Is WWE Using the Internet to Blur the Line in Wrestling?
by Joe Vernola
For years the internet, specifically social media, has been used as a tool by the fans to help them pull the curtain back and see what goes on backstage in WWE. Everybody reading this right now, including myself, at least uses it as a tool to express their adoration or disappointment in what we see on TV weekly. It has also been used almost as a harbinger of truth, adding an air of legitimacy to any report contained therein, no matter how incredulous the story may be. Potential comebacks, rivalries and spoilers galore have long been the hallmark of websites and social media groups looking to give whatever information they could to fans. Some of these stories would prove to be true, but more often than not are either the wishful thinking of fans or a ploy by websites to draw more hits to their website and get all important advertising dollars. WWE has pretty much allowed this to go on for quite some time now, but recent events show that those days may soon be coming to an end. Now, WWE may be using leaks and the internet as a tool to tell their stories and not just get attention on Twitter.
Last summer, Mark Henry took to his Twitter account and in the course of a weekend was able to make almost every wrestling fan on the planet talk about him and in most case made them a fan of his. Without once saying the word “retirement” or doing anything on TV that would lead anyone to think he was anywhere near wrapping up his career, a few choice tweets were beamed onto the world wide web and the wrestling fans took it from there. Almost instantly, every wrestling webpage, blog, newsfeed, Facebook group and podcast had some kind of news item up that Henry was going to call it a career the next Monday on Raw. Of course we all know what happened that night, The World’s Strongest Man had made fools of wrestling fans and even John Cena, attacking the then-WWE Champion. While not exactly a watershed moment in the history of wrestling, for all intents and purposes it was an atypical backstabbing, it may become a bigger moment in the future. While WWE had been doing things with the internet and social media for quite some time prior to that moment, ranging from social media accounts for everyone from Vince McMahon to Yoshi Tatsu and creating hashtags for just about everything they do, to the WWE YouTube Channel, app, and everything in between, WWE had used social media and interactivity as a way to push its product to the masses. With the Mark Henry retirement tease they found a way to use it IN their product rather than to just push their product. People who proudly admit to seeing swerves coming from a mile away were admitting that they were blindsided by this. That moment got the attention of everybody. If it didn’t it should have. It was the first time the WWE had used the social media’s perceived legitimacy against the fans to intentionally mislead them. Unless the account is clearly handled by an employee of WWE or used only to advertise events, fans innately believe anything they see on a Twitter account as “real” and that tendency was exploited beautifully by all parties concerned this past summer.
Fast forward about six months to the past few days. The internet wrestling community erupted like Mount St. Helens when Batista, who after being out of WWE nearly four years had returned six days earlier, won the Royal Rumble to earn a spot in the main event at WrestleMania XXX. Fans both in Pittsburgh and on the internet were vocal that they thought Daniel Bryan should have been in and won the Royal Rumble. Fans weren’t the only people voicing their displeasure in the direction being taken by WWE, as independent wrestlers and even Hall of Famer Mick Foley posted their thoughts about what most called a terrible broadcast and the apparent misuse of the reigning Superstar of the Year. Foley, who dropped a rare “f-bomb” in his earlier post and said his contract is near expiration, even went so far as posting a video of himself destroying his TV in protest of WWE’s treatment of Bryan, keeping a promise made in his aforementioned post. The day after the Royal Rumble there were reports on several mainstream news outlets, including the BBC, about the backlash WWE was receiving in response to the conclusion of Sunday’s Royal Rumble broadcast and more curiously, Bryan’s response to the support he was receiving. The response from the internet community to the Royal Rumble would be used further that day when Triple H openly mocked the fans to open Monday Night Raw asking if they didn’t get what they wanted. Bryan himself even launched a social media movement of his own. Daniel Bryan would earn a spot in the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match at Elimination Chamber, along with John Cena and Sheamus, later on that night, but this hasn’t seemed to have hushed any of the critics about his misuse. Triple H’s promo to open the evening however has to raise some eyebrows however, as it was clearly in reference to those who had been voicing their opinion on the internet. What is down right head scratch worthy though is the fact that Mick Foley, a fan with seemingly no vested interest, but is obviously in high standing with both fans and WWE is as vocal as he is about Daniel Bryan right now. Even stranger still, was an obviously in character response to the fan uprising on Twitter from Bryan was deemed newsworthy enough to report in the mainstream media.
The past days since Royal Rumble have also been interesting for another favorite of the internet community, CM Punk. Reports, also from reputable mainstream sources such as TMZ, started surfacing Tuesday that Punk was unhappy that Batista was the winner of the Royal Rumble and in the main event at WrestleMania and in response had left the company, with no plans of returning. This followed by the news that WWE had “unfollowed” CM Punk on Twitter and various other social media. Both Punk’s official WWE Facebook account and his Twitter account have been silent since Tuesday, as of this writing. Once again, this has wrestling fans going absolutely berserk on the internet and social media showing their rage towards those who put Batista in the main event of WrestleMania while others are just hoping that the news is somehow false, though by all indications it is very true.
Wrestling fans however should take this Punk story with a grain of salt though. Probably more along the lines of a heaping spoonful of salt. In an era where information is available almost instantaneously, nothing is secret or sacred and kayfabe has become less and less protected, no wrestler has done more to blur the line between entertainment and reality than CM Punk. He’s done things like this throughout his career, starting with signing his WWE contract on the Ring of Honor World Championship and even as recently as 2011 when his contract with WWE had expired just hours after he won the WWE Championship at Money in the Bank. In that instance, Punk appeared to take not only his ball and go home, but the WWE’s ball as well. Tweeting photos of the championship in his refrigerator, taking it with him to an independent show in the Midwest and mocking Triple H from the crowd during a panel at the San Diego ComicCon, Mr. Punk’s Wild Ride had fans guessing what he would do next and internet sites were eager to report all his antics. Eight days after winning the championship though, Punk was back on WWE TV with the Championship facing down a newly crowned WWE Champion Cena. Those eight days though, were more than long enough to give WWE a taste of what internet reports were capable of. Two years later, the internet is buzzing with reports that Punk is unhappy again that he felt he should be in the main event at WrestleMania instead of Batista, and did not want to be wrestling Triple H in New Orleans. This despite the fact that Triple H has been an almost constant thorn in CM Punk’s side on WWE programming since 2011. While time will ultimately tell, color me unsurprised if Punk is back on WWE programming between now and WrestleMania. Punk has played this tune before and is a near virtuoso at this point.
In the last week, two of the WWE Superstars most gushed about on the internet, who also happen to be two of the WWE’s biggest money makers right now, have seemingly been wronged by management and fans of the two acted accordingly on the internet, voicing their disapproval on WWE’s social media accounts as well as their own accounts, posting videos on YouTube, starting movements on Twitter, doing whatever they can to right what they feel is a huge wrong in the world. Here’s the thing though, WrestleMania and its prospective main event of Batista vs. Randy Orton for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship is still more than two months away. There is still plenty of time for plenty of things to happen. As already mentioned, Daniel Bryan is in a WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match inside an Elimination Chamber at the Elimination Chamber pay per view, February 23. If Bryan wins the match and the championship, will the fans then give themselves the credit for the victory saying that it was only due to their voracity and ferociousness that he was in the championship match in the first place? Or will they admit, that much like with Mark Henry last summer, they had the wool pulled over their eyes and played their role perfectly, and that those in control actually do know what they’re doing.