How the Dirtsheets Are Ruining Professional Wrestling
I know what you might be thinking.
“This dude just wrote about how the internet saved wresting a few weeks ago. Now he hates dirtsheets. What?”
I don’t hate dirtsheets; but they are slowly becoming a major net negative. However, there is a difference between being a “smart” fan, compared to what I believe is the Dunning-Kruger Effect occurring throughout both major fanbases due to dirtsheets. More on that later.
I also want to point out that this article in no way diminishes the work this site does, or other breaking news journalists. I used to be a journalist (non-wrestling) so to an extent, I understand the importance of transparency and free information.
It’s just that I think at this point, dirtsheets (overall) may do more harm than good.
But first, let me get the obvious question out of the way…
The Difference Between ‘The Internet’ the ‘The Dirtsheets’
Yes, the internet still saved wrestling.
Exposing millions of fans to different and unique types of wrestling is paramount to the sport’s longevity. Vince McMahon has conditioned fans to long believe wresting has to ‘look’ a certain way — and someone like Jim Cornette will have you believe wrestling needs to be ‘booked’ a certain way.
No disrespect to Cornette and McMahon. They have both contributed to the pro wrestling zeitgeist in their own way. However, they both never understood an element in today’s product that didn’t exist decades ago.
Pro wrestling is META. The fans know that the wrestlers know that they’re just as part of the show as they are (if that makes sense). There is major self-awareness on both sides in relation to the overall product, and how it’s presented.
Many fans aren’t tuning in because they are so heavily invested into a wrestler or feud from a strictly kayfabe sense. Many tune in now for the overall experience.
Example: At Full Gear, I’m not a mark rooting for Jon Moxley to defeat MJF. I’m watching to:
A) See a damn good match
B) See how this angle plays out, and whether MJF ends up ‘turning’ — or tries winning the ‘right’ way only to lose.
I’m not a child. I’m not living vicariously through one wrestler or another. I just want to see an overall great story play out. Most fans, I’d argue, are the same way now.
With that comes a greater knowledge and appreciation of the inner-workings of the sport. This is no different from understanding how a great movie, live musical, or TV show comes together. It doesn’t ruin the experience; but makes you love it even more.
Dirtsheets Divide Us
However, what is happening now with many wrestling news sites is something that we may not have foreseen pre-2019.
Dirtsheets divide us.
Many fans share, comment, and form their opinion no different than one would watching cable news. Hate AEW? You probably think Meltzer and Alvarez are in Khan’s pockets. Perhaps you favor Ariel Helwani, who has clear bias against AEW. Or maybe you aren’t a WWE fan and are a Wrestling Observer fan.
Or perhaps you try to ‘stay in the middle’ with folks like Keller and Sapp.
Either way, it’s all kind of pointless, don’t you think?
Many fans read news how they want to believe one company is or isn’t to fit their narrative. There has been “backstage turmoil” in WWE as far back as I can remember, up to current times with AEW. Is it really turmoil?
Perhaps it’s just a business, and sometimes people have disagreements (sometimes fights). But is it really something to make a big deal of?
Dirtsheets will have you think so. Yes, they’re just “reporting” — but in many cases, their audience is putting more time and energy into the negative reporting than being an actual fan of the wrestling product itself.
Overall, dirtsheets have likely led to more tribalism in this industry than ever before.
Dirtsheets Can Hamper Booking
Let me create two scenarios for you:
The Elite and C.M. Punk have their fight at ‘Brawl Out’. Instead of details, (and a bit of speculation and downright lies) everything is handled internally. Nothing gets leaks to the press.
This gives Khan the freedom as a booker to find a way to explain the absence of The Elite and Punk on television. He could have announced an injury angle for Punk (which is technically true), and perhaps a creative way to take The Elite off TV for some reason.
That didn’t matter, though. Because he didn’t have to — most, if not all AEW fans already knew what happened backstage due to reporting, so they didn’t need to “explain” anything. They just vanished from television. Unfortunately, this news overshadowed MJF’s glorious return to AEW, and that’s sad.
Sans the fact that the return of The Elite could make for one of the best wrestling stories in a decade (if played right), it shouldn’t have come to this.
In WWE, the same can be said about Sasha Banks and Naomi’s walkout.
While they ‘sort of’ explained the absence on television, McMahon and others knew that internet fans already knew exactly what happened. There’s no surprise. No room to even create a story as to why Sasha and Naomi are no longer tag team champions.
And this goes on and on and on with endless examples in both WWE and AEW.
Not to mention the obvious — SPOILERS of incoming feuds, surprise appearances/debuts, and even pre-taped show spoilers. They all contribute to hurting booking for both brands.
The more fans know about the specific creative processes from dirtsheets, the less of an effect it has on the overall product and presentation to the viewer.
Dirtsheets and the Dunning-Kruger Effect
The Dunning-Kruger Effect: a cognitive bias whereby people with low ability, expertise, or experience regarding a certain type of a task or area of knowledge tend to overestimate their ability or knowledge – Wikipedia
Or in other words: They don’t know that they don’t know…
It’s one thing to understand how the business works. It’s another to believe that you know everything that happens backstage simply because a news site told you so.
No wrestling fan will ever know exactly what happens backstage in any promotion unless you are physically there.
When news sites expose the fanbase to so much information, especially information that could be flat out wrong or misleading — it gives some fans the ammo to strengthen their biases — even if wrong.
Britt Baker has often called out “toxic” fans for acting in this manner. The type of fan that thinks they know more than they actually do, believes whatever news fits their narrative of a promotion they love/hate, and then (for some reason) attacks wrestlers on a personal level on social media.
It’s fucking clownshoes. These are the fans that desperately need to go touch some grass.
Dirtsheets and the Stupid Ratings Divide
I’ve said this so many times:
Unless you are a USA or WarnerMedia executive directly involved in the product: Ratings should mean absolutely nothing to you. They’re a byproduct of the Monday Night Wars, which ended over 20 years ago.
Stop living in the past, people. Dirtsheets are having folks believe that these ratings should mean something to all fans. As mentioned, they do not.
As far as ratings go, all that truly matters is if the networks are happy. and that they stay on television. That’s it. Literally.
From what we know, out of the mouths from Tony Khan and Stephanie McMahon themselves — both networks are happy with the current ratings.
Above or below 1 or 2 million? The numbers mean nothing to you as a fan unless you just want to troll and divide.
Don’t be that fan. Just root for both companies to do well in the ratings. Professional wrestling is simply better off that way.
Dirtsheets Can be Wrong
This goes without saying, but while a lot of times wrestling journalists get it right — they also can very much get it wrong. This can be the case when stories are taken from a “hearsay” source that may only be half-reliable.
This is made worse when personal lives are pried into, false information is reported, and items that should be handled with care, are not.
And when the internet is fixated on a story, especially if it’s wrong, we tend to focus on the story over the actual product itself.
How many times have fans cared more about the dirtsheet stories “behind-the-scenes” than what’s actually happening in the product itself?
Unless you hear it from the horse’s mouth — wrestler, promoter, TV executive — assuming “hearsay” news is correct is reckless. You’ll never know the full story, even if everything coming out may be mostly accurate. You simply weren’t there.
The more dirtsheets speculate, and the more they put out falsehoods, even if in small percentages, makes the entire industry look bad. Either report accurate news with legitimate and provable sources — or don’t at all. It’s just not worth it.
How Dirtsheets Can Reform
For one, let’s stop calling them ‘dirtsheets’. Let’s stop reporting “news” that is largely based on hearsay and speculation that can’t be backed up by a public source. There are legitimate ways that wrestling news can be reported that can be taken from interviews, company press releases, actually physically being there, and hard financial figures from either promotion.
Hearing a “rumor” from a wrestler’s “camp” that was maybe “leaked” is not news. It’s gossip.
If anything, perhaps these “reports”, (true or false) should come with DISCLAIMERS, so fans know enough to take it with a grain of salt. In many cases, full on rants passed off as news doesn’t have this attached.
Lastly, we must identify the effect that wresting news has on the fanbases and the sport. It’s one thing to understand the business as an educated fan; it’s another to let wrestling news cloud your potential judgment and enjoyment of either brand.
Imagine a wrestling galaxy where there’s no backstage news, or spoilers of coming debuts, surprises, or future storylines and matches. There’s no speculation on X wrestler’s attitude and current standing in their company. There’s not even any spoilers of pre-taped shows.
We just get to enjoy wrestling as presented; and the now “legitimate” news only heightens the overall experience. We can exist in the internet space, have hearty and fun discussions, and appreciate the sport we love without false narratives, useless biases, and blatant tribalism.
Perhaps many of us; perhaps all of us, could enjoy professional wrestling that much more.