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A Mark’s Eye View: How ESPN taught me about bad wrestling

Bad wrestling isn’t always a bad thing.

A Mark’s Eye View is a weekly look at some of the things that made me a huge fan of professional wrestling. 

Listen to the latest episode of our weekly wrestling podcast, PTW!

Some have said that the amount of first-run televised wrestling on the air today leads to burnout. It may seem like a fair argument, but it does not hold water under scrutiny. When I was a kid, in any given week I would watch multiple WWF syndicated programs, Prime Time WrestlingNWA Power Hour, the 6:05 Saturday show, an hour of World Class Championship Wrestling, and Mid South then UWF. In other words, even before the internet and streaming services, there was a whole lot of wrestling to watch.

Even stranger, some of the pro wrestling I would watch was on ESPN. Since those days of pro graps and world strongman competitions, the sports network has gone on to secure deals with all major sporting leagues in America. 

Like much of the rest of the world, sports came to a halt with the spread of the coronavirus. This led to no news or live sports to cover for ESPN, so the channel has looked to its past and started replaying professional wrestling. The only difference is now the majority is WWE.

Some matches are better than others and I will occasionally throw around scary words like “psychology“ and “ workrate“. But at the end of the day, there are only two types of wrestling: good and bad. Both can be very fun. And if it isn’t fun, then what’s the point?

Seth Rollins's fall from grace | Page 2 | Wrestling Forum

This is why I stopped watching WWE a few years ago. It wasn’t that it was bad (though it certainly was not good). I can handle and even enjoy bad wrestling — WWE just wasn’t fun anymore.

ESPN was where I first found bad wrestling. My first memories of the AWA was watching it on ESPN on Saturday nights. I remember it being so bland compared to the WWF, NWA, or any other promotion I watched. Still, I was a kid, so it was fun. Plus, the Midnight Rockers, Nick Bockwinkel, and Stan Hansen were very enjoyable.

But it was the Global Wrestling Federation that really introduced me to bad wrestling that was not fun. (Not to be confused with Global Force Wrestling, which was bad but forgettable.) GWF started with a bang. It was on five days a week and had a great roster. Guys I never heard of like The Patriot mingled with old favorites like Stan Lane.

A Mark's Eye View: How ESPN taught me about bad wrestling

The promotion lost its luster very quickly, however. Why would they have the tournament for the secondary title first? Especially when many of the same wrestlers were included in the second tourney. There were even repeat matches! Unsurprisingly, the guy who won the first tournament won again. He immediately gave up the TV title after winning the North American belt. This again begs the question why.

Of the six men to hold the TV belt, only one of them lost it in the ring and it was vacated four times.  Chaz and The Lightning Kid (X-Pac) had great matches for the Light Heavyweight Title, but it seemed like they were the only two in the division. What started off interesting quickly became stale.

Before long, the company was World Class-lite. The once interesting Cartel gimmick fizzled after the reveal of Max Andrews as the Boss.  By the time wrestlers were launched to the moon and announcers thought they were Elvis Presley I had stopped watching.

A Mark's Eye View: How ESPN taught me about bad wrestling

To make matters worse, old World Class Championship Wrestling shows were shown on ESPN. The hot angles and feuds and also great competitors like Harley Race and Ric Flair. It was an uphill battle for a dying AWA and a struggling-to-find-life GWF.

The partnership between ESPN and professional wrestling goes back decades. Before they became a shill for Vince McMahon‘s company, the sports channel would air smaller promotions. It gave me a chance to learn what truly makes wrestling unwatchable.

Next Week: It’s called a sleeperhold!

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