boys' blues, by Andrew Humphreys - August 2002
(Credit: The Bulletin)
big, they're buff and they're ratings slayers.
Andrew Humphreys warms up for Melbourne's pro-wrestling
'mega-event' which proves these bruisers aren't
just for losers.
Saturday, August 10, 50,000 wrestling fans will
pack Melbourne's Colonial Stadium to watch impossible
superstars such as Hollywood Hulk Hogan (yes,
that Hollywood Hulk Hogan), The Rock, tough guy
Triple H, a long-haired, square-jawed Canadian
called Edge and buff bad guys like Chris Jericho
and ex-Olympic champion Kurt Angle punch, kick,
shoulder slam and suplex each other inside and
outside a six-by-six metre wrestling ring. There
will be eye gouges, low blows and submission holds.
Steel chairs, road signs, cow bells and tables
will be used as weapons. In between, wrestling
"divas" like Torrie Wilson and Stacy
Keibler will parade and fight in their underwear.
Giant video screens, fireworks and heavy metal
music will make the night complete. And this is
only the beginning.
at least the way World Wrestling Entertainment,
Inc does it, is big business. Before the rise
of pay television in Australia, it would have
been easy to dismiss wrestling as a purely American
phenomenon, a marginal product for a marginalised
audience (primarily young American males, generally
regarded as "trailer trash"). Now, however,
wrestling is not only big business, it's one of
the driving forces of popular culture. It may
seem perverse, but to millions of people around
the world wrestling matters, and if you want to
know what young men are watching, reading, listening
to and spending their money on, you need to take
a look at the wrestling.
the past two years, the core business of the WWE
has experienced huge growth in almost all areas:
live events, cable TV, pay-per-view, videos and
DVDs, video games, clothing (primarily T-shirts),
action figures you name it, the WWE does
it. The company's flagship products the
two-hour weekly TV broadcasts of Smackdown and
Raw have dominated the male 12 to 17 demographic
in the United States and are broadcast in 12 languages
across 130 countries. This success has spilled
into CD sales (through the WWE's Smackdown! Music),
book sales (look out for Can You Take the Heat?,
the official cookbook of the WWE) and even movies.
of this has been due to the overwhelming popularity
of the WWE's biggest star, The Rock. His book,
The Rock Says, spent 20 weeks on The New York
Times bestseller list and sold 720,000 copies
in hardcover alone. The Scorpion King, executive
produced by WWE chairman Vince McMahon and the
WWE, cast The Rock as a leading man in a prequel
to the hugely successful The Mummy and was a box-office
bonanza. The Rock's got a well-trained eyebrow
and can flex and grimace on cue. Naturally enough,
he's already being touted as Hollywood's next
big action hero. The Scorpion King 2 is merely
a formality. Where his career goes from there
is anyone's guess.
WWE produces a curious but compelling product,
a mix of sport, slapstick, soft porn and soap
opera, where old-timers in spandex tights meet
newcomers in baggy pants and bandanas. No one
even pretends that the wrestling (which makes
up a comparatively minor part of every broadcast)
is real any more it's a product, pure and
simple but, to the fans, that's no longer
the point. Wrestling is all about entertainment.
And it starts with the WWE's live "mega-events".
for the Global Warning Tour, the first WWE live
event in Australia for nearly 20 years, sold out
in 48 hours. According to the promoter, Dainty
Consolidated Entertainment, Telstra recorded over
150,000 callers attempting to secure tickets via
phone in the first hour that tickets went on sale.
Ticket prices ranged from $29.95 to $750. Corporate
and travel packages were hot items.
be surprised how many people in corporate Australia
top 50 companies are into WWE,"
says Paul Dainty. And when it came to attracting
a sponsor (Microsoft's Xbox video games console
has the honour), Dainty says he was "literally
besieged with people who wanted to be associated
with this event".
has promised that the show will set "a benchmark
for future live events in Australia". Fireworks
are expected, quite literally, and Dainty is optimistic
that there will be more shows to promote in the
near future. "Australia is a very important
market for the WWE," he says. "We definitely
plan to do more, and we hope Global Warning will
become an annual event."
events provide the WWE with content for TV and
pay-per-view broadcasts. There are currently six
hours of WWE content broadcast in Australia a
week, split over cable channels Fox 8 and Fox
Sports. According to Adam Oakes, marketing director
of Fox Sports, there was never any question that
the WWE package would provide the network with
a strong audience, although its demographic (males
aged 14 to 24) is skewed younger than the network's
core demographic (males 25 to 54).
of live sport broadcasts, WWE Raw rates as the
network's strongest show. "It consistently
falls in the top-five pay-TV programs, week in,
week out," says Oakes. "The passion
of the fans is just extraordinary. They're more
passionate than most soccer fans, and very loyal."
well as the flagship two-hour weekly Smackdown
(Fox 8) and Raw (Fox Sports) broadcasts, each
Australian network shows a one-hour package of
interviews and highlights. Fans of other major
soap operas Days of Our Lives, for example
only get five hours of drama a week, and
the WWE keeps producing new programs to up the
the most intriguing of the new products is WWE
Tough Enough, which runs on MTV in the US and
Fox 8 in Australia. Tough Enough is the WWE's
own reality TV show, where budding WWE wrestlers
live, train and compete with each other to win
a chance at WWE superstardom. It's like Survivor
with more muscle, and it provides the WWE with
a good source of new talent.
talent keeps the WWE machine rolling. WWE writers
will develop characters and storylines in conjunction
with individual wrestlers before they're thrown
into the ring, a dangerous world of fluctuating
alliances, where good and evil can change places
in the blink of an eye and the referees are always
looking the wrong way. The WWE trades in broad
characterisations and stereotypes, such as the
Reverend D-Von, an evangelical black preacher,
Eddie Guerrero, the wily Mexican, and the are-they-or-aren't-they?
tag team of Billy and Chuck, who wrestle in matching
red briefs and refuse to compete without their
stylist, Rico, who, naturally, also wrestles when
however, the fans decide who to love and who to
hate, and the WWE writers are inevitably guided
by fan reaction. It's an essentially democratic
process, and characters have to be able to evolve
with the wishes of the audience. Otherwise, they're
out. Before he was The People's Champion, The
Rock was The Corporate Champion, one of Vince
McMahon's handpicked lackeys. He was a great bad
guy; now he's a great good guy. All that matters
is that people want to watch him win.
Wrestling Entertainment Incorporated likes to
describe itself as an "integrated media and
entertainment company". The company
chairman, Vince McMahon, is also one of wrestling's
most colourful characters. He and his family also
form a part of the WWE cast and their staged "boardroom"
antics provide background drama for the matches
wrestling there are good guys and bad guys, heroes
and heels, and McMahon is invariably a heel, the
one man the fans love to hate. It's a role he
plays to the hilt, stripping to the waist and
flexing his own considerable biceps whenever it's
often, his role is as the Machiavellian manipulator,
taunting the audience ("Unlike all these
people here tonight, I don't have to work for
a living. Look it up I'm a certified billionaire.
I don't have to work. I do it for one thing and
one thing only: ego!") and his wrestlers.
Rarely is the chairman of a company so involved
with its product.
McMahon is no ordinary chairman. He's been a part
of the wrestling since the early 1970s, first
with his father's Capitol Wrestling Enterprises
and later with the World Wrestling Federation.
Over the years, his company has out-fought and
out-rated all challengers (including Ted Turner's
WCW) to consolidate its position at the top of
the wrestling ladder.
a successful public offering in October 1999 and
an improbable battle with the World Wildlife Fund
in the British Court of Appeal, the WWF became
the WWE earlier this year. The name change was
accompanied by a successful rebranding campaign
that implored fans to "Get the F Out".
Naturally, the T-shirts were a hit.
wrestling is a cyclical business and McMahon knows
this better than anyone. Despite continued growth,
there are signs that the boom may be coming to
an end. US ratings for both Smackdown and Raw
(shown on UPN and TNN respectively) have waned
over the first half of the year and analysts (yes,
there are wrestling analysts) have called for
new stars to emerge as superstars like The Rock
and Stone Cold Steve Austin (who walked out on
the WWE in June) move on.
new markets is an obvious source of growth. Global
Warning is the WWE's third major international
tour of the year (following shows in Tokyo, Malaysia,
Singapore, Cologne, Glasgow, Birmingham and London),
one of 340 live events that the company has planned
for the current financial year.
difficult to imagine that Australian audiences
will ever be blessed with the same weekly schedule
of WWE live events as their US counterparts, but
a successful show at Melbourne's Colonial Stadium
is sure to whet their appetites for more
more hair, more skin, more blood, more heroes
to cheer and more villains to boo. And the WWE
will be happy to deliver.
Rock official website
Cold Steve Austin official website
Wrestling Returns to Australia, by Greg Tingle
- 15th May 2003
Great Aussie Promoters, by Greg Tingle
Great Yankee Promoters, by Greg Tingle
Stop Their Music - 31st January 2004
Championship Wrestling Invades Australia - 13th