WWE's Rendezvous with the Real Deal: Life Anatomy of a Pro-Wrestling Angle
"I made pro-wrestling what it is today. I kick-started the careers of mere mortals and turned them into legends, I am the 'E' in entertainment, I gave pro wrestling a life, I am its greatest and oldest friend, I am a pro-wrestling angle." –cry of a pro-wrestling angle whose life anatomy has been forgotten
A pro-wrestling angle, as we all know, is the backbone of the wrestling industry. It's these story lines and scripted situations which give rise to a product that is rich in both sports and entertainment.
While the WWE has been giving us many rivalries/feuds which have transcended boundaries ever since its inception, the rivalries of late haven't been all that personal and brutal like they used to be.
This year, for instance, one of the best rivalries we had was between Randy Orton and Christian. The rivalry produced many good matches, no doubt, but the rivalry was such that I was more concerned about the result of the matches and who was winning them other than how the rivalry was progressing, what new elements were being added to it, etc.
But, the experience I possess as a wrestling fan is what is keeping me from enjoying rivalries these days. Comparing it to some great rivalries from the past, like Randy Orton-Undertaker and even Shane McMahon-Kane, one would realize that there is more to a rivalry than just who wins or loses.
A good rivalry which comes to my mind here is the one between Chris Jericho and Rey Mysterio in the summer of 2009. While it started over the intercontinental title, it gradually reached such a level that the title did not matter anymore; it became a personal rivalry, and the fans were actually interested in seeing how it would progress rather than focusing on who was carrying the belt.
Which brings to me this article of mine. Now, before I begin, let me tell you that this is not a conclusive article on how the quality of pro-wrestling angles can be improved. This is just a blueprint of how to gradually make a rivalry important, and it is based on my knowledge of great rivalries I have seen over the years.
Code 1: A Latent Backstory
In my experience, there are two ways a rivalry can start. Either you can kick-start it automatically by having one wrestler (probably a heel) attack a face, or have him open up about his hate towards a face wrestler, thus causing a series of events.
Obviously, the creative writers can improvise by adding elements as the rivalry progresses. However, there is another route which I prefer.
The second route would involve having a latent back story which would come to life only after the first blow has been made.
Now to explain as to what I mean by having a latent back story, let me take you back to the rivalry between the Hardy Boys back in 2009.
Jeff Hardy had his house burnt down, he had a hit-and-run accident, and there was even a mishap with his pyrotechnics during his entrance. Regardless of whether these events were genuine or planned, the WWE writers did a great job in suddenly bringing them back to life by pinning the blame for all these events on Matt Hardy.
This is the ideal example of a backstory.
Now, the reason why I prefer a backstory in rivalries is because when you have a latent backstory which suddenly becomes visible, it creates a sudden impact on the minds of the audience. The added drama and story line to an angle gives it a good head start and makes the viewers invest in it.
Furthermore, it has the added essence of the shock-factor, which is also a motivation to invest in a rivalry.
To sum it all up, a latent backstory is a proper base to construct a future grueling rivalry.
Code 2: Landing the First Punch
Once your rivalry has been given a head start due to a well-planned, but currently unknown, reason, it is time to land the first punch from either of the two sides.
Now, the only thing one needs to be cautious about while landing the first blow is the setting.
And by setting, I mean the given pay-per-view (PPV) match or situation in which either of the two rivals kick-starts the rivalry by surprisingly attacking his rival.
In my opinion, the best time to land the first punch is when both the rival and, most importantly, the audience least expects it. The reason why I say so is because the audience is never usually impressed with the obvious.
It's like a flight taking off that is unsuccessful in reaching its final destination. In other words, the first strike must make a sudden impact.
To explain this point, let me take you to the rivalry which Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels had in 2008. Jericho apparently attacked Michaels when you least expected it—during one of his highlight reels.
The writers did a great job in converting the foregone actions into a backstory for Jericho's built-up rage against Michaels, but what was even more interesting to see was the setting in which it took place.
Speaking for myself, I did not expect Jericho to attack Michaels at that moment.
For those of you who don't agree, let me give you another example.
Last year, during Survivor Series 2010 when John Cena refereed a match between Wade Barrett and Randy Orton, many expected him to turn heel for the sake of saving his job. Had he turned heel at that point, he would have just done the obvious, and it wouldn't have created that impact which a Cena heel-turn is expected to create.
I mean, what is the point of something when you already know it's coming?
Compare it to the Hogan heel-turn. Much like Cena, he was a top face, and his heel-turn was completely out of the blue when everyone least expected him to do that. And we all know the impact that it created, which proves the importance of choosing an appropriate setting.
I hope I have been able to establish as to how important a setting is for landing the first blow. And to sum my point up, the less obvious and more out-of-the-blue an action is, the more impact it carries with it.
Code 3: Explaining Actions
Once a rivalry/angle has been kick-started due to a surprise attack by one wrestler (preferably a heel) on the other, it is time to put all the pieces of the puzzle together and bring the rivalry to life.
Now, this is the part of the rivalry where three things are essential:
- Throwing light on the latent backstory, thus bringing ignored actions back to life
- Justification for actions done or moves made
- Most importantly, a classic promo
Going by this article, we are currently in a position where a surprised angle has already been started, and the person who has ignited a war has to justify his actions.
This is the place where he has to both shed light on the latent backstory, which the people are completely unaware of at that point, and also give a motive behind a chosen move. It is actually that sweet spot in an angle where it can either fail or immediately get the audience hooked.
The one thing which this phase in a rivalry needs is perhaps a great promo. The reason why I say this is because you need a person who can both tell a story as well as convey a particular tone which makes the audience judgmental towards him, thus either deciding to cheer or jeer him.
Furthermore, one has to sell the genuineness (albeit scripted) of a rivalry and give reasons as to why taking certain actions took place. If the orator is able to sell his actions well, thus selling the reasons for his rage, the audience is automatically bound to be interested in the following events.
Again, to give an example, let me take you back to an episode of Raw in Toronto '03 where The Rock cut one of the best heel promos I have ever seen.
The Rock got massively cheered by the crowd in Toronto on his return to the city after Wrestlemania 18, where he defeated Hulk Hogan. The Rock was already a heel back then, but the prospect was to sell him as a complete heel and not just settle his heel phase since his feud with Hogan had come to an end.
He proceeded to cut an amazing promo wherein he both gave a backstory for not liking the fans (e.g., being booed by them at Wrestlemania) and also gave justification for him not liking them (e.g., their "daringness" to do that to The Rock was met with The Rock not liking them).
The Rock succeeded at selling himself as a heel and thus became a comical, cocky and egotistical Hollywood star in the process.
As explained above, this is that sweet spot in an angle where it can either take off or bomb to the ground. A proper justification for actions and proper storytelling is needed to make the audience fully aware of the situation and thus ignite their interest in the rivalry.
The reason why I say that it is necessary to get the audience interested is because, ultimately, it is the audience who has to help intensify the rivalry with their reaction (loud cheering and jeering, etc.). If the audience does not like it, then the rivalry probably won't get a good push. Hence, this phase is important for selling the angle to the audience.
Code 4: Interim Phase
So, now we are at a stage where the rivalry has started, the cause and motives behind all actions are known, the audience has chosen sides, and all motives are known. This is the phase where the two wrestlers have to carry a rivalry whilst ensuring that the audience does not lose interest in it.
This is perhaps the biggest phase which will both decide the greatness of an angle and prepare it for the final frontier.
This is the phase which has to involve those genuinely well-time-allotted wrestling matches for about three to four pay-per-view events, back-to-back. But besides great wrestling, what this phase also requires is the continuous evolution of an angle.
By evolution of an angle, I mean that an angle has to keep refreshing its motive time and again, or else the nature of the fans is such that they might lose interest. Plus, you can't have two men arguing over something for a good three to four months; you need to incorporate newer elements into the rivalry to keep the fury and rage alive, thus giving the audiences plentiful reasons to keep their interest alive.
A classic example of these "added elements" I am referring to is the involvement of the family members or personal property of a wrestler in a rivalry. For instance, John Cena and Edge had been feuding over the WWE championship for a good amount of time, but had they been arguing over the title alone for months, the people would have started to lose some bit of focus.
But then, they had Edge and Lita go and trash John Cena's house. And while it definitely sent another wave of anger through Cena, it also refueled the audience's interest in the rivalry because then they saw the wronged had another reason to reclaim what was his.
But, perhaps the best example of this point of mine is the angle involving The Legacy and Triple H and co. The rivalry first started between Randy Orton and the McMahon family. It started with Randy Orton and Stephanie having some differences, and through the rivalry, it kept adding one element after the other to keep the people interested.
First, there was the brief phase where Shane McMahon came to take out Randy Orton after he was beaten, and Triple H returned and had a feud with Randy Orton leading up to Wrestlemania and beyond.
Then, this feud morphed into Triple H and Shawn Michaels reforming DX and initially feuding with Cody and Ted, who were part of a stable that was led by none other than Randy Orton.
So, the WWE kept adding different elements to this angle involving The Legacy (Randy Orton's stable) and gradually kept the people interested in what was going on among this heel faction and the people they were fighting.
By continuously adding newer elements/superstars and story lines to the mix, the WWE was able to keep the audience interested in The Legacy for a good year with good creative thinking.
So to conclude, to keep a rivalry or an angle going, you have to keep adding newer elements into the feud so that the audience's quest for newer and different things is never ignored.
Code 5: Final Frontier
So, the rivalry has gone through the ever-so-tiring interim phase, which had the writers worked up due to the addition of extra elements to keep it fresh. Now is the time for the "final frontier."
The final frontier phase in a rivalry is nothing else but the phase wherein you reap all the fruits of your labor at the conclusion of a great rivalry/angle.
Usually with an angle or rivalry, a final frontier does not have much effect on the impact that the rivalry has already made. It is just how the creative writers should propose to end it.
However, for an angle to be remembered for centuries, the writers should try to come up with such a conclusion which is not necessarily a Cinderella story, but something which could leave the audience wondering for eternity.
The reason why I propose not to have a fairytale ending is because most of the rivalries do have a conclusion where the face-face factions win over the bad guys. Hence, such an ending is both expected (thus taking away any shock-factor) and is no different from a million others.
I understand that it can't happen at all times, but sometimes putting a final swerve at the end helps people remember it.
For instance, when the Rock-Austin match ended at Wrestlemania 17, the WWE pulled a major swerve by turning Austin heel. And that match will always be remembered, for it was on that particular day that Vince McMahon and Stone Cold shook hands for the first time.
The recent CM Punk angle which involved him leaving the company ended with Mr. McMahon being relieved of his duties instead.
And it is swerves like these, which add the icing on the cake of already popular wrestling angles.
Sometimes, the WWE just has to give certain angles an abrupt ending which can send the audience away both happy and satisfied that they saw the conclusion of something big.
Thus concluding the life anatomy of a successful pro-wrestling angle.
So, this was my personal view on the life anatomy of a successful pro-wrestling angle, and it was based on my experience as a viewer of the product. I hope you enjoyed it.
If you liked it, don't forget to give "props," and if you didn't, then do let me know your thoughts. I will be all ears.
And to everyone reading this, a very Happy New Year!