Renewal (in Pro Wrestling)

My formative years with pro-wrestling was during the Attitude era (1997-2002) after having developed a childhood interest in the World Wrestling Federation during the early 1990s. As a teen, I was captivated by the storylines of ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and D-Generation X in the Monday Night War. Vince McMahon’s dominant brand and World Championship Wrestling were distant competition in the early to mid 1990s until Ted Turner bought WCW and started to turn the tide hiring a host of ex-WWE talent like Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage and Lex Luger.  

I recently picked up the WWE Network and the range of content is vast (all for £9.99). You can select pay-per-views from WWE, WCW and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) along with specials about specific performers or groups along with the episodic development of Raw, Smackdown, and Nitro. My first picks for content have been based on the nostalgia of when professional wrestling was at its hottest for me. Watching features on the beginning of the war, the Kliq and the rise of nWo have got me to thinking more about a couple of blogs I wrote in 2011 and in 2012. In the earlier post I outlined why I was falling out of love with WWE.

It, like WCW and TNA, were falling into the trap of not innovating the product. They were content to prepare shows with veteran talent who’s best days in the ring came during the late 80s and early 90s like Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Ultimate Warrior, Macho Man Randy Savage. Don’t get me wrong. During the late 80s and early 90s I ate up those characters and the programming Vince McMahon was putting on but nearly 20 years later it was time for them to hang up their boots and pass on the torch. 

IMG_0012CM Punk was like a breath of fresh air for me. He was an atypical ‘superstar’ because he wasn’t a chiselled athlete that WWE was known for (Triple H, Chris Masters, Brock Lesnar, Batista, Ryback, etc) with giant frames and bulging muscles. He was a confident and exciting user of the microphone capable of telling a compelling story and positioning the audience into whatever reception he wanted from them be it in a babyface or heel angle. His enthusiasm for what he was doing came across and when he cut that promo in 2011 he said a lot of things I agreed with about the business, having watched its programming on and off for the better part of 20 years. 

Pro-wrestling is at its best when it is unpredictable to the audience, when it captivates both the children and adults in the audience, and I connect with it most when it blurs the lines behind the backstage and the performance so I can’t tell what’s real and what’s not. Punk’s Pipebomb promo in 2011 is an excellent example of this because as a fan you don’t know whether the guy is trying to work you or whether he legitimately is expressing his grievances with a machine that’s lost touch with its core. Nobody tunes into watch the stars of the 80s matched up with the stars of the 90s. We want the present.

Imagine if in the Football Premier League you still had Cantona, Bergkamp or Ian Rush trying to compete with Van Persie, Fernando Torres or Wayne Rooney? Fans wouldn’t have it. They want their team to be performing at its best and unfortunately that means that you need a manager who’s willing to let go of the past and move onto the future. Alex Ferguson will go down in history as the Premier League’s best manager and he is rightly afforded that honour because he was able to re-invent his teams. The generation with Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Gary and Phil Neville and Nicky Butt was the first re-boot of Manchester United after gaining success with Gary Pallister, Steve Bruce, Paul Ince, Eric Cantona and Brian Robson. Arsene Wenger was able to do it with the team he inherited and gave fans, like me, the Invincibles. 

Re-inventing yourself and giving opportunity to the young talent is as important as ensuring you’ve got good headliners drawing in the crowds. A good manager, or whatever role you want to use, is able to plan for the future and prepare the organisation for the change that it will inevitably face. The question is do you resist change and fight it like the WWE did prior to the Attitude era or do you take responsibility for teaching the next generation, making sure that they can take over so you can hang up your boots, and giving them the opportunity to shine?

After all, it’s a jungle out there and pro-wrestling is at its best when you can believe that these hungry young lions can challenge to lead the pack, and the company will give them the opportunity to headline the show, not just have a glass ceiling where only a small favoured few become the headline draws. Nobody wants to watch the same storyline with the same results with the same winners. It just gets old, and boring, quickly. 

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