What exactly is a fan? I’m not going to be the millionth person to talk about how fan is short for fanatic. I guess I sort of did, but that’s not my point. In my estimation a fan is someone that is passionate, supportive and emotionally invested in something. In some ways it seems the so-called “WWE Universe” has turned into something else.
I will preface everything I’m about to say by acknowledging there are a lot of ways in which WWE has let down its fans. WWE has failed to develop a true superstar on the level of John Cena, which in turn has forced fans to watch the same old thing with Cena for the better part of a decade.
WWE has gotten rid of Jim Ross, a fan favorite who is the one man capable of keeping the product likable. WWE has botched the long-awaited “Diva’s Revolution”, first by calling it that and second by making it three catty teams in a jumbled mess of a story. Even just the fact that they call us the “WWE Universe” is pretty annoying.
Those are all legitimate reasons for fan displeasure and I concede that there are other reasons I didn’t even touch on. Despite all that, there is a difference between fan displeasure and some of the behavior I’m seeing an hearing from WWE fans. It’s one thing to be disgruntled or disappointed in the product and it’s another thing entirely to be filled with hatred or a desire to actually undermine the product.
I’m from Philadelphia and have attended more than my share of games in the city. The fanbase is notorious for being hard on opposing teams as well as our own. There was a time when I was proud of that image and thought it was funny and cool. But as I’ve matured, I’ve started to find it embarrassing at times. I think Philadelphia’s reputation can be often overstated and blown out of proportion, but there are also times where the negativity goes too far.
From a WWE perspective, obviously there are heel characters that are supposed to be booed. Sometimes a babyface character that is stuffed down the collective throat of the fans will be booed. I think that is a fine reaction. It is telling the creative powers that be that this isn’t what we want. But then there is a far more sinister side to the fans.
My first example is the unbelievably annoying “WHAT?” chant that Steve Austin started. I love Stone Cold as much as anyone, and it was entertaining when he did it. It was relevant when he did it, but it’s not anymore. It’s annoying and incredibly disruptive. Two weeks ago a Roman Reigns promo succumbed to it. Just last week on NXT Alexa Bliss had a promo suffer the same fate.
Reigns’ promo was a little too long and a little short on substance, as Mark McAllen pointed out last week, but that’s no reason to antagonize the guy. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t his decision to speak for that long and having to fight the crowd doesn’t help. Alexa Bliss is a young talent just starting out and in the midst of her first real push in NXT. The success and popularity of NXT have caused some people to forget that it is still developmental. These are young performers learning their craft and as a viewer the chant was distracting and overshadowed the promo.
I’m not against fan participation, I actually enjoy fan participation. I believe the fans and crowd noise is an essential part of any wrestling show. But I think as opposed to being part of the show, some fans have begun to think that the show is about us. It’s not. It’s about the men and women in the ring, giving their blood, sweat and tears for our entertainment.
A well-timed, creative chant enhances a show, like the “Gable” chants to the tune of Kurt Angle’s entrance at TakeOver: Respect two weeks ago. The “Save The Gables” chant was great. In fact, that Full Sail crowd was tremendous for that entire show. Unfortunately, too often the crowd detracts from the show. A great example of this was at TakeOver: Brooklyn in August.
Triple H stepped in the ring moments before the show went live on the WWE Network. He asked the crowd to be silent and keep phones away for 10 seconds to make it look like he was alone in a room. He was trying to actually put the crowd over and give us a chance to shine at the top of the show. Instead, people purposely blurted out inane nonsense while purposely shining their phones to ruin the moment.
Another is at a taping of SmackDown in Philadelphia last week. I was sitting next to a boy no older than six. There were people screaming out the F-word numerous times during the show. Even worse, when Summer Rae was ringside during Rusev’s match with Ryback, people literally in the first row were yelling to her that she was a slut. It was distasteful and embarrassing and there is honestly no reason for it.
Somewhere along the way, I don’t know if it’s the reality TV culture, social media or what, but people have become so self-involved and so entitled to make things about themselves. So many people think every event is an excuse to demand people to look at them. That is not what being part of a wrestling crowd is all about.
The beauty of a wrestling crowd, or really any live crowd is that there is a collective voice. Some will argue that they paid for their seat to the event, therefore they are entitled to do or say what they please while sitting in that seat. That is a point, but everyone else paid for a seat as well, and they didn’t pay for that seat to hear you. It isn’t a right of purchase to downgrade someone else’s experience.
The collective voice is a beautiful thing. One of the moments that sold me back on being a wrestling fan was when Daniel Bryan turned on the Wyatt Family in the steel cage. It literally gave me goosebumps. I felt more in that crowd chanting “YES!” in unison than anything I had felt since hearing the crowd reaction when Stone Cold’s glass shattered moments before he’d help Mankind win his first WWE title.
Sometimes that collective voice doesn’t achieve the right pitch. The “We Want Lesnar” chant during a women’s match on Raw in Minnesota was disrespectful. The chants hurled at Nikki Bella on Raw the night after WrestleMania 31 were disgusting. I’m not going to repeat it here, but it’s easy enough to find if you didn’t hear or don’t remember. Chanting “You Can’t Wrestle” at NXT performers like Dana Brooke or Baron Corbin who are there to learn and are actually improving is another example of just hitting the wrong note.
Some readers may take my words as a personal attack. Remember that I am one of you. I love this business and I view it as a legitimate art form and find myself defending it to friends, family, co-workers and sometimes complete strangers on a regular basis. My feeling is just that a culture of hatred and negativity has developed around the industry that I really don’t like. It’s almost become a part of fandom to just find something to dislike.
I’ve written criticisms of WWE, their creative choices, their booking and the company’s priorities just within my first five or six columns here. I’m not an apologist for WWE or any of their decisions. But I do think the talent in the ring deserves better from us. I also think there is a better and more effective way to voice our opinions than just venom, vitriol and disrespect.
The culture of hate has been around for a while and, let’s be honest, things haven’t gotten any better. It has done nothing to advance the cause of diehard fans. It has done nothing to improve the mostly illogical storytelling and booking. Basically, we keep spending our money on WWE Network subscriptions, tickets and merchandise which comes across as a sign of approval. Fortunately for unhappy fans ratings are steadily declining, which is what will ultimately inspire change in the product.
If we go out there and yell and scream obscenities and criticize everything on every show, it will be all too easy for Vince McMahon and the rest of the decision makers in Stamford to write us off as just the bitter “Internet Wrestling Community.” They believe we will stick around no matter what. But if WWE Network subscriptions dwindle and if ratings continue to drop, that is something they can’t dismiss.
I’m not advocating for this amazing and wonderful fanbase to lose one ounce of passion. I’m on your side and I want the product to improve just as much as anyone else. I just don’t want us to come across as a small minded, embittered group of idiots that can be written off. I believe wrestling fans now are smarter about the industry than ever, but aren’t being given proper credit for it.
I’ve attended more WWE events in the past year than the rest of my life combined. I’ve attended those events in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Orlando, Brooklyn and Baltimore. At every one I was blown away by how friendly, accepting and inviting every group was, no matter the city, the weather conditions or the length of the wait in line. The wrestling community as a whole is one I’m proud to be a part of, as should all of you.
At the end of the day, we may like different eras, different styles, different wrestlers or different promotions but we all want the same thing. To sit down and watch a wrestling show, live or televised, and enjoy it. We want the see the product evolve and grow with the times. We want the stories to entertain us, stir our emotions and most of all, make sense. We want to see the next big thing develop in front of our eyes as we’ve seen before. We just need to find a way to do it without hating so much about something we are supposed to love.