Does the Wrestling Matter?
As per usual, the overwhelming majority of WrestleMania weekend was spent pretty drunk. The show itself was pretty bog standard I felt, nothing was special and nothing was particularly awful. Nothing to write home about, etcetera. Everyone did their job, but there wasn't a single match that will live long in the memory.
It also wasn't the only wrasslin' show of my weekend. On Friday night, in my local Town Hall, Ravenhill Promotions were back for another fun packed show of hard hitting graps. There were six matches on the card, some familiar faces and some new. The first match saw recent WWE developmental prospect Stevie Starr vanquish a masked rudo called Tagori. Now, I and pretty much every other person in the audience, misheard this name as 'Tandoori', and of course this led to an inevitable 'chicken' chant when the heel stalled outside the ring. In fact, most of the match seemed to be Tagori stalling. Stevie Starr has a similar sort of look to Zack Ryder, so make up your own mind from there.
Next up was an over the top rope challenge, as 400lb Big Dog took on definitely more than 400lb Richter. Yes, Earthquake, Richter, ba doom tish. This was painful to watch. Vader vs. Bam Bam this was not. Richter won, but not after being dropped over the top rope himself whilst the referee was out. Those dastardly heels. The final match before intermission was 'Mean' Tommy Dean, a really enjoyable scummy heel, up against Mark Haskins of recent TNA fame. When he came out I remarked that this guy looked a little like Charles I, and upon announcement of his name we were shocked. Mark Haskins? In Welshpool Town Hall? How has that happened? Well, it did, and the quality in ring took a huge step up. Admittedly they were following an over the top rope challenge between the lost cousins of Tugboat and Earthquake, but the point stands. Haskins was so silky smooth in everything he did, no hesitation whatsoever. The step up in quality was very quickly apparent. To his credit, Dean more than held his own. Out of the shows I've seen here in town he is one of the two guys that have really stood out to me. It wasn't enough however, and Haskins pulled out the victory.
After intermission, the top heel in Welsh Wrestling Kade Callous used nefarious means to overcome Iestyn Rees. These nefarious means came by way of a distraction caused by 'Mean' Tommy Dean, setting up a match for the next show. The main event saw Robbie Dynamite come out and tell the crowd that his defeat to James Mason last time out was a fluke, and that he would beat James Mason and a partner of his choosing that night. Well, Mason came out along with his small companion Little Legs, and they would go on to win the inevitable comedy match. The crowd reaction throughout said a lot about people from Welshpool and their exposure to Little People. Long time viewers of TNA might know Mason and Dynamite to be two members of Team Britain in the 2004 TNA X-Cup. Mason is a 20 year veteran by now, has wrestled in Japan, was the last guy pinned in a Kendo Nagasaki retirement match, and once beat MVP in a dark match for WWE.
I think the crowd always provides an interesting insight into the world of the professional wrestler. When I was young I watched WWF, and to me that was the world of professional wrestling. To a large number of fans, it still is. Professional wrestling is a glamorous world of jam packed arena crowds, surrounded by adoring fans chanting their name (or singing their theme song), and rock star like adoration. WWE crowds are full of a grand mixture of people on a huge scale. They have tons of young children clad in the latest merchandise screaming for their heroes. They have their parents. They have fans who pay more attention to the product, who adore guys like Dolph Ziggler and are already assuming the next two months of story. Finally, the crowds will be full of what I would call passing through trade, people in the area who want to see a genuine social entertainment phenomenon, won't go to too many shows in their lifetime and will passively enjoy the show. Then there are shows like the one I saw last Friday.
I don't mean this as a knock on the wrestlers, by any means. Out of the 6 matches, and the 13 participants, there were only four that I would have absolutely no interest in seeing again. Throughout, the wrestling ranged from carny to decent to excellent, and pretty much everything in between. Nothing was offensive, except maybe the over the top rope challenge. The heels were clearly defined and generated decent heat from the crowd, the faces were always cheered on in their comebacks. The thing is, the crowd was 80% kids. There is nothing wrong with that from an industry point of view. The children of today are the mega fans of tomorrow, it is great that these kids are going out to see live wrestling in any form, especially this level. They loved the characters, the larger than life feel, the call and response.
But does the wrestling matter? Wrestling, at its heart, is something of a variety show, but it is also impossible to ignore the term itself and the skill it details. Wrestling. The kids that filled up Welshpool Town Hall last Friday night were there to see a 'wrestling' show without doubt, but it was telling that the quietest crowd reactions of the night were reserved for the Haskins/Dean match, which was far away the best in the ring. It was at this point the group in front of us resorting to taking photos of each other in lucha masks. To be honest, name value aside, Lance Storm and Dean Malenko could have been in the ring putting on a showcase and the crowd would have still spent most of the time interacting with each other. The in ring wrestling skills of the 13 men on show on that night became almost irrelevant.
It isn't just this level where this happens either. A couple of years back TNA chose to reinvent itself as 'Impact Wrestling', with the slogan 'Wrestling Matters'. They then proceeded to have a run of shows with so little wrestling on them that it was embarrassing.
As CM Punk said in a promo a couple of months back, WWE is a show where an invisible child is better placed than Tyson Kidd, one of the top ten in ring guys in the company. Natalya Neidhart, as good a wrestler if not better than anyone else on the Divas roster, has been reduced to farting gimmicks and being a dancing valet for The Great Khali and Hornswoggle. Yes, an excellent wrestler clapping the work of the worst wrestler in the company. Just how important is it to be a very good 'wrestler'? This is by no means a new thing either. When Hulk Hogan ascended to the throne for the first time in 1984, he became the first WWF champion without a legitimate wrestling background.
So what is a Mark Haskins or a James Mason to do? Both are more than competent wrestlers. They are in that group of wrestlers who would not look out of place on a bigger show, and indeed haven't when given the chance. Their in ring prowess is entirely wasted in environments such as these. They are fed to the whims of children.
But, there in lies the other facet of pro wrestling. Professional wrestling or sports entertainment is a beast of two sides, that of wrestling and story. Without story, the wrestling often becomes overly choreographed performance art. Without wrestling, none of us would watch. Not a single one of us. So what if these kids are only interested in the story? The crowd that I was surrounded by on Friday the 6th of April was not unlike a crowd that would be found at any WWE show. Okay, not the crowd from Raw this past Monday, but that was an anomaly at this moment in time.
The Welshpool crowd wanted a story to follow, a reason to care. They wanted characters with charisma and personality, not picture perfect arm drags. The casual fan is not going to pay a huge amount of attention to the skill involved, so grab them by their balls in emotion instead. This isn't just unique to professional wrestling either. I am by no means a fan of Boxing, but I've seen it now and then. I would much rather talk about Mike Tyson than Lennox Lewis.
Steve Austin was a very good wrestler, but until the Austin 3:16 promo he was another under-appreciated wrestler in the USA. The Rock was able to improve and improve to the point of being a very good wrestler at his peak by being so charismatic and damn popular. Even John Cena has improved to the point of putting on the odd great match here and there by constantly connecting with a crowd outside the ring.
But no! The wrestling must be important. We all remember CM Punk and John Cena at Money in the Bank 2011. They had a real hot story going in, put in a wonderful match that had all the drama a human can take and the pay off was wonderful. It is now remembered as probably the highlight of WWE in the last however long. Would we have remembered it so fondly if the quality of the match was similar to say, the John Cena/R-Truth main event from Capitol Punishment? As mentioned last week, AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels were able to make the worst type of storyline viewable by virtue of putting on great match after great match.
If Tommy Dean or James Mason found themselves the beneficiary of a talent scouting and ended up on the main roster, would the crowd they perform in front of not be mostly made up of those focused more on the story aspect of it, the good versus the bad? Once again they would be fed to the whims of story. How often have we seen fantastic wrestlers flounder in the WWE because of a lack of stories, because Creative Has Nothing For Them. At least on these shows a guy like Kade Callous can be THE show, as opposed to a minor cog in a gigantic wheel that will be spinning when we're long gone.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to what type of fan you are. The most beautiful thing about professional wrestling (outside of an AJ Styles drop-kick) is that whatever you are looking for, you can find it. Literally. The internet has made this a great time to be a wrestling fan, as you can find everything and anything you want there. I'll definitely go to the next show at the Town Hall (if I'm in the country), and I'll definitely have the same feelings throughout the show. I'll privately lament the fact that the in ring abilities of these guys are going straight over the head of the majority of the audience. Then immediately the other side of me will scold myself and tell him to stop being a jerk and just enjoy the show.
It is that inner annoyance that I think keeps people watching wrestling, the knowledge that it is rarely perfect but the blemishes are so much fun to think about. When it comes, the perfect is worth every grumble.
If you fancy discussing the finer points of tiny town independent wrestling, drop me an email at email@example.com, or get on the twitter thing @pingvinorkestra. Yeah, that is Serbian for Penguin Orchestra.