A week ago, I downloaded and listened to Colt Cabana’s newest Art of Wrestling podcast. If you aren’t familiar with the weekly broadcast, do yourself a favor and head over to welovecolt.com right now. Cabana, an indie darling and best friend of WWE Champion CM Punk, interviews a different wrestler each week. Most wrestlers featured are currently working the independent circuit (with the vast majority being involved in ROH), but every once in a while a WWE superstar will make an appearance. Last week was one of those rare occurrences, when Dolph Ziggler joined Cabana in his studio (apartment). <!--more-->It isn’t a secret that Dolph Ziggler is one of my favorite performers in all of wrestling right now. In fact, outside of the aforementioned CM Punk, and possibly Chris Jericho, Dolph Ziggler is my absolute favorite. The guy is crazy talented, he has freak-like athleticism, and he’s improved his only weakness - his promo skills. Ziggler is a star on the rise, and it’s only a matter of time before he stands atop the WWE roster. I was excited to hear him give an honest interview about how he became involved in professional wrestling, and I wasn’t disappointed. Again, check it out if you haven’t already.After the interview, during Colt Cabana’s sign-off, he said something I found really interesting. He called Dolph Ziggler possibly the greatest talent to ever come out of WWE developmental. It was a bold statement for sure, but after sitting back and thinking about it, it’s a difficult opinion to argue against.Modern professional wrestling is completely different than it was just a decade ago. The territory days are long gone. Because of the WWE’s relative monopoly on the industry (sorry TNA, you’re just not strong competition) young talent looking to break into the squared-circle seemingly have just two directions to go in: spend time on the independent circuit, or get lucky enough to sign a developmental contract with WWE.Again, if you take time to step back and look at the bigger picture, you’ll notice that there are some large differences between independent wrestlers, and their developmental counterparts. It begs the question: which route produces the better performers? It’s easy to point to a few wrestlers and make an argument for either route - CM Punk and Daniel Bryan were indie heroes before they ascended the ranks in WWE, and Randy Orton and Dolph Ziggler continue to be two of the best workers in the industry at the moment. Let’s dive a little deeper into the differences between developmental and independent experience.
In concept, WWE developmental isn’t all that different from an independent wrestling promotion. The WWE signs an individual they believe has the potential to have a future in professional wrestling, and then sends that individual to hone is or her skills in a minor league system of sorts. Many fans are familiar with the FCW (Florida Championship Wrestling) - WWE’s primary developmental territorial organization. The organization operates like an independent promotion, yet its stars are subject to being called up to the WWE at any time.[caption id="attachment_5331" align="aligncenter" width="443" caption="Is Ziggler the best to ever come out of WWE developmental?"]
[/caption]Unlike independent wrestling promotions, WWE developmental is filled with talent that may or may not have their hearts fully in wrestling. Because WWE is able to recruit whomever they’d like, many times they’ll search for performers who have a certain look rather than a set of skills and experience. A lot of fans will point to bodybuilders being a prime example of this type of recruitment, but I’d argue that the practice is far more prevalent in developing the Divas division. Outside of a few standout performers, the Divas division has become riddled with models-turned professional wrestlers.The problem with signing bodybuilders, models, or actors to developmental contracts is that they may lack a passion for the industry. The greatest performers professional wrestling has ever seen all began as fans. Because they had a passion for the industry before beginning their in-ring careers, they possessed a greater understanding of what does and doesn’t work in wrestling. From character traits to ring psychology, certain aspects of the industry can’t simply be taught to just anyone. Furthermore, a model or actor turned sports entertainer has far less motivation to excel at his or her craft because they may only be using wrestling as a stepping stone to another form of entertainment.
It’s easy to assume that superstars from the indies are more ready to shine in the WWE than those in developmental simply because of who the two main title holders are in the WWE right now. CM Punk and Daniel Bryan are perfect examples of performers who cut their teeth in independent promotions before achieving success at the national level. Both Punk and Bryan established themselves as top workers in ROH, and now, years later, they can rightfully claim that they’re the top workers in all of the industry. Of course, Punk and Bryan may be exceptions rather than the rule.[caption id="attachment_5332" align="aligncenter" width="422" caption="Does Daniel Bryan prove that indie performers are better prepred to succeed in WWE?"]
[/caption]Wrestlers who work their way through the indies typically aren’t of the model or actor variety. Because of the amount of work required to work one’s way through the ranks and achieve success, the indies are comprised of hardworking, passionate wrestlers who may normally be overlooked by the WWE. If you look at CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, and even Austin Aries (TNA’s X-Division Champion), they all stand a bit short in comparison to the usual body type we see associated with professional wrestling. Independent wrestling offers deserving talent a second look. They’re not guaranteed success, but the opportunity is there.Of course, one area in which independent can’t compare to WWE developmental is direction. Independent wrestlers are forced to curtail their styles based on the promotion they’re performing in. Some promotions may encourage technical wrestling, some may stress hardcore, etc... In the FCW, talent is taught the WWE style, often by legendary trainers and mentors. This better readies talent for when they eventually get called up to Raw or Smackdown.Yet, because they possess the passion required to improve their craft, indie performers can quickly adjust to a new style and excel. I think that’s the real key - passion for wrestling. Ultimately, not all independent talent loves the industry, just as not all developmental talent are models or actors. What determines success is the drive to excel in professional wrestling. Usually that drive occurs in those who grew up as fans. Dolph Ziggler was just as much of a fan as CM Punk was, yet they took very different routes in their careers. Yet here they are, on top in the WWE, and they work well together.-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Thoughts and opinions? Share them with me!Email: firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter: @thjbriggsBlog: thjbriggs.tumblr.com
Thanks for reading this week's Sunday Sharpshooter. What kind of experience do you find more valuable - independent or developmental? Hit me up in the comments with your thoughts. I also wanted to apologize to everyone for missing this Thursday's Headlines. I took a trip to northern California as a mini-vacation, and was unable to get it in. It's actually the first time I missed a deadline for The John Report, and I hate that. Even if you don't like my brand of humor, I promise you Thursday Headlines will be back as usual this week.