Not necessarily in terms of
wrestling - unfortunately, I never gave it enough of a chance
to judge its wrestling. But, when it came to production value and
tone, it seemed obvious it wasn't on WWE's level. That perception
was reinforced, for better or worse, by the WWE and its top
superstars. For years, the company hammered home the point that
even if it didn't always win the ratings war, it always won the
That sense of higher production
value, greater depth of characterization, and "legitimacy" gave WWE
a cachet WCW lacked. Even during the company's dark times, it
was viewed as The Big Leagues, according to legends like Stone Cold
Steve Austin and Bret Hart. That idea, in part, helped sustain WWE,
drawing some of the art's greatest talents and inspiring some of
the company's greatest angles. While there was another promotion
for wrestlers should they get fired or frustrated, leaving WWE was
tantamount to punching a one-way ticket to mediocrity.
Even throughout my twenties, during
some of the WWE's most creatively bankrupt periods, I still
maintained this belief. Then, into my thirties, even with the
increased popularization and accessibility of indy promotions like
New Japan Pro-Wrestling and Lucha Underground, I remained steadfast
in my conviction that WWE was, overall, the superior
And just so the point is clear; by
"superior product" I do not mean the booking or writing was better
in WWE than those other promotions. I mean that WWE exuded a
vibe of superiority that, on the surface, was easy to
believe. The company's status as The Big Leagues Of Sports
Entertainment successfully conveyed the idea that such status
contains inherent value. As a wrestling fan indoctrinated into the
medium by WWE, it's difficult to renounce that
While it's difficult to renounce,
it's never been easier to question.
With the recent departure of Dean
Ambrose, the insight he's provided into WWE's
creative process, and the rise of AEW, it's become hard to maintain my faith in WWE's
inherent superiority. The cachet just isn't there anymore.
Why? The company remains atop its throne in Stamford, dictating the
direction of mass-produced pro-wrestling, but the consistently poor
quality of its product undermines its Big League status. The
significance of being "The Best", despite some shortcomings (like
low ratings) is only effective if it's actually true.
While it's true WWE is still "the
biggest", that's simply not more important than producing the best
television in an entertainment era of endless streaming options,
let alone an era of instantly accessible indy wrestling
When I turn on RAW and SmackDown, or
I watch one of the company's many pay-per-views, I see nothing that
indicates superiority (save individual wrestlers who break their
bodies for little in return).
What I see is
And when I look online to check the
pulse of the audience, I see utter resignation, total frustration,
or determined delusion. It's even worse for the live crowd, whose
responses are tepid. I know this firsthand, because I sat among
them in the rafters of MetLife Stadium for WrestleMania. While we
cheered and sang and found joy in each other (and a couple
matches), by the end we were left depleted, wondering what we'd
seen and whether or not it was worth it. Some of us didn't even
make it home because WWE broke the New Jersey transit system (how's
that for putting smiles on faces?).
The practical experience of being a
WWE-fan, diehard and casual alike, is harder than
The fans I saw, in person, and the
reactions I read, online, are not of the "obnoxious, perpetually
dissatisfied smart mark" variety. These are human beings who are
tired. Their frustration is rooted in the fact that they
want to love WWE, and they know WWE
could be great.
These are wrestling fans who've seen
enough six-man tag matches and fifteen minute promos to last a
lifetime. These are fans who have cracked WWE's code just by
watching the show every week.
The code is:
Don't get too excited
about anything, because it will be
While nothing Dean Ambrose, now Jon
Moxley, said in his interviews with Chris Jericho and Wade Keller
came as a surprise, it was a necessary reminder that there's a
tangible reason fans are so dissatisfied. Listening to Moxley
carefully describe WWE's creative process (especially with
Jericho), as we see that creative process manifest on weekly WWE
television, makes it even harder to believe in WWE's Big League
Even if WWE is "more important" than
other promotions, that doesn't make it good. What use is "being
important" if it doesn't result in something of value? And that
question points to why a talent like Jon Moxley is happy to leave
Moxley's testimony is so useful
because he's not bitter.
CM Punk's comparable testimony on
Art of Wrestling podcast in 2013 was an effective first step in
dispelling WWE's Big League allure. It was just as insightful as
Moxley's, but it was delivered through the prism of an individual's
anger and resentment. That anger and resentment was earned (given
his experience) but anger and resentment are less convincing than
clarity and hope. Punk could be dismissed by detractors as a bitter
wrestler grinding his axe. Moxley, who calmly worked through the
remainder of his contract without causing trouble, explained his
reasons for leaving through the prism of gratitude and excitement.
That's why it's such a compelling story that can't be as easily
Moxley's story, paired with the rise
of AEW, represents a turning point in professional
These stories are two necessary
sides of the same coin (one dark, one light) working in concert to
dismantle what has become a destructive mythology.
WWE is not the shining
city on the hill.
It is no longer the place that
promises superior creative and superior production despite low
ratings. Instead, it promises low ratings, scripted promos,
brass rings, and, worst of all...pooper scoopers.
Given those circumstances, what
value does Big League status hold? It has become a Big
League, literally, of its own, with increasingly empty seats and
fewer reasons to watch.
If a wrestler values creative
freedom, the right to self-determine, and a more humane
travel-schedule, why would they even consider going to
If a fan values their intelligence,
their need to be entertained, and their time, why would they keep
watching WWE television?
The answers have already been
Wrestlers are looking
elsewhere and they are finding success.
Fans are looking elsewhere
and they are finding entertainment.
Soon, with the launch of AEW on TNT
this Fall, more and more wrestlers & fans will have even more
incentive to jump WWE's ship. Those who already have may find new,
A few years ago, I would have ended
this article with: "If WWE isn't careful they're at risk of losing
their cachet, that much-needed sense of Big League superiority
they've worked so hard to build".
Today, I can't write that because
they weren't careful, and they've already lost it.
Regardless of whatever AEW or
indy-wrestling becomes, WWE will remain the land of fifteen minute
scripted promos, awkward backstage segments, dubious political
affiliations, questionable business practices, fifty-fifty booking,
interchangeable gimmicks, frustrated fans, and creative
That is, of course, unless it
decides to change.
For now, the company's reality has
replaced its old mythology, and the only viable solution for a
disillusioned wrestling fan is to believe in something