SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

SLAM! Sports
SLAM! Wrestling

EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, December 8, 2000

Is the wrestling boom is in decline or not?

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

A weekly
SLAM! Wrestling
Editorial Column

Previous columns
News stories/Match reports
This past week, Vince McMahon -- one half of the feud that arguably put the WWF ahead of WCW for good -- returned to play a major role on Monday Night Raw. A surprise to many, McMahon didn't spike the ratings in the least. In fact, not much of anything has spiked the WWF's ratings recently. Though to explain the entire phenomenon would require more time than either your or I have got, I can at least venture to comment on McMahon's appearance and its lack of bite.

Put simply, there are three realistically possible explanations that Vince McMahon's television appearance and participation in the events on Monday had little to no effect on his show's ratings.

First, wrestling is in decline. Many folks are jumping to this conclusion, and have been for months, but I'm not entirely sure its true. I'm even less sure that it had an impact here. Even if wrestling were less popular, an important figure's appearance would still be of interest, one would think, to those who still watched from time to time. But it wasn't.

There's a term in economics called lag. It applies to the order that certain economic events occur. For example, industrial production and investment tend to be precursors to unemployment -- when people stop spending money on production, only later does the unemployment rate rise. An example that relates to pro wrestling, I've found, is that the true sign of a wrestling company's wealth is its house show attendance. When WCW started to go down the tubes, people still watched on television -- after all, that requires little to no effort -- but largely stopped going to live shows, which require more time, effort, and money.

If that were true, then in theory the WWF is faring fine, since its house show numbers are still strong. Of course, that may not be true since arenas have limited capacity. Maybe the last two shows in your region sold out, but the most recent one just barely sold out and the one before that left thousands of people still wanting tickets. Still, I think it's premature to eulogize wrestling here. A cyclical sport it may be, but so is the stock market, and it managed to stay up for a record number of months before the most recent dip. Cycles are not set in stone and their lengths are variable.

So I don't believe this is because of a decline in wrestling's popularity. Maybe, instead, it has to do with Vince McMahon's own dip in popularity.

After all, it's been a long time since McMahon has done anything noteworthy. Long gone are the days of the 'corporate champion' and matches over ownership of the WWF. Triple H's emergence has led to Vince McMahon simply not being needed as a heel.

Perhaps more importantly than that, Vince McMahon has reappeared several times since his last participation in major storylines. There was that speech about his genetic jackhammer that we'd all rather forget, all the times he briefly (always arriving by limousine!) interjected himself into the affairs of his children, and a few other spots too. That's not including his ten million XFL press conferences. Fans are still being saturated with Vince McMahon, only the Vince McMahon that we now know is quite boring. We haven't seen the interesting side of McMahon in over a year, and fans have now been conditioned to believe that when Vince appears on camera, nothing much interesting will happen.

That's all well and good, and elaborate explanations are always nice, but I find myself forced to resort to more conventional -- if more mundane -- logic here.

The WWF's move to TNN hasn't killed their ratings, but it certainly hasn't helped them, either. At least not yet. Now, think to yourself: of all the people who ever watched Monday Night Raw (whether each week or once a year), which ones would be most likely to have followed its move to TNN? I would imagine the most hardcore fans, or at least the most regular ones, would be most privy to that information. That leaves the most casual, least regular fans out of the loop. Since Raw first appeared on TNN, their ratings have been very constant, not varying by much more than a 0.1 from week to week. Maybe the variability has been eliminated. Maybe all the casuals who would click their remotes back and forth between MTV, USA, TNT, and Fox for as long as their attention could stand it just don't know where to find Raw, and based on their viewership patterns, don't care to find it.

Also, whether the wrestling boom is in decline or not, it stands to reason that the casual fans -- or at least some of them -- may have finished their run and are no longer interested in the novelty of wrestling.

I think given the choice, I'd pick the third alternative presented here, but I'm curious as to what SLAM!'s esteemed readership has to say about it.

By the way, just because I'm talking about ratings doesn't mean I think they're a great indicator of success for the WWF or wrestling in general. Simply, the 'ratings spike' that accompanied big WWF events and appearances was well-documented over the past two years, and this phenomenon has disappeared of late. But that doesn't mean I think it has a big impact on the business of wrestling, it's just something I'm examining in and of itself.

Either way, here's the mail.

Robert Vollman, from, writes:
"Why are people so hard on Tiger Ali Singh? I think he's a most entertaining heel, in a similar mould to Stevie Richards, Eddy Guerrero and William Regal. Unlike most contemporary heels, who are more interested in being cool and tough, Tiger plays the old-school heel to a perfect tee. He's from a foreign country, considers himself superior, is a complete coward, and can only win if he cheats. He's also fairly strong and not that bad a wrestler. Maybe you should write a column on heels, and include your thoughts on Tiger."

Robert, I agree with you and I disagree with you.

I agree that Richards, Guerrero, and Regal are each made from the best mold of heeldom. They're hateful, arrogant, obnoxious brutes who say things that just make people loath them. I found Chris Jericho to be excellent along those lines at one time (in WCW), as well.

Just because that's the way I think a heel should behave does not mean that I will think any wrestler who acts that way is talented. Tiger Ali-Singh, in my opinion, is stale without ever having been over, boring despite playing a near infallible gimmick.

I suppose it's all a matter of taste. An article on what makes a good heel (to me) is probably long overdue, though.

Micah K, from, writes:
"I loved your last two columns because I like to think about wrestling in kayfabe, it makes it much more amusing to me.

I especially liked your discussion of how senseless the WWF Armageddon main event is. Another thing to consider: What are cage matches for? I always thought it was to prevent other people from interfering in a big match so it ends with a clear winner. But with six men in there, I don't think there would be anyone else left to interfere in the match anyway. This cage match isn't really solving anything."

You make a good point, actually. Cage matches, though they make perfect theoretical sense (they keep interfering wrestlers out, keep the competing wrestlers in, and offer additional punishment in the form of the cage itself), never seem to make much sense in practice.

I think this comes from inconsistent application of cage match rules. If the cage is meant to keep people in, then why is there always a door? Equally, why bother trying to climb out of the cage -- always a dangerous route -- when again, there is a door? Why keep the door locked if the referee is just going to open it whenever someone wants to leave? You could argue that the answer to that last question is that it's to keep other wrestlers out, but when has a cage door ever kept other wrestlers out?

No, cage matches make little sense. I think they should just use it as a more hostile, protected (from interference) environment in which to stage a match, or if they insist on using the 'escape' cage matches, get rid of that darn door.

Good points Micah.

That's it, that's all! Thanks for reading, thanks for writing in, have a great week.

Send email to

SLAM! Sports   Search   Help   CANOE