WWE Identity Crisis: Small Guys vs. Big Guys
David and Goliath. It's a classic tale of the big, strong monster with menacing power and the little guy armed only with courage and heart.
As our society has evolved, there are three main types of characters people have increasingly supported: the underdog, the cool villain and the anti-hero.
The WWE has tried to capitalize on all these archetypes, sometimes succeeding and other times failing miserably. But regardless of storylines and character development, the WWE's identity crisis has never been really resolved.
As an entertainment company that focuses on making a big splash on its TV and pay-per-view programming, WWE is always trying to push the envelope, generate some controversy, challenge our perception, and leave fans wanting more. Since its inception, even with all the special effects, the focus has mostly been on their superstars.
As such, the corporate mindset, arguably the Mr. McMahon mindset, has been to employ and promote professional wrestlers that "stand out"—individuals that immediately attract our attention and perpetuate celebrity appeal. The company culture has often been to push large, "bigger than life" superstars that make us stop in our tracks.
But often, these monstrous body builders are clumsy in the ring and limited on the mic. Of course, there have been exceptions, but when fans reflect on superstars who made tremendous impacts and made a personal connection with the audience, it is often the Davids of the world that have given the company the texture it needed to survive as long as it has.
At the end of the day, size doesn't matter.
An audience—whether it be of theater, cinema, traditional sports or pro wrestling—just wants to see a good story be told. They want to care. Most fans don't care about a character just because he's seven-feet tall. Most fans don't care about a character just because he's five-feet tall. I watch The Avengers movie knowing that the super heroes will likely win. That's not why I go see the movie.
I go for the experience, to feel something, to temporarily escape everyday life and suspend my disbelief. Because in real life, the big, strong evil people do often win. The Davids of the world rarely come out on top. And when they do, we immortalize them. We exaggerate their accomplishments because they made us feel something, they reminded us of real strength—strength of character.
Yes, a guy like Daniel Bryan may not initially make you stop in your tracks. But that's because we've been conditioned to under-appreciate real talent.
But when a "small guy" like Chris Benoit wins the Royal Rumble as the number one entrant and eliminates the Big Show last, you remember. That's what made the Benoit tragedy so devastating—to see a former hero fall to such low depths destroyed us because it robbed us of our suspension of disbelief. We were reminded of how evil can triumph in the real world.
When Eddie Guerrero came back from his struggle with drugs to win the WWE Championship, we cheered because we saw a man, a man like us, who almost destroyed himself, come back and succeed. But alas, our hero fell to heart failure.
And there are countless other stories of heroes who stole our hearts on screen and left before their time—some under reasonable circumstances, others through tragedy, and others still through controversy.
The Davids of the world are few and far between because they often don't live long lives, they don't always get the recognition they deserve, and for some the pressure is too much and they later fail us as heroes.
But in the spotlight of their glory days, the "little guys" made us believe in something we thought rare. Maybe sometimes the good guy did win, that everyone had a story to be told.
So when I hear someone criticize superstars because of their size, I acknowledge that he simply doesn't get it. He doesn't get the fans. He doesn't understand what we want. Because such a criticism is just a lazy observation. Such a criticism is reflective of the type of people who like to take credit just because "they were there."
And if a superstar thinks that just showing up earns respect, they are sorely mistaken. It's not about the years a superstar puts in, or how big they are, or how intimidating they look. It's about what they did when they were there.
How did a superstar make us feel?
And so, the WWE continues to have this identity crisis. But I see it more as a crossroads, an opportunity to do something new. The big, strong guys have their place and they have made their contributions to the industry.
But the chants for the little guys have gotten stronger. We've seen their ability, we've glimpsed the shadows of their potential immortality. And we want more.
So have your three hours, WWE. But use them to tell us a story. A story about someone with real skill who didn't overcome the odds, but earned his rightful place because he was undeniably good. A story about someone who was truly magnificent and although he faced opposition, his glory could not be denied.
Tell me about Dolph Ziggler. Tell me about Daniel Bryan. Tell me about anyone who was challenged and said, "Prove me wrong."
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