By Will Pruett
I went to my first wrestling show when I was 12 years old. It was an episode of Monday Night Raw in Anaheim in 1999. Upon re-watching it recently, I realized it was a garbage television show. It opened with the Administrator of the Small Business Administration of the United States (still baffled by this, y’all) and charisma vacuum Linda McMahon speaking. It ended with beer flying into a steel cage for Steve Austin to drink. Even though the show wasn’t great, I was still in awe that day. I was seeing wrestling live with my eyes in front of me. It was magical then and it is still magical now.
This past Monday, I went to WWE Raw at Staples Center. While shows were absolutely mystifying and captivating at 12, people watching during wrestling shows has become far more interesting to me. I love attending live shows, since I’m not about to invite the entire array of humanity that attend a WWE show to my house on a Monday night. It’s a great opportunity to see how people react to and enjoy wrestling.
The people watching was insanely fun on Monday night as I saw fans all collectively raise their cameras to record Roman Reigns’ entrance, even if they were booing him. This was evidence of his star power to me, even if his character isn’t my favorite. It’s easy to see why Roman is still being pushed. I also got to see two ten year old boys in front of me hang on every near fall and near countout of the Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax portion of the main event. It’s easy to say this wouldn’t have happened five years ago and is a sign of WWE working in the right direction.
Raw was just the beginning of my live wrestling adventures this week, since I’ll be at both of the New Japan Pro Wrestling shows in Long Beach. I’m looking forward to being able to compare and contrast the environment of these shows between standard WWE and what NJPW brings to a market. I feel like more of us will be like the ten year old kids hanging on every near fall than we’d like to admit.
In the past, I’ve often been critical of fans at live shows, often for how they choose to enjoy wrestling. I’ve mocked folks for carrying replica titles, wearing bad t-shirts, or any number of things I wouldn’t do. I was so completely wrong when I did this. Everyone should enjoy professional wrestling the way they want to. I prefer to sit quietly in my chair and give polite applause. You should be able to yell, scream, raise a belt, and do anything else that doesn’t disrupt those around you.
Wrestling is for everyone. Wrestling is a beautiful form of live theatre where we’re all encouraged to interact to our fullest potential. Wrestling is a wonderful and entertaining medium we all get to a part of.
Love what you love the way you love it. Don’t let anyone stop you. Wrestling is the coolest.
This week’s essential viewing:
For the purposes of this column, this week will be presented as Thursday-Wednesday.
It was a rough week for watching non-WWE wrestling, since I spent my weekend in the woods.
Aleister Black vs. Kassius Ohno (WWE NXT – June 21, 2017) – While these two are capable of much more and the start of this match was a little slow, the end showed two great competitors kicking it into a high gear. Both Ohno and Black have been standout performers for a long time and this was just a glimpse of what they’re capable of on a large stage.
Bayley vs. Nia Jax vs. Mickie James vs. Dana Brooke vs. Emma vs. Sasha Banks in a Gauntlet Match (WWE Raw – June 26, 2017) – This will be memorable for some great moments and a true effort to establish Nia Jax. Dana getting immediately killed by Nia was fantastic. Nia’s 25+ minute performance was a career highlight for her. As a bonus, we saw Sasha Banks roll onto the Raw Women’s scene again. Maybe coming out of this match, we can see some great storytelling with Raw’s full women’s division again.
Carmella vs. Natalya vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Tamina in a Money in the Bank Ladder Match (WWE Smackdown – June 27, 2017) – NOW THAT’S MORE LIKE IT! This was a great Ladder Match and featured some great standout performances. Natalya killed it. Becky killed it. Charlotte killed it. Beyond everyone else, Carmella absolutely killed it and is my MVP of WWE for the month of June. She is running with the ball and doing great work. I’m so happy to see her continue this run. While I’ll stand by my assertion from the last couple weeks that this should have happened at Money in the Bank and sans controversy, this was a very good match.
Asuka vs. Nikki Cross in a Last Woman Standing Match (WWE NXT – June 28, 2017) – I know this segment officially goes longer than a week now. I don’t care. This was a great main event contest to cap off a week of great main events. Asuka’s title reign is insanely impressive when you step back and look at it. I feel like I haven’t always given it the attention it deserves. Cross could be a breakout star when NXT moves on from Asuka’s dominance. This was awesome.
What I absolutely positively love in wrestling this week:
Carmella – I’m doubling down on Carmella as the MVP of wrestling this week. She continues to up her game, was the highlight of yet another Smackdown opening segment, and was the deserving victor in a very good Money in the Bank Ladder Match. Carmella is a major bright spot in WWE today. She’s expanding into a major role and I’m insanely excited to see where she’s at six months from now.
What I absolutely positively love in the world this week:
The Big Sick – Kumail Nanjiani is great in just about anything he’s in (Silicon Valley is evidence of this), but seeing him in this film acting out his own story, was brilliant. Zoe Kazan was brilliantly cast opposite Nanjiani. Everything about this movie was terrific. I’ve always loved romantic comedies (actual life anecdote: I’ve ended up in yelling arguments with friends over why You’ve Got Mail is better than Sleepless in Seattle) and this is a special one. Friends, you NEED to go see The Big Sick when it comes out near you.
Got something to say/react to in today’s piece? Write to me at email@example.com or on Twitter @wilpruett. Just let me know whether you’d like your name attached to your statement or not. Alternately, there’s a comment section just below this article, so comment away!
Reader Shauny79 writes in:
Maybe we are at a stage now where WWE is a generally modern and open-minded institution that is still run by a sexist dinosaur at the very top. I agree with the poster who said “this has Vince’s fingerprints all over it.” I felt more or less the same as Will about this issue, but to be honest I would imagine most of the WWE staff, writers and wrestlers did too.
This is likely very true. I always try to separate my criticism for WWE’s writers from the stories they tell. I believe you could go into WWE’s writers’ room and find almost all of them understand professional wrestling and could be effective with a singular vision (even when those visions differ). What WWE has is one man who comes and sloppily re-writes or changes the hard work of others to fit his outdated vision of life. Vince is what’s wrong with WWE’s storytelling.
Where my point of view appears to diverge from yours is that I don’t believe it was a deliberate attempt on the part of WWE to demean its female talents or make their contributions to the show less important. If that were the case, why the immediate booking of the upcoming rematch for next Tuesday’s Smackdown Live broadcast? On a not-immediate but semi-related note, why have the Mae Young Classic also?
Having the Mae Young Classic doesn’t excuse WWE from accusations of sexism. Hell, they created the problem with lack of representation to begin with. I’m not against praising them when they do well (as I have and continue to do in this space), but I’m not going to excuse a horrid idea that would have never been done in a match with male main eventers because of a women’s tournament. WWE can be sexist AND have a wonderfully progressive women’s tournament. These are not binary options. I’m willing to say all of this is true.
John wrote in:
To me, since the WWE has moved to the network model, where the equivalent of the monthly PPV purchase has already been made prior to the marketing of the next event, Sunday night specials on network no longer makes sense structurally for WWE.
This is an interesting point and one I want to dive into further in the future. I actually disagree with one major thing (but will not say you’re wrong). I don’t believe WWE Network makes weekly TV shows more important. I believe WWE Network allows one to follow WWE without weekly television. With a Network Special (or two) more than every two weeks, WWE gives fans an easy way to keep up without being overwhelmed by trying to catch five hours of television per week. WWE Network makes those Sunday specials more important to me, not less.
SSMGOTW (Superfluous Shane McMahon Gif of the Week):
This week’s wrestling reading:
I want to highlight some of the best wrestling reading I’ve found over the past week.
We’re Done Here:
There is too much to do in my life and too much wrestling to prepare for. Let’s get out of here and meet at the same time next week where I’ll be exhausted from one of the craziest weeks of my year!
Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. Of interest to him are diversity in wrestling and wrestling as a theatrical art form. To contact, check him out on Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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