Like any form of entertainment, especially one which generates billions of dollars in revenue, pro wrestling is subject to criticism. Yet, in recent times, the increasingly polarized landscape of fandom has made genuine critique a rarity. It seems the arena for constructive criticism has become more of a poorly fenced dog park, where dialogue and back-and-forth is replaced by a culture where any disparagement is met with knee-jerk reactions and aggressive opposition.

The latest skirmish in this ongoing issue comes via Dave Meltzer, who offered up his view of rising NXT star Trick Williams. Meltzer’s assessment, while measured, has sparked a debate that underscores a troubling trend in the wrestling community.

Meltzer’s evaluation of Trick Williams on the April 18, 2024 edition of Wrestling Observer Radio, though admittedly mild, struck a nerve among NXT fans. “Trick isn’t that good, that’s the reality,” Meltzer remarked about his cage match against Carmelo Hayes on the April 16, 2024 edition of NXT. “He’s got incredible charisma, but you put him in a main event match… Granted he did look really good against Ilja [Dragunov], but Ilja is one of those people that gives you a false perception of the ability of the other person.” This candid appraisal acknowledges Williams’ potential while also recognizing areas for improvement, particularly in the realm of in-ring performance. He didn’t say Williams was awful nor did he say he was terrible at pro wrestling.

Instead of fostering a dialogue about Williams’ skillset and future prospects, Meltzer’s comments were met with a fierce wave of backlash and defense of Williams, even drawing wrestlers onto social media in a desire to stick up for the NXT star. This reaction is indicative of a broader phenomenon with wrestling fans, where any form of criticism is viewed as an unabashed attack on talent themselves. One can think of recent examples of Samantha Irvin flubbing the Cody Rhodes championship win call at WrestleMania, or Maxxine Dupri getting booed at a house show. Whether fueled by a sense of loyalty to their favorite performers or a desire to preserve the illusion of perfection, fans now respond with an aggressive sense of propriety to deflect even the most constructive feedback.

Before I commit another word, we must all accept that there exists a section of so-called “critics” who thrive in tearing down performers or promotions without substantive analysis or facts or good faith observations. One could even say there’s an entire industry built off it. But the point is that there is a distinction between legitimate criticism and baseless negativity. While some critics may resort to unwarranted and unjustified harshness, lumping all criticism into the same category stifles meaningful dialogue, blurring the lines between genuine critique and outright hatred.

Amidst this noise, the essence of wrestling criticism is being diluted. Genuine analysis of in-ring performances, storytelling, and character development is overshadowed by a fervent desire to protect one’s favorite wrestler or promotion. It’s as if it’s been overrun with superfans vehemently defending their chosen brand at the expense of healthy discourse.

The erosion of wrestling criticism reflects a larger societal trend where personal identity becomes intertwined with the objects of fandom. As a result, since one’s personality is so connected, any critique of the wrestler or promotion feels like a slight, a personal attack, an affront that does not reflect well on one’s personal choices, ergo prompting a blazing defensive response.

In this climate, the voices of seasoned critics and industry veterans are drowned out by the roar of superfans. The art of constructive criticism, once a solid component of wrestling discourse, is relegated to the sidelines or globbed into the all-encompassing “hate” lump. Without space for critical analysis, wrestling risks stagnation, unable to evolve and innovate in response to genuine feedback.

Since I’m an optimist, I can only hope that wrestling fans strive to strike a balance between unwavering support for their favorite performers and a willingness to also acknowledge their shortcomings. Only by fostering an environment where honest evaluation is welcomed and encouraged can wrestling truly thrive. As Meltzer’s critique of Trick Williams reminds us, there is still much room for growth and improvement—but only if we’re willing to have the difficult conversations necessary to facilitate it.