We always seek the ‘clean’ finish in wrestling. That moment when our hero stands aloft and has his arm raised high. It has always been something hard to find though. Wrestling, by its very nature, is a dirty venture. The heels are unscrupulous and will do anything to win and, often, the faces sometimes deal to their opponents the very moves that have been showered down on them. For the story to work, and to gain momentum, the clean finish is often the pay-off. The final move in usually what is a three-act structure. The villain vanquished and the hero moves on to the next opponent.
Clean finishes are getting harder to find in the modern era though. For every ‘Big Show double-knock out’ we have a ‘Fandango fancy walk-out’. Quite often this creates a negative feeling in the audience, which is great if you’re a heel after some cheap heat but the Big Show moment, although there were initially some hearty cheers, online reports claim the anger was later vented to the lack of any sort of finish or even the ringing of a bell. It’s tricky but the more of these finishes we see, the less we as fans want to commit to the story.
The joke used to be that Impact Wrestling was the home of the over-booked finish but lately WWE is even worse. I’m not just talking about the ‘Autumn of Bryan’ but more and more Raw matches are receiving no clean finish. What have all those walk outs done for Fandango? Has he become more relevant and famous for being a coward? No. The writers just didn’t want anyone to look weak just in case they wanted to build someone up further down the line. The past three Daniel Bryan finishes at major PPV’s have gone from brilliant story-maker to refund seeking anger. Again, it’s all part of the story but ‘Hell in a Cell’ already looks in trouble of receiving terrible buy-rates hence the inclusion of Shawn Michaels in a ‘rescue plan’.
The first time I remember being really angry at the lack of a clean finish was Undertaker versus Kurt Angle on Smackdown in 2003. They were fighting for the WWE Championship and it was a great match. Back and forth and down and dirty. Brilliant wrestling and good spots throughout. Really, if you’ve not seen it, it is PPV quality and even found its way onto the ‘History of the Undertaker’ DVD set in the 2005 anthology. It’s that good. The ending however saw Brock Lesnar appear just after Angle had reversed a choke slam into an Ankle Lock before Taker escaped, choke-slamming Angle, giving him the Last Ride and then...Lesnar appeared with a chair and knocked out Taker and attacked Angle too. This was all after Vince McMahon had told Lesnar to release the beast and be like the monster of old...sound familiar?
A great match ‘spoiled’ by a run-in. Now, obviously, WWE are savvy enough not to give away a pure classic with a clean finish on free television. If they learnt anything from WCW it was that. I was angry but it was part of the arc of the story that eventually led to The American Bad Ass becoming The Deadman again. The match had been so good though that this sort of spoiling finish made me very angry. Imagine if Triple H ran down to the ring during Taker/Michaels II and pedigreed The Deadman giving his friend the win. That sort of angry. It had been such a beautifully crafted match that the two men deserved an ending. Again, I know, certainly with hindsight, that was never going to happen but still, at that moment I was really annoyed with the WWE far more than Lesnar.
These finishes go back through wrestling history with Ric Flair low-blows and Cowboy Bob Orton’s arm cast. It’s a way to win for the heel. The bad-guy. The villain. It came to prominence obviously during the Bret Hart/Shawn Michaels Montreal Screw-Job match. The fast-count. The recriminations. The angry crowd. What’s interesting though is that Hart was involved in a terribly booked match only a month later in the WCW. Hogan versus Sting at Starrcade ended with a fast count for Hogan and the inevitable win. Hart had been watching at ring-side, entered the ring and re-started the match with himself as referee. Sting gets Hogan in the Scorpion Deathlock and Hogan taps and everyone is happy. Really? Like hell. Every now and then professional wrestling likes to use elements from sports in its product (television replays, etc.). It’s rare, but they do. This was akin to a football (soccer) match finishing with a last minute goal being awarded and then a fan running onto the pitch, restarting the match and allowing two goals for their team in two minutes. Everyone’s happy, yes? No. We pay for that product and expect some intelligence. An unclean finish, for all the cheating and nefarious back-stabbing, still has to be intelligent or it’s pointless. Why should we care otherwise?
Also, these cheap re-start endings don’t help anyone, face or heel. We saw it at the Royal Rumble this year with The Rock defeating CM Punk after a re-start to the match. It could be argued that the re-start ending is only fair to the heroic character who has been cheated out of their win but, again with intelligence, why does this not happen after every ‘screw-job’ finish? Maybe we shouldn’t think of it like this because it’s a story with various endings but it genuinely feels like Creative can use this as a bat to beat us with because we can’t keep up with them but it’s cheap story-telling at its worst. If we watched a ‘Rocky’ film and the build-up had been beautifully told up until the final match where Rocky was about to win and then Clubber Lang bit Rocky’s ear off...then the credits roll we’d be angry and confused. Then, the next film moves onto Ivan Drago with no mention of ‘Rocky III’, we’d be a bit more angry. In fact, look at how it happens in real life...
Now, I know this was a ‘real’ sporting event but...people paid good money to see it both in the arena and on PPV. The lack of a finish really hurt the product and the sport of boxing. Really hurt it. Again, it’s a hard parallel between ‘sports’ and ‘sports entertainment’ but an ending is needed. If Randy Orton had walked out champion by cheating, it’s still an ending. Television is the place for ‘non-endings’ because it almost makes us want to continue watching. On an expensive PPV, it really feels cheap and lacking any creative nuance whatsoever.
So the unclean, or ‘dirty’, finish is a staple of the product, we all know that. The ending to television matches is obviously going to be different to PPV’s. We fork out cash for the latter however and deserve endings. Obviously, that won’t always happen because the feud, the story, has to continue but cheap endings are something we expect on Raw or Smackdown because it makes us want to see the villains get their comeuppance even more. The problem at the moment is that these cheap endings are infecting the product we pay for. The pedigree to Bryan for Orton’s win? A great way to start the ‘New Corporation/Authority’ story. The fast count? A debatable move but an obvious one. The ‘non-double count-out’? A step too far. That’s a lot of money to spend on PPV’s with no real clean finish. It almost makes Triple H restarting the six man tag on Raw this week as both a hand-shake and a slap in the face.
I’m going to put this out there. Now, I’m not a Cena-hater by any means. I feel he is good for the product and at the moment there is a gap developing where he should be but if Cena was involved in this feud and not Bryan, would we really have seen finishes like this? No. They wouldn’t want to damage his reputation. That’s the thing with the figure-head wrestlers, they will win clean and strong. What’s happening at the moment is that Orton and Bryan are slowly being dismantled by Creative to the point that low buy-rates and viewing figures can be nailed on them and not the poor writing. I simply think these cheap finishes would not have happened on Cena’s watch because Creative love the strong face character. It does leave me worrying where this leaves Bryan in the pecking order come Royal Rumble time though. Although online rumours, and that’s all they are, are whispering a Bryan win,, and the company determined to make Cena the strongest champion in their history, a three-time Rumble winner for this generation seems likely.
The cheap finish will always be with us and, when used well, is actually a good way to create anger and heat against a wrestler or faction. What’s happening at the moment is that the anger is at the product and the writers, and rightly so. Clean finishes for the hero are something that is earned, obviously. The ‘unclean’ finishes though need an air of believability and intelligence. I can’t believe the villain thought of that! It is a fine line, I know, but they should be used so carefully because otherwise all we’ll have is Fandango walking to the back in an empty arena, and who’d be there to sing his entrance music then?
Please follow me on twitter @HughFirth or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org All constructive criticism is appreciated.
Ta ta for now and hopefully see you next week.