They hijack shows, blog excessively, troll the comments sections of online wrestling sites, and clearly know more than anyone what is best for professional wrestling. They are the internet wrestling community (IWC) and over the past couple of years their voice has risen to almost unavoidable status when seeking secondary information on the world of professional wrestling.
From the Daniel Bryan “Yes” revolution to the meteoric rise of CM Punk, they choose their favorites carefully and do whatever is necessary to promote them to the highest level of sports entertainment. The IWC knows more about independent wrestling than most know about WWE, often interjecting that their favorite indie stars would excel more than the current crop of WWE talent. They love NXT‘s more intimate setting for younger developing talents while vehemently disagreeing with Triple H when he says that he knows what is “Best for Business.”
In 2016, the WWE appears to be making a concerted effort to appeal to this community. The signing of A.J. Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura from New Japan Pro Wrestling, along with Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson show that the top company in the business has made it clear that they are listening. True, they had a shot at A.J. when they bought WCW and Gallows was formerly on the WWE roster as Imposter Kane and (yikes) Festus. But this is now. These are the top names from around the world that are entering the WWE and NXT and quickly ascending to main event level. The Monday Night RAW reviews are glowing as the IWC seems to be getting their fix of their people getting the promotion push they feel is deserved. Everything seems to be working out great.
Except that it is not.
Ratings for RAW have dropped to a 20-year low, drawing fractions of the powerful ratings they drew in their heyday. Considering that this is the time of year when RAW usually enjoys it’s highest success (due to, among other things, lack of competition from Monday Night Football), these numbers are worse than the past two years (a time which the IWC has deemed the worst time in recent professional wrestling history). The April 25 and May 16 episodes were the two worst-rated non-football season episodes in over 20 years, even considering the absence of another major brand like WCW directly competing with the show. The low ratings, despite the vast approval of the IWC begs the question: “Is the IWC best for business?”
The long-term answer is unknown. The short-term answer is a resounding “NO!” The reasoning is very similar to why independent films seldom have blockbuster success. They aren’t for everyone; they don’t usually have the mass appeal that a big studio production would have. There are always exceptions (Slumdog Millionaire, Napoleon Dynamite, etc.) that enjoy success at the box office, but as a whole independent anything is produced for a niche market and garners critical, rather than mainstream, success. The same rules apply for independent wrestlers. Since the demise of WCW, there have been very few wrestlers who have come from another organization and immediately enjoyed success at WWE without some OVW or NXT training to get them acclimated to the WWE style. A.J. Styles is the current exception to that rule; he is the WWE’s Napolean Dynamite.
Another lesson can be learned from independent music, when we see a non-mainstream band release a “pop” album. The general consensus among uppity music fans is that the band has “sold-out.” Oftentimes if the band doesn’t play or write exactly what the fans demand, they are ostracized by these music communities. The same can be said for when the IWC favorites make it to WWE. The story lines, win-loss records, tag-team partners, and everything else written for these wrestlers are subject to scrutiny. What is popular among your basic wrestling fans can be loathed by the IWC. Some truth can be found in the idea that if WWE became too popular with the general fanbase, many in the IWC would turn against them under the guise of loss of authenticity.
IWC darlings appeal to hardcore wrestling fans. Hulk Hogan doesn’t.
IWC wants the new generation to get their turn. WWE knows that a returning Stone Cold Steve Austin would double ratings and put more butts in seats.
The IWC holds in-ring wrestling talent above all else. Some of the most popular wrestlers in history could barely function five minutes in the squared circle.
I am not a member of the IWC, nor do I subscribe to the idea that WWE is always correct in their booking. One thing is clear: If the ratings of the past five or six weeks are any indication, WWE needs to limit how far they go to appease a community that could adversely affect their bottom line.