Do you know what day today is, apart from being August 19?
It’s SummerSlam - the World Wrestling Entertainment’s second biggest pay per view event of the year. Traditionally, an event I buy on Sky TV, which I watch live with the kids from about midnight our time until about three in the morning, while chomping down on a multitude of snacks. SummerSlam has been a high point of the summer for us since I saw my first one in 1991, a couple of days before Steve was born. We’ve been fans of pro wrestling all of Steve’s life, that’s 21 years now.
I’ve always thought of pro wrestling as a kind of extension of my love for films and comic book super heroes. It’s a spectacle. A cross between a comic book, a story of good against evil and a rock concert. It’s loud, brash and larger than life. It’s colourful. The wrestlers making their ring entrances to pyro and music that wouldn’t go amiss in a KISS concert. Absurdly strong fan favourites fighting almost for truth, justice and the American way against some of the sneakiest, vile villains who lie, cheat and steal their way to their short lived victories. It’s a natural link.
Do you know what we’ll be doing on the night and early morning of August 19?
Not watching SummerSlam - that’s what.
It’s the end of an era.
We’ve seen Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Macho Man, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Undertaker, Legion of Doom, Ultimate Warrior, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, John Cena, Randy Orton, Ric Flair. We’ve mourned the all too soon passing of Mr Perfect, Eddie Guerrero, The Big Boss Man, The British Bulldog, Hawk, Yokozuna. We’ve followed the careers of Mick Foley as he alternated between various ring personas, we saw Kevin Nash become Oz, Vinnie Vegas, Diesel and then Kevin Nash. Hogan was the world’s most charismatic wrestling star, the ultimate "face" who became the worst heel in a stunning turn that caught everybody by surprise.
What about the Attitude era, which was kind of an anti Hogan era reaction, where anything could happen. We’ve laughed as Degeneration X challenged authority in all its forms, we gasped as the Undertaker threw Mick Foley from the top of a cage, on to the announce table, we cheered when Hogan returned. We cheered when the Rock returned, were saddened when the Macho Man died, we were stunned when Owen Hart was killed in the ring accidentally when his entrance from the rafters went wrong in the preparation (thankfully off-camera).
Often, the behind the scenes stories were as strange and entertaining as those on TV. Vince McMahon’s steroid scandal which caused Hogan to leave the WWE for arch rivals WCW, the Monday Night Wars when the WWE’s Monday Night Raw was pitted against the rival WCW Monday Nitro in the same time slot.
Lots of memories, watching our sport of choice with the family.
Oh, don’t get started with the whole "it’s not sport" thing. We’ve withstood the ridicule, the patronising "you know it’s fake - right" and the bemused looks and comments. Hell, we know it’s not really sport, we know that the wrestlers know who the winner will be, but damn - WE didn’t know until the match unfolded. We were fans.
Until this year.
This year, something happened - and I’m damned if I can put my finger on it. Maybe it’s not even just one little thing, maybe it’s a lot of things that all happened at around the same time and kind of evolved into a big thing.
Since we saw Wrestlemania in early April, the product has become really boring, repetitive and silly. World Wrestling Entertainment has ceased to be entertaining in any way, shape or form. The build up to Wrestlemania was immense, if irritating - around an hour of the two hour RAW show was a blatant advert for the Pay Per View from the middle of February on.
But since then calling the WWE programming crap is actually an insult to crap. A heavily padded live two hour RAW has new been extended by an additional hour. This at a point when they couldn’t properly fill in two. It’s heavy dependence on backstage story lines rather than in-ring action has caused it a long, lingering and agonising death.
Their bringing back of UFC fighter Brock Lesnar was lamentable. He seems to pose no threat at all, the Big Show’s last heel turn was exactly the same as his previous one - he turns on eternal baby face John Cena and knocks him out (we saw the first incarnation of that heel turn about a year before the latest one). The heavyweight championship match this year is pretty much the same one they had last year - Cena against C.M.Punk. We’ve seen it all before, and if we have to see it all again, at least make sure that we’ve forgotten that we’ve seen it all before by giving us some time before rehashing.
I was reading an interview with one of the WWE writers some time ago, and was almost in awe of the complete disdain for the fans shown by WWE head Vince McMahon. He keeps coming back as an on screen character, then he’s written out "permanently" either beaten in the ring or ousted from the boardroom so that someone else can take over - then he’s back. The writer in question asked how his return should be handled, how should they explain it in the story line? The answer was basically "don’t bother - nobody will remember I was killed off". Sheer contempt for the intellegence of the viewers to a degree that’s inexcusable.
The Rock vowed that he would never leave the WWE again having walked out for a Hollywood career, then he returned for Wrestlemania. Then he left again, only to come back for another Wrestlemania. The following night on RAW, he vowed to capture the WWE championship - then he left again. The latest we have on this is that out of the blue, he has a championship match in January’s big event, the Rumble. Winning the championship at the Rumble (it seems inevitable) would of course give him the top billing at Wrestlemania. Again. And I’m willing to bet it would be against John Cena. For the second year running.
At least The Rock has a history of championship belts to his credit, what about the absurd gimmick matches where they have someone from outside the wrestling industry such as Snookie from reality show Jersey Shore or red carpet interviewer (at least I think that’s what she does) Maria Menunous have a one-off Wrestlemania match against the current women’s champion - and win. Let’s look at the message being sent here. You can be a nobody, non athletic semi celebrity and beat the current champion? What the hell’s THAT all about?
Personally, I’ve reached the end of the line with a product that purposely puts out a poor product because one of the chief executives is an ex-wrestler who happens to be the son in law of the CEO, and manipulates the programming to necessitate his return to the ring for a ratings spike. Ego doesn’t drive a product based on entertainment. Quality and escapism does. What Paul Levesque (Triple H) is doing is deliberately sabotaging the careers of others to keep his ring persona relevant.
I’m fed up of seeing the older wrestlers trotted out as fodder for whoever they want to push this year. Those guys entertained us well for years at the cost, more of en than not, of their health. They deserve better. Maybe a little dignity.
And so do the fans - apparently leaving in their masses. Reportedly, live event sales, TV buys of major events and the ratings of the weekly flagship shows are plummeting.
Had you told me a few months ago that not watching SummerSlam (or indeed ANY of the WWE programming, but particularly SummerSlam) would even be an option let alone a choice I’d be more than happy to make, I would’ve laughed at the absurdity.
Now - it’s just the right thing to do.
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Stay low, stay sharp, stay safe.
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