Three pieces of advice for pro wrestlers

When I got into blogging again a few months ago, I didn’t really do it with the idea of having a lot of readers. It was more for me, and to have some sort of record of what I was up to at a later date. Because of my career and the policies of my work place, I can’t be completely open, but it is nice to be able to share some of my thoughts with other people to actually respond to. By far, the most popular entry I wrote was the one about wrestling. So let’s return to that topic for some cheap heat.

Over the last ten years, I’ve been to the majority of the shows that have taken place in the region. Generally my role has been silent support. I don’t take sides in anything, I don’t get involved. I stand on the sidelines and watch, and that keeps me in the good graces of just about everybody, and since my job is to work with everybody, that’s the spot I want to be in. Sometimes I’ve been asked if I thought a gimmick or angle worked, and since I have a somewhat unique position at ringside, I have a pretty good bead on whats going onside in and out of the ring. A few years ago, IYFW moved back to NY, and now WOHW is back as well. It’s a real wrestling revival. Not only are there more shows, but there’s an active wrestling community, that stays involved in between shows. Between facebook, YouTube promo’s, twitter and WrestleFudge and other assorted commentary and message boards, there’s always something going on. So that said, here’s three pieces of advice I have for today’s wrestlers and promotions.

1) Heels should be heels
When I like something, I try to get more people involved in it. If one of my students shows up at school in a wrestling shirt, I’ll let them know about the next local show coming up. Over the years, I’ve gotten a few people to come and check out the local promotions. I’ve always been surprised at the people who will watch wrestling every Monday night, but don’t have any interest in going out to a local show. I spent some 40 bucks to go see WWE when they came to Glens Falls, and I had a good time. But if I had the choice between paying 40 bucks for WWE and 10 bucks for a local show, the local show is a much better value. Even at the same price, I’d have more fun sitting in a IYFW or WOHW crowd. Of course, I tend to avoid the major leagues in all sports. One of the big selling points is fan interaction. In WWE, your individual fanship means nothing. They need several thousand fans a night. There’s just not going to be any one on one interaction. At the local shows, where you are looking at a couple of hundred fans, your individual attendance matters. From my spot at ringside, I have gotten to know individual fans, and I, and the wrestlers notice when one of the regulars is missing. At intermission, fans and wrestlers mingle. It’s great when fans have a favorite wrestler. But when wrestlers have their favorite fans, then you’ve really got something going as a promotion. Faces (good guys) have it a bit easier. They show up at intermission, sign autographs, take pictures, and mix and mingle with the fans. But it’s the heels who make it all work. You’ve got all sorts of heels, cowardly, social misfits, cheaters… and then you have the dastardly heels. These are the ones you need at the top of the card. See Pierre Vachon or Roman Dominguez from IYFW, Punk (I was mostly thinking about his heel run right when WOHW started in Hudson Falls, looks like we’re in for more of that now) and Hoss from WOHW. They aren’t trying to be funny, win support. They make you really believe they are dangerous, and just bad. That’s exactly what you need to make it interesting when they go up against one of the top good guys. The funny, or fun heels, are great to watch, they can be entertaining, and it sells tickets. But when I think main event, or the championship feud, it’s the real evil jerk that you want to see up against the top face. It’s more rewarding when the face wins, and when the heel wins, as Vachon has been doing, it makes them an even more credible heel. And that creates even more interest for the next face who emerges with a chance of unseating the villain.

Most heels fill their role very well. And the local promotions have done a good job bringing in a variety of heels to fill different roles on the card. Sometimes it does get a bit too casual for my taste, but it seems to be working. Many heels just stay in the back during intermission, which is fine. There is a certain image that conveys, and that works well for a lot of people. And some do come out and mingle with the fans, which is a trickier thing to pull off, but it usually works. First, you get some interaction between the heels and faces, which provides some entertainment during the break. A lot of my memories of WOHW-Hudson Falls are from the intermission activities. Most people, heel or face, want to be liked and appreciated in their own way. And that’s where there’s sometimes difficulty. Comedic heels can pull it off more easily, but I think sometimes it can diminish their standing as a heel. It works pretty well farther down on the card, but almost all of the main event heels are very serious. Fronz Roddy pulled off a great move at last years Amsterdam show, he was getting some cheers from the crowd, so he told them to “Shut up, I’m trying to concentrate” That works. When IYFW first started in Balston Spa, you had some fans who would automatically boo all the faces, cheer all the heels. There are times when this can work, but trying to build up a crowd in a new building wasn’t one of them. It created an unwanted distraction in my opinion. I saw something similar at a charity show near NYC some 15 years ago. One of the heels who was getting cheered, actually got out of the ring, and got in the fans face, calling him pathetic and a loser and really going to town on him, getting other people to make fun of him for being a tool. And that was the end of that.

A few months ago, I had a conversation with a heel wrestler that I had never talked to before. As a wrestler, the guy was a real jerk. And I actually found myself pleasantly surprised that he’s nothing like that. And then I was happy that I had never known that before. Even as involved as I am, it’s nice that there’s still some magic and surprise to be had. Heels, especially the top ones, should have that aura to them. For these guys, its a good thing when a fan doesn’t ask you for an autograph, and takes a few steps out of the way when you pass at intermission. People should think you are a miserable jerk, both during the show, and before and after it. That doesn’t mean that every heel has to fall into this category, but it’s something to consider. To be at the top of the heel ladder, you can’t really be friendly at all with the fans. Not even in that wink and a nod kind of way. The despicable heels cannot also be loved at the same time.

2) Let the music play
So much of wrestling is in the presentation of it. I went to a few house shows in the early 90’s. Of the first 2 or 3 shows I went to, I can’t remember anybody who won. I can’t remember any of the moves. I probally only remember half the wrestlers who were on those shows. But I do remember the sound of the bell ringing, the music playing, the announcer going into his introduction, and the wrestlers walking down to the ring. I just read another blog post saying that the Papa Shango gimmick sucked. But that stands out as one of my most vivid memories of those early shows. Tatanka, Tito Santana, all spark detailed memories. The music is such a huge part of it. So are the lights, the announcer, and man, I love hearing that bell ring. I can’t overstate how important all that stuff is. So obviously, the setup is important. The sound equiptment needs to be in order, the entranceway should look good. I’ve seen lots of different types of lighting schemes work, and even add to the show. But there are some mistakes that can take away from the show, or just fail to maximize a chance to really capture a moment.

For wrestlers, your entrance music is a huge part of the experience. It’s your signature. I learned how to sign my name in the third grade. I don’t think my signature has changed since. Having, and then keeping a good entrance song is very important. If we’ve never seen you before, your song should set a mood, or a tone, within the first few seconds. If done right, the crowd will know if you are a heel or a face just based on your music. If not then, it’s got to be established pretty quickly. There shouldn’t be any guesswork there. For people who have been around for a while, the music should be memorable. There’s nothing like seeing the crowd react as soon as the music hits, whether you are a good guy or a bad guy, you know you are doing something right when the booing or cheering starts before you’ve been introduced. On the negative side, there have been times the music has hit, and I don’t have any clue who is coming out next. That’s fine for someone new, but not for someone who has been around for a while. Sometimes the new song is better than the old one, but not always, maybe not even usually. But there’s still a reaction that takes place as soon as the music hits. With a new song, you don’t get that, and changing the music more than once or twice over a 5 year period, not good. It blows an excellent opportunity to get some excitement going before your match even starts, and music is so closely tied to memories, if you don’t have a song that suits your personality, and that is instantly recognizable to the fans, you are missing an opportunity.

Music also can play a big part in other parts of the show. Some companies use a theme song, some have a song for specific events. All good ideas. But there’s one area where the music can be used more often, and thats at the end of the show. Usually the workers and promoters are eager to get the audience out of the building, and to get to work on the ring. Understandable, but I think it misses an opportunity as well. That’s one of the best times to build the loyalty of the audience. Back when I used to sit in the crowd, that’s when I would talk to whoever was sitting near me. Enjoying the moment, and chatting with other fans and even interacting with the wrestlers, is one of the prime times to build up that fan base.

Two memories in this regard. The first was an ECW show down in White Plains. Rob Van Dam won his main event match. And then he took at least ten minutes before he made it back through the curtain, his music playing the whole time. I don’t remember a single other thing from that show, but I remember how into it everyone was as RVD continued to celebrate in the ring, and on his way back up the entranceway, which, like I said, took a good ten minutes. On a more local level, I can remember the year Danger won the Rumble Royale, and then went into a lengthy post match celebration, at one point choke slamming the ref as if he was spiking the football after a touchdown, once again, his music was playing, and the sound and the actions are inseparable. Heel or face, it doesn’t matter, you are creating a memory, and wrestling if nothing else, is a memory creating experience. At least if you want to develop lifelong, and multi generational fans. So go ahead, crank up the music, and let the fans enjoy the aftermath of a great show a little while longer.

1) Don’t forget the story
Not every match on every card has to be a part of a storyline. In fact, it’s probably better if only a few matches on each card are part of a real storyline. So by the story, I mean the story of each match. Some times it’s good when a match goes straight into the action. Especially if it makes sense to the storyline, such as when Vigo met Vachon for the title, and they had to start the match early because they simply could not wait any longer. Sometimes a bit more anticipation is needed. This is often a good fit for the first match of the card, or the first meaningful match of the night. I’ve seen it work in multiple positions on the card. I realize most matches are less than 10 minutes long, but that still gives you some room for psychology. Even if a match has good action and good spots with an impressive finish, it get’s forgotten pretty quickly if the story isn’t right. Newer wrestlers can’t just break out the finisher, we have to see it coming, and know that this is it. An established wrestler can sometimes get away with pulling off their finisher out of no where and have it be exciting. The most exciting matches build up slowly to a fever pitch, where you don’t know who is going to win, but you know it’s about to happen. But you can’t build up if you start off full speed. Matches might begin with some rope spots, a few quick power moves, but then the heel runs out of the ring, maybe briefly considers walking out on the match. And then things start slow again.

Every card should have at least a match or two with a slow build up, and be given enough time to really tell that story. Sometimes it works in the first match, because the crowd is eager to see wrestling, and the wrestlers are going to make them wait just a little bit longer before they see it. It builds up the anticipation a bit. Over the summer, JP Black and Bobby Fish put on a match that was excellent in this regard. It wasn’t part of any storyline, it wasn’t for a belt. But they didn’t get straight to the action, they worked the crowd, they circled each other, tied up, broke it off, and started all over again. It’s a fine line to walk between making the fans go nuts in a good way, because they want to see the match, or just get annoyed. It has to be well done. Going back to another early WWF house show I went to. Bob Backlund was fighting one of the Beverly Brothers. The match took a really long time getting started, Backlund jumped from the ring at one point, over the guardrail, all the way to the back of the crowd, hugged a guy he seemed to know, then back into the ring. I don’t know why, but I remember that. In ECW, the Dudley’s were always great at building the crowd up to a fever pitch. I went to a few ECW shows over the years, and I remember more than once there being a near riot before the match even started, based on the Dudleys antics on the microphone.

Building up a match this way also conveys a sense of importance. Fans can sense when a match is meant as a quick distraction between important matches. And a well developed card should have these matches. It gives the audience a break, and allows them to build back up to the next peak. When a match takes time getting started, the audience knows that something important is going to happen, that the match means something. Of course, the match now needs to deliver. A long, boring, uneventful match does a lot more harm than a short uneventful match. One of the most exciting matches I ever saw was a WWF house show match at MSG in 1996. Savio Vega was challenging Golddust for whatever belt he had at the time. Last spring, there was a WWE house show in Glens Falls. I hadn’t followed WWE very much, and didn’t really know more than half the wrestlers on the show. But about half the matches were title matches, and right away, I knew that since we wouldn’t be seeing a title change hands, I knew the winner of the match. I was able to call the winner of every single match before they started. And that’s not good. But some 15-20 years ago, in MSG, I knew a title changing hands would not be unheard of. And the buildup was excellent. The match was slow getting started, and slowly built up from there. And the crowd was just going nuts. They fully believed that tonight was the night Vega would capture the belt. I do not think I’ve ever seen a crowd that large, reacting to every single move, the way I did that night.

There comes a point in many matches, where you know the match is almost over, but you don’t know who is going to win. These can, and should be the most exciting moments of a show. All the buildup has led to this, so what’s going to happen. WCW did this really well during the 90’s. I never got the PPV’s, but that was during the time where the PPV channels weren’t entirely scrambled. You could still turn to the channel and hear most of the commentary, which is what I did a lot. Between the announcers, and the crowd, you knew the end was near, but a lot of time you didn’t know which way it was going to do, there were reversals, missed finishers by both men. Unexpected kickouts, comebacks and rally’s, you never knew exactly how the match would end, you just knew that something important was going to happen at any moment. That’s what telling the story is all about.

Conclusion:
None of these rules are set in stone. And none of them are necessarily right anyway. So use these ideas, don’t use them. I can’t promise to represent any fan other than myself.

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About garybraham

I grew up in Mahopac NY, studied geology at Colgate University. I've moved to Queensbury NY to teach HS earth science. I also coach soccer and wrestling, take pictures at local sporting events, and am the Scoutmaster for the Glens Falls ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. My wife and I will be married 5 years this October, and we have a two and a half year old little girl.
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