Note: This article was written by Martand Alexander.
"I'd like to think that maybe this company will be better off after Vince McMahon is dead, but the fact is, it's going to get taken over by his idiotic daughter and his doofus son-in-law." These were just some of the now infamous words from WWE wrestler CM Punk on the June 27, 2011 episode of Monday Night Raw. It was a cleverly scripted promo designed to come across to the fans as a 'shoot', wrestling jargon for an unscripted occurrence. While much of WWE programming had become stale, this shook things up and garnered interest. Punk subsequently went on to win the WWE title, and hold on to it for 434 days, which WWE labeled as the 'longest reign of the modern era'. The win wasn't surprising since CM Punk was the odds-on favorite on our list of sports betting sites. What started off as seemingly real, ended as just another angle with a catchy tagline.
Throughout the 20th century, the term 'kayfabe' was used to denote realism in rivalries, relationships and the wrestling itself. However, on November 9th, 1997, Bret 'Hitman' Hart lost the WWE (at that time WWF) title to Shawn Michaels when the referee signaled for the finish. Vince McMahon, who had previously been a mere commentator was now openly being shown as the owner of the company and both he and Bret Hart went on TV in the forthcoming weeks to explain to the viewers that it wasn't the planned ending to that match. And just like that, kayfabe was dead.
But a strange thing happened. Wrestling itself didn't die. In fact, some of the most successful years were just ahead for WWE and their rivals WCW! It seems wrestling fans don't care that the business was exposed and want to continue to suspend their disbelief. Even at a record setting WWE event with over 80,000 fans in attendance and over one million worldwide pay-per-view purchases, in almost every match you'll see a wrestler yanking his opponent's arm, rendering that opponent helplessly unable to stop himself from running across the ring and bouncing off the ropes! Yet fans avoid applying logic and even defend the product because they simply want to believe it!
In the last few years, wrestling has purely been written as variety shows with the onus put on TV ratings and merchandise sales but, if you dare, you can click here to wager on the WWE main event action. A few promos, a few short matches designed to be quick enough so viewers don't start channel-hopping and the obligatory women's wrestling match, in which inexperienced young models attempt to perform basic wrestling maneuverings they've rehearsed. Wrestlers constantly get fired in story lines and return a week later with some wacky explanation, wins and losses no longer matter and title belts have been proverbial hot potatoes.
A portion of the audience believes the lack of realism lies with the PG rating that WWE programming now adheres to, as opposed to their previous TV14 rating which allowed them to depict blood, weapons and risqué behavior. This is a fallacy because poor ratings or buy-rates can be directly attributed to poor script writing. Regardless of how extreme a wrestling show promises to be, if the storyline isn't compelling, it's difficult to care!
We no longer get 80's and 90's style, over-the-top characters. 20 years ago, fans wouldn't question the legitimacy of Papa Shango, a voodoo practitioner wrestler whose black magic made the Ultimate Warrior vomit violently! So too did fans accept the seemingly never-ending cast of miscreants, including, but not limited to a clown, a boogeyman, a tax collector, a garbage man and the most successful gimmick of all time... an Undertaker!
The UFC outsells WWE pay-per-views by a significant margin, even though they are at the mercy of some fighters maybe not having great characters or even becoming injured prior to a fight. Theoretically, since wrestling is scripted, WWE should be able to write gripping enough stories that will keep fans spending their money.
Well, the key is following through with the story lines. On June 7th 2010, The Nexus, a group of trainee wrestlers appeared on Raw and proceeded to attack WWE staff and destroy the set. Fast forward mere months and the whole group was mostly in low to mid-card meaningless matches. From real to routine. One year later, the aforementioned CM Punk promo suffered the same fate.
So does the WWE want or even care if you think the product is real? The 'E' does after all stand for Entertainment! It appears that for the foreseeable future, wrestling will be portrayed as family fun for the most part, while matches in main events will be treated more seriously. But can Kayfabe return and stay? Yes, of course it can and I hope it does! Will it return? Sadly, the answer is no. Watching wrestling over the last decade has been like watching a movie with the director's audio commentary switched on and there are no indications that the fourth wall is to be rebuilt.