It seems a bit much, doesn’t it? When it comes to WWE, the numerous compliments about the product are followed by as many criticisms about it. Whether it’s the characters, the storylines, who is getting a push, who isn’t a getting a push, who won a title, who lost a title, who is over and who shouldn’t be over…it’s sometimes all a little bit too much to have to take in. This leads me to wonder how to engage with the arguments about WWE, both for and against it. As is often said when discussions of patriotism start, you can say ‘like it or leave it.’ That is the statement that is often made: if we aren’t on board with WWE then stop watching it.
It feels as though sometimes when WWE is mentioned, particularly by those that are purists who take wrestling very seriously rather than as entertainment, it’s a curse word. Sure, when we say WWE it’s three letters that are not f, u, c, and k rearranged, but many wrestling fans will say its c-r-a-p. And yet, we don’t like it but we talk about it, we complain about it. Those purists will often say that there are other options out there if you truly aren’t happy with what you’re watching. There is New Japan Pro Wrestling, Lucha Underground, Impact Wrestling or Ring of Honor as readily accessible options through traditional media, and there is also the idea of attending independent shows as well and supporting your local promotions. Many of those smaller, independent promotions have streaming and iPPV services, too.
One argument made against following another company is the time it takes to get invested in watching something new, getting to know the new faces, storylines, and characters. People become long-time fans of WWE for a number of reasons and haven’t felt the need to change to a different promotion. Maybe it is because their parents or grandparents watched, or maybe it’s the ease of access. This response seems lazy, and in fact, makes us question whether they want to watch something to enjoy it or to simply share their opinions on it like any other television program. Whether it’s a sitcom, a soap opera or a drama, viewers are comfortable sharing their opinions about what they are viewing. And when it comes to these other genres, it is true that the freedom to share what they don’t like doesn’t deter them from watching or switching to a counter-product that boasts similar storylines. To that, we say if you want to enjoy what you are watching, why settle for something you generally don’t enjoy? Wrestling is meant to be fun and not taken to seriously. If you watch WWE and are generally indifferent to it, explore your options and see what else is out there.
The other major promotions that are out there may not have competitors that are notable to you now, however with some time and regular viewing those names and the reactions they generate from those in attendance will eventually make you sit up and take notice. For example, one of the biggest names in wrestling outside WWE is Kazuchika Okada, a late twenties talent that boasts height, strength, good looks, charisma and fan appeal. He is called ‘The Rainmaker,’ and when he come to the ring, he is showered with dollar bills as it ‘rains’ money. When one refers to someone else as being ‘money,’ we mean they either have confidence, skill, or both. Okada is relatively unknown to the WWE fan base, but he doesn’t have to be. Recently, he had what many have called a match of the century candidate, with another notable wrestler that has earned a following, Canadian Kenny Omega.
We live on a continent where many different cultures make up our society. Japanese wrestlers such as Hideo Itami and Shinsuke Nakamura have come westward to WWE to heighten their exposure, and WWE is surely going to capitalize on their additions by making them crucial parts of the company. For some fans, an impediment to watching a different product than WWE may be the language barrier, and they may be turned off at having to read subtitles to understand some promos. But what they will be pleased to know that some of the most notable announcers in wrestling have announced shows for New Japan Pro Wrestling. WWE Hall of Fame announcer Jim Ross is currently announcing New Japan Pro Wrestling matches, albeit usually six to twelve months after the fact, on AXS TV. Former Ring of Honor announcer Kevin Kelly and Don ‘The Jackyl’ Callis are providing live English commentary on NJPW’s streaming service. In doing so, this has taken away some of the stigmas that could be attached to listening to Japanese commentary and not knowing who is who.
Could their issue be that if they can’t pronounce a wrestlers name, they are less likely to want to follow them? That argument doesn’t necessarily work either because if that was the case fans wouldn’t be interested in watching Shinsuke Nakamura or Hideo Itami compete in NXT. But many fans do watch those performers, and while neither of them is on the main roster, it is believed to be only a matter of time before they are, and a greater number of fans can watch exactly what everyone else is watching and has talked about for years.
Maybe it isn’t Japanese wrestling that WWE fans want to explore, but rather Lucha Libre. This style of wrestling originated in Mexico, is often shown on television on different programs, and features masked wrestlers whose identity is kept a secret. It may be that in today’s day and age masks don’t really connect with fans in the U.S. and Canada. However, the tradition of the luchador mask is something to embrace and respect. Chris Jericho is among men too numerous to mention who earned a name for themselves while competing in Mexico. And the luchador style of wrestling has helped shape modern wrestling and a number of moves that are executed regularly today. If we change our thinking and see the costumes as part of otherwise commonplace gimmicks, characters, and storylines, then masked wrestlers shouldn’t be seen any different by today’s WWE fans. If they can accept a three-foot man dressed like a leprechaun or a bull, then surely a 200-pound man or woman wearing a mask isn’t that far out of the realm of acceptance.
A program that doesn’t necessarily consider itself a wrestling promotion, but rather a television show about a wrestling promotion, is Lucha Underground. When I spoke with Executive Producer Eric Van Wagenen last year, he noted that they don’t advertise themselves as anything other than a television program with wrestling used as a backdrop for their stories. For any WWE fan that hasn’t watched Lucha Underground, what they are missing is a wonderfully produced program with excellent commentary and stories that are rich with what they take from the Lucha tradition. They have talented athletes such as Johnny Mundo (who used to compete in WWE as John Morrison,) Rey Mysterio and Chavo Guerrero Jr. Other former WWE talent who worked for Lucha Underground include Alberto Del Rio. Something fans will notice is unique, the film-style production used for their backstage segments. It is remarkable to see how a one hour program manages to weave in different characters and roles for their talent without feeling over saturated.
One wrestling promotion that has continued to while providing rich and intensely fought matches that include elements of the Japanese strong style is Ring of Honor. A promotion that has been around for nearly fifteen years, in the past it showcased names such as Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan), CM Punk, Samoa Joe, Austin Aries, Roderick Strong and current NXT announcer Nigel McGuinness. The program airs in syndication and can be seen in both the United States and Canada. Add to that their IPPVs and traditional pay per view events as well, and it is clear that the company is making a concerted effort to increase their exposure through various mediums. If they have suffered from anything, it has been the recent departure of talents such as Roderick Strong and Kyle O’Reilly. Each of these men brought with them something special that made their matches not only entertaining but among the best of anyone in the world. WWE fans could easily watch their programs. What it lacks is a WWE level of production, but their crowds are much smaller, giving a much more intimate feel with less need for shaped crowd reaction. This authenticity in its presentation should be applauded and celebrated by fans, if not revered. The rather stiff nature of the in-ring action in ROH may not be for a PG audience, however, there are elements that have broader appeal. For instance, the character Cheeseburger doesn’t appear to be someone who would be embraced by the ROH fan base, and yet fans love him for his frame, inspiring character and down to earth nature. It does provide a viable option for WWE fans to explore if they are tired of the same concepts, storylines, and characters. Go out on a limb, watch Ring of Honor; you won’t be disappointed if you give it a chance.
A country that is being noted for developing a number of young talent is the United Kingdom. If fans watched last year’s Cruiserweight Classic, not to mention the recent United Kingdom championship, then they would have seen the likes of Zack Sabre Jr, Jack Gallagher, Noam Dar, Trent Seven, Tyler Bate, and Pete Dunne, to name but a few. This is only scratching the surface of up and coming talent coming from the United Kingdom. While it may be a challenge to access their content, it isn’t impossible to see the likes of a Will Ospreay, and if you see him it will change your mind about looking outside the WWE box. All we ask is, rather than simply sit and concede to watching WWE or nothing at all, explore these other options. In the end, they may be exactly what the WWE fan base needs.
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