Pro Wrestling vs Pro Wrestling Journalism
As the debate between the WWE and the press rages on, Brandon Bethune takes a look at where the company have failed in terms of response and action, where others like AEW have succeeded.
‘Complaining is not conversation’.
Not only is the above statement WWE’s latest trademark filing, but it’s an unfortunately fitting encapsulation of the war currently being waged between pro wrestling, and pro wrestling journalists.
The nature of this relationship has always been a confusing line to tow. Wrestling in it’s very nature, even in a post-kayfabe environment, has been an industry that prides itself on mystery and secrecy, being hesitant to let loose trade secrets. While that may seem like a ridiculous statement with every shoot, interview, or tell all podcast post-WWE exit, those within the business will so often hope that they should be the ones revealing the secrets when and if they please.
This makes for a particularly awkward situation when considering the current media landscape. Everything is everywhere all of the time, and there’s no escaping that. Secrets are far harder to keep than ever before, with spoilers awry 24/7 and plans being leaked well ahead of time. However this isn’t necessarily the negative some would have you think.
Take John Cena’s return to WWE at Money In The Bank for example. Cena’s return had not only been largely reported by the media for months, but Cena had gone out of his way to talk about it everywhere he could while promoting Fast 9. The buzz surrounding WWE’s return to live audiences has been undoubtedly helped by the vast reporting and speculation surrounding what they planned on doing when touring started up again. THAT pop for Cena at Money In The Bank was proof of that.
Yet, you still get the feeling that in the wrestling business, and particularly in WWE, they’d still prefer if you’d keep your nose out of it.
I’ve never really understood that. You don’t see Marvel executives complaining about the legions of fan theories levied at their films before their release. Do you think fans are more or less excited about Spider-Man: No Way Home after the reports of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield returning? After all, nothing reported is ever certain until it’s happened on screen, so what’s the issue?
I didn’t see WWE complaining when the fans reacted the way they did to Cena returning at MITB, or Goldberg returning on RAW, but if you report the return of Zelina Vega ahead of time? Oh no, god forbid that happens!
This really weird situation has unfolded on social media in the last few months, where pro wrestling journalists have been accused of lying in reports and making up derogatory lies about performers, even when reports have been proven to be true.
After Malakai Black (formerly Aleister) was released by WWE last month, he spoke out on Twitch against the ever-reliable Sean Ross Sapp of Fightful, accusing him of lying about his wife Zelina Vega (formerly Thea Trinidad) being present at the Performance Center ahead of a WWE return. Now, it would be one thing if this report had hurt Thea’s WWE return in some way – plans have been shelved before based off leaked reports. However, this turned out to be 100% accurate, and Thea made her return as Vega on an episode of SmackDown to be announced as a participant in the Women’s Money In The Bank Ladder Match.
The use of the term ‘dirt sheet’ writers was particularly baffling, as that completely discredits any reporting as slinging mud, tabloid BS used to tear someone down. Except, if anything, just like the Cena return, all it did was create buzz for a waning product.
The controversial nature of Zelina Vega’s WWE exit last year saw her push the company’s mistreatment of it’s performers to the forefront, just as her husband did when he left WWE last month. Say all the positive things you want about Vince, Paul, and Hunter Tommy, but if you felt creatively fulfilled, you wouldn’t have murdered fellow firee Josiah Williams for trying to break free from that not-so-subtle ‘prison’.
So when Zelina Vega returned, all the CORRECT Fightful reports did was create intrigue in her return to the company. Yet, the trashing of ‘dirt sheets’ didn’t stop there.
Widely-respected industry journalist Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter was dragged into the situation by Vega, calling him and wrestling journalists out for ‘spreading lies’ about her and bringing down the women of the industry.
While Meltzer has had a shady past regarding some comments on female performers, he has stepped up to apologise when called out on it. I’m no Meltzer mark, but in this scenario it seemed Vega needed take a feather from his cap and take the L. Yet, she persisted.
Wrestling journalism isn’t perfect. There are plenty wrestling YouTubers, podcasters, and social media accounts that pass off wrestling ‘news’ when, in reality, it’s mere speculation or lies to jump on a bandwagon. I mean, if I have to see another ‘WWE set to release X group of people’ after the plethora of legitimate releases this year, I’m going to vomit.
But grouping wrestling journalists together as ‘dirt sheet’ writers does a complete disservice to the legitimate work they do, which in large parts only acts to bolster attention for your product.
Because when you think about, who’ll get more eyes off all this – Zelina Vega or Sean Ross Sapp? I know who I’m placing my good Louis Dangoor money on.
Unfortunately, this battle is merely a pawn in a much larger issue.
Coming back to the trademark WWE have filed for in their opening line, it seems The Big W are intentionally looking to stifle any and all engagement in their product that in anyway challenges whatever they’re doing.
Post-NXT Takeover: In Your House, Triple H put fans on blast during a media call for not letting the product play out, lambasting them for looking deeper into the storylines and questioning every move. As someone who claims to be a true ‘student of the game’, this is frighteningly short-sighted.
It was Triple H who built a brand like NXT to cater and reward those who invest in wrestling in the first place, and now he’s throwing that back the fans’ faces?
I imagine Triple H is as frustrated as we are every time his NXT Champion walks out and loses in two minutes on his debut, ON HIS BIRTHDAY, but lest we not complain about it as that stifles the conversation.
All pro wrestling fans and journalists attempt to do (for the most part) is engage in the industry they love and CREATE conversation about it. The product may not be great, but at least we’re trying.
Promotions like AEW have healthily embraced discussion and encourage fans to delve deeper into their shows, and when there’s a report or criticism levied against them, they don’t fire back. They either keep doing what they’re doing, or they will adjust.
WWE meanwhile, have left the fans on read for the better part of two decades. Like CM Punk once said, ‘If Vince McMahon had treated us this nice years ago, maybe I wouldn’t have much to say’.
Sorry to break it to you WWE, but if your product was anywhere near consistent, then maybe us fans and journalists wouldn’t have to go digging to make your plans and shows sound and look interesting, as if you haven’t directly let us down over and over again for years.
In a way, there’s no winners that will come out of this debate. Given that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, we’ll keep questioning WWE’s every move while reporting on plans in the hope of a brighter Monday night, and WWE will remain gobsmacked anytime we ask why Alexa Bliss is trying to use telepathy to win a ladder match.
Oh well, WWE. I’ll be in the DM’s, hit me up when you actually wanna talk.