To quote Lance Storm, I would like to be serious for a moment.
We all have our favorite wrestlers. We all believe our favorite wrestlers deserve to headline major pay per views and carry their company’s major championship for an unspecified period of time.
Unfortunately as fans, we have no concern for the greater good as each of our likes often contradict one another and conflict with the implied intent of a particular company.
For example, only in the pro wrestling universe will Matt Hardy and Bryan Danielson stand shoulder to shoulder in regards to where their careers should be going.
Only in the pro wrestling universe will a Rob Van Dam championship reign carry more weight than that of AJ Styles.
However, when one superstar’s obscenely inexplicable rise to the top dwarfs that of another, most fans immediately heap gallons of blame upon the shoulders of those in charge of building a company based off of a unique business model.
This creates an uncomfortable and seemingly rhetorical question for fans that has yet to really receive the proper amount of attention it deserves:
“Why won’t they push [insert wrestler’s name here]?”
A true and real answer to this question comes with an understanding of what it means to “push” a wrestler.
I’ve never worked in the business, and I do not claim to be someone who is wise to the inner machinations of a given company.
However, I think we can all be enlightened by stepping outside of ourselves for a second to seriously understand why one athlete gets the spotlight over another.
The Push: What It Means
According to Wikipedia, a push is “when a wrestler gains popularity with wins and positive exposure.”
The definition here isn’t clear on whether that “popularity” is with the fans, management or fellow wrestlers, and that creates a huge problem from the beginning concerning a wrestler’s “push.”
Just because a superstar is popular with the fans (Matt Hardy) doesn’t mean they’re all that popular with the individuals that run the company.
On the other hand, a superstar may be vastly popular with the management (John Cena), even though they may have their fair share of detractors.
Then again, a superstar may receive preferential attention from the management (Michelle McCool/Sheamus) on behalf of another superstar speaking highly of them to said management.
This leaves us with a peculiar situation.
Which superstar gets the push, the recognition that comes with gaining popularity through exposure and wins?
The answer is very simple, almost akin to missing the forest because all the trees are in the way.
I personally believe each wrestler out there falls into at least one of the following categories:
- Someone the management wants to push.
- Someone the fans want to see pushed.
- Someone who has earned the right to be pushed
You can go down the list of superstars and literally plod each category with thousands of wrestlers.
The perfect storm for a wrestler comes, however, when they not only fit in multiple categories but also when they fit in each one at the same time.
These are the wrestlers that go on to main event and dominate shows and pay per views for months, if not years.
Who “Deserves” The Push?
The use of the word “deserve” is very tricky to say the least. Because of our dualistic American society, to say one “deserves” a push is to imply that someone else doesn’t.
That term “deserve” is very subjective and varies depending on the person you’re discussing it with.
If we use the term “earn” to describe our favorite wrestler, we can better enunciate our feelings on the topic at hand.
Deserve is defined as “to have earned or be worthy of something.” Earned is defined as “to acquire something as a result of personal actions or behavior.”
The definitions may seem similar at first glance, but each carries a specific semantic weight and speaks in different ways regarding the push. The fact that the definition for deserve has the word earned in it helps further the point I’m attempting to make.
For example: several years ago, I was passed over for an award a close friend of mine received that many felt I deserved to be awarded. Even my friend agreed that I deserved it more so than he did.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized that according to the criteria for the award, my friend earned it more so than I did. We were both very deserving of the award, but he accomplished way more than I did and rightfully earned the award.
This isn’t to say that I did not earn the award; my friend just worked harder than I did, and thus did more to earn the award more than I did.
The same applies to wrestlers that fight for receiving their push. There are some who deserve to be pushed with no limitations, but that does not necessarily mean they’ve earned the right to that push over the next wrestler.
If this is truly the case, then what is the criterion for earning the push? This question becomes especially pressing in light of the three categories mentioned above.
The Push: A Company’s Business Model
The end product of a company’s labor will really determine the individuals that receive the push. Whatever a company specializes in will determine whether a wrestler rises to the top or sinks into mediocrity.
Let’s look at one of the country’s two top pro wrestling promotions:
World Wrestling Entertainment – Sports Entertainment – Vince McMahon
Say what you will about the WWE’s product, the fact is that as long as Vince McMahon envisions his company as a multi-million dollar “sports entertainment” machine, then that is what it shall continue to be.
Jim Cornette—love him or hate him—can argue about the topic until he’s blue in the face, but if the man who owns the WWE thinks of his product as “sports entertainment,” then that’s exactly what it is as long as he runs the company.
To quote the character from the highly popular film, Coming to America, “If his mama call him Clay, I’m a call him Clay.”
This can be seen in the way the company acknowledges its in-ring employees as “superstars” and not “wrestlers.”
This logic is used because each and every “superstar” employed by the WWE should be able to transcend the state of being just a “wrestler,” and found appealing by fans inside and outside of the product.
So if Vince McMahon is in the “sports entertainment” business, and all of his in-ring employees are “superstars,” then what sense would it make for his company to give the push to a “wrestler?”
A “superstar’s” wrestling ability is one of many laudable traits that a wrestler must have in order to become a WWE Superstar.
A wrestler must be able to “work a mic,” “work a crowd,” and “call a match” to near perfection in order to get any sort of nod by the management. This isn’t even taking into consideration the relationship the wrestler must maintain with their fellow wrestlers behind the scenes.
Failing to show respect to the veterans could also land a wrestler in a peculiar spot.
In a nutshell, this explains why our favorite “wrestlers” don’t receive “superstar” pushes in the WWE.
This is why all of the wrestlers of NXT are considered “rookies” even if they may have been wrestling for years. They’re veteran wrestlers, but rookie WWE “superstars.”
This is why the WWE can afford to release a woman wrestler (Serena) at the expense of highlighting a Diva—a female superstar known more for her looks than her in-ring wrestling ability.
I’ll use the popular Bryan Danielson as an example.
Many fans (self included) were stunned and shocked with the WWE released him in June of this year.
In fact, many fans were highly upset that his official “debut” with the company was as the “rookie” to Mike “The Miz” Mizanin’s pro on the first season of NXT.
Clearly Bryan had many more years of experience as a wrestler than The Miz, and clearly he was way more popular among fans than The Miz, and was gaining popularity even in the midst of a terrible losing streak.
Fans were upset and were out for Vince McMahon’s blood. How dare the WWE treat such a beloved pro wrestling veteran as an afterthought in the WWE Universe.
These things did not hamper the WWE in their efforts. Danielson was kicked off of NXT, dropped from a red hot angle, and released from the company.
Two months later, Danielson made his return to the WWE during the company’s second biggest pay per view of the year, Summerslam.
Believe it or not, the WWE has given Bryan Danielson a “push” that took months in the making and also gave rise to the “push” of a WWE superstar and employee.
Again, if the WWE is about building superstars, then Danielson’s wrestling acumen is only a portion of what it takes to move him to the next level of superstardom.
Danielson’s work on the independent scene, I would argue, is what got him noticed by the WWE in the first place. Keep in mind that Danielson jobbed to John Cena awhile ago when Cena had his heel rapper gimmick.
In between that time and the WWE re-hiring him, he’s had time to fine tune his skills and hone his craft. The WWE would’ve never picked him up again if they didn’t feel as if he now had what it took to become their next superstar.
Most fans also won’t admit that Danielson’s diehard and rabid fan base was minuscule in comparison to the markets and demographics the WWE appeals to.
While it appeared to those particular fans that Danielson was being “buried,” he was actually being groomed by the WWE to appeal to their most marketable demographic.
His release from the company only added more fuel to that fire, which made his return to the company just that much more savory.
You cannot sit here and convince me that Danielson’s value in the pro wrestling world AND the WWE hasn’t skyrocketed exponentially after the Tiegate Scandal.
His push also elevated The Miz and Michael Cole to new heights, as fans now had more of a reason to hate them than ever before.
I would argue that more fans are now salivating for a Danielson/Miz match for the U.S. Title now than they were when NXT started.
This comes at a very appropriate time as well, seeing as The Miz might be receiving a main event level push in the near future.
Vince McMahon has also seemingly accepted the notion that regardless of how nice, professional, and qualified Michael Cole is, fans just can’t accept the fact that he’s “replaced” Jim Ross. And so, we all hate him.
Danielson’s push served as the perfect moment to slowly turn him into a heel commentator that the fans really want to see get some sort of comeuppance from a superstar. Fellow B/R writer Big Nasty wrote an excellent piece on this subject.
In the end, Danielson’s supposed burial was actually a cleverly designed push all along that has not only benefited him in the short term, but has set him up for an even bigger and brighter future main event push.
I say this comfortably because if you look at the categories mentioned earlier, Danielson fits nicely into each one and based off of his short time in the WWE and his veteran skills, he has earned the push he’s received.
Compare Danielson to Matt Hardy and Chavo Guerrero, two veteran wrestlers that arguably deserve a run with a major championship, who are also veteran superstars that have earned that right as well.
Can you say that either one of them fit inside more than one of the three categories mentioned earlier?
Say what you will about each individual, but if Danielson deserves a super fast rise to the top, then so does Chavo and Matt based on the same criteria.
Is it possible, however, that Danielson has done slightly more than Matt or Chavo to earn a push as a WWE Superstar and future main event star?
Is it even possible that Chavo and Matt’s best qualities—which I would argue are keeping them from getting “the push”—are better served in giving guys like Danielson “the push?”
The point is that when dealing with the WWE and sports entertainment, being a really great wrestler is not the standard for becoming a WWE Superstar.
This is probably why your favorite wrestler doesn’t receive “the push.”
Great wrestling skills can get your foot in the door, and maybe even a nod and a pat on the back.
But as far as becoming a huge WWE Superstar, there’s much more to the fanfare than being able to accurately apply a Fujiwara armbar.
I look forward to your rebuttals and comments. And for those of you that plan on bringing up Sheamus, I plan on talking about him in another Push vs. Job piece.
Class dismissed, you can now go and play.
“Michael Cole: This Era’s Bobby Heenan and the Best Heel in Wrestling” by Big Nasty