MR. TITO: Internet Wrestling Community Has Always Been Cynical and About Tribalism

I’m not writing this as a response to yesterday’s NoDQ column entitled “Internet Wrestling Community is Dying – Here’s Why”, but I’m here today to add more context to said Internet Wrestling Community (IWC) as a person who has participated in it as a columnist since October 1998. Everyone is making the assumption that the invention of Social Media has made wrestling fans more negative and cynic. However, I’m here to tell you that wrestling fans have just switched megaphones.

Back when I began writing wrestling columns during October 1998 as Mr. Tito for Lords of Pain, most of my feedback was through email. I wrote daily columns back then entitled “Mr. Tito’s Phat Daily Columns” and I’d spend up to an hour or more quickly responding to many emails received during the Attitude Era. Keep in mind that during that timeframe, RAW and Nitro were both drawing 5 million or more viewers and plenty of people had the internet back then. Free email accounts were the rage, but colleges also provided emails.

I’m here to tell you that I regularly received hatemail for my opinions, but also emailed death threats which I kept in a special folder and sometimes forwarded to the authorities. Granted, I was a bit more aggressive with my columns as an immature teenager or early 20s kind of guy, full of piss and vinegar as any male those ages, and probably angered the WWE, WCW, or ECW fanbase (as well as the Insane Clown Posse one). However, did I deserve my life being threatened for simply posting an opinion on a scripted form of entertainment? Of course not.

Then, message board postings really grew during the early 2000s and thus you heard negativity by the IWC not just by emails, but throughout a message board. At Lords of Pain, we had our own message board and there was just endless battles there. What I began finding is with email, it was one-on-one and not seen by anyone. With message boards, however, many others could see what someone was posting, whether it was the critic or myself… Some would join the critic, others would defend me. This created tribes of wrestling fans and cliques, to which that became the identification of the message board: clique warfare. Same goes with comments below posts, which are essentially like mini-message boards.

What I see with Social Media is just a more available message board that isn’t directly attached to a particular website. Now, you can connect with everyone.

What I’m saying is that the cynical Internet Wrestling Community has ALWAYS been there, but with each iteration of technology, it has given the IWC more access and permission to be themselves.

But let’s get into the argument that Social Media is emphasizing more tribalism…

If you were online during 1996-1997, it was mostly about obtaining the insider scoops on wrestler free agents but not so much deciding who was better, WCW, WWE, or even ECW. In fact, if you were a wrestling fan during 1997 through most of 1998, you ATE GOOD as a wrestling fan. WCW was hitting its peak, WWE woke up and began to rebound, and ECW proved resiliency when WCW raided their roster and yet the quality didn’t drop off (I’d argue it improved, thanks to Tazz and the Dudleys getting pushed harder).

When I arrived on the scene during October 1998, WCW began a serious decline. The NWO factions were wearing thin while Bill Goldberg’s momentum was seriously cooling. However, if you stated such an opinion that WCW was actually declining, loyal WCW fans would hound and attack you. They were in complete denial of WCW’s creative problems, even when the NWO tried to reunite and make Hulk Hogan champion again during early 1999. I HAMMERED WCW for their NWO reunion and wrestling fans attacked me and they attacked me again when I was critical of Vince Russo reuniting the NWO.

Throughout 1999, you could see the TV ratings declining and the attendance dropping, while stars like The Giant (Big Show) and Chris Jericho joined WWE. Complete denial… Then, Vince Russo joins WCW during the Fall of 1999. Suddenly, WCW was great again and anyone being critical of his his critical ideas were attacked. Then, as WCW was obviously struggling throughout 2000, the hatemail kept growing despite the viewership dropping and the attendance worsening.

For ECW, losing Taz and the Dudleys hurt them badly and their promotion just wasn’t the same on TNN for their Friday Night show. I stated the obvious, such as pushing Justin Credible to be ECW Champion, and I was repeatedly attacked. ECW fans HATED me when I reviewed their show weekly and read me the riot act, even though ECW’s popularity was declining DESPITE being on a cable show. The quality wasn’t there anymore, but the loyal ECW fans didn’t see it.

By Spring of 2001, both WCW and ECW were dead…

Folks, what happens is that fans get in too deep with a wrestling promotion and give all of their time & money to that promotion. Even when the facts present themselves of a clear decline, they are in complete denial as if they are in a cult.

I was very critical of the WWE during the late 2010s and pointed out obvious facts like viewership declines, attendance declines, and struggling to sell merchandise without John Cena and trying to overpush Roman as a babyface. WWE fans HATED me… Then, All Elite Wrestling (AEW) appears and everybody is excited again, particularly those wanting an alternative to the WWE. AEW builds a loyal fanbase through 2019, but then 2020 rolls around, the quality immediately drops off. Then, AEW signs CM Punk and that causes many oldschool WWE fans to watch AEW and it pumps up their attendance, PPV, and merchandise numbers…

But then when CM Punk starts to have backstage problems, the loyal CM Punk fans and AEW fans begin to fight while the WWE tribe laughs at the entire situation overall. Meanwhile, the WWE tribe soon changes their tune on CM Punk hatred, as they disliked in AEW but suddenly embrace him in AEW.

What I’ve heard and seen for 25+ yeasr ECHOES of what I heard between WWE/WCW/ECW during 1998-2001 versus what you see now from 2019 between AEW and WWE fans. It’s the same tribalism.

BUT, the hatred always begins when a promotion DECLINES… WCW and ECW starts to decline, their fans are in complete denial. WWE starts to decline after 2000, WWE fans deny quality problems. TNA fans thought their promotion was competitive with WWE, and then the early 2010s declines happened. WWE was difficult to follow during the latter part of 2010s, but fans thought everything was great despite the declining numbers that were clear as day. AEW fans thumped their chest as a quick competitor to the WWE, but now are in complete denial of their declines since the Wembley show and CM Punk’s exit.

Come to think of it, I remember fights between WWE and WCW fans during the late 1980s and early 1990s… WWE was “sports entertainment” and a marketing machine, while WCW was the southern more raw style of wrestling.

I totally disagree that the presence of the INTERNET or SOCIAL MEDIA has changed the wrestling fan. Rather, changes in technology has only given them permission to provide their opinion more throughout the day and to a bigger audience.

And the issue isn’t about “KAYFABE”, either, with fans fully knowing that wrestling is a scripted form of entertainment that presents itself like a valid sporting competition. The keen observer could see that most punches didn’t land during the 1980s and by the early 1990s, it was nationally known that wrestling was scripted thanks to various legal matters that caused wrestling, itself, to expose itself. Yet, we fully embraced the New World Order, Austin vs. Vince, John Cena’s character, and the Bloodline. Go watch Royal Rumble 2023’s ending… Everybody was emotionally into that ending when Sami Zayn turned on the Bloodline.

Quality storylines and writing will counter your claim that nobody watches because wrestling is known to be scripted. Movies and television are known to be scripted, too, yet people still watch. If you give someone a quality product, THEY’LL WATCH.

If the IWC is so bad, then why did AEW get off to such a strong start and remains a solid #2 option?

If the IWC is so bad and toxic, then explain how the WWE has grown significantly since 2020? How can the IWC hate Roman Reigns during the 2010s but love his character during the 2020s?

In theory, a “toxic” IWC would cause the promotions to lose viewers. Nope…

People are critical of everything, as their expectations are just too high… NFL is destroying viewership records right now and many loyal fans are often critical of that. Yet, they keep tuning in, week after week.


Because people need a vehicle to VENT…

Things are tough economically for many, while others struggle socially. If you look at economic numbers, income has gone up and the economy, overall, has grown. Yet, beneath the surface is a real struggle for many young people in the 21st centure. Yes, getting an advanced college degree leads to higher income, but that’s not until you’re in your late 30s and throughout your 40s. The struggle for most of your 20s and 30s with lower paying jobs BUT a college loan to pay off is real. The lack of high paying jobs for people without college degrees has also caused a schism. Thus, many in their 20s and 30s are angry about their paychecks and see zero hope with political leaders for any hope.

You need to dig into the ROOT CAUSE of why someone wants to yell about wrestling online… If something was so terrible, wouldn’t they stop consuming it? If WWE or AEW was so bad, then why do people keep watching them? Why are they so loyal? They secretly enjoy it, but other things are on their mind and WWE/AEW become vehicles to vent, especially if they show doesn’t provide a big enough escape for them. Then, an angry email, message board post, comments below a post/column, or social media thread becomes a vehicle to vent such frustrations.

And allow me to reveal a dirty secret… Mr. Tito is my vehicle for venting. It’s been my megaphone to yell at the world for the past 25 years.

Go read any of my columns from 2016, for example. I had a really rough year personally and professionally. I lost a parent but not only that, spent a few months watching said parent suffering. That wore me out, while the place I worked at was significantly expanding and we had multiple new products to introduce as a corporation. I was also in a training program for a particular certification. I was stressed out to the max and struggled getting sleep nightly, while dealing with serious grief. Yet, if you read any of my 2016 columns, they were pure rage that year. It’s likely that if you looked at me cross-eyed on Twitter back then, I probably motherf***ed you.

Conversely, I’ve seen it in my personal life when friends/family or friends online are having struggles personally or professionally that their aggression ramps up in communications. Right now, our political divide is massive and you see lots of pure rage between the sides. But I think both sides, maybe one more in particular, is stoking this anger or pushing fear in order to build loyalty. Then, they show pure rage online in defense of their political side.

Now, I’ll say this for the past year’s worth of columns… When I have great material to write columns, thank you Vince McMahon, Rock, and CM Punk, I tend to write many columns. I was on a complete streak of almost writing daily from late December through mid-February because breaking news kept happening. Those were “venting” columns, but something that came easy to write.

The “cynical” IWC has always been there, as has tribalism… I just think people in today’s society are clinging to things because the real world sucks. The anger that you see isn’t about your wrestling opinion, but something else personally or professionally laying beneath the surface. Anytime a promotion has struggles or declines, you always see the SAME exact thing no matter what the year…

– WWE vs. WCW during the late 1980s and early 1990s, WCW fans were in denial about the early 1990s struggles while WWE fans were in denial when Hulkamania was over-exposed.

– Many loyal WCW fans were in denial about WCW’s decline after July 1998 and denied their promotion was dying during 1999-2000.

– ECW fans would never accept how weak their promotion became during 2000.

– WWE fans defended everything during the early 2000s, even though viewership and attendance kept dropping.

– TNA fans always thought they were competitive, but they were never close. Kept as a loyal group even as the bottom began falling out during the early 2010s.

– Lots of John Cena haters, even though numbers proved he kept merchandise and houseshow money strong for the promotion. Cena is only getting his flowers now, but lots of haters back then.

– Then, when John Cena was gone, lots of excuses made for a dropoff in attendance, viewership, and merch sales during the late 2010s.

– AEW fans won’t acknowledge their issues with Tony as President/CEO or the Young Bucks creating a toxic culture.

But as I said, they are loyal and keep watching… However, they are hating on them or getting into online battles because of something else that is beneath the surface. Hating on wrestling more representative as a vehicle to vent about something else. Loyal NFL fans are constantly angry about their league, too.

I’ll say this… What people have said on message boards or social media (early to mid 2000s or since 2010s) is FAR LESS nasty or threatening than the e-mails I received during the Monday Night Wars/Attitude Era. Today’s posts just spread faster because everything is out in the open.

What you’re seeing today with the Internet Wrestling Community is the “Same Old Sh*T, but Different Day”.

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