WWE & Beyond: Presenting the Case for Storytelling as Wrestling's Best Dimension
Storytelling; the conveying of events in words, images and sounds, often by improvisation or embellishment. Stories or narratives have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation and to instill moral values. Crucial elements of stories and storytelling include plot, characters and narrative point of view.
Without a story, professional wrestling is two oiled-up men rolling around in a ring. With a story, professional wrestling is nothing short of an art. It is poetry in motion. It is yet another medium, similar to music, movies and forms of entertainment that has been used to paint a beautiful picture for us—the consumers—to enjoy for many decades.
To tell a story, many elements must combine as one. Production quality, video packages, commentary, promos, and the wrestling itself all factor into this, of which today I will go in-depth and review just why they each are so important.
The wrestling tells the basic story that the commentary narrates. The promos make that story more understandable, and video packages are a retrospective of what has already taken place.
Understand, however, that emotion lies in each and every one of these elements. Emotion is the element that connects the wrestlers to the fans and gets the fans hooked for life.
Those are the complexities of sports entertainment, though. In it’s simplest form, wrestling uses an age-old battle that transcends language barriers, and cultural, political, and economic differences; the eternal struggle between good and evil.
As Bleacher Report great Chinmay once wrote; “pro wrestling is about ‘how,’ not about ‘what.’”
World Wrestling Entertainment—the WWE—has been sitting atop the wrestling landscape since a man named Vince McMahon had a vision. His vision wanted to break the trend of local territories to create a mega-promotion that would span not only the United States, but the entire globe.
To do this, he needed to create a big event. A Super Bowl for wrestling, so to speak. An event that would unite all wrestling fans and make them put aside their differences for one night to watch the mix of sport and theater that they all hold dear.
This event is called WrestleMania.
WrestleMania is too difficult to explain with mere words. It is something you must see to believe.
The stage is bigger and more extravagant, the lights are brighter, the pyro is awe-inspiring, the audience is more diverse, and stadiums rather than arenas host the event. This event is where stars become legends and legends become immortalized.
I will soon expand on WrestleMania, as it can be used as examples for each element of the dimension of storytelling. Production quality, though, is what makes the WWE and WrestleMania stand out from anything another promotion could put together.
If you were to strip it all away and only a wrestling ring were left, half the experience would be tarnished.
Four years ago, Shawn Michaels first challenged The Undertaker’s undefeated record at WrestleMania at the 25th installment of the event.
Michaels is widely considered the greatest in-ring performer of all-time, and The Undertaker is the owner of the greatest gimmick and the greatest streak in professional wrestling history.
The anticipation for two of the greatest ever colliding on the biggest stage was only magnified when the WWE aired what some consider to be the greatest video package to ever to be produced.
This video package told the entire story. It told the story of good versus evil. It told the story of Michaels battling his past demons to become the first-ballot Hall of Famer he is today. It told the story of The Undertaker being an unstoppable force that cannot be denied.
“In the beginning, darkness ruled across the face of the deep. And God said; ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light. And God saw the light and that it was good and divided the light from the darkness. He called the light day, and the darkness night. Yay, though I walked through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. I have victory over death, hell, and the grave. Undertaker, I have eternal life.” -Shawn Michaels
Wrestling without commentary is like a silent movie. There can still be a fantastic wrestling match taking place without commentary, just like fantastic movies are possible without sound; but taking away either is criminal and will surely diminish the end result.
Jim Ross is the greatest commentator I have had a pleasure of listening to through the years. His voice alone makes matches seem more important.
At WrestleMania 27, Jim Ross joined the commentary table for the match of The Undertaker vs.Triple H. With all due respect towards Michael Cole, the match had an added importance when JR joined commentary.
He had watched both competitors throughout their entire careers and called the majority of their matches. He knew each man personally and had developed a relationship with them both, so much so that Undertaker requested he call the match.
Jim Ross knows every move you can possibly know and as Jerry Lawler can attest to, he makes sure that he’s overly prepared for every show he calls.
He knows how to paint a picture with his words unlike anybody else in the profession. Moments such as the one above as Jeff Hardy scaled the ladder and when Mankind fell off the Hell In A Cell structure will forever be etched in WWE history, thanks to not only the competitors themselves, but because of the passion easing out of the voice and pores of Jim Ross.
Promos are perhaps one of the most important elements of storytelling. Without them, there would be no video packages. There would be very little story to tell, and there would be little hype.
This past year at WrestleMania 28, John Cena went one-on-one with The Great One aka Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Rock was returning after a seven-year absence from the WWE, and WrestleMania served as his first singles match since his electrifying return.
Their feud began before WrestleMania 27 and the match was set the night after. Through 365 days, Rock and Cena managed to make it the most anticipated match ever.
These 365 days consisted of many promos each cut dissing the other. There was a Rock Concert, a Cena rap and about everything in-between. They had their fanbases—Team CeNation and Team Bring It—voicing their opinion on why their beloved leader would leave victorious from the WrestleMania showdown.
Rock and Cena went beyond your average promos, though. Through this feud, they each had a monstrous presence on social media. When The Rock was away to tape a movie, he would often ignite a Twitter war with Cena just to remind fans of what was lurking come April 1, 2012.
Overall, this revolutionized the wrestling industry. It played a role in further ushering in the Reality Era that a pipebomb from CM Punk kick-started.
WrestleMania 28 wasn’t just the event that John Cena wrestled The Rock at, it was the event where an era ended. It was an event where The Undertaker, Triple H and special guest referee Shawn Michaels told the best story ever told in a wrestling ring, in my opinion.
The Undertaker had seen everything change around him, as he was the one man defying laws of physics and dear old time.
Now, with time finally catching up to him, The Undertaker realized that all he at one time cherished now was nothing but an ancient empire full of rubble.
The only thing he had left was the streak, as the WWE entered the Reality Era. He knew that win or lose, he may never get the bolt of excitement that goes through him in either the thrill of victory, or the agony of defeat.
Triple H, on the other hand, wanted to both seek revenge for and outclass his friend Shawn Michaels. He wanted to be the one that finally put The Undertaker’s streak and career to an end so he could be the final man standing from an attitudinal era that will never return.
Lastly, Shawn Michaels had all the power in the palm of his hands. He could end the streak and the man who ended his career, or end The Game and ensure his best friend wouldn’t accomplish what he could not.
After a battle that lasted the better part of an hour, Triple H did his Suck It taunt in a final act of defiance, much like Shawn Michaels had shown the previous year by mimicking Undertaker’s throat slashing gesture.
He fell into the arms of The Phenom for a Tombstone. Michaels hand would slap the mat three times to count down the man he formerly had joined forces with to create one of the best tag teams of all time.
They would lock arms as the three staggered forces glanced over the land they had conquered before walking through the curtain and out of the spotlight.
This match proved that every move tells its own story. Every move, similar to an image, can speak 1,000 words. No motion needs to be wasted if two artistes such as The Undertaker and Triple H are in the ring. Every move means something and adds another stanza to the great poem being written inside the wrestling ring.
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