I make no bones about the fact that I am an old school representative of the pro wrestling trade. My style, psychology and etiquette are all derivative of the old school and I highly espouse the way things used to be versus the way things are nowadays. But instead of sounding like a grumpy old stalwart, let me digress and let’s take a look at the supporting arguments et al of the old school against the new school.
In many ways, I do enjoy the colorful variety of modern day pro wrestling, especially when it comes to WWE, NXT and New Japan. Lucha Underground has a very compelling product, which cannot simply be seen as just pro wrestling. Lucha Underground is really more of an action carneval show, and that, in their case, is a good thing. It’s different, and it’s almost grindhouse in a way. I could see Quentin Tarantino or even Robert Rodriguez scripting Lucha Underground.
As the industry leader, WWE does a lot of things right, and arguably a lot of things wrong. But they can get away with it, because their brand overall is stronger than the action or stories in and of themselves. I can really appreciate the strength of the NXT product nowadays, and Triple H is doing a lot of apparent good with that product. A plethora of capable hands are coming up down in Florida with NXT and their system just seems to work the way that it is orchestrated nowadays.
As atheletes, today’s top new stars are leagues beyond what the old school wrestlers used to be. Guys and gals are in crazy crossfit shape and can go like nobody’s business when the bell rings. Whereas old school grapplers like Dick Murdoch, Terry Funk and Lou Thesz could go out there for 60-90 minutes a night and put on a compelling grappling clinic, their pacing was worlds apart from the hyper-athletes of today such as Seth Rollins and Dolph Ziggler, who do more in a lesser amount of time. And what they do is damn impressive from an athletic standpoint on any level.
So wrestlers today are much better at the dynamic body movement part of the game, performing all kinds of leaps, spots and such that the old guard would never have dreamt of doing. The talents today are more akin to living incarnations of superheroes in their athletic performance than Ric Flair or Hulk Hogan could ever have dreamed of in the 1980s. Their conditioning is second to none, and they can burn at a faster pace, like a spinter versus a marathon runner. The old school were the marathon men, they shifted diesel gears. The guys today shift turbo-charged gears. Both approaches are commendable, but there is more…
Hulk Hogan didn’t have to do nearly as much as Seth Rollins for an equal response.
If one looks simply at the probable outlook for the career longevity of many of today’s newer stars, I’d wager to say that should they keep taking the crazy, high risks that they do – only to elicit a pop from the audience – then their longevity will be short-lived indeed. Let me expand on that one, single argument here. I stand to argue that had these younger modern talents understood the nature of capturing human emotion in their audience, they would not need to go out on a proverbial limb to risk their own health doing spots that will typecast them and be damn hard to top, follow or live up to the next time around. If you condition your audience to expect and want more and more from you, you will find yourself up against the wall before long. And your health will pay the price. And for what, just a pop? I understand utilizing a certain style to ”get over” with the audience, and then working an altered style to ”stay over”, but most of that is all geared toward instant gratification at a high personal risk and cost. And belive me when I tell you, that instant gratification is short-lived and frivulous, demanding more of the same, demanding to up the ante, the next time around.
Everyone remembers Jake The Snake, right?
Another thing that really strikes me as funny and befuddling at the same time has been the inability of many of the newer ”stars” to ”stick” with their audience or have the audience ”buy” them as lead players over the past several years. As a point of comparison, in the ’80s, once a guy like Jake ”The Snake” Roberts made his imprint on the national stage, the people ”bought” him as a lead star. Whether he won or lost, it did not matter. He was ”made” – a recognized, household name – and he was perceived as being a big deal. People to this day still fondly remember the old guard and remember them as larger-than-life stars. I would argue that the characters of bygone years, like ”Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, The Iron Sheik, Dusty Rhodes and Bruiser Brody were much more organic and at the same time they came across as more ”authentic” and thereby unique, as compared to the vast majority of talent that parades across our screens these days. The same could be argued for classic era wrestlers like Gorgeous George, Buddy Rogers and Lou Thesz. Perhaps much of this aforementioned ailment has a lot to do with today’s apparent oversaturation of media visibility, which waters down everything and everyone, due to the inane amount of shows on tap these days, in addition to the limitless internet. Perhaps it simply becomes an insurmountable challenge to rise above the programming deluge, which tends to make the viewer more prone to instant gratification and lends greatly to a near-complete lack of attention span. Would that lend credence to why nothing seems to ”stick”? It stands to reason and it does present a valid question.
The force-fed lines of script that today’s talent are given to spout and embrace create a situation where I can see many having grave difficulties in finding their own ”voice”. Back in the day, when Dusty Rhodes talked, shucked and jived about hard times, you bought into every word. When Ric Flair ranted about breaking Ricky Morton’s nose, people were genuinely infuriated. When Roddy Piper verbally lambasted Jimmy Snuka and cracked a coconut over his head, it went to live on in infamy. That kind of emotion is really missing these days, and it’s rather apparent in the lack of connection between the newer ”stars” of today and their audience.
Now, I understand that everything evolves. But in the same breath, you will always know the tree by the fruit that it bears. If something isn’t connecting, there has got to be a glitch, be it in presentation, character or credibility. Once again, back in the day, people were legitimately scared of Abdullah the Butcher, The Original Sheik and ”The Ugandan Giant” Kamala. Fans in Japan scattered out of the way like ants when Stan Hansen, Bruiser Brody or Tiger Jeet Singh made their ring entrances. I don’t see anyone scattering these days. I don’t see anyone who is legitimately afraid of a said wrestler, with the possible exception of Brock Lesnar.
Now I’ve hit the provebial nail on the head, so let’s talk Lesnar as a case example of a moment. Lesnar was ”made” in pro wrestling back in 2002-2003. He went on to become a WWE and UFC champion, adding to the legitimacy of his tough guy aura. When Brock came back to WWE a few years back, he was as believable as they came. People bought into him being the real deal. When Lesnar broke The Undertaker’s undefeated streak at Wrestlemania 30, he was the only guy with the solid arguments to be ”the guy” to be in that spot. People perceived Brock Lesnar to be a badass, to be the real deal, and therefore he was projected as a star. With Brock, it doesn’t feel like he is playing any character. He is his own man, himself. What you see is what you get. So with the real life aura of a beast and monster, everything about Brock Lesnar, from his movement to his offense to his body language, is rock solid and believable. With that thought, I would wager to argue that Brock Lesnar is the last ”real” superstar from the newer stock (taking into consideration his second run with WWE) who has the aura of must-see stardom, across-the-board legitimacy and match believability. With Lesnar, you don’t get any bullshit, smoke or mirrors. (Keeping my fingers crossed that they don’t finally pull that valuable rug out from under Lesnar against the gimmick-heavy, mystical Bray Wyatt at Wrestlemania this year.)
Pro wrestling gets a lot of flack and criticism for not being a legitimate competitive sport. With the reality TV era upon us, every single televison product out there is scripted, and pro wrestling is no exception. With programs vying for the same viewership demographic in prime time (or any other time) against other entertaining shows, viewers must be manipulated and hooked, so as not to change the channel. The problem that pro wrestling encounters nowadays, in my assessment, is that with the talent being labeled as ”sports entertainers” versus professional athletes (which, trust me, pro wrestlers truly are), the ”boys” (and girls) in the business are stripped of the requirement to come across as legit, and the matches are no longer reminiscent of an actual fight. The talent simply become characters, and as characters, why should they make their product credible and believable in a ”real fight” sense when they can simply aim to be entertaining and get reactions? I see this as a huge problem in the modern era, and it lends understanding to why so many holds are applied so loosely and sloppily that no viewer out there can buy into what they are seeing. Snug that shit up, people! Have some pride in your craft!
Lou Thesz sure didn’t teach John Cena his STF…
Me personally, I enjoy much of what I see nowadays, as I can appreciate the athletic endeavor of the talent themselves. It’s damn entertaining! No bones about it. But a lot of it is also forced, unnatural in flow and lacks believability. To paraphrase something former WWF champion Bret ”Hitman” Hart once said about match psychology, ”If you can’t see it happening in a bar fight, it shouldn’t happen inside of a wrestling match”. I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but I still want to believe. When I compare some of the old school matches to what I see today, I see a lot more in the way of emotional investment and credibility. I see talent that got more mileage out of doing less, thereby saving themselves and prolonging their career longevity. I see masters of the craft that wrestled more than 300 dates a year on average, at whose matches people both young and old alike hollered and screamed like their lives depended on it. I look at matches from the bygone past that are so believable that anyone would have a problem finding fault in them, bouts like Ric Flair dropping the NWA championship to Ron Garvin in a 1987, where the real fight vibe was all over the place.
So in the end, with all of the aforementioned assessments and arguments, I would have to still tip my hat to the old school approach and philosophy to pro wrestling in favor of the modern product. I just believe it was better for business back then. I believe when the talents were looked at and treated as athletes versus entertainers, they put out a better product and showing. I believe the personas of times past were more organic and believable, and also more charismatic in a natural way. I believe that at the end of the day, people still want to come out and see a fight, not just a show. And on top of that, pro wrestling used to be a trade where c0untless men and women that didn’t wrestle for WWE and chances were you never heard of them made a living, fed their families and did this as a full-time job. Sounds like a better world to me all around back then…
Call me old-fashioned, I wouldn’t have it any other way!