If the traditional “good guy vs. bad guy” setup has run its course, here’s a new idea…
Since as far back as the 1930’s, when Wilbur Finran became "Lord Patrick Lansdowne Finnegan," professional wrestling has existed best as a battle between good and evil, clean and dirty. Lansdowne, who is also the man credited with the introduction of entrance music to professional wrestling, is often considered one of pro wrestling’s original "heel" performers. He inspired Gorgeous George, who in turn inspired Buddy Rodgers, who in turn inspired Ric Flair, etc.
The phenomenon in the mid-90’s of the "cool heels" like Stone Cold Steve Austin and Hollywood Hogan, as well as the disintegration of pro wrestling’s fourth wall and the open admission of pro wrestling being scripted entertainment, led to fans cheering for the dastardly cheaters their parents would have boo’ed and to booing the same wrestlers their parents would have cheered. Pro wrestling fans are no longer willing to be told who to cheer for and who to cheer against, and any presumption otherwise is often met with a sanguine rebelliousness. The crowds most apt to do this are the smarky crowds located in and around the big cities. New Jersey, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc.
Take Money in the Bank Sunday night, and even prior to that, the John Cena vs Rob van Dam "One Night Stand" fiasco at Hammerstein Ballroom. In both cases, a "home field advantage" existed, and in both cases, it was John Cena playing the road team. At One Night Stand, the home team was the original ECW, and RVD was its ambassador. In the case of Sunday’s Night’s Money in the Bank PPV, the polarizing CM Punk was right at home. Cena, incidentally, is 0-2 in these clear road-matches, having dropped the WWE title both times.
In stark contrast, the National Football League is preparing to wrap up its lock out this week and get the American Football season underway. As a resident of New Jersey, I’m enjoying watching the fans of the Giants and Jets settle in to another year of binge-drinking tailgate parties and utter disappointment as my Packers defend their Super Bowl Title. (in unrelated news – Kelly Kelly in a Clay Matthews jersey!? WOW!)
The point is, the NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB, and soccer all have a major advantage – they are able to take advantage of geographical pride. This was on full display Sunday Night in Chicago, as wrestling fans in the 2nd city cheered on their home town boy to buck the system. It got me thinking – maybe they’re on to something.
WCW once dropped the ball with Lance Storn and his uber-Canadian gimmick. Storm was one of WCW’s top guys, and had the titles to prove it. When WCW finally got a series of big shows in Canada, Storm was right there at the forefront. Bret Hart and the re-formed Hart Foundation proved in 1997 how amazing the reception could be for Canadian heels in Canada at the Canadian Stampede In-Your-House PPV. That was because WWF allowed the wrestlers to react to the crowd. WCW, in contrast, was so hell-bent on Lance Storm as a heel, that they slapped the Canadian fans in the face by having Storm lose three times and having the match restarted due to some perceived "change in the rules." This would have been cheap heel heat anywhere in the world, but in Canada, is was infuriating. The fans went from being rabidly pro-Storm to being immensely disinterested.
Instead of force-feeding the fans whom they should and should not root for uniformly, why not increase the level to which pro wrestlers identify with their home cities? Just because a guy is a heel overall doesn’t mean when he wrestles in his home city that he can’t pander to the home crowd. Create more home vs road experiences. Let The Miz be Cleveland’s guy, even if he’s hated everywhere else. Give Wade Barrett the chance to identify with the UK fans the way Davey Boy Smith and William Regal did. Face or heel, let the fans connect honestly with their home-town guy or girl.
Many fans have shown that they are "soooo over" the whole face vs. heel dynamic. Perhaps it’s time to shuffle the deck a bit and give the hometown fans something to cheer for.
All the best
Chris "IrishCanadian25" Fitzpatrick