How The Internet Has Caused The Decline Of Professional Wrestling

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“Do you actually believe Pro-Wrestling is real?”

How many years have we, as wrestling fans, been asked this question? I know that when I first started watching at the age of about 9, it was a regularly (condescendingly) asked question by both Friends and Family Members, alike. How do we, as fans, answer that question? Well, that depends on what type of “Fan” you are.

The “Casual” fan will probably say, “Of course it’s real!” because the Casual-Fan is just that, “Casual.” A fan who does little more than tune into the products, week-in and week-out, and simply appreciates the product for exactly what it is: Entertaining. But in this age we’re in now–an age where EVERYTHING is readily available, talked about and often-times, EXPOSED on the internet–The “Casual Fan-Base” isn’t what it used to be back in the “Gold Age” of Professional Wrestling.

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with exactly what the Golden Age of Wrestling was, or when it was, let me offer some clarity: During the Early to Mid 90’s is generally, widely considered to be the beginning of the “Golden Age” in Professional Wrestling; You had the infamous “Monday Night War” raging between the then “WWF” and the now-defunct WCW. It was an age where all of the greatest, biggest names in Wrestling from the mid-to-late 80’s were either at their Prime, or were just beginning their decline.

WCW’s roster featured names such as: Sting, “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Chris Jericho and of course, the infamous Bill Goldberg. While at the other end of the spectrum, in the WWF, younger talents who would, later, become iconic Wrestling-Names in their own rights, were just beginning to make names for themselves, while working along-side a host of several veteran-names in the industry.

The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock, Bret Hart (who would later jump to WCW) and Triple H, just to name a few. And in a smaller-capacity at the time, there was also the ECW organization, under the leadership of Paul E. Heyman, whose revolutionary ideas would later be adopted and imitated in the WWF (arguably, helping to ultimately contribute to the WWF’s eventual victory in the Monday Night War over WCW).

During this era, which spanned from about 1996 to 2002-2003, all three of these companies, in their own rights, experienced great success and achieved mile-stones in both Audience-Attendance and Cable-Television Ratings that had rarely been seen, before. But this in Wrestling held one, DRASTIC difference from the era that we now reside in.

That difference, more-so than any other, was The Internet, itself. 

“Is Wrestling Real?” This question was one that was posed by critics, fans, analysts and Media-Outlets, alike, and for the Professional Wrestlers, there was an adamant “code” to be adhered to: “Do NOT reveal the secret.”

Much like the Magician’s unwritten-law that is upheld and respected in their professions, “A magician never reveals his secrets” professional Wrestlers, no matter the organization they were in, adhered to the “one cardinal rule.” “Never tell them it’s ‘fake’*.” And before the age of the Internet truly reached it’s stride, this was a question that could never truly be answered.

Critics and skeptics would say, “It’s all fake,” but no matter their beliefs, there was no way for them to prove it was “fake”. And this, perhaps more than any other, was the chief protest and defense of the Casual Fan: “You don’t KNOW that, and you can’t PROVE that.” This, however, all changed when the Internet stopped being a “Nerd’s pass-time” and became a staple of Main-stream Media and Pop-Culture.

As two Wrestling Analysts and Columnists, and friends of mine over at WZROnline.com can attest to, the amount of Wrestling Fans who browse “Dirt Sheets” and “Insider-Articles” is a very large portion of the fan-base. Often referred to as “Smarks*” by insiders of the industry (not to be confused with “Marks*”), these are the fans who, probably like yourself, involve themselves in the more “Political” and “Behind the Scenes” aspects of the Professional Wrestling industry.

From the Who’s-Who’s of which Superstar’s are Popular with the Company, to the “Who’s dating who?” Aspects of male and female Wrestlers, all the way to the detailed scripting and which superstar’s will be Heel* and Babyface*, or who will be Pushed* and who will be Buried*, these fans diligently and tenaciously search for and share information with their fellow fans and “Smarks.” 

Arguably, the “Smarks” population hit it’s true stride when the age of the Internet truly became popular. Information was able to be exchanged and published over a National and Global scale, from the “dirty secrets” to the “surprise returns,” the where-and-when’s and the why-and-how’s; all of the “truths” that the Wrestling Industry wanted–and STILL wants–to keep hidden from the fans, were suddenly available in such a huge, easily-accessible capacity, that the veil of “is it real or scripted” became forcefully ripped away.

But surely, this was a good thing, right? I mean, article-writers like myself, and Dirt-Sheet Writers, and Fans alike were all able to expand into a new venue of information-exchange, and it was easier than ever for Wrestling Fans to gather and communicate; everyone from the Smarks, to the Critics, to the Casual-Fans to the New-Comers. So where could be the down-side to all of this?

Well, believe it or not, all of those “Good things” I’ve just listed, were what you might call “Double-edged swords.” If you were to review the Ratings Records for the WWE from 1998 through 2004, you would note a literal WORLD of difference from what they achieved then, to what they average on a weekly basis, now… And, my personal opinion and speculation, is that this is due in-large-part to the existence of the Internet.

Even back in the early stages of News Sites popping up on the internet, and Chat-Rooms being the main means of communication between people on the Internet, the foundations for it’s decline were being laid. Why? Well, it’s simple, really. You had the Casual Fans, the “Marks” of the Industry, mingling and chatting with people who were NOT “casual fans,” like themselves. For the fan who believed that Wrestling was “Real,” and watched it with such a passion because of that belief, the product used to hold a certain feeling to it, an element of Charm, almost describable as “Magic.”

Like a child watching in wonder at the Circus, Wrestling Fans, for decades before, were in awe at the larger-than-life spectacles that they beheld, week-in and week-out. From Hulk hogan body-slamming Andre the Giant, and “over coming all odds” to win at Wrestlemania 3, to Sting and Hulk Hogan battling it out in “brutal wars,” and the nWo “taking over/invading” WCW, the stories that they watched unfolding every week were incredible to watch, because you believed they were real.

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  • James Purcell

    As a new fan of Pro Wrestling, having only been a true fan since August of 2013, I’ll tell you something interesting. The ‘real’ side of the industry is more interesting to me. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the entertainment product. I get invested in the story’s and love a good jump off the top rope. But where the real interest to me lies is who these men really are, why they do what they do, and the kinds of pressure they find themselves under. Wrestling is unique in many ways, it’s has two histories. The kafabe in-ring history, and the real story. The latter which is signifigantly more interesting to me. And you can’t have one without the other.

    As a child I avoided wrestling because I knew it was ‘fake’. As an adult I realize it’s more complex then that, and that’s what I find fascinating about it.

  • ROB-1.

    To me, the internet has helped wrestling, a lot of info out there.

  • Gehirn

    I would say the introduction of insider newsletters and magazines is what started the so called “internet destruction of wreslting”.

  • BO

    Thank you, this is what it’s all about. There are a lot of people out there (such as myself), who have known for a very very long time that wrestling is fake (I am 29 after all lol), and I have decided in the last year to watch the show for what it is. People arguing with each other over absolutely nothing, a person who is a John Cena fan feels inferior because he has people abusing him/her over nothing but the target on their back. If you want to be smarks, that’s just fine with me, but don’t ruin the sense of enjoyment of those young people who are still bang into it thinking it is real, or those that are older who suspend our disbelief, wrestling was never about knowing everything, it was about enjoying things.

    Things are never perfect folks, and neither was wrestling at any point. be smarks all you want but be damn secure about it and leave people who like wrestling alone. You have nothing to prove except to each other.

    • birdbrain2

      I am twice your age and when I was about 7 I was told wrestling was fake which would have been prior to 1960.When I was old enough and in high school I used to go to the local arena and sit front row for $3 with a birds eye view and could see every blow that was being thrown by the wrestlers. But back then these guys made you believe that they were hurting each other. There was of course blood by blading mostly. Sometimes the blood occurred by a real wound that they actually received by accident. But for a kid back then you believed that it was real. When my children grew up I never told them that it was not real and the predetermined endings. I allowed them to believe and find out just like Dad.

      • BO

        Exactly, why ruin the fun for them?

  • I Still Believe It’s Real

    I Still Believe It’s Real.

  • Christopher Labianca

    They are running themselves into the ground .

  • John Cena’s Golden Shovel™

    It`s still real to me dammit

  • ARMANDO_L1O

    It depends… it is an scripted show but the action in the ring is very physical even with the oponents protecting each other from possible injuries.

    • DoctorRemulakk

      So is figure skating.

      • ARMANDO_L1O

        Thank you for contributing absolutely nothing.

  • Josh Lacey

    I just say, “what’s your favorite TV show or movie?… Oh? You know that’s fake right?” Only idiots think people watch wrestling and believe it’s the equivalent of MMA.

  • Dan K

    Everything you see on TV is fake, scripted…whatever. And also, I wouldn’t consider the Attitude Era and Ruthless Aggression Era, the Golden Years. Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper…Bruno Sammartino, Bob Backlund, Superstar Billy Graham…that’s the Golden Age. WWWF on up.

    • James Purcell

      I gotta age. Hulk Hogan/Wrestlemainia 1-5 era is more like The Silver Age of Wrestling. Attitude Era being The Bronze Age.

  • TL

    It’s scripted entertainment and physical. If anything the Internet has helped fans form a community. And they don’t need to rely on buying magazines or writing letters anymore. The internet has brought the fan community to levels it could never achieve before.

    Though I can understand why the actual professional companies would not like it. It’s just like the music industry, where the CD makers have hated the digital trend.

    But wrestling like any other media must evolve and embrace the internet age or get left behind.

    I think the WWE Network idea will fail because the two main shows are on free TV. And if people are satisfied with that much wrestling a week, they won’t look for more.

    Not everyone wants to see and live off of past wrestling footage. Some people want what is the now only.

    And WWE Network’s only main selling point is they live off past wrestling footage.

    And they are boxing themselves in because if people don’t want the network. And they confine themselves to the network only. Then they just put all there eggs in one basket.

    • John Morgan

      Actually, their Main Selling-Point so far, I would contest, is that they offer FREE access to all of their PPV’s, starting with WM30 this Sunday.

      • TL

        Maybe but I feel there going to have a lot of angry customers as the WM stream will go down. Or the pixel quality will be bad. There first official and biggest PPV and if that happens. Then they messed it up big time.

        I wonder in terms of revenue how going this network only way is going to make them more money then the old system of charging a lot for PPV events?

        This network is a big gamble and either it will succeed or it will fail. Since I don’t have it, I wonder if they run a bunch of ads like they do on there website. Where it gets to the point that they do that stuff too much and it pisses off the viewer.

        • John Morgan

          I can agree that the quality of the first PPV will be a big factor in judging how well the Network does in the future, but I don’t think it will decide if it succeeds or fails. I think a lot of people will understand that it’s a work-in-progress, and WWE can only improve on the quality of the product from here on.

          If they can do even REASONABLY well at WM, I think they’ll get better and better as the months progress, and I think some people will be willing to see how they do, before cancelling all together.

    • James Purcell

      I don’t know about you, but I pay for cable.

  • No, the WWE cause a decline in pro wrestling! by being a fictional ”reality show” SET in wrestling setting with the actors doing their own stunts!

    They openly talks about gimmicks and storylines, admitting the whole thing is fake and made-up. The actors-frequently appear in public out of character, talking about the roles they play on TV.

    And the plots they are placed in.

  • The WWE has absolutely nothing to do with the pro wrestling business. Vince McMahon spent 17 years killing the wrestling business TO make sure there was no wrestling business to be a part of. And the WWE has nothing to do with and dos not do business with any other promotion.

    Vince doesn’t even allow his employees to use the word “wrestle” or any of it’s derivatives.

  • Abobo

    The internet keeps wrestling alive to a certain degree, because WWE appears to be doing everything it can to distance itself from it, without truly severing ties. They’d rather call themselves “sports entertainment,” as we saw when Ziggler came out to correct Roddy Piper who just a moment ago, in the ring, called the business pro-wrestling.

    Where the internet gets it wrong, however, is piling onto TNA and basically doing it no favors by constantly ridiculing it. Some of the ridicule may be deserving, but not all of it.

  • Eugene Debs

    Only wrestling is real.

  • Andy Au

    Wrestling is real when a wrestler botched a move causing great bodily injury. For example, last month when Aksana did a knee drop against Naomi. She supposed to do a knee drop on Naomi forehead, but her knee connected onto her eye in which she fractured a orbital bone.

  • Andy Au

    You know wrestling is fake when you ACTUALLY WATCH the show in person rather than on TV. Because with TV, you have multiple camera angles when kicks and punches are used. It gives you an off angle shot to believe the wrestler is punching or kicking. But on the different angle, you can see the wrestler isn’t connecting any punches or kicks. My bro once asked me why wrestlers likes to create a stomping sound whenever they do a kick to the body when the wrestler is laying down on the canvas?

  • Mz Bret Hart

    It also doesn’t help reporters like one of the ones on this site (Ryan Clark) making up random stuff and passing it off as information from ‘An unamed insider..’. It can REALLY hurt the reputation of the superstars which in-turn makes the fans less willing to warm to them.

    • John Morgan

      I’ll personally vouch for Ryan Clark and Matt Boone’s quality of reporting. I’ve been a follower and reader on their sites for YEARS, and never once have I read something that was “made up” or had no basis in fact.

      They’re not just writers, they’re actual FANS of the product they report on, and as such, they do everything they can to uphold the integrity of the product they write about. Any time they’ve reported something incorrectly, Clark will be the first person to say he was wrong and print a retraction, or correct himself.

      I don’t doubt that other reporters may use those kind of “Rumor starting” tactics to get readers, but I promise you this: Ryan Clark and Matt Boone over at WZR have NEVER been guilty of using those kind of tactics.

      And I promise now, neither will I.

  • Mz Bret Hart

    I don’t think it’s so much the internet.. i think its more like the product that is killing wrestling. Its scared of being wrestling! Especially over the last ten years. We have seen wrestling going from a
    pastime (Which some were calling it in 2000) to one HUGE advert for the
    company.

    You tune into ‘WRESTLING’ (WWE) on a monday night and get this.. Seriously, can anybody here say this is not how the average show goes?

    The show starts with a 15 min promo
    for the PPV (I don’t mind this so much) which is four weeks away.
    The show cuts away to adverts.
    When the show comes back we have cole recapping what just happened
    Advert for twitter, WWE
    network and/or a WWE movie…
    and finally we get a match :D..
    which is
    instantly cut in half with adverts.
    As soon as we come back we get a few
    moves then the end of the match.
    Another backstage promo from talents
    such as the bella twins or another jobber advertising wrestling
    figures..
    then adverts…
    We come back to Cole advertising WWE app and/or
    reacpping the opening promo yet again and then telling us what the main event is..
    We see a small backstage promo reinforcing what the main event will be.
    Adverts.
    We come back to the start of a
    jobber match which is broken half up half way by a heel, setting up the
    PPV match..
    We then get a recap of the match..
    then a video of a wrestler, backstage, walking towards to entrance way..
    Adverts.
    We come back to see (lets say John Cena) Cena is stood in the ring.. 10-15 min promo.. Promo ends in a fight/stare down..
    Adverts.
    We come back at the start of a mid card match…yes.. a full match! :O
    Recap of the match..
    Cole telling us to stay tuned as the main event is coming up after the…
    adverts -_-
    Main event match.. ends in a double D.Q/Shmoz to advertise the next Ppv
    Show ends with cole screaming down the mic “WHATS GOING TO HAPPEN AT [insert ppv name]!!!?!?!?! JOIN US SHORTLY ON WWE NETWORK TO FIND OUT WHATS HAPPENS NEXTTTTTTT!!!!”
    Show ends.
    You have to wait 4 weeks to the PPV before you get a good match! ><
    Yes, you can get good matches on RAW and some of them are DAMN good..but whats that? Once or twice a year? Cena Vs Punk last year was amazing! Yes you do sometimes get goose bump type promos and segments.. but once again whats that? Once or twice a year? 🙁

    In the attitude era (and ruthless aggression era) every week would have an amazing match, amazing promos and amazing segments! Now, we don't even get that at WM -_-. This is what is killing wrestling because people associate wrestling now this this abortion of a product!

    • Mz Bret Hart

      Sorry for tpyos. Im typing on a phone 🙂

  • Rick Jamey

    Dirt sheets were around in the late 90s ( I used to read them all the time) So I’m not so sure… I think it’s really not the internet that ruined it but web sites such as Facebook or Twitter have actually done the job… Social Media ruined wrestling, not the internet

    • John Morgan

      But to that same effect, “social media” really got it’s big run from websites like MySpace and Facebook, along with the various other “primitive venues,” like early “Blogs” and “LiveJournal”-style websites. The Dirt-Sheets were around in the 90’s, yes. Definitely.

      But they weren’t being read by the vast majority of Wrestling fans back then, like they are today.

  • john west

    Well there’s defo no surprises in wrestling anymore and I would point the finger to internet for that one like. Because does not matter how much a company man or woman gets paid they will always give information for a few extra dollars there’s defo no loyalty these days !!!