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Expressing Character Through In-Ring Actions


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#1 gordi

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Posted 30 May 2018 - 11:26 PM

This is the topic that has been obsessing me recently, when I think about Pro Wrestling.

 

Thanks to my participation in the Armchair Booking 1983 Project, I have been watching a fair bit of mid-1980s wrestling footage from around the world. What really stands out to me in the bulk of that footage, and particularly when compared to the small amounts of recent wrestling I have watched, is this:

 

Bad guys consistently do bad guy things in the ring. They preen and strut, they distract and lie to the ref, they gouge eyes, choke, pull hair, pull the tights, use the ropes illegally...

 

Good guys consistently do good guy things in the ring: They play to the crowd, they smile, they do leap-frogs and throw drop-kicks, they fight bravely from underneath, they react to the crowd's support, they break clean and listen to the ref...

 

In the 1980s, there was also, often, a tremendous symmetry and synergy involving the wrestlers' looks, character, and in-ring actions and style. 

 

A guy might be good looking (but not TOO good looking) and athletically built (but not overly ripped or muscular), with a boyish haircut, a humble personality, a nice smile, an energetic style, colorful but not flashy ring gear... and he'd work a scientific or high-flying ring style, exhibit good sportsmanship, check with the crowd before throwing a punch as payback... 

 

Or maybe he's a more down-to-earth, rugged and manly but friendly type, maybe sporting a beer belly or having a bad haircut, not a guy you'd be afraid might steal your girl... a guy you could imagine having a beer with... and his interviews and in-ring style would both be tough and no-nonsense, he could give it out and take it in equal measure, he'd fight fair but you could only push him so far...

 

Think of a guy like Rick Rude. He's too handsome. His body is too good. He does not want to have a beer with a regular Joe like you, and he definitely wants to steal your girl. And that is clearly reflected in his TV interview style... but even more importantly you can see it in his ring work as well. His arrogant, prideful, and overtly sexual facial expressions and body language, the hip-swivel taunt...

 

Think of how weaselly- or snaky-looking guys like Yoshinari Ogawa or Jake Roberts, when working heel, would be sneaky and duplicitous in the ring.

 

Think of how an athletically-limited worker like Abdullah (or, say, Bundy) got himself over as an absolute monster because of the absolute synergy of his look and character, and  how that perfectly played out in his in-ring actions. Think of how the athletic smaller heroes just bounced off of giant wrestlers in the 1980s and how giant heels took sadistic glee in physically dominating their opponents. 

 

I could go on forever... but I hope that my point is clear. In the 80s, most of the time, your look was your character and that all fed into how you behaved in the ring and what you did during a match.

 

My question is: Where has that gone??

 

It was on my mind constantly as I watched newer stuff during the RumbleMania period. Wrestlers still kind of have characters and sometimes those characters are related to their look (unstoppable monster Braun, goofy fun-loving New Day...) and everyone has a huge and very flashy move-set these days...

 

But so, so, so, so often there is an almost complete disconnect between the characters and the in-ring action. I think the reason Braun is so popular now is that he is one of the very rare guys whose look and character are accurately reflected by how he works. Except maybe when he teams up with a child... But he really does look like a guy who has no fear, wants to fight on his own, and who just runs over people...

 

So often now, instead, you see little handsome athletic guys throwing big bombs, huge ugly guys flying around the ring, everyday-looking guys working too fancy... and you don't seem to see good guys doing good guy things in the ring and bad guys doing bad guy things.

 

I guess maybe now wrestlers are supposed to establish character, ethics, morals, and alignment through scripted interviews, speeches, and sketches? I guess stories are told that way now, almost exclusively? I guess everyone is generally supposed to put on an exciting back-and-forth evenly-contested match regardless of their character or the story being told? 

 

I dunno, man. I think that a wrestler with a Chaotic Evil character (pre-turn Bray Wyatt, for example) should work like one, and that the work should be clearly different from a guy with a Lawful Good character (baby-face John Cena, for example). I don't really get that with the vast majority of newer stuff that I watch. Certainly not to the same extent that I get it when watching 80s All Japan or WWC footage. 

 

It isn't even close. And I think it is really hurting "the product."

 

Allow me two simple examples (from recent ***1/2-type matches): 

 

Taiji Ishimori vs Will Ospreay (NJPW BOSJ 5/18/18): Best match from Day 1 of the BOSJ. Watched it, kind of enjoyed it... but.. going in, I had a rooting interest. 

 

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I like Ishimori. He was very friendly and nice to me when we met. (This is often he case with jacked-up, strong, Japanese dudes. They don't engage in Alpha Male posturing with me. Instead, we tend to get along immediately as members of a similar subculture, like a couple of Battlestar Galactica fans or Craft Pilsner enthusiasts). At any rate, I like Ishmiori... and I dislike Ospreay for some inexplicable reason unrelated to disliking overly fancy-dan pro wresting. Ospreay may also be a great guy, for all I know, but something about him just bugs me.

 

So, I should have been an easy mark for this match.

 

Spoiler, just in case:

 

Spoiler

 

But there was never a point in the entire match where I was, like, "Oh No! Ishimori is going to lose!" or, "Oh, baby, you've got him now, Ishimori!" or vice versa. The work itself was very high quality. Tremendous athleticism, including some stuff I don't think I have ever seen before.

 

But, they just went back and forth. Ospreay sold his shoulder or trapezius (by grabbing it) several times in the latter part of the match, but I still didn't get the sense of any dynamic where one guy was working on top and the other underneath. It was all, as I said, back and forth, my turn - your turn (albeit at a very high level) until someone hits their finisher. 

 

I am not sure which one was supposed to be the good guy, and which the bad guy. 

 

I guess most likely an up-on-things fan of current New Japan would know all about the factions and alliances and the characters... but my "Old Man Yells at Cloud" take on Pro Wrestling is that it isn't hard to do something in the ring to let me know whom to cheer and whom to boo without any other prior knowledge.

 

Have someone give out high fives on the way to the ring, or look to the crowd for approval before throwing a punch, or make a clean break against the ropes...

 

Have a guy do an arrogant taunt, or pull a fast one behind he referee's back, or shout at a baby...

 

Is that too much to ask? Maybe it is! (Yells at Cloud)

 

It's a tournament, so I guess the drama comes from "We both wanna score some sweet, sweet, tournament points" here. Maybe they are both bad guys... or both good guys... Ishimori wears a skull to the ring, and Ospreay has scary-looking entrance gear as well... but both guys work an athletic crowd-pleasing style... I'm not trying to be funny. I really don't know if they are faces or heels or what.

 

Just a little bit of that 80s ring psychology would have got me to love this match. Alas...

 

But maybe it's my fault because I am not up on current NJPW. So:

 

Big Cass vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Samoa Joe (WWE SmackDown 05/29/18):

 

OK, this is a whole other kettle of fish. As wrestlers and characters I love Bryan, like Joe quite a lot, and absolutley don't care about Big Cass other than hoping he goes away. As a person, I can confirm the widely-held opinion that Bryan is a great guy. Sincerely, genuinely, every time I have been around him he has impressed me with his kindness, good will, and generosity of spirit. 

 

10256316_10152357867720358_7841837677513

 

 

Not only am I an easy mark for this match, it would be almost impossible to take me out of it. There's a slight, kayfabe-breaking complication in that I don't wanna see Bryan risk his neck (literally) in the MITB match... but if Cass wins I riot and the best result would be Joe stealing the win by pinning Cass, so Cass doesn't win and Bryan doesn't lose...

 

And in the WWE Universe right now, Bryan is the Babyface of all Babyfaces, so all we need is him working from underneath or overcoming some obstacle, all we need is for him to ask us for our support...

 

But, nah... it's all back and forth, my turn - your turn - oh, now it's his turn so I'll go lie down over there... 

 

It's Bryan, and Joe... so the work is by no means bad... 

 

And we know their characters: The lovable under-dog, the borderline-unstoppable Suplex Machine/Submission Machine/Destroyer, and... uh... the tall guy with long hair.

 

It should be so easy. But imagine if you came into this cold. Maybe you could intuit that the little fast guy is the underdog and so you should cheer for him... but until near the end of the match they don't do anything to specifically build on that!  Everybody gets their stuff in and mostly it all looks good... but why oh why does Big Cass not have a giant's move-set or at least some giant-specific spots? What, other than wildly superior speed and execution, really distinguished what Bryan is doing in there from what Cass is doing? 

 

Why isn't Bryan playing to the crowd? He's so good at playing to the crowd!! Remember the subtle heel stuff he did in that tag match from Weekend of Thunder Night 2?? (Samoa Joe & Jushin Lyger vs. Low Ki & Brian Danielson w/Julius Smokes - how does that match have better crowd work than this one?) Remember the run up to WM XXX? That was Hulkamania levels of crowd love! 

 

Finally, near the end, Bryan has his Hulk-Up spots but even then it's like he's playing to the camera with the first one. I have to imagine the Richmond, Virginia crowd were just bursting to show their support. Why were they not given that chance until right at the end, just before...

 

Spoiler

 

Cass is a giant and his character is apparently evil but he really does not look or work like a monster. He should work more like King Kong Bundy, and I mean that in all sincerity. 

 

I enjoy watching Samoa Joe, but once again I sincerely do not get if he is supposed to be a good guy or a bad guy. Honestly: Is he meant to be a "tweener"?

 

Everyone loves Bryan and he is a master of working the crowd. Why not go all the way with that? 

 

Again, maybe the drama was all supposed to come from "who gets the opportunity" and we are already supposed to get the characters... presumably there was a skit setting this match up, earlier on the show... but why not play up the story and the characters in the ring instead of just everyone getting all of their stuff in? 



#2 brockobama

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Posted 31 May 2018 - 03:21 AM

In some cases I think it's just the case of poor or limited workers. Cass has never leapt off the page as a vibrant character to anyone I reckon. That's just not where his skillset lies (and shit, it may not lie much of anywhere). Ishimori too, who's a way better wrestler in most every front compared to Cass but never a guy I've looked to for strong character development. I'm sure he's a swell guy and there are certainly points where I've found him to be sympathetic, but there's no strong personality there for me to dig into, you know?

 

In other cases it's just poor writing. Ishimori's now part of the Bullet Club which should theoretically make him a heel but that stable gets murkier and less well defined by the day. Joe's in the process of turning face from what I understand and it sounds like they don't know how to handle taking such an intimidating, physical character and making him a good guy without going the Braun route and leaning heavily into comedy. These guys are veterans who have been working for years but when they're given bad material or little material at all it's hard to know where to go.

 

Along with that I think at some point wrestlers became less interested in being characters and more interested in just being (what they thought was) cool. Why be a conniving trickster when you could be a superhero and do Phoenix splashes and cool poses? Why be a career underdog who has to fight for every opening when you could go 50/50 for half an hour with guys who outweigh you by 80 pounds? Why be heartfelt and genuine when a snarky quip you say in a match could end up on a PWTees shirt? I imagine you can trace a lot of this back to the rise in the modern indie scene and what influenced those people (more so the later generations) and how that sort of approach has come to define a lot of wrestling worldwide.

 

Thinking of those early indie stars, I also think it's fair to say that there are just fewer real-life characters in wrestling today. Like, take Homicide for example. One of my favorite wrestlers ever, a guy I've written thousands upon thousands of words about, someone I'd watch do literally anything, etc etc. Dee's a card outside of the ring as much as in it, a guy who's lived a full life and developed a strong, strong personality for having had those experiences. You look around today and those sorts of people generally aren't in wrestling. Over the years as the industry/fanbase/whatever changed, these sorts of people were discouraged from being in wrestling and/or wrestling grew more attractive for certain types of milquetoast nerds. And don't get me wrong, there are lots of milquetoast nerds working today who I love, but it's impossible for me to describe them in depth the way I could give you a deep analysis of who Homicide is. They don't stand out in the ring as larger than life figures because no part of them truly is all that exceptional or interesting.



#3 Jimmy Redman

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Posted 31 May 2018 - 04:52 AM

I think about this all the time. It's the first thing I notice about the matches when I go from modern wrestling to 80s wrestling and back again. It is glaring.

On the flipside it does make me take note and appreciate when a modern wrestler does know how to be a heel or a face in the ring and work to their character (like Trish Stratus, for my favourite example).

#4 Mad Dog

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Posted 31 May 2018 - 05:11 AM

Silas Young is a prime example of a guy that has a great character. He isn't afraid to have people hate him and then he goes out there and wrestles the exact opposite of how his character should wrestle. His character wouldn't do flashy aerial stuff. A dropkick should be high risk for him.

Chuck Taylor is a good example of a guy that wrestles like his character though. His Chae of the PWG Title as he got more aggressive in the ring and showed that he was taking things more seriously as a wrestler because he had a goal to accomplish.

#5 gordi

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Posted 31 May 2018 - 06:29 AM

 ...there are just fewer real-life characters in wrestling today...

 

They don't stand out in the ring as larger than life figures because no part of them truly is all that exceptional or interesting.

 

You raise a number of interesting points and I very much appreciate the thoughtful reply. I can't disagree with what you wrote...

 

...but I wanted to emphasize that last sentence. That's devastating to read, because I think there is some real truth in that. 

 

Maybe pro wrestling simply is no longer the domain of larger than life characters, wildmen, outlaws, outcasts, and bohemian nomads. Wrestlers these days are more athletic performers and businessmen building their personal brand, or increasingly as you say, just nerds... 

 

I think the nerds could still learn or be taught to use old-school psychology...

 

I think it's entirely possible that the brand-builders are too hooked in to the 50-50, my turn-your turn style of both in-ring action and long-term storytelling because - maybe - working from underneath too much might be bad for t shirt sales or something?? Or  - maybe - making sure everyone gets all of their fancy stuff in is good for t shirt sales? 

 

I think about this all the time. It's the first thing I notice about the matches when I go from modern wrestling to 80s wrestling and back again. It is glaring.

On the flipside it does make me take note and appreciate when a modern wrestler does know how to be a heel or a face in the ring and work to their character (like Trish Stratus, for my favourite example).

 

I am so glad I am not the only person who feels that way. 

 

And, absolutely, it does my heart good whenever I can find a more recent example of a wrestler who seems to "get it."

 

Silas Young is a prime example of a guy that has a great character. He isn't afraid to have people hate him and then he goes out there and wrestles the exact opposite of how his character should wrestle. His character wouldn't do flashy aerial stuff. A dropkick should be high risk for him.

Chuck Taylor is a good example of a guy that wrestles like his character though. His Chae of the PWG Title as he got more aggressive in the ring and showed that he was taking things more seriously as a wrestler because he had a goal to accomplish.

 

It might be interesting to make a list of counter-examples (young workers who have mastered 80s-style character work and psychology, or recent matches that feature the same). For example, WALTER sounds like a big guy who works like a big guy. I'm almost afraid to seek out his matches, because I'll be heartbroken if it turns out not to be the case.

 

At the moment, I feel like there are probably a lot more "Silas Youngs" than there are "Chuck Taylors" out there. 



#6 Badlittlekitten

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Posted 31 May 2018 - 06:52 AM

Maybe pro wrestling simply is no longer the domain of larger than life characters, wildmen, outlaws, outcasts, and bohemian nomads. Wrestlers these days are more athletic performers and businessmen building their personal brand, or increasingly as you say, just nerds...


It's been like this for a while now surely?

Wrestlers want to pop the crowd with quality matches. And modern crowds want exciting quality matches. That doesn't have to exclude character work, you still see it. It's just not prioritized like it once was. Things change.

#7 gordi

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Posted 31 May 2018 - 07:13 AM

 

Maybe pro wrestling simply is no longer the domain of larger than life characters, wildmen, outlaws, outcasts, and bohemian nomads. Wrestlers these days are more athletic performers and businessmen building their personal brand, or increasingly as you say, just nerds...


It's been like this for a while now surely?

Wrestlers want to pop the crowd with quality matches. And modern crowds want exciting quality matches. That doesn't have to exclude character work, you still see it. It's just not prioritized like it once was. Things change.

 

 

You are not wrong, but I would have imagined that a guy with BILL DUNDEE in his signature (and is that Jackie Sato as your avatar?) would agree with me that this particular change is very much a change for the worse. It's just odd comment/avatar synergy, like when Kawada Smile argues passionately in favour of Roman Reigns.  :)

 

I am curious (no judgement, you are entitled to your opinion): Do you, personally, think that my turn/your turn, you go/I go, back and forth, get all of our stuff in, and then one of us hits their finisher is what constitutes a "quality match'?

 

I do not, but I am admittedly a fairly old man.  



#8 KawadaSmile

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Posted 31 May 2018 - 07:30 AM

You are not wrong, but I would have imagined that a guy with BILL DUNDEE in his signature (and is that Jackie Sato as your avatar?) would agree with me that this particular change is very much a change for the worse. It's just odd comment/avatar synergy, like when Kawada Smile argues passionately in favour of Roman Reigns.  :)

 

I am curious (no judgement, you are entitled to your opinion): Do you, personally, think that my turn/your turn, you go/I go, back and forth, get all of our stuff in, and then one of us hits their finisher is what constitutes a "quality match'?

 

I do not, but I am admittedly a fairly old man.  

 

It helps that Roman is one of the few guys that actually manages to express character through in-ring actions, no wonder I defend him :P

 

But the overall point of the post is something I agree. I believe that while the content we get is usually great on the mechanical sense, having hours and hours of wrestling readily avaiable each and every day kinda makes it hard for the performers to, y'know, perform. 

 

For each Miz or Roman or prime DB, that you get what they are doing and how and why, there are dozens and dozens of people that are just having a match - Orton being the go-to example (although I do think he is capable of doing so much more). For every Gargano/Ciampa there's a thousand Jose/Corbin



#9 Badlittlekitten

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Posted 31 May 2018 - 07:42 AM

You can like both. There are elements of old wrestling that I miss for sure. The crowds, heat, character work, commentary. Just as when I watch some old mid south on the network I miss some elements of today's product, like the athleticism, energy and faster pace, better production sheen etc. They're just different.

No I don't think the elements you listed make for a quality match on their own. But if I was to be honest I'd rather watch a random mid card match from today pulled from the hat than one from the 80s.

(That's Yumi Ikeshita in my avatar.)

#10 gordi

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Posted 31 May 2018 - 08:10 AM

Yumi Ikeshita! Nice! Man, Black Pair vs Beauty Pair from the late 70s has to be one of the best possible examples of the stuff I feel is missing from a lot of recent pro wrestling. Pure heels vs pure babyfaces. Anyone can tell who is good and who is evil while watching this despite the culture and language and generational barriers: 

 

http://www.dailymoti...m/video/x2ryvju

 

 

@KawadaSmile: re: " content we get is usually great on the mechanical sense"

 

I guess that increased technical quality at the expense of what you might want to call soul or heart or something is not just an issue in pro wrestling these days. Music, movies... the pendulum seems to be swinging back toward soul and heart when it comes to food, at least.  

 

And @Badlittlekitten: It's not just that we can like both... why can't we have both? 



#11 Boss Rock

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Posted 31 May 2018 - 08:18 AM

I'm actually not sure if I "get" Roman Reigns' character in the ring. There have been times when he was a cocky jock like against A.J. or a resilient babyface against Braun, but a lot of times his matches have just seemed to be back-and-forth workrate matches. I think a large part of that is WWE's inability to decide what Reigns' character actually is, but I know that's probably a whole other can of worms :)

 

As for me, as long as the match has consistent selling, interesting action, and proper escalation I'm usually going to enjoy it no matter what. When you have so many one-off indie matches, that's really all you need sometimes. That being said, character work and a strong narrative are often what really puts a match over the top to me and establishes itself as top-tier. NJPW is my current favorite promotion and there are lots of back-and-forth matches that I love. But something like Juice Robinson trying to stand by his morals and refusing to attack Kenny Omega's knee, only to realize he has no chance in winning unless he compromises said morals, really stands out.



#12 brockobama

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Posted 31 May 2018 - 09:07 AM

Yeah, count me in on the "what Roman Reigns character?" crew. Was tempted to cite him as an example of milquetoast nerds in my initial post. It's a whole complicated issue we don't need to get into here but his lack of a distinct character beyond a few catchphrases and a general demeanor has to contribute to his unpopularity in some circles, on some level.



#13 Mad Dog

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Posted 31 May 2018 - 10:35 AM

I think comedy wrestlers in general get kind of undersold for their character work. Guys like Colt or RD Evans do tons of things in their matches that are consistent with their characters.

I also think the Young Bucks are top notch when it comes to blending their personalities into what they do.

#14 dawho5

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Posted 31 May 2018 - 12:06 PM

It's a business-driven thing.  

 

In the 80s if you could work really good as a babyface or heel you got over and drew money.  The promoter saw the people were coming to see your matches and started paying you more.  If you could draw with a multitude of people it got better for you.  

 

Now the way you make money is on merchandise, at least in the WWE.  So if nobody's buying your T-shirts or whatever else, you aren't making money.  Where is the motivation for somebody to consistently piss off the crowd and help his opponent get over as a babyface there?

 

And guys like the Young Bucks, who are over for being cool and edgy, make their money off of merch and giving indy promoters bigger crowds.  If they want to continue getting paid, they can't start making fools of themselves to get the other guys over.  They can't consistently piss off the crowd.

 

Money is why these guys do what they do, always has been.  When the nature of the business changes, so does the way people perform.



#15 Badlittlekitten

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Posted 31 May 2018 - 05:39 PM

It may or may not be true but I've never understood that talking point. Don't heels come out every week and attempt to piss off crowds with their promos? Do modern fans even get pissed off at heels? It seems its the booking that gets heat. Would acting more heelish in ring really make a difference to potential merch sales?

Also WWE heels rake eyes, low blow, use distraction etc every week.

#16 brockobama

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Posted 31 May 2018 - 07:51 PM

As far as merch is concerned, haven't we been hearing for years that heels make far less in merch sales in the fed? The Bucks and co. are an entirely different animal, obviously.



#17 fxnj

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Posted 02 June 2018 - 04:39 AM

I will preface by saying that, when I look at matches, I tend to place a lot of emphasis on how guys struggle over moves and control of the match. Struggle is what bridges the "entertainment" side of wrestling with the "sports" side. Without proper struggle, matches just feel like exhibitions to me. The term "exhibition" is common for matches that just feature a bunch of guys doing flashy moves without much substance, but I also find a lot of the 80's US stuff comes across as exhibitions to me as well. I vastly prefer watching guys portray themselves as serious athletes rather than cartoon characters.

 

I've written in the past about how 80's guys come across to me as copying Buddy Rogers and Gorgeous George without really understanding what made those acts work in the first place. The key things were that you didn't have everybody working like them at the time and, when it came time to wrestle, they showed themselves as being able to hang better than most of the 80's crew. George and Rogers stood out when most heels of their era were roughhouse types, but the act loses its effect when everyone is doing the same thing. As mentioned, it gets numbing when every match is about a face playing to the crowd and a heel stooging, stalling, and cheating. You could look at an 80's WWF card and get a pretty good idea of how matches would play out just by looking at the participants. Something like Lawler wrestling Austin Idol and half the match being stalling might get praised by people who are into that thing, but it isn't my bag at all.

 

I'd argue that sort of thing isn't some "lost art" but something that only really worked in a specific time and place. You've got to remember that in the kayfabe era of the 70s and 80s, the attempted audience for wrestling was the lowest common denominator fan who either didn't know or didn't care to learn that what they were watching was preplanned. That sort of good vs. evil dynamic works great in real sports, as you can see from UFC, and it did work great at the time for wrestling, but things change. You can't have guys wrestling the same way when it's a bunch of hardcore fans and everyone knows it's fake. 

 

That element of the fanbase shifting from viewing wrestling as a real sport and into some sort of athletic soap opera or theater production makes everything a lot more complicated. Just like in any TV show aimed at an adult audience, you need variety in the stories you tell. Good vs. evil is fine every once in a while, but saying it's all wrestling should be about would be like arguing that English literature never should have evolved beyond Beowulf. Beowulf's good vs. evil thing is great, but if you don't move on to other narrative structures you never get the masterpieces of Shakespeare, Twain, Joyce, etc.

 

The idea that, as far as in-ring character work goes, that it's either guys doing 80's style heel work or guys doing random moves makes as much sense as saying that with movies it's either sappy kids movies or special effects reels. It's entirely possible to combine the best aspects of both genres and create something far beyond either of them. I would even say that wrestling has already done this. The best wrestling ever done in my book is 90's AJPW and RINGS, and both of those abandon traditional heel vs face dynamics. With AJPW, Kawada and Taue might have worked in ways resembling traditional heels (though more the 50's roughhouse variety than the 80's stooging variety) on occasion, but there was such beautiful storytelling underlying it all that they still got cheered on huge when they were destroying an injured Misawa and Kobashi in 6/9/95. RINGS did away entirely with the exaggerated mannerisms associated with pro wrestling and let the conditioning and technical abilities of the participants tell the story, effectively using real techniques to create real emotion.

 

To me, character work is almost an inevitability in any combat sports. Even in MMA, you see in-ring character work in the form of guys' styles and what ways they favor to defeat opponents. There's a reason trainers place so much emphasis on studying tapes rather than just formulating some generic winning strategy for their guys. If you simply expand your definition, you will see that character work is not only continuing to survive, but actively thriving at a level arguably more interesting than it's ever been. I've heard of Daniel Bryan's recent matches involving spots where he does flying maneuvers and stays down just a little longer than normal to play off his history of concussions. That's great character work. As is Brock Lesnar's suplex city deal when you take into account his character as a UFC fighter who just does whatever will win him matches without caring much for entertaining fans. I'd probably be able to come up with a lot more examples if I followed WWE programming. It would be fine to argue that for mid-carders there is a disconnect between what the writers come up with for guys and how the agents lay out matches, but from my watching of the high-end stuff it's on an entirely different level in complexity than anything attempted in the 80's

 

Between indy streaming services, Youtube and Twitter, I would say we are in a golden age of guys getting freedom to develop their characters. I really see truth in the idea that if a guy wants to make it in WWE, it's on them to get themselves over, even if that means quitting for a while and proving themselves in other places. This goes even for international talent. It's no coincidence that the most interesting characters of Japan and Mexico from the last decade are Kana and Black Terry, respectively, who both mostly stayed away from bigger promotions to focus on developing themselves. I also think that the reason behind Vince's often-mocked decision to focus on hiring people with backgrounds in regular TV shows as writers over guys versed in writing wrestling is that he recognizes the need I mentioned earlier for wrestling to go beyond good and evil. Not taking shots at anyone, but it's kind of sad that the years have shown a 70 year old man with billions at stake as being more ambitious and willing to take risks than armchair bookers on the internet.



#18 gordi

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Posted 02 June 2018 - 08:52 AM

 Good vs. evil is fine every once in a while, but saying it's all wrestling should be about would be like arguing that English literature never should have evolved beyond Beowulf. Beowulf's good vs. evil thing is great, but if you don't move on to other narrative structures you never get the masterpieces of Shakespeare, Twain, Joyce, etc.
 
 

 
 
Hahaha! Holy shit! WHAT?!?!?  :lol:
 
Really? You don't think good vs evil was something Shakespeare cared about? You figure Macbeth is painted entirely in shades of grey? You don't think Iago is a true heel character?  I mean, sure, it's a more psychological idea of good and evil than in, say,  the medieval mind; and characters could be a mixture of good and evil, and could be capable of change. but without the concepts of good and evil and the conflicts between the two, there could be no Shakespeare as we know it. 
 
Huckleberry Finn is all about Huck searching for his own moral and ethical authority. He ends up questioning and even rejecting what he's been taught about right and wrong by religion and society and makes morally ambiguous choices along the way... but the whole point of the story, and of so much of what I have read from Twain, is that Huck needs to figure out how to be a "face" in a complicated and changing society. It's about finding our own standards of good and evil, right and wrong... it is in no way "beyond good and evil."
 
Even with Joyce... it's standard first-year University thinking to consider Ulysses Modernist and Relativistic and as such (once again) "beyond good and evil" but that is woefully short-sighted. I'd argue that Joyce, like Twain, wanted to help his readers to think for themselves, to find spiritual liberation. It's certainly not a religious work, but that does not mean it isn't concerned - deeply concerned - with questions of morality. 
 
There are lots of other interesting and provocative ideas in your post and in the ones above it and hopefully I'll find time to get around to those eventually... but this part of your post just struck me as extremely unclear thinking. What you call "the masterpieces of Shakespeare, Twain, Joyce, etc." could not exist without the struggle between good and bad, right and wrong... pleasure and pain... 

#19 Coffey

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Posted 02 June 2018 - 10:32 AM

But if I was to be honest I'd rather watch a random mid card match from today pulled from the hat than one from the 80s.

 

You and I will never see eye-to-eye on pro-wrestling.  :D Honestly, I would rather watch jobber squashes than what wrestling has turned into today. Regardless of if it's in high-def or not. That's not to say there weren't some bad workers back then too but the majority of them at least knew what they were doing.

 

When I watch highly pimped Indy matches, in example, I just shake my head & say "I don't get it." I don't get why people think Kenny Omega is the second coming of Ric Flair. I don't get why the Young Bucks and their Super Kicks and flips are so popular. I don't get a lot of things, like why people thought New Day were funny, or that Sasha Banks was one of the best in the world, or why the Broken Matt Hardy wrestlecrap was ever over, including in TNA.
 

I find my views fall a lot more in line with Jim Cornette nowadays than the people following Dave Meltzer on Twitter. I don't know if it's a generational thing or what but the shit today, to me, is never going to stand-up to the days of Ric Flair, Rick Rude & Ricky Steamboat.

 

That's not to say that there aren't thing about modern pro-wrestling that I can find that I enjoy but when I want to watch wrestling nowadays, if it's not a live PPV, it's usually me putting on something from the late 80's or early 90's on the WWE Network.

 

Character work is certainly a lot of it. 

 

Honestly, I think it's more than just the wrestlers themselves. There's a lot more to it in WWE, for example. It's all about being TV-PG and selling for the hard camera and making sure that you hit every minute correctly because of the next commercial break or whatever time management bull they're working around. It's overly micromanaged & nothing about it is organic. And Indy wrestlers nowadays are always thinking of how to get bigger on social media, do something that will make a nice animated .gif (that could go viral) or come up with a way to hock some more overpriced, low-quality t-shirts.

 

In modern professional wrestling the workers are afraid of getting heat. No one wants to get real heat. Part of it is probably because in this day and age they think it's impossible. Kayfabe is dead, everyone has camera phones, everyone has social media, no one can just be a bad guy 24/7 anymore. No one wants to be the giant dick, they all want to be the cool bad guy like the fucking nWo. No one wants to be The Sheik. WWE would have sponsors pull out, or who knows what. 

 

Wrestling used to be a male soap opera based around good against evil that the fans would believe and get into while watching. Now it's an athletic display where the crowd feels like a part of the show & applauds athletic feats like they're watching the OIympics. It went from being believable to being totally unbelievable but full of a bunch of "holy shit!" moments for the crowds to get their chants in.

 

I guess I take professional wrestling maybe too seriously because it's been such a huge part of my entire life. When even the workers themselves don't take it seriously anymore and make a mockery of it (in the name of "comedy"), it makes me feel.. bad? Slighted, I guess. So I guess I get where Jim Cornette is coming from because it was his entire life and he fed his family with it. He watched his friends & co-workers go through hell & deal with miles, bad pay, injuries, addictions & death, so seeing Kenny Omega wrestle a 9-year-old, Kota Ibushi fight a blow-up doll or Joey Ryan doing dick spots is probably going to be a sore spot.

 

There's always been comedy in wrestling & there always will be. You can still have fun but it just feels too over-the-top for my taste nowadays. It's hard for me to watch that shit. It's business-exposing nonsense. Vince McMahon is guilty for doing a lot of it too.

 

So where did all the characters go? It's more where did all the heels go? nWo made it so heels can be cheered & sell merch... so why would anyone want to be a lame babyface or heel without the cheers & merch? The top heels are the top faces. The top faces are the top heels. John Cena and Roman Reigns get booed. 

 

Also, think about the influences. The wrestlers that are wrestling today grew up watching guys like Shawn Michaels, Jeff Hardy and Rob Van Dam. That's a lot different than wrestlers that grew up watching Harley Race, Terry Funk & Bruno Sammartino. They saw the atmosphere of the ECW Arena. They played the video games. 

 

I love when professional wrestling is treated like a legitimate sport; a contest between two wrestlers to determine who is better on any given night. When I can get immersed in the match/story. Wrestling now is more a performance than a contest. The only thing it's missing is judges holding up score cards... but I guess star ratings kind of do that...

 

You don't have to have a great character anymore. You just have to have a great spot that people can retweet on Twitter.



#20 ohtani's jacket

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Posted 02 June 2018 - 05:17 PM

Someone needs to repost that video about what they don't teach you in wrestling school about how to get over with a modern audience. it's buried in a thread somewhere and I can't find it. 






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