In the span of one week, both the WWE and World heavyweight titles were defended in extreme gimmick matches on free television. Both matches brought out shockingly good performances from the four men involved.
Given the violent nature of the bouts, and the positive fan reaction to them, does this mean the WWE Universe wants, and is ready for, an edgier product?
Since around 2008, the WWE has been PG, a label that signifies a more family-friendly product. It has been a dividing change.
On one side, the less violent wrestling allows the WWE to have wider exposure and more lucrative endorsements, like the recent John Cena/Fruity Pebbles deal.
On the other side, a more family-oriented product alienates older fans who grew up with the Attitude Era, UFC, MMA and a whole list of violent sports.
Wrestling is, at its core, entertainment. The definition of entertainment varies from person to person. But fans flock to wrestling to see the athletes do things and endure things they just can't see anywhere else.
For some, it may be incredible scientific wrestling. For others, blood-inducing brawling.
So what wrestling does best is change with the times. The past week's title matches may indicate another change is in the air.
In the span of one week, the WWE gave fans CM Punk vs. Ryback in a TLC bout and Big Show vs. Alberto Del Rio in a Last Man Standing match.
There's nothing family-friendly about those matches.
One lets the wrestlers beat each other with tables, ladders and chairs, until one guy can climb a ladder and grab the belt hanging from the ceiling.
The other lets those same wrestlers beat the living hell out of each other until one of them can't get up from a 10-count.
They're vicious, violent and animalistic, touching on our basic instincts for brutality.
And the fans ate it up.
The match between Punk and Ryback was the third time these two had wrestled. With Punk scheduled to face The Rock at the Royal Rumble, there wasn't a chance Ryback would win.
But it didn't matter.
Letting these two guys beat each other silly injected them and their match with new life. Ryback got to be a beast, while Punk came off stronger than ever.
The same is true for Show and Del Rio. Show is an intimidating wrestler, but watching him get weaker as he was pounded in the head with the steel steps was exciting. There was a crack in the big man’s armor.
For Del Rio, here was a guy who had received way too many shots at Sheamus—and failed every time. Even with the spoiler that he would win, he was exhilarating to watch again.
His valiant struggle to regain his feet each time he went down clearly resonated with the crowd. It was a metaphor for everyone who had been knocked down by something larger than life and refused to give up for one second.
The reaction of the fans to these matches should be a wake-up call for the WWE.
Things don't need to be Attitude Era violent, but the sport needs the edge these two matches presented. Wrestling is the world of make-believe and superheroes, and the action needs to be more than fans are used to seeing everywhere else.
Modern fans have been raised on edgier content. Wrestling needs an edge, an excitement, to stand out once again as the greatest sport in the world.
Today's product may be just a little too soft.
If anything, the fans this past week have made one thing very clear. Just like Owen Hart used to say, "Enough is enough, and it's time for a change!"
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