An entire generation of pro-wrestling fans is gone — and not coming back.
That was the message sent by the television ratings for this week’s Monday Night Raw.
World Wrestling Entertainment touted the three-hour “Raw” as an “old school” special with a nostalgia theme and one-night return of grappling legends like “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Dusty Rhodes and “Mean” Gene Okerlund. WWE scriptwriters also did an excellent job of meshing the past and the present to enhance storylines heading into Sunday night’s “Survivor Series” pay-per-view card emanating from Miami.
In theory, this was the kind of show that should have drawn a significantly larger audience than usual through fans from the 1980s and ‘90s who were curious to see what some of their childhood heroes and villains look like now.
“Raw,” though, showed only a slight increase from last week’s telecast during its customary 11 p.m.-1 a.m. time slot with a 3.2 rating and roughly 4.65 million viewers on USA Network.
To put this in perspective, take another trip down memory lane, to the same week in November 1999. WCW Monday Nitro — the flagship program of rival World Championship Wrestling — drew a 3.1 rating airing opposite “Raw.”
WWE pulled a whopping 6.3 rating headlined by the Big Boss Man (the late Ray Traylor) pinning Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
There isn’t a single reason why the Monday-night audience has dropped roughly 66 per cent in the span of a decade.
WWE’s purchase of WCW in March 2001 ended the “Monday Night wars,” but also drove away viewers who weren’t interested in Vince McMahon’s version of “sports entertainment.”
The retirements of mega-stars like Johnson and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin undoubtedly caused some fans to tune out.
Others simply lost interest as they grew older or began getting their combat fix from the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
The 2007 murder/suicide of Chris Benoit and his family also was the final straw for those who had grown tired of watching a slew of pro-wrestling stars die prematurely.
As much as some fans and even wrestlers have complained about the PG nature of the current product, WWE is wise to try and reinvent itself with a younger age group and new spate of headliners like Wade Barrett, Stephen “Sheamus” Farrelly and Alberto Del Rio.
This is at least laying the groundwork for the future rather than futilely trying to re-create the past like in TNA Wrestling, where 57-year-old Hulk Hogan is still pushed as omnipotent.
WWE also should consider this week’s “Raw” rating as a barometer for fan interest in a potential Bill Goldberg return at April’s Wrestlemania 27 in Atlanta. Goldberg enjoyed a world-title run during a two-year WWE stint (2003-04), but was never as popular as when he headlined for WCW in the late 1990s.
Goldberg, who retired shortly after leaving WWE, has expressed interest in returning for one show. A match against The Undertaker makes sense provided the latter is recovered from his recent rotator-cuff surgery (let alone a “burial” by archrival Kane on last month’s Bragging Rights pay-per-view show). But it would be unrealistic to expect Goldberg to make the same impact as when he drew almost 40,000 fans for a July 1998 match against Hogan inside the Georgia Dome. That ship has sailed — just like the folks whose interest had once helped power the vessel.
Alex Marvez writes a syndicated pro-wrestling column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at alex1marv(at)aol.com or follow him via Twitter at http://twitter.com/alexmarvez.