I just had a birthday this past week, and getting older often means looking back on the way things used to be. To that end, at least as it relates to professional wrestling, I find myself thinking about the way Bret Hart used to talk about his character and how absurdly serious he used to take it. I say absurdly now because it’s how I felt then.
I’m not so sure I feel that way anymore.
The pro wrestling industry has changed through the years, and WWE destroying the territories, going national, and eventually just outright purchasing all its competition created a situation whereby the individual mattered much less than the brand they worked for. We haven’t had a legitimate breakout star in WWE since John Cena, at least by the standards stars used to be held to, and there’s no indication that’s going to change anytime soon.
Granted, many things have changed, what with how the product is consumed and the fact that stars are relied on less and less to sell shows, but, shit, man, there are many arguments to be made that we are all much worse off for that fact. The biggest is that the individual seems to be fighting less and less for what’s right for their own character and simply doing as they are ordered to do by the corporate overlords who won’t even classify them as employees.
Sure, to some degree that’s how it needs to be, but there will never be a change in how things are done if more wrestlers aren’t willing to stand up for themselves when they’re being booked into the ground. In business and in life the same rule applies — if you’re willing to accept shit, then shit is what you’ll be given.
We need more wrestlers willing to do what Sasha Banks and Naomi just did. The way Bret Hart once did before them.
They told Vince McMahon “no.”
I’m not here to argue the merits of that based on the booking that was presented (get all the context you need here). I don’t care whether or not you agree with what they did because the creative they were given was sub par or not. I’m here to argue in favor of the worker standing up to the promoter because the worker actually gives a shit about how they are presented and what it means for their career. As much as WWE loves to pretend they’ve done so much for the women’s evolution, and they do deserve credit for making changes, they’ve spent the entirety of 2022 not giving a damn about the women’s tag team titles. Despite that, Banks and Naomi made the absolute most of every bit of TV time they were given, dedicating themselves to making the titles actually mean something, and all this time later the division is still nonexistent.
They simply do not care. That much is obvious.
It became that much more obvious when they went to TV this week and were told plans called for Naomi to put over the singles champion on Raw, and, per reports, Banks likely putting over the singles champion on SmackDown while the tag team titles took a backseat. This makes zero sense, for anyone, but especially for the tag champs who willingly took on a role they almost certainly didn’t want and made the most of it just to be asked to do the job again anyway.
Regardless of how I personally feel about the booking, or the characters, or anything else surrounding all this — though I want to make clear, based on what is out there, I fully agree with the wrestlers (which should be the default position anyway) — I can do nothing but applaud the decision Banks and Naomi made to react to all this by making it clear they weren’t going to put up with it anymore. Sometimes that means packing your gear bag and going home.
That often results in WWE being just as petty and vindictive as can be, with on air commentators being told to call them unprofessional and statements released to the press to paint a very particular picture of the two and how problematic they are for what they’ve done. It’s all bullshit, man. It’s also par for the course with WWE. They did a version of this same song and dance with Stone Cold Steve Austin, arguably the biggest star in the history of the promotion who, one could argue, was the most responsible for making sure WWE won the Monday Night War and allowed McMahon to build this empire. He, too, once “took his ball and went home,” as they put it, after he was given shitty creative he couldn’t agree with. He, too, understood how much it matters to protect your character. Or how much it should matter.
They buried him for it.
They’re trying to bury Banks and Naomi now. But the industry has indeed evolved, and that includes the fan base. Hopefully, enough folks realize we need more wrestlers like Banks and Naomi, not less, and that this kind of shit should no longer be allowed to stand. These smear campaigns shouldn’t be accepted. We should know better by now.
Bret Hart was right.
Sasha Banks and Naomi are right.