Contrary to what you might think by listening to them talk about it, wrestling fans like wrestling. Often times, they like it quite a bit, to the point where it seems that they might not remember that it’s staged. That’s part of the fun of wrestling though: we know it’s all rigged, but we get caught up in it and care about these people and what they’re doing every single week. Yeah we know that it’s not real, but that’s the point of the whole thing. So why do we need to constantly be reminded that it’s fake?
One of the major stories in WWE at the moment is the relationship between Seth Rollins and Becky Lynch. The two have been dating for a few months now and that relationship has made its way up to WWE television. While I’ll ignore the risks of such a story, there is one thing about the story that makes me cringe every time commentary brings it up: they keep calling it the “real life” relationship.
What is that even supposed to mean? It’s WWE making sure that we understand that everything else we’re watching is fake but this relationship is real. Now, that leads to the suggestions that everything that happens to these two is fake also, but why let that get in the way of a statement that WWE really likes to say over and over? That line and the line of thinking that comes with it got me to thinking about a pair of annoying statements in wrestling and how bad they are for the wrestling fans as a whole.
Note the real couples:
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First up, and how appropriate with Rollins and Lynch, is “titles are just props.” You hear this one a lot with Bruce Prichard saying it over and over on his podcast. It’s true that the wrestlers didn’t earn their titles in legitimate matches, but what is this nonsense that they didn’t earn them whatsoever? Of course they did and it doesn’t take much thinking to see how they did.
Flash back with me to March 29, 1998 in Boston, Massachusetts. If the date doesn’t ring a bell, this might: “THE AUSTIN ERA HAS BEGUN!” Steve Austin wins the WWF Title for the first time, launching the company to heights it has never seen before and will never see again, finally claiming his destiny as the top man in the business.
Now, why is it Austin getting this spot? Well based on the “titles are just props”, it was because the company decided that it was his turn to hold the belt. If it was that simple, why not go with someone else to make them a star the next night on Monday Night Raw? How about Aguila, the man who lost in the Light Heavyweight Title match earlier in the night at WrestleMania 14? He didn’t get one prop so maybe he can just have another and become a featured player.
Yeah this is just a prop being handed over:
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Of course that’s never going to happen, because Aguila is nowhere near that level. But why not? If the title is just a prop and can be handed to anyone, why not Aguila? In short, because no one would believe it and it would be a ratings disaster that would have cut off the company’s momentum at a point where they could finally cut off Monday Nitro’s ratings winning streak.
Instead, the WWF went with the smart move of putting the title on Austin, the hottest star in the world. Why was he the hottest star in the world you ask? Well given the “smart” way of thinking, it was because he won the Intercontinental Title (one of those prop things) a few times but then handed it off to the Rock because he wanted the bigger one (during which you can hear WCW starting to pack their bags because their days were numbered and they knew it).
I’d lean more towards it’s Austin being one of the most charismatic and hard working wrestlers of all time, armed with a can’t miss catchphrase that captured the imaginations of the fans and hit at the exact right time in a perfect situation while having worked his way to the top for the better part of the last year and a half as the fans were chomping at the bit to see their hero take his place atop the company.
But nah. It was just because they gave him a prop that he hadn’t earned.
That brings us to the second line, which might be even worse, with the classic of “wins and losses don’t matter.” Where do you even start with this one? The classic example would of course be Goldberg, or you could do a more modern example with Shane McMahon (last singles loss as of July 2019: Hell in the Celll against Kevin Owens, who needed Sami Zayn’s help to win).
I think instead we’ll go with one of the best and most simplistic stories of the modern era with the Summer of Punk. CM Punk threatened to leave the company as WWE Champion so John Cena offered to fight for the WWE’s behalf. Vince McMahon: “What if you can’t beat him?” And thus, tickets were sold because it planted a seed of doubt. That’s wrestling booking 101 but we’ll get into that later.
Now imagine if he lost:
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All of a sudden, it became a question of what would happen if Punk pulled it off. That was impossible though right? Punk couldn’t win the title when he was leaving the company. I mean….they just couldn’t do that! Cena couldn’t lose in this match after what Punk said in that big speech he gave, could he?
Enter the “wins and losses don’t matter” mindset, which would have said: “Well it really makes no difference as Punk will be back with the title. Or they’ll just make a new title and act like none of this mattered. Don’t worry. It’ll be fine because it’s all just made up anyway.” And there goes the interest in the story.
Now if you remember what happened with Punk, he went on to win the title, then disappeared for less than a month, then came back and….lost to Triple H with the help of Kevin Nash, who texted himself because he wanted the spotlight one more time after getting cheered in the Royal Rumble earlier in the year. Uh yeah I think the less said about that the better.
It’s true that Punk went on to have a year long title reign, but how much did that loss to Triple H hurt him? Punk went from the hottest thing in years to just another top star as Triple H took away so much of his steam. The company knew where they were taking him, but the fans saw Triple H beating someone else, again, in a match he didn’t need to win to set up his own match with Nash.
If that’s too specific for you, consider someone like Bray Wyatt. Sure, he’s been getting rave reviews for the Firefly Fun House segments, but what has been the underlying worry about him? “What happens once he gets back in the ring? He never wins the big matches and it’s all going to be wasted.” That is indeed the case. Fans have gotten so used to Wyatt losing that they have no faith in him and it sticks in the back of their minds. Would you get your hopes up for someone who has never managed to keep up the momentum? It’s rather hard to do, but it’s ok because “it doesn’t matter”.
At its core, wrestling is not a complicated business. The good people fight the bad people and the fans want to see the good ones win, which they usually do in the end. Eventually though, you reach the point where you start overthinking everything about it and that gets you in trouble. It seems to be where WWE is right now, with a bunch of titles that aren’t seen as important and wrestlers who are interchangeable because they trade wins and losses. I assure you the lack of interest in WWE and its downward spiral of TV ratings aren’t a problem, because as someone who is also missing the point once said, they don’t matter.
Finally, allow me a question of my own: if wins and losses don’t matter in wrestling, as in what this whole thing is about, why should I bother watching?
Thomas Hall has been a wrestling fan for over thirty years and has seen over 50,000 wrestling matches. He has also been a wrestling reviewer since 2009 with over 5,000 full shows covered. You can find his work at kbwrestlingreviews.com, or check out his Amazon author page with 28 wrestling books. His latest book is the History Of In Your House.
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