SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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

Friday, October 1, 1999

Don't lose the 'F' in WWF

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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Over the past two or three years, the subject of wrestling versus sports entertainment has been kicked around, back and forth, far too many times for my taste. It's a debate that has to be had, though, as wrestling programs, or at least some of them, are starting to look a little bit less like wrestling than we're used to.

In you ask me, and you may as well since you're reading this column, this isn't a very big problem. Not yet, that is. It will be, and soon.

I feel the need, first and foremost, to say that I'm closer to being a new fan of wrestling than an old fan. The first pay-per-view I ever saw was WrestleMania VI, and I was rooting for the Ultimate Warrior in that one. Why? Because I had seen more of his hype that Hulk Hogan's. I was also ten years old.

So of course, my point of view may be different from yours as a result. And my point of view is the following: sports entertainment, as it is known, is the greatest thing ever to happen to professional wrestling. But it may also destroy it.

You can chalk me up as one of the people responsible for the 8.4 rating during The Rock and Mankind's comedy segment this week, and I was definitely laughing at times. In all honesty, as much of a wrestling fan as I may have been, Vampiro -- a favorite of mine -- could have cleanly beaten Chris Benoit for the television title over on Nitro, in a fast-paced, twenty minute match, and I probably would have stayed with Raw.

This isn't because I dislike wrestling, but let's face it: Seinfeld, which I will define as good comedy, got better ratings than the WWF, which I will define, however loosely, as wrestling, will probably ever see. And not just by a bit. Not even by the margin that football beats it every Monday (2-1), but I mean between four and six times as big an audience, and a broadcast audience at that.

Drawing from those premises, I can at least say that comedy is as popular, if not more popular, than wrestling. It makes sense, thus, even for a wrestling audience, to tune into Raw when something really funny's happening.

And fine, maybe you didn't believe it was funny, maybe you were one of the 1.6 (people?) watching Nitro at the time. Clearly I'm not talking about everybody.

The conclusion of these arguments can only be, if you ask me, that comedy makes a good partner to wrestling, as much as pyros or loud rock music or anything else that lots of people enjoy. Like sex, for example.

If I were going to write this, though, and call it a day, I'd only be giving you half the story. You see, as much as it's comedy and other extraneous matters that make us tune into Raw versus Nitro each week, it isn't those same matters that make us tune into wrestling each week.

We tune into wrestling each week to see wrestling. Maybe our individual opinions on what wrestling is or should be is slanted depending on the person, but basically, we're all in it for the wrestling.

And as popular as these non-wrestling bits may be making wrestling, there's going to reach a point where it isn't really wrestling anymore, when it's some kind of variety show with wrestling as one of its featured attractions. Some would argue that as the status quo, but I say no, the emphasis is clearly on feuds and titles and so on, if not the actual matches. That's wrestling, whether you like it or not.

But if there's a time when Raw and/or Nitro becomes basically a group of talented performers doing their thing around a wrestling ring, with their thing being entertaining the audience with comedy and skits and trash-talk unrelated to the sport, well, then there will be serious consequences.

Those consequences will be, quite frankly, that there will no longer be quite so much pie for WCW and the WWF to bicker over each week. We may choose a wrestling show based on other things, but we come for the wrestling. Take away the wrestling, and I don't think we'll come anymore.

I love Seinfeld, and I always have, but I'd never make plans on a Thursday to watch it with friends the way I would a pay-per-view or even the Monday shows. I can do that with wrestling because it's something I can get psyched about. Comedy hour with Maivia and Foley, funny as it may be, is something I'll watch if I happen to be watching television -- not something I'll go out of my way to see.

The wrestling audience has proven, time and time again, to be the most hardcore of audiences. We're fewer than other various television audiences, but we're far more loyal, as studies have proven or would prove if I'm making that up. If you sacrifice that loyalty to try to cater to a broader audience, you've opened yourself up to basic competition with football and sitcoms and so on, and you've lost that audience that supported you for so many years.

Don't let it happen, WWF. Vince Russo (whom I am clearly addressing rhetorically), don't do it. Don't take away that second W, the Wrestling, from the WWF. If you do - and some people think you already have - you'll also lose your F, the Fans.

MAILBAG writes:
"Hey whats the deal with everybody talking trash about Triple H. Nobody was saying anything when he was in DX. The fact of the matter is that the WWF is making Triple H look like a punk most of the time. At least if let him win matches fair and square people might respect him more, but the fact that they make him cheat to win everytime makes him look bad. If they did that with The Rock or Stone Cold lets see how much respect they would get."

Uhmm, that's exactly what they did with The Rock and Stone Cold. Only at the time, they were Rocky and the Ringmaster. Rocky, and eventually The Rock, as a member and then the leader of the Nation of Domination, couldn't win a match cleanly if he brought soap and water (I came up with that myself, really!). And Steve Austin, the entire time he was a heel, needed the cheap victory, the quick sneak-attack. Both of these men built on that to make people hate them, and eventually turned that hatred into love.

Give me a break, The Rock was the biggest punk of all time. Go read the columns in which I complained to no end about his seemingly endless feud with Ken Scamrock, in which he couldn't win a match at all.

The difference is, Triple H is doing that now with the heavyweight title around his waist. No offense to him, but no one wants to hear who they should boo, and putting the world title on him is saying just that. You're right, no one trashed him as a member of DX - because they could buy him at that level. Up here, they just can't. Not yet. Give him time.

Graciano Da Ponte,, writes: (abbreviated because it was 500-words long)
"Let me say this now, I enjoy both WCW and WWF but it's painfully obvious to anyone who surfs the web that the 90% of Internet wrestling sites ( and columnists ) are biased towards the WWF. Now I admit, lately the WCW product does deserve a little criticism but one incident sticks out in my mind. This incident is the "Macho Man's" abuse of Gorgeous George.

The problem I have now is this, where are all those people who jumped on WCW over this one act ( including you ), now that Jeff Jarrett is going through his program of running roughshod over all women ( not just the female wrestlers ) in the WWF??? The level of bias Internet reporters ( the same ones who decried the Macho Man's actions ) are showing here really pisses me off!!

Now correct me if I'm wrong, but your article about the original incident expressed anger and disapproval at what WCW did. So where is your follow-up column condemning the actions of JJ and the WWF?"

Let's make a long story short here, since most of my readers don't seem so interested in this stuff anymore. I feel it deserves an explanation of some kind, though.

What Macho Man did offended me greatly, partly because of what it was (man beats woman), and partly because it was just a chilling effect, and by chilling I just mean that knowing what I do about Randy Savage, a part of me thought it might, somehow, be a shoot.

Double J, though, is clearly acting. He's not pretending he's not beating women as an accidental by-product of his heelness, that's the angle. And while I admit, it's similar to the Macho Man thing in that it offends me for what it is (man beats woman), it just isn't as chilling. It's more like a cartoon.

Similarly, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is kind of mind-blowing - partly because of what it is, an execution, and partly because of what it represents -- the death of the son of God. However, the Undertaker's mock crucifixion of Steve Austin (and others), while stupid, doesn't offend me into writing a heart-felt column.

One final comment: get a grip, dude. I think you come off as more biased towards WCW than I do the WWF. I have no problem with you disliking the Jeff Jarrett thing, and I wouldn't attack you verbally for having such an opinion. Clearly you have no problem doing so. So maybe before you go screaming bias, as everyone's been doing to just about everyone lately, maybe you should point that index finger at yourself and accuse there first.

That's it for this week, folks. Thanks, all, for reading, and especially for writing, as always. Have a great week and I'll see week.

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