By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
For about the last month of Mondays, this space has been dominated by Vince McMahon talk. There was the crowd reaction when he danced down the aisle on Smackdown in Minnesota. There was the Wall Street Journal pipe bomb of an article. There was wrestling (pun intended) with the guy’s legacy.
Like tons of other people, I condemned McMahon’s actions and added to the verbal pile of “You really messed up and I don’t really know what to think about you anymore” that was thrown his way. Some people tap-danced on his grave; some people rushed to his defense. I’m not someone who subscribes to things being cut and dry. There’s nuance everywhere and we should never ignore it.
And so, on a weekend like this past weekend, which featured live shows from GCW, New Japan and WWE, among others, I kind of thought coming out of it that a headline not associated with McMahon might formulate. And while many did – “Change has finally come to WWE!;” “Ric Flair didn’t die!;” “Moxley and Desperado did what?!” – there’s one that I can’t shake and, sadly, it again deals with McMahon.
THE AMERICAN DRAGON
“Bryan Danielson goes to bat for Vince McMahon.”
OK, so that wasn’t a real headline. But you get the sentiment. During a media scrum he held with Renee Paquette, who had him on as part of a live taping of her podcast at Starrcast this past weekend, Danielson said this when asked about the McMahon mess:
“So, one, first thing I should say is no comment. Second thing I should say about stuff and just Vince, in general, is maybe it’s more about love. If you love somebody … people make mistakes and you love them regardless.”
And here, I thought we could finally move on to more mundane things, like a wrestler driving a tractor into a wrestling ring or the Undertaker looking like he wanted to be anywhere else in the world other than Ric Flair’s last match.
Danielson’s comments made the rounds in their own way. And I say “in their own way” because it was a busy, news-filled weekend, which meant that there wasn’t much time to chew the poor guy up and spit him out. Still, the time that was allocated was used with gusto as the shocked (shocked!) and indignant takes came flooding through the requisite social media channels.
Some people questioned Danielson’s judgment. Some went to one extreme, saying his comments made them turn around their opinions on the guy and they would never look at the wrestler the same. Some went to another extreme, telling the other side to settle down because Danielson was merely being honest. The former outweighed the latter, but that’s to be expected.
ALL OR NOTHING
I’m simply incapable of understanding how someone being honest about their history with a person can inspire a fan of said someone to deem their fandom null and void. And the same thing goes for all the media types out there, too. It’s clear that when you cross a line with some who professionally comment on this stuff or deem themselves influencers, there’s no coming back. Have a nine-star match, but the first sentence of a commentary or the immediate tweet that’s fired off in the wake of the match will feature some snide aside about something the wrestler once did or said.
“I’d love that 1080 splash from the top more if he just didn’t once say he loved a sex pest.”
And that makes no sense to me. Wrestlers (or, hell, entertainers as a whole) are actually human beings, even if the business they chose to pursue professionally slowly eats away at their humanity. Danielson, of all people, has more reason than most to have complicated feelings about this whole mess, considering who his father-in-law is. And while one might think that connection could make his opinions, conclusions or judgment all that more easy to make, I’d wager a guess his proximity might just make it that much more complex.
Put all the family drama aside, though, and you still have someone who has been very loud about his admiration for McMahon, which has proven to be this weird thorn in the sides of some who admire Danielson. Remember: You’d be very, very hard pressed to find a wrestling writer/influencer/follower/
McMahon, meanwhile, was despised years before this last month. He represents all the bad things that pro wrestling has become in a lot of people’s minds. He’s an asshole, he ruined the product, he’s an egomaniac … the unforgiving descriptors go on and on. How could Danielson, a guy who represents the best of pro wrestling, learn so many invaluable things from McMahon, a guy who represents the worst of it?
Who knows, but it happened, and I don’t think anyone should hold that against the former Daniel Bryan. In fact …
I extend that sentiment to those beyond the American Dragon.
Kurt Angle made a headline a couple days ago when he called the former chairman an “excellent individual.” Ric Flair went to bat for him. I can’t even imagine what Undertaker would say if someone threw a cell phone in front of him and asked him what he thought of Vince. And while you might not agree with those things. And I might not agree with those things. And those feelings of admiration and support and love seem wrong-headed …
Well, at least I can speak for myself when I say I’ve never dealt with the guy. I’m sitting on a couch wondering if the turkey breast I bought a week ago is still good enough to squeeze out one more sandwich with; the distance between my world and Vince McMahon’s world – and Bryan Danielson’s world and Kurt Angle’s world and Ric Flair’s world – cannot be measured in miles. It’s measured in light-years.
So, yeah. McMahon made a lot of people rich and he also gave these wrestlers opportunities to live out their dreams on the biggest stage possible. I’m not surprised in the least that we haven’t heard a significant amount of WWE wrestlers then or now come out and trash the guy. He changed their lives. In some cases, he made their lives. I can’t relate to that and my guess is you can’t either. All we know about Vince McMahon are the alleged assault reports; we know nothing about what kind of knowledge he can or has passed down to people like Danielson.
And so it must be said.
DON’T BLAME DANIELSON
It’s unfair to throw Bryan Danielson under the bus for saying he loves the guy. Condemn McMahon all you want. Don’t believe he has a single good bone in his body. Never forgive. Certainly never forget. But when it comes to those who’ve known him for years, if not decades, don’t fault them for having their own feelings. Some might want to process the feelings fully while others might even not really know how to do it. Danielson saying he loves McMahon doesn’t mean he thinks it’s OK to allegedly get down with your employees and then pay them to shut up once it all falls apart. It just means he has a special kinship with the former chairman.
That said, the reaction to Danielson’s comments underscore how impossible it is to get through the current wrestling landscape unscathed. At this point, I’m terrified of everything from Twitter to this weekly column, where I know if I merely write something that’s worded in a peculiar way, regardless of intent or thought, my head will be on the chopping block next and if nothing else, I could be labeled a cadre of horrific things by a certain subset of people for the rest of time. There is no being misunderstood. There is only right and wrong and the definitions of those two words are not mine to choose in such a context.
Speaking of definitions, the other non-WWE story coming out of the weekend, of course, was pretty much anything defined by Ric Flair and his last match. First, there was the roast, which garnered mixed reviews – some, from people who were never going to give it a chance to begin with and had no real reason to view it other than to hate watch it; others, who, well, just enjoyed the thing and thought it was funny. Then there were the meet-and-greets. And then there was the show that featured, creatively enough for a pay-per-view called “Ric Flair’s Last Match,” Ric Flair’s last match.
The decision to do anything like this was going to be polarizing anyway because Flair’s personal record has always been suspect, but once the world began to shift around him, that suspect personal record became downright incriminating and he kind of/sort of got canceled and then kind of/sort of came back, but not really, and … I don’t know. People love Ric Flair. And Conrad Thompson built a nice card around him, so the show caught the attention of thousands, both in attendance and watching via the FiteTV app.
The result was … pretty OK? Not terrible? Something that happened? You could use any of those and you wouldn’t be wrong. The worst match of the night came in the form of Flair’s match and I think we can all agree that he didn’t look nearly as good in the ring Sunday night as he has in those training videos they released up to the event. But, hey. He didn’t die. Which is good, right? Because nobody wants to see someone die in the ring. Unless …
WHY SO LOUD?
… Unless you are pretty much anyone who has a social media account and a cellphone in the days leading up to the event. Jokes about Flair actually dying in the ring flooded timelines everywhere and then those were replaced by people who swore the event off in the name of how unsavory it felt. So many people were so Very Serious about how they were going to boycott it. Others, meanwhile, were Very Serious about watching it and making fun of it in the name of … what, exactly?
Therein lies my point: There was no reason to spend actual human hours and actual human brain power if the point of watching anything Ric Flair this weekend was to chastise it for even existing in the first place. I understand being concerned for Flair’s health, and I understand not wanting to watch it because it feels like a cash grab, and I even understand turning the other way just because you’ve read or heard things about Flair through the years that you just don’t want to support.
But if that’s the case, do you have to be so vocal about it?
I’m not criticizing anyone who has their beliefs for having their beliefs. Everyone is allowed to do that. But if everyone’s allowed to do that, you have to understand that “everyone” means far more than “you.” If Bryan Danielson has an affecting history with Vince McMahon, he has the right to still be thankful that he knows him and even more thankful that he came into his life. If Ric Flair wants to hop back in the ring for one last time, against most people’s conventional wisdom and some people’s support, those are his decisions to make.
Whining about either of those things happening is little more than an act of self-service designed to remind one’s self that one’s self has a self-perceived higher moral high-ground and/or better taste than the majority. And don’t get me wrong. I’m all about saying to hell with the majority. But nobody should be judge, jury and executioner when it comes to the fabric of an individual’s lived experience.
I’m just thankful Flair’s still alive and I’m just thankful Danielson can wrestle again. Where things go beyond that on a Monday morning, for the most part, at least, is none of my business. Because like Danielson said, if you love somebody, you love them through mistakes. I don’t know Danielson or Flair on any level whatsoever, so it’s safe to say I can’t love them. But that also means I can’t hate them, either.
And in light of all the terrible things that have been uncovered recently in the wrestling world, hate has become so prevalent, it’s important not to dole it out if it’s not necessary to do so. And hate, at least in the case of who Danielson loves and why an old man wants to wrestle one more time, is anything but necessary.