Welcome once again to the column that likes to take advantage of the simple-minded because it can, Take Up Thy Wrestling Boots and Walk. I’m the man who has already had a couple of ‘position’s up at Titan Towers’, Prime Time, back once again here on the LOP main page to talk to you all about pro wrestling. As there’s a small bit of RoH content later, I thought I’d deviate from my usual intro and pay tribute to one of the greatest managers of all time, RoH executive producer Jim Cornette, top open my column today.
I’ve been writing a little series in the columns forum here at Lords of Pain. It’s a complete history of the Monday night war, taking the whole thing a month at a time and looking at the whole thing in real close detail. It’s been pretty well received and won me the January Columnist of the Month, which gives me the privilege of coming and talking to you good people here on the main page again. I thought, however, that I’d like to do something else today. If you’d be interested in seeing some of that series you can find them for yourself in the Columns forum, but today I thought I’d go with a little change of pace.
I’m personally a fan of PG. I know that’s not always the most popular opinion around these parts, but that’s just how I feel. The attitude era was a lot of fun, but we got stuck in a post-attitude rut for a number of years after that. For all the naysaying of PG, I think that this shift was probably the best answer that anybody could have come up with. How do you go about topping the stunts of a guy like Mick Foley? The truth is that you can’t, not without someone getting killed or the broken neck count going through the roof. It’s no coincidence that a number of people wrestling through 1999-2007 ended up with any number of concussions and spinal injuries. The fact is, when stunts just keep getting bigger and more dangerous, you’ve only got two choices – top it with something more dangerous, or make a concerted effort to dial it all back. That’s where the need for the family audience comes in.
The fear that a number of people have is that a guy like Brodus Clay could be a sign that the company are moving back towards gimmicks. Most people don’t really care about Brodus himself, and are actually having a good time watching him make a success of Ernest Miller’s old gimmick (who knew that being unable to dance would make a fun dancer gimmick work?), it’s more the worry about where the whole thing could lead. Fans of a certain age, who moved en masse to the grittier product that they could see over on WCW Nitro, wake up in a cold sweat, dreaming about TL Hopper and The Goon.
I’m here to say that there is no need to panic. Relax. Don’t worry, be happy, and other assorted platitudes.
There are two reasons why you really don’t need to fret. The first is that Brodus is a pretty isolated example right now, and there isn’t really any evidence that they are going to go that way in many other cases. We can guess that this might be the case, and infer something about the future direction of the WWE, but even our best guess is still no more than that. It’s nothing more than an inference from the outside.
The other reason is that gimmicks can actually work, and there’s no reason to suspect that in this case the WWE won’t learn from past mistakes. When you get them wrong, a gimmick can kill a career and handicap somebody before they first set foot in a ring, but done well gimmicks can add a little bit of difference to the roster and make people stand out. I reckon the thing that has taken the most flak combined is probably occupational gimmicks. While individual things like Mantaur and The Shockmaster have taken more heat, I don’t think as a whole grouping anything has taken more stick than those times they’ve based a wrestler’s identity around a job, so I’m going to focus on those because I reckon if I can convince you that there is a way to do that right, then I think there’s a reason to be positive about virtually anything.
What jumps out at me straight away are the names that people get given. God knows that they have gotten this wrong so many times. I’m reminded of the story Bob Holly tells, about people laughing at him when he told them he was a wrestler called Sparky Plugg. If that’s the immediate reaction that people have, then the recipient of the gimmick is always going to be pissing into the wind when they are trying to get over. There’s no reason you can’t use professions as gimmicks, but it needs to be done with much more care than they’ve ever done it in the past. For starters, how many race car drivers actually have both fore and surnames that reflect parts of the car? Awful puns like that have to go. You can, though, take some part of the profession and make it a nickname. The proof of this is that while Holly’s driver gimmick was never a great success, the guy called Sparky Plugg last for around eight months. When he then became “Spark Plug” Bob Holly, he made the gimmick last for the next three years. It wasn’t great, but it’s a much greater success. Duke “The Dumpster” Droese – where ‘Dumpster’ becomes a nickname, rather than a part of his real name – lasted much longer than a dentist with the surname Yankem, despite the fact that Glen Jacobs has proven himself to be the much more able worker.
The trick is to remember that you want to avoid going too far into the cartoonish territory, because while you want a product that can appeal to children and families, you don’t want to actively alienate older fans at the same time. It’s about striking a balance between creating something that children can watch and something that enough of your existing audience will still want to as well.
I think that means that it’s ok to have a guy who is blue collar and proud of it. Dusty Rhodes made a boat-load of money, and no one ever criticized him for saying that he was the son of a plumber. If you think about it, it’s only a short move from there to a guy being proud of being a plumber and playing off hardworking blue-collar virtues. However, I think they’ve got to be ex-plumbers (or whatever the occupation you’ve got in mind is), because some of the worst things the company have ever put out have been when they’ve tried to convince us that a pro-wrestler holding down a full-time touring schedule also moonlights as a University lecturer or, worse still, a pirate; I’m looking at you, Jean-Pierre Lafitte.
I’d also say that they should have real wrestling gear when they are in the ring. I don’t know why they expect people to believe that someone would come to the ring in their work-clothes, as if they’ve just come from a job and they haven’t had time to change. I mean, you have to watch that without using your brain, don’t you? The minute you think about it, even if you do accept it, it makes the wrestler in question look like an amateur – and anyone they beat look even worse. You can give an implicit nod to the gimmick, maybe with some kind of decoration on their tights or something they might carry to the ring, without going the whole hog and having them actually wrestle in overalls or a dog-collar – hello, D-Von!
So gimmicks could have a future, provided they use a little restraint. It’s perfectly plausible that you could build a story about an ex-construction worker, with great physical strength, who could live the American Dream and become a great pro-wrestler. We’re not going to believe it, though, if he wrestles in a check shirt, looks like he has just come from a building site, and is given a name like Bill Dur. In the case of someone like Bob Holly, did they ever really make enough of the fact that a racer has far better reflexes than any of his rivals? That would have made his matches much more interesting than a name that sounds like it came from his own engine.
The last reason, and perhaps the most important, is that we’re no more likely to end up with gimmicks now than we were in the Attitude era itself. Despite the fact that people look back on the era with rose-tinted glasses, the fact is that it was a complete mess of gimmickery and chicanery. The top of the card was relatively clear of that sort of thing, with Austin playing a very amped up version of himself, but throughout the midcard we were inundated with fat love machines, porn stars, male cheerleaders, crooked reverends and their deacons, vampires, and pimps. If anything, the whole product has less of an emphasis on that kind of thing now than it did at its peak. Hey, the current face of the company first gained popularity working with a white rapper gimmick, which has been toned down into something much more appropriate for a number of years now. When people call for a return to more of the attitude era, they are often calling for a return to a product with more gimmicks, whether they recognise it or not.
So whichever way you want to look at it, there’s no need to panic just yet. Gimmicks don’t necessarily mean the end of the world, and while I’ll be amongst the first to condemn the stupid shit that can set someone’s career back by a decade and limit their earning potential, this is one of those areas where we should all be pretty relaxed, on the whole. Realistically speaking, taking characters in this direction wouldn’t be too far removed from the height of the Attitude Era, while taking a step back from the ‘can you top this?’ mentality that dominated the Monday Night Wars is essential if there is even going to be a future of the business. If you can accept the latter, there’s really no need to hate on the prospect of the former.
With that, it’s time for me, as always, to tell someone to take up their wrestling boots, and someone to walk. For anyone who hasn’t seen the column before, this is a chance to acknowledge the good work of someone in the wrestling industry, and someone that is stuck in a rut, either of their own making or one inflicted on them by their company.
Take Up Thy Wrestling Boots, Kevin Steen…. Wrestling’s Worst Nightmare is the heel I want to see get beaten the most badly right now. He’s not the best talker in the world, nor is he the best wrestler. He’s not even getting the biggest heel reaction because he gets plenty of cheers, which makes me think that there must be a lot of rapists and murderers in the RoH audience. Still, he’s top of my shit-list, and any heel who gets me to hate them deserves a nod.
… and walk, Natalya. Actually, I’m not aiming this at Nattie Neidhart, so that’s erroneous. I just don’t know the name of the fuckwit who came up with the farting stuff she’s been doing, so this is as near as I can get. It really doesn’t do any favours to her, and as she’s one of the few divas that can actually work it hurts the division as a whole. When I said earlier that I’ll hate on any gimmick that can set somebody’s career back, this is exactly the kind of thing I was talking about.
With that, I’m out. Don’t forget to check out the other great columns here at LOP, on the main page and in the columns forum.