Ryback, Lord Tensai and the Art of the WWE Squash Match

Alfred Konuwa@@ThisIsNastyFeatured ColumnistApril 15, 2012

From WWE.com
From WWE.com

The squash match has been an useful tool in the WWE for decades, dating back to the company's elevation of monster heels such as Killer Kowalski, Big John Studd and Andre the Giant to name a few.

Once upon a time, this match was simply a formality, used to put fans on notice as to who the next serious challenger for the WWE championship would be. 

With Vince McMahon and/or the powers that be well in control of what information gets out to the public during that time, seeing a big, bad heel—and in some cases a babyface—lay waste to a lesser opponent in seconds was effective in getting fans to buy into the legitimacy of the monster in question. 

In fact, with much of free WWE TV in the pre-attitude era dedicated to more non-competitive matches designed to showcase the talents of prominent stars, this was a perfect setting for outright obliteration. 

Cue the propaganda-killing influx of the Monday Night Wars, which coincided with the onset of the Internet and its oft-defiant influence on pro wrestling, and the squash match was one of many elements of wrestling rendered an endangered species in the mid-90s. 

WCW was breathing down the WWE's neck as the industry-changing wars heated up, nearly putting them out of business at one point.  One adjustment the venerable promotion had to make that was pertinent to its survival was to feature more competitive, pay-per-view quality matches on free TV. 

Gone were the days of WWE's answer to the blowout win as fans, with itchy trigger fingers armed with remote controls, dictated the quality of wrestling they would be seeing on a week-to-week basis. 

Obviously, booking a wrestler to predictably win a one-sided affair, which is somewhat condescending in a landscape driven by TV ratings, didn't figure into these plans. 

Remnants of the attitude era still linger as the WWE continues to feel pressure to maintain strong ratings well after their well-documented victory in the Monday Night Wars. 

The WWE put forth a colossal effort in winning that war, but in turn, they set a new standard in television wrestling that they still find themselves struggling to uphold. 

Ten years after regaining their death grip on the professional wrestling industry, squash matches have slowly, but surely, found their way back into the WWE.

WWE's booking of Umaga in 2006 is an example of one of the last times this method really seemed to click.  Alongside charismatic manager Armando Alejandro Estrada, the 300-pound Samoan beast mowed through WWE jobbers, but not before feasting on the likes of the legendary Ric Flair to show fans he really wasn't messing around from the jump.  

A key to matches of this nature eventually connecting with fans always seemed to be that little something extra.  Most monster heels are usually limited in their promo work—which is exactly how it should be to add to the intimidation factor.  Therefore, detestable managers or gimmicks, like Big John Studd bringing out a stretcher to the ring, only help drive interest for such a quick wrestling contest.

Today, the WWE continues to take cues from elementary essentials with their booking of Lord Tensai—a super heavyweight who made his mark on the wrestling scene as Prince Albert (and later A-Train), honed his craft in Japan and is now back with the company.  

Tensai's gimmick is the TKO finish, where his elevated sitout powerbomb finisher results in opponents being unable to continue. 

While that is indeed cute, something seems to be missing as the WWE finds itself facing the familiar dilemma of failing to intrigue fans with short-form matches.

Meanwhile, babyface talents Brodus Clay and Ryback seem to be on the fast track to getting over with a similar formula, minus the TKO of course. 

Ryback, formerly known as Skip Sheffield, has benefited from his victories coming against relative unknowns, giving fans the chance to focus solely on his abilities and physical presence (these are pretty undersized unknowns). 

Superior selling by WWE jobbers has helped the cause in building up Ryback as a legitimate killer in the ring as he continues his ascent up the WWE pecking order.

Brodus Clay's success, on the other hand, may not have as much to do with him winning his matches in seconds as it does with the novelty of a near 400-pound man who line dances in neon spandex.

This once again speaks to the idea that, if afforded the appropriate bells and whistles, perhaps there still is a place for the squash match.  

There are far too many variables in wrestling to be able to assign a generic blueprint to the creation of a star.  But when it comes to the elevation of a beast-like competitor, this process can still be expedited under the proper circumstances. 

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