Stop the presses, we’ve got big news from that pillar of wrestling journalism, the New York Post. On Saturday, they put up an article with the headline, “How Jon Stewart helped make wrestling more popular than ever.” Kind of a dubious claim, right? One that should probably be backed up with viewership data correlating with Stewart’s pre-WrestleMania angle with current WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins, wouldn’t you say?
Professional wrestling may not be as “real” as other professional sports — it’s called “sports entertainment” because it’s a theatrical mix of authentic athleticism and fictional storytelling with predetermined outcomes — but its fan base should be taken seriously.
Not since the late 1990s — when wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was beefing with Mike Tyson and the Rock was bursting onto the scene
… and WCW didn’t exist …
— has professional wrestling been so mainstream.
Granted, it’s tough to quantify something as abstract as popularity, numerically or otherwise, but very slim information was offered here. They mentioned the Barclays Center in Brooklyn selling out for SummerSlam, the subscriber count for the WWE Network, and John Cena’s crossover appeal, and that’s about it. Jon Stewart’s appearance on Raw, which the headline claims was a major turning point, only got one sentence. No mention of NXT, Beast in the East, or Tough Enough. If that’s all the evidence you’re going to submit in the case of The People vs. Hulkamania, you don’t have a very strong case. Heck, Gawker’s lawyers wish they had it that easy.
Even if I had all the Nielsen numbers and merchandise sales in front of me, I don’t know if I could (or SHOULD) make the case that pro wrestling is better/more popular than ever before. It’s such a different beast these days that comparison has become nearly impossible, and we should be fine with that. We hurt wrestling every time we try to bring the Attitude Era back. I say we should figure out just what we’re looking at before we try to decide its place in history, and even then, let’s leave the Post out of the discussion. They seem to be perfectly content developing their Autonomous Headline Generation software, which churns out sensationalist gems like SUBWAY TODDLER CRACK SPREE faster and cheaper than human writers ever could.
Let’s take a look back at what started this boom period: