Do you ever feel, as a wrestling fan, that you lead a bit of a double life? To the casual observer, I probably appear to be a sane participant in everyday society. I’m not saying that wrestling fans all walk around looking insane. But the same casual observer might consider it odd that sometimes (I’m lying: often) I pretend, in my head, that I work for the WWE.
If you are reading this column, I’m going to assume that you’re on board with this form of escape. I know John Canton dreams of booking chubby wrestlers with a dancing gimmick while the money rolls in. As a kid, I dreamed of being a wrestling manager (not a valet, which to me did not mean “female version of a manager” as much as “escort to the ring who does not get to do anything worthwhile or cool”). As an adult, my mind no longer drifts towards the idea of being on camera, but rather working behind the curtain, in the trenches.
Here is one idea for a project that I would undertake as a member of the WWE team. “Master Class” would be a series of wrestling workshops taught by former wrestlers. Now I realize that much of the WWE is run by former wrestlers, and that experience gets handed down on a nightly basis. But if you’re a WWE Superstar - hey maybe that’s what you pretend in your head - do you ever get tired of listening to Arn Anderson and Michael Hayes giving you advice? Wouldn’t you love to have a day in the ring with a guy who is immune to backstage politics?
In my Master Class, the instructors must be realistic. As much as I’d love to see Randy Savage cutting a promo on R-Truth (while standing on the top rope looking down at him all finger-pointy and constipated-voice, because even though Mr. Savage agreed to come and be a teacher, he cannot abide by the garbage he just saw R-Truth call wrestling), my brain has a governor on it that won’t let me book the departed.
Second, these classes would be serious, and not videotaped for reality TV or any public consumption. They wouldn’t be like Tough Enough or the “competitive” version of NXT. This is a sincere initiative to teach wrestling.
Third, these workshops would take place in a theoretical bubble that is not affected by storylines (so for example, we would not send Antonio Cesaro to a Goldberg clinic on How To Win All The Time, because we know Cesaro should really be winning all the time). Let’s go to school!
Professor Shawn Michaels
The Heartbreak Kid is going to teach you how to have a long match. Think about some of my most memorable matches: many of them go for more than 20 minutes, which is considered epic by today’s standards. How did I make them compelling?
One trick is to vary the pace of the match. Not only does this allow your heart rate to recover for the high spots, but it also helps to regulate the audience’s energy level. The fans need to be conditioned to watch a long match, and they won’t appreciate the big moments unless there is an appropriate build to each of them.
You should also mix it up in terms of action. If you don’t have an amateur wrestling background, then learn how to grapple a bit. You’ve been given precious time to show the fans what you can do. And if you’re normally not a high flyer, go up just once. Even if people end up calling it a Cenacanrana, you’ve got them talking about it. Anyone can smash the Spanish Announce Table, so why not “accidentally” take out the timekeeper instead? And THEN you smash the Spanish Announce Table!
Wrestling fans love to feel like they have a connection with their favourites. Showing a bit of personality during your match will engage people. When I was about to jump off a ridiculous ladder onto Vince McMahon at Wrestlemania 21, I let the fans in on how I was feeling by the expression on my face: “What the hell am I about to do? Well, I am in this now!” It only lasted a second or two, but I made a connection. Every crotch chop counts.
Next, know how to sell. If your opponent just spent five minutes working on your knee, make sure the guy sitting in section 318 knows you are in pain. No, don’t sell it like an idiot, but give the fans cause for concern. When you finally get an opportunity to make a comeback, everyone will cheer that much more if it seems a genuine struggle. And it’s okay to fake it in small doses, or to tease that Superkick a few times. Then the real deal delivers a big payoff.
Long matches give you the opportunity to tell a story, so that by the end, the fans are on their feet. I’d like to thank each and every one of you for joining me here today.
Professor Steve Austin
Stone Cold is going to teach you how to be your gimmick in all that you do. In my case, I built a well-rounded caricature of my true self: a bionic redneck.
As a bionic redneck, I wrestled tough. I was always scrappy in the ring, a brawler that got fans fired up because my temper was infectious. I could never land a drop kick or even a Cenacanrana. Did anyone miss it? Not as long as I was entertaining them in my own way. The Stone Cold way meant withstanding a lot of punishment, and fighting my way back. I liked to get down on the mat and wear people down with holds. I liked to strike.
In all the ways that I moved, I embodied that redneck gimmick. I loved to stomp on people, give them the finger, then enjoy a few beers. I carried myself like a half-cocked, fearless rebel. I always knew where I was going, I just didn’t care how graceful I looked getting there (that’s part of my bionic charm). I was all about results, be it pranks on Vince McMahon, or a feud against wrestlers with more finesse than me.
You’ve got to do your promos the same way. I didn’t need to use $20 words when a 10-cent word worked just fine, which is precisely why so many Stone Cold-isms persist to this day. I got lucky, but you won’t stand a chance unless you really flesh out your gimmick. Have you ever heard the story about how Vince wanted to make me a pirate? Well I would have been the best damn pirate I could be, but this story would have had a different ending.
Now let’s see who we’ve got here in class…
R-Truth: “Let me get this straight. Your deal is that you speak the truth, but you have an invisible sidekick named Little Jimmy. This does not make a lick of sense.”
John Cena: “Alright son, you got the look of a muscle-bound frat boy who can lift weights and talk smack, the kids love you, but you can’t wrestle worth a crap…yeah you’re good. Put this man’s face on everything.”
Dolph Ziggler: “Well aren’t you a snazzy piece of work. You look, act, and wrestle like a brash sumbitch. I like how you bounce, kid.”
Antonio Cesaro: “You’ve got a good look, you’ve got that European flavor working for you. Your wrestling is strong and confident, I like it. Son, you are the real deal, but that yodelling is like a coyote in heat.”
Cody Rhodes: “You are a wrestler with a mustache. Next!”
3MB: “Have I had too many Steveweisers? I don’t know what the hell is going on here.”
Bella Twins: “So your gimmick is that you’re twins, but you don’t *quite* look alike…nah forget it, I can’t do this.”
The Rated R Superstar is going to teach you how to accentuate your strengths. I was never the best wrestler, but I held a lot of titles and had a lot of fans. My strengths were two-fold, and I used these to great advantage.
First, my story. Not everyone will be so lucky as to have my story, but everyone has a story to tell. You all know about me sitting ringside as a boy at Wrestlemania, my Hulkamania shirt hanging off my gangly frame. You play that clip right before I go out to headline Wrestlemania, and that’s a strength. I often used my relationship with my real-life buddy Christian as well; whether we were goofing off as tag team brothers or battling one another, we had you hooked. Why? Because we took something real, and played it up. You work with what you’ve got!
I’m a pretty easygoing guy. Some may say I’m a bit of a dork. You’ve got to relax on the mic and let the audience see YOU – even though you’re working from a script. If you need to have a serious moment, maybe get some sympathy, you come to the ring in jeans and a t-shirt. Here’s the Rated R Superstar uncloaked, baring his soul, being a bit vulnerable.
But when I put that cloak back on, and it’s showtime, everything about Edge reeks of awesomeness. I’m not going to be wrestling a technical classic, but I’m going to put on a show. When my music hits, I carry that attitude into the ring. Here’s the second strength that I used to my advantage: my style of wrestling. You don’t get a forced retirement at my age by making safe choices. Suplexes, somersaults, powerbombs. Not the wisest decision for someone who values his vertebrae, but I made showmanship my strength.
I was the benefactor of The Attitude Era, when my willingness to spear someone from the top of a ladder was an acceptable way to stake my claim. It raised the standard for how everyone was expected to conduct themselves in the ring, and it’s something that all wrestlers have to think about. How will you make your mark? What can you be great at?
As good as I was at striking a pose for the benefit of those with flash photography, I was even better at this Rated R business. Not everyone can be Ricky Steamboat – sooner or later, we all turn heel. And when that happens, you have to commit to it. Do you remember when John Cena had to kiss A.J. and it looked like he was being made to tongue a turkey carcass? And now you see how Dolph Ziggler applies himself to the same task with much greater zeal? Which of these guys is clawing his way to the top, and which one is complacently there already? John Cena should never try another hurricanrana, nor should he ever be in a romantic storyline. Class dismissed.
If there is further interest, we may conduct future workshops on the following:
- Professor Dwayne Johnson will teach us how to use social media
- Professor Bret Hart will teach us about storytelling in the ring
- Professor Jeff Hardy will teach us how to invest stock in your audience
- Professor Ricky Steamboat will teach us how to be a babyface
And maybe, just maybe, we could get Professor Randy Savage to deliver a correspondence course from the big white wrestling ring in the sky. Dig it!