I’m writing a lot about the future lately. It’s hard when people try to blow up where you commute to work every day, but that’s a whole other story.
I’m writing all this because I don’t want assholes to define the future for us. And if we’re not careful, that’s what we’ll get.
Don’t take my word for it. Just look at the current state of the New York City subway system and the lack of significant progress that’s been made to prepare for a rise in sea levels in Brooklyn, Queens, and Lower Manhattan.
Both of these issues, attempted bombing aside today, represent a total lack of planning and imagination which will dick us over.
Not just now, like when the L train shuts down, but in the not too distant future when we get hit with another Hurricane Sandy-like storm, or even further out, when the flooding gets bad toward the end of the century and we have to abandon parts of the city.
We often suck when it comes to planning and creating the future. And part of that sucking includes sometimes letting greedy idiots and dumb people — like suicide bombers and climate change deniers — make the future for us.
So, if there is a better way forward, whether it involves advertising in self-driving cars or an idea about melding men and women’s professional wrestling at the cruiserweight level, you might as well do what I’m doing here and share it.
Then, do the responsible thing and spread the word about your idea before the assholes find a way to ruin it or prevent the idea from being implemented at all.
Otherwise, when Apple rolls out their augmented reality glasses within the next few years, your world could look like this when you use them.
What Does This Have To Do With Pro Wrestling?
A lot. Like comic books, jazz, and chocolate chip cookies, pro wrestling is a uniquely American invention. And as our country and the world changes, mostly for the better, I think it’s fun to wonder how pro wrestling will change along with it.
For the sake of brevity, I’m also not going to get into my thoughts on feminism and gender equality here. Here we’re talking purely about entertainment value as well as doing something unique and fun with a struggling brand in WWE’s 205 Live. That’s the pro wrestling monolith’s show centered around the cruiserweight division.
For those of you new here, I grew up as a WCW and ECW fan. After both companies were purchased by WWE in various ways in the early ’00s, like a lot of fans who didn’t just walk away from pro wrestling — millions did if the difference in television ratings between the ‘90s and now is any indication — I reluctantly started watching WWE.
You might argue that it’s not fair to go by television ratings to indicate anything in 2018 because Nielsen’s system is mostly bullshit, and you’d be half-right. Their system is bullshit, but if you factor in Live+3 and Live+7 ratings (that is, ratings for shows that are delayed because people watched them on Hulu or their DVR three days, or seven days later, instead of live), television ratings aren’t that much different across the board from where they were in the ‘90s.
We’ve just allowed dumb people, and Netflix’s PR machine, to tell us otherwise because it’s a great story and cable companies are easy to hate.
If you pit a popular “underdog”, even if it’s one spending billions on content, against an unpopular enemy like Comcast, it’s easy to push this “everyone is cutting cable and fleeing to Netflix” narrative when it’s more likely that people are cutting the cord because they’re broke and cable bills are absolutely out of control because customers have little recourse against their entrenched local cable monopolies.
If you were to add up how much you are spending on monthly streaming packages like MLB.TV, CBS All Access, HBO Now, Netflix, Hulu, WWE Network, and Amazon Prime, you’re fast approaching the same amount people would pay each month for cable. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see how much Disney is going to charge us for their new service once it rolls out in 2019. You can bet it won’t be cheap in order for them to make all the money back that they’re going to spend to acquire entertainment assets from News Corp.
In other words, I think it’s safe to say a lot of people bailed on professional wrestling and never came back after the late ‘90s and we can point to the ratings as a fair indicator of that. Most weeks, Raw and Smackdown don’t even break three million viewers. That’s down half of what a random Raw in the late ‘90s — like the near seven million people who tuned in to watch the shocking, and disappointing, reveal that Vince McMahon was in charge of the Undertaker’s Ministry of Darkness.
The reason why I became a pro wrestling fan is that I have two brothers who are mentally disabled, and they both are really into the genre. In fact, if it were not for my older brother, who is disabled, barging into my room and demanding to watch WCW Worldwide every Saturday night at 2 am when I was younger, I probably would have never developed an interest in it at all. Wrestling was more or less forced on me, and I learned to love it from there. These days I continue watching pro wrestling because I love comic books and live theater, and pro wrestling is the best possible combination of those two things.
(Plus, in the interest of full disclosure, since everyone knows about my superheroine-in-peril deal now that it’s in the graphic novel, yes, the girls looked like they jumped out of a comic book, and that didn’t hurt in terms of getting and keeping my attention. So let’s just acknowledge that and leave it aside here along with what you might think about professional wrestling as a genre and the kind of people who watch it.)
Again, we’re just talking pure entertainment value here, and I think an intergender version of 205 Live could be interesting enough to help that brand and attract interest from lapsed professional wrestling fans, provided the creative is there to back everything up.
As most pro wrestling fans will tell you, when the show is good creatively, it’s the best thing to watch. When the creative is bad, pro wrestling is absolutely unbearable to sit through. (See: Ziggler, Dolph and his feud with Rusev in 2015. The Bella Twins feuding with each other is also up there as some of the worst television in recorded existence. Even if “I wish you died in the womb?” will always be hilarious to me.
The above video is one of the worst wrestling promos in recent memory.
Girls vs. Guys. Get over it.
So, here is what you need to know:
WWE has a show that features their cruiserweight division. For those of you who don’t know what a cruiserweight is, or forever link pro wrestling in your mind with steroid-addled (and apparently super racist) giants like Hulk Hogan, the cruiserweight division is for wrestlers weighing at or less than 205 pounds.
The implication of the lower weight class (although not always true) is that the wrestling you’ll see with the cruiserweight division will involve a lot of acrobatics and maneuvers that you won’t see on WWE’s Raw, Smackdown, or NXT shows. Sometimes the bigger athletes can do the same thing the cruiserweights do, which is part of the reason why the cruiserweight division is currently struggling.
Why would you watch one show featuring one thing, the cruiserweights, when you can watch the other shows like Raw where almost everyone is doing the same kind of moves that the cruiserweights can?
Shit, the cruiserweights even show up on Raw as a regular feature, which further highlights how undifferentiated they often are from the main WWE roster aside from weight.
For the marketers among you, this means WWE’s 205 Live is a brand without distinction.
Sure they have purple ropes and different commentary teams (please for the love of God bring back Austin Aries on commentary), but the product itself is no different than the product WWE offers elsewhere. It’s undifferentiated and provides no incentive to watch it.
This is especially made worse when the show is taped after WWE Smackdown. Doing so means you have a tired post-Smackdown crowd that’s been sitting there for almost four hours by the time the night is over, leading to a lot of them leaving or just passively watching what’s happening in the ring for the 205 Live taping.
WWE is attempting to alleviate this particular problem in 2018 with tapings and a mini-tour on the road for 205 Live, but those are safe, incremental changes. The kind corporations typically make because of their short-sightedness and lack of imagination. What I’m going to suggest here is the best possible change WWE can make to 205 Live.
The lesson here, also for the marketers among you, is to never dilute your brand. That’s why WWE’s NXT works and WWE’s 205 Live doesn’t work. WWE’s NXT product has its own look, its own wrestlers, its own arena, and its own target audience. Rarely does NXT interact with Raw or Smackdown in a meaningful way, meaning that if you want to see their wrestlers and storylines, you have to watch NXT.
It was NXT that first started treating the women competitors as equals, main eventing network specials and the weekly show on a regular basis.
The NXT audience is completely different from the main WWE audience. While not as big as the main Raw and Smackdown audience, the NXT audiences are extremely dedicated and loyal.
They work as fantastic brand ambassadors for the wrestlers who “graduate” from NXT to WWE’s main roster in cheering them on upon their debut and the ensuing weeks. NXT has great word of mouth for the brand and for its wrestlers, even if WWE’s Creative can sometimes completely botch a great NXT character once they arrive on the main roster like they did with Bray Wyatt.
If anyone takes the Bray Wyatt character seriously in 2017, I might suggest there’s something wrong with your medulla oblongata (to quote Dale Carnegie … and “The Waterboy.”)
No word of mouth ambassadors for the brand means no word of mouth, which makes life as a marketer infinitely harder (not to mention, way more expensive.) WWE’s 205 Live doesn’t have that, nor does it have anything else NXT possess in terms of its differentiation.
The WWE Women’s division on the other hand, which encompasses Smackdown, Raw, and NXT) is phenomenal.
At this moment, right now, there has never been a better collection of talented athletes in that division in the company’s decades-long history. For that matter, it’s unlikely you’ll find a better collection of athletes in WWE’s women’s division today than you would at any point in the history of professional wrestling in North America. (Japan may disagree.)
You can argue that some of the characters are not utilized as well as they should (looking at you, Bayley and Sasha Banks), but I don’t get into those arguments. That’s like me trying to ask the writers on The Flash to explain how the fuck the Reverse Flash is still alive after being erased from reality at the end of the second season of Legends of Tomorrow.
This decision, as confusing and infuriating as it was, is not up to me. It’s not my choice. It’s not my show. So I can have my opinions, but I’m also not going to get bent out of shape because I’m not the one writing things.
Also, it seems to me that, like the actors in the Arrowverse, where Stephen Amell was able to get Bruce Wayne mentioned after advocating for it; the wrestlers have the same capability to advocate for themselves and their characters and either do and are ignored, or choose not to, depending on who you want to listen to. This impression of mine can be wrong, but it’s been echoed by Vince McMahon himself on down to former wrestlers turned VERY entertaining podcasters, Edge and Christian.
As every voter in Connecticut knows, this stacked women’s division wasn’t always how WWE operated when it came to their portrayal of women; which among other things, was used unfairly to tarnish Linda McMahon’s campaigns for Senate.
Not that I would have voted for McMahon, but I resented both of her opponents using professional wrestling to smear her instead of running on their respective platforms. There was an implied, if not outright, implication that somehow fans of professional wrestling were malformed miscreants that are downscale citizens not deserving of any attention or fair treatment.
It wasn’t too long ago we were saying the same about comic book fans, by the way, and I’ll remind you that the highest paid actor in Hollywood is a former WWE wrestler. As much as I dislike Donald Trump, it’s also worth pointing out that the President of the United States has a deep history with WWE as well, is in their hall of fame, and is the answer to my favorite future Jeopardy question: “He is the only American president to receive a stone cold stunner.” If John Cena or Dave Bautista really break out in Hollywood, it’ll be difficult to argue that pro wrestling fans are out of touch in terms of their sensibilities. Anyone doing so after that point would just be an elitist asshole.
You see, The women’s division in ECW, WCW, and WWF/WWE was … not great, to be completely diplomatic. It’s not too long ago that the women were treated like objects, not athletes, with some exceptions, and as much as everyone seems to be nostalgic for WWF’s Attitude Era, we seem to forget that there was a whole lot of garbage surrounding the good stuff from that time. Remember Naked Mideon? No? Exactly.
(The history of women’s professional wrestling would make for a hell of a book, as it has made for a very entertaining Netflix show in GLOW. But for our purposes let’s just describe the history as being somewhere between shameful and fucking bad and move on because that takes us out of what I want to focus on here.)
So, here we have something that’s on fire, the WWE’s women’s division, and a brand that’s struggling with 205 Live.
Since (most) of the women fall under the 205 weight limit (the weight limit in WCW’s original cruiserweight division was 220 just for reference’s sake) why wouldn’t we combine aspects of the two to make a better show?
Almost every woman on the current WWE roster across NXT, Raw, and Smackdown qualifies for the cruiserweight division. Weights are always under or over reported for every athlete, male or female, but if we’re going to seriously hold to the 205 thing, then it just adds more credibility, not less, to my argument that the girls should be able to compete with the guys since they’re at the same weight class.
Also, I know it’s reductive to talk about how much a woman weighs, but I think this is one of the few instances where it’s a relevant point to raise given weight is the cutoff for the 205 Live show.
I’m not saying all of the women should move to the cruiserweight division. Doing that is asinine on a number of levels, but if you have characters like Bayley and Sasha Banks, or even Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Naomi, Alicia Fox (wrestling, not just being a character on the show), and others who have nothing to do on Raw and Smackdown, there’s no logical reason they couldn’t compete with the guys on 205 Live given that every one of them makes the weight cut.
Most of the arguments made against this point are strictly emotional ones. “Girls can’t wrestle boys.” Well, why not? Girls can do whatever the fuck they want, like playing D1 college football and running for president.
There’s zero reason why Charlotte Flair can’t be the cruiserweight champion the same way Chyna (a woman who was billed as weighing 180 pounds) was the Intercontinental champion during the Attitude Era. So we already have the precedent of women being able to compete with, and beat, the guys as part of the stories being told inside of a WWE ring.
In addition to Chyna being a Royal Rumble participant, we also had Beth Phoenix (billed at 175 pounds) not too long ago mixing it up with the guys in a Royal Rumble match. Although it’s a bummer she had to kiss Khali to eliminate him from the match, she does go and immediately clotheslines CM Punk, so it’s not all bad in terms of intergender appearances.
Since modern women’s wrestling is basically a far superior version of the cruiserweight division anyway; and women aren’t trained differently than the men to become pro wrestlers in the first place, merging parts of the two divisions would lead to something new and, I think, an exciting new product that makes 205 Live standout as a brand and as a show to watch.
The integration, if handled correctly (which is always in doubt with WWE Creative), would be a smooth process with little to no hiccups given the similarities in styles and training.
If you throw all of these elements together, now you would have a reason to watch 205 Live. Especially if the intergender matches were exclusive to the show.
Girls vs. Guys. Guys and Girls teaming together without that stupid rule that says a girl can’t be in the ring the same time a guy can. Of course you can, and should, still do girl vs. girl and guy vs. guy because you don’t want to limit your storyline potential, but this creates an interesting dynamic that would not only invigorate the show but create a great opportunity to further the WWE’s public relations narrative of treating their women as equals with the guys. Not to mention, also assisting them in marketing their overall product to more women. Something they need to do if they’re going to survive since wrestling fans tend to be older and are aging out of (stupidly) desired advertiser demographics.
Who wants to see a girl underdog rise to the top and kick some ass? Hint: It’s the basis for the new Star Wars trilogy. So the answer is clear from box office results: Everyone.
But It’s Still Dudes Hitting Girls Though, Right?
Pro wrestling is a television show. I want to repeat that because even though it is live action, and the characters are sometimes amped up version of the actual performers, it still is a television show.
So while I get that the optics of a man “fighting” a woman in the ring may seem wrong, particularly in this day and age, I remind you again that this is a show designed to entertain people with colorful characters and personalities, fighting as heroes and villains. Sometimes the plots make absolutely no fucking sense, but neither do they on a lot of television shows like The Blacklist or Chicago PD.
Wrestling fans, increasingly so, are already accustomed to intergender wrestling. So this is not a radical thing I’m proposing here.
This documentary is a few years old, and features a few current WWE competitors like Ruby Riot and Ember Moon wrestling men, but it’s worth a quick watch to see what I’m talking about:
There’s also Lucha Underground that has also prominently involved the women squaring off with the men in their intricate storylines, up to and including competitors like Sexy Star winning the world title.
I’ve seen the argument online that Mattel (who makes toys for WWE) doesn’t want WWE to push for intergender wrestling, but I haven’t seen anything to back up that argument. Especially because this happened just last month …
It could be that sponsor pressure is keeping WWE from making further progress on this front.
It could be shareholders.
As far as the shareholders go, most people holding stock in WWE aren’t doing so to make money, since it’s rare that the stock performs well for a sustained period of time.
Besides, the McMahon family has full control of the company due to the way the company went public, so it doesn’t really matter what the shareholders think. Since most people holding WWE stock are fans anyway to a certain extent, they’re going to defer to the judgment of the McMahons, whether they may like it or not.
If you disagree, I submit to you Exhibit A: Roman Reigns, who seemingly nobody wants to be featured prominently as Monday Night Raw’s main character, but has been relentlessly (and annoyingly) shoved down every fan’s throats despite their complete lack of interest and Reigns’ incapability of communicating with the audience in a way that doesn’t make him come off as an entitled douchebag. If the shareholders had any real power, they would have put a stop to this after fans revolted and started canceling their WWE Network subscriptions because of Reigns.
So, let’s put the shareholder thing aside and just focus on the “advertisers won’t let WWE do intergender matches” thing. That argument doesn’t hold any water either.
If 205 Live airs exclusively on the WWE Network (meaning it’s subscriber-supported and not advertiser supported) then the argument of sponsor pressure should go right out the window because the fans are subsidizing the show, not the advertiser.
But I also think, if the women’s division and cruserweight divison was partially merged, sponsors could be excited about this if framed the right way.
With Target doing away with gender-based shelves in the kids section in 2015 and other stores following suit both in terms of shelving and offering gender-neutral kids toys, you figure there’s plenty of opportunities here for advertisers to embrace this sort of enterprise.
Even in stores that still have toys broken down by gender, there’s zero reason why Charlotte Flair, Bayley, Sasha Banks, and Asuka can’t be featured in the section for the girls and the boys.
Would there be a backlash for creating an intergender cruiserweight division? Sure, but that’s part of the fun.
There’s no such thing as bad publicity when your brand is an established global entity. (There’s such a thing as bad publicity if nobody knows who you are and haven’t already formed an opinion about you.)
So at the very least, if Fox News wants to complain about the girls fighting the guys, let them. If there’s an advocacy group who wants to make some noise and raise donations for themselves by attacking WWE for allowing intergender cruiserweight matches, let them.
It’s a great and interesting discussion point, and when it comes to the general public and professional wrestling, it’s rare we have a discussion point that doesn’t end with the words steroids or murder.
And sure, you’re going to have the part of the pro wrestling fan base that may push back on having girls vs. guys but that’s the price of progress.
There will always be resistance to change, but you can’t have the change you want unless you fight through that resistance.
I don’t want to be overly dramatic here, but if you look at the history of the Civil War, there were a lot of people in the North who weren’t so big on ending slavery too, but we fought a, at the time, very unpopular war, we defeated the south, and we ended the practice. Although it wasn’t smooth sailing after that, we wouldn’t have got to that point as a country had Lincoln and his administration not fought through that resistance to change.
Ok, that’s an extreme comparison, so here’s another one dealing with another American television show: On Star Trek, some people, NBC included, freaked out when Captain Kirk kissed Lt. Uhura.
It was the first time, on American television, that a white man kissed a black woman. You and I know love is love, but back then? The Supreme Court case eliminated bans on interacial marriages only a year before Kirk kissed Uhura on national television.
There was an outcry, but the episode aired anyway, and the world was better off for it.
One of my favorite stories relating to the original Star Trek involves Nichelle Nichols meeting Dr. Martin Luther King at a Star Trek convention. He talked her into staying on the show after its first season because of what her presence on the show meant to so many people.
Why am I telling you this? Because change can come from television, even if it’s from a show featuring professional wrestling.
Also worth noting: The WWE does a beautiful tribute to MLK every year:
Can you imagine WWE taking that stand with 205 Live and reviving a failing brand with something new and exciting, as well as something that would generate a lot of discussions? For a company that prides itself (or used to, anyway) on not being politically correct or beholden to anyone, integrating the cruiserweight division with the women would be a bold, progressive step forward that also happens to have the added benefit of creating a better (and more appealing) television show for everyone.