by Alexander Kreit
Wrestling fans were considered both blue collar and gullible and, by the 1950's, the two stereotypes were inseparable. There have been few, if any, studies on the class of wrestling fans and, consequently, observations about class and professional wrestling must be based on anecdotal evidence.
However, the evidence that the average wrestling fan changed from lower to middle class in the 1980's, while not empirical, is strong. The production of a cartoon television show featuring animated drawings of professional wrestlers, and characters like Hulk Hogan, who referred to his fans as "little Hulkamaniacs," demonstrate that the WWF's product was produced for children.
The new type characters and story lines alienated many traditional, lower class, wrestling fans and drove them away from the WWF. The high cost ticket prices and the airing of television programming essential to story lines exclusively on cable also pushed working class fans away from the WWF. The working class fans did not stop watching wrestling but most of them chose to support regional promotions, rather than the WWF.
"Whatever relationship there once was is probably evaporating... pro wrestling WAS targeted towards the blue collar working class up until the 80's, when the WWF single-handedly redefined pro wrestling as "family entertainment," and aimed it at kids. And now, that target has changed again, as young adults (college age and up) are the main target."(50)
Professional wrestling's shift from a child oriented product to an adult oriented one was less intentional than Vince McMahon's plan in the 1980's. After it had become obvious that cartoon characters were no longer successful, the logical choice for the WWF and WCW was to try something different. Targeting young adults was safe because, if it did not attract college students, at least it might lure the lower class fan to start watching the bigger promotions. However, college students and other middle class youth started watching wrestling in large numbers and became the most common type of professional wrestling fan.
Most working class fans watch the WWF and WCW more today than they did in the 80's, but their involvement in the two big federations is usually limited to the less expensive, untelevised, shows. "At the local/regional level, there is still a lot of pro wrestling aimed at the working class. A typical audience at a non-televised WWF or WCW show will include a lot of that blue collar flavor. But wrestling as a TV phenomenon has re-exploded because of young, educated adults."(51)
Wrestling articles that focused on the changing demographics of professional wrestling fans in the early 80's and in 1998 sought to portray professional wrestling in a new light. These reports also perpetuated the belief that the foolish professional wrestling fan and the working class professional wrestling fan were inseparable. The media reported that the WWF was intelligent, middle class fans and not foolish, lower class ones. The idea of intelligent, lower class fans was not discussed.
"Titan stresses family entertainment-Hulk Hogan, for instance, is always good about urging children to say their prayers and take their vitamins-which doesn't play with many of the blue-collar, whiskey-loving wrestling fans of old."(52) These types of articles made professional wrestling more appealing to the middle class, but at the expense of blue collar workers. The association between blue collar workers and drunks is classist, to put it mildly, and implies that the middle and upper classes have a monopoly on "moral" entertainment.
The anecdotal evidence suggests that empirical studies on the opinions people have of professional wrestling might be an interesting way to study class prejudices in the United States. In order to properly study class issues in professional wrestling, empirical data must be gathered and anecdotal evidence implies that such studies would be worthwhile. One thing that remains true for the fan at Harvard, as well as the fan who works at a factory, is that the driving force behind their love of professional wrestling is its dramatic nature.
While the demographic of wrestling fans has changed, it is because the drama has changed. Middle class families in the 1980's could relate to the characters and stories in the WWF, and that, above all else, is why they could enjoy professional wrestling. "To me, wrestling is as legitimate as Shakespeare and serves much the same function. At its heart, it's a morality play which allows the fans to find characters much like themselves with whom to identify and which somewhat mirrors the conflicts which occur in real life."(53)
This special 3 hour edition of Thunder is live from the Oakland Coloseum Arena in Oakland, CA (about 10 miles from where I sit hunched over my laptop - I knew I wouldn't be able to attend the event because of schedule conflicts so I didn't try to get a ticket).
They start out with an interview with Kevin Nash and Mike Tenay backstage after Nitro - Nash is clearly disappointed in his supposed friend Scott Hall. He says that Hall has been manipulated and is in a strange state of mind because of his "personal problems". He still considers Hall is best friend but confesses to be confused by Hall actions. He blames Hollywood Hogan and Eric Bischoff for coming between them.
Konnan vs. El Dandy - Konnan comes out on his own for a change. I guess he didn't figure to need any help against this glorified jobber. As expected the match is an extended squash. Dandy gets his boots between them at one point and thus gets in a few shots - but he can't keep it up. Konnan throws him off and then attacks the left knee then executes a cradle suplex. The Tequilla Sunrise tells the tale. Cut to commercial.
Lizmark, Jr. vs. Ultimo Dragon - apparently this is Lucha-Jobber showcase night on Thunder. I notice that Lizmark has a slight size advantage in this one. In every other department he is outclassed. As with the previous contest, the distaff competitor manages to surprise his better opponent and has his chance to shine for a little while but, though he fares better, Lizmark is not up to the task any more then was Dandy. An extended flurry on his part ends abruptly when he practically places himself into the Dragon Sleeper.
Review of the situation last week wherein Curt Hennig weaseled out of his match with Diamond Dallas Page then cut to Tony in the ring. He calls DDP down to the ring for an interview. Page says he's sick of Hogan, calls him a lowlife for attacking Buff Bagwell last week. He then turns his attention to Curt Hennig, who has agreed to wrestle Page in the main event this evening. Cut to commercial.
The Dancin' Fools vs. Public Enemy - Tokyo Magnum shadows Alex Wright to the ring again for what has apparently become the standing Thunder match. PE comes down with their own dance floor (er...table) and look to be loaded for bear tonight in their Oakland Raiders T-shirts. Wright starts the match with Grunge and wins the first exchange. Gunge comes back by crushing his opponent into the corner. Wright then gets down to business and starts kicking and punching Grunge. Disco then tags in and loses the intiative immediately. PE double team on him until Tokyo Magnum provided some distraction to allow Disco to turn the tables. Then he misses a series of elbow drops, lets Grunge get to his feet, they throw simultaneous clotheslines and both are down. Wright comes in illegally and gets doubleteamed. On the outside Rock is getting a flying head scissors on Disco while Wright is having his problems with Grunge. Rocco pushes the table into the ring and Grunge positions Wright on it but loses control of things. As he climbs to the top Tokyo Magnum overturns the table as he is rescuing his idol and doesn't seem to be able to get it back in the position he wants. Grunge can see what's going on but launches himself anyway and pretends to hit his arm on the edge of the table. The referee calls for the bell and disqualifies the Fools.
Tony calls Dean Malenko down for an interview. He asks Malenko about Arn Anderson's action after the Misterio/Jercho match on Sunday (Arn blocked Jericho's escape when he was running from Malenko). Malenko says he wants to talk to Arn tonight and vows not to leave the building until he does. Cut to commercial.
Hacksaw Jim Duggen vs. Roadblock - we haven't seen this big guy in a little while. He tries to attack Duggen in the aisle but doesn't have much luck. In the ring, Duggen clotheslines him over the top rope almost immediately then attacks him again as he re-enters the ring. Roadblock stops that attack short and launches an assault of his own. The fight goes out to the floor where Duggen re-asserts himself. Back in the ring again, Hacksaw is ruling the roost for a moment then is overwhelmed by his much larger opponent. He grabs a reverse chinlock for a bit then exchanges it for a bearhug. Duggen fights his way free and goes back on the offensive. A flying tackle puts the big guy down. As he gets up Duggen goes into the three-point stance and mows him down again. The patented knee-drop spells the end for Roadblock. Cut to commercial.
Bret Hart comes to the ring to make a statement. He insults the crowd then declares that he intends to become a major player in WCW and the nWo. He mentions Ric Flair as one of his former opponents and runs down Piper, Benoit and others. He especially singles out Booker T. He calls himself the "greatest technical wrestler in the history of the world..." and vows t beat everyone who faces him.
Saturn vs. Kanyon - here is another never-ending saga. Kanyon whould go back to his Mortis personna in my opinion. But then, who listens to me. As usual the announcers are all over Kanyon's innovative style. Saturn seems to have permanently abandoned his Flock attire in favor of traditional wrestling gear. Kanyon pretty thoroughly dominates the early going in this one. In fact, Saturn can't seem to get anything together for quite a while. He is a tough customer however, and very hard to pin. He finally comes to life with a suplex followed by a back round kick but Kanyon is back with a Flatliner. Still no cigar. He goes for it again but Saturn blocks it and delivers a pump handle suplex. They struggle for position and Saturn again blocks the Flatliner then applies the Death Valley Driver and gets the pin. Cut to commercial.
Psychosis vs. Eddie Guerrero - Pyschosis tries to get Eddie's goat by rolling his finger around his ear. Eddie is easily rattled and departs from the ring early on to settle his nerves. He coms back in and attacks with a vengence. His opponent comes back with a great short clothesline then follows up with a flapjack then a spin wheel kick that sends Eddie out to the floor. He then throws a suicide dive that hits Eddie square. Back in the ring Psychosis in on a roll. But Eddie comes back with a shoulder breaker then applies a hammer lock, then a cross-arm breaker trying to get a submission victory. He stands Psychosis in the corner and chops him down but then Psychosis comes and takes flight. Eddie is down as Chavo shows up in a Zorro mask. Psychosis jumps on him instead and suffers for it as Eddie blindsides him. Back in the ring Psychosis is back again. He pancakes Eddie again then goes to the top. Chavo knocks him off the turnbuckle, giving Eddie the chance to get a spectacular Frog Splash and the pin.
Repeat of the Nash interview from earlier.
Now we get to hear from Hall. He swaggers to the ring and takes off on Nash. He calls him a "6' 10" goof" that he's been carrying all of his career. He goes on to describe him as "medium-sexy the Nash killer" and generally puts his former partner down.
Cyclope vs. Scott Norton - seems like old home week, we haven't seen either of these guys in a while. Especially Norton who sports a new buzz-cut hairdo. We are informed that Norton has been touring Japan. His opponent tries a series of knife edge chops to no affect then gets powerbombed into oblivion. Cut to commercial.
Tony is in the ring to interview Stevie Ray. The big guy comes down with his brother's title belt again. He claims to have the "power of attorney" to defend the Television Title. He denies any involvement with Bret Hart, who helped him win a match last week. He describes the trip to the hospital after Hart injured Booker and how his brother alledgedly asked him to defend the TV belt for him. The crowd isn't buying it, and neither is Tony, so Stevie produces a note said to have been written by his brother giving him that authority. He wants to face 10 opponents supposedly picked by Booker T. First up...Damien...?
Damien vs. Stevie Ray - TV Title match - Damien, of course, is no match for this big lug. Damien gets in a missle drop-kick and manages to take Stevie off his feet at one point but that is the extent of his offense. Stevie hits the Slapjack and gets the pin within moments. Cut to commercial.
Hennig, Rick Rude, Hall and Vincent come down the the ring. Rude has the mic and addresses the challenge of Diamond Dallas Page. He refers to Page as "nothing more then a fart in the wind..." and tells him to be prepared to be blown away. Hennig calls him, "Dirtbag Dallas Punk" and rants away until Konnan shows up in the aisle with a mic (and a rant) of his own. Hennig tries to interrupt and gets a slap to the face.
Juventud Guerrera vs. Rey Misterio, Jr. - this should be a great high-flying match - but lets go sell something first.
The match begins as we return. They shake hands and the fight is on. Juvey actually outweighs this particular opponent. We have watched him blossom into a first class star in the past year or so but he can't match Rey's fluidity. He does himself proud in this one, however. Shortly into the match, he drop-kicks Misterio out of the air and takes the intitiative. His strategy is clear, to ground his opponent - and he accomplishes it quite nicely. Rey finally breaks it up with a short flying head scissors but Juvey is right on top of it and comes roaring back with a forearm shiver delivered over the top rope from the apron. Moments later they struggle for position at the top and Rey delivers a powerful forearm of his own and then another head scissors. Juvey comes back to his feet and Rey launches himself only to be caught in mid-flight and Juvey Driven to the mat. Juvey goes up for the 450 Splash but suddenly Bret Hart runs in with a chair and hits both of them! He hits Juvey again, decks the referee and then wraps Rey's legs around the corner post for his peculiar figure four. The ref is back so Hart pounds on him some more and then splits. Cut to commercial.
The Barbarian/Hugh Morrus (w/Jimmy Hart) vs. Chris Adams/Marty Jannetty - Jennetty is another one we haven't seen lately (not that anybody wants to...)Adams starts the match against Morrus. He is quickly overwhelmed by his opponent but comes right back with a round kick then tags Jannetty in. Morrus runs right over Jannetty then bulls him into a corner and mauls him. Jannetty comes back with a couple of kicks to the gut, then succombs to his opponent for one eschange then comes back with a back round kick which doubles Morrus over. This brings the Barbarian in, which brings Adams in and we have a four way free for all. In the confusion, Barbarian kicks Jannetty in the face then Morrus throws his Moonsault and takes the pin. Whoa! Here comes Meng on the attack. He takes both of Hart's guys on and then grabs Barbarian by the throat. Hart shoves the referee into Meng who then chases him back to the locker room. Cut to commercial.
Dean Malenko asks Arn to come out and he does. Steve McMichaels follows him to the ring. Mongo interrupts for a moment but then lets Malenko have his say. Malenko reveals that he is Chris Benoit's close friend and he talks about Benoit's desire to see the Horsemen reformed. He thanks Arn for giving him (Malenko) a chance to get involved with the WCW promotion when they met three years ago in Japan. He makes a plea on behalf of Benoit and Mongo for Arn to get involved in their careers again. Arn explains what being a Horseman means to him and tells Malenko that he feels he still has "the heart, but I don't have the tools..." as he shows Malenko the surgery scar on his spine. It is an electric moment, almost as thrilling and poignant as Arn's heartfelt retirement speech of several months ago. Cut to commercial.
Curt Hennig (w/Rick Rude/Scot Hall/Vincent) vs. Diamond Dallas Page - you'd think DDP would bring out some back-up in this situation but we know DDP. He seems to need no help except the crowd. In fact he goes into the crowd - then the Wolf Pack rap plays and Konnan enters to meet DDP in the aisle. We cut to commercial before they arrive at the ring.
The match has been transformed into a Tag match as we return. Scott Hall and Konnan have joined the mix. Hennig loses the first exchange to DDP and both teams change combatants. Hall pretty much has his way with Konnan until the smaller man comes back with a short clothesline then goes to town on Hall. DDP gets in a blow from the corner then Hennig comes into the ring. All four are in for a moment and the nWo B&W ain't lookin' too good. It sorts out to Hall vs. Konnan and Hall asserts himself again. Now the nWo-Hogan team in isolating Konnan. Hall positions Konnan so he can see his partner but can't quite get there as he slaps on a Camel Clutch. Tenay reminds us that Hall and Hennig were tag team partners many years ago (in fact the were the AWA Tag Champs and very successful). DDP finally gets in and cleans house. He gets caught between his two opponents and now it is Page who is being isolated. Hennig misses an elbow drop and goes to tag in Hall as we cut to commercial.
DDP is wailing away on Hennig in the corner as we return but Hall grabs him from behind and delivers a fallaway slam. Hall applies the abdominal stretch (with help from Hennig) as the crowd chants "DDP!" Page throws him off with a hip toss but Hennig is in to stop his escape. He pounds some more then hands it back to Hall. They are tagging in and out very well. Hall hits a sleeper, DDP tries to reverse it but can't quite pull it off. Hall suplexes him. Konnan gets in and suddenly he is all over the nWo B&W. DDP lends a hand and he tumbles out of the ring with Hall. In the ring Hennig hits the Fisherman's suplex and gets the pin on Konnan.
At least that's the way I see it...
Editor, Solie's Wrestling Newsletter
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