Much of the talk in the business of professional wrestling right now centers on the current stuntman trend on the independent circuit. Guys that have no business in the ring are in the ring, and are doing everything they can to get over in a business they don’t understand.
That has been true for quite some time now, yet when Rip Rogers stirred the pot on Twitter; it sent many of those so-called talents into an outrage. What did an old-timer know about today’s industry? Who was he to call anyone out when his career is over? The fact is that the issue has always been there; Rogers just brought that issue to the forefront.
In any other major sport, a respected veteran like Rip would have been listened to, not admonished for his opinion. How many NFL or NBA rookies would ever publicly disrespect or laugh at Joe Montana? Michael Jordan? Jerry Rice? Magic Johnson?
But pro wrestling is a different animal and always has been. It’s not a major sport though many feel it is. It’s not true athletic competition, though that can be debated as well. Pro wrestling has evolved, or devolved, from a business of tough guys to a business of daredevils.
Any fan today that’s old enough to remember the glory days of Jim Crockett Promotions can clearly see the difference. It’s not necessarily about the audience believing it’s real or phony; it’s about the men and women involved taking more pride in themselves and their craft, to make it look good.
Of course “making it look good” has perhaps changed definition over the years, and that’s the problem. Guys today believe they have to flip, flop and fly every time they get in the ring. If they don’t, then they’re not giving fans their money’s worth. If they don’t then they’ve not put on a good show. But contrary to that, the majority of real pro wrestling fans are starving for the pro wrestling.
That’s largely been lost in today’s business. If a talent doesn’t dive through the ropes, fly over the ropes, pulls of an incredible 450, or summersaults his way into people’s hearts, then he feels he’s not doing it right. Gone are the days of working a body part and focusing on breaking down an opponent from the outside in.
Many believe that style is too old-fashioned to be believed, and that today’s audience won’t play along. But what those confused “talents” don’t understand is that fans may respond to the sizzle, but they remember the steak. Ric Flair versus Dusty Rhodes is still regarded as perhaps the best rivalry of all time. Ricky Steamboat versus Randy Savage is considered perhaps the greatest WrestleMania match of all time. Shawn Michaels is respected as arguably the best all-around performer to ever step into a wrestling ring.
How many fans today will remember the Evel Knievels of the business 20 years from now? How many of these “showmen” will get their due in a hall of fame ceremony one day? Will anyone even care about them five years from now?
Pro wrestling provides the perfect canvas for an artist to paint a picture. It’s a platform, not just to show off and make the day’s highlight reel, but to tell a story. Whether the match lasts 10 minutes or an hour, every participant involved has the opportunity to become a master storyteller. The essence of that story is simple; wining a pro wrestling match. The object should not be to pop the crowd with potentially paralyzing stunts.
The high risk moves and unnecessary bumps are footnotes in a book whose real substance lies in the chapters. Much in the same way history looks back at one-hit wonders in pop music for a 30-minute nostalgia show, much of today’s current pro wrestling “stars” will be remembered in the same retro vein.
Meanwhile The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Run DMC, and Elvis Presley will live on. Pioneers are held in high regard because of the love for their art and the dedication it took to become the best at it. How many independent stars in the pro wrestling business today will truly be remembered along those lines?
Perhaps it’s a chicken and egg situation. Wrestlers believe they have to make an impact and get noticed, so they throw everything they have into even the shortest match. Their veterans, their peers and perhaps even their bosses, recoil in horror at the amount of unsafe risks taken and lash out against them. But the crowds they took those unsafe risks in front of? They blew the roof off the building.
That does nothing but invite even more of the same from talents that are trying to get over. Soon the audience expects it and wants more. When they don’t get it, they ignore the match and begin chanting everything else they possibly can. The guys in the match feel they have to be daredevils, or they’ll lose the fans. Then the cycle repeats itself.
But had the tone never been set to begin with, would today’s audience truly be as jaded as it is now? WWE told the world that the business is a work and that action can never be taken back. Fans have been talked down to, they’ve been mocked and they’ve been ridiculed by the company and the Superstars themselves. Why wouldn’t they try to hijack a program? No one’s listening anyway; why not turn it all upside down?
However the men and women in the ring cannot change the past, they can only build toward the future. The crowd has largely been conditioned to expect danger, but that does not mean they should get it. If the talents in the ring go in with the idea of getting each other over while telling a logical story in the process, then the fans will watch. They will respond. They will cheer. They will remember.
That is true not only for WWE, but for every pro wrestling company everywhere in the world. But until the wrestlers themselves respect the business, then they can’t expect the fans to. It’s a vicious circle indeed.