The heel turn we’ve watched from Raw Women’s champion Ronda Rousey over the course of the past week, culminating in her “wrestling is scripted” promo in the YouTube video she released yesterday (Mar. 7), has fans talking. WWE knows this, which is part of why they’ve been pushing an article on their website about how Rousey is “aiming to hurt” Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair, and “wants to destroy your Universe”, and pointing to fan reaction as a reason why Ronda “the fighter” – as opposed to the performer – has come to WWE.
What WWE.com’s article doesn’t get at is what people on sites like Cageside have been arguing about. That is, whether or not going full meta and portraying Rousey as being above the business while leaning into her reputation from UFC as a brat who will scorch the earth around her as soon as things don’t go her way is a good idea.
Is the most dedicated portion of your audience debating whether or not “exposing the business” is good for business good business for WWE?
For me, and this is true going back to John Cena calling The Rock out for writing notes on his arm, or Cena and Roman Reigns cutting promos on one another’s ability to sell tickets, or Reigns’ feud with Brock Lesnar being about Lesnar not respecting the wrestling business, I’d be fine if this vein of storytelling dried up. Since everyone knows pro wrestling is fiction, let’s just focus on writing the best fictional adventures of larger-than-life characters who solve their problems by fighting.
But… I popped for CM Punk’s pipe bomb promo as loud as anyone. I said “ooooh, damn!” when Dwayne Johnson looked upset after Cena spilled the beans about his cheat sheet, and I’ve spent a lot of time talking, tweeting and writing about whether Rousey is really upset, how stiff her work with Becky Lynch was last Monday night, what WWE thinks about her tweeting the word “fake”, etc, etc.
There’s a lot of evidence which demonstrates how interested hardcore fans – and call yourself whatever you want, but if you’re reading and talking about the inner workings of Raw online, you’re one of us – are in finding out what’s “really going on” behind the action they see in the ring and on the screen. The executives at Titan Towers have surely seen and analyzed the data proving it.
Everyone is thirsty for the latest rumors and backstage reports. An entire sub-industry has developed for shoot interviews to the point WWE Network features almost as many documentary-type shows as new wrestling ones, and the hottest new company on the scene has an adjacent convention of insiders talking about the business associated with their big events. Acts are accepted or rejected by the audience based on whether we think the performer “deserves a push” in addition to whether or not we like their character or the angle they’re featured in.
In a way, this kind of blurred lines promotion has always existed. Wrestling’s never shied away from using public information to generate heat for their stories. And WWE seems to be attempting to keep the curtain from flying completely open by keeping the use of words like “fake” and “scripted” to the web. But we’re seeing an evolution of things, as the business figures out how to use something there’s clearly a market for in their core product.
Will it be good in the long-run? That’s something we’ll probably argue about even when the future gets here. Ratings are down, WWE’s stock price is up, the audience is aging even as new players enter the game and global markets are opening up. Everyone has a theory on what and who deserves credit or is to blame.
So let the debate continue (I certainly won’t act like it’s not good for our business here at cSs). Just know that whether you think what the WrestleMania 35 Raw Women’s title story has turned into is great or terrible, part of why it’s happening is because you’re here talking about it, and every other aspect of the business.