One of the most important terms that you will hear in wrestling is storytelling, which can have a lot of different meanings. This time around, we are going to be looking at the broader definition, with the stories that propel the wrestling shows forward week to week and night to night. There are all kinds of ways to make a feud go forward, but today we are going to be looking at one of the most important aspects of wrestling storytelling that is hitting and missing today, depending on which promotion you might be watching at the moment.

Last week on the Jim Cornette’s Drive-Thru podcast, Cornette spoke about a feud in Smoky Mountain Wrestling between former friends Tracy Smothers and Prime Time Brian Lee. Smothers was the reigning Smoky Mountain Wrestling Heavyweight Champion but lost the title to Lee, who turned heel under the influence of the debuting Tammy Fytch (better known as Sunny in her time in the WWF). Lee had been tempted by Fytch’s various attributes and turned on his friend to win the title, making this a rather personal feud between the two.

Smothers was not pleased and swore revenge, but he also wanted to know why Lee turned on him. In one of the promos, Smothers asked what made Lee turn on him, asking if it was the belt, the girl or the money. That was enough to keep the feud going for a good while, and that is what we are going to look at today: how such a simple premise can fuel a feud because people get the concept.

Those three words (ok it’s really two but three sounds better) from Smothers are the core of the entire feud. Lee and Smothers were friends, but for some reason, Lee turned on him. Why did he do it? Smothers thought it was either the belt, the girl or the money. That concept is what made the feud work, because it is an idea that anyone can comprehend in a hurry.

As fans, we need a reason to care about a story. You need something in an angle that gives the fans a reason to get involved. This could be anything from Hulk Hogan fighting for America to Steve Austin fighting back against his boss to Kane wanting revenge on his brother for attempting to burn him alive by setting fire to his funeral home under the instructions of Paul Bearer, who somehow fostered Kane’s pyrotechnic powers. That last one might sound like a joke, but it boils down to something a lot of fans can understand: sibling rivalry.

That’s why Smothers’ promo and reasoning worked so well. How many people can identify with the concept of being stabbed in the back by someone they cared about? Or how many people have been betrayed over a man/woman or money? It is the kind of thing that a lot of people can understand, which is why a story like this is going to work. Smothers becomes the person you can identify with and want to cheer for, including wanting to see him take the title back (which he wouldn’t).

This was a well written feud because people understood it and could connect to it. Smothers was the Wild Eyed Southern Boy who would fit in perfectly in a southern company like SMW. It was catering to the fans and giving the fans a reason to care about the good guy, who was then stabbed in the back by the fresh villain. That would be the villain who was managed by the really annoying woman who did not like the company or its fans, to the point where she was explaining how soap worked.

It boils down to a simple concept: fans have someone they like and someone they don’t like, with one guy turning on his friend for the sake of either the money or the woman (or probably both). It was a betrayal and the people would want to see Smothers get his revenge and the title back in a series of rematches, with the people being ready to hand over their money to watch (in theory at least).

This is a story that WWE should be watching and taking furious notes because it is an area where they are completely lost. Look up and down the roster and find someone the fans can identify with and want to see succeed. The current top faces on the men’s side are Brock Lesnar (everyone knows a viking cage fighter who hunts moose in the Canadian wilderness), Big E. (a former powerlifting football player who got famous by throwing pancakes and won a ladder match to steal the title from an injured champion), Edge (a nearly fifty year old legend) and Drew McIntyre (with his sword named Angela).

Looking at that list and tell me who I’m supposed to identify with or support on a week to week basis. I like some of them because they’re entertaining or talented, but there is no one near the top of any WWE card that I have a reason to care about. There are all kinds of wrestlers on the roster, but their motivations tend to range from wanting the title to whatever nonsense they have going on at the moment.

The problem boils down to a simple concept: the stories aren’t designed to draw the fans in, but rather have them watching as you do your thing with nothing connecting the two sides. The stories come and go and you might get attached to someone because they’re talented, but it doesn’t wind up working out because someone has to say something ridiculous that takes you out of the story.

Case in point on the women’s side of WWE at the moment, Liv Morgan. After spending years of doing almost nothing in WWE, Morgan has worked herself up towards the top of the card and the people are getting behind her. There is something about Morgan that makes you want to see her succeed because she has worked so hard to get here and now it is starting to work. Morgan even got her title shot against Becky Lynch, who had to cheat to escape. Sounds like it’s time for a rematch where Morgan might be able to get the big win and give the fans something to cheer.

Then we got to the segment setting up the rematch….and it all fell apart. Morgan was out there talking for the better part of ever and it was very obvious that she was reciting a script that was written for her. It took away everything that worked about Morgan for months and the segment died in a hurry because it was hard to care about what Morgan was saying. Morgan lost everything that had made the fans care about her and was just another person in WWE’s one size fits all booking. Maybe she still wins the title (though I would be stunned), but you can tell that a lot of the magic is gone.

Wrestling is about making fans care about what is going on in front of them, but also making you care about the people. That means you need to give the fans a reason to care or a reason to connect to everything that is going on. There are ways that it can be done today, but WWE has a tendency to slip up and fall all over themselves time after time. As usual, it can work a lot better with the more basic concepts (as in things people can relate to) but instead, we get things like fighting over a sword being pulled out of a desk. Find a way to make me care, or the feelings I have about the company are going to start getting disconnected.

Thomas Hall has been a wrestling fan for over thirty years and has seen over 60,000 wrestling matches. He has also been a wrestling reviewer since 2009 with over 6,000 full shows covered. You can find his work at kbwrestlingreviews.com, or check out his- Amazon author page with 30 wrestling books.

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