If you are new to the dark reaches of my mind, you may want to pop over to my column from last week. In it, I revealed my desire to run a series of Master Class wrestling workshops for the WWE. I guess this project isn’t exactly shocking or twisted, well, not to you, fellow dreamers.
I like to think about what arguments I would use to convince these wrestlers to come and teach the next generation. I don’t believe that any of last week’s instructors would be swayed by an appeal to their egos. None of them have come back, unless it is for a meaningful purpose. Neither Shawn Michaels, nor Steve Austin, nor Edge have had One More Match. The naive kid in me likes to think they never will.
Some of this week’s instructors cannot be classified as “former” wrestlers, but they are removed enough from WWE action, and I feel that they have something to offer in this Master Class capacity. Ricky Steamboat is the most retired of the three; his presence here cannot be disputed. We just saw The Rock wrestle in April, but our ability to tally his annual matches on one hand qualifies him for “special guest” status. And finally, Jeff Hardy may be an active wrestler on the TNA roster, but his philosophies could benefit anyone in the business, at a time when it’s all about This Business.
I envision these clinics being held at ringside in an otherwise quiet arena, so that students can demonstrate an idea and get immediate feedback. I would pay a large sum of money to stand there – just the notion of standing on a WWE mat gives me chills – and listen in awe as these guys give advice. Let’s go to school!
Professor Ricky Steamboat
The Dragon is going to teach you how to be a babyface. In this day and age, there are many factors that stifle character development in general, and you’ll find that babyface appeal requires even more time to be nurtured. A heel can make a point in a very short period of time, and that’s often the only time you get.
What the television-minded suits don’t realize is that short matches deny wrestlers the chance to practice. The stamina required for a good, long match takes time and effort to develop. I don’t care if you can fly like Snuka or you’re ripped like The Rock (Don Muraco); if you are only working 8-minute matches every night, your endurance in the ring will suffer, and you’ll never be able to tell your babyface tale.
You’re not just a babyface because the company decides it’s your turn to smile and wave. You’re not even a babyface if the fans buy your t-shirt. You aren’t a babyface until that crowd feels everything that you’re feeling in the ring. You need them to empathize with you, and that is no easy task. The heel needs his time to dominate. The babyface must suffer. You offer a few glimmers of hope - distributed at the right intervals – that you just might be able to fight back. And when it’s time to shine, it’s on both of you to make it great.
A babyface will shine brighter when you’ve got a truly dark heel. I had my perfect foil in Ric Flair. He taught me how to be a great face, by being such a great heel. We had countless matches, and Ric had a very big influence on my instincts in the ring. A bodyslam is a bodyslam, I once said, but it’s the body language that makes it different. Ric and I had that chemistry, to know how to interpret each move. We wrestled long matches every night, in every territory, and it never got stale.
Everyone asks me about the Randy Savage feud, because it got so much press. Yes, the Macho Man’s heartless deeds made me a very sympathetic character. And yes, our match at Wrestlemania 3 was a finely-tuned classic. His was a different sort of work ethic, an obsession with every detail that I didn’t necessarily need with someone like Ric. Ric and I went out to the ring knowing only the finish, and we’d feel things out as we went. It gave my babyface character more complexity.
We came from the old school, when good guys and bad guys traveled separately, and kayfabe meant everything. I would never complain about my shoulders being down on the mat. If it’s a great match, it does not matter who wins. Remember that when you’re working with each other. You cannot be a jerk in this world, and go out to that ring and be a convincing babyface.
Just be a good guy. You don’t have to flash the biggest smile, if you are always thinking from the fans’ perspective. Work together with your heel to elevate the both of you. Protect your character. Be consistent in your words and actions. If you can build a reputation for having a good work ethic, everyone will be pleased to work with you, and everyone wins.
I was a babyface for my entire career. I asked to have just one run as a heel, but I was deemed “past the point of a turn”. To be fair, they may have been right. I understand people’s motivations as well as I understand an arm drag. “The Dragon” has the soul of a babyface.
Professor Dwayne Johnson
The Great One is going to teach you how to use social media. Now The Rock would delight in telling you about The Three P’s of twitter, and he would have all sorts of jokes about taking a whizz, and how Paul Heyman smells of tinkle. But we’re not supposed to be smelling anything right now, specifically not what The Rock is cookin’, and we’re going to channel Lance Storm and be serious for a moment. You’re going to be listening to Dwayne today, because social media requires more than just a one-dimensional character.
The first P is Positivity. You are going to have all sorts of people sending you negative messages, and you must not fall for the bait. Do not fall for the bait. Do not re-tweet it, do not engage in an argument. I believe in PMA, that’s Positive Mental Attitude, and that means optimism in all that you do. I like to send out inspirational quotes, and back them up with examples of how I’m attacking my day with hope and determination.
I live this attitude, and it has a way of instilling a positive feeling in others. When I start my day at 4am with a killer cardio routine and a smile, that is a badass demonstration of inspiration and perspiration. You would not believe how many people have made a positive change in their lives because I preach it - and I live it.
The second P is Pictures, because visual appeal adds another dimension to my persona. When I hit the pavement at 4am, I take a photo. And I tweet that photo right away, so that Bob in Portland and Rohit in New Delhi can feel like they’ve got a special bond with me, out on that cold morning. Real time is important, and so is real life, and I’m blessed with an extraordinary life.
I share photos of glamorous moments with my famous friends. I share photos of goofy moments at home. I give people the feeling that they are in the inner sanctum of my life. It’s not all red carpets, but the red carpets are pretty damn cool, and I drop names for a touch of star power. I don’t take any of it for granted. Being gracious is a part of PMA. Come into my kitchen for a day of legendary cheat meals; watch me ham it up with my daughter. I have a regular life too – I just have my own lighting crew with me for it.
The third P isn’t for Polished, but for Personal. When I talk about buying a car from a crack head, that is The Rock in entertainment mode. When I share the story of my Mom crying as they repossessed our car, that is just me, Dwayne, opening up on a personal level. I know there are people out there who are down on their luck. I have been there myself, and I don’t want to squander my good fortune. Grace goes a long way, and I am trying to resist a joke about that.
Referring to myself in the third person as The Rock is strictly for another time and place. When I’m online, I keep the Kung Pao Bitch on the shelf. When I crack jokes on twitter, I crack them on myself. I may appear larger than life, especially next to Marky Mark, but I’m not above a joke about my longevity in the bedroom. Who likes a guy that has no vulnerability? Remember, I’m just a regular guy who works really hard and loves every moment.
Every person that I come into contact with is going to feel special. I use a lot of terms of endearment like “honey” and “my man”. I remember a little something about everyone. When you are on twitter and facebook, you are much more than your wrestling persona. This isn’t the babyface bus. This is 2013, and you all have the potential to market yourselves long after the merch stand has been packed up.
Let’s all gather ‘round for a photo opp, and I can tweet that right away. Hold on, WHERE IS THE ROCK’S BABY OIL TECHNICIAN??
Professor Jeff Hardy
The Charismatic Enigma is going to teach you about investing in the stock of your fans. I’ve never been into politicking for position, but my position has been helped along by the momentum of my popularity.
Popularity isn’t everything. I also believe in talent and dedication. There have been times in my life when I did not work hard enough, and the fans had every reason to give up on me. I was not dedicated to wrestling well or even living well. Talent is wasted without hard work. I’ve been given second chances, many times. And the only way that I can make sense of my success is by giving credit to the fans.
The people who love Jeff Hardy have been my sustaining force. I was able to win people over from the very beginning, when Matt and I worked our asses off to put on an original performance. We wanted to be different, and we appealed to people who maybe felt a little bit different themselves. I just wanted to go out there, be creative, and share what I do.
Being different carries the risk that people are going to judge you, either because you don’t look the same, or you don’t act the way you are expected to act. Sometimes people feel threatened simply because you don’t care what they think. You have to be comfortable in your own skin and believe in your abilities. Confidence is compelling. If you clearly believe in yourself, the fans will follow suit, and that makes for a really strong connection.
This is where the talent and dedication come in. It’s like a symbiotic relationship, you know? The fans motivate you to put on a thrilling performance, and their reactions feed your adrenaline, and you take crazy risks to reinforce their adulation. It’s hard work and I’m happy to do it, but nothing lasts forever. I’ve been at the top of a ladder and had fans beg me to take it easy. They know the toll it takes, and I dig that energy. They don’t want to see me get hurt, even if that means “under” performing to my old standards.
Find your hook with the fans; think of their appreciation as a gauge of your success. Pay them back every night in the ring. If you can win over your audience, that’s currency in the business of This Business. Class dismissed.
I didn’t plan to write on the theme of Audience Appeal this week. I just gravitated towards these three guys because I felt very strongly about what they could teach. Ricky Steamboat was the quintessential good guy for me as a kid. He embodied that pure, honest spirit so naturally. And while I don’t exactly hate The Rock, I have always felt that I didn’t like him as much as I was supposed to. In recent months, I’ve enjoyed the swerve of loving Dwayne Johnson on twitter. Jeff Hardy is indeed a charismatic enigma, because his success despite himself is baffling. There is something about a man who doesn’t seek glory, but commands it nonetheless. I can see why fans have stuck with him, and I hope this is the happy end to his redemption story.
Follow me on twitter @kickyhick – I’m going to my first indy wrestling show on Friday and I hope to live tweet the experience! I would also appreciate your comments below, or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.