“Listen to me. Learn from me. I was not the best because I killed quickly. I was the best because the crowd loved me. Win the crowd…” – Proximo addressing Maximus in “Gladiator”
The crowd: The true living breathing heart of the WWE. Always has been, and always will be.
Since the beginning, there have been characters, and there have been stories. There have been Faces and Heels, Heroes and Villains. Hulk Hogan. Ric Flair. Brett Hart. Triple H. The Undertaker. Shawn Michaels. CM Punk. The greatest wrestling superstars always play both sides, at one time a Face, another time a Heel, with the story of their turn playing out in front of live audiences across the world. Sometimes two friends quarrel, and the crowd chooses sides. Sometimes one tag team partner visciously turns on the other, and the crowd chooses sides. Sometimes a superstar insults another fan favorite, or a city, or a Hall of Famer, and the crowd chooses sides. Those who win the crowd earn the “pop,” those who lose the crowd earn the “heat.” But in either case, the sincerity of the reaction is more important than which reaction is earned.
Always the crowd. Shaping each and every event, and making or breaking every story. Because in the WWE, the crowd isn’t just there to watch the show, they are a part of the show. The fan reaction is vital: Cheering the appropriate stars, booing the appropriate stars, starting the appropriate chants. The more into the show, the better the event. The more knowledgeable the crowd, the better the event.
The crowd is both critical, and the critic. In the WWE, there is no need to wait for the day after a big pay-per-view to know which fights were great, because the crowds will tell you. The superstars hear in the ring not just after the action, but during the action, the fan reaction. “Booooorrrriiiinnnggggg” chants rain down on the weaker stories, the weaker fights, the weaker feuds (or all Big Show matches). “This is AWESOME” chants rise above all else during the best matches, such as the recent GREAT match between Brock Lesnar and CM Punk.
But over time the crowds changed. In the heyday of pro wrestling, childish adults formed the foundation of the crowd, avid fans who understood story telling, timing, botches, and all the subtleties. They understood their role. In more recent times, kids had taken on a larger role, and lower IQ fans. Groups that would choose a superstar and cheer him no matter what, or boo him no matter what, or start mistimed chants or miss chant opportunities; the John Cena crowd. The crowd that came to buy shirts and watch wrestling, instead of adding to wrestling.
And then there is Daniel Bryan. The diminutive, technical, bearded fan favorite who has brought old-school pop back to the WWE. Because there is pop: The fans cheering you when you enter and exit, the fans cheering you after a fight. And then there is POP! The kind witnessed on RAW on January 13th (scroll to 3:20 mark of the video below). The kind of reaction when the entire crowd is hanging on your every action. The kind of moment when the entire crowd, Daniel Bryan fan or not, is directly tied to the superstar himself. Look at the crowd, look at the different camera angles. Everyone is standing, everyone is involved, everyone is in unison.
The crowd: The part of wrestling that sets it apart from every other form of athletic entertainment. They don’t simply react to the action, they create the action, enhance the action, form the action. The crowd response a superstar stimulates supersedes winning any title, winning any belt, and winning any event.
Daniel Bryan has won the crowd. And in doing so, he has brought back crowds that are worthy of the heyday of professional wrestling. Is he WWE Champion? No. Does he currently hold any belt at all? No. Is Daniel Bryan what’s Best for Business?
YES! YES! YES! YESSSSS!!!!
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