SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
Art is the creation of something from nothing that elicits a reaction. Pro wrestling embodies that definition. In wrestling, men and women step inside the squared circle and create with their actions, expressions, words, and bodies to garner a specific and distinct reaction from their audience. In turn, the audience responds to, engages with, and affects the work. No other art form in the world carries that uniqueness. In this column, we explore that art form inside real and relevant examples. Enjoy.
In a WWE world with written lines, scripted promos, and overproduced interviews, it’s tough for talent to find the voice needed to get themselves over. The memorization and acting that needs to be incorporated into today’s promo segments counter the natural personality and spontaneity that many performers bring to the table in their acts. The training wheels are off for stars like John Cena, Stephanie McMahon, Shane McMahon, and Triple H while the rest have to adapt to the material given to them and make the most of it. Nobody has done a better job at that than the Usos.
Not only have the Usos adapted to the system, they’ve thrived in it. Until 2016, Jimmy and Jey Uso were a bland babyface tag team that relied on bright colors, a flashy entrance, and the “U-So” chant to bind themselves to the crowd. They were (and still are) great workers in the ring, but were never given the chance to showcase their personalities. Throughout their run as babyfaces, they simply didn’t get the time to show the audience who they were as characters and why being in the WWE was important to them. Because of that, fans were always one step behind and one level away from connecting with them in a full capacity.
That changed when the Usos turned heel and were drafted to SmackDown Live during the brand split. Their heel characters afforded them the ability to cut promos, show their missing personality, and become more to fans than just colorful walking billboards. The promo opportunity led to high profile matches which fed the audiences connection with them even more. Now, the Usos are a babyface team that was organically turned to the good side by the audience.
That entire journey was done within the confines of WWE’s scripted promos. In that system, the job can still be done and done well. What the Usos bring to their promos is style. Much of the time the words themselves are just as unnatural sounding as other scripted promos in the company, but they’re delivered in a style that comes off as real. This week on SmackDown Live, the promo segment from the Usos was special. Again, the words worked, but the style and delivery took everything to a higher level. In it, fans were allowed to see inside of who Jimmy and Jey are and on a drowsy episode of the show, the Usos woke everybody up.
The promo began with the Bludgeon Brothers leaving the ring after decimating a jobber tag team once again. As they hit the ramp, the Usos walked out to a nice pop from the audience. Their walk said all they needed to say to Luke Harper and Erick Rowan. They slowly made their way to the ring while staring holes through the Bludgeon Brothers who were awaiting their arrival. Their walk conveyed confidence and conviction and at the same time built excitement for an eventual showdown. The Usos walked the fine line of being dismissive enough to portray themselves as alphas while also recognizing an upcoming challenger that they have in their way. It was masterful and the crowd felt the moment because of how well the job was done.
In the ring, they grabbed the mics and proceeded to tell the audience what being “locked down” was all about. They said it wasn’t about being booked, getting fingerprinted, dressing in orange jumpsuits, working on a chain gang, or taking cold showers, but that being “locked down” was a state of mind. From there they said that they turn opponents’ minds into prisons and lock them down. They said by doing that they run the prison and therefore the man. This was a watershed moment for this team and the crowd didn’t overlook it. “Locked Down,” the “Uso Penitentiary,” and “Day One Ish” are all buzzwords used within the Uso gimmick.
In this promo, they gave significant insight into what those buzzwords mean and why they are important. Because of the meaning given, the words connected deeper with the audience. In addition to what was said, The Usos delivered the lines with effective emotions. They didn’t just say the words, but they felt the words. Jimmy and Jey both utilized the hard camera to show deathly serious facial expressions to help express their emotions and words to the crowd.
From there, the Usos took a deeper plunge into their personal journeys. They said that 2017 was a turnaround year for them and that they went from face painting to snap backs, rainbow colors to white and black, wrestling tights to the all whites, and from being “ehh alright” to “match of the night.” Like earlier in the promo, the words were effective, but the way in which they were delivered was like a shot of steroids into the arm of the promo. Both Usos interacted back and forth with their body mannerisms as they delivered the lines. It was as if they were angrily walking down memory lane and reminiscing about times that were incredibly frustrating for them.
In between moments of interaction with each other, they further used the hard camera once again to convey just how serious they were about the words being said and how personal they took the time in which they were bland or “ehh alright.” Angry tears almost seeped through Jey’s eyes as he conjured up the past.
Near the end of the promo, Jey Uso slapped his chest with the microphone before delivering the last line in unison with his brother. What a moment. It was timed flawlessly within the cadence of the promo and executed in a truly genuine fashion. That type of artistic perfection only occurs when the artist is feeling fully encapsulated within the project. In this instance, Jey was, and it led to a piercing finish to an already successful promo. The entire thing felt real because to them it was real.
The Usos have found the holy grail in the land of scripted promos. The artistic choices made in their delivery of the script separates them from the pack by leaps and bounds. There was no pandering to the audience or pauses for chants. In an intense way, the Usos said words that created an environment in which the crowd could buy into their character and connect. That equals big business.
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, Ric Flair, and others found their voice by taking their personality and turning up the volume on it. The Usos have found that voice and it sounds incredibly good on them. The personality shown on Tuesday inside their promo is them with the volume jacked to the max. It’s simple but effective.
With this voice, they’re able to relay true feelings within the words being said because they’re actually feeling them. With promos like these the Usos are made men. After years of toiling around as glow in the dark action figures, the Usos are positioned as prominent stars and fixtures of the SmackDown Live brand in the WWE.
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S COLUMN: ARTISTRY OF WRESTLING: WWE takes strike one in their introduction of Ronda Rousey at the Royal Rumble