Welcome back, readers!
Well, it’s back…my little segment entitled “In Relation to My Work,” and in this particular installment, I will be discussing something that I’ve actually been wanting to talk about for over a year at this point following my publication of UWWX: The Underground Women’s Wrestling Xperiment back in the December of 2012. In fact, this particular topic has actually been back on my mind quite a bit on account of my recent dillydallying around with WWF Smackdown! 2: Know Your Role for the Sony PSX. As I’ve made allusions to before on February 9, 2013 on this blog, if there’s one feature of any wrestling game that catches my attention the most, it’d be its Create-a-Wrestler feature. Without a doubt, whenever a particular video game contains a feature that allows me to interact with the game itself on a deeper level than simply taking what the programmers have already given me and being satisfied with it, more times than not, I learn to love said feature, and the CAW mode in most wrestling games from 1998 onward is certainly no exception to this rule. As a matter of fact, such modes often prove to be the most fun for me in that they help me learn about professional wrestling on a level that, in its own way, is more personal and interactive than simply selecting one of several already established wrestlers and helping my chosen grappler grab the gold in Season Mode. You see, CAW features in wrestling games teach me both as a gamer and as a wrestling fan the importance of having a large, varied arsenal and knowing not only how, but also when to use such maneuvers. For example, it makes more sense to start off with simple weardown holds such as headlocks and leg grapevines earlier on in the match than to slap on more devastating submission holds such as guillotine chokes and anklelocks for the simple fact that the fresher an opponent is, the more likely he or she will be likely to shrug off and escape such holds, thus making them seem less effective in the long run. Not only that, but what makes a wrestling match more exciting after all is said and done—executing one’s most high-impact slams and crippling holds against an opponent right off the bat or slowly but surely working one’s way up to such moves towards the end of the match, all the while exchanging takedowns, weardown holds, and simple punches and kicks in a competitive toe-to-toe bout?
Of course, all of that constitutes only the mechanics of professional wrestling. On the other hand is something that is of arguably equal importance in terms of making one’s mark in the pro wrestling world, and that something is the development and presentation of one’s in-ring persona. After all, how many times have you visited certain message boards or forums dedicated to pro wrestling and have either read or heard someone complain about a certain wrestler for having essentially no personality or character to speak of and as such not really standing out from the rest of the roster of whatever company he or she belongs to? Chances are that if you identify yourself as a member of what has long been known as the Internet Wrestling Community, you’ve probably read and/or heard your fair share of arguments like this. Heck, even if you only check out such forums or message boards on an occasional basis, you’ve become at least vaguely familiar with the term “vanilla midget,” which is basically what less forgiving wrestling enthusiasts call those wrestlers who lack the definitive character development of their more defined brethren, even if only in said fans’ eyes. This very term is a particularly unfortunate one for a wrestler to be called in that it defines him or her—either rightly or wrongly—as being bland, boring, and completely devoid of personality and therefore not worth paying any attention to. Needless to say, no wrestler wants to be labeled such a thing, especially considering the fact that unlike boxing, mixed martial arts, Olympic wrestling, and various other full-fledged sports, pro wrestling is an entirely different breed of venue—a type of sports-theater hybrid, if one will, that relies just as much on storytelling and larger-than-life personalities as it does raw athleticism. Now, don’t get me wrong, people. I myself enjoy a great wrestling match just as much as the next person, be it a smooth-flowing technical wrestling clinic or an acrobatic display of high-flying prowess or even a good old-fashioned, hard-hitting brawl. However, while any given wrestling match might be considered great or even a classic based solely on the work rate of the wrestlers involved, such a match often enough ends up meaning so much more with the help of not only mindful, logical booking, but also (and moreover) keen, distinct character portrayal and the evolution of such personas both inside and outside the ring.
Unfortunately, over the course of history, wrestling fans have witnessed many a pro wrestling character that has failed to work—many an in-ring persona that has become more infamous than famous within the eyes of fans and pundits alike on at least one level or another. Worse yet is how there has even been at least one entire wrestling promotion that has, in all its existence, been carried upon the backs of such poorly developed characters. However, no matter how many personas have been developed throughout the entirety of professional wrestling’s existence, it always seems as though certain wrestling promotions have yet to learn and remember what separates the cherished characters from the reviled ones and keep such a vital piece of information in mind when presenting new personalities to their audience, be they ones that they themselves have forged for their performers to portray or ones that the performers have created for themselves. I sure know that in all my years of being a wrestling fan, I’ve come to know many an in-ring persona that I’ve come to hate for X, Y, and Z reasons as well as those I’ve come to enjoy, and it is out of my personal desire to continue seeing more of the latter and less of the former that I write this particular article. Will the eyes of any major wrestling promotion ever fall upon it? Not likely, but hey—if nothing else, at least it makes for a good exercise in catharsis. Therefore, without any further ado, allow me to draw upon my years of being a fan and, in a ways, student of this oft-misunderstood form of entertainment and share with you all three important points necessary to keep in mind when creating a timeless in-ring pro wrestling persona.
Point 1: The wrestler must have it in him or her to portray the persona in question.
This first step should more or less go without saying. After all, if an actor or actress in a movie, television program, or stage performance falls short in portraying the role he or she is supposed to be playing, then his or her performance is bound to suffer. Sure, it never hurts such professionals to broaden their range and learn to adapt themselves to a wider range of genres and/or character archetypes in hopes of providing themselves with a more stable acting career. Even so, not every professional in this field can do so, be it on account of their choice industry’s tendencies to typecast them based on earlier successes or some sort of insufficiency on their own part. Sadly, the same holds true for professional wrestlers, for not every wrestler has the same kind of flexibility that Christopher Daniels had when he played Curry Man in 2008 TNA or that Cody Rhodes had in 2011 WWE with his “Undashing” gimmick or, for that matter, the way Mick Foley or Dustin Rhodes had with any of the characters they’d played over the course of their respective careers. Then again, even when a wrestler does end up playing a persona well, there are instances in which it’s the character that’s holding the wrestler back by not allowing him or her to make the most out of his or her talents as a performer. One such example that readily comes to mind for me in terms of the performer and the character not meshing as well together as they otherwise could have is the Ringmaster, a character that was portrayed in 1995 by none other than the man whom fans refer to today as “The Texas Rattlesnake” and “The Bionic Redneck” (amongst various other nicknames), WWF/WWE legend Stone Cold Steve Austin. To get a glimpse of how Austin operated under this gimmick, please click on the link below to check out his match against Scott Taylor as archived on WWE: The Stone Cold Truth from 2004 from WWE’s very own DVD library.
Now, some of you might be wondering, “What’s wrong with this gimmick, exactly, aside from his [admittedly] dopey name? If nothing else, it at least showed how great of an in-ring technician the guy was as well as how well he could play a cocky heel through his ring work. Not only that, Austin was allowed to do what he did best aside from wrestle, and that is cut a decent promo.” That may be true, but here’s the thing: The Ringmaster character didn’t allow Austin to shine the way he did when he became Stone Cold. After all, as wrestling fans who are keen on their history of the original Extreme Championship Wrestling would remind us, ECW founder Paul Heyman gave Steve the opportunity to demonstrate his mastery of the mic as soon as he stepped into the company in 1995 after having Eric Bischoff fire him from World Championship Wrestling. Still recovering from a triceps injury at the time, Steve was clearly in no condition to wrestle. However, that did nothing to keep him from cutting promo after promo on WCW and particularly Bischoff (Click here for his most famous of them all.), and from that point forward, Steve had already begun to forge his “Stone Cold” Steve Austin persona despite him taking on the name of “Superstar” Steve Austin at the time. It was by feeding upon the anger, resentment, and bitterness that he’d felt concerning his termination from WCW that his promos helped him to explore and present an edgy, no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners side of him that wrestling fans continue to remember fondly to this day. In short, regardless of how well Steve had played the Ringmaster during his rookie year in the WWF, that same character did little to make the most out of his ability to present himself as a true pro wrestling superstar. The Stone Cold character, on the other hand, was a much more natural fit for him.
“But what if the promoter I’m working for gives me a character to play that I just can’t portray for (Insert reason here.)?” Well, one of the key pieces of advice that any successful wrestler from over the years can tell you is this: Never be afraid to approach your employer and make a suggestion on how to adapt the character so that he/she is easier for you to portray. Such was how WWE Hall of Famer Adam Copeland adapted Edge—a street-roaming loner who later evolved into the “Rated R Superstar”—to be his WWF/WWE character from debut to retirement. The same can be said for how Mick Foley was able to step into undoubtedly his most beloved wrestling persona of all time, Mankind, who was originally going to be named “Mason the Mutilator” and whom Mick has presented in two distinct manners as both a heel and a babyface. In fact, it has often been suggested that the best way a wrestling promoter can promote any performer on his or her roster is to assess the performer’s qualities (wrestling style, wrestling skill, promo skills, acting mannerisms, etc.) and either forge a marketable persona for that talent to portray or take whatever preexisting persona said talent might have and tweak it ever so gingerly to make it presentable to the promoter’s intended audience. It seems as though the WWE has been taking this approach, too, this past year by giving its fans such memorable characters as the Shield, the Wyatt Family, and the Real Americans. Even Fandango, the 2013 incarnation of WWE wrestler Johnny Curtis, and his valet Summer Rae have been given characters that have gotten over with the crowd to some degree, and as of the December of 2013, certain episodes of WWE television have shown Brodus Clay—formerly known in 2012 as the Funkasaurus—returning to his monster heel roots. Unfortunately, there are still some products of WWE’s current (at least as of this article) creative process that have left a sour taste in certain fans’ mouths. On one hand is Xavier Woods as a stereotypical “shuckin’ and jivin’” black babyface rather than as a more intelligent, educated African American character. The same could be said for Wade Barrett’s most recent persona, “Bad News” Barrett, no thanks to the questionable writing that had gone into him for the first month or two of Barrett taking on this persona. Also, many of Drew McIntyre’s fans would love to see him regain the midcard prestige that he once had prior to his fallout with his ex-wife Taryn Terrell and perhaps reach even greater heights within the company. Unfortunately, WWE management has made no open attempt to move him out of the Three Man Band, last time I’ve checked, and it may take them a while to respond to such fans’ requests. Regardless, though the company’s creative direction may not be flawless, they’ve nonetheless shown that they can produce solid, distinct characters for their wrestlers to portray, and only time will tell if such personas will stand the test of time in a fashion similar to the way that characters of earlier eras (i.e., the Rock ‘n’ Wrestling and Attitude eras) have. For further explanation on how the WWE can make the most out of their characters, please check out this video by YouTube wrestling examiner Alex “Dalyxman” Hicks from December 19, 2013.
Point 2: The persona must have a solid level of depth and development.
To put it simply, if the crowd can’t buy into your persona, then what’s the point in even portraying it? Such is the responsibility of both the performer and the promoter—the performer for being able to play the role at least reasonably well and the promoter for crafting the persona adeptly enough in the first place to take full advantage of the performer’s physical and personal capabilities. With all due honesty, then, this point does indeed draw upon the first point I’ve made. Moreover, however, it enforces the responsibility of the promoter to forge a decent character in the first place for the given talent to portray. After all, nothing can kill the career of a gifted in-ring performer like a gimmick that completely reduces him or her to a glorified comedy act. For example, one of the worst ways to create a wrestling character is to simply slap a gimmick onto a wrestler—especially a gimmick that had been done before in a pre-existing, more successful and beloved wrestling promotion—give said wrestler a bizarre and often pun-based ring name, and say, “Boom! There’s your character.” This process is nothing short of lazy and superficial, for most such gimmicks have only a bare minimum effect on separating the wrestler from the rest of the roster in that most such gimmicks are so transparent that even people who are not wrestling fans can see right through them. Similarly, rarely—if, in fact, ever—do such gimmicks do anything significant in terms of meshing well with their performers’ best traits or otherwise bringing out the best in them. Such is the problem with every wrestling promotion as yet that has followed the same model as Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Yes, GLOW had its time back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when people were so used to seeing wrestlers playing cartoony, over-the-top characters in very vivid and colorful (almost garish) costumes. However, time change, and as they change, so do people’s tastes. As such, though there is still room even today in most wrestling promotions for the occasional goofball personality, people’s attitudes since the Attitude Era have started to gravitate more towards those wrestlers with personas that are more realistic and reflective of certain attitudes and beliefs and away from the more overblown archetypes and stereotypes of years past. Such is part of the reason why David B. McLane’s Women of Wrestling failed to hold the interest of many a wrestling fan back in 2000-01, as I’ve mentioned on June 12, 2012, on this blog. Sure, the characters were, as I’d said then, more like girls’ action comic book heroines and villainesses than the burlesque comedy characters that GLOW had had, but even so, with many of these characters receiving little to no storylines involving them and as such little to no character development over the course of WOW’s initial run (e.g., Boom Boom the Volcano; Caliente; Jane Blonde; and Tanja, Warrior Princess), how easy could it be for people who saw the show to look beyond these personas’ gimmicks and see them as anything more? Even those characters who were involved in prominent angles in WOW (e.g., Terri Gold, Lana Star, Danger, Riot, Patti Pep/Patti Pizzazz, Ice Cold, and even Thug and Selina Majors) failed to attain the whole larger-than-life status that they otherwise could have received, had it not been for just how lazy the booking was for that promotion, thus killing whatever chance they would have otherwise had to develop properly. Don’t even get me started again, either, with Johnny Cafarella’s Wrestlicious from 2010, which more or less copied GLOW’s formula in full and tweaked it to make its own product even sleazier and cheesier than even GLOW’s second through fourth seasons could ever hope to be. Even if there was any character development during that promotion’s existence, the show’s sloppy and poorly booked wrestling and uninspired and outright tacky humor left such a bad taste in the mouths of many a wrestling enthusiast at the time (myself included, for the record) that it failed miserably to shine through, and the characters came off as being little more than empty fetishes that Cafarella and his sidekick Steve Blance had slapped on to their women in order to make them fit in with the theme they were aiming for.
Luckily, there is a way to help make sure that even the most far-fetched and unconventional personas work in pro wresting, and that is to actually flesh each character out. Basically, what a promoter needs to do here is ask himself the following questions:
“Who is [Wrestling Character X]?”
“Why is he/she in this promotion?”
“How does he/she plan to accomplish his/her goal?”
“What does he/she stand for or against?”
“How does he/she get along with everyone else on the roster?”
“How does he/she get along with the fans?”
The list goes on, but I’m sure you get the point. After all, without a fitting backstory and personality to accompany his or her gimmick, the character is nothing more than an empty shell, and as such, why would any fan want to support such a bland, lifeless fabrication of a persona? Thankfully, from what I’ve seen of former GLOW director Matt Cimber’s 2013-14 project, Femme D’Action, he seems to understand this philosophy and has given readily discernable backstories to each of the characters he has created for his show. Who are they? What are their respective outlooks on life and the world? What are their goals as competitors in this promotion? These are questions that Cimber has apparently asked himself when creating them for his show, especially judging from the auditions he has featured on his website in which various women have competed to take on these roles. Granted, I still have my reservations about the whole project at this moment, seeing as how much GLOW flavor Femme D’Action still has, from the campy and sometimes ill-fitting humor—which Cimber has embellished with a laugh track, of all things, a la Wrestlicious/GLOW—and the ethnically stereotypical nature and pun-based names (e.g., Su Nami and Kim Chi) of many of these characters. Even so, at least like Mr. McLane before him, Cimber has tweaked the original GLOW formula and moved forward with it, which is still a far cry from what Cafarella did back in 2008-2010 with Wrestlicious. Not only that, but I personally find it to be ironic in a way, considering that it has been well recorded that McLane had left Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling back in 1987 after its first season had run its course on account of a disagreement he and Cimber had had concerning the nature of the show. What makes the irony even more palatable, however, is the fact that McLane was the one who wanted an actual wrestling promotion whereas Cimber felt that there was no need to change the whole “action comedy” formula that GLOW had had at the time, seeing as how it was working for them then. All this in mind, then, I hope I’m not all that out of line in cracking wise and saying that one can teach an old dog new tricks after all. Regardless, though I’ll have to actually see Femme D’Action in full before passing final judgment upon it, at least it seems as though Matt Cimber has realized with this new work of his something that Steve Blance and Johnny Cafarella never could: that it takes more than just an empty gimmick to make a captivating and ultimately memorable pro wrestling persona; it’s also what goes into the gimmick—namely, personality and backstory—that matter as well.
Of course, as I may have said before on this blog, the best characters in pro wrestling are those that are organic—products of the wrestler’s own imagination that they have fleshed out themselves and can play the most naturally with bare minimum, if any, modifications made to them by the promoter to suit the promotion’s needs. Yes, there have been many characters over the years that have been successful in the pro wrestling business—Undertaker, Mankind, and to a degree, Kane, just to name a few—that, despite being complete fabrications of the promotion’s creative team, have nonetheless become immortalized in pro wrestling history and beloved by the fans who were fortunate enough to see said characters in action, whether they grew up watching those very personas on their TV sets back in the day or even if they simply saw a video posted on the Internet featuring them. However, sometimes the most popular characters in any given wrestling promotion are those that feel the most real—that seem the most likely to exist in real life—that are, in many ways, extensions of the wrestler’s own personality. Arguably, these characters are the ones whom wrestling fans find the easiest to invest time, energy, and money into based on the simple notion that they represent ideals that they themselves can identify with one way or another, such as the rebellious Stone Cold Steve Austin and his violent resentment towards a boss who tries to cheat him out of every opportunity he strives for or the loveable underdog Daniel Bryan who, despite his small size, puts his superior mat skills and ferocious fighting spirit to the test night in, night out to prove that he belongs in the same ring as any muscle-bound giant whom the Authority also has on their payroll. Both of these examples represent aspects of life that people can identify with and say, “Hey, I’ve got to put up with crap like that at work/school, too. You know what? I’m going to root for this guy.” The same can be said for A.J. Lee, a woman whom we’re all supposed to hate because of her arrogance and how she apparently made her way to the top by making out with the right guys in the company, yet we end up loving anyway because she has the guts to distinguish herself from every other woman in the promotion and speak out against something that we ourselves find to be utterly ridiculous the way most IWC fans despise WWE’s Total Divas (Please watch the following promo to see what I’m talking about.). Furthermore, the characters with whom these personas clash are often enough equally relatable to identify as aspects of life that we ourselves find ourselves forced to overcome, such as Vince McMahon as the belligerent, condescending boss who cheats us out of everything we deserve or Randy Orton as the “chosen one” who receives all the awards and merits in the company when even the company’s customer base insists—nay, demands—that we receive those merits instead. Such foils further add to the story we’re watching and, in turn, the personalities we’re expected to root for, further proving how organic characters are the ones that prove most effective for any wrestling show and, in turn, further proving that a wrestler needn’t a ridiculous, overblown gimmick in order to get over with the crowd; he or she simply needs to be himself or herself.
Point 3: The character must fill in some sort of niche within the wrestling product within which he or she belongs.
To put it bluntly, it’s impossible for everyone to be a main eventer in any wrestling promotion, whether or not he or she deserves it. Every promotion needs a pecking order of some sort: main eventers, upper to lower midcarders, undercard players, and scrubs/jobbers. There thus has to be a niche for every wrestler and, in turn, a niche for every character. On a similar note, a promotion’s got to have a little bit of something for everyone: noble do-gooder babyfaces, monsters who win their matches by flat-out obliterating the competition, loveable but luckless underdogs, dastardly heels who triumph over the forces of good with underhanded tactics, and yes, even the occasional comic relief character. What matters, therefore, with all this in mind, is whether or not a promoter can answer the following question: “Where does this wrestler with this character belong on my roster?”
One common rule of thumb is to keep comedic characters out of the main event and relegate them instead to the midcard at the very most. Granted, there are exceptions to the rule, specifically if said comedy character has a serious side that the wrestler portraying him or her can play up. Such is the case with Mankind—a character that was initially introduced as a disturbed, self-mutilating creature of mayhem who eventually came to develop a softer, more benevolent side once he turned babyface and—though still a bit deranged in his own way—nevertheless developed an offbeat sense of humor (i.e., using a sock named “Mr. Socko” as opposed to his original two-finger glove when applying his signature Mandible Claw) that not only distinguished him from the other wrestlers in the WWF at the time, but also resonated a lot with the fans. Even then, however, it still took careful booking and Mick Foley’s brilliant portrayal of the Mankind persona (i.e., the following promo) to ensure his credibility as a top player in the company and make for certain that he would receive the huge pop that he did on the evening of January 4, 1999, when he won his first ever WWF Championship from The Rock in the main event of Raw Is War. Otherwise, would Mankind have been as over as he was with the crowd had it not been for the development that went into him on both Foley’s behalf and the behalf of the WWF booking committee at the time? Would other comic characters within the WWF during the day (e.g., the Godfather, the Headbangers, or any of the Oddities) have been as believable in that same role as Mankind was? Not likely, according to most wrestling fans. After all, unless you’re running a promotion like Nickelodeon’s W.A.C.K. from 2006 or the Studio Kaiju production Kaiju Big Battel (misspelling of the word “Battle” being intentional)—both of which are aimed towards a specific audience (i.e., W.A.C.K. towards young kids and KBB towards fans of superhero comic books and Japanese pop culture)—chances are that you’re trying to present your product as a more serious and at least semi-realistic product. In such a promotion as this, where the goal of the promoter is to provide the illusion that whatever competition is going on in the ring as being real, chances are that said promoter isn’t going to bill someone with a comedic gimmick as a main eventer in the first place, much less award the wrestler portraying that persona as the possessor of the company’s top championship—midcard championship, perhaps, but that’s about it. Therefore, one shouldn’t expect to see the likes of any character in the same vein as Doink the Clown (babyface incarnation, leastways), the Repo Man, Terry Taylor as the Red Rooster, Kerwin White, Eugene, Simon Dean, or Hornswoggle being the center of attention for such a product.
Another thing to keep in mind is that pro wrestling characters are best presented in a snowflake fashion, meaning that—to paraphrase the old cliché—no two should be identical. In other words, if you’re running a wrestling promotion that has two big, powerful, dominating women on the roster—say, for example, Awesome Kong and the Alpha Female—what is the one definitive trait that sets these two women apart? I’m not talking something as minor as skin color, either; rather, I’m talking about something deeper and more intrinsic. Obviously, it’s be a little absurd to have both of these women as heels, seeing as having two monstrous, bone-crushing “she-beasts” (for lack of a more flattering term) would only tilt the balance of literal power to favor the heels in the company. That in mind, it would only make sense to feature one of these women as a babyface, particularly in the instance that one of these two women has any amount of seniority in the company over the other. In this instance, the promoter can book one of the women—Awesome Kong, for instance—as an unstoppable force of nature for a long while, smashing the competition match after match until she finds her reign of terror brought to a screeching halt by one of the other women on the roster, who picks up a clean upset victory over her in their match against one another for the championship. Then, you can feature Kong trying to attain revenge against this other woman—be she Nikki Roxx, Gail Kim, Cheerleader Melissa/Alyssa Flash, Natalya Neidhart, or anyone else like these women—and end up losing time and again simply because this other woman just has her number. You can even have her pick up her one definitive victory over this adversary of hers to end their rivalry once and for all and even win back the championship she’d lost to her initially. Then, later on down the line, you can introduce the other dominant woman—the Alpha Female, in our example—and have her simply destroy every single woman who dares to step into the ring with her, including Kong’s old rival, which thus catches Kong’s attention and stirs up within her bad memories of the feud she’d had with that third woman and how hard it’d been for her to finally defeat her simply because “Rival X” was that much of a thorn in her side. From there, you can allow the contention between Kong and the Alpha Female fly as the two contend against one another bout after bout, making each fight a contest of skill, will, cunning, fortitude, and even morals and ideals, using promo packages along the way as well to further heighten the animosity between these two women until their final match. During this time, the fans should be able to see for themselves each woman develop her own distinct persona from her opponent, and not only in terms of personality, either, but also—at least quite possibly—in terms of wrestling style as well, especially with one woman being the definite heel in the program and the other being the definite face. On one hand, one of these women could put her technical skills on display as she tries to whittle her adversary’s strength down to nothing with weardown and submission holds while the other can rely more on sheer strength and hard-hitting brawling tactics to try and maintain the upper hand against the first gal. Finally, after that last match when the dust clears and one of these two queens of devastation raises her arms in triumph, the fans will finally know who the ultimate destructive force amongst all the women in the company, and from there, the bookers can find a way to further distinguish one woman as a babyface and the other as a heel throughout the course of each woman’s tenure with the company. Granted, this is a rather crude way to feature two very similar wrestlers and demonstrate how they can create their own divergent in-ring personas, but hopefully, it illustrates my point on how differentiation can benefit two very similar wrestlers who just happen to be in the same company.
Lastly, there is one thing to keep in mind when it comes to making a niche for certain characters in a pro wrestling product, and that is when it comes to assigning a given persona’s alignment. Here’s the reason why this aspect is important: Wrestlers end up changing alignment from face to heel (or vice versa) and back again quite frequently—sometimes more frequently than necessary, but that’s a matter of opinion that can be discussed some other time. In fact, some of the greatest wrestlers of all time from Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant to Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Rock to Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, and Randy Orton have been both heel and face throughout the course of their careers, and though one can argue that this wrestler or that was or is better as one of the two alignments than the other, the fact of the matter remains that alignment shifts—for right or wrong—still happen. Therefore, when it comes to a given wrestler’s in-ring persona, the question remains as to how said persona behaves when as a face and when as a heel. Take the character of Bret “The Hitman” Hart, for example—a proud mat technician from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and a member of one of the most time-honored pro wrestling dynasties of all time, the Hart family. For the most part, the Hitman character is remembered as a man of honor who takes pride in his craft and is always out to prove that he’s “The Best There Is, The Best There Was, and The Best There Ever Will Be.” However, there was a time prior to that when he and his brother-in-law Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart were tag-teaming together as the original Hart Foundation with “The Mouth from the South” Jimmy Hart as their manager. During this time, they proved to be one of the most dangerous and despicable tag teams in all of the WWF. Sure, they were great wrestlers who had fantastic teamwork, but it wasn’t just their skill that made them such a memorable heel tag team; they had their fair share of dirty tricks up their sleeve as well, including the aid of Jimmy Hart and his trusty bullhorn—aid that, unfortunately, would turn around and bite them in the seat of their pink-and-black tights when the two became a babyface tag team and ended up losing their WWF Tag Team Championship to Jimmy’s charges at the time, the Nasty Boys. During their heel run, however, Bret’s cool, clam, calculating demeanor played off nicely with Jim’s often wild and manic mannerisms to illustrate a clever contrast between their two personalities that was as great as the contrast between their two individual wrestling styles. This further illustrated not only who they were as a tag team, but also who they were as members of that tag team, and by illustrating who he was as a member of the Hart Foundation, Bret later found his identity as a singles wrestler—a master of the mat whose relatively small size made him stand out from the giants before him and the man-mountains he often faced inside the ring, from Diesel to Psycho Sid to the Undertaker. There was one more heel run for Bret in the WWF, however, prior to the initiation of the WWF/WWE’s Attitude Era when the Hitman’s pride turned into disdain towards the American people and he became the self-righteous, condescending leader of the pro-Canadian, anti-American Hart Foundation. It was at this time that he faced two of the greatest foils he’d ever had in the WWF and, quite possibly, his entire wrestling career. On one hand was Mr. “Oh Hell Yeah” himself, the foul-mouthed, finger-flipping rebel named Stone Cold Steve Austin, formerly a heel himself and the instrument of this very heel turn of Bret’s when the two of them switched alignments at Wrestlemania XIII in a legendary submission match. On the other hand was another less-than-wholesome character, “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels, the leader of the original D-Generation X—a stable that immortalized itself by disrespecting wrestling tradition, chopping their crotches in the face of authority, and telling their detractors to “S*ck it!” any which way they could. Without a doubt, one can easily see how two such nemeses could get under the skin of a man who fought for what was wholesome, honorable, and right in the world and make him snap, turning him into such a jaded, bitter shell of his former self as the industry he knew began to change into something that he loathed and failed to recognize.
To wrap things up, ladies and gentlemen, developing one’s persona in professional wrestling is every bit as important as—if you’ll pardon yet another cliché—knowing the difference between a wristlock and a wristwatch. Yes, match quality is an important element to keep in mind when putting together the ultimate wrestling show, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of the business. After all, this is sports-theater we’re talking about rather than a full-fledged sport, and while the athletic competition of a solid wrestling match may be enough to reel in an audience, it’ll be the characters inside the ring who’ll be giving the audience to come on back for more—compelling, memorable, intelligently booked characters who will forever live on in pro wrestling history for inspiring future generations to partake in this unique industry. Such is the lesson that not only wrestlers need to learn, but also promoters, and should this lesson be applied not only in the WWE but in any other wrestling promotion, be it in mainstream culture or in the independent scene, then who knows? Maybe this business—which has been in a slump since the spring of 2001—will at long last achieve the greatness it once had. In the meantime, wrestling fans shouldn’t give up hope, for while character development may not be the only problem wrong in pro wrestling today, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to look into it.
Thank you all for your time, and before I sign off, I’d like to take this moment to express my condolences to the friends and family of women’s wrestling pioneer and Professional Wrestling Hall of Famer and WWE Hall of Famer Mae Young, who had passed away yesterday on account of an illness that has yet to be disclosed to the general public. Having started her wrestling career in the 1940s, Mae has been recorded as being the first ever NWA Florida Women’s Champion and United States Women’s Champion as well as the trainer of her own best friend and fellow women’s wrestling legend, The Fabulous Moolah. Even in her later years, Mae continued to demonstrate a longevity in the pro wrestling industry that remains unmatched by any other woman in the history of the business, and without a doubt, I myself—along with many other wrestling fans around the world—will miss her.
Thank you for all your contributions, Ms. Young. You will not be forgotten.
In the meantime, if the initial topic of this article has interested you, feel free to visit the following videos for further information.
Aside from that, though, until we meet again, take care, everyone, and thanks again for stopping by.
Dustin M. Weber
Author Pages: Smashwords.com
PS: All credit for the photographs used in this blog entry go to the following sources:
Hulk Hogan: Blogs.VillageVoice.com
Andre the Giant: OnlineWorldofWrestling.com
Ultimate Warrior: TravisSttoetzel.com
Stone Cold Steve Austin: MemeCrunch.com, wrestling-match.com
The Undertaker: WayneWilkins.hubpages.com
The Rock: NotIntheHallofFame.com
Beaver Cleavage: Custom Beaver Cleavage Titantron by NotRicoRidriguez
Simon Dean: en.wikipedia.org
The Zombie (ECW 2006), Johnny B. Badd: Wrestlingforum.com
Gobbledy Gooker: Catch-AmericanWifeo.com
WWE’s Ringmaster: ECWFrenchTribute.free.fr
Edge: AllWrestlingSuperstars.com, WallSave.com/Unchained-WWE.com
Hornswoggle vs. Chavo Guerrero: Metacafe.com
Femme D’Action Title Card and Character Concepts: FemmeDAction.com
Steve Austin vs. Vince McMahon: BleacherReport.com
Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton: WrestleEnigma.com
Mankind as WWF Champion: WWEOutsider.Tumblr.com
Awesome Kong: WrestlingLove.com
Alpha Female: RingBellesOnline.com
Bret “The Hitman” Hart: HWWPapers.com
Mae Young (RIP): UGO.com
All opinions expressed in this article, however, are the author’s own.