EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Thursday columnist.
Thursday, September 3, 1998
What makes wrestling great
It made for some interesting thinking. Wrestling is now grosses hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business each year here in North America, an astounding figure. So what's the key to its success? Does it lie in the roots of wresting, in the superb technical ability of the athletes? Is it their athleticism itself? Is it their charisma? Is it the booking, the behind the scenes brain-storming? Is it the huge mammoths or the high-flying luchadores?
Nope, that's all bull. Want to know what the key to wrestling is? Well, I'll tell you.
Actually, no I won't. In the interest of keeping consistent with the wrestling programming I cover, I'll save the best for last, so that you'll tune in until the very end. No, instead, I will tell you what isn't the key to wrestling.
The first thing I know isn't responsible for wrestling's success is the insider community. No offense to those reading this out there -- as I am obviously a part of this community as well, and I definitely support it -- but I think there are some people who maintain web sites (usually personal ones) who believe they influence the sport a lot more than they do. At the very least, SLAM! Wrestling, one of the larger and more reputable ones, and certainly one of the best, has no impressions (or at least I don't) that it guides the forces at Titan and Turner to choose storylines or wrestlers. I think that misconception has led to a lot of egos, and inevitably, a lot of ego-bursting. That's what leads the biggest egos, such as Mark Madden and more recently, Ross Marshall, to make statements that basically piss everybody off, myself included. I do find it interesting, though, that Mark Madden, the self-proclaimed "only real journalist of wrestling," was declared, by a court of law, to not be a journalist. How's that for biting irony?
A second thing that I know isn't the reason wrestling is so popular is the pyrotechnics. By that, I mean all the technical mumbo-jumbo which gives wrestling that grand look. My case in point: Glacier. Special effects can enhance a performance, but it can't make one.
Another thing I know not to be the cause of wrestling's success is the booking. I'm sure that more than a few people will disagree with me on this one. I know that booking must seem like the core of wrestling, itself, but I do have one strong argument opposing that. If booking were so important to wrestling, why wouldn't it be much more consistent? In baseball, obviously, technical skill is what's important. As a result, that's what players practice. In football, for a large portion of the team, physical mass and strength are important. So they're built on. Baseball and football coaches know how to reproduce what they do, consistently. Wrestling bookers do not. Why is that? This is the key to this entire piece. I'll elaborate at the end.
The last thing I know not to be responsible for propelling wrestling to the forefront of sports entertainment today is, well, the wrestling. I stand behind this statement.
In the seventies and earlier, wrestling was exactly what it sounds like: it was wrestling. Probably closest to the carnival wrestling we know. Sort of technical wrestling, but not the kind of submission specialist wrestling we now call 'technical wrestling.' You know, that style that Jim Ross often mentions that sounds like a medical scan you would undergo in Texas (Texas CATscan). In the eighties, wrestling 'evolved' into what is commonly referred to as Rock 'n' Wrestling, fittingly. In the nineties, I think I can safely say that Paul Heyman has set many of the trends, and whoever really came up with the nWo set the rest. Regardless, wrestling is in constant evolution. The wrestling, itself, isn't a draw, or, like baseball, it would have remained more or less static.
No, the key to wrestling isn't the insider community, it isn't the pyrotechnics, it isn't the booking, and it isn't even the wrestling, itself. The key to the success of wrestling, right now and since its earliest beginnings, is the fickle whim of the fans.
The one thing I can safely say about the wrestling business without fear of being wrong is that all promoters, especially the big ones, keep their ears to the ground and listen to the rumblings of the people who fill their bank accounts. More than maybe any other industry I can think of, wrestling is extremely quick to change its ways to fit consumer demand. Want big, tough guys? You got them. Want good technical wrestling? They'll give us three hours of it every week. Want to hear funny guys talk? They'll fill up their television time with that, instead. Want some high-flying action? They'll go down to Mexico, and over to Japan, and buy it for you. Want merchandise? No problem there. Wait, you don't want big, though guys anymore? You want gimmicks and violence and extreme action and profanity and big-breasted women. Oh hell yeah, you got that, too. I'm Judge Eric, and that's the Truth.
From the over-flowing SLAM! mailbag:
Michael Arnett, from email@example.com, writes:
*Wouldn't having Bart join DX not only provide him with much deserved ample opportunity to be the straight man (Chyna aside) amongst a bunch of "Jerk Offs", but also give closure to the Billy/Bart saga? Hmmmm.
Some interesting observations, Michael. Having Bart join DX would definitely give him some exposure, but I disagree with everything else you wrote. The very reason that DX is so successful is that they have no internal straight man. The rest of the organization is their straight man. Whether its beating up on Kaientai or bothering some officials, the fact that DX is so unsupervised from within is what makes them fun. And as for giving 'closure' to the Brothers Gunn saga, you're definitely wrong. The only closure known to wrestling brothers is complete and total separation. Whenever they're rejoined, that's merely another opportunity for them to split up.
Karl Reid, from firstname.lastname@example.org, writes:
*I read two articles of yours, at SLAM! & wrestlemaniacs, & you put down Shamrock in both? Why? You said you met him, & you didn't like his attitude or something. What was he like? I think the guy is pretty good. Not a great wrestler & stupid on RAW with his "psycho" act, but he can pull off some pretty good stuff. His hurricana is good, considering he's UFC & well, the ankle lock is a good move too. I'd rather see Shamrock fight than some other trash in WWF they say are talented. He's a better wrestle than many guys. Like Severn (who really sucks, all his moves look fake), D-Lo (I hate him. He has no gimmick, & struts around & sticks out his tongue.), & Blackman. Steve is a real piece of trash, & should go back to training martial arts again.
Well, Karl, I'm glad you asked that question. Let me first say that I think that Ken Shamrock is a tremendous athlete. I've met him in person before, and he is not someone I would ever mess with, UFC experience or otherwise. He's just a mean-looking guy. To boot, he's not too fond of children so to speak. While none of this gives me a particularly good opinion of Mr. Shamrock, the fact that the WWF has given him the persona of (in my opinion) the undefeatable, unlikeable face has made me baptise him "Golden Boy," a name I will continue to use. I'll go into more detail about Mr. Shamrock in a later column. As for the rest of what you wrote: his hurricanrana is stiffer than Sable's, and I find that Severn's character is at least interesting. I agree with you about Blackman. I don't like him at all. But he's so boring that I don't dislike him, either.
D-Lo is the man, though. Don't ever knock him.
That's all, folks. Thanks for tuning in this week. As always, if you want something addressed, send it to me - if a given topic is popular, I'll devote next week's column to it. I only want to write what you want to read about. I certainly won't guarantee opinions you'll like though. Send all the mail you can get your hands on to email@example.com - unless it's a gripe. Send those to firstname.lastname@example.org.