I wrote a column recently in which I referred to WWE as being pro wrestling. It seemed a fairly innocent statement to make; until a reader reminded me that Vince McMahon’s company is not pro wrestling, but sports entertainment. “There’s a difference.” He said that too.
My statement was made in reference to the fact that pro wrestling as a business was finally getting over to the mainstream and that was thanks to WWE. It really had nothing to do with what the company called its product; it was more to do with how the fans and the rest of the world saw it.
So the bit of wisdom left for my consumption forced me to ask the question; how do fans view WWE? Is it pro wrestling or sports entertainment? Before you answer, think about this. Recently on Jim Ross’ podcast, Shawn Michaels made the comment that if fans didn’t like WWE, they should turn the channel. He also stated that if he didn’t like a TV show, he didn’t stick around so by that logic, no one else should either.
Right up front, I will say that HBK was respectful of fans when he said it. He did not say it in a snide way; he wasn’t trying to be condescending at all. He was merely just stating his opinion on what he would do if faced with a TV show he didn’t care to watch.
Shawn is old school. I think we can all agree on that right? He came up through the territory system and was perhaps the last WWE legend to do so. He knows what it’s like to sacrifice in the ring, to give of yourself night in and night out and if anyone knows what it means to give to the business, it’s him.
But he thinks of WWE as a TV show? I have to admit, that one threw me. Of course, the company reinforces that idea; how many times has Michael Cole reminded us that Raw is TV’s longest running weekly episodic television show?
Truth be told, I always assumed this was an idea put forth by WWE for the fans’ sake, not because it was true. After all, we are told what to believe and how to feel on a weekly basis, why would this be any different? And the way WWE produces TV fits perfectly with the notion that’s all the company is.
There are two very big takeaways from Shawn’s interview. The first is the most obvious; WWE is a TV show. I’m having a tough time with that one. The other is that fans should just walk away from it if they’re not happy. This one is tougher than the first one.
If you’re a wrestling fan then you’ve read that last one many times before. It’s present on message boards, Facebook posts and Twitter rants. For every pro wrestling writer that criticizes WWE, there are 10 fans telling him to just turn the channel and stop watching.
At what point did the business of professional wrestling become something we could all just turn off if we’re not happy? By show of hands, how many can do that? Anyone? I didn’t think so.
Some might look at it that way and if Shawn Michaels is one of them, then okay. But for fans like myself that have been watching since before we could walk upright, it’s not that easy. Pro wrestling is not a product that I can just conveniently turn off or walk away from. This is not just a TV show for me.
I’m a fan of the sport. Remember that word? Ric Flair used that word back in the day, when putting over the NWA World Championship. Professional wrestling was not something to be mocked or ridiculed, it was not show business. It was a sport, a contest of wills and skills among proud men that settled their differences in the ring.
Is it show business? Of course it is. Is it entertainment? Well, what else would you call it? But all of that is just a back drop for the action in the ring. For guys like me, the matches are the draw. I am a diehard fan of the business, not WWE or any single company. I love the storytelling taking place between the ropes and everything else that comes out of that can either be a positive or a negative.
And I’m just supposed to walk away from that? Thirty plus years of being a fan, I’m just supposed to change the channel? Despite what anyone in WWE, TNA or ROH says, pro wrestling is not just a TV show. Pro wrestling is a passion. It’s a sport of the people, a sport that anyone with the right look, the right training and the right opportunity, can pursue at a high level.
And as long as that is the case, then WWE is about pro wrestling. And while the diehard fans may be the minority in the big picture, our opinion counts for something. Because I criticize does not mean I hate. Because I am disappointed does not mean I presume to have all the answers,
And just because I air my grievances in columns does not mean I want to change the channel. I support the business and that means I want every pro wrestling company to be successful, not just WWE. To walk away from the business would be to walk away from a sport I love and a sport that I connect with on a very deep level.
So yes, there is a difference between pro wrestling and sports entertainment. And who cares anymore?