Answering the questions and telling the stories of why we all love professional wrestling and the WWE. The first of several articles leading up to WrestleMania 34 for The VideoScope’s own “WrestleMania Week”.
You Know It’s Fake, Right?
You might have said or thought that about someone who cares about the WWE or professional wrestling. It is a phrase that wrestling fans know all too well. It usually sparks a need to explain why we obviously know it’s “fake”, but why there is a reason to love it anyway.
I’m gonna attempt to do just that.
Maybe I succeed and you’ll at least understand why people care about wrestling or maybe I even get you invested enough to check out WrestleMania on Sunday April 8th, wrestling’s own version of the SuperBowl.
The first thing you need to know, is that wrestling is not like the SuperBowl… Sure, the event and spectacle that follows is similar and it features what appears to be a sporting event, but there is a very obvious difference. The SuperBowl determines who is the best at American Football, while pro wrestling is pre-determined.
The SuperBowl and WrestleMania, the same venue, but very different execution
Why do people care about something that is pre-determined?
Well… it applies to anyone who likes any form of fiction. To fully appreciate wrestling, you shouldn’t think of it as a competition like football or MMA. You should think of it as a fictional TV show about a wrestling company. Like future WWE Chairman Triple H said himself, the WWE doesn’t try to be boxing or MMA, but more like a Rocky movie.
What that means is that you are not necessarily watching for the result of the match like you would with sports. A Rocky movie isn’t pointless when Rocky loses. The matches themselves usually serves as a way to further the story that is being told.
Often, the story revolves around the most prestigious price in the business; the WWE Championship. But winning the WWE Championship is not really all that much about sports at all.
Sure, as a wrestler you are a full-time athlete, it certainly helps if you are in peak physical condition and the grind of being a WWE superstar is more taxing than most outsiders tend to think. Still, the WWE don’t necessarily pick the most believable fighters to become their WWE Champions, they pick whoever they think will get the most people watching. The way they get people to watch, is by making you care about the characters – the wrestlers themselves – and their own personal story.
What makes you care about the wrestlers?
Like almost every story built around drama, there are good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains. In wrestling we call them faces and heels.
As a good guy – the face – your goal is to get as much support as possible. That can be achieved by making people relate to you, by being good at your craft, simply by just being entertaining or all of the above. It’s something we all strive to do in our everyday lives, but some people are better at it than others. Someone like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is very good at it, which is why he has not only succeeded in life, but also why he first managed to succeed in wrestling.
The role of the bad guy – the heel – is to be as detestable as you can be. It makes the good guys seem more sympathetic by comparison and gives them an obstacle to overcome.
The Rock is a natural entertainer and would make people tune in to WWE programming every single week of the year, fill up arenas and sell a whole lot of t-shirts and other merchandise. No wonder the WWE had him win matches, which in turn led to championship opportunities and The Rock becoming an 8 time WWE Champion.
The WWE Champion represents the company, usually gets to close the show and generally gets a lot more screen-time than the rest of the WWE roster. It’s in the WWE’s best interest that the person they give the most attention, is the one that grabs the most attention. It means that the more you get behind your favorite wrestler, the louder you get people to chant their name (or boo them if they are a heel) and the more people buy their t-shirts, the likelier it is that they are featured in major storylines and possibly even become the WWE Champion.
Do the fans always root for the same guys and girls?
Nope. The WWE have a whole bunch of different characters who appeal to different types of people. Since wrestling consists of elements borrowed from comic book superheroes, sports, soap opera, theater and athletics, wrestling fans are a varied bunch of ladies, gentlemen and children of all ages. It makes it harder than it looks for the WWE to push the right person into the spotlight.
Sometimes though, the stars align and practically everyone get fully behind the same wrestler. Like anything else that gets popular, it’s not always easy to know if it is just a fad or if the popularity will sustain the test of time. This means that the WWE sometimes misjudge whether to push a wrestler or not, which was the case with one of my personal favorites, Daniel Bryan.
Why was Daniel Bryan so popular and why were the WWE still hesitant to make him WWE Champion?
First and foremost, Daniel Bryan is just a really likable guy. Almost always positive, with a smile or laugh hidden behind his bushy beard and hardly anyone has a bad thing to say about him. He is also a terrific wrestler, who knows how to play up to the emotions of the crowd, who he has a strong connection with.
That connection is never more evident than when Daniel Bryan does his patented “Yes Chant”. It’s just a hand gesture and yelling the word “Yes!”, but through it’s simplicity, it’s an easy way for the crowd to show their approval of what is happening.
Daniel Bryan is 5’10, which is a lot smaller than the guys WWE usually think of as WWE Championship material. Not only did Bryan not look like a typical WWE Champion, but the WWE brass themselves thought his popularity was just a fad and that it was only the “Yes Chant” that was popular, not Daniel Bryan, the wrestler.
That was a mistake on the WWE’s part, as the “Yes Chant” didn’t work as well when other wrestlers shamelessly used it, while Daniel Bryan’s popularity continued to soar to new heights.
The “Yes Chant” perfectly fits Daniel Bryan’s personality, which is reflected in his wrestling character. It symbolizes the positivity needed for a guy to realize his dreams with his shortcomings and the rapid movement is a reflection of the intensity Daniel Bryan uses to credibly compete with bigger foes.
“The Yes Movement” wasn’t going to stop until the WWE realized their mistake and make the decision to turn Daniel Bryan into their main attraction. The crowd wasn’t going to let Bryan be in the background while they pushed other and taller superstars.
Did it work? Can the audience affect the outcome like that?
The fans, or “The WWE Universe” as the company likes to call them, eventually proved to be loud enough to convince the WWE that Daniel Bryan was the real deal. He went on to be the most pivotal part of the 30th Anniversary of WrestleMania and win the WWE Championship.
The influence the crowd can have on both the atmosphere of the TV show and the actual story is unique to wrestling and it is one of the main reasons we continue to be engaged as fans. With Daniel Bryan, we proved that as long as we continue to make our voices heard, the WWE will listen and change the show for the better.
Sadly, after a year of struggling with injuries, Daniel Bryan didn’t get medically cleared to compete anymore. It was a tearful farewell to the thing he loved; performing in the ring in front of the thousands in attendance and millions watching at home. At least we all got our WrestleMania moment.
An anecdote about the importance of wins and losses in the WWE
Winning and losing plays a part of the story that unfolds when you watch wrestling. That was never more evident than in a match between The Undertaker and Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 30.
The Undertaker is one of the biggest (literally) and most popular superstars in WWE history. Under the moniker “The Deadman”, Undertaker has been a dominant force in the company for over 3 decades. Because of the invincible aura of his character and his standing in the WWE he was booked to win 21 matches in a row at the biggest WWE event of the year, WrestleMania.
By that point, “The Streak” match at WrestleMania – featuring the undefeated Undertaker – was one of the biggest reasons people tuned in to the show every year. It became a part of The Undertaker’s legacy and every year the streak was prolonged, it seemed even more likely he would stay undefeated at WrestleMania until he chose to retire. Year after year, the biggest superstars in the WWE came as close as you can get to pinning Undertaker for the 3 count to break the streak, but Undertaker never lost.
When Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 30 then pinned The Undertaker, the ref counted all the way to 3 and the streak was broken, this is how wrestling fans reacted:
Why the shock?
Not only did it mark the end of an unprecedented streak and one of the main attractions of WrestleMania, but it was a stark reminder that The Undertaker’s career was about to be over. Part of The Undertaker’s character died that day and it showed that there wasn’t much left of the career that started in 1990. “The Streak” was as old as me (it started literally the day after I was born) and had spanned over 23 years before it ended in 2014.
It will never be replicated and if the WWE even as much as try, it would be rejected by the fans. It simply doesn’t work with anyone other than The Undertaker.
Most people assumed that if the streak was ever to be broken, it would be by a young up and coming guy who could really use the momentum. Instead, the man who got to break the streak was a 37 year old part-timer who has been in and out of the WWE, Brock Lesnar. This further emphasized the feeling of shock that swept through the arena when the ref’s hand struck the mat for a 3 count. 75,000 excited wrestling fans, completely shocked and silenced.
Why did they end The Streak?
The result was a big benefit for Brock Lesnar, who at that point had grown a little stale and needed something huge to become interesting again. Now he was the monster heel who practically ended Undertaker’s career. It gave people an extra incentive to watch Lesnar’s matches, to see who would be the superstar to overcome the odds and beat the monster who beat the invincible Undertaker.
Wins and losses work as a transfer of power in the WWE. If a superstar continues to lose, the WWE Universe will eventually lose hope in that guy or girl. Just ask Dolph Ziggler, who went from getting the loudest reaction of the night to become an afterthought. Ultimately, this is why winning and losing matters and why you end up caring so much about an outcome that is pre-determined.
Wrestling never stops and the WWE’s weekly shows run through all 52 weeks of the year like Monday Night RAW has done for 25 years now. Even when legendary wrestlers need to hang up their boots or are forced to retire, the show must go on with the superstars that remain. But even if a superstar retires from in-ring competition, they can still contribute to the show.
An example of wrestling at it’s best, featuring a “retired” Daniel Bryan
When Daniel Bryan was forced to retire from in-ring competition as WWE doctors wouldn’t clear him to wrestle, he was still contracted to the WWE. Because of how good Daniel Bryan is, even when he’s not able to perform in the ring, the WWE made him the on-screen general manager for the newly revamped “SmackDown Live!”.
That eventually sparked a career-reviving moment for one of the remaining superstars in the WWE, The Miz.
The Miz is the total opposite of Daniel Bryan. Working as a heel for most of his WWE career, the former reality TV star portrays a wannabe movie star who almost makes himself seem too good for wrestling. He has never wrestled in bingo halls in front of the smallest of crowds and is an annoying loudmouth obsessed with status, glitz and glamour.
Like most characters in the WWE, The Miz’ character is based on his own personality, but with the volume turned up to maximum capacity. The man himself, Mike Mizanin, didn’t get much respect either inside or outside the WWE locker room from the beginning. Still, he has managed to last over 10 years in the WWE, winning multiple important championships, but never felt like he got the respect he deserved.
When now Intercontinental Champion The Miz and General Manager Daniel Bryan – longtime rivals in the WWE mind you – came face to face on a brilliant show called “Talking Smack”, real life issues shone through and created a career defining moment for The Miz:
This is wrestling at its best!
Both Daniel Bryan and The Miz have legitimate, real life reasons to be upset.
Daniel Bryan is frustrated that he can’t do what he loves to do anymore, because his intense style of wrestling injured him to the point of retirement. Now he sees this guy who is able to do what Bryan himself wants to do, but wrestles not to get hurt, “like a coward”.
The Miz has the thankless job of a heel, someone who needs to be hated so his opponents look better. A job he has done for over 10 years without getting much respect for it. The fact that he held one of the most important titles in the WWE at that point, but still wasn’t featured much on Smackdown that night, only fueled his fire.
They are the perfect matchup for each other with clashing styles and how they got to the WWE. Both have legitimate reasons to be upset with the cards they have been dealt.
The Miz used this feud to his advantage and started mocking Daniel Bryan in the ring, by using Bryan’s signature moves and the “Yes Chant”. The “WWE Universe” have been desperate to see a pay off with a match between the two, but haven’t been able to because Bryan wasn’t medically cleared to wrestle.
Until now! On March 20th 2018, it was announced that Daniel Bryan has been cleared for in-ring competition and we might finally see Daniel Bryan and The Miz have another match to extend their long-standing feud. They are currently on separate shows, with Bryan still on Smackdown and The Miz transferred to RAW a year ago, but with a “Superstar Shake-Up” on the cards after WrestleMania, their paths will surely cross.
There are still a lot more things to touch on. The spectacle, fireworks, face turns, heel turns, surprise returns, the Royal Rumble, the Money in the Bank cash ins, Botchamania, the theme songs and all the rumors and fantasy booking that goes on with the Internet Wrestling Community.
In the end, the WWE is just another way to keep yourself entertained and taking your mind off of the stress of your everyday life. It is a business and past-time that matters to a lot of different people, not just adults like you and me, but to kids everywhere as well.
Before ending this introduction to wrestling, I implore you to watch this following video to fully understand the impact it can have on people’s lives. You won’t regret it.