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WRESTLING COLUMNS

Telling a Story
April 7, 2006 by Scott McGinn


It was Wrestlemania 3. It was a huge crowd even if the numbers have inflated as the years have gone. The great Andre, undefeated for 100 years (I really brought into the hype on that one) up against the new champion, the hero of everyone, the great Hulk Hogan. The crowd was in awe as two giants of the sport stood toe to toe.

The match itself wasn't a mat classic. But it did one thing that made it memorable, one thing that made it great. It told a story. You felt the end of one era, and the passing of the torch from Andre to Hulk. It was basic wrestling 101. And as Hulk body slammed Andre, something so basic went down as one of the biggest moments in wrestling history.

The sport has changed a lot since the days of Farmer Burns, George Hackenschmitt, and the Great Gama. Wrestling historians tell us that the last time a title match ended with a shoot finish was in the 1920's. Even then people argued about just how legitimate that was. So what makes us, intelligent human beings, get hooked on a sport that has a pre-determined result"

We can go on any number of websites now and read what the results will be, leaked straight from the offices of Connecticut no less. What makes us sit through four hours of people faking it"

For me it's the story each fight tells. It's one reason why Ric Flair was so good as a champion. From bell to bell you where told a story. You watched as the guy was beaten from pillar to post and "beaten like a government mule", to quote good old JR. But he always came back and snuck away as the champion. He traveled the globe doing the same shtick. He could make a local champion look like a "wrestling God" while still walking away as the champion. You wanted to see what would happen next after every match. Not because of what was said in interviews, but because of what was said in the ring.

It seems though that nowadays all that wrestlers want to do is talk. I went to a local show here in Australia and saw what has become of this sport. The wrestlers spent so long telling us what they would do to each other, but told us nothing in the ring.

Toots Mondt is seen as the innovator that gave us what we now know as wrestling. He was a man who created stories. He took a sport that had dwindling crowds and gave us what is now often referred to as Sports Entertainment. He knew the importance of storylines, but his stories where told in the ring. He gave us Gorgeous George. Gorgeous George was one of the first superstars of wrestling seen on television. But he didn't need twenty minute speeches to get his story over. You only had to watch him in the ring to hate him.

The golden era of wrestling was that period in the 50's, 60's, and 70's; or so I'm told - I'm too young to remember. But just reading about it makes me wish I'd been there. It was an era of guys who didn't need to open there mouths to get a message across. And for me that's what wrestling should still be. Triple H doesn't need to tell us in intricate detail what he is going to do to an opponent, just let him get out there and do it. That's why I watch, that's why so many of us watch. If we want to hear some one talk a load of old cobblers for half an hour, we'll watch Larry King.

There are still wrestlers who do tell great stories in the ring. An example was at Wrestlemania. We had a great build up with only limited talk time. What we did see was blind side attacks, in ring action, and actions speaking louder than words. Then the match itself saw one wrestler, the baby face, injure themselves early. The heel picked up on this then worked the injured body part for the rest of the match until they had worn the babyface down. It was an old school wrestling match, everything about it was perfect. Oh, and it was for the Women's Title. I say congratulations to Mickie James and Trish Stratus, and kudos to Fit Finlay for training these two. Between them they reminded us what wrestling should be.

For many wrestling is better now. Some people like the spot fests they see, where it's all about the moves that are done and not why they are done, and I'll admit even these high spot affairs can be compelling. Take Mick Foley's Hell in a Cell match against the Undertaker. Many people talk about the bumps off the top of the cell being what made Mick Foley. Personally for me it wasn't so much the bumps he took. It was the fact that he kept coming back that made Mick Foley.

In my opinion, it's what is missing in today's wrestling; telling a story, and drawing us in.

by Scott McGinn


Mikko Laurinen wrote:
I have to say this is one of my favorite articles I've read on OWW. You bring out a great point and put it into words well. I couldn't agree more about how I wish various wrestling promotions focused more on the matches they showcase telling stories, rather than being spotfests or just failing to entertain. Too often do I find myself left with a sour taste about a match because it just lacked something to make me believe what they were selling me. Both wrestlers just exchange impressive moves with one winning in the end with yet another fancy maneuver that barely, if at all, shines out from amongst the rest used in the match. That's the gist of far too many matches I've seen from the independent scene in particular. I'm sure I'll be very impressed by a bunch of the moves, but when all is said and done I tend to look back and not really feel at all like going back to the match. Cheap popcorn entertainment to "oooh" and "aaah" over, nothing more. Not that WWE or TNA always provide great stories. Heel beats the face down all match long, but with a couple of moves the face wins yet again. Sound at all like what WWE has been doing with Cena most of the past year" It should. TNA used the very same formula for the main event of their last PPV. While this IS a story for a match to tell, it's far from being a favorite of mine. My favorite match from the past couple of months was in fact the very Wrestlemania match the author mentions. They blew the ending, but that hardly mattered to me, so compelling was the story. If a spotfest ended with a blown spot and a quick-fix finish it would never leave me happy with it. A well told stry can really make a match. I also agree on how the focus on the stuff that builds up to a match sometimes feels way too strong. Now, I enjoy a good promo here and there, but sometimes I feel that the hype is used to replace replace the match. Our asses are already on the seats and we're cheering our lungs out because we're so psyched about the match and it's not even begun. All good so far. I have no problem with that. My problem is when the match just does not deliver. The 'Mania main-event, the one it's ALL been building up to... and they pretty much use the same old "face gets beat up, but wins in the end" match they've been doing all year long. Maybe if they'd paid less attention to press conferences and entrances and more on the match they could've come up with something more substancial. We KNOW Cena can take a beating, we've been witnessing it all year long. The little twist at the end with Cena not winning as easily as usual was okay, but that should not have been the best they can do with the biggest match of at the biggest show of the year. The whole encounter was more about the talk than the walk, or so I was left feeling. I'd rather have watched the Women's title match again. The one that told a good story.
Jay H. wrote:
great article. i just wanted to voice my agreement over what you felt was a great match, for me it was the best WRESTLING match of the night. that was the title match between mickie james and trish stratus. during and after the match me and my buddies RAVED about how great of a match they put on, how great the ring psychology was, how great the crowd reaction was, how great the women looked ;-).

everything came together greatly in that match and it gets my vote for MOTY.
Jose Aguirre wrote:
STOP telling us what wrestling today should do!!! If you hate the "lack of story telling" then stop watching wrestling. We all have our opinion over what wrestling should be, but TNA and WWE management in particular don't give a crap about what you or I think. I would like a feud between Edge and RVD for the title but Cena is champion, because of how controversial he is. Some hate Edge for his backstage affair with Lita a while back, others think RVD isn't deserving, I think that the people who doubt them are deuche bags, but everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. I think I should write about the perfect feud for today's wrestling world, or not becuase everybody has his or her own opinion!!
Mikko Laurinen wrote:
Jose Aguirre, what the hell was THAT" First you YELL at the author NOT to share his opinions, then you say "everyone is entitled to his or her opinion". It seems like you didn't even read the article, as what you speak of has NOTHING to do with it. You talk about who you'd like WWE to push while neither the article nor either of the replies said anything about it. We were talking about how we'd like more matches to be scripted with a general theme or "story" to make them more enjoyable. The example given was the Women's Title match a Wrestlemania 22. It featured a simple story, wrkign on an injured limb to weaken the opponent. That does not sound too hard to do, yet I personally can't recall it being done since Triple H vs Big Show, which also stood out as an enjoyable match in my mind. We like seeing matches that tell stories. If you don't, then that's your choice, but for God's sake say THAT in a reply to an article about storytelling in wrestling, NOT something about someone "telling us what wrestling today should be". It was an opinion and not one that others do not share.
DarKing wrote:
You can't just "stop watching wrestling", at least stop supporting WWE. The wrestling product is good by itself, but it shouldn't be judge by just these shows. As for TNA and WWE "not listening", Chicago made pretty clear they want WWE to listen before they left after Wrestlemania 22. TNA, sure they have flaws, but they are still growing and may go against WWE, hopefully.

Sure, the wrestling promotion may not give a damn about us, but I say we should still express our thoughts. WWE may not listen, but everyone else could. That's what were doing right now!
destrothers wrote:
Letting thewrestlers tell a story in the ring is definitely essential to having successful matches and PPV's, but to the at-home audience the commentary is what puts it over the top. When Mick Foley got thrown off the cage, it certainly did help when J.R. in his loudest voice sayd'My God He's Broken In Half'. When Jesse Ventura and the Gorilla used to do commentary together, how priceless was it when Jesse would always say 'HE shoulda hooked the leg Gorilla' or when Bobby Heenan would chastise the babyface of whatever match and the Gorilla would always say' Would You Please Stop'. Stuff like this can help get a match over to the TV audience even if the wrestlers in the ring are having a bad night or whatever. it's harder to get a match over with no backstory to a live audience, whereas they can help develop it on TV and possibly get it over to the audience on TV easier with the right announcing(unless you have two wrestlers like Shelton and HBK who had no backstory last year but tore the house down because they had great unexpected ring chemistry together, which is something you don't find out until the first time you set foot in a ring with someone live). You can try to tell a story all you want but if there is not a decent amount of chemistry and flow betweentwo wrestlers, 9 times out of 10 the match will fall flat to either the TV or live audience. For example,when JBL was champion, he has a couple of great matches with Guerrero and a great last-man standing match with Kurt Angle on TV because it was the typical roughhouse brawler vs technician, but stick him in there with John Cena and nobody cared until they gave them an 'i quit' match, which can let two brawlers beat the hell out of each other all they want. They sold that match better because it was more suited to their styles, which is what matchmakers should do to emphasize wrestlers strenghths and ignore whatever shortcomings a wrestler may have.
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