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My Changing Fandom - Pro Wrestling in 2018


Pro wrestling was surely something in 2018, huh? For this fan, it definitely posed some tough decisions and observations that I haven't been used to in my life as a wrestling fan. That's not to sound overly-dramatic or produce insane hyperbole for a year-in-review-sort-of-piece, but it's just the truth. Again just for this fan - wrestling in 2018 has been a turning point in my fandom.

Before I go any further, I should explain and give you some backdrop to my situation and outlook. As of 2018, I became a father. I also have a growing responsibility in taking care of my aging parents. With that said, as you can imagine, my disposable time is now of the utmost importance. When (really, if) I ever have free time, I need to choose wisely on how I use it. Of course, when I do have free time, I also prefer to make it worthy, and my options are indeed abound.  

For this wrestling fan that once watched countless promotions, sought out New Japan Pro Wrestling events on the internet (you know, before it became all trendy and stuff), and honestly, couldn't consume enough pro wrestling (good and/or bad), as you can imagine, 2018 put a quick halt to that. For the first time - well, EVER - my wrestling fandom became acute, refined, and dare I say, select.

A kid who picked up wrestling in the late eighties; enjoyed all of the emotions, pageantry, and imagination that was the 90's; and expanded my palette in the next century; for the first time in my life I find myself intentionally pulling back, and in many ways, souring on what we see in today's industry. 

The biggest change for me? The WWE isn't worth my time. That's hard to say and type. A staple of my life - Monday Night Raw, quickly has eroded in my 2018 from DVR material to go through while staying up with my son, to eventual fodder that I may go through, to a show I now run into if things generate enough buzz to check out. I still watch Smackdown at times, but overall, the WWE in 2018 just felt insulting to me as a fan. Which is tough to say as I - much like all of us - again, grew up on Vince's creation. Hate to say it - I've ditched the WWE product for much of 2018.

Maybe Wrestlemania season will hook me back in. But again, the product in my opinion lacks any fire, urgency, and often, feels like it is stuck in a mode in which Raw and Smackdown are no longer destination appointments, but mere reminders of the WWE product - if you happen to want to watch wrestling in a true episodic format. More on that in a few.

Impact Wrestling also had a bit of renaissance under new management in 2018. I've enjoyed much of what they are trying to build, especially in highlighting new stars and focusing on athletic in-ring action. I've enjoyed Impact more than anything else from a week-to-week standpoint, but in closing 2018, we now learn that the flagship show will be moving once again (Ugh, what else is new?) beginning in January to the Pursuit Channel. I've never heard of this said channel, and I've already checked - my cable provider doesn't carry it. Of course. Soooooooooooo there is that.

In the midst of so many wrestling companies around the world, and this utter revival of smaller companies carving out their piece of the wrestling pie, I've found MLW and have slowly gotten into that. In a world where we're talking about access to channels, finding MLW episodes through their YouTube channel and watching on a laptop or mobile device (of course, while holding child) is a much welcomed opportunity for this new fan and new dad. Because, well it's super easy.

MLW, to my surprise, as I haven't had much knowledge of it until now, has great production, fun matches, some interesting storylines (again, more on that...), and ultimately, doesn't saturate my fandom (also, more on that.). It is also very easy to watch, and carries from week to week.

Everything else in 2018 was specifically on a "big event" basis, meaning, whenever there was an event, I tuned in. New Japan has always been like that for me. NXT as well. And in the last couple of years, ROH has become just that.

Regardless, 2018 has been quite interesting for pro wrestling. Despite the change in my personal life that have affected my fandom, here are a few other notes in which I'm pretty sure have added to it all:

OVERSATURATION

There is an eight-year old me inside that is currently screaming, "Are you crazy? There is no such thing as too much wrestling!!" 

Calm down kid, yes there is.

The WWE carries well over eight hours of programming each week - EACH WEEK! While I'm not one that buys the "it's difficult to write for so many hours" excuse we've seen on dirt sheets and among the rumor mill, especially since the WWE set this very structure for themselves and continues to cash the checks they benefit from it, I believe part of the staleness to the WWE is that nothing can be fresh. Even for bigger shows.

Everyone is in a way - over-exposed.

And there is the abundance of wrestling out there via the internet that makes it hard on really anyone and everyone to produce something special, unique, and dare I say, must-see.

The marketplace is immensely over-saturated. It's great for business. Great for pro-wrestlers. Good for fans. Terrible for creativity and exclusivity.

Speaking of...


EXCLUSIVITY

It's still very weird when I see the same wrestlers on MLW and IMPACT wrestling. I'm aware of the "behind the curtain" contract arrangements, but it really adds another layer that stifles my suspension of belief when Pentagon Jr. is working as a baby face on MLW and IMPACT, and he's terrorizing people in Lucha Underground at the same time.

I guess what I'm saying is, I miss the days when what made the companies different weren't their stage set-up or ring apron, but when they offered unique talent that you can ONLY associated with their brand, and on their TV.

Call me old-school, but I miss that.

A lot of the companies out there today even have the same feel. Everyone is doing the same style and going for the same feel to their product, sans event-set-up and ring apron.

Just my opinion.

"THIS IS AWESOME" [CONTINUE WITH RHYTHMIC CLAPPING] 

Pro wrestling is as athletic as it has EVER been. But I do agree with Eli Drake's latest character turn - where are the people that can talk? Where are the hard hitting contests and the matches that truly feel like struggles and not constant flipping and synchronized tango-ing?

I know I'm really sounding like I'm dipping into Jim Cornette territory here (believe me, I'm not - I don't want to sound like that guy), but it just seems many wrestling matches, with the now formulaic false finishes x10 late in the match have become redundant.

I miss when the awesome promo was a thing. Some of my favorite moments in pro wrestling are when a talent has the opportunity to define themselves, their character, or in a way, sell us on an upcoming match. It feels like a dying art.

And yes, let's retire the "This is Awesome chant".



STORYLINES AND PERSONALITY 

Again, call me crazy, but one of my biggest disconnections with pro wrestling right now are the larger than life personalities missing in the industry. Gone are the men and women who can dazzle you with their words, blind you with their garbs, wow you with their entrances, and overall, carry you along leading into a match.

Is the wrestling gimmick dead? I'm serious. That's a serious question.

I'm not advocating for the Bastion Boogers of the world to return, but, much like the matches, there is an over abundance (and over reliance) on the guy who can deliver a good match, with that being all that's all there is to his or her personality.

It's become so common to which, we  as fans now fantasy book matches based on that imaginary formula of athleticism and in-ring possibilities rather than in terms of storyline happenings, back-and-forth promo possibilities AND of course, the eventual match.

And finally...

PRO WRESTLING FANS ARE THE WORST 

Look no further than us, yes, us.

Wrestling fans in a weird way, have become one of the worst things to pro wrestling.

It's sort of interesting when you can watch something on the WWE Network and the crowd chants and responses are the same in the late 90's and 2000's as there are today.

Or, when we complain about wanting storylines, but are unable to allow these situations and arcs to develop with patience.

We ask for different, but then criticize it when it happens. Thus the same feel of wrestling in every promotion.

We complain about the companies and what we want, but in many ways, we haven't evolved other than through the internet. We're smarter than ever before, yet, our connection to pro wrestling is as formulaic, stagnant, repetitive, and as ill-passioned as it has ever been.

Sometimes, we need to relax and just enjoy pro wrestling.

I'm not sure we do that enough, myself included.

Let's try to do that in 2019. 

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