Thursday, May 19, 2022

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Are We Living in the Golden Era of Wrestling?

There has never been a more exciting time to be a nerd. Gone are the days of being labeled a geek for liking Star Wars or sneaking out to your local comic shop to pick up the latest issue of Iron Man, half-excited, half-shamefully. Everyone has heard of the term “multiverse.” Game of Thrones and The Witcher have helped to popularize high fantasy. For God’s sake, my mother knows who Groot is. We have entered the golden era of nerdom, in which all of the hypotheticals we fantasized about as kids have finally become a reality.

Is the same true for wrestling? Over the last decade, we’ve witnessed a gradual improvement in wrestling’s quality, accessibility, and a drive toward greater diversity and inclusivity. Is this, therefore, the Golden Age of Wrestling?

The first thing I’d want to bring up has occurred several times previously. Still, never to the magnitude that we’ve seen recently. The concept of two wrestling promotions collaborating is not new. Typically, such initiatives take place during a corporate slump. Historically, WWE has collaborated with AAA, ECW, and even bolstered their women’s division with AJW wrestlers during the New Generation’s belt-tightening days. It was a method used by fading federations in the waning days of territory as a last-ditch attempt to compete with the WWF’s behemoth juggernaut. One of the most notable was SuperClash III, which saw the AWA (American Wrestling Association), WCWA (World Class Wrestling Association), and the Powerful Women of Wrestling (POWW) band together.

These partnerships were ephemeral and seldom mutually beneficial. Most were highly one-sided, with one group receiving the rewards, generally the larger, more popular one. Things look to be changing now, though. Over the previous few months, there has been a lot of talent swapping between various campaigns. AEW champions are coming on Impact, Impact star Deonna Purrazzo won the ROH championship, and other ladies from various organizations participated on NWA’s EmPowerrr PPV to commemorate women’s wrestling. It appears that the wrestling world has finally realized that a triumph for one organization is a win for the whole industry.

This enhanced feeling of teamwork aligns with audience demands for more representation. With corporations under pressure to showcase a more diversified roster, we’ve witnessed an increase in the amount of Black, Latino/Latina, and LGBTQ+ wrestlers. While having an ethnically diverse roster is nothing new, respecting these individuals as human beings are. Mercedes Martinez, Sasha Banks, Thunder Rosa, and Bianca Belair are no longer seen as a way to placate a specific audience; instead, a wider range of individuals may tune in and find themselves mirrored in them. It’s an exceedingly low threshold, one that the wrestling world has struggled to overcome. It is, however, a step in the right direction.

I’d like to believe that this was a real attempt. But I have my reservations. Wrestling is a business when it comes down to it. Brands all across the world have leaned heavily on identity capitalism, the belief that by projecting a phony level of wokeness, they can acquire the support of oppressed people. It’s a notion WWE has already voiced, most notably in 2015, when Stephaine McMahon tweeted the remark, “philanthropy is the future of marketing.” Now, I don’t think it’s fair to criticize a corporation entirely based on a tweet sent by a single person seven years ago. Having said that, while being a champion of diversity when it benefits them, WWE and wrestling, in general, have yet to place people of varied gender identities, sexuality, and ethnicity where it matters, at the top.

With the emergence of streaming, there has never been more high-quality wrestling. It’s never been more enjoyable to see. Everyone will find something to their liking. You have CZW and GCW if you want to compete in ultraviolet deathmatches. WWE has you covered if you enjoy nostalgia or miss the days of the Attitude Era. Impact, AEW, and NWA all have weekly programs and PPVs. Shimmer, Stardom, and EVE can all satisfy your Joshi need. Not to mention the numerous independent promotions you may support. Streaming has reached new heights, allowing businesses to reach a worldwide audience. Right now, we have access to all of the wrestling we could ever desire.

Wrestling isn’t the only sport that’s become more accessible. It is the wrestlers’ fault. Wrestlers have effectively used Twitter, Instagram, and Twitch to not only get over their in-ring identities but also to create new professions and business endeavors since the introduction of social media. With the need for wrestlers to promote themselves has come unparalleled access to a profession that was once so strictly guarded that closest buddies couldn’t travel in the same vehicle if it broke kayfabe. As fans, social media now provides us with the glimpse behind the curtain that we always desired as children.

With the growth of social media comes the availability of hours of free content criticizing, analyzing, and dissecting every aspect of the wrestling industry. Everyone from Hall of Famers to inexperienced wrestlers has an opinion on wrestling. This has resulted in a sense of community and the possibility to make new acquaintances. The days of having one or two wrestling pals in your friend group are long gone. You may now engage with folks from all around the world.

Let us not pretend that this degree of accessibility is without drawbacks. Social networking can be a dangerous place. Civil discourse is in short supply. It’s a dark abyss full of bile, vicious words, and even crueler intentions. It may cause you to rethink if wrestling, which you enjoy, is worth compromising your mental health for. Social media may bring people together and establish friendships that span continents and time zones. However, it separates us and brings out the worst in us.

So, with all of that stated, are we in the midst of a wrestling renaissance? My tentative response is yes. There has never been a better moment to be a fan of wrestling. Wrestling has never been of a higher caliber. Its breadth and accessibility have never been higher. If you enjoy wrestling in any of its forms, there is something for you and a great group of people waiting for you. Wrestling promoters, like the rest of the world, have progressively come to embrace diversity to some extent. While this improvement is sluggish and far from complete, it is a start in the right direction.

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