As Thunder Rosa sauntered to the ring last Wednesday night, accompanied by a female mariachi band and wearing a special Texas-emblazoned ring jacket, it was telling just how much a little hometown spirit could go in wrestling.
The build for the Thunder Rosa vs. Britt Baker Women’s World Championship match on AEW Dynamite had been largely criticized. Some pundits felt that Rosa had not been properly spotlighted leading up to the match, and the recent clash between the two women at the Revolution PPV was a slog of interference that left fans wondering if Dick Togo had put the match together.
None of that seemed to matter though, as Rosa walked to the ring to surely the loudest ovation of her career. Why after such a lackluster build, was Rosa so over? Why did the match end up having incredible energy from the crowd? The answer was that Rosa was announced as being from Tijuana by way of San Antonio.
Rooting for your hometown is one of the simplest tenements of fandom, not just in wrestling, but in anything. Quite literally the easiest way to get support from somebody is for them to be a local, one of their own. It creates a natural, immediate connection between the individual (or team) and the fan who is watching them.
In wrestling, the idea of a local hero defeating nefarious outsiders was the basic philosophy that built countless wrestling promotions over the years. Plenty of territories followed this gameplan; perhaps most notably in Memphis, where the main storyline for decades was basically “Memphis’ Jerry Lawler vs. Someone Not From Memphis.” Notable angles, such as the Fabulous Freebirds vs The Von Erichs, were entirely built on the idea that some good Texas boys would defend the honor of all Texans by beating up some rowdy guys from Georgia.
Local identity and shared cultural experience is one of the strongest bonds people have, especially in the United States which has such a varied culture depending on what part of the country. Wrestlers from the local area have an obvious leg-up when it comes to getting over, and the sensible thing is to lean into that as much as possible.
In recent years, that hasn’t always been the case.
WWE has had an awkward relationship with wrestlers’ hometowns. At the basic level, they have largely ignored them for most talent. Hometowns are no longer a staple of every ring introduction, and many times WWE will be in the native area of one of their wrestlers and the fans wouldn’t even know it.
WWE famously has also shifted into the philosophy of using their hometowns as an opportunity to get heat, which means beating wrestlers in their hometowns, oftentimes in humiliating fashion.
Logically, this makes some sense in that a heel wrestler beating a babyface in front of their hometown would get heat from the audience, but since WWE is a nationally touring brand, the crowd is unlikely to be around when the babyface gets their revenge. This isn’t fans coming back to the Mid-South Auditorium the following week to see Jerry Lawler get his revenge; WWE blows into town, gets heat by beating the local wrestler, and then moves on to the next city. The fans in the next city are unlikely to have the same kind of emotional investment that the fans in the hometown city had, and thus nothing is really gained by getting that kind of heat.
More importantly, it sends a dismissive message to the fans in that city. It says that people in your city are losers and are not important. When a touring brand comes to my city, as a fan I want to see the people who represent my city do well on the show; if they are booked to look like pathetic losers, it sends a negative message to how the company views people from my community.
AEW has thankfully adopted the opposite approach.
The company has utilized the old school philosophy of making sure that if they are in the hometown of a wrestler, that wrestler is treated as an important part of the show. In turn that sends a positive message to the fanbase that the company values people from your community. Pretty much every week, AEW is in the hometown/area of someone on their roster, and AEW without fault, makes sure to acknowledge it.
Everybody knows about CM Punk and his special connection with his hometown of Chicago. However, with all of AEW’s other significant wrestlers, the company has made a concentrated effort to establish important roots between the performer and their hometown. Britt Baker in Pittsburgh, Adam Page in Virginia, Jon Moxley in Cincinnati, Thunder Rosa in San Antonio, MJF on Long Island, Sammy Guevara in Houston, Ruby Soho in Indianapolis…the list is almost endless.
These are small, simple things that a wrestling company can do, and after watching Thunder Rosa be just the latest wrestler to get a monster-reaction from her hometown crowd, it really drove home how puzzling it is that WWE does not use the same philosophy.
The benefits of pushing somebody in their hometown extend beyond just a single show. Seeing somebody on TV get a huge reaction inherently makes the viewer at home feel like the person is a big star; and they are more likely to react to them like they are a big star when AEW comes to their town. The following week in Austin, Texas, Thunder Rosa got a tremendous reaction from the crowd when she appeared on Dynamite, no doubt in part because she had gotten such a great reaction the week before.
Wrestling has no real universal truths; but fans enjoying seeing a local do really well is pretty close. It’s a simple and easy philosophy to execute, and it’s great to see one company at least understand its value.
In the latest episode of the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast, Jesse Collings (@JesseCollings) and Jason Ounpraseuth (@JasonOun95) talk about the use of various celebrities in wrestling. They go over Ronda Rousey’s performance so far in her return to WWE, Logan Paul and Johnny Knoxville wrestling at WrestleMania, AEW’s use of celebrities and the career potential of Gable Steveson.