I became a wrestling fan at the end of 1985, and I feel fortunate to have gotten in then. The level of talent around North America was incredible, and I got to see most of it thanks to cable television.
And when I tell you I watched everything, I mean I watched it all: WWF, NWA/WCW, UWF, AWA, and WCCW. I was so wrestling-obsessed that I religiously watched GLOW, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, and could recite its show's theme song better than the Apostle's Creed.
Hell, I still can.
And while my preferences would shift based on storylines and personalities, I genuinely loved it all. I never encountered tribalism or felt I had to pick a side until the Monday Night Wars began in 1995.
Though I was a fan of the WWF and WCW, I began to dislike both as much as I loved them during that time. And what I hated most was each side wasting television time sniping at the other. Eric Bischoff giving away Raw's results did nothing to make me want to watch Juventud Guerrera. Likewise, Vince McMahon making fun of Randy Savage's bald spot didn't raise my interest in Bob "Spark Plug" Holly.
When wrestling companies snipe at each other, it doesn't make me like one more than the other. It makes me mad because, indirectly, they're insulting me. When a brand denigrates one side, they slight the people who also like the competition. News flash: it's okay to like Coke and Pepsi. Most folks do.
But more often than not, it causes too many fans to pick sides, creating an us against them environment. So even though losing WCW in 2001 sucked, at least the petty bickering on all fronts ended.
Unfortunately, tribalism is back worse than ever, as All Elite Wrestling and World Wrestling Entertainment vie for the affection and finances of fans everywhere, making for an unpleasant atmosphere among its audiences. Because of each brand's strong presence and the rise of social media, their successes and failures are amplified among wrestling fans in a way WCW and WWE lovers never experienced decades ago.
Such magnitude has drawn feedback from every person imaginable, ranging from zealots, trolls, and longtime fans and newbies alike. And while it would be nice if we all got along, fans will be fans, exercising their voices as they see fit.
Sometimes, those voices will say things we don't want to hear, and we may not like how they say it. I know this quite well because, just as AEW lovers dislike criticism of their promotion, I'm exhausted from seeing the same tired remarks about Goldberg and Roman Reigns, two of my favorite wrestlers.
But I recognize that with free speech and a forum that invites feedback on the stories that grab our attention, a wide range of opinions will come storming through. We can ignore those voices, engage with them, or offer a different perspective that uplifts the conversation and inspires others to reconsider their views. We also reserve the right to simply gripe.
What we choose to do in and with the space provided is up to us.