Yes, it’s time for another wrestling post.
Last year (?), Nick Mamatas wrote about the dangers to pro wrestlers all trying to look like John Cena: trying to look like a pro bodybuilder on a wrestler’s schedule might lead to an early grave, especially for guys who shouldn’t be adding 200 lbs of muscle onto a 180 pound frame.
And if you look at the current crop of young wrestlers in the WWE, most of them are built like bodybuilders. Most of them trained at the WWE farm league in Florida. Many are athletic. And almost all of them are boring.
Many things can make a good wrestler. Great ring work (Ricky Steamboat). Great charisma and character (Roddy Piper). Great presence or look (Andre the Giant). Some have different ratios of these attributes. Most of the greatest wrestlers have five or four stars in each column, or excel in a single place. Sean Michaels and Ric Flair probably had all three in high number, while Hulk Hogan maxed out in one. The key here is that variety counts. It helps make interesting storylines and matches. And one thing that is crippling the “next gen” of pro wrestlers is the death of the territory system of the 1930s-1980s. Now, you’re either in the indies, or the big time. There isn’t that awesome middle for you to get experience, learn your craft, and grow as a performer.
Many of the greatest wrestlers of all time learned tons from working the old territories, because each territory would have its own style. You could learn new things, test others, and grow as a performer. Bret Hart was trained by Japanese wrestlers in Calgary, who worked “stiff” (using lots of force to make the moves look good, actually connecting with their opponent ) taught him how to “sell” being hurt (which always made his “comebacks” feel epic; acting hurt is one of the worst things new guys do), and learned how to “call it in the ring” while touring Texas with the Funk brothers. Sean Michaels noted in an interview that he loved wrestling William Regal, because he was trained in British style wrestling, which was very different than the American. It forced him to get creative, and not just run through the old patterns. Chris Jericho is almost the textbook case of the value of hitting different territories. He got the tough basics in the dying days of the Canadian wrestling circuit, learned the luchador style while in Mexico, learned to do promos in the Mid West, learned how to do a different match every weekend in Germany (Where the fans came to the same place every weekend to get a different match, unlike when you tour different places with the same match each night), went to Japan and added even more lightweight high-flying moves, picked up some extreme tricks in ECW and then hit the majors with a very large bag of tricks.
But every time I watch RAW or SMACKDOWN, I see the same kind of look, the same kind of moves, the same kind of guys. Where are the Abdullah the Butchers? Where are the One Man Gangs? I give the Miz credit for making it as far as he did on character and improving his ring work, but it’s getting deadly boring in the ring these days. Few of these guys have wrestled anywhere but the indies or the Florida farm team. Almost none have run the difficult guantlet of working in Japan. There are no “mid list” territories to bust your ass and learn. We know have Factory Brand Wrestlers who looked good on TV and ho hum in the ring. Which is too bad. It ain’t about their talent. It’s about what limited range they can test it with.
I hope it’s not just nostalgia that makes me say there was a time when you could see different kinds of wrestlers every week: Steve Austin did not wrestle like Shawn Michaels; the Rock did not look like Mick Foley; Hart could have interesting matches with talents as different as Curt Hening, Scott Hall, and Bam Bam Bigalow.
I like Randy Orton and John Cena just fine. But could we have the next gen of Bobby Eaton, please?