Welcome folks! As we’re rapidly plunging into a new decade, I thought, what better time to discuss the state of wrestling, and how things are looking going into a new decade? How cool is wrestling?
First things first, though: Wrestling’s having problems. Now, I know I’ve written before that maybe pro wrestling’s entering a new renaissance, and that we might have a feast of riches. And that’s all very true still.
But there’s still a ton of problems out there. Namely, for nearly fifteen to twenty years now, wrestling hasn’t been ‘cool.’ Sure there’s been flashes of cool from time to time, such as the heyday of The Bullet Club in NJPW. But by and large, wrestling as an industry hasn’t been cool in North America since Dwayne Johnson first decided he’d rather make his fortune in Hollywood.
And that needs to change. This isn’t politics, where cool is almost a detriment.
This isn’t the water and gas company, where people don’t give a crap if you’re cool as long as you provide the service they want. This is wrestling, sports and entertainment all rolled into one. If you’re not cool, if you’re not giving the fans what they are willing to pay money for… you’re going to be out of business very quickly.
In this article, I’ll go over some of the area I think are the biggest offenses in terms of wrestling being cool. And I’m going to tell you what I think potential solutions are. Disagree? Agree? Want to call me names? Comments below are always appreciated.
Look at the above numbers. If you don’t know what they are, those are the current ages of some of the major wrestling title holders in 2019. Brock Lesnar’s 42. Shayna Baszler’s 39 (although she has just recently dropped her title). Taya’s 36. Jericho’s 49, and he’s not even the oldest with PCO topping the list at 51 as the ROH World Champion.
Now, I’m a firm believer in the fact that sport science has allowed athletes to compete at a higher level longer than at any time throughout history. Look at NFL quarterbacks, for example. Now whether that sport science is training methodologies or pharmaceutical methodologies or both is up for debate.
But what is undeniable is that wrestling rosters, and wrestling champions, are older than they have been in a long time. Part of this is to be expected. America’s older. Politicians, business leaders, even actors and entertainers are older.
Compare this to the aforementioned Dwayne. The Rock won his first WWF belt in 1998, and ‘retired’ the first time in 2003. At the time, he was all of 31 years old, and he already seemed like an ‘old hand’ to younger fans. He was barely hanging onto his cool.
Stone Cold wrestled his final match at 39, and was well past his prime title winning era two years earlier.
It’s not just the champs who are older either. Most companies have a very, very large contingent of older stars who are still holding slots high on the card. It was a common taunt from WWF during the end of the Monday Night Wars when they’d say WCW was ‘where the old boys played.’ And it showed. The young talent in WCW stayed in the lower card while the old guard kept a stranglehold on the main event. Which was one reason WCW tanked so hard at the end. It was totally not cool.
But now huge amounts of a lot of rosters, from WWE to ROH to Impact and AEW, are old. Some have managed better than others, but all are suffering.
Not that there isn’t a place for those true legends and ‘old timers.’ But they’re supposed to be special events. They’re once a month talents or less. Not week-in, week-out workhorses.
Wrestling needs some young blood, and promoters have to be willing to promote these young talents. If not, they run the risk of them being typecast as losers, or not good enough, long before they’re put in main events. You want an example? Look at Bray Wyatt, Kofi Kingston, or Jinder Mahal. All three guys spent so many years as underacheivers or non-main eventers that even at the start of their title runs, they had mountainous hurdles to overcome to be taken seriously.
Hard to find a groove when you’ve already been grooved as a loser.
Refresh The Talents
It’s not just that rosters are getting older. After all, while I mention PCO above, the fact is he’s still a relatively hot property.
How? Simple. The man reinvented his character. He’s done it before. He’s been a Quebecer, and a Mountie, and even a pirate. Sure, some sort of old man Frankenstonian Terminatoresque wrestler is out there, but so what? It’s funny, but more importantly it’s interesting.
PCO is actually, to a niche audience, somewhat cool.
Now, think about the WWE roster. Compare Roman Reigns of 2019 to Roman Reigns of 2013. Other than that big WWE Shop approved symbol in the middle of his gear now, what’s that different? Repetitive haircut. Identical moveset, maybe even one that’s toned down some. Same mannerisms, same… well, same Roman Reigns.
This is true nearly across the board. In every promotion. I can tune out of many wrestling shows for 3-6 months and pick things right back up in an episode or two. That’s not a good thing.
So if you’re management, you need to refresh your performers. No, you don’t need to go to the levels of what Bray Wyatt’s done, or turning Issac Yankem into Fake Diesel into Kane.
The easy way, of course, is to let wrestlers be what WWE constantly claims them to be, truly independent contractors. Roster churn, especially for the people from the upper midcard and below, is a good thing creatively. New challenges, new rivalries, new programs keeps people involved.
Even if we’re not talking crappy 50-50 booking, there’s only so many matchups you can do with a single roster before you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel and thinking ‘Hey, Lio Rush vs. Carmella doesn’t sound that bad.’
But barring that, let characters evolve. Let them change. Let them use new movesets, or different parts of their arsenals. More on that later.
This section is, of course, aimed squarely at WWE. But as the industry leader, they make themselves a big target. And in an industry where people often copy each other, WWE often is a case of ‘monkey see, monkey do’ whether it’s good or bad.