5 Things We're Begging to See Changed in Pro Wrestling
I've followed pro wrestling forever. I cut my writing teeth on years of wrestling satire under the most nonsensical pen name ever. I trained to wrestle and got so good at it I now referee two -- sometimes three -- shows a year. Cracked runs a wrestling article? Chances are I'm involved in one form or 10.
So when I say wrestling is so fucked, I mean it. No industry loses hundreds of millions of dollars in one day without major issues. One of the biggest is that, for a show that's planned ahead of time, the people in charge of planning it absolutely suck at their jobs. For the past decade-plus, pro wrestling writers have made their product seem stupid, shallow, confusing, sub-juvenile, and horrifically, blatantly fake. And it'll stay that way until they fix problems like ...
They've Rendered Championships Completely Meaningless
While dramatic, heated rivalries are always entertaining and welcome, the main focus of a wrestling show should always be the wrestlers striving for, winning, and defending championships. Used to be, the people writing the shows made damn sure being champion was sold as a huge deal. They were a badge of honor, evidence the wrestler was among the very best in their industry. Also, winning one meant gobs of money, since wrestling is a job and wrestlers don't work for free.
Five bucks to sloppily bump around an old VFW, sure. But not FREE.
This hasn't happened in roughly forever, and the product looks stupider for it. Look, just because wrestling championships are handed out by committee doesn't mean the people writing the shows should act like they are. Vince Russo, a writer during the WWEFGHIJK's '90s boom, openly referred to and treated championships as meaningless props that exist only to drive storylines. Unfortunately, the only worthwhile story he could dream up was "oily man hangs shiny buckle above dick, is pleased with the shiny."
Or, in some sad cases, is pleased with the spinny.
This attitude has sadly both survived and thrived to the point where being champion now means nothing. World champions are often secondary stars unless the one guy the company likes best holds the belt. Secondary champions are booked as losers who blow 90 percent of their matches (conveniently, 90 percent of their matches are non-title, like how the Super Bowl counts only once a decade). And, perhaps worst of all, becoming champ is painted as a regular part of the workday, no more important than bathing in baby oil and pouring a big bowl of painkillers for breakfast. It turns the typical wrestler into a slacking cubicle dweller with no interest in promotions, bonuses, raises, or Employee of the Period of Time awards.
"You can keep your 'incentives.' I'll just clack copy all day, go home, watch Jeopardy,
and never guess the questions."
Wrestler has nothing to do? Writers can't think of anything interesting? Belt 'em! That'll shut 'em up for a few weeks. Or worse, just slap a belt on whothefuckever (such as Hornswoggle, my beautiful banner model) because somebody thought it'd be funny. You know what else is funny? That belt doesn't exist anymore. Giving it to him was such a putrid idea, WWE completely abandoned the title mere weeks later.
Furthermore, when somebody loses their belt, the switch needs actual buildup, and to be treated as a planet-shattering development. In 1988, Hulk Hogan lost the world title to Andre the Giant after four years on top and over a year of feuding with the big drunk. The switch, and its ensuing controversy, was the top story for months. In 2013, CM Punk dropped the same title to John "the Dwayne" Rockson after 434 days -- the longest reign since Hogan's -- and it happened simply because the Rock showed up one night and literally said, "I'm the Rock and I've had one match in eight years, but I get a title shot because I'm the Rock. And I'm a movie star."
Brahma Bull gives you wings.
The actual title change was a near-complete afterthought, immediately overshadowed by "movie star." A movie star who left two months later to make more movies.
They Write Terrible Dialogue and Force It Upon the Wrestlers
Here's a dirty little secret today's wrestling writers probably didn't brag about over Thanksgiving dinner -- 95 percent of their "writing" is awful dialogue and is 100 percent unnecessary.
That's one page of a real Monday Night Raw script -- note its extreme wordiness and despair. The ideal wrestling script focuses on character development, conflicts, storyline progression, and who fucking wins the matches. Not "say these words and try not to sound like preschoolers stumbling through Shakespeare."
The problem is, many wrestling writers once worked on soap operas, reality TV, terrible movies -- in short, not wrestling. Thus, they look at sweaty grapplers as just another set of actors -- which they are, just not the kind Mr. and Mrs. Fired-From-Days-of-Our-Lives want. In their world, if Seinfeld can deliver a gut-busting Junior Mints joke, and if Bryan Cranston can orate an intensely dramatic monologue about drug life, why couldn't Roman Reigns do the same?
"I just figured my smoldering glare and Fabio hair would be all the delivery I needed."
It's because Roman Reigns, like most wrestlers, is not trained to memorize dialogue and recite it believably (to the point where he's now taking acting courses to learn how to growl effectively). That's why, whenever they try, it sounds wooden, forced, and fake. And who outside of robot-wielding space janitors wants to watch any of those things?
Wrestling writing works only when the dialogue goes. Write the basic story, and let the wrestlers act it out in their own way. Their language might be raw, they might stumble over words, and half of it might make zero goddamn sense, but I guarantee audiences will take that over smooth, organized, perfectly enunciated pseudo-rage anytime.
"I wish to alert you, inferior opponent of mine, that you are to lose tonight to myself. If this bothers you, I suggest
finding a way to deal with it, as your defeat is surely inevitable. Snort."
Roddy Piper is one of the greatest talkers ever, and half his shit was pure gibberish. Hulk Hogan's speeches were 80 percent DUDE BROTHER BRAH, 10 percent catchphrases, and 10 percent rambling about food chains and the multiverse, and he revolutionized the damn industry. And today, Bray Wyatt -- a Deep South cult leader character who might literally be a demon -- drafts his own rambling, cryptic, nonsensical speeches every week. And they're awesome. If some failed Amazing Race scribe gave Bray pre-prepared Brayish lines to spit, his character would die out quicker than the residents of Jonestown.
There'd be so many sheep puns, fans would beg concession stands to serve them cyanide Kool-Aid.
Imagine every wrestler with the freedom to do that (Bray's one of the few allowed to). A whole roster making their characters work their own way, driving storylines with their own words and actions, would be far more real (and far less painful) than watching them struggle to remember exactly what some wannabe penman said they're supposed to say to the guy they hate with a burning, frothing passion.
They Have No Idea How Basic Storytelling Works
Now, let's pretend these writers actually listen to me (someone has to eventually) and immediately cease scripting dialogue. There are still a few categories that need massive improvement -- namely, all of them.
They simply have no idea how to craft a basic story. Half the new characters they create start nowhere, go nowhere, and stay nowhere, much like how Gollum nonchalantly called the One Ring "pretty" once and then sulked in the background until it came time to burn in Mount Doom. Established wrestlers change personalities constantly and without warning, rarely with any explanation beyond, "I don't have to explain anything to you people!"
"Hey, what if we broke up one of the coolest, most popular, and most successful groups in years?"
"Why the fuck would we do that?"
"... my God, you're a genius."
Women have it even worse (finally, reality in wrestling). Rare is the lady who gets any character beyond "mean girl," "happy girl," or "slutty girl," switching between the three even more rapidly and inexplicably than the men do.
Sometimes, while stretching their creativity to its absolute maximum, they script "crazy girl."
And storyline continuity is more extinct than the goddamn mammoth. Characters have their pasts retconned, rebooted, and outright ignored more than superheroes do, because the story that week is more important than bullshit from years, months, weeks, or days ago.
Last week, they hated each other. In two weeks, they'll hate each other again. But tonight? Magic.
The list of storylines and angles that bad writers started and then abandoned the second they lost interest is longer and more depressing than anything BuzzFeed could ever hope to publish. Imagine if I, totally out of the blue, just ended this column halfway through and started up on a completely unrelated ...
... subject. How hackish would that be? But that's standard operating procedure in the rasslin' world. If as a writer you insist on telling good, compelling stories (and actually finishing them), you'll likely find yourself meekly crawling back to the soap opera world within weeks.
They Hold Back Anyone Who Gets Too Popular Without Being Scripted to Do So
Occasionally, a wrestler will become popular -- sometimes massively so -- not because the company wanted them to but because the fans did.
No, Stockholm Syndrome in jorts doesn't count.
But if lazy writers don't feel like editing their scripts to accommodate this shift in the Force, fans and wrestlers alike are left blue-balled and pissed off. Just ask Zack Ryder, a hybrid Jersey Shore bro and Internet-loving everydork who made himself massively popular via social media and YouTube. Despite being a nobody who rarely made TV, he became an absolute sensation -- millions of Twitter followers, legitimate mainstream coverage, and tons of merchandise sales. He could have easily been the industry's next big crossover star.
Just as long as he didn't tell the IRS to suck it, like the real Situation.
But his writers, who had no interest in changing their non-Zacky plans, quickly deflated his popularity balloon via countless losses, multiple humiliations by multiple wrestlers, and virtually zero microphone time (not a good thing when much of your shtick is talking). He is currently on TV about as much as I am.
This is not how you deal with somebody's unexpected popularity. Fans went crazy for Hulk Hogan without any company telling them to. The WWF, instead of ignoring it, quickly wrote him in as champion and positioned him as their sweaty novel's main character. This sudden gear-changing led to millions of dollars and WWF becoming a legitimate mainstream phenomenon.
Brad Garrett's gift for terrible impersonation is reserved for only the very best.
Stone Cold Steve Austin, once sentenced to obscurity as the generic Ringmaster, used his attitude and charisma to win over everybody. The WWF writers responded by changing their not-him-centric plans, allowing him to revolutionize wrestling and make it cool for the first time in years.
Though if he'd worn a top hat and managed a lion-tamer, he'd have made at least triple the money.
And Rock "The Vote" Dwayneson's original, happy-go-lucky incarnation -- Rocky "My Family Is Wrestlers" Maivia -- couldn't have been more despised if he grew a Hitler mustache and ate live puppies in the ring. Once he upped the arrogance and invented a new catchphrase every week, fans exploded in appreciation. WWF ran with it, he made them millions of dollars, and now Hollywood makes him millions of dollars.
He can finally afford to buy all the streamers and gold-painted feathers his heart desires.
If writers dropped the ball with any of these guys like they did with Ryder and many others, the entire industry would have crumbled. Think I'm exaggerating? Hulk Hogan's original company, the AWA, refused to make him champion because they preferred old, tired, less interesting grapplers. The AWA is not around anymore.
But the frozen turkey awarded to the winner of its last match will live on forever.
Meanwhile, in WCW, Bill Goldberg was white-hot, instantly winning over fans with his power, intensity, and thankful lack of a wacky yarmulke. WCW briefly ran with him before killing his momentum with loss after loss and terrible story after terrible story because they decided to rely on old, tired, less interesting grapplers instead. WCW is not around anymore.
The Worst Writer of All Is the Most Powerful Man in Wrestling
Even if other wrestling writers wake up and start scripting their shows like actual fucking writers, it won't make a lick of difference until the shittiest scribe of them all -- WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon -- fucks off for good.
Where he once was a genius, McMahon's lack of competition -- not to mention his penchant for bleeding too much, sleeping too little, and absorbing the steroids he confiscates from his talent -- has devolved him into a crazy, unmotivated old man who has completely forgotten how to write a wrestling show, but who thinks he's as lucid and whip-smart as ever.
D'awwww, he thinks he's wrestlers.
McMahon's current favorite activity is to grab a script and rewrite the shit out of it -- sometimes last-minute, because who needs preparation when performing live for millions? Of course, since McMahon has no editor, what he says goes. And what goes is often confusing, disjointed, shamefully boring, shamefully unfunny, and just plain shameful.
"No, see, they're laughing with you, not turning off the TV in disgust and swearing off wrestling forever at you."
Part of the problem is that, like many an old fuddy-duddy, McMahon is stubbornly set in his ways. John Cena makes him money, so nobody else can. He likes Randy Orton's look and cool skull tattoos, so Orton never goes away, no matter how many fans he bores or how many rules he breaks. And if he doesn't understand a character, he kills it dead, even if other people like it. Just ask Bo Dallas, whose "insincere and delusional motivational speaker" character skidded to a screeching halt the second McMahon decided it was confusing. Because no condescending heel ever saw success by pretending to be an inspiring role model. Or how about the guy whose Jack Sparrow gimmick got axed because McMahon hadn't seen Pirates of the Caribbean and simply assumed no one else had either?
His follow-up Elizabeth Swann gimmick was, sadly, even less successful.
McMahon's bullshit doesn't just affect WWE. Viewers see what the owner of the only major promotion around (no, Death of WCW Part II doesn't count) pulls on the daily, and they associate it with the entire industry. That's not a good thing, as indicated by dwindling ratings and lack of fan interest in paying $10 a month to watch shows freeze on their computers. And the sooner he realizes this, hires writers who know what they're doing, and lets them do their job while leaving his wackadoo melon out of it, the sooner wrestling can get back to reeking of awesomeness.
For more from Jason, check out 5 Moments in Fake Professional Wrestling That Got Too Real. And then check out 13 Accidentally Hilarious Onscreen Moments by Famous Actors.
Help Chris save pro wrestling. Or at least help our traffic: click the Facebook 'share' button below.