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Expressing Character Through In-Ring Actions


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#21 MoS

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Posted 02 June 2018 - 05:39 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. 

 

This one? 

 

I have really enjoyed the posts in this thread. Related to the topic, Jericho v. Omega from this year's WK is right now my favourite match of the year. Jericho went all out both in the build-up and during the match to get as much heat and hatred as he could. 



#22 fxnj

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Posted 02 June 2018 - 07:09 PM

 

 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... 

 

What you're saying backs up my point. Those stories don't just spoonfeed you what's right and what's wrong and make it all about the hero trying to topple the villain. They play around with morals and challenge the audience to think for themselves. It's all distant from what was suggested about matches clearly telling you who you should cheer and boo, and it's more in line with WWE's current main event booking strategy. Ever since Reigns failed to catch on as a face, they've just kind of focused on throwing characters out there and letting the audience decide who they want to get behind. That's something a lot of the people who complain about him not fitting into classic wrestling babyface champ don't seem to grasp. He's should be looked at as simply a protagonist whose character involves him acknowledging and subverting a lot of the tropes associated with the babyface champ archetype. At least watching in highlight form the whole run between him, Lesnar, and Strowman has been really compelling stuff to watch unfold.



#23 gordi

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Posted 02 June 2018 - 08:29 PM

Fair enough, I suppose, though you have totally misunderstood my original post.

With all due respect to you and KawadaSmile, though... I absolutely do not see Roman as some kind of well-booked, well-formed, well-acted, and successful pro wrestling character. He seems to me to be a guy with all the potential in the world who has lost his big chance to get over because he has been booked miserably. He's a good looking well built super-jock with impeccable blood-lines. He's obviously a good Conpany Man. Vince tried to book him as a rebellion underdog that the company was trying to hold down. That was so obviously disingenuous that a huge number of WWE fans rejected the booking and the character completely. That's not a subtly-written post modern character. That is a catastrophic failure to match a workers look with how they are presented.

Vince hit it out of the park with Hulk Hogan in the '80s then repeatedly failed to create another Hogan until striking gold again with Warrior. Then circmstances forced him to give Bret and Austin their shot, and he hit again with the anti-authoritarian rebel angle with Austin. Since then, he has ruined guys like Cena and Roman by trying to give them that Austin push when they look nothing like underdogs and are obviously good loyal employees without a rebellious bone in their bodies. He's going to blow it with Rousey by doing the same daft and doomed thing again. Just watch.

VInce did hit again on his one big booking idea with Bryan... because Bryan at least looks the part of an underdog.

Again, in pro wrestling, your look defines your character and your character should define what you do in the ring. I don't get that with Roman, at all. It's not entirely his fault.

And, with all due respect to Mad Dog,.. To me, the Young Bucks are the absolute kings of "my turn/your turn get all our fancy stuff in, and it ends when somebody hits their finisher" style. Good looking babyfaces need to work from underneath sometimes, not just bounce right back and get more fancy moves in. Good looking heels need to show ass. In my opinion, The Young Bucks don't seem to do much of either.

I think maybe you are mistaking catch phrases and gestures for character... or maybe catch phrases and gestures have simply replaced character for the post-modern pro wrestling fan... that's probably worth talking about more.

I'll be watching Dominion this weekend. I promise I'll watch their match with an open mind and I hope they will prove me wrong.

And, while I might disagree with you guys about some specifics and I'm focusing on that here, we actually agree on a lot as well. For example, like fxnj I find that struggle is an important and underrated aspect of pro wrestling and I absolutely agree with Mad Dog that good comedy workers are often woefully underrated when it comes to showing character in the ring.

#24 sek69

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Posted 02 June 2018 - 08:38 PM

VInce did hit again on his one big booking idea with Bryan... because Bryan at least looks the part of an underdog.

 

...and even then it was in spite of the booking, not because of it. No matter how much the WWE version of history tries to spin it. 

 

Not co-incidentally Bryan is also one of the current guys who does everything mentioned that babyfaces used to do to draw sympathy, and is one of the few in WWE with a real connection to the audience. 



#25 gordi

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Posted 02 June 2018 - 08:39 PM

VInce did hit again on his one big booking idea with Bryan... because Bryan at least looks the part of an underdog.

 
...and even then it was in spite of the booking, not because of it. No matter how much the WWE version of history tries to spin it. 
 
Not co-incidentally Bryan is also one of the current guys who does everything mentioned that babyfaces used to do to draw sympathy, and is one of the few in WWE with a real connection to the audience. 

Completely agree. Bryan absolutely "gets it."

#26 Mad Dog

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Posted 02 June 2018 - 08:45 PM

Bucks are good shit talkers if you catch them on camera. Their New Japan work is also very different from what you see in RoH. And even then there have been some really good matches this year where they have sold their asses off in matches.

#27 Loss

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Posted 03 June 2018 - 12:03 AM

Roman is over in the sense that fans see him as a star and he typically gets the loudest reaction on every show. He's not over in the sense that he's getting the reaction the #1 babyface is supposed to get, and it's weird that WWE wears it with a badge of honor that everyone projects everything they hate about company booking on to the guy that they see as the future. They overlearned the Cena lesson to such an extreme that they now think if babyfaces are getting loudly booed, then they're doing something right. They also overlearned the Austin lesson to such an extreme that they think the company will go down in flames if they turn their top babyface heel.

 

At least with Cena, you could point to many other things to show that it was working. It's unfortunate because when you look at the roster, Reigns is far and away the best choice to build around for the next 5-10 years, and at one time, there was a real chance to get him over the right way that has been squandered. There was no going back after the 2015 Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania  this year closed the book for good.

 

I think it's time to start looking at Drew McIntyre.



#28 MoS

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Posted 03 June 2018 - 12:53 AM

I still think Braun can be the guy, at least in the short term. His match with Balor last week was a perfect example of how he can be shown to be vulnerable and beatable while still retaining his aura and remaining over. If constantly booking him in comedy angles continues for a couple of months, that ship might sail as well. I hope he wins the MitB briefcase in a dominant manner. 



#29 Johnny Sorrow

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Posted 03 June 2018 - 01:14 AM

Braun shouldn't be pushed to the to be the top guy right now because he isn't ready for that shit yet.

#30 Badlittlekitten

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Posted 03 June 2018 - 03:48 AM

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.

I agree with a lot of points brought up by you and other posters about some aspects of the modern scene but I also think there is a sense of "it's not like it was when I grew up therefore it's wrong" in some cases. And that happens with all art/entertainment, especially music.

Bear in mind this is through the eyes of a 'casual' fan, which is seemingly what I've become the last few years (I've zero interest in Indies and puro wrestling these days or anything outside WWE.) I dip into the archives of the Network occasionally and still enjoy the likes of Flair, Arn/Tully, Midnights etc. But the average match from the good old days I find kinda slow and loose. The work in the 80s was a lot less homogenized which is obviously a huge advantage, but I get a lot less satisfaction from your standard mid card match of the day.

I must say I've never understood the 'it's business exposing' criticism of anything in wrestling. Pro Wrestling is inherently ridiculous.

I dunno, I'm just rambling. Pro wrestling is also inherently awesome.

#31 Badlittlekitten

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Posted 03 June 2018 - 04:08 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.


This is a fantastic post.

#32 Mrzfn

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Posted 03 June 2018 - 01:22 PM

I think it's time to start looking at Drew McIntyre.

 

Why, you need a sleep aid? ;)

 

Seriously though, I have a hard time seeing Drew as a bastion of expression character. When he had freedom to do his own thing, he was just the guy who wrestles a lot of places and is also self-righteous about it, either in an "inspiring" or cocky way depending on his alignment. He never showed me he could be compelling on a level deeper than "WWE didn't let me wrestle but now I'm wrestling!". I'm not saying he doesn't have his uses, but it's as for me now as it was when he first came around to see him as potentially "The Guy", or even in the conversation.



#33 Jesse Ewiak

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Posted 03 June 2018 - 05:06 PM

I think an underrated point is also - the world is just a less violent place, in general. Outside of very specific places because of very specific instances (ie. Syria), almost everywhere in the world is less violent than it was twenty or thirty years ago. So, if you're a twenty or twenty five year old kid getting into the business, even if you lived in a "bad neighborhood," outside of say, Chicago, it's likely a far better 'bad neighborhood' than it was even a decade or two ago. Hell, even Compton got gentrified. Hazing is far less of a thing in sports, frats, etc. I think that's also a reason why our political arguments have gotten so overheated, but that's a whole other argument. 

 

So, most people simply don't have the same the same experience with violence than say, somebody growing up in rural Oklahoma or a tough neighborhood in New York did during the 70's or 80's before they got into training where they likely were stretched or thrown around for real. Now, that's a positive thing, society wise, but it's a negative thing, when it comes to creating people who can push the idea they're violent people doing violent things for money. Even most UFC guys are basically dudes who spend too much time in the gym, but who would never actually want to permanently hurt their opponent. Even though it's not that true, Rick Steiner in 1999 WCW seems like a far more dangerous human being than 80% of the UFC roster, let alone anybody in the WWE.

 

Or in other words, there are far far less probably close to sociopathic violent people in wrestling, because the other people in wrestling wouldn't want to work with that guy. I mean, just personally, if any of us had the talent and accounting for different societal views, would most of us like to have spent time in the testosterone and drug fueled locker rooms of the mid-80's or early 90's where seemingly the only thing to do after a show was either getting wasted chasing after rats or hanging out alone in your hotel room or the relatively chill locker rooms of the modern era, that's far more gender and racially balanced than anything in recent history. I mean, I bet Samoa Joe is happy he can just be a badass instead of whatever terrible gimmick he would've gotten in 1987 World Class or whatever.



#34 Loss

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Posted 03 June 2018 - 05:38 PM

I think he's done some really effective mic work since returning that gets him over more as a serious competitor instead of a sports entertainer. 



#35 gordi

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Posted 09 June 2018 - 06:56 AM

Well... the Young Bucks sure as hell proved me wrong tonight. The Dominion Tag Title Match was all about them fighting from underneath, selling body part damage, and playing spunky underdogs. Hot damn, that was some good pro wrestling!

 

Wil Ospreay impressed me tonight, too, showing personality with some subtle heel work against Hiromu.

 

The Main Event was a damn masterpiece.

 

Young Bucks, Ospreay, and Okada all showed a ton of character in there tonight. The Bucks showed fire fighting from underneath, Ospreay worked hard to give Hiromu a dramatic come-from-behind story in their match and also sold the neck pretty well, and Okada sold cumulative pain and exhaustion just beautifully.

 

It feels weird to be this happy about being proven wrong about all of those guys.  That was some damned fine pro wrestling. Hell of a show. 

 

And speaking of character work: Jericho was just amazing tonight, going full heel and holding nothing back. 



#36 Viking Hall

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Posted 11 June 2018 - 06:25 AM

I actually think this is something we're starting to see again for the first time in a long time, if you look at some of the most talked about characters and matches in 2018, a lot of them are involving a ton of character work and real selling throughout. I mean just this weekend alone we've had Omega and Okada falling in and out of consciousness, Nick Jackson selling a foot injury to the point that he was still selling it hours after the match and Cody and Marty Scurll being some of the most downright nasty pieces of work in wrestling right now. Top that off with Jericho coming out of nowhere to be the scariest man in wrestling and I think you can say a lot of the most influential people in the business (whether it's subconsciously or consciously) are trying their hardest to drag psychology kicking and screaming into the 21st century once more.

 

I definitely think there's a realisation that there needs to more to draw the consumers in than just general flashiness. We're rapidly approaching the point where there won't be anymore crazy spots and moves left to do to up the ante and at the point there's only two ways to go, accept that we've seen it all and carry on regardless or bring something extra to the table and go back to the roots of what pro-wrestling is about. So with that in mind, it's no coincidence that the biggest names are starting to do just that and in turn, stand out from the crowd for it. This can only filter down too, in the same way that Joe Indie has spent the last 10 years or so doing more flips and neck bumps because that's what the cool kids do, it's only a matter of time before they take notice of The Young Bucks selling injuries or start dissecting why someone like Johnny Gargano is standing out from the pack right now and adapt to fit. 

 

Every era has its peak and this is just another one of those peaks where the very best right now will evolve into something newer and more fresh while others will stick to what they know and slowly slide down the cards with the WWE eventually following suit a few years down the line. 



#37 gordi

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Posted 11 June 2018 - 09:21 AM

I would be really happy if this was the start of a pendulum swing back toward in-ring story-telling, psychology, and character work.

#38 Viking Hall

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Posted 11 June 2018 - 09:57 AM

Another small side note based around this is that I noticed someone else doing way more facial expressions and character work than I've seen them do before at Dominion and that was Zack Sabre Jr. He's driven me mad the last few years at his inability to show any emotion and all his matches came across as just going through the motions as he transferred from hold to hold. At Dominion however, he was doing it all with a lot more expression and at times came off as someone that was really into trying to hurt his opponent rather than just showing off all the cool holds he does. Can only think all the time he's spending in the ring with Suzuki is paying off. Still a long way to go before he lives up to the hype for me, but a marked improvement nonetheless.






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