FROM JHAWK'S BEAK
You made wrestling a dirty word, Vince. -Paul Heyman, addressing Vince McMahon on Smackdown, 11/13/2001
Wrestling fans watching a wrestling program want to see wrestlers wrestle. -Jim Cornette, in response to the direction of professional wrestling on Raw is War, 12/29/1997
For those of you who only started wrestling in the boom of the late-1990s, this rant may seem Greek to you, but sit back for an important lesson in wrestling history.
Both of the quotes above concern the same thing--the trend to go away from wrestling and move toward "sports entertainment". Apparently, "sports entertainment" concerns having a wrestling program that has little to do with wrestling and everything to do with seeing things that would have Johnny Knoxville going, "No way would I do that on national television."
"Sports entertainment" is nothing new. It began roughly 110 years ago with the carnival circuit, thanks to P.T. Barnum and a few other people who thought it would be fun to have a wrestler, often with a fairly legit background, challenge local people who thought they were tough and charge admission for it.
But in reality, the phrase "sports entertainment" is unnecessary. Whenever I watch a sport, worked or otherwise, I'm watching it to be entertained. The World Series entertained me. The Titans-Rams Super Bowl entertained me. The NBA Finals used to entertain me before the average winning team's score started averaging 88.
And that's why I watch wrestling. I want to be entertained. But over the last three or four years, I find myself being less and less entertained. Let's just go over the first three main shows since Survivor Series.
Seeing Vince McMahon's naked rear end didn't entertain me. Seeing Jim Ross get humuliated in his home state twice within 8 months didn't entertain me. Hearing Jerry Lawler scream like a horny 13-year-old didn't entertain me. Gravy Bowl Matches and Lingirie Matches didn't entertain me (that's why we have Playboy and Cinemax, people!). William Regal urinating on The Big Show didn't entertain me. A "main event" lasting less that 5 minutes didn't entertain me. Killing off WCW didn't entertain me. More or less dropping the cruiserweight division in favor of the above didn't entertain me. Lance Storm doing janitorial work didn't entertain me. The Vince McMahon Kiss My Ass Club didn't entertain me. Tazz being jobbed in under a minute didn't entertain me. Countless replays of what I just saw when it didn't entertain me the first time didn't entertain me. Yet another brother team breaking up storyline didn't entertain me. "WWF Desire" videos didn't entertain me. The Rock's numerous reference to animal and asses didn't entertain me. Turning the Undertakr didn't entertain me.
You know what has entertained me in the last few months? The matches between The Rock and Chris Jericho and the first two matches in the Austin-Angle feud. That's it. Why? Wrestling. Wrestling isn't supposed to be what you go to because nobody's watching. Wrestling is not a prop for a soap opera. Wrestling is the backbone of your product.
I understand that the days of one hour draws and Flair-Steamboat matches are probably gone forever. But 22 minutes of wrestling in a two-hour TV show? In an age where there are no so-called preliminary wrestlers on TV? If this is the future of "sports entertainment", somebody find me a tape of Raw in 1996. Sure, it was bad wrestling, but at least it was wrestling.
It's not very often Paul Heyman and Jim Cornette have ever agreed on anything, but they both agree that wrestling is the bottom line. Vince McMahon needs to realize that and realize that now.
"*Wrestling* fans watching a *wrestling* program want to see *wrestlers* *wrestle*!"