Today’s Episode: The Social Network
When the Inside Pulse Wrestling editors were figuring out all of the end-of-the-year shenanigans/awards/what have you, I was apparently one of the few that thought that Randy Savage’s death wasn’t the biggest story of the year. Don’t misunderstand me: Savage was one of my absolute favorites, and the guy’s matches still hold up after nearly 30 years, but I’m wondering if nostalgia didn’t make his passing seem like a bigger story than it actually was. Certainly, it’s sad when our heroes pass on, but such things are inevitable, and in terms of actual impact, it wasn’t terribly important when it comes to wrestling or pop-culture in general.
Still, my point here isn’t that we should underestimate the importance of the death of Randy Savage.
It’s that something far, far more important took place last year, and while we’ve certainly discussed it, I don’t think any of us are really considering how big a deal this thing actually is.
Zack Ryder has completely changed the business of professional wrestling forever.
You’re hard-pressed to find someone in the Internet Wrestling Community who isn’t a huge supporter of Zack Ryder. He embraced the medium that we all use use to complain about this thing that we love so dearly, and used it to turn himself from a (talented) joke on the verge of dismissal to a beloved midcard champion who has been in the main event match or segment of WWE’s flagship program for the last three weeks. This is a guy who got to position of any relevance in the company because, when he had long hair, he kind of looked like Edge. THAT was his big claim to fame, and now he’s a major champion on the biggest show, when he’s not on BOTH major shows, and gets the loudest pops out of anyone in any arena not named CM Punk or Randy Orton.
All because of this.
I mean, have you realized how ridiculous all of this is? How we’re cheering our hearts out for a guy whose gimmick is essentially a Long Island-based riff on Jersey Shore? How we chant along with the utterly inane “Woo Woo Woo, You Know It” as if it’s the second coming of “Do you smell what The Rock is cooking”? It’s absolutely ludicrous, but Ryder has managed to show the WWE brass something that we’ve been screaming for years.
The Internet fans aren’t against the mainstream; the Internet fans ARE the mainstream.
This wasn’t always true; in fact, this has only become reality in the last year or two as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Reddit and Digg have become ubiquitous across the world and everyone has access and a solid understanding of all of these tools. Even if the stuff that most of the people post on social networks is puerile trash, those people are still out there, making their opinions known one misspelled word and grammatical disaster at a time.
We all bash WWE’s fascination (read: obsession) with Twitter these days, but this is likely them still figuring out what all of this stuff is. Ryder showed them, and every other wrestler in the locker room, that being on television can be less than half of what matters, just as wrestling skill has never been a prerequisite for success in the wrestling business. Hey, people cheered Randy Orton for years when he was absolutely TERRIBLE, locking in seven chinlocks every match, because he was good-looking, had a decent heel character and attitude, and wielded a smooth-looking finisher that could be hit out of nowwhere.
People cheer Zack Ryder because they feel like they know Zack Ryder. Sure, he’s plenty entertaining, and totally solid in the ring, but Kane really nailed it when he spoke this past Monday: Zack is our avatar in the WWE, the guy who seemingly has no business being there, but loves wrestling so much, is such an incredible fan of it, is so happy to entertain us that we have to love him. It’s also why he’s being put into a program with Eve, a beautiful woman seemingly outside of his and our reach, and she has, not shockingly, been incredibly reluctant to actually go out with him, although it’s likely that his recent heroics this past Monday will change that, especially as he was storyline hospitalized in his attempts to protect her. I don’t think that changing a tire for half an hour was the right way to build tension, exactly, but he put himself at risk to help her, and I think that’s going to be the important thing coming out of this.
But even with the potential setback that this past Monday may have presented, the personality that Ryder cultivated over the web, and that has successfully transitioned to broadcast television, is more powerful than even the company’s own choices of who gets television time. Bryan Danielson, arguably the best wrestler in the world according to every wrestling nerd with a PWI collection, while not the best-used talent on the roster, was certainly featured more than Ryder was for most of the year; yet, he lamented on Colt Cabana’s Art of Wrestling podcast that when they’re at public events, he’s not the one who gets all of the attention: it’s Ryder.
This zero-to-hero story is easily the most important thing that happened last year in the wrestling business, even if we didn’t quite notice it thanks to CM Punk’s stellar performances and the unfortunate passing of one of the legends of the 1980s and 90s. But now that every wrestler is on Twitter, and that some have started their own little Youtube shows or make little guest appearances on Ryder’s, we finally have the ear of the company, even if its not to the degree that we’d like.