Does “old school” work in today’s wrestling?

Hello readers! I have procured a little computer time from my therapist so I can spew my thoughts on things again. Teddy is sitting here next to me, giving me a bit of an evil eye, and I think trying to push me into getting my thoughts down on cyberpaper. Well my meds seem to be working, and I can’t take letting Teddy down anymore, so here we go…

“Old school” is one of those terms that seems to come in vogue every once in awhile. Funny thing is though, is when most of these faddish terms or phrases come into common parlance, they fade out soon after. “Old school” seems to be one of the exceptions to that rule. It has been around along time, and does not appear to be going anywhere. With all that pointed out, I think “old school” changes with the times. It is what once was, but seems on the surface to have vanished from existence.

I am a self-admitted and proud fan of what is oft termed “old school” wrestling. I hate sounding like an old fart a lot of the time, but I just can’t seem to help myself. I like what I like. With so much time on my hands my passion for wrestling leads me to analyze things in the industry, and thus leads to a contrast/comparison of the wrestling of my youth with the current product of today. Before I can even discuss “old school”, I would be remiss if I didn’t define what “old school” means, at least to me.

So, “old school” for me means what wrestling was in the 1970’s and 1980’s. “Old school” to me is the times before kayfabe had been COMPLETELY broken. In my mind, “old school” is before the explosion of the internet allowing people instant access to events, in real time, anywhere in the world. The old territorial system is for sure a major part of what “old school” is when I utter that term.

Now younger fans look at me like I have lobsters coming out of my ears when I lament the passing of the times of past and harp upon the greatness of “old school”. I am belittled, ridiculed, and simply laughed at for being behind the times. I am told, quite passionately by the way, I just don’t understand things today. These fans seem to feel it would be best if I just hid myself in a glass case with the message printed on it that read, “BREAK IN CASE OF HALL OF FAME INDUCTION OR MEETING OF WRESTLERS IN THEIR PRIME DURING THE 1980’S”.

Having resided myself to the crabby vet role, I had my thoughts on this topic peaked by this week’s episode of Jim Cornette’s podcast, “The Jim Cornette Experience”, with this week’s guest, Lance Storm. Both of these great performers and minds discussed the “Attitude Era”, and how just about everything went off the rails at this point. I must admit what these brothers agreed on, I agreed with; the “Attitude Era” was the death knell for “old school” wrestling.

I often talk to wrestling fans. Many of these fans are adults, but they are younger than me. They all seem to think the “Attitude Era” is the be all, end all of what wrestling has to offer. As I mulled this over it became obvious quite rapidly that though this group of fans are adults, their teenage years, their formative years as a fan of wrestling coincided with the “Attitude Era”. That made it abundantly clear to me that what I was dealing with here was a battle against childhood memories and nostalgia. Now this was going to be a difficult, uphill climb.

What is the make up of childhood memories and nostalgia? One word: emotion. There was a lucidity in this connection. What “old school” had that the “Attitude Era” mutilated, burned, raped, killed, and buried was just that, EMOTION. A person who is truly “smart”; one who really gets the business understands a simple equation: emotional investment=money. Period.

“Old school” had so many ways to build this emotional investment. Some were cheesy and are dated, yet many are not. “Old school” wrestling had a pecking order. There was a prelim, a mid-card, and a main event. Certain things were saved and reserved for main event guys and particular shows. Wrestling should ALWAYS tell a story. A story has a start, a middle, and a finish. If a book is 20 chapters long, you don’t start reading at chapter 18, then jump back to chapter 3, continue on until you reach chapter 10, jump forward again to chapter 20, then finish with chapter 1. If you read a book that way you would be frustrated, confused, bored, and ultimately unfulfilled.

The things that the “Attitude Era” stopped reserving for certain guys and shows were vast and many. Some of them are: blood, big bumps, major TV time devoted to promos and character development, title changes, gimmick matches, and simply giving away things for free instead of reserving these those special times. What difference does all these things make? Once again: emotion.

When everyone on the card does everything, is there anything anyone can do that is special? When everyone on the card is presented as special, then who truly is special? When a fan sees blood or big bumps every match, how do you top that without massive risks? When a title changes hands ever week, does the title mean anything? If you see a cage match twice a year is it new and fresh? When you see a cage match every week is it still new and fresh?

The fallout of this style of wrestling leads us to today. Almost to a person, every fan of more than 10 years I talk to speak of how stale wrestling is. They all seem to be bored at best and upset at worse. They all give off a vibe of lack of care or concern. They are devoid of something. It was easy to put my finger on that absent thing. Once again: emotion.

One thing that seems to have worked in this new era is Daniel Bryan. This young dude can go. His offense is fresh, different, and legitimate looking. He can bump well. He can sell well. He has a unique look. Are all these things the reasons why he equals buy rates, ticket sales, merchandise revenue growth, and website hits? Nope. All the things I listed can be said of many guys who NEVER reached Daniel Bryan’s levels of popularity or Wrestlemania main event level. So what separates Daniel from a Dean Malenko or a Rick Martel or a Ronnie Garvin? Once again: emotion.

Daniel Bryan has been able to get the fans to believe in him and EMOTIONALLY be invested in what is happening to him and his character. Now I can do at least 4 or 5 more blog entries on how Bryan got that emotional connection, but it is plainly clear this connection between him and the fans is there. You can’t miss it. It is palpable. It is honest. It is real. You know what that is? Once again: emotion.

The “old school” thing that was done with Daniel Bryan was the underdog, slow burn rise. All of these fans I wrote about above were always complaining about how Bryan’s “push” was progressing.

I love when fans use terms like “jobbed out” and “push”. Please don’t use terms you don’t truly understand no matter whatever website tells you that you do understand these terms. Sorry, I digress, so now back to our regularly scheduled blog entry.

As Daniel’s struggle played out on WWE programming, these complaining fans kept watching. They had their heartstrings tugged. They stayed with Daniel through every up and every down. They continued to purchase PPVs. They kept buying “YES” t-shirts. RAW remained a regular part of their weekly TV viewing. With every passing day leading up to Wrestlemania each of these fans got louder at shows. Each of these fans became enraptured with Daniel. What did they have with Daniel Bryan? Once again: emotion.

The real crux of my point is no matter how angry these fans became they continued to watch. No matter how vocal these fans got on websites and in forums they continued to follow. No matter the amount of claims these fans made they were growing tired and going to stop tuning in, they didn’t, and they continued to keep up. They all found that when you are emotionally invested it is hard to turn it off.

So in retrospect, one of the top babyfaces in the biggest company on the planet, was given an “old school” angle. He was made an underdog. He was forced to fight from underneath. He was made to chase. He was constantly screwed when the brass ring was finally within his grasp. Most importantly, he was allowed to build an emotional connection to the fans through these things. Yet despite the claims of these same fans that they were becoming so tired of this “old school” angle they were going to just stop watching WWE, I think the numbers say otherwise.

The fans got the oldest of wrestling tropes laid at their feet; they got worked. They bought it hook, line, and sinker. And with all the exposure of the inner workings of the business, they still fell for it. This happened in today’s market and culture. It would seem to me, after looking at all the facts I just laid out, “old school” wrestling WILL work today. As a matter of fact, it already has. “Old school” wrestling has a heart and a soul. It has one thing that a lot of things nowadays lack. What is that lacking thing? Once again: emotion.

Well my meds are starting to wear off, I best put my keyboard away. I am going to enjoy a warm mug of hot cocoa. This is why I am always looking for momma. She always made my cocoa just right, and with mini marshmallows. Now as I snuggle up with Teddy remember I get lonely and love feedback. Please feel free to add a comment to this entry. Also remember I am always looking for what y’all are interested in. Please leave comments in the comment section. Or post them in the A1 forums. You can also reach me on Twitter @CrazyTrain_jb. And emails come my way via So until next time…ALL ABOARD!!!

2 Comments on “Does “old school” work in today’s wrestling?”

  1. I find it hilarious when I find people that praise the Attitude Era, then judge current shows on “Match Quality” and “Workrate”. Because, you know, The Attitude Era was all about Match Quality….

    1. Refer to the section above in bold and italics for my thoughts on those who think they understand terms used by those within the wrestling business.

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