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Member Since 23 Feb 2006
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Topics I've Started

Expressing Character Through In-Ring Actions

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. 





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:




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. 





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...




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? 

Japanese Men's Pro Wrestling Alliance June & July 1986

25 May 2018 - 10:46 PM

Announcement of JWA Cards for June 1986
Tour-Opening Show, June 4th 1986, in Fukuoka
7 Big Tag Matches!
Winner gets a title shot on June 14th: Hashimoto & Chono vs The Steiner Brothers (MACW)
Winner gets a title shot on June 14th: Gran Hamada & Fishman vs Black Tiger & Tatsutoshi Goto
JWA Middleweight Tag Team Champions Facekickers vs Takada & Yamada
Emerald (Baba & Misawa debuting as a tag team) vs Danger Zone
Andre & Hogan vs OMG & Bossman Traylor
JWA Tag Team Champions Power Rush vs The British Bulldogs (WWF)
Special Challenge Main Event: Tenryu & Hara vs Jumbo & Yatsu
June 14th TV Taping
All 6 JWA Titles Defended!
Special recap of Giant Baba at the Johnny Rougeau Memorial Cup
JWA Middleweight Champion Tiger Mask (Sayama) vs Kantaro Hoshino
JWA Middleweight Tag Team Champions Facekickers (Masa Fuchi & Toshiaki Kawada) vs Winner of Gran Hamada & Fishman vs Black Tiger & Tatsutoshi Goto
JWA Trios Champions The Machines vs Anoaro Atisanoe & Danger Zone
Special Challenge Match: JWA Japanese Champion Andre the Giant vs Killer Khan (UWF)
JWA Tag Team Championship match: Winner of Power Rush vs Bulldogs vs Winner of Hashimoto & Chono vs The Steiners
JWA Heavyweight Champion Genichiro Tenryu vs TBD
Tour-Ending Show June 24th in Tokyo
JWA Japanese Championship match: Winner of Andre vs Khan vs Yoshiaki Fujiwara
Special Elimination Match Challenge: Team Hogan (Hulk Hogan, The British Bulldogs, & The Steiner Brothers) vs Team Choshu (Riki Choshu, Anoaro Atisanoe, Jerry Blackwell, OMG, & Bossman Traylor)
Special Elimination Match Challenge: Team Baba (Giant Baba, Jumbo Tsuruta, Yoshiaki Yatsu, Shiro Koshinaka, & Mitsuharu Misawa vs Team Tenryu (Tenryu, Hara, Super Strong Machine, Tarzan Goto, & Samson Fuyuki)
Plus one other championship match!

JWA President and Founder, Shohei Baba

JWA Vice President, Motoko Baba

JWA Managing Director, Hisashi Shinma

JWA Booker, gordi

Kuishinbo Kamen vs Ebessan (Osaka Pro 1/7/01)

15 May 2018 - 06:46 AM

I think this was only the second time these two faced each other one-on-one (though they had already been in countless tag matches together over the previous two years). This is, I believe, in the Rinkai Sports Center (with the fans at ringside sitting on mats). The entrances have me misting up with nostalgia. How many times have I been one of the fans hanging snacks around Kuishin's neck? How many times have I been blessed by Ebessan? (Literally dozens of times).


For me, their (many, many, many) comedy spots are like "Who's on First" or "The Seven Words You Can't Say on TV." Just straight-up classic comedy that you practically know by heart, to the point where it's more nostalgic than funny... but the timing is so precise and wonderful that you find yourself laughing out loud anyway. 


Matsui (the referee) deserves equal credit for his role in this. They work together so damned well. I'm not even kidding at all when I say that I rank this pairing (plus Matsui) right up there with Flair vs Steamboat, Tenryu vs Jumbo, Von Erichs vs Freebirds, Hansen vs Colon... Everything they do together is going to be worth watching, for me. 


I think the 2 out of 3 falls match from 2003 is their masterpiece, but this particular one is pretty special too. They get a lot of time here, so they can get a ton of stuff in without rushing anything, and they work a long, hot finishing sequence as well.

Asian Cougar vs Disco Fury (IWA Japan 1/13/01)

15 May 2018 - 06:10 AM

I was so excited to get the chance to watch this. Cougar and Disco are both guys that I consider friends. Cougar's been my drinking buddy for over 8 years now, and Disco is close friends with my good friend Verne Seibert - which is one of those "If you're a friend of his, you're a friend of mine" type scenarios, and we all (Verne, Disco, Cougar, and I) have the Vancouver All Star Wrestling connection as well. Seeing them work together was a real trip for me. 


I'm fairly sure this was Disco's first match in Japan (he also went over to work for M-Pro, if I remember correctly), and it just about killed me when the Korakuen Hall crowd popped loudly for his patented disco taunts early in the match. 


The match itself is clipped down to five minutes of high spots, though for some reason they leave a little botch in as well.


Cougar, as always, has zero regard for his own well-being. About half the time, when he does his Chair Atomico it looks like he's going to break his neck. This is absolutely one of those times... and it isn't even the highest-risk move he performs. 


Mainly, though: This was just a very special kind of marking out for me, seeing two of my friends working together, 17 plus years ago, to pop the crowd in f'n Korakuen. Warms my heart. 

Japanese Men's Pro Wrestling Alliance May 1986

25 April 2018 - 11:10 PM

Current Champions: 


JWA Heavyweight Champion: Genichiro Tenryu


JWA Japanese Champion: Tatsumi Fujinami


JWA Tag Team Champions: Power Rush (Riki Choshu and Rusher Kimura)


JWA Middleweight Champion: Tiger Mask (Sayama)


JWA Trios Champions: The Machines (Super Strong Machine, Sumo Machine, & Very Tall Machine)


JWA Middleweight Tag Team Champions: Facekickers (Masa Fuchi & Toshiaki Kawada)
Upcoming Schedule: 
May: 4th - Tour Opener, 14th - TV Taping, 24th - Big Tour-Ending Show (Guests: Rick Martel, NWA Champion, from Lutte, 24th only. Bam Bam Bigelow ,The Sheepherders, from WWC, 4th, 14th, and 24th. Hulk Hogan, from the WWF, 4th and 14th. Andre, OMG, and Bossman, from the WWF, whole tour, Death Sentence (Maxx Payne and Jeff Gaylord) from the AWA, whole tour). 
June: 4th - Tour Opener, 14th - TV Taping, 24th - Big Tour-Ending Show (Guests: Hogan, Andre, OMG. Bossman, Bulldogs, from the WWF, whole tour. Steiner Brothers, from MACW, whole tour).
July: 4th, 14th, 24th: JWA Faction Wars
Card for the JWA Tour-opening show, May 4th 1986
Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium, Nagoya
Main Event: JWA Japanese Champion Tatsumi Fujinami vs Andre the Giant
Super Strong Machine & Real American Machine vs Anoaro Atisanoe & Siva Afi
Giant Baba, Jumbo Tsuruta, & Shiro Koshinaka vs Bam Bam Bigelow & Danger Zone (Hickerson & Shaw)
One Man Gang & Bossman Traylor vs Very Tall Machine & Sumo Machine
Tenryu, Ashura Hara, & Samson Fuyuki vs Kensuke & Death Sentence (Gaylord & Payne)
Sheepherders vs Shining Wizards (Mutoh & Chono)
Dos Caras, El Canek, & Fishman vs Tiger Mask, Hashimoto, & Keiichi Yamada