While there are absolutely many fans that are completely engrossed in the storylines, have a knowledge of the business, have come to understand and love it, and admire the wrestlers for truly valid reasons such as their work rate, charisma, and longevity, not all fans are like this. During the Attitude Era wrestling was in a boom period. Fans could watch the WWF, WCW, and ECW. But during this boom most fans only became temporarily enthralled with the sport. Wrestlers such as Stone Cold, The Rock, Cactus Jack, and Goldberg became favorites. Many fans didn’t truly care about the actual wrestling ability or legacies of these wrestlers, they simply became infatuated with them. When those characters faded away or changed, so too did the fans fade away and cease to give a second thought to wrestling. Others stayed and became loyal. But is that ever enough to keep the business going?
Although it might seem pathetic that someone would only be attracted to wrestling because of one character, as an infant is attracted to something shiny, isn’t that what has made our greatest champions? Those such as Hulk Hogan, The Rock, and Stone Cold have been so successful because they were able to attract outsiders and sell T-Shirts and Pay-Per-Views. If a champion can reach beyond the regular audience then that is a mark of their greatness. Current Heavyweight Champions John Cena and Batista are both criticized for lacking the in ring talent that others lower on the card possess, but if you look at their crowd response it’s phenomenal. I was there at RAW the night after Wrestlemania to witness the thundering ovation for Batista. It was absolutely electric. John Cena has made a strong connection with not only hip hop fans but fans across the board in general. The ability to catch a phenomenal amount of buzz is unique.
I am not trying to imply that the measuring stick for the wrestling product in general should be that which casual fans deem to be great, but it should definitely be a factor. WWE and TNA are businesses and they want to be able to reach out to as many people as possible. Ring of Honor is more inclusive and is really only meant for ‘smart fans’ and those who are loyal to the entire wrestling business, not just one superstar or storyline. I have certainly had annoying conversations with those who call the Ultimate Warrior their favorite or even the greatest of all time, and those who think Goldberg is God’s gift to wrestling. Like young teenage couples that are infatuated with eachother, wrestling fans that are infatuated with a certain wrestler can be down right annoying and even sickening.
The difference between a fan that is infatuated and a fan who truly loves the wrestling business is that after their favorite wrestler leaves, the fan that truly loves wrestling will continue to watch, not out of habit but out of true passion. We true fans can look beyond just the flashy gimmick and truly see what others miss out on. Chris Benoit might not necessarily be an entertaining individual as a character, but without him we would have missed out on classic matches. I remember watching Wrestlemania 17 at a friend’s house. We thought that Chris Benoit vs. Kurt Angle was boring, so soon after it started we went to go play a wrestling game on Nintendo 64. It was immediately regarded as a great match by many fans and I feel foolish for ever being bored by such great athletes. My friends who were casual fans stopped watching after The Rock seemed to change and the TLC tag matches left the scene. Today I still have my favorite wrestlers such as Undertaker and Eddie Guerrero, but I wouldn’t stop watching if either of them left. I am now totally engrossed in wrestling itself, trying to watch a good match from whenever and whereever. But to say that I am not infatuated still would also be foolish. Without feeling that I am a true and loyal fan of their work I am often excited about such characters as Eugene and Ken Kennedy, then lose that excitement after the novelty wears off. When that happens I can become the true wrestling fan again and want to watch them because they have something valuable to offer, not just for cheap entertainment. My love for the wrestling business and all of its characters and performers no longer changes from week to week, it grows every day.
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