Dispatches from the Wrestling Underground: Letting Go

Columns, Features, Top Story

For most, the trouble with enjoying what we have now is remembering what we once had. Many are never happy, no matter how wonderful things might be. We look back to the past through a filter that only captures the best moments and erases or omits the negative ones. Wrestling fans especially have a problem with letting go.

Wrestling has had two “golden eras” in the last thirty years: the Rock ‘N Wrestling era, which was spearheaded by Hulk Hogan, and the Attitude era, which offered two stars in Steve Austin and The Rock. Wrestling today is measured against what those two eras offered. The thing is, outside of the top stars, those eras aren’t especially memorable. Many of the performers, matches, and angles were forgettable and are shaded by a fondness for youth. It’s no secret that the most vocal of fans today, those that populate the Internet, are between the ages of 18 and 40; so their youngest years fall in one of the two eras, and their current malaise can be seen as a direct result of this.

Many fans kid themselves into believing that wrestling is an adult product. While storylines may skirt adult themes, and entire promotions may devote themselves to reaching for an adult audience, most fans are created as children. The Rock ‘N Wrestling era was more explicit in this intention by directly advertising to children with its wrestlers-cum-superheroes, but the Attitude era, despite its adult themes, was an era that created fans by drawing in as many children and young adults as their parents or their parents’ friends. Steve Austin and The Rock were marketed in the same fashion as Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior before them: toys and t-shirts and posters were all sold with the purpose of capturing young minds and the dollars their parents would spend.

As time progressed, as is the case with most forms of entertainment, people moved on. The children and teenagers grew up and grew out of their interest in wrestling, whether that meant abandoning the superheroes like they had toys or dropping the anti-heroes like they had juvenile interests. Only a stubborn few remained to continue watching wrestling as it changed into something they could no longer recognize. No longer was it the superheroes toppling giants but now it was foul creatures attacking businessmen; or, it went from intense, brooding anti-heroes fighting the establishment to smiling, clean cut models acting in live-action sitcoms. Time had passed these lost generations of fans by but they refused to let go and continued to push forward in hope that they might relive their past. The problem is, you can’t go back. You can never be young again.

Wrestling today will never be like the Attitude era; nor should it be. Most television matches from that era didn’t extend beyond 3-4 minutes, if that, which would aggravate many who watch today. And today’s performers actually have a much better opportunity for upward mobility, as all major organizations have shown a willingness to occasionally break from their mold of traditional champions and crown wrestlers like Rey Mysterio and Jeff Hardy World Champion, a feat neither man was ever able to come close to while they existed in that time. But most importantly, wrestling had to evolve beyond the Attitude era for it to survive. Every so often wrestling has to let go of one generation of fans to embrace another. It started off as a legitimate sport that grew into a television spectacle that became a regional attraction that expanded into a national phenomenon that blew up into a world-wide industry. The only common between these eras are the children. Fans are made young..

The point is this: you do not belong to this era; it was not made for you. Time has passed you by as it passed by the Bruno Sammartino fans and Dusty Rhodes fans before you. Like they begrudged Hulk Hogan, you begrudge John Cena. Wrestling will continue to change further and you will resent it more. The fans being created now will run a similar path, some will grow out of it, and some will hold on. They’ll resent the next generation and its stars but that won’t stop time from continuing on. And it won’t stop wrestling from changing. You will never relive your youth, and it will never be the same.

Let go.