Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic

Most professional wrestling web sites and reader forums indulge in “best of” lists at the end of each calendar year. Best Wrestler, Best Tag Team, Best Feud, Best Non-Wrestling Personality, Match of the Year, and many other categories fill our computer screens and our brains as we discuss, debate, decide on and vote for our own personal favorites, hoping the majority of participants will agree with our choices. But pro wrestling is an art form. Therefore different matches, wrestlers, and angles will affect each fan differently depending upon personal preference.

TODAY’S ISSUE: Promotion of the Year

I realize every fan is entitled to his opinion, and an opinion, by definition, can never be wrong. So I begin this column fully aware of the folly of arguing opinions with other art lovers over which piece of art is more appealing than the other. I only wish to respond to the chatter I’ve seen on fan forums and the work of my own colleague these past two weeks.

Many of the aforementioned year-end polls anointed independent promotion and Internet darling, Ring of Honor, Promotion of the Year, but there was much consternation online as to how anyone could have voted for this “glorified indy with no TV show and a limited performance region” over the big guys, otherwise known as WWE and TNA, as the finest American professional wrestling company of 2007.

ROH certainly does what it does better than any other promotion, although admittedly, WWE and TNA don’t offer the type of pro wrestling product ROH does, so there’s no direct competition. The glitzier, less down-to-earth production style of both WWE and TNA is nothing like the more realistic, less flashy product ROH delivers. So the question is this: is Ring of Honor’s approach to modern professional wrestling superior to the “sportz entertainment” style utilized by the two larger companies? And that question is also the problem.

When debating which company is the best, you can’t just discuss annual profit, total fans per event, television slots, operating budget, regional-versus-global audience, star power or merchandise sales. Other important factors to consider include in-ring action, style of storyline development, and physical ability/athleticism of the wrestlers on the roster. Still, whatever your preference, the bottom line is that each fan values certain criteria more than others. Some feel the “male soap opera” aspect is the most important, while others favor work rate and psychology between the ropes.

In my humble opinion, it’s foolish to base your “promotion of the year” decision on anything other than the following criteria:

– Quality of in-ring product. Few could deny that from an actual wrestling standpoint, ROH delivers excitement, action, athleticism and innovation in most every match. Fans of WWE and TNA who don’t appreciate ROH’s style are likely to complain about the amount of “spots”, the high-flying or “flippy” style, the lack of lumbering giants and monsters, or the frenetic pace of Ring of Honor matches. To each his own.

– Quality of storylines/angles. This one will expose diametrically opposed viewpoints. On the one hand, WWE and TNA thrive on over-the-top, wacky story arcs and unexpected plot developments or “swerves”. They plant their feet firmly in a world of fantasy, and to some fans, this IS professional wrestling in a nutshell.

There’s a legend that insane, crash-TV booker and promotion-killer, Vince Russo, once said something along the lines of, “Once we get rid of that damn ring, we can REALLY start having some fun!” So if stuff like Hornswoggle McMahon, Abyss versus Father James Mitchell and his freak squad, Evil Authority Figures, and multiple heel/face turns by the same wrestler are what you look for when you tune in, head straight for RAW, ECW, iMPACT!, or SmackDown! and you’ll get all you can handle.

But if you prefer a more realistic, logical, simpler reason for two chaps to wrestle, then you most likely prefer ROH’s storytelling approach. Feuds in ROH tend to develop more organically, and rely far less on illogical back-stories that are rewritten or ignored at the whim of the writers whenever the old history gets in the way of telling a new tale.

– Consistency. ROH always gives 100% and never takes a show off. Whether in front of 150 fans, or taping bigger shows for DVD release or pay-per-view, ROH wrestlers take the performance aspect of pro wrestling very seriously. You can always count on a good show, unlike the frequent reports about WWE/TNA programs in which the analyst warns against watching and recommends spending your time with something less boring or silly. Ring of Honor events vary in quality from good, to great, to amazing, to must-see, but I can’t recall ever hearing about an ROH show that “sucked”. I can’t say the same for WWE or TNA.

– Fan satisfaction. While much of the traffic online features IWC membership complaining about the current product offered by the big guns, ROH fans are seldom anything but happy with the state of their favorite promotion. Certainly some ROHbots offer suggestions and a few complaints, while others out and out disagree with booking choices (the Project 161/Age of the Fall arc wasn’t a big hit with everyone). However, far more Ring of Honor fans per capita are routinely pleased with ROH’s product, while the percentage of WWE/TNA fans who dislike a lot of what they see grows regularly. Of the seven hours of original weekly programming and two monthly pay-per-view outings, how much of what the Vince Twins deliver satisfies their audience? I’d guess that amount would be very low, if fans voted honestly.

You’ll notice I don’t have any criteria based on financial gains, market penetration, how many movies a wrestling company produces, or whether or not they have a video game. To me, those things just aren’t important in deciding the best wrestling promotion of the year. If the category was “Most Successful Wrestling Company From a Business Perspective”, I think we’d all agree that WWE is the hands-down victor this year and will be every year until another promotion starts to truly challenge McMahon and company in that department.

So is Ring of Honor worthy of Promotion of the Year honors? ROH is the best US pro wrestling promotion for MY entertainment dollar, and that’s all I’m qualified to defend. An opinion is all anyone is capable of offering about art, even if they’re recognized as an expert. I recommend you support your opinion with whichever facts you believe are relevant, and move on. You’ll never convince anyone to change his opinion based on your perception of art, so don’t even try.

Was Picasso a more talented artist than Rembrandt? Were the Stones greater than the Doors? Is the Godfather a better movie than Goodfellas? Any of these questions could provoke hours of arguments, and the debaters would no doubt try to bring up supporting data such as record sales, Oscar wins, lasting influence on world culture, and the results of their own polls. But the bottom line is that every artist, band, and movie ever made has its own appeal, its own following, and its own merits in the genre, even if only to give you an example of what you DON’T like to compare to what you DO like, helping you to develop your own opinion.

But that’s just my opinion. What’s yours? Please feel free to contact me via e-mail to share your opinion.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

p.s. – “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” – Albert Einstein

Before you go, check out our Roundtable for TNA’s Against All Odds, then look below to see how we fared.

IP Staff Roundtable Results for Against All Odds

David Brashear
TNA Against All Odds (10 Feb 08): 6-2
Total: 74-58

Andrew Wheeler
TNA Against All Odds (10 Feb 08): 6-2
Total: 67-29

Brad Curran
TNA Against All Odds (10 Feb 08): 6-1
Total: 6-1

Danny Cox
TNA Against All Odds (10 Feb 08): 4-4
Total: 124-104

Mark Allen
TNA Against All Odds (10 Feb 08): 4-3
Total: 71-31

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