Professional wrestling as it exists in its current form has history in America stretching back to the mid 1800s, and even the sports entertainment version of the concept has roots in ideas first presented in the 1920s. The Internet, on the other hand, is a relatively newer concept, despite the fact it rapidly became the most important tool in the universe shortly after Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989. Obviously, neither the creators of pro wrestling nor the people who started turning it into sports entertainment had any idea the Internet would come along and change everything. In some cases, they’re still struggling with that fact today, and unable to adapt to the constantly growing world the Internet is both directly and indirectly responsible for.
The Internet has affected the entire world of professional wrestling just as it has the world at large, with both major and minor ramifications for global and independent promotions alike. It’s actually the bigger companies that were affected more by the Internet, since the smaller indies tend to exist in their own little worlds, with fans that don’t care enough to desperately hunt for secrets and spoilers. WWE fans, on the other hand, love their secrets, rumors, and speculation, and we got to admit we’re thankful for it, because that’s our bread and butter. TNA fans, Lucha Underground fans, and even some of those indie fans out there also spend a lot of time on the Net, and the entire wrestling world has had to adapt as a result. Keep reading if you want to learn the specifics on 15 ways you didn’t know the Internet changed professional wrestling.
15. Kayfabe Is Gone For Good
Professional wrestling is a scripted form of entertainment, but to a child watching it for the very first time, just maybe it looks like the athletes in the ring are legitimately competing for glory and dominance. Despite what certain promoters try and tell you, society at large has always at least suspected wrestling was fixed, but most wrestlers themselves would staunchly pretend it was real up until as late as the early 1990s. Wrestlers weren’t just protecting children’s suspension of disbelief, though, they were honoring a long held tradition the wrestling world refers to as kayfabe.
Kayfabe is the term used to describe wrestlers and wrestling personality pretending sports entertainment and all that it entails is entirely real. Virtually every fan knows that it isn’t, but that doesn’t mean fans can’t pretend it is for a little while when watching the show. Or at least they could, before the Internet gave them pictures of faces and heels eating together at catering tables every week before Monday Night Raw. Even kids who’ve never seen wrestling before are told it’s fake the second they log on to WWE.com, and at this point, Vince McMahon just doesn’t care anymore. Luckily, most never did, either.
14. Independents Can Have Global Reach
Most wrestling fans can only name a handful of successful wrestling companies, especially when limited to companies that are currently producing shows. That doesn’t mean there aren’t dozens of them, though, both on a global, national, and much smaller scale. There are in fact exponentially more promotions as the breadth of their audience grows smaller, but these companies obviously don’t have the money or resources to advertise and expand in any way. They do, however, have the Internet.
All a wrestling organization needs to reach an audience of millions is a ring, two wrestlers, a camera, and a YouTube account. Depending on how lowbrow you want to get about it, the ring could even be optional. On a more relevant level, companies like Pro Wrestling Guerrilla or Ring of Honor, with enough money to put on a decent show in front of loyal fans, but not enough money to travel, have been able to spread their product across the world with ease. Videos of indy matches have even gone viral, and small time wrestlers have started to get big time notice thanks to some online savvy by themselves or their promoters.
13. Breaking The Language Barrier
The Internet is praised not only for being the information center of the world, but also for bringing diverse people of all kinds together and helping them connect at the click of a button. This diversity includes people who may not speak the same language or relate to the same culture. Thanks to the Internet, however, a difference like language can be taken care of with a few buttons and translation program, and we can get a jumpstart on learning foreign culture with a few videos and a Wikipedia page.
Professional wrestling has largely existed in three cultural forms: American, Mexican, and Japanese. There have been crossover superstars in every way imaginable, and wrestlers shouldn’t necessarily be pigeonholed into any style, but there are huge differences between the three nationalities in how their pro wrestling is presented. One of the biggest barriers from a new fan getting into a foreign culture’s style would be the simple and obvious fact they can’t understand anything that’s happening. Thanks to the Internet, though, events are getting translated, dubbed, and more accessible to audiences around the world.
12. Wrestling Became Nerdy
There are dozens of misconceptions about wrestling fans, first and foremost that they are all the same in any way. Despite this, many cliché assumptions are made about people simply based on the form of entertainment they enjoy. One of the most baseless was the assumption all wrestling fans are losers who live in their parents’ basements, but luckily that assumption has gradually started to die out, in part because of fans on the Internet making themselves known. And thus, the perception has shifted a bit to nerds with too much time on their hands who will complain about whatever they see on television.
Obviously, this is an equally unfair depiction of wrestling fans, and one that isn’t true in the slightest. It is true, though, that there are dozens of wrestling video games, action figures, and other memorabilia associated with nerd culture that definitely supports a crossover appeal. And hey—there’s nothing wrong with being nerdy in today’s society, either. It’s still a strange and new assumption for people to be making about wrestling fans, though, and not one that all wrestlers or fans are even aware how to respond to.
11. Corporate Secrets Started Spilling Out
While it was an issue that the scripted nature of wrestling started to become more common knowledge than common assumption, an even bigger problem not coincidentally facing the bigger wrestling companies in the world thanks to the Internet is the fact corporate secrets are starting to become common knowledge, as well. Vince McMahon’s first major run in with the law came around the same time the Internet started to take off, and he only narrowly missed what could have been a damning takedown of his company thanks to the lack of fast spreading information.
Years later, when McMahon’s wife ran for the Senate, web sites dug up some of his actions during his steroid trial that could have proved pretty damning had the public been aware of it at the time. Plenty of previous writers and non-wrestling employees have left the company and presented nothing but horror stories about their time with WWE, all through various outlets online. Smaller companies have also suffered this fate, with plenty of one-time promoters ensuring they’d never con another audience out of paying money thanks to angry Facebook posts and similar methods.
10. There Are No More Surprises
It’s bad enough for wrestling promoters that there’s no way to get fans to employ any level of verisimilitude to the product anymore, but it’s even worse that there’s no longer any way to even surprise them. The rare moments fans seem to truly lose themselves and forget about wrestling being fake are the shocking and euphoric moments where the good guy finally wins the big one, or perhaps even better, something happens that we never in a lifetime would have expected to actually happen. Most wrestling companies can still pull off the first one with diminishing returns, but the idea of a true surprise in sports entertainment has gone out the door with constant reporting and web sites alerting fans every time a superstar is rumored to be making their return.
Shane McMahon making his return to WWE in early 2016 was a huge deal in part because of Shane’s legacy, but even more so because it was the first time in years WWE pulled something off without the Internet finding out about it first. The only way to be surprised by WWE is to stay off the Internet for weeks before watching their product. Despite this, it might be worth checking the Internet to see who the company is bringing back, just in case they get some horrible ideas in mind.
9. Armchair Booking Has Become A Sometimes Obnoxious Hobby
If something is popular enough, unqualified people are going to assume they can do it better than the professionals. There’s a strange quality in certain people that makes them believe the less training and experience they have in a subject, the better they can perform at it, and this quality definitely holds true in wrestling fans who regularly find themselves “armchair booking.” Armchair booking is sitting on one’s couch, or armchair, watching wrestling on television and screaming that the wrong people are winning, the storylines are all going in the wrong direction, and most importantly, that you could do a much better job writing the show than Vince McMahon/Triple H/Dixie Carter/Eric Bischoff/etc.
Armchair booking has become such a popular phenomenon, there have even been video games and messages boards created around the hobby. However, most armchair bookers aren’t content to sit and play Extreme Warfare, and instead take their ideas to their favorite wrestler’s Twitter or other social media. Some wrestlers might appreciate any fan interaction, but many find it annoying, especially if the fan is implying they could do a better job than the pros. Perhaps a very small handful could, but most armchair bookers need to stop complaining and enjoy the show.
8. Vince Russo Tried Swerving His Swerves
The proliferation of the Internet has obviously had plenty of indirect ramifications on the wrestling industry, but there have actually been a few instances when it very directly affected the booking strategies of one of the most influence people in wrestling. Vince Russo was the head booker of Monday Night Raw during the Attitude Era, who along with his writing partner Ed Ferrara jumped to WCW in September of 1999. They quickly turned WCW into a complete mess, largely in part due to their obsession with shocking fans and doing things the Internet didn’t see coming.
Unfortunately, just because something was unexpected didn’t mean it was any good. In fact, much of Vince Russo’s booking was so unexpected that it defied any logical convention, such as once having a mystery wrestler attacking victims including Rick Steiner later revealed to have been Rick Steiner, because no one saw that coming. Well, of course they didn’t, it makes absolutely no sense. Russo wasn’t alone is his fascination with “the ultimate swerve,” but he definitely went to that well more than anyone else, and can in some ways be considered a human personification of the majority of this list.
7. Tape Trading Made Money For Super Fans
This entry is a pretty unique one, in that it’s about a very short-lived but sometimes quite profitable business venture amongst the most die hard wrestling fans, that the Internet quickly caused to explode in popularity for a few short years, only to kill it off entirely only a few more years after that. We’re talking about tape trading, the idea of taping and making copies of rare and exclusive wrestling shows and either trading or outright selling them to other fans around the world. Copyrights weren’t really an issue, because fans weren’t exactly stealing from WWE or WCW on this one. Some were, but the real successes of the tape trading industry were independent promotions like ECW, SMW, FMW, and other companies presenting fringe styles of wrestling not available through mainstream markets.
By and large, the wrestling industry welcomed these tape traders, as the concept was mutually beneficial for everyone involved. Fans were interacting, having fun, and making money, and the wrestling promoters were getting their product out to new fans who otherwise would have had no way of seeing it and now might want to actually pay for the next show if they happen to be in town. Unfortunately, this is one field that shows there is sometimes too much of a good thing, as the Internet eventually made the entire concept meaningless when WWE started to use it themselves, but more on that later…
6. Fans Can Interact With One Another From Around The World
While the Internet has changed the wrestling industry in plenty of ways, like most entertainment industries, pro wrestling has been built entirely on the dedication and support of its many fans, and they, too, have changed thanks to the World Wide Web. We already mentioned how the world’s perception of wrestling fans has changed, fairly or not, but something about the fans themselves truly is different than it was only a few decades ago—wrestling fans, no matter where they are, can easily find other wrestling fans to talk to at the click of a button.
Pro wrestling is a billion dollar industry with millions of fans worldwide, but it’s still a pretty niche form of entertainment, and not everyone can relate to a wrestling fan’s enjoyment of the sport. Those wrestling fans can, however, go online and find someone out there who does relate to their love of grappling, and in fact find an entire universe of fans ready to talk about everything happening in the sports entertainment world. Of course, there’s a downside to this, as well…
5. Insane Rumors and Theories Spread Like News
For the most part, it’s a good thing wrestling fans can easily talk to one another and spread their ideas on sports entertainment no matter where they live. However, one minor or major downfall depending on the extent of a fan’s imagination can be the fact that thanks to the Internet, rumors and absurd theories are starting to get treated like serious news when the wrong people start to get involved in spreading information. For as many great wrestling based web sites as there are, both for fans and for serious news, there are as many totally fake rumor mills making shit up and attempting to profit on the work of the real sports entertainers.
Outside of Vince Russo and his aforementioned love of swerves, most wrestling promoters tend to ignore the most outlandish rumors found on the Internet. This doesn’t stop them from spreading, though, and leaving some fans with confusing and completely made up thoughts about their favorite grapplers. While we’re on the subject, though, perhaps the made up facts on the Internet aren’t that bad in comparison to some of the real ones…
4. Sad Statistics Are Easily Available
It has been covered time and time again, both by this web site and a series of others, but once more it bears repeating: professional wrestling is a dangerous sport. No matter how scripted and pre-determined it is, the sports entertainers are putting their bodies and even their lives at risk every time they step into the ring. And that’s even if everything goes completely right.
Wrestling fans would have started to see the problem even without the Internet as soon as top starts started dying young at a rapid rate. There’s no way to avoid a tragedy like Chris Benoit murdering his family, but the Internet makes it even easier for fans to learn absolutely everything about his life that lead to that moment. They can learn the same thing about every wrestler who died young, and discover all the drugs they took, how normal it was for wrestlers to take those drugs, and even how it shouldn’t have been too surprising wrestlers take drugs in the first place given how much pain they force upon themselves thanks to certain moves they shouldn’t perform in the first place. The Internet exposes every danger of the sport with helpful links that prove the dangers are far from over, and many fans are still waiting for wrestling to do something huge and try and fix these problems.
3. WWE Is Getting Called Out On Their Lies
Maybe fans are too fast to tell WWE what to do when it comes to the in-ring product, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be allowed to call the company out when they’re being blatantly lied to. One of the biggest stories in WWE throughout all of 2016 has been the complete failure of Roman Reigns as a top babyface. No matter what the company does, fans simply can’t connect with the guy and boo their lungs out every time he appears on television. Arguably the most tactless methods the company has used to fight this has been to edit the boos into cheers whenever showing videos of Reigns on retrospectives and pre-taped shows.
Wrestling fans are willing to suspend disbelief in plenty of ways, but literally having their voices silenced and manipulated is one way in which they feel things are going to far. There’s also the issue of the WWE Wellness Policy, which many fans feel isn’t set out to actually help the performers in the slightest, and serves as more of a publicity stunt than a health care plan. The Internet is also the place Stephanie McMahon is Tweeting some truly thoughtless ideas, and it sure didn’t take fans long to get on her about that one.
2. Wrestlers Are Getting In On The Fun
While it’s nice that fans are able to interact with one another and share their thoughts about wrestling on a global scale, most people would probably understand that regardless of the entertainment, no one really wants to talk to the fans—people want to talk to the stars. In the case of wrestling, that means the superstars, and thanks to the Internet, plenty of people are starting to get that chance. Fans are tweeting at wrestlers, following them on Instagram, and even becoming friends thanks to the power of the Internet. And it doesn’t stop there.
Even the wrestlers who don’t directly interact with their fans are using the Internet to create products they never could have conceptualized without YouTube, or at least some other video services. Zack Ryder famously broke out as a noteworthy star thanks to his web series Z! True Long Island Story, Xavier Woods has his popular video game series UpUpDownDown, and perhaps most popular of all, The Edge and Christian Awesome Show existed one totally awesome season on the WWE Network. All of these shows, and plenty of others, had wrestlers getting in on the fun of being a wrestling fan, marking out, buying into kayfabe, and most of all enjoying sports entertainment for the great joke that it is.
1. The WWE Network
Without any question, the biggest way the Internet has changed professional wrestling has been allowing for the creation of the WWE Network. The idea of a pro wrestling channel has existed in the minds of fans for virtually as long as television was invented, and when the Internet started to look like it could one-up television, fans turned to the Web and let their dreams expand. As Vince McMahon gradually purchased the majority of his competitions, he also purchased their film libraries, so if anyone would have been capable of creating this one stop shop for all the wrestling videos a fan could ever dream of, he’d be the man to do it. And in February of 2014, the WWE Network finally launched and the dreams of wrestling fans everywhere came true.
More than two years later, the WWE Network is still a work in progress, but it’s also still more than any fan ever could have dreamed of before the Internet was invented. One of the first major selling points of the Network was the fact every WWE, WCW, and ECW Pay-Per-View would be available to stream at any time, and that boast has since expanded to include literally thousands of hours more entertainment than those initial modest offerings. The Network is still expanding almost every month, and is already available in dozens of countries around the world. As the Internet expands, the WWE Network is likely only going to continue that expansion along with it.