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Posted in: Chair Shots
Chair Shots Presents: The Re-emergence of Storytelling
By Rob Simmons
Feb 9, 2017 - 9:57:05 AM

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I consider myself a storyteller. When I write I want to draw the reader into whatever world my mind is occupying at that time. If you’ve read my work for any amount of time, you know it can go any number of places, all of which require a certain time and space for my thoughts to be in. I think that’s why I’ve always been drawn to professional wrestling. True confession time; as a kid I used to watch soap operas with my Mom. She was a big General Hospital fan and somehow I got sucked into the whole thing. That’s what I watched with my Mom. With my Dad, I watched the male version of the soap opera; the great industry known as professional wrestling. Whether you like the description or not, wrestling IS basically a big soap opera starring men in their underwear. It tells tales of deception, deceit, love and loss, and treachery. It tells of the underdog who had nothing but fights to the top to make it big. It tells of the downtrodden fighting against the authority figure who tries to keep the small man down. It’s daytime drama inside a squared circle.

While professional wrestling ultimately lives and dies around its in-ring product, the story that gets the viewer to that product can be the turning point as to its eventual success. Wrestlers can put on a fantastic match inside the ropes, but if the build to that match is lackluster, no matter how good the match is the viewer will not have the same reaction to it had the story told in advance been worth the investment. Growing up, I watched both the WWF/E and the NWA/WCW. Both organizations have had their share of great stories over the years, and like any weekly program there were some stinkers along the way as well. Even soap operas get ridiculous at times; I mean how many times can someone get amnesia? However my favorite memories of wrestling don’t always start with the in-ring product. They start with the story itself.

The first NWA PPV I ever attended was the 1988 Great American Bash, a card topped by Ric Flair defending his title against Lex Luger in the Main Event. It wasn’t that match that got me there though. The reason I was so adamant about seeing this show was it was the debut of the Tower of Doom, a structure that literally ended up in the lights. The story was one of love, lust, and betrayal. “Gorgeous” Jimmy Garvin’s valet and partner Precious was being swayed to the dark side by Evil Incarnate, Kevin Sullivan. The temptations and the manipulations lasted for months, as week after week Precious moved one step closer to Sullivan’s side. It was compelling stuff, and a story that eventually had a payoff inside a giant structure that was every bit as dangerous as Sullivan himself. Would love conquer all or would darkness rule the day? When all was said and done, Precious remained with Garvin, and the story had an ending; an ending that fulfilled the audience.

The WWE has had its share of story-driven subplots as well, but they’ve not always been as drawn-out or complex as other organizations. The Attitude Era was filled with tales of sex and violence that were more created for shock value than anything else. But recently, especially on Smackdown, the WWE has been crafting more thought out tales. One of the more notable stories as of late has been Smackdown GM Daniel Bryan’s ongoing feud with The Miz. It’s a story of a man whose day has past him, forced to watch a thriving Superstar whom he doesn’t respect. The Miz, doing the best work of his career, plays the bully role perfectly, pushing Daniel Bryan to the edges of madness, as he mocks him and degrades him at every turn. In an era where the WWE seems hell-bent on doing everything RIGHT NOW, the Miz and Bryan have been going at it for months. It’s certainly one of the more intriguing things going on at Smackdown Live week after week, and it continues even after the show has ended, more often than not on Talking Smack on the WWE Network. Had the WWE rushed this, and had their feud last a couple of weeks, it wouldn’t have had the same impact that it’s having today. The resolution wouldn’t be as satisfying. The story wouldn’t be complete.

Other organizations are taking storytelling to an entirely different level altogether. Philly based promotion CHIKARA broke the mold when it came to their approach to wrestling. Mike Quakenbush and his group have crafted intricate stories that not only last over months, but often times last over years. They’ve introduced alternate realities, time travel, turf wars, and just about anything and everything else you can imagine. Trying to describe everything that has occurred over the 17 seasons already taken place would be a book unto itself. Recently, at National Pro Wrestling Day, CHIKARA started their 18th season, but that was met with some confusion as their 16th season had just recently ended? How is that even possible? CHIKARA has a point-based system to gain title shots, and at Pro Wrestling Day a CHIKARA star picked up his 3rd point in what was presumed to be his DEBUT match with the organization. How is that even possible? Wrestlers who were just seen a couple months ago were now in the Alumni section of the CHIKARA website without any explanation? How is that even possible?

That is where CHIKARA breaks the mold. Unbeknownst to anyone, CHIKARA once again time-traveled. They filmed an entirely secret 17th season that will play out on their website over 9 episodes, and while the 18th season continues, all the missing pieces of the puzzle will be explained over time online. This is not new ground for them, as the company once shut down for 11 months to TELL A STORY. Now not every company can do what CHIKARA does, but others are trying to follow their blueprint while breaking their own ground.

We’ve all witnessed the madness that has been the #BrokenBrilliance of Matt Hardy over the past year in Impact Wrestling. Who would have ever thought that the Hardys, who’ve done just about all there is to do in wrestling, would find a way to reinvent themselves to the point that they have. Matt and Jeff have created an entire world “inside” the Impact Wrestling world. While Cameron, NC is where the Hardy Compound is based, it’s almost as if what happens there exists in another space and time, while simultaneously existing in ours. Matt Hardy takes storytelling to its most surreal boundaries, pushing the edges of sanity and logic until the ridiculous becomes the routine. Their recent big event, Total Nonstop Deletion, featured an active volcano, a lake that rejuvenates wrestlers, and a little bit of murder.

While CHIKARA broke the mold of storytelling, Matt and Jeff have broken the container that held the mold, the mold itself, and whatever the mold fell onto when it was broken. While most have associated the BROKEN in Matt Hardy’s name with his psyche, I’ve associated it with the structural norm that professional wrestling often exists inside. While many would think that he’s pushed the envelope as far as it can go, I’d be more prone to ask what envelope?

Then there’s this little place called Boyle Heights. It’s a town in California that just happens to be the focal point of an ancient Aztec war that’s brewing beneath the surface in Lucha Underground. By now you’re all aware of my love for LU and the way it crafts its tales. I’ve even followed their lead in the way Welcome to the Underground is presented as a review. WTTU’s sister column, Tales from the Underground tells its own tales of LU wrestlers and their histories. The characters that Chris DeJoseph and his crew have created have so much depth to them that we’ve only begun learning who they are and what they can do. Lucha Underground is a story with professional wrestling in it, as opposed to the other way around. Much like CHIKARA, LU will drop parts of a story that you may not see again for weeks, if not months, but when they re-emerge their significance is one that makes you shake your head that you didn’t realize its importance in the first place.

Yet while the individual stories themselves are intriguing, it’s the underlying bigger picture that might be the most explosive tale yet, because when all is said and done there’s going to be WAR. You see, the basis of Lucha Underground is written in the tale of the seven ancient Aztec tribes and their history is the backbone of the Lucha Temple. Luchadors and luchadoras, whether they know it or not, have started taking sides in what will eventually be the ultimate struggle for POWER, not only in the Temple but in the entire world. Dario Cueto, the proprietor of the Lucha Temple already knows this is coming, while many others do not. This is not a short story to be told, but one that can stretch across time itself, as some of it already has. Knowing the existence of the stories and their meaning adds layers to the relevance of what is going on INSIDE the wrestling ring. The wrestlers aren’t just fighting for an individual victory, but possibly for their lives as well.

Wrestling is great in itself. We as fans are drawn to the athleticism of the Superstars in the squared circle. We marvel at their feats of strength and displays of grace and agility, but there’s so much more. The stories are what completes the package, because without their intricate webs of conflict we’re left with sweaty men and women just trying to beat each other up. The stories let our imaginations run wild, thinking of where it could go next. When it’s told well we’re left with a feeling of satisfaction. When it’s not, we’re able to discuss what went wrong and how it could have been better. Yet it’s the story that keeps us involved, and now more than ever storytelling is becoming the focal point in professional wrestling and I couldn’t be happier.

As always, thanks for reading. I like to think that with each column I too can tell a tale you’ll be interested in. So hit me up below with your thoughts, comments, or questions and follow me on Twitter if you haven’t already.

Until next time,
Rob Out!

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