It is quite common nowadays for a certain negative observation about wrestling fans to come from the wrestling talent themselves. Not a criticism, more a prevailing observation. With the veil removed and less illusion and mystery surrounding the business, cynical fans will first see the negative in something (an angle, a character, a match, etc.) which leaves the possibility of something being successful or even interesting less likely. This attitude leaves a bad stench that surrounds wrestling discussion. As a fanbase, we can be cynical perhaps because we have to take everything we see and hear with a grain of salt. We cast doubts as to whether things that are promised or possible will happen. That doubt leads fans to treat the business with as much disdain as appreciation.
Getting back to how this affects the perception of fans among the wrestlers, I recently had the opportunity to speak with a performer who, during a match, saw his opponent demonstrate his frustration with the current climate among wrestling fandom. In my conversation with current indy star Mike Orlando, he spoke of how, when he faced Ryback, the former Intercontinental Champion changed the direction of the match simply to outthink fans.
Talent does love what they do and loves when it’s appreciated as well. At the core of the business, the mark of a successful wrestler is to garner a reaction whether as a face or as a heel. However, in any line of work, when what you do isn’t appreciated it is easy to take issue. So amidst the growing cynicism towards wrestling and the talent from fans, it feels like only a matter of time before the talent lashes out. Clearly, criticism of talent for a ‘poor’ match or a ‘weak’ skill set reflects that at times fans believe they know more about wrestling than the talent themselves. In their defense, it is easy to think that; fans have been widely exposed to what goes on behind the scenes through shoot videos and social media, leading to that the belief that they know more than the talent.
Whether in character or not, when talent is pushed to a limit, they will look at their mentions on social media and get fired up. For instance, within the past few months, a comment was directed at Cody Rhodes on Twitter suggesting that his brother was ‘nothing’ as a wrestler, when in actuality that couldn’t be further from the truth. The problem is that, from some fans’ perspective, a wrestler is only as good as his or her last match. However, in actuality, their best match doesn’t stop being significant because they don’t have the same rank or stature now than when they did years earlier. From Cody’s perspective, Goldust’s currently booking has no bearing on what his past accomplishments, having been an Intercontinental and tag team champion. Goldust’s character pushed the envelope of what was and wasn’t taboo in its prime, tapping into a persona that made a number of people feel uncomfortable.
It is sad to think that our believing we know more than those that are part of the planning, the work, the preparation and the sacrifice to make something effective can lead to us easily and dismissively casting it aside. When it gets to that point, talent is more than justified in pushing back. Sure, professionals are in a position where they should expect to be faced with criticism and have to deal with it. However, the problem is thinking that, when you see their response, you understand their plight and their state of mind when they respond, or what other factors go into their response. In the case of Cody Rhodes, his family was insulted and his brother’s career accomplishments weren’t even acknowledged.
Heels such as Kevin Owens and Baron Corbin are recognized for their rather clever and witty comments expressed on social media. In a number of cases, Corbin has mocked fans for believing they knew more than the Lone Wolf. In these instances, the critics have felt they are justified, maybe because they have watched wrestling longer than the former NFL player. However, in his responses, he is being consistent with his character, while at the same time pointing out the stigma that so many fans are accused of: that they believe they are knowledgeable and informed enough to know who is and isn’t justified to be in their current role. Other performers frequently point out how Corbin has been quite active in wanting to know more about his current profession and is committed to getting better at it. They say he is constantly inquiring about how to improve and what he needs to work on both inside and outside the ring. Fans’ attacks him are ill-informed because they have no idea how committed he is to getting better. Does he get frustrated if things don’t work well? Who wouldn’t, consider it is all done under a microscope?
We often watch talent through a small lens, but our perspective needs to be broadened because all these performers are constantly striving to, ultimately, become more successful at entertaining the paying public. And when they elicit a response from you, they ultimately have struck a chord. Whether they are liked or not, they are committed. One of the most polarizing wrestlers in WWE is, without question, Roman Reigns. It is, of course, easy to question, challenge, jeer or cheer a character that fills a great deal of television time, and on-screen Reigns doesn’t try to play up either the cheers or the jeers. He simply tries to remain in character, a character that is far from heelish, despite what at times appears to be the kind of heat that should be bestowed upon the most despised villain. However, when talent breaks character, for instance on social media, it is simply because the outpouring of criticism they receive isn’t rational or justified. This became apparent when Reigns commented upon the belief of certain fans that he didn’t ‘sacrifice’ enough. Reigns pulled no punches as he highlighted how he has spent countless days, weeks, and months away from his family, how his sacrifice goes beyond the ring. He has the support of management because they know he is committed to being better. And he is eliciting a reaction, and for that he really should be commended, not condemned. The same could be said about John Cena, who has faced the same love/hate reaction that Reigns does, in his case over the past decade. While Cena has endured criticism for a lack of character change, moveset, and for being ‘super,’ he takes it all in stride. He acknowledges the criticism but states that the fans’ passion is always welcome. However, what if that passion was perceived as being disrespectful?
There will be a contingent of fans that will no doubt say that they are justified in criticizing how they see fit that they pay for the product so they are free to share their views. And we couldn’t agree more, but what tends to be forgotten is that unless we have stepped in the ring, taken a bump, attempted to generate a reaction with everything we say and do, then we in all fairness we can’t see what they see. Our awareness of what goes into a match is limited to what those in the business have made us aware of, and even that will vary depending on whom the talent is and their unique experiences. Anyone that has seen a film that lifted the veil to show what happens behind the scenes in wrestling has seen that the sacrifices they make are real, whether that is watching Mick Foley receive 25 shots to the head while handcuffed or seeing another wrestler pulling shards of glass from his skin. Their commitment truly is unparalleled.
During the 1980s and earlier, fans exposure to the truth behind the kayfabe was minimal at best. They jeered or cheered, but it was much purer; there wasn’t a need to know the truth or the need to try to outthink what we were watching as if they were predicting the end of a suspenseful movie. Fans today want to know something before it happens, yet they also love the element of surprise. Their rather critical nature is rooted in the abundance of information they are exposed to on a day to day basis. They believe they know more because things they believe to be truthful are widely shared.
However, what if everything we believed to be the reality of things, wasn’t? What if everything fans had been made aware of was a deliberate effort to reinforce the belief that fans of today do ‘know it all?’ Part of the breaking of kayfabe is to stay a step ahead of those in the audience, and those watching on some form of a device.
Some talent are doubtless insulted, but not because audiences are tougher to convince or more particular about what they like or don’t like. Rather, it’s completely justified to be insulted if someone tells you they know better what you have committed your life to better than you do. It is much like the child that believes they know more than their parent, or the employee that feels they know more than their employer. You can’t claim superior knowledge when you aren’t walking in the shoes of those you are watching. Is questioning what we watch, when it has to do with what happens in a match, justified? Truth be told, no, not really. The talent are given parameters of what to do, and the decision of who wins or loses isn’t something the talent needs to be chastised about. And in the end, more than likely they know something we don’t.
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