down the same road as the now tired line of “if you don’t like, don’t watch”. But it has to be said that it’s okay to not favour certain wrestlers. It’s okay to consider reality shows the lowest of the low. That Marvel or Star Wars projects are for niche groups of “geek” culture. Which, when you think about it, is an irony in itself. What you can’t do, however, is undermine a wrestler’s accomplishments outside of (or within) the squared circle, purely because they’re not among your favourites. It does a disservice to not only the individuals in question, but to the hard work WWE puts in when building its own brand and history, as well as forging pathways with affiliates in the entertainment industry.
The problem WWE faces in the arena of scrutiny, though, is its standing. It teeters on such a high pedestal, anything not deemed perfection is considered a failure. And this word in particular, failure, is spreading like wildfire online these days, as it pertains to WWE. The company’s Network rented out to Peacock for five years at a cool one billion? Failure. A downward spiral of ratings by way of an antiquated metric? Failure. Despite no other company showing any real sign of growth either. The 2021 Men’s Rumble average age too high? Failure. Even though, at time of writing, it boasts the two joint second youngest male world champions in all major wrestling companies, only behind Impact’s Rich Swann. And lastly, an old timer – a part timer, if you will – winning said Rumble? Another epic fail.
If that’s what people want to believe regarding WWE, then so be it. This piece won’t go any further in changing their minds. But maybe it’s time to put the shoe on the other foot. If WWE is in fact failing, then should not the onus be on other companies to take over from where Titan Towers fumbled the ball? Now, especially, with that Forbidden Door well and truly booted off its hinges, isn’t it time for AEW, NJPW, et al to show WWE where it all went wrong for Vince McMahon and Company?
I say it’s time for the newly forged alliance’s fanbase to put its money where its mouth is. Already, there is Cody Rhodes’ established foray into television. Or Jericho’s standing in the metal world. Even Kusichika Okada’s Olympics connection, which no doubt opens up a wealth of possibilities in the sporting world. All three, of course, have incredible wrestling accolades to their name, too. But is that enough? Are a few weeks of favourable booking for those mentioned above sufficient to make someone a “star”, as is so often posited among pro-AEW fandom specifically? Is that star making formula in other companies lesser in criteria compared to WWE? If so, is that fair? After all, WWE has apparently failed whilst simultaneously making many a household name…
I urge those reading who genuinely feel that WWE is no longer in the business of making stars anymore, to consider star quality is not absolute. It comes in many shapes and forms. And those forms might not be to your desired taste. But, as a fellow wrestling fan, I ask who are we to say our tastes match that of the populace, when we rubbish – or are even completely ignorant to – other, more mainstream mediums?
Read my previous Brand Extension columns here.
Try your hand at writing in Lords of Pain’s very own Columns Forum.