EDITORIAL: You know what I’m sick of? Great wrestling these days with breathtaking athleticism and “This is awesome!” chants

By Gavin Duenas, PWTorch guest editorialist

Hulk Hogan (artist Travis Beaven © PWTorch)


I’ll tell you what I’m sick of: Great wrestling. There’s great wrestling everywhere you look these days, and I’m tired of it. (In fairness, one place you won’t find great wrestling is TNA, where they only do good wrestling. Credit where it is due.)

You know the sort of wrestling I mean. Breathtaking athleticism, intricate highspots, risky bumps, innovative moves, all validated by chants of “This is Awesome” and “Holy Shit!”

Even WWE, which has rarely shown a predilection for showcasing such things, is these days awash with great wrestlers who built their reputations with thrilling matches in New Japan, Ring of Honor, the independent scene, and TNA (back when they used to feature great wrestling).

Raw, Smackdown, and NXT contain more in-ring energy on any given week than WWE used to produce in a whole year. Pick a random match from 25 years ago and the chances are you’ll see bloated men, sweating profusely, grabbing rest holds when they should be grabbing beta blockers. Now we are treated to multiple great matches per week.

But what is the point of it all? I personally think that dazzling athleticism is actively detrimental to the success of a promotion. That may seem like the proclamation of a wrestling masochist, but the vast majority of wrestling promoters judge success on the size or their bank balance, and in my opinion there is something about great wrestling that impedes the emotional connection necessary to attract more eyeballs to a product and make more money.

Of course, there are examples of promotions that made money while featuring great wrestling, but it was not the key to their success. Far more crucial was the investment their fans had in relatable characters and the outcomes of matches between those characters. There are other constant themes – great promos, star power, coherent storytelling, a platform where match outcomes had ramifications – but athleticism is not one of those themes. For every Ric Flair main eventing Jim Crockett Promotions, there was a Junkyard Dog in Mid-South.

And it’s quite obvious why. When a heel performs a twisting corkscrew plancha, or a space flying tiger drop, or a shooting star press, what’s not to enjoy about that? It’s impressive, it’s cool, it’s risky; all admirable traits. Thus, there is not resentment that he or she is hurting the babyface.

Similarly, when a babyface takes a bump from the top of a ladder through a ringside table, there is not concern that he is losing the fight, but enjoyment at the spectacle. Again, the emotional connection is lost.

Even those mind-blowingly intricate spots, the kind of impossible gymnastic feats that sometimes feel like a trick on the eyes, sub-consciously serve to remind the audience that wrestlers are co-operating in the ring. When have you seen a hurricanrana in a real fight? How could a tower of doom suplex possibly come about organically? It’s impossible not to notice that, when a wrestler flies over the top rope to the outside, the opponent is preoccupied with helping to break his fall, and half the time there is minimal contact.

None of these things resonate in the visceral way required to truly lose oneself in a fight, and invest in its outcome. Quite simply, when the quality of a match is more important to an audience than the winner, wrestling enters a territory where its appeal is much more narrow, and the rewards are much less lucrative.

After all, who ever went to watch their favorite sports team hoping only to see a good game? I would much rather my team won a terrible game than lost an exciting one. And if I was watching my brother or best friend have a fight, I would want them to win, plain and simple. Not to take the best bump, not to utilize the most innovative offense (although it might make for a good anecdote if my brother won a fight using a Canadian Destroyer), but to win.

The Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant main event of WrestleMania 3 was one of the worst main events in WWE history in athletic execution, lasting just 12 minutes, during which they barely mobile Andre left his feet just three times, and the majority of the offense entailed punches, chops, and headbutts. It is as rudimentary a contest as you will ever see, and certainly not the kind of wrestling I want to watch on a regular basis. There is, of course, a happy medium.

But, when the protagonist has charisma by the bucket load, and has spent years overcoming every challenge to his heavyweight championship of the world; when the antagonist is his seven-foot-four former best friend who has been consumed by jealousy and outside influences, and now has his eyes set on proving that he was the best all along, and that he should be the champion; when seventy eig…, erm, ninety-three thousand people fill a huge stadium and a million more watch on closed circuit, and pay-per-view records are broken, because nobody can imagine either man losing to the other; when almost every one of those customers is completely satisfied with a 12 minute main event consisting of minimal bumps where the biggest spot is a powerslam, because their guy won, is that not truly great wrestling?

Follow Gavin Duenas on Twitter @gavinduenas. 

NOW CHECK OUT THIS PREVIOUS GUEST EDITORIAL: GUEST EDITORIAL: One of the noteworthy changes since the roster split is emergence of new side of John Cena’s character

(If you would like to submit a guest editorial for consideration, send to pwtorch@gmail.com and put GUEST EDITORIAL in the subject line. Aim for 8-15 paragraphs on a single-topic, and of course make sure it’s well-edited before sending to us.)

9 Comments on EDITORIAL: You know what I’m sick of? Great wrestling these days with breathtaking athleticism and “This is awesome!” chants

  1. There’s a basic problem with this philosophy that always gets missed: Kayfabe is dead, and that genie is never going back in the bottle. If your friend is in a fight, your favorite sports team is playing a game, or it’s the ’80s and you think Junkyard Dog is engaging in a legitimate wrestling contest, of course you’re going to be invested. When you know that something is scripted, that changes the whole dynamic and there is always going to be a level of detachment. Nobody’s going to watch a scripted drama that’s presented as absolutely real (when they know it’s not), but with dull content; nobody’s going to buy a ticket to a wrestling show that’s presented as absolutely real (when they know it’s not), but with shitty match quality. While good drama and good wrestling aim for the greatest amount of realism possible, you also need a hook to make up for the fact that the audience is in on how it all works now, and athleticism, intricacy, & innovation are simply better options than making everything a joke or legitimately endangering the performers with dangerous spectacle.

    • Except almost nobody believed wrestling was actually real in the 1980s. The difference was people knew it wasn’t real, but promoters gave fans a reasonably realistic story to believe in, and fans willingly disregarded their knowledge that it wasn’t real because it was fun to be immersed in something that “felt real,” the same way a movie does that makes you care enough about the characters to cry or laugh or worry or cheer for them in something you know is staged and scripted entirely. Of course people will buy tickets to watch wrestling that is presented as if it’s real. More people would. Because there’s a reason movie studios hire good actors who are believable and stunt men to take real looking risks and spend big on special effects to make things look real. So I just couldn’t really disagree with you more, Nick. It’s not dull if the matches are more realistic; it’s the opposite – they become more compelling and engrossing because, if the detail work is there and the selling is believable and you are made to care about the characters and believe something is actually at stake, then you don’t need a ton of unrealistic flips and dives to stay interested.

      • The people who knew wrestling was scripted and the people who were the most fervent fans of wrestling didn’t overlap by and large. There’s a reason David Schultz slapped John Stossel in the face in 1984 for suggesting wrestling was fake, or Verne Gagne pretended not to know what was happening during an interview in 1985 after being shown a video clip of two wrestlers communicating in the middle of a match, or Sting, Roddy Piper, Bobby Heenan, & Madusa took pains to dodge the issue on Politically Incorrect in *1999*, and it wasn’t because everybody was in on the joke. Kayfabe dying was the worst thing that could possibly happen to wrestling, because it made people disinvest emotionally.

        I’m not arguing that wrestling should be less realistic. I prefer wrestling that’s presented as a genuine sport to the greatest degree possible, but that has to be done while taking into consideration that the audience knows it’s scripted. You’re just not going to get anyone to hate a heel or love a babyface the way they did thirty years ago, because they know it’s only a role the person is playing. Without the passion that the (false) belief that wrestling was a legitimate sport generated, the audience needs something more. Intense, super realistic strong-style matches. “Flips and dives.” People wrestling while dressed up like kaiju. Whatever that stuff Matt Hardy is doing in his backyard qualifies as. The industry has changed, and if people will buy a ticket to chant “this is awesome!” because somebody did a slick choreographed sequence that involved a bunch of somersaults it’s better than going out of business.

  2. Things have Evolved, well except for Evolve Wrestling that is still slow paced mat work to me. If I watch a movie I want to see awesome action scenes. I don’t need to think it could be real. Every hero needs a villain but it takes both to make it great. I cheer for great work and what entertains me so I cheer the excellent work that gives me the most entertainment. Would Jeffrey Dean Morgan get booed everywhere he goes because he plays Negan? Of course not, his work is good and he entertains you. You appreciate that.

    I like Jim Cornette but the things he advocates for have long passed and are not coming back.

    • But Negan isn’t breaking character during the show, and “Walking Dead” goes to great extremes to make the world they create as realistic as possible within the rules they’ve set up for themselves. WWE is sloppy in this regard and doesn’t seem to even be aware of what every other drama series does to immerse their viewers in the world. And unlike actors in Walking Dead, WWE is – according to decades of Vince McMahon’s own words – real people playing themselves, but with certain aspects of their personalities amplified. Pro wrestling is similar to reality TV or even talk shows. Reality TV shows are more engrossing if you believe the people are essentially playing themselves, not something complete different. It’s easier to be into a talk show if you believe the host really cares about the topics they discuss and isn’t just faking it to put on a performance. That’s what pro wrestlers from Bray Wyatt to Eli Drake should aim for.

  3. it’s so interesting that most of these people missed the very sarcastic tone of the article.But that being said it’s really all about investment if you’re not invested at in the people involved.and it’s very good to have a level of skill of course.but if you’re not invested,the audience WILL NOT CARE(perfect example Neville just became 5 times more interesting with his heel turn and inserting himself in the CW Division)

  4. I find it funny that you mock TNA, but the most solid and interesting character is “Broken” Matt Hardy, who has figured out that an compelling character is way better than a “spot monkey” and takes virtually no bumps

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