Something you’ll often hear in wrestling is the need for a new direction or a next step in wrestling’s evolution. These are promises or goals you’ll often hear, but more often than not they wind up fizzling out or going so far off the rails that the show turns into a disaster and fans stop caring. Here’s the thing though: the old ideas can still work if they’re done properly and the last few years have proven that they can. Today we’re going to look at some recent examples of how basic storytelling works in wrestling and why these changes that are always promised just aren’t needed.
As I so often do, let’s start back at “Wrestlemania XXX”. In one of the best received stories and moments in years, Daniel Bryan rose above the powers of the Authority and won the WWE World Heavyweight Title after being told he could never do it. This was the culmination of a six month story of Daniel Bryan winning the title, being held down by the evil bosses and fighting every day until he proved that he was as good as he said he was and that the Authority was wrong.
Now why was this story so well received? Was it because the story was ground breaking? Or because the story was doing something that no one had ever seen before? Of course not. This was an old, basic story that people could relate to because everyone had been told you can’t do something at some point. The wrestling fans were able to latch on to Bryan and believe in him because they believed that he could rise above his oppression. We’ll come back to this in a bit.
Again looking back to 2014, NXT had Sami Zayn’s Road to Redemption. After having lost so many of his big matches and being labeled a choker, Zayn fought back and beat everyone he had failed to beat before, eventually earning an NXT Title shot. At “Takeover: R-Evolution”, Zayn kicked NXT Champion Adrian Neville square in the face and pinned him to win the title.
The night wasn’t done though as Zayn celebrated for nearly ten minutes with the locker room emptying out to congratulate the new champion for finally doing the impossible. Zayn’s best friend Kevin Owens was right there with them and stood by him until the very end, where Owens turned on his friend and powerbombed him onto the ring apron. This set up the next title feud with Owens going full evil and challenging his best friend for the title. Again, we’ll come back to this later.
For our final example, we’ll look at a more recent story: Rockstar Spud being bullied by his boss and former best friend Ethan Carter III. Carter was a master at playing the stuck up, self obsessed rich guy who felt he could talk down to someone like Spud because he had money and a powerful aunt. After months of abuse from Carter, Spud stood up to him and became a man in front of our eyes, leading up to a series of great matches and promos where Spud became a huge crowd favorite.
This is yet another story that fans can relate to with ease. How many people have dealt with someone in a position of power who thinks that their job or bank account is enough for them to treat everyone around them like property. Spud is the kind of guy that the masses can relate to: the (literally) little guy who has had enough of the boss and fights back. It worked today and it worked fifteen years ago with a bigger guy named Steve Austin who got tired of the boss trying to tell him how to live his life. Same core story, different presentation.
Now, going back to the previous stories and including this third one, there is one major thing that makes them all work: the performances. Bryan made his story work because he sold the heck out of every promo he ever made. The matches were always top notch as well and worth putting your money down to see as Bryan made you believe that he could FINALLY pull it off this time and get what he deserved in the end.
The same is true for Zayn’s Road to Redemption. With great matches against Tyler Breeze and Adrian Neville, Zayn showed that he could hang with anyone and then defeat everyone he ever went against. His final promo before the title showdown with Neville was one last bit of icing on the cake as Zayn showed better emotion than he had in his entire run in NXT. The blowoff match against Neville was even better than expected and the whole story was a massive success.
On the same night, the fans saw another story they could easily relate to. How many people have had to deal with a jealous friend who tries to take away something they have? As has been the case with every other instance on this list, Owens sold the heck out of the performance. Zayn had something Owens wanted and Owens turned his back on his friend to get it as he gave into the evil and jealousy.
Finally, in a far different form, we have Rockstar Spud, the least likely hero in years, giving the fans exactly what they wanted: someone willing to fight back against Carter and giving him all he could handle in the ring. These two had laid the groundwork for their feud over nearly a year of working together before the big showdown. As has been the case with the other two stories, Carter and Spud’s performances carried the day.
At the end of the day, it boils down to two things: you can get a great reaction out of the fans if you have the performers following a coherent, well told story and have the characters give believable performances. It doesn’t matter if the story has been done before. All that matters is the story being built up and then paid off in a logical way by people the fans can relate to. The same stories can be repeated over time, as long as you don’t see the same ones time after time. Yeah, we’ve seen Steve Austin rebelling against the Corporation, but fifteen years later, the fans wanted to see Daniel Bryan fighting against the Authority.
Now, of course that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for brand new stories going forward. With the way the world changes so quickly, there are always new subjects and things to look at. Consider the original gimmick for Solomon Crowe down in NXT. Instead of just being any run of the mill guy, he was a hacker who could control the lights and music in the arena with his tablet.
Imagine this story say, ten years ago. People knew what hacking was, but the idea of a wireless device that could control an entire arena would have felt too far out of the realm of possibility. In modern times though, it’s something you could easily see happening and making perfect sense.
For an example from the Attitude Era (praise be its name, at least according to WWE), who would have cared about a mixed martial artist in 1992? Five years later, Ken Shamrock was one of the hottest things in the world. It made sense to incorporate him, or Ronda Rousey today, because that’s where the story was going. It’s not an evolution or any new idea, but it’s a new presentation.
Overall, you don’t need to have new stories in wrestling for the sake of having new stories in wrestling. All you have to do is find a story that makes sense, be it from modern times, old times or even ancient times. There are stories that are going to work no matter who is involved in them because the fans will get behind characters they can relate to. As has so often been said about Austin vs. McMahon, how many people have fantasized about punching out their boss? It’s a common feeling, so why not present it to the masses on national television?
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