I’ve been reviewing wrestling shows for about eleven years now and I’ve seen quite a bit of wrestling in my time. I started reviewing to get ready for WrestleMania 25 (and perhaps to have a reason to watch all of the previous WrestleManias again) and since then have reviewed probably 6,000 full wrestling shows from practically every major (and several minor) promotions from around the world. There have been a lot of changes over the years, but that does not mean they are all for the best.
Over the last few months, I’ve been spending a lot more time on the treadmill, which is often accompanied by a pair of headphones and the WWE Network. Being able to watch some wrestling makes the walk that much easier as the time flies by a lot faster with the dulcet tones of old school WWF. One match in particular got my attention this time around and it made me think about a few things.
The match in question took place on August 8, 1990 in Providence, Rhode Island and aired on SuperTape 3. It’s a fairly run of the mill match between Ted DiBiase and the Big Boss Man which, counting entrances and some post match material, runs just shy of fifteen minutes all together. There is nothing overly special about it, but I wanted to take a quick look at it and point out a few parts that stuck out to me. Let’s look at the whole match in my normal reviewing style (How have I never done this in a column before?).
Ted DiBiase vs. Big Boss Man
DiBiase has Virgil in his corner. Boss Man charges into the ring as usual and whips out the nightstick, which is enough to send DiBiase up the aisle until the stick is gone. After nearly two minutes of hitting the stall button, DiBiase charges in off a Virgil distraction and is sent into the corner. Some right hands put DiBiase on the floor and, as the referee yells at Virgil, Boss Man whips DiBiase with his belt in a rather evil move.
Back in and Boss Man misses a splash, allowing Virgil to distract the referee AGAIN. That’s enough for DiBiase to get in a nightstick shot to the ribs and Boss Man is in trouble for a change. Some rib shows and a kick to the face set up a posting and DiBiase is starting to feel the swagger. There’s a whip into the steps and they head back inside for some elbows to the back.
More shots to the ribs keep Boss Man down but he fires off those rapid fire punches for a breather. DiBiase mixes it up with a bearhug but Boss Man fights out, setting up a double clothesline for a double knockdown. Back up and DiBiase gets punched out of the air to really start the comeback again. Virgil comes in so Boss Man beats him up too but makes the mistake of sending the villains into each other, which is enough for the DQ at 10:03.
Now this match (it was a C if you’re wondering) isn’t anything great or flashy or even memorable, but it did a few things that stand out to me and show you some of the negatives about today’s in-ring product. That isn’t to say that things are horrible today, but there are some things done that are made a little bit more complicated than they really need to be.
The biggest thing here is there is no overly complicated backstory. Yes the two of them have had issues in recent months, but none of that is mentioned here. The fans know who they’re seeing here, but even if you don’t, the theme songs and energy from both on their entrances tell you what you’re seeing. You have a man obsessed with money who thinks he can buy anything against a police officer who punches really fast and stands for law and order. That is something anyone can understand and I certainly got it at three years old when I probably first saw this match.
Boss Man controls in the beginning, and there are little things that DiBiase does that make it easy to cheer against him. For instance, he begs Boss Man not to atomic drop him, even once he’s up in the air. A simple “no no no don’t do that” with a terrified look and then an over the top sell are all you need to get a nice reaction from the crowd and further establish the good guy against the coward.
Then DiBiase cheats with the nightstick (thanks to multiple interferences from his paid employee) and works on the ribs for the rest of the match. It’s a pretty simple story that anyone can get into in a hurry and the fans certainly seemed interested. Boss Man makes his comeback, Virgil interferes and the match ends (with a rather annoying ending but it could have been worse). That all took about fifteen minutes, not even counting the post match attack on Boss Man and him coming back to clear the ring.
This match was simple, to the point, and told you everything you needed to know in the first three minutes. They worked for ten minutes (including nearly two minutes spent milking the crowd even more), told a story, and got out of there with the fans still invested in what they were doing. That’s something that a lot of wrestlers today couldn’t pull off if they had to, and there might be a reason for that.
In addition to everything that the two of them did right, there were a few things that the fans did not have to do. First of all they didn’t have to sit through a ten minute talk show segment followed by a commercial before the opening bell. Far too often these days, a match seemingly needs to have some big setup (which certainly isn’t a show just trying to fill in time with some unnecessary nonsense) which doesn’t add much most of the time and just comes and goes with little change other than getting on the fans’ nerves.
Second, the fans didn’t need to know anything else coming in to understand the match. They certainly didn’t need to know what these guys had done together ten years ago in some other promotion (say in Japan for instance). Nor did they need to see them do something with commentary freaking out over what they’re seeing but never actually explaining what it means (because EVERYONE knows some hand signal from six years and another company ago). It’s a case of not asking fans to have some deep knowledge or to do homework to get the big story, because that’s almost never a good idea.
Finally, they don’t have to watch the match go on far longer than it needed to for the sake of killing the multiple hours of television a week. How many matches these days go through a commercial to add four minutes to the match when it really doesn’t make things that much better? You need to mix things up a bit, but not everything needs to get to some time length to work. Do what fits for the match at hand, not for the one size fits all option.
Wrestling has come a long way in the last thirty years but that does not mean that it has all been changes for the better. Some of it has to do with the amount of time that the shows have to fill and some of it has to do with the fans’ attention span and entertainment options changing so dramatically. Either way, there is a simpler and more efficient way to do this stuff, and while I understand why it can’t be done, I could certainly go for seeing more of it. Otherwise, I’m not sure how long term of a future there will be for more changes.
Thomas Hall has been a wrestling fan for over thirty years and has seen over 50,000 wrestling matches. He has also been a wrestling reviewer since 2009 with over 5,000 full shows covered. You can find his work at kbwrestlingreviews.com, or check out his- Amazon author page with 30 wrestling books. Get the latest and greatest in professional wrestling news by signing up for our daily email newsletter. Just look below for “GET EXCLUSIVE UPDATES” to sign up. Thank you for reading!