The world today seems so divided in all aspects of tribalism of this us vs them culture, which has really created a toxic society. From me professional wrestling was an escape from everyday problems and stress, where for a few hours I can be entertained. However, as I wrote about months ago, the negativity and this toxic culture really needs to stop. Wrestling seems to be divided into three main different groups of fans (I’m sure there are other groups that prefer a different brand than the big two as well, but I want to focus on these three):
1) AEW Fans (Love AEW and Hate WWE)
2) WWE Fans (Love WWE and Hate AEW)
3) Wrestling Fans (Watches Everything)
For me, I fall in that third category, I watch everything because I’m usually able to find something I enjoy or find entertaining. Here’s the thing the first two groups don’t like hearing, not everything your company does is perfect and not everything the opposition does is horrible. No wrestling company is perfect, so pretending that they are you are just lying to yourself. Don’t bury one company for doing something because they are the opposition and praise the other for doing the same exact thing because it’s your favorite brand. We sadly see this all the time and it is just ridiculous.
My philosophy is watch whatever wrestling brand that you want to; I don’t believe you have to choose sides as it isn’t necessary. There’s this biased mentality that fans refuse to see the flaws in their favorite brand and refuse to see the positives in the opposition. This biased mindset is what causes the toxic culture that exists today that all three groups seem to agree they hate. Well, this is caused by the first two groups constantly fighting and the role social media plays makes it way worse than it has ever been.
Lisa Simpson brings up a valid point, can’t the fanbases dial down the negativity and hate? There is a very simple solution to all this, watch what you want to watch and don’t bury others for watching the other product. No one is forcing you to choose sides or argue about it. There is a huge difference between a spirited debate and the downright hate and insults thrown on social media because someone says something positive or negative about the “opposition”. Instead of the two sides pointing fingers at one another saying that the other side is the cause of the toxic culture, maybe they should look in the mirror and do some self-reflection and figure out if they are playing any role in all of this hate.
This divide didn’t start with WWE vs AEW, this us vs them in the wrestling community has been around since at least the 80s when the WWF and JCP/NWA/WCW began to expand nationality. Once the products went from just regional/territorial to national, this became the first-time audiences truly became exposed to the different styles of wrestling presentations. The WWF put more focus on the drama and entertainment with over-the-top characters and JCP/NWA/WCW put more focus on the traditional wrestling style and grounded characters for the most part. There wasn’t social media to fight about these things. These debates or arguments were essentially confined to in person or fan letters in wrestling magazines.
In the 90s saw the BOOM of the Big 3 – WWF vs WCW vs ECW – don’t get me wrong there was tribalism during this time, but still without social media it didn’t seem to be as toxic. The debates of who was better DX or the nWo, Austin or Goldberg and then it was the fanbase that insisted ECW was better than anything WWF or WCW was putting on. ECW owner, Paul Heyman, put a huge emphasis on the us vs them culture with both the ECW talent and its ravenous audience. Heyman likely thought this approach would likely create a sense of loyalty amongst the talent and fans that they wouldn’t abandoned the brand because they were in this “together”. It was a smart marketing ploy by Heyman, but of course he didn’t disclose he was secretly getting funding from the WWF. Of course, the wrestling industry made a major shift in March 2001, when the WWF bought WCW and ECW filed for bankruptcy. Which the WWF eventually bought ECW out of bankruptcy court and this now iconic magazine cover came into existence:
I vividly remember when this magazine hit the newsstands and I had to have it (I think I still may have it). As the WWF being the only one standing there was no real competition and for those fans that supported the opposition viewed the WWF as the evil empire. It wasn’t the first time that comparison was made as other promotions folded when the WWF expanded in the 80s it was often said it was the evil empire. TNA and ROH absorbed some of those misplaced fans when WCW and ECW went away, but there wasn’t real legitimate competition to the WWE until 2019 with the launch of AEW in 2019.
This past weekend was a great reminder of why I’m still a fan all these years later, with all the moments and matches during WrestleMania weekend both from WWE and the independents. A question that I have gotten over the years, really you still watch that? Yes, because there may be some bad matches or storylines over the years but when you see moments like the Undertaker’s HOF Induction, Triple H Retiring, Austin Coming Out of Retirement After 19 Years and Cody Rhodes Making His Return To WWE or matches like FTR vs Briscoes, Cody Rhodes vs Seth Rollins and Becky Lynch vs Bianca Belair and others, it reminds you why you are a fan. Seeing a show like Impact’s Multiverse of Matches is a perfect example of when us vs them can be used in a non-toxic way. Moments like for the first time ever a contracted performer from another promotions was not only allowed in the Royal Rumble, but came in with her music, look and championship title from that promotion and Cody Rhodes returning unchanged from his ROH/AEW days. As a wrestling fan these things were amazing to witness. I’m still catching up on the indie shows from mania weekend.
If you’re just a WWE Fan, you are missing out on so much during WM weekend and if you’re anti-WWE, you are missing out too because this year’s WM was a lot of fun. There are no independent wrestling WM weekend shows without WWE anchoring it with WrestleMania. I’m saying this as a wrestling fan, it is just a fact WWE is not this evil empire that fans and a certain biased “journalist” insists to paint them as. Myself and probably a huge portion of the fans first exposure to the world of professional wrestling was probably WWF/E. It is the reason I became a fan, it was the Taker/Kane feud leading to WM 14 that got me hooked.
When you talk about toxic culture, you have to talk about this perception amongst a portion of the audience that treats someone’s star ratings as definitive fact and not just somebody’s opinion. Wrestling Republic makes their rating scale transparent, but many others don’t but at the end of the day these are opinions. I think a lot of fans get wrapped up in what a certain journalist rates a match and treat it as fact when that isn’t true. I view match ratings the same way as I view movie reviews, it is a guide or reference. It doesn’t mean someone declares it a 7-star match I have to agree with it and in fact when that happened, I don’t agree with that rating at all as I felt I saw better matches like Taker vs Shawn Michaels, which this same reviewer didn’t even give it 5-stars. My point is don’t let someone else’s opinion about a match or wrestler be your own. Make up your own mind on what matches or wrestlers that you like and support. So, when a certain journalist insists this tag team is the GOAT or this wrestler is the GOAT, you don’t have to agree him. It is his opinion, and his opinion is no more fact than anyone else’s opinion including my own.
When I agreed to become an opinion writer for Wrestling Republic, I made a promise to give you the reader my personal unbiased opinion on wrestling. I take that responsibility seriously and do my best to give you an unbiased take. Although I did get some negative feedback when I didn’t include the Thunder Rosa vs Britt Baker Lights Out match on my 25-Best of 2021 list. Here is a little behind the scenes information for you, I actually watched that match three times before making that list. I watched it when it originally aired, and it just didn’t connect with me despite being a fan of both competitors. The next day I was seeing all these rave reviews for the match, so I thought maybe I missed something. I went back and rewatched it and came away feeling the same way. Then when putting together the year end list I went back and rewatched only that match because I wanted to be sure on my decision not to include it and I was. Despite this I got “you don’t know what you’re talking about” or “if I see another article from him I’m unfollowing the page” or “so and so says this is match of the year”, again it is just my opinion and I don’t ever claim it is definitive fact. Those that claimed it was match of the year, that is their opinion, but for me I didn’t see that. It’s fine if you disagree with my opinion, but at least be respectful about it is all I ask.
If you take anything away from this article, it is to ask you to be a little more open minded in life and wrestling. Just because someone likes AEW, and you don’t doesn’t mean you have to criticize them for it or vice versa. When a wrestler leaves one company and goes to another you don’t have to act like you don’t like them anymore and they are a traitor or dead to you. Remember that just because someone is a GOAT or this match is 7-stars, it is not fact, and you can have your own opinion. Lastly, try to keep these things in mind as they really contribute to the us vs them toxic culture. Again, watch the wrestling that connects with you and reminds you why you became a fan in the first place and don’t worry what others are watching.
Photo Credits – stangarfield.medium.com, jmark.com/us-vs-them/, Reddit and WCW Worldwide’s Twitter