Getting over in WWE is no easy task. Each Superstar has the guy next to him vying for the fans’ attention, complicating his cause. He also has to contend with the booking he’s given and how he can make every second of the match and storyline count. But perhaps the biggest job for a wrestler in WWE is creating a character. His success will ultimately depend on how much he can do with it.
Just look at the photo of the late, great "Macho Man" Randy Savage. If anyone in the industry has epitomized what it means to truly inhabit a character, it’s Savage, who always had the volume turned up and was ready for anything a promotion could throw at him.
He has to be considered one of the most memorable characters we have ever known, and the impact he made on the industry is still felt today. Much like Hulk Hogan before him, Randy became a pop culture icon, and the real proof of just how good he was is the fact that you really can’t imagine him without that frantic voice.
To hear him speak like a “normal” person, without promoting an upcoming match, feels like a totally different guy.
While Randy’s ability in the ring is not in question—many fans believe him to be one of the best in WWE history—I think his work as the Macho Man character truly made him stand out from the rest of the locker room.
For fans to accept a Superstar, there must be no question that what they’re seeing is real. Of course, we all knew Randy was likely not the character at home with his family that he was in WWE. But when he was on camera, he was wide open, and we just believed. He was very real.
Another great example is The Undertaker. Mark Calaway is a flesh and blood man, just a regular guy who would not stand out from a crowd were it not for his size.
But when he puts on the duster and the black hat, Calaway becomes The Undertaker. Amid the fog, fire and eerie blue glow in the arena, this regular guy is completely transformed. Though we know he is not an undead gravedigger, it doesn’t matter.
When we see him stand on the steps and raise the lights with his hands, we believe. Common sense tells us he is just a worker playing a role, and we understand that. But when we see him, we see The Undertaker. There is no question in our minds at all. He is very good at what he does.
Again, we respect Taker for what he does in the ring, and he has a very impressive body of work in WWE. But without his ability to fully embrace the character and draw us in, would he be the legend he is today?
Perhaps that is where the key to cultivating a successful character lies: in his ability as a wrestler.
Workers tell their stories in the ring. Promos, backstage spots, vignettes, everything that goes along with the current WWE product is all part of the deal, and we expect it. But when all of that is over, we are left with two guys in the ring, and that is where the real excitement for fans lies.
The back and forth, the give and go, the overall psychology of the match itself is what brought so many fans to the table initially, and that is what keeps so many of us here now. To watch two great talents in the ring, trading move for move and near-fall for near-fall, with the audience riding the roller coaster of emotion while it’s happening, is to witness storytelling at its finest.
A conflict, a struggle between two Superstars is played out in the physicality of a pro wrestling match, and fans are there to see it all unfold. Of course, the match is made all the more important and all the more entertaining by the strength of each Superstar’s character.
You might say that it’s all part of the total package.
So what does that mean in today’s WWE? Which men completely immerse themselves into their characters, so much that fans forget reality and accept what they’re seeing despite knowing that it is all part of a bigger storyline?
Damien Sandow is an obvious example, a Superstar who places himself above the “unwashed masses.” His desire to educate and enlighten fans does not win him many friends, and his arrogance is almost without equal in the company.
But we all know Sandow is in full-on character mode when he’s on TV. It is his job as a heel to get heat, to work the crowd up until they boo him out of the building, which they do consistently. Damien is very likely not the conceited intellectual behind closed doors. And most fans understand this.
But we believe he is that guy. He is very convincing.
Daniel Bryan is probably not an obsessive neurotic who feels like no one believes in him and who constantly has to prove himself to get any respect. And he is likely not the kind of person to charge fearlessly into a fight with someone the size of Ryback merely because he’s trying to prove a point.
But as one of WWE’s top babyfaces, Bryan is that man without fear, and when we see him, we see everything the company advertises him to be. He is talented and extremely entertaining, and, though we know better, he is mentally unraveling.
The best WWE Superstars have the ability to make fans believe in who they are and what they’re doing in the ring. And though we understand professional wrestling centers on a manufactured reality, and colorful characters bring that reality to life, we often lose ourselves in the drama of it all.
The characters in WWE make all the difference. From Randy Savage and The Undertaker to Damien Sandow and Daniel Bryan, fans are pulled into the drama because of the work the best Superstars turn in, and that will never change.
And we would not have it any other way.