I’ve been a fan of wrestling since the territory days, had subscriptions to Pro Wrestling Illustrated and the sister publications, went to house shows and PPV events (the original Survivor Series and WrestleMania 24) and was even sick enough to “watch” the scrambled PPVs.
Living in Tampa, I have had relationships ranging from meeting to acquaintances and becoming friends with several professional wrestlers, where I got a unique opportunity to get some real inside stories about the behind-the-scenes events and stories from the wrestlers themselves.
As the years have gone by, I was a kid during the 1980s Wrestling Boom and a perfect fit for the Attitude Era demographic target. And ultimately, I’m at a point where I have largely outgrown being a “full-time” pro wrestling fan.
Just like most of the guys who were part of that male demographic that was the target market of the Monday Night Wars, responsibilities and priorities change, but I find myself watching the show from time to time and keeping up through the websites.
When I see news like the Rock coming back or similar, it motivates me to tune in, and of course, I get to see the next generation of WWE stars.
The majority of the talent really is nowhere near the level of the roster from the 1980s and 1990s. But that does not surprise me in the least – the way wrestlers developed by working through different promotions and paying their dues is a completely different world than how FCW “develops” talent.
I’ll save the article about the poor talent development strategy for another time. What I really want to understand is why a guy (Daniel Bryan) who came to WWE from outside the OVW and FCW corporate development structure is so popular with the IWC.
By reading Bleacher Report articles, one would be under the impression he was as hot as Hulk Hogan was after he was in Rocky III, but the greatest promoter in the history of the professional wrestling business is not building the future of his company around him and when I watch him...I see nothing special.
So, I’m looking for someone to explain to me what is it about him that makes the IWC consider him to be so great.
It’s no secret about Vince McMahon’s preference for and history of focusing the company around wrestlers with superior physiques (many of which were achieved on more than diligent workouts and proper diet).
And only the very naïve believe that only the wrestlers that looked like bodybuilders and were not proficient mat technicians were the only offenders. Some of the best “wrestlers” in the world were taking advantage of that substance that, in fairness, was legal until the late 1980s.
But even after McMahon was indicted for distribution of steroids and the WWF shifted their focus to promoting a different style (The New Generation Era), while the top guys no longer had physiques that looked like that of a Greek god, they still looked the part.
Bret Hart made for a credible champion, with a great combination of muscle and wrestling ability. Shawn Michaels was “small” but obviously put time in the gym.
When a smaller man gets into the ring with a much bigger man, there has to be a suspension of disbelief. The fan has to believe that Bret Hart can truly wrestle against Yokozuna or Undertaker; or Shawn Michaels can wrestle against Kevin Nash or Vader.
Being a great “wrestler” is not enough for that suspension of disbelief; the wrestler needs to look like they have the physical ability to compete.
When Daniel Bryan comes to the ring, he looks like a guy off the street and a guy who has never seen the inside of a gym. He can literally know every submission hold in the history of wrestling and have great stamina, but I cannot believe that he, in any match, can physically defeat anybody.
For a guy who has been wrestling for 10 years and IWC fans rave about his wrestling ability, you would think he would have used some of that time to work on creating something interesting about himself.
At the end of the day, wrestling is not a real sport, it’s choreographed entertainment with simulated physical fighting. So it’s just as important, if not more so, to make the persona that you’re portraying to be interesting.
There have been wrestlers who haven’t been very big or had impressive physiques but managed to get over with the fans on an elite level. Roddy Piper was not the most physically imposing wrestler, but no one worked the art of the promo better.
He pulled it off as both a face and a heel; through the original concept of Piper’s Pit, he generated unmatched heel heat and sold to the fans his toughness was legitimate enough that he could go toe-to-toe with Hulk Hogan as his nemesis.
Throw in the devious aspect of his character; you have a guy that the fans can plausibly believe that he never was cleanly beaten by Hogan.
Jake Roberts, Tommy Rich, Jerry Lawler, Ted DiBiase, Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson all lacked any semblance of charisma based on physical look, but they made up for it in other aspects that extended beyond “wrestling” ability.
They excelled in finding a niche where they could use their psychology and promos that got them over with fans without even having to wrestle a match.
Bryan is as vanilla a wrestler as I have ever seen; which is inexcusable considering how many promotions he’s worked for (including the WWE developmental). The IWC will defend him, blaming WWE creative for not giving him a chance.
After 10 years, Bryan should know more tricks of the trade; have more ability to work the fans and generate interest from the common or casual viewer.
It’s been stated on Bleacher Report that Bryan always gets loud cheers from fans. If that is indeed true, that he is generating a fan reaction, he should be savvy enough after being in the business for 10 years to use that leverage with creative like many previous stars have. The Rock was always challenging creative for instance, contributing ideas on how to get his character over.
The fact that he’s not being featured in any significant way means one of two things: either he’s not trying to work the politics of getting over or he’s trying and he’s not demonstrated anything worth building a push around.
Once again, wrestling is not a real athletic competition. That’s not to say the wrestlers are not athletes because that is not true.
However, it is significantly more important to generate interest in the match than it is to have a great match itself, and in the matches that are not “great”, the important part is having a satisfactory finish (be it clean or a screw-job).
That’s also not to say great matches aren’t important. In fact, they are extremely important and necessary. But, it’s equally important that every match NOT be a great match. You can have too much of a good thing; if you always have “5-star” matches, they slowly stop being special.
Perfect example, consider Hell in a Cell: Shawn Michaels falls to the announce table while hanging from the side of the cage, then Mankind tops that by having Undertaker throw him from the top of the cage.
That shock factor changed the career of Mick Foley; and it was followed up by a series of other huge spots by the Hardy Boys and Edge & Christian. Slowly but surely, the amazing spots lost their shock value, and the wrestlers were doing escalating dangerous bumps to less and less of a reaction.
So, to maintain the effectiveness and special feeling about the “5-Star” match, it has to be used sparingly, like Hell in a Cell. Would the Royal Rumble be a special event if it were held 6 times per year?
As stated, it is far more important to generate interest in the match than the match itself. Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III and the rematch on the Main Event. One match is considered the height of the 80s Wrestling Boom, the other set a record for the highest rated wrestling program in history.
Neither match was “great” by any means; however, they did have finishes that were memorable and satisfactory. The SummerSlam main event in 1998 was Steve Austin vs. Undertaker, and it was an unremarkable match where each guy got in their specialty moves, a lot of kicking and punching and a Stone Cold Stunner to result in a clean finish.
The fans went home happy. But they went in extremely interested; it was Austin vs. Undertaker after all.
Bottom line, Bryan hasn’t demonstrated any reason for anybody to care about a match he is in beyond his wrestling a great match.
Once again, it goes back to Bryan being a great wrestler only.
The American Wrestling Alliance (AWA) was a promotion headed by Verne Gagne who believed in building his promotion around technical wrestling. To that end, he obtained Hulk Hogan in 1983 to feud against his champion Nick Bockwinkel, an experienced mat technician.
Hogan was the biggest draw in the industry, hot off his role as Thunderlips in Rocky III. But Hogan was not using traditional wrestling as his style. After working for years in Japan and the WWF, he opted to use a brawling style that fit his size and character.
Gagne did not believe in that style, so he kept Hogan from winning the AWA Title (even trying to railroad him into a lousy contract). Hogan refused the lowball offer from Gagne and left. Gagne got to have his great technical wrestler as champion and the WWF got the biggest draw in the business to go national.
Bob Backlund was the WWF Champion for five years: a great technical wrestler who couldn’t cut a promo to save his life, yet was the epitome of “good guy” (a staple of the territory days of wrestling).
By the end of his reign, Backlund was widely criticized; even in the kayfabe wrestling magazines. Although he could wrestle great matches and defended in Champion vs. Champion matches vs. NWA Title holders Harley Race and Ric Flair, the pair of NWA Champs really made Backlund look bad when they did interviews vs. each other.
Backlund was labeled as “Howdy Doody” and fans really wanted someone different; the WWF fell behind the NWA and AWA by the end of his reign (despite the Northeast being considered to be the most desirable territory in the country).
When Vince McMahon purchased the company from his father, he quickly moved to replace Backlund with Hogan; the one-dimensional Backlund could never have been the guy McMahon used to take the WWF national.
Harley Race and Ric Flair feuded over the NWA Title in the early 1980s, culminating in the first “Super Card” (Starrcade).
It was a great angle to get Flair over; Race offered a bounty to take out the up and coming Flair. Flair was from the Mid-South territory, headed by Jim Crockett and was considered the #2 most profitable territory (after the NE).
The national expansion of the WWF slowly put the NWA promotions out of business and eventually led to JCP and the NWA being one and the same.
Crockett Promotions matches were from top to bottom a better in-ring product than the WWF offered at the time and Crockett was equal to, if not better than, McMahon as a promoter (but not as a businessman).
Despite a better “wrestling product”, the WWF still managed to nearly put the NWA under; it was saved by Ted Turner and his personal love for wrestling.
The NWA under Turner eventually became known as WCW, but still was behind the WWF in the business until Eric Bischoff took over and began promoting WCW from an entertainment standpoint.
It wasn’t the better “wrestling matches” that made WCW dominate the early years of the Monday Night Wars; it was having more entertaining talent.
The WWF, which nearly went under, only came back with the emergence of Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Rock; and while both guys gave some pretty good matches, it wasn’t their matches that made fans tune in...it was their characters.
Bottom line: in watching wrestling since 1982, great wrestling is secondary to great entertainment.
The IWC is fully on the bandwagon of a 10-year veteran who worked very hard on becoming a great performer, but spent no time working on developing any character, gimmick, mic skills, physique or catchphrases.
If Bryan is as much a fan of the business as he claims, how could he not recognize the traits that must be developed to be successful? Ric Flair could wrestle, but he had a great look and could cut promos.
Hulk Hogan didn’t wrestle, but was a physical presence and worked the crowd like no other. Steve Austin had an injury that cut short his wrestling ability, but connected to the crowd in a way that no one ever had before.
The list goes on and on: Bryan has plenty of wrestlers he could draw inspiration and learn from.
Any wrestler who ever performed knew that it was essential to develop multiple skill sets and in 10 years, Bryan didn’t work on any of his weaknesses.
On the same token, the same fans crucify Kevin Nash, who is light years ahead of Bryan in every category except work rate; Mason Ryan, because he has a scary big physique but is still raw in other categories; and John Cena, because he’s not the Rock or Stone Cold and executes a limited move set (no different than Bret Hart, Steve Austin, Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels, Undertaker, Hulk Hogan and countless others).
Sorry, I just can't see the logic behind the support of an average looking guy who ignored working on his weaknesses when they were obvious and he was around the business long enough to know what they were.