In an opening RAW segment marked by a wild pull apart brawl and the first sight of major blood on WWE TV in a good long time (I don’t count the trickles that happen on a regular basis, even in the Triple H/Undertaker Hell in a Cell match), the most shocking thing to happen was something Michael Cole said. They were three letters that have not been uttered by anyone in an official WWE capacity since before they got the F out.
U. F. C.
[adinserter block=”2″]In a strange twist, WWE spent the night recognizing their competition or more specifically, recognizing that their new big returnee had left their company to go conquer their competition. While UFC purveys mixed martial arts, which couldn’t be any more different in style than pro wrestling, the similarities in target audience and promotional tactics make them competitors for the same pay-per-view dollar.
It’s as roundabout a comparison as can be, and while I won’t go so far as Dave Meltzer and pretend pro wrestling and MMA are exactly the same, I’m not blind to the fact that the perception (key word, perception) is pro wrestling fans “grow up” to become MMA fans. (As an aside, count me as one of the pro wrestling fans who is in a state of arrested development, because I love ‘rasslin’ and find MMA boring… but that’s just me!)
So it’s not surprising the collective gasps heard over Twitter and other social media sites when Cole dropped his first UFC mention. However, it really shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone why WWE would mention “the competition” so to speak. This isn’t 1996, and UFC isn’t WCW. That’s exactly why they are, and quite frankly should be, mentioning Lesnar’s UFC success.
When someone left the then-WWF to compete in a rival wrestling company, they were going to work for another company that was just as staged as they were. There was really no shine in it for the company if Hulk Hogan or Bret Hart conquered WCW. On the off chance that a guy would come back, their WWF/E accomplishments were pimped more, at least until they bought everyone else’s tape libraries. Trust me though, if WCW were still in business today, there’s no way someone like Booker T would be lauded as a five-time WCW Champion. The only thing he’d be known for would be his lone WWE World Championship reign.
UFC is different though. It’s “real”. Conquering it would give a guy like Lesnar an air of credibility. In fact, that Brock Lesnar and John Laurinaitis harped on bringing “legitimacy” back to WWE should have clued everyone in as to why the “competition” was mentioned so much. It’s Vince McMahon’s way of sticking it to them in his mind.
A guy whom McMahon discovered and groomed as a top guy left his nest to conquer the real stuff. Then he came back a hero (even if his last two fights were flops), choosing his company over the one that still thought him a viable draw even with those two losses. Of course McMahon was going to put that as a feather in his cap. Of course that’s going to be a major selling point for the return of Lesnar.
Just in the same way that the business has changed in the last 30 years or so, the climate in which said business operates has changed. If people haven’t figured out that McMahon and his henchmen in the WWE offices aren’t whores for attention with the constant stream of celebrity involvement, the very existence of WWE Films and the heavy emphasis on Twitter trending, then they never will.
[adinserter block=”1″]Leeching off Lesnar’s success for the worldwide leader in MMA is just another way for McMahon to attempt to get more eyes on his product. That’s why I said “perception” earlier and keep using quotes when talking about how wrestling and MMA are competitors. In truth, while there admittedly is overlap between the audiences, it’s not nearly as vast as people like Meltzer would have you believe. McMahon knows that there are way more people who watch MMA and not wrestling than there are people who watch both.
That’s why it’s not surprising they beat the UFC references into the ground. Sure, people can act surprised, but that’s only because they don’t know that the nature of any business is to change and evolve if it needs to survive. UFC is not WCW, so why should WWE continue to act like it is such?
Tom Holzerman is a lifelong wrestling fan and connoisseur of all things Chikara Pro, among other feds. When he’s not writing for the Camel Clutch Blog, you can find him on his own blog, The Wrestling Blog.