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Has being “Smart” ruined being a fan?

By Darryl Craven 

When I was a kid, into my mid teens to be honest, being a fan meant just that. Since the internet became such an open source for information around the late 90’s the business hasn’t been able to keep kayfabe.

 More and more people now know just how the world of professional wrestling works, well, to a certain degree that is. It had always been said that wrestling was “fake” and especially here in England where it was easy to look upon wrestling with disdain. This used to piss me off!

I had it all my teenage life from people who just didn’t get it, it wasn’t popular here, or cool to be a fan, not until the attitude era anyway when its popularity skyrocketed. See now this pissed me off more than before. People in the streets were suddenly in Austin 3:16 T-shirts, doing the crotch chop, quoting lines. These people weren’t being derided for it. In the end I realised, hey this is a good thing don’t crap on it when you have longed for people to “get” what you have always gotten.

 People were starting to accept that it was a scripted show, much like a soap opera is or a television drama and the entire wrestling world finally admitted it was worked all along as the characters and the product begun to embrace the new-found popularity and people’s interest rising.

 And then came the wrestling world’s biggest enemy according to Eric Bischoff, the online dirt-sheets. Now all of a sudden it was free run for everyone to find out the latest gossip, the “insider information” that the Figure Four Weekly had been giving people for years, only now it was for free all and quickly and easily accessible. All you had to do was go to a popular search engine, Altavista I think it was back then before Google took over the world and search for wrestling news and rumors, I used Rajah by the way.

Now there really was no point in trying to keep up the façade that wrestling wasn’t predetermined, that it was scripted and that the outcome was already known when two competitors strode out for a match. And to begin with this worked, WWE insiders would leak little snippets of information regarding future storylines, pushes that were coming a certain superstars way to keep fans interested.

 There was a downside however; everyone thought they knew how a wrestling business should be run. Even today people still think they can run a billion dollar industry better than Vince McMahon, and that phrase there is the exact reason that we don’t know, that we aren’t quite as clued in as we like to think we are, billion-dollar industry.

Vince McMahon has made his fortune by not only once, but arguably three times, revolutionizing the wrestling industry. Buying the territories out to create one big federation in the then WWF. The Rock-n-Wrestling era of the 80’s and the attitude era in the 90’s. Who are we to question Vince on how he should run his business?

 This leads me to a question, has all this information ruined the enjoyment of watching wrestling? I remember the day I genuinely didn’t have a clue who was going to win a match but these days those occasions are far and between. I can only remember 2 occasions where I went into watching a match not knowing who would win and that was the Miz / Cena match from Wrestlemania XXVII and the ladder match between Christian and Alberto Del Rio at Extreme Rules. Do you know something, I enjoyed not knowing, I enjoyed second guessing what was going to happen next and who would walk out the winner. Ok so the match at Mania turned out a little disappointing but for me I was quite happily shocked at the ending, I didn’t see Miz walking out champ.

Whenever I watch Raw and SmackDown, before the match, I will turn and say to my girlfriend; “Oh so and so will win this one”, with absolute conviction! When they do I’m a bit, well, meh!

Even heel turns you can sense coming from a mile away, the one with Christian currently was one I predicted before Mania. Not to say I’m unhappy with that direction but it was glaringly obvious to many.

With knowledge comes realisation too, and events which occurred in the past suddenly have a whole new meaning to them. Take for example a moment that as a 12 year old had me cheering and jumping around my living room.

It is Wrestle mania IX from Caesars Palace, one of the worst Wrestle mania events of all time, and its Bret Hart and Yokozuna in the main event. Ok fair enough, so far nothing extraordinary about that statement. Bret had Yoko locked in the sharpshooter when the “dastardly” as, Gorilla Monsoon would say, Mr Fuji throws salt in the eyes of the Hitman and Yoko finishes him and gets the 3 count to become new WWE Champion.

Boo the nasty bad guy has won, I was upset, wait a minute here comes everyone’s all American hero, your friend and mine Hulk Hogan, yay!! I was 12, Hogan was my hero, my favourite wrestler in the world as with millions of other kids all across the globe. Much like John Cena is today, he is just what Hogan was to the younger generation of fans back in the 80’s and early 90’s.

Hogan and Yoko had an impromptu match and The Hulkster was the Champion once again after winning in 21 seconds. All the kids go home happy as our hero is back on top once again.

Fast forward a few years and Hogan is an egotistical jerk! Now we know why Hogan won that title back then and all the enjoyment I had in 1993 was wiped clean and replaced with resentment. It was all a lie, Hogan wasn’t a hero he was an arsehole who held the WWF to ransom to get his own way.

From here on in your average “smart fan” begins to resent the lie and the feeling of being mislead begins to manifest itself as mouthing off about the product now and how much it sucks and how bad the creative team are, how much better we could do in their privileged position in charge of our favourite performers.

Wouldn’t you rather go back to being able to enjoy the on screen product rather than second guessing what is going to happen only to be disappointed when something doesn’t go the way you had hoped. Wouldn’t you rather not hear about your favourite superstar having backstage heat and issues and enjoy watching them perform in the ring. I miss when I used to sit and chill watching wrestling, rooting for my favourites to win without thinking about how much politics are taking an effect on a match. I think the last event I saw when I truly didn’t know what was going on backstage was Wrestle mania 13 in 1997, that is 14 years of watching wrestling where my mind is elsewhere, wondering if this guy or that girl has pissed someone off high enough up to make a difference to how a storyline is going to develop.

Sheamus’ recent de-push and consequent re-push is a perfect example of how, as a fan, we know it is because someone on the inside has taken a dislike to someone and taken away any momentum they had. We know it is not the performer being off colour as happens in football or athletics but someone sat in a meeting room with a pen who has a problem with the guy for nothing other than personal reasons. We the fans know Sheamus doesn’t deserve it we aren’t thinking wow Sheamus is in a funk and needs to up his game, he is being buried and there is nothing we, Sheamus or anyone else can do about but hope that creative argue against the burial and get him back on track.

Wouldn’t you rather think it was just a bad run performance wise rather than know someone with a personal beef is dictating to us? I know I would.

I do however, and this counter argues what I have been saying, like being as knowledgeable as I think I am about the industry. I like to see a performer showing those early glimpses that they one day could become a star. That moment when they hit you as a viewer, as a fan with one piece of magic that shows they have potential, something inside them that is waiting to be unlocked. It could be a promo, a spot in a match or an Internet sensation like Zack Ryder has become.

Take for example The Miz, just over a year ago Miz was the U.S Champion and Tag Champ, firmly in the mid card. Then on RAW cut an amazing promo about how he had struggled to make it in the business when he first arrived. How he had been told he would never make it and go back to reality TV where he belonged. How he had been made to change in the hallway because he spilt chicken crumbs in a referee’s bag and opinion of him shifted dramatically. It was one of the best promos of the year and suddenly Miz had everyone’s attention and the Internet began the buzz of him being a future main eventer.

A year later he was in the Wrestle mania main event and held the WWE title for 6 months. We knew, the fans, we know how much Vince loves guys who can talk, and Miz certainly ticks that box. As someone smart to the business I knew, absolutely knew that Miz would be main eventing in the very near future. Then come the obvious signs such as dropping the U.S Title. When I was a kid I wouldn’t have read anything into that other than the fact the champion had lost, now I see it as moving on to the next level.

It is the little things like this that both ruin and make being a “smart fan”. You feel sort of clever when it happens and you can say “I told you so” even if no one is listening, but if you have shared your theory then you feel oh so smug.

I think on the whole, for me, it is a balanced situation to be in. Yes I loved being ignorant to the whole politicing, backstage shit that comes with wrestling but I also enjoy understanding how the business works. I cannot change the fact I am aware of it all, I might as well embrace it because as a clever man once told me, don’t worry about the things you cannot have an effect on.

Still, nothing beats marking out from time to time does it.