And Another Thing: The Rise And Fall Of Internet Wrestling
Posted by Hyatte on 05.08.2001
The Internet plays a role in the development and evolution in Wrestling, or that is to say, it did. Then things grew complicated, dumb people thought they would get rich, and everyone became an expert.
Truthfully, I don't watch much wrestling at all anymore
-"known" Internet Wrestling Personality
The Worldwide Dirtsheet
This column is about Professional Wrestling in every aspect... including it's involvement with the Internet or, and maybe more appropriately, the Internet's involvement with Professional Wrestling. The Internet plays a role in the development and evolution in Wrestling, or that is to say, it did. Then things grew complicated, dumb people thought they would get rich, and everyone became an expert.
For a while, the Internet was an amazing forum for fans. It delivered inside news on locker room politics, contract negotiations, marketing strategies, and House show war stories. It shone the light into the darkness that wrestling had successfully kept itself shrouded inside for the last hundred years and offered all the information to the public for free. There would be no more paying three bucks and change for each minute you call a hotline. No more of these underground dirt sheets that you have no idea how to get in contact with, much less subscribe to. It seemed that each day there was something new to read about, some new revelation about who really hated who and what was really going on behind-the-scenes. I think it's safe to say that without the Internet, no one except those in attendance would have known about that one night in Madison Square Garden where Shawn Michaels, Diesal, Razor Ramon, The 1-2-3 Kid, and Hunter Hearst Helmsley ended the show with an in-ring group hug. No one would have known that Hunter spent a year in the WWF dog house getting his face rubbed in the mud by Henry Godwin because of his participation and the WWF certainly wouldn't have eventually used the moment as a plot device to help push Helmsley a couple of years later. It's because of the Internet insiders, those who brought the business out into the open just a little, who forced this to happen. They forced the WWF to admit that yes, there was something called a "Clique" and yes, it affected what you saw in the ring. That is a huge thing for the WWF to admit. Allowing real life to peek out in the storylines was unheard of before this moment. Even WCW, recruiting Scott Hall and Kevin Nash to initiate a "war", while it introduced real life aspects into the ring, it really didn't break kayfabe.
Even the very word, kayfabe was introduced into the Mark's vocabulary through the Internet. In fact, who the hell outide the business knew what a "Mark" was before the Internet?
To that end, the Internet became an incredible tool to help increase the appreciation of the business to the fans. On the flip side, it also helped the self-esteem of the fans. Being a Mark for wrestling has never been an ultra-cool part of one's personal resume, but to be a Mark who is aware of what's going on behind the scenes, and is more than happy to share his "expert" knowledge to those who don't surf throught wrestling sites, well that makes being a fan a little easier to admit. Doesn't it?
Unfortunately, as wrestling grew in popularity, so did Internet Wrestling. When that happened, it got ugly.
The Internet Mafia
In the beginning, the entire Internet Wrestling scene was based on the "Sheep and Shepard" concept. A Shepard would command, and the Sheep would follow. The Sheep would then gossip among themselves, trade friendly barbs, ask questions, play with each other. Sometimes they would fight, other times they would agree... but none of them took the business, nor themselves too seriously.
Welcome to RSPW in the mid-90's.
The Internet in the mid 90's was delightfully simple. What sired all these web sites with all these self-important "journalists" was nothing but a mere message board. The granddaddy of all boards stemmed from "Rec. Sports-Pro Wrestling", a board from the Usenet group which became geround zero for all Internet Wrestling activity.. A board that became a haven for wrestling fans all over the world (but mostly Canada and America) to find kindred spirits who wanted to talk about the happenings within pro wrestling freely and without shame. For their news, these Sheep depended on Dirt Sheet Newsletters and Hotlines provided by "Reality Breaking" Wrestling Journalists like Wade Keller, Dave Scherer, and Dave Meltzer. These newsletters did not try to supplement the storylines with gimmicked columns and reports like the national "Apter Magazine" publications did, but they presented wrestling in stark black and white forms, refusing to blur the line between real and gimmick at all. These newsletters told the real stories, answered the questions we've always had, but had no idea how to get answered, and made the reader feel like an expert. One poster would would report on what the newsletters had to say and the sheep would spend hours, days discussing it. Before too long, if ever, it became cooler to talk about each other than to talk about wrestling itself. It was here, almost as soon as the Internet Wrestling scene has begun, did these sheep stop being fans of wrestling, and started being marks for themselves. Too afraid to be positive about the business and be labeled a "mark", so instead they became negative about the business in hopes to be labeled "an expert".
Eventually, a few posters decided to start their own sites. See, posting messages was great and all, but they wanted a forum to really wax poetic with their allmighty expert opinions. The Community had splintered into sub-communities and certain Sheep started to think that maybe they were more than just blind followers, they thought they were Shepards too. Scott Keith, Mike Samuda, John Petrie, Rick Scaia, Chris Zimmerman.... to name a few, these kids formed their own invidual web pages. Some complex news and opinion wrap-ups, others just a simple home for their recap archives. From a simple newsgroup message board sprung web sites, each with their own distinct mark made so by the personal touches of those who wanted to be something more than just a sheep drooling over what the newletter gave to them. They wanted to be "Internet Web Personalities". They wanted to be experts
As a little time went on, the web sites increased. Along with Samuda's MiCasa, which became the chief home of Newsletter and Hotline recaps, sites like The Bagpipe Report became just as talked about as the newsletters themselves. The IWP's grew cockier and cockier, feeling that the rising popularity of Internet Wrestling, coinciding with the rising populairty of Wrestling itself, were because of them. Their opinions brought people to the site. Their "expertise" kept them coming back.
Then, more web sites began popping up. Web masters who had no history with RSPW started to appear. Al Isaacs has swiftly turned Scoops, which was nothing but a simple news update and a daily opinion piece into an incredibly popular site whose fans proudly held up signs in it's name at wrestling shows. Al was a strange one to the IWP's. A simple man who had no problems showing his love for the sport, and reported the news as a fan... and not as an expert. The news, a daily blend of on-air recaps and inside news, was easily digested by the readers, who felt a bit lost when they read the inside jokes and "only-my-friends-will-get-this" interplay that the IWPs were all about. They were speaking another language, and didn't even try to explain to everyone else what it was. These IWP's began to resent the popularity of Scoops, and were the first to loudly point out and giggle over the snafus and incorrect reports that Al sometimes made.
From resentment came competition. Bob Ryder, overseer of all thing Wrestling on the Prodigy Internet service, saw how successful the Internet was doing and formed his own website called 1wrestling, bringing aboard noted Newsletter Journalist Dave Scherer with him. Slightly overestimating the power of being an Insider, Bob initially tried to charge readers to come in and read what's happening. That failed miserably. So, he opened it up for free and sold banner space to as many advertisers as he could. Scoops, meanwhile, stayed reasonably ad free and continued to grow, much to the misery of other IWPs who saw Al as an intruder on their playground. Given the very nature of the wrestling business itself, people at war with other people, and with the RSPW style of flaming everyone who has an opinion (a style that still rages on today), it didn't take long before Scoops became the target of most of the barbs from IWPs. Even Ryder and Scherer took a gleeful stab at Isaacs and insinuated that his site was far inferior to their product. With the advent of Scoops, the Internet became something other than just a forum for gossip. People with their own sites started to see Scoops as the reason why they aren't getting hundreds of thousands of people flocking to their site, checking out their ad banners, listening to their expertise, getting midnight phone calls from inside sources with exclusive news that no one, not even the Dirt Sheets, had. The Internet stopped being fun, and it started being a business.
Unfortunately, none of these IWPs had any idea how to start turning a profit strictly off their Internet site.
Here's my soul, pay me later
Wrestling took off during the end of the 90's, and businesses took notice. Internet Wrestling took off with Wrestling, and the Business took notice. All three companies, and just about every Indy fed, hastily created their own web sites to try and control what the net readers are given. Wrestlers controlled the rumors about them with their own personal; pages, sometimes sponsored by another entity and sometimes made entirely on their own. On TV, Vince Russo saw all the signs in the arena and convinced Vince McMahon to loosen his grip on kayfabe just a bit so he can lure fans in with titulating inside drama played out on air. Do you really think the WWF would have allowed DX to walk onto WCW headquearters so "Sean Waltman" can ask Eric Bischoff why he fired him were it not for the Internet? Russo saw the Internet as the future, and wrote his wrestling shows in order to cater to it. The IWPs were in heaven.
Meanwhile, Internet Wrestling was evolving. With so many new web sites and so little news to discuss on any given day, web masters began turning to strong personalities to bring in readers. Opinion pieces became just as necessary as the subject itself. This is where I came onto the scene, a strong minded force who used humor and attitude to get my point across. Writing for Al Isaacs, I let it be known that Scoops will no longer just lie there and take the abuse from other IWPs. I made fun of all of them, laughed at all of them, accused them of being pedofiles, incest junkies, virgins, homosexuals, and all around geeks. Scoops still grew wildly, as did the free for all 1wrestling. Some of the IWPs, notably those who "grew up" on the RSPW boards, banded together to form one power site. Scaia and Samuda formed Wrestlemaniacs and brought along friends like Scott Keith and Chris Zimmerman as contributers. They were tired of Scoops taking what little thunder was available from them, so they united.
At this time, Dave Meltzer opened the Observer.com and Wade Keller opened the Torch web site. The Shepards saw what a mess the flocks were making, and took a more direct approach to re-setting things straight.
With things so popular, and even the most unknown site pulling in a half decent audience, people who were paid to make money out of nothing swept in and dangled promises in front of the bigger sites. "For a small fee now, I will buy your site and turn it into a huge money making opertauion that will have you rolling in hundred dollar bills before you reach 30!" All they asked for in return, and this was such a paltry little item, was total control over their site, and all the content within. Oh, don't worry, you're not getting a lot of money for it now, but once we start getting the suckers to click onto our jazzy ad banners.... you will be driving Beemers, sipping Cristal, and hanging with Puffy within a year! With lightening white smiles and dollar signs cha-chinging in their eyes, these salesmen suckered the IWPs right into signing away everything they've ever done. It was an easy sell. Fish in a bucket easy. These experts, dumb enough to believe their own self generated hype, thought they were in a no-lose situation and implicitly trusted the salesmen with their snake oil. I strongly doubt anyone even bothered to ask just how they would make their sites profitable.
Or if they did, I doubt they bothered to ask what would happen if they couldn't.
I know Al Isaacs didn't.
Which brings us to today. Internet wrestling, just like the business itself, is in a downward slide. Scoops is dead, killed remorselessly by the very company that Al sold it to. Absorbed into another site where it quickly evaporated. Wrestlemaniacs joined the CBS Sportsline family and Rick Scaia now is a puppet on the site he built from the ground up. He even does it with a smile. Mike Samuda left the Net to begin a career as a lawyer, but I'm sure if you ever saw him he'd tell you how disgusted he was with the whole ordeal. One IWPs started a site on his own with a partner, and tried to make it profitable with his own barely-out-of high-school expertise. He ended up leaving in disgrace and left a pile of Rantsylvania bills to his partner to sift through. Meanwhile, all the web sites now gain their news from "The Big Three", The Torch, The Observer, and 1Wrestling. It should be noted that out of these three, the Torch and the Observer only use the web page primarily to sell their own newsletters, where the real money comes in. 1Wrestling, meanwhile, is swimming in pop-up ads and annoying banners, making the site impossible to enjoy. Every other site is just nothing but IWPs who are too afraid to be positive about the business and be labeled a "mark", so instead be negative about the business and be labeled "an expert"
Did we come full circle? Or did we even really leave ground zero?
So, with everyone reporting the same news, it is up to the opinion makers to make sites popular. With all these sites and so little to report on, Internet Wrestling readers must depend on being entetrtained and intrigued by the people doing the writing to keep them coming back. In order for Internet Wrestling to survive, it needs a few good IWPs with brains and sharp opinions; opinions that will induce thought and smart debate. And from what I've seen these last few weeks, there aren't too many.
Case in point, one of the most discussed inside news item is the "WWF Glass Ceiling" and the influence that Triple H has in keeping middle card guys from ascending into the main event. Culled by the Torch, it has quickly spread from juicy tidbit, to possible rumor, to flat out fact. Now, IWPs, column writers, and message board posters are demanding the head of HHH on a silver platter for using his selfish, insecure power over Vince McMahon to keep studs like Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle, and Chris Jericho down while old farts like the Undertaker appear in main event after main event. No more rumor. No more possibilities. Everyone is an expert and the experts say it is a fact! Hell, now IWPs are fighting with WWF.com writers over this matter, claiming that the WWF writer is a mere pawn trying to keep the truth at bay!
Now, HHH may be keeping guys down. There may very well be a glass ceiling. All of this may be true. That's not what makes me sad.
It's that no one, not one single IWP, board poster, or columnist has looked at this story from any other angle other than what the Torch presented.
Vince McMahon, who has been in the business since he was a child, who has taken wrestling out of the barnyards and into major arenas and into public acceptance. Vince McMahon, who made himself a billionaire from the business of sports entertainment. Vince McMahon, who knows more about wrestling than anyone else on the planet, is allowing Hunter Hearse Helmsley to run the WWF and keep the same four main eventers on top while keeping everyone else away. Like a doddering old fool who routinely forgets how to chew his food, Vince has handed over the power to HHH and let him run wild with it? Is that what everyone is saying?
HHH has done what Hulk Hogan, Pat Patterson, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin, Jim Ross, Gerald Briscoe, Bill Watts, Vince Russo, his own wife, his own children could not do... he has taken the decision making out of Vince McMahon's hands and has discreeetly made himself the most powerful man in wrestling? And Vince has allowed this to happen? Is that what you are telling me?
Yes, Vince has the XFL and other business ventures to deal with. Yes, he certainly doesn't have a more hands on approach to the WWF as he once did. Yes, he has placed a level of trust in people like HHH, his own daughter and Jim Ross to run things while he gets a football league off the ground. Yes, there is certainly enough outisder evidence to support the theory that HHH could possibly have a glass ceiling up.
You can make a good case on either side. It would make for some spirited debate and thought provoking commentary. Instead of focusing on the negative and trying to be "an expert", look at it from all sides and encourage thought.
Too bad no one has done it yet. Too bad everyone just goes by what the Shepard tells us to go by and accept it as law without question.
Too bad that deep down, we're still all sheep.
Incidentally, bitching about the sport we're supposed to love is the number one sign that you still are an Internet Sheep. Want to know number two?
Bitching about other Sheep.
This is Hyatte too