What does it take for a superstar to get noticed by the booker?
Is it exceptional in-ring skill or the ear deafening pops or boos the performer accumulates over a certain period of time? Is it the success of a gimmick that puts the management on notice? Or is it the rising merchandise sales of said performer which raises both his stock and importance in the company?
Perhaps, it is because of all of the above.
There is a pecking order; there has always been one in companies where importance is given mostly to the top talent in the company—main-eventers.
The evidence is before you: The opening and closing segments are usually reserved for wrestlers of the top echelon, be it for a main event match or a shocking closing segment.
There is a proverbial glass ceiling that the new talent has to break through in order to truly become one of the top superstars.
Over the years, the wrestling audience has witnessed moderate to main event pushes for superstars; moderate meaning they are given a fair amount of wins or even begin to rack up a winning streak and a main event push would qualify as booking the superstar to get in the ring with the current main event talent, and giving him/her high profile wins, in bouts where the championship may or not be on the line.
But how far does a superstar have to go until he/she reaches the level of success to hold the belt? How long must they be slammed on their backs and be pinned before they are on the other end of the pin fall and are picking up impressive victories?
It’s not easy to establish a definite time period or instruction manual because the way people break into the business varies from one person to another.
Some may attribute it to luck, but whoever thought luck leads anyone to success obviously has never searched for the words "hard work" and "determination" in a dictionary.
Simply put, luck is for losers.
Others get to where they are because of their connections; well, sort of.
This is by no means a bash on Hunter Hearst Helmsley, but a tiny observation of the career of Randy Orton. Orton got into the business due to his ancestral roots being firmly planted into wrestling history.
But even with wrestling in his blood, Orton, just like any other wrestler recalls of starting from scratch and working his way up from the bottom rung of the ladder:
When I first got down there, I hadn’t received a lot of training. I remember throwing my first dropkick and barely getting above my opponent’s knees. Everyone was looking around thinking, “Are you kidding me?”
-Randy Orton discusses his training in OVW in WWE Magazine
We get to where we are because we’ve either perfected the art of what we do so much to the fact that it has become second nature; it matters not which art it is, only that you excel in whatever you set out to do.
Taking that into consideration, what we have here are some of the necessary requirements, if you will, from wrestlers that are as follows:
- Wrestling prowess
- Microphone skills (The ability to: talk confidently, talk smack)
- The look
- A good gimmick
- Charisma (to connect with the crowd in either a positive or negative way)
These are attributes that are looked at when selecting a superstar that they will benefit most from; this is a business after all.
But over the decades, the importance of some of these qualities has been questioned and for good reason.
Has the art of the push evolved up to the point where the professional wrestling standards are now completely different as opposed to what they used to be?
Let's take a look.
Wrestling prowess: The importance of wrestling skill has taken a sharp drop; I’m in no way suggesting that basic mat skills are obsolete, but rather the clinic we see two superstars put on in the squared circle is a spectacle that comes infrequently but when showcased, it shows the bursting potential of a wrestler.
Another example of how wrestling skill has been put aside in favor of high paced brawling is the move set adopted by Steve Austin after he took on the ‘Stone Cold’ persona.
Long gone are the days of time consuming rest holds and submission maneuver filled bouts; however, what we have now are a plethora of different styles being incorporated into weekly bouts such as Lucha Libre, several aspects of Muay Thai and King’s Road which not only revitalize the wrestling but also creates opportunities for two or more styles to clash in a single match.
What is evident is that even though its importance has decreased, wrestlers still have the determination to provide bouts that are compelling to watch.
Microphone skills: I cannot stress the importance of this enough with a few select wrestlers possessing little to no poise when addressing the audience or their opponents.
One example would be Jeff Hardy, who tends to walk around the ring, addressing the crowd and pausing between moments where pauses aren’t required.
A wrestler without mic skills is a handicapped entertainer; no matter how entertaining the matches might be, without the mic skills, the superstar will fail to gain any substantial reaction from the audience.
One wrestler follows this rule; he goes by the name of Shelton Benjamin.
While his promo skills are improving, I fear his biggest flaw is the inability to rile up the crowd by interacting with them during his matches.
Another wrestler, who was already mentioned above defies both this rule and one of wrestling prowess; Jeff Hardy. While he may be well versed in high flying action, he simply connects with the crowd on the basis of his death defying stunts.
But if it gets the job done and it sells merchandise, who are the WWE to complain?
The importance of mic skills is now more important than ever as it helps put each competitor and their respective rivalry over with the crowd and generates a genuine interest in the program.
Did I mention it helps sell PPVs?
The look: Do you need good looks to get over? Is this one of the reasons John Morrison has gained a loyal following?
This topic has been debated several times whenever it comes to adding new members to Legacy who do not fit the profile.
The look can take a superstar from the ground to cloud nine as evidenced by Shawn Michaels’ flamboyant dress code during the ‘90s.
While the boys in the back taunted Michaels for his weird attire, he gained favor with the fans for becoming a trend setter and that would ultimately become part of his ‘Heartbreak Kid’ character.
It isn’t uncommon to find wrestlers without a golden smile who have succeeded in pro wrestling. Names such as Mick Foley and Ricky Steamboat come to mind when talking about those who didn’t exactly dress for success but nonetheless attained it through the admiration of the fans.
It takes true skill to overcome this barrier between success and failure, and with or without good looks, the admiration will come.
A good gimmick: With a good character comes great in-ring psychology. This attribute has gone through a host of changes from the cartoonish pranksters to the more realistic characterizations.
There are however two wrestlers that have made the most out of poorly thought gimmicks, one being Dolph Ziggler who has pleasantly surprised me with the amount of heat he has amassed, and the other being the Undertaker who has withstood both the New Generation and the Attitude Era of professional wrestling by continually modifying a few aspects of his character yet keeping the core unchanged.
There comes a time when the wrestler takes the gimmick and exploits more out of it, as is with the case of both Ziggler and Undertaker.
A good gimmick is needed to succeed, but both Mark Callaway and Nick Nemeth would tell you otherwise. They are two shining examples of how a poorly thought out gimmick is taken and expanded into something
Charisma: Innate or not, it’s one of the harder skills to master but when a wrestler acquires this great weapon, he/she is able to keep the audience in the palm of his/her hands.
Its importance too, has increased greatly with the fact that it gives the wrestler an opportunity to interact with the fans thus getting over with the fans guarantees that they will show their support towards the wrestler and disdain towards his/her opponent.
Wrestlers such as Hulk Hogan, 'Macho Man' Randy Savage, Andre The Giant and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson were able to attain this feat and thus went on to become household names for the WWE.
Has the art of the push evolved or has the art of wrestling entertainment?
Since one affects the other, it’s safe to say that both have changed significantly for whatever the reason may be; it has bred a new species of professional wrestlers, the changes may not seem most important right now.
They have only just begun.