Above all else in wrestling, one of the most important things is to connect with your audience. If the fans don’t care about you, there’s very little you can do in the ring to make up for it. They might be having better matches, but without something more than just the in ring work, they’re eventually going to be surpassed. This has almost always been a problem in wrestling, but lately some steps have been taken to fix it, at least temporarily. Today we’re taking a look at some of these things and why they’re important.
To begin with, let’s look at the prime example of someone the fans cared about: Hulk Hogan. If there has ever definitively been a bigger star in wrestling, I haven’t seen him. Why was Hogan such a big deal though? It wasn’t due to his wrestling, even though he was capable of having good matches and, at least in the glory days, he rarely if ever botched anything (think back for a second. When did Hogan, before he went to WCW at least, ever screw up anything big in the ring?).
At the same time though, he was surrounded by people like Ricky Steamboat, Greg Valentine, Tito Santana and Jake Roberts, most of whom could have higher quality matches in their sleep. Why aren’t they bigger stars than Hogan? Simply put, because Hogan had more charisma than anyone else on the planet. He could make people care about him no matter what he did and the fans were going to cheer him on until the bitter end.
There’s more to it than that though. In addition to the charisma, Hogan was very clear about what he was doing and why he was doing it. You knew everything you needed to know about him as soon as he had been speaking for a few seconds. Whether it was the latest EVIL foreigner trying to take the WWF Title from him or Bobby Heenan/Slick/Jimmy Hart’s latest protege trying to take the WWF Title from him or the latest monster that had crushed him recently trying to take the WWF Title from him, Hogan would get his point across quickly.
This brings us back to the modern WWE. Far too often, you’ll see a match happening for no other reason than the script says so. Characters often lack motivation or a logical reason for what they’re doing. We also barely ever get to hear from them to know what they’re thinking and why they’re taking this course of action. There are of course exceptions to this, such as John Cena fighting for American pride against Rusev, Brock Lesnar destroying people because that’s what he does (in addition to eating, sleeping and repeating) and Dolph Ziggler showing off, but far too often there’s not much of a logical motivation for the angles.
Consider the returning Sheamus. For months, if not years, Sheamus wasn’t the most popular guy on the roster. He could have good matches more often than not (he gave Big Show his best matches in years in 2012) and was a solid power brawler, but there was no depth to him. Sheamus basically just went along and did whatever he was doing at the moment without anything ever really changing. Yeah he loved to fight, but that was almost the entirety of his personality. I’m a big fan of Sheamus but I was getting bored with him too.
Then he came back with a new (stupid) look and freshly turned heel. Not very long after he returned, he explained his actions: he didn’t like having the company focusing on small guys that weren’t real men. While I question the idea of repeating Batista’s character when he returned last year, I love the idea that he has a motivation for what he’s doing. Sheamus is, simply put, a bully who picks on people smaller than him.
That’s a character that you can sum up in one line but it’s already more than what he had for years. I know why Sheamus is doing what he’s doing and have a reason to not like him. It also gives him a series of natural feuds and a spot to grow from. All this is happening because WWE gave him two minutes to explain his actions to us.
One more thing to notice here: there’s a difference between figuring out what someone is doing and telling us what they’re doing. It wouldn’t be hard to figure Sheamus’ new character if he never gave us that speech, but in doing so, it erases any doubts and makes it a better told story. All this from a two minute promo which confirmed something we could have figured out on our own. It’s something so simple but makes things so much easier.
Another good example at the moment is the Prime Time Players. These guys were just another tag team for most of their run with some decent matches here and there, but really just average more often than not. They had an amusing bit with the Millions of Dollars dance, but other than that, what did they have that other teams didn’t do just as well if not better? Even once they reunited, they still didn’t show anything unique.
That changed over the last few weeks, as they’ve started mocking the other teams in the division. Much like with Sheamus, it’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s something fresh for them and the division as a whole. There’s always a place for someone to make fun of the cartoon world of wrestling and now it’s the Prime Time Players taking that spot.
I’m not saying this is going to turn them into the next Dudley Boys or Steiner Brothers, but it gives me something to care about with them and actually makes me remember something they’ve done. These little thirty second vignettes have made me care more about the Prime Time Players than anything they did in about two years as a regular team. Again: if you give someone something unique and even remotely interesting, it’s giving them a much better chance than just having them be generic wrestlers in their trunks having a match.
Finally, let’s look at someone who has hit the ground running in the few performances he’s had on the show so far: Neville. In the last few months, rumors had been circulating that he was going to be something like Mighty Mouse. Fans who didn’t get the idea of the character weren’t impressed, but that’s pretty much what we’ve been getting from Neville so far.
In his five appearances, Neville has fought three World Champions (including the current one) and a Tag Team/Intercontinental Champion twice, in addition to dealing with another former World Champion in Sheamus. In other words, Neville is a small guy fighting people much bigger and stronger than he was with no fear whatsoever. He’s stood up to Seth Rollins and answered an open challenge from Dolph Ziggler while never blinking in the face of the successful people in front of him. No he’s not shouting HERE I COME TO SAVE THE DAY, but he’s doing the Mighty Mouse character and it’s working really, really well.
Like I said, I don’t believe this is going to last long as it’s WWE we’re talking about, but just doing things like keeping continuity together, telling us why someone is doing something (even when it’s fairly obvious) and letting people talk and be entertaining is making me care for people I’ve either lost interest in or never have cared about before. This is basic character development but it’s more than WWE has done in a long time. If this keeps up, they might actually have a roster people care about and want to pay to see.
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