The Errors of kayfabe: The Title Change!

Written by horsemen4life for the OWW Genesis Forum.

For years, Pro Wrestling believed in keeping their profession, its secrets, and its abilities to trick the fans, Kayfabed. Kayfabe is the term we almost all know of by now, but for many years fans on occasion would hear a wrestler say this word and not know its meaning. The meaning was simple… A person not in the business was near so everyone around go into protection mode.

What many fans fail to realize is this form of protection went far beyond the simple things of the match looking real and acting like you hated someone or liked someone. It encompassed a world into itself. This world was well protected in many ways. Below I will list ways that the wrestling business went over and beyond to make what they did seem as real as possible.

When Nikita Koloff was announced as a Russian, for 3 years straight he purpose talked the way he did to keep up the appearance he was Russian, even when he was away from a wrestling related event.

Sandman wore bandages over his eyes for several weeks and pretended to be blind even when just going to the store in his home town to protect the story that he was injured.

Ricky Morton allowed the Four Horsemen to legit grind his face with sandpaper to scrap and scab his whole side of his face to give the appearance that he had been beaten in the locker room.

Harley Race was often called upon to strike a legit, downward punch onto a man’s eyebrow area to bust open the skin so he would bleed rather profusely.

The list of this can go on and on, but I believe many of us already know the lengths taken by this sport to protect it for many years. However, in one area of Pro Wrestling, those involved have not only failed at protecting kayfabe, but have outright showed the fans the errors they made. We will examine 3 of the most notable ones from the last 10 years of the kayfabe error.

Before we list these 3, lets look at how and why they were errors. In Pro Wrestling, there are stories that are told to the fans. For these to be good they need a few specific elements. One is intrigue. Basically, you need the fans to care about that story being told, therefore giving them a reason to follow it. This one has little to do with the error of Kayfabe. The other two that greatly effect Kayfabe are Believability and Continuity. Without the fans being able to believe what they see and to be able to follow a logical path with these stories, no matter now interesting, they will get lost. When this happens, the fans get upset and lash out. Back when there was no internet, and no “smart” fans to discuss it with, they often wrote into the Bill Apter magazines complaining, and even giving specific reasons why what happened didn’t make since. Often, they were covered over in the magazines with crazy reasoning’s as to why things happened the way they did.

The first example is MDM, Ted DiBiase, not being listed as a WWF World Champion.

As the story goes, Andre won the title from Hulk Hogan, and then surrendered the title to Ted. For a few weeks Ted paraded around and was even announced as the new World Champion. However, then President jack Tunney made a statement that the title can only change hands on a pinball or submission so MDM could not be champion. He also stated that Andre could indeed surrender the title, and since he did that, the WWF title was vacant.

There are two reasons this is an error. Basically, with WWF wanted to take the belt off Hogan without Hogan being pinned, and by them also not wanting Andre to keep the belt, they made this story for us fans to follow. What they didn’t do was think things through in a way that it would be viewed from the eyes of a fan who at this time didn’t understand kayfabe. So here are the errors they made.

1. In the statement made by Jack Tunney Andre can surrender the title and Andre can only lose the title via pin fall or submissions. This is a contradiction in two ways. If Andre can only lose it via pin or sub, then he cant surrender the title! If Andre CAN surrender the title, as champion he can surrender it to whom he pleases!

2. Even if we ignore the above facts, we still have another issue to look at. If Jack Tunney can, after the fact, decide Andre cannot give the title away, it would have been “discovered” after Andre gave the title to Ted. If they didn’t already know that Ted wasn’t keeping the belt, and Andre had legit tried to give it to Ted, WWF would have reviewed it, then decided that Andre wouldn’t not give the title to Ted. What should have actually transpired was that WWF finds in their rules that Andre cannot give the title away to Ted. When this is discovered, WWF, who is now calling Ted the World Champion, would strip him, not Andre(cause Andre surrendered the title to Ted), and declared the title vacant. Ted would be listed as a WWF World Champion with a # beside his name. When we went to the bottom of the list to find what that # noted mean, we would read that Ted was stripped of the title, but he would have remained with his name on the list of former WWF Champions. The fact that WWE knew that Ted and even Andre were not meant to hold the titles, they made an error in the protection of the title and broke Kayfabe.

The second instance of this is the AWA Tagteam Title change of The Midnight Rockers losing to Doug Sommers & Buddy Rose.

As he story goes, during a title match, the Rockers are counted outside the ring, and during the confusions of all the action going on, the ref awards the titles to Summers and Rose. Even the Ring announcer at the time states the titles cannot change hands on a DQ or CO. Later on, it is announced that the ref’s decision, even if done wrongly in hast, is final and cannot be reversed.

There is two reasons this is an error in Kayfabe. Basically, Verne wanted an older, more mat based team to be on top of his AWA. He knew the popularity of the Rockers and could not have a heel team cleanly pin his face team to take the titles off of them. Basically, this was the storyline created to put the blame off onto the ref for the error. Here are the errors made.

1. Vern had basically lost his connection with pro wrestling and where it was going by this time. Fans, while still being kayfabed, were starting to learn more about the sport and were less likely to just go along with what they were told. This angle was the first major downfall in AWA and the fans knew something was just wrong about it even though they couldn’t put a specific finger on it.

2. The 2nd reason gives the details to the fans in much greater detail. Again, AWA knew they were putting the titles on Summers and Rose, that was the easy part. The hard part was to take them off the top team, a baby team at that, and do it without making Summers & Rose and the Rockers look weak. The choice was to blame the ref. The problem was that fans had seen many times when a ref gave the win, and title, to a specific man only for it to be reversed by Stanley Blackburn or another ref who was watching. Hogan won the title from Bockwinkle only a few years earlier, but when it was later viewed on tape and Heenen was found to have interfered, the title was returned. Other times the Tag and World titles of AWA were returned in similar fashion. However, in this case they simply ignored it, gave a bad reasoning for the choice, and allowed it to stand. They made an error in following the same path of rules to protect the title and broke kayfabe.

The 3rd example involves the Midnight Rider and his NWA title win over Ric Flair in 1981.

As the story goes, Dusty Rhodes, who was in FL wrestling, was suspended. Shortly after he departed, a masked wrestler who talked and wrestled just like Dusty appeared. He was called the Midnight Rider. During his feud with Flair, having taken over Dusty’s place, the Midnight Rider eventually pinned Flair for the NWA World Title. However, since the Board of NWA requires all champions to at least reveal their true identity to them, when the Midnight Rider refused to do so, he was stripped of the title and it was returned to Flair.

There are two reasons that this is in error. Basically, the NWA had had the standpoint of a short change to keep things interested. Their main champion would basically lose the title for a short spell, usually 1-3 weeks or so, then regain the title. Add this to the formula of the “Dusty Finish”, where the baby face appears to win but the title is returned due to some sort of technicality. This is how the two errors happened.

1. The rules of NWA at the time, and the rule they used to make this story line work, is that a masked wrestler can not hold a title unless he revels his true identity. This is done to keep suspended guys from winning a title under a mask and making more money due to being a champion. The problem with this is that it doesn’t say a masked wrestler cant win a title, because in fact, many masked wrestlers did win a title. Since the Midnight Rider won the title fair and square, he would be recognized as NWA World Champion. However, since the NWA knew Midnight Rider(Dusty under a mask) was not going to be champion, they just simplified everything, stated that Midnight Rider cant be champion and returned the belt to Flair as if Flair never lost. The reason Midnight Rider should have been recognized as a champion is because he won the match in the ring. When he refused to take off his mask, the title change should not have been erased, Midnight Rider simply should have been stripped of the title for not following the rules of the NWA B.O.D’s.

2. Not only should Midnight Rider been stripped of the title for not showing his true identity, at the very least, the #1 contender at this time(Flair) should have wrestled the #2 contender for the title. On a more realistic scale, there should have been a tournament to crown a new NWA World Champion. Since they did not follow through with proper kayfabe, and protect the title, they just gave the belt back to Flair, confusing the fans as to the rules.

There are many other times when a title changed hands and due to the way it was booked, Kayfabe was mess up. From the standpoint of being in the business, many times errors are made because they forget to look at the aspects of the idea to begin with. The wrestling world simply figures out an outcome, then back writes the story-lines to fill it in. In most cases, this can work as it is usually a heel/face turn, new talent coming in, etc. However, when it involves title changes, they often ignore the rules they used only a short time earlier to explain another title change angle. When the wrestling world did this in the kayfabe era, they often looked short sighted, and most of the time, the person who was the head of the company was ridden very hard by the fans and called an idiot(and much worse) for their choices.

Off hand, I can think of another half dozen title changes that made these same mistakes. See if any of you can list some you recall.