Less Is More…The Art Of Getting Over

Less is more. It’s a phrase that in the wrestling business, means so much, but unfortunately it is something that most of today’s talent fails to understand. If you checked out my esteemed colleague’s column this week, Gordon touched on this by quoting the one and only Jake “The Snake” Roberts. I’m going to reiterate this point. Jake stated that today’s talent is so concerned about getting a reaction “in the moment”, that they are not taking into account the long term pay off that comes from a storyline in which you work to get the fans emotionally invested. This, my friends, ties in quite nicely to my chosen topic for The Magnificent Mind.

Wrestling today is driven by fast paced action, with immediate gratification. I’ve mentioned on several occasions that due to today’s client and the addition of internet dirt sheets, along with several “inside writers” it has caused a downturn in the quality of the storylines that are generated on TV each and every week. Workers are so engrossed in trying to think of different ways to stand out, that they are neglecting to flesh out the drama that they are involved in. This in turn has hurt the overall product.

I have also touched on the fact that part of the reason behind this is due to the fans lacking the attention span to truly enjoy a story. The days of long, drawn out storylines playing out every single week on television screens everywhere is all but gone. It’s a true shame. Fans today are often seen on the internet wrestling community writing things like “I’ve seen this match, this is getting stale.” Or, I could have booked this storyline much better than what is going on.” Or, some are even too busy trying to get themselves over, whether it be in person or on the new ThunderDome concept. Too busy on their cell phones. This writer misses the days of seeing a whitewash of poster boards and signs in the crowd, whether it be on Monday Night RAW, or WCW Nitro, or in any of the old territories. The truth is, matches are not “stale.” Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat wrestled each other over 3000 times and not a single soul got bored. The same can be said for Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan. Why? This could be attributed to the fact that back then, there were no spoilers. Self proclaimed insider journalists were a thing that was not even thought of at that time, and so, fans had to tune in if they wanted to see the continuation of a feud or the beginning of a new one. 

These are things that I’ve talked about through several of my pieces, and it is not what I’m going to continue to talk about today, but this does provide some lead up to my ultimate discussion. The angles and storylines mentioned above were as popular as they were, simply because fans became emotionally invested.

So, why is it that when you watch the product today, you see so many people talk about the fact that an angle is “boring.” Or, that something is “played out.” The reason, is quite simple. The workers involved have failed to take the time to ensure that fans are emotionally invested.

Let’s look at some popular TV shows shall we? Popular shows like Chicago PD, became that way through some great writing and because the writers and producers went to great lengths to get their viewers emotionally invested. They took time to introduce the characters from the show, then they fleshed them out… Gave them a backstory, and tied it all in to the current episode. This is what happens with all great television. From critically acclaimed hits like ER, to Law and Order SVU. These are shows that lasted. ER had 24 seasons finishing in 2010. Fans flocked to their television sets every Thursday night to see what Dr. Mark Green and company were going to do next. What crazy medical case would be solved and who would end up with whom. (The story of Nurse Hathoway and Dr. Ross being a prime example that lasted for YEARS). Then, you have SVU. This is a show that is still on to this very day. The reason being? Emotional investment. You got behind Benson and Stabler… You cheered for the heroics of Finn and I’ll be willing to bet that fans of the show eagerly look forward to tuning in after each week.

You don’t see page after page and site after site providing spoilers for these shows. Why? Spoilers in my opinion don’t do TV shows any favors.

Emotional investment is so lacking in today’s product, and it baffles me that the stars don’t seem to grasp or understand that. In all fairness, with the exception of Randy Orton, Edge and to a limited extent, Kevin Owens, the art of storytelling is seemingly lost to the rest of the WWE roster. The same could arguably be said for the AEW Roster, but their issues run deeper with the lack of any logic to their programming.

Travel back a bit with me now as we explore a time where every single superstar seemed to know their place. A  simpler time when fans came to simply enjoy the show instead of coming to be an armchair booker.

I told you all two weeks ago, that this column would focus on wrestlers having very little trouble getting over, and the reasoning behind it. So let’s begin shall we?

When you think of old school wrestling these days, I’m sure a lot of different names and faces flash through your mind. Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Mr. Perfect, Texas Tornado, Big Bossman, Honky Tonk Man, Demolition, The Hart Foundation, The British Bulldogs, Greg Valentine, Andre The Giant… The list goes on and on. But one thing I can almost 100% say, is that none of the names listed above had any issue with what the current crop of stars has had to deal with. Every single one of these performers got over in their own way. Each one of these performers are still talked about today. These are men who understood their place and worked to that place, until in some cases breaking through that glass ceiling and elevating themselves to the next level.

In the business prior to Sports Entertainment, each star knew their job, and did their best to ensure they did it. Barry Horowitz was quite possibly one of the most famous enhancement talents of that era. He did his job for years to perfection. Let’s face it, if you are a wrestling fan and you grew up in  the 80s and 90s, then you should know Barry Horowitz. Barry was known for working to elevate other talent and making them look strong. You could tune into one of the weekly programs, and watch one of his matches… Or a good number of his matches,  and you could easily predict the outcome. Barry knew what he was supposed to do in that ring, and I’m sure the fans understood his place as well… Until they didn’t. WWE and Horowitz did a masterful job at elevating their talent through Horowitz as well as other “jobbers” throughout that time, that you couldn’t help but to become emotionally invested in some of the lesser known workers. This would create a perfect storm for Barry when he would face Chris Candido (then known as Skip) in the mid 90s. Candido was paired with then girlfriend Tammy Sytch (Sunny) and played a bit of a fitness guru type of character. Going in, fans were understandably under the impression that this was another one of the usual eventual losses for Horowitz, which is what made the result of this so special. Somehow, the end of the match saw Horowitz pick up a huge victory, a victory so unexpected that it would launch a bit of a push for the loyal superstar. Fans cheered at the surprise victory and got behind a man that they thought would forever be the underdog. WWE in more recent times would attempt this with Curt Hawkins, which resulted in a similar reaction.

The important thing here to remember, is that emotional investment takes time. You can’t just thrust someone new out there and expect everyone to instantly support that individual, and in a time of fast money and non-existent attention spans, this is something that has gone by the wayside in professional wrestling for way too long.

WWF as it was then known, had a hierarchy. At the beginning of the golden era, Hulk Hogan was the chosen one. Everyone else was given the ball to run and to work toward facing him. Each show, was formatted to highlight this fact. The lower card matches started a steady build up to the main event of every episode, whether it be televised or not. At that time, the division for the roster was more clear cut. You had those that were there simply to make the other stars look good, you had the workhorses that knew their place was to elevate the Intercontinental Title and then you had the top tier who’s purpose was to chase the golden goose.

Titles at that time were so important. You very rarely saw a title change hands outside of a pay per view, and if you did, it was seen as extremely rare, in some cases so rare that it would be featured on a news broadcast outside of the wrestling world.

A huge difference is the fact that none of the Golden Era wrestlers looked out of place. They all had a spot and they all looked like they belonged. This was huge in the fact that people were emotionally invested. The Honky Tonk Man, was known as the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time. He earned that moniker by taking on all comers and he was victorious each and every time. Match after match, the Intercontinental title became more and more prestigious as workhorse after workhorse went after this coveted piece of gold. For 454 days, Honky set the bar until he lost the belt to a young Ultimate Warrior at Summerslam 88.

Think about that for a moment. 454 days!  That’s 14 months, 3 weeks, 6 days, 20 hours, 13 minutes and 19 seconds! For over a year and two months, the same superstar had a championship. In this day and age, that is pretty much unheard of! Again, because after roughly 90 to 100 days, fans become “bored,” and start complaining that they want something new. They do this folks because  they are again, NOT EMOTIONALLY INVESTED!

Not only did Wayne Ferris hold the Intercontinental Championship for 454 days, but he established himself as one of the greatest champions in the entire company, and by doing so also elevated countless other stars into creditable opponents, from Jake Roberts to Randy Savage to Mr. Perfect to Tito Santana… The talent on this list is is massive, and those stars knew their place and worked to achieve greatness for the IC Title division and the people in it.

There wasn’t anyone getting “lost in the shuffle” like you see today. Then you have the World Wrestling Federation Championship. The Winged Eagle, was perhaps the most prestigious championship in the company. Hulk Hogan held this championship 3 times in his illustrious career, and throughout, he too put over countless stars. Hogan was perhaps the greatest at getting people invested in his programs. In part because fans were treated to a long, slow build to an ultimate pay off. Let’s look at WrestleMania 1. Long, slow build to Rowdy Roddy Piper and Cowboy Bob Orton, along with Ace, taking on The Immortal One and Mr. T. The antics leading up to this match were epic, and it was elevated further by the real life hatred between Piper and T.

WrestleMania 2 – Hogan would face big man King Kong Bundy in a cage. A match, during which Hulk’s selling ability shone through.

WrestleMania 3 – Hogan, Andre. What can be said about this match that hasn’t been said. The story leading up to this match from their friendship, to the ultimate betrayal when Andre sided with Bobby Heenan on the set of the Brother Love show, to The Giant ripping off Hogan’s cross, culminating into the Slam Heard Around The World at the SilverDome. Tell me, what story in WWE has come close to this, or any of the other stories from back in the day?

Hulk Hogan was not the only person who took the time to put over others. Take a look at people like Curt Hennig. As Mr. Perfect he would have several amazing match with the likes of Kerry Von Erich, and Bret Hart, and even eventually was elevated into a program with The Hulkster. Those behind the scenes went to painstakingly huge lengths to put over the fact that Curt was indeed perfect, and the vignettes leading up to his debut were genius.

Then, there is the tag team division. From the Road Warriors, to the Twin Towers, to The Brain Busters, the tag team division had a who’s who of wrestling talent. It is so disappointing to this writer that tag team wrestling today is almost seen as an afterthought. Titles that would remain in the hands of one team for months and months are now changing hands almost on a weekly basis. Now, I ask you, how do you get over if you treat your most important prizes as if they mean nothing. If a title can so easily change hands almost weekly, eventually people will begin to question their overall value. This, my friends goes back to the less is more.

Back to present day, we have superstars encompassing three different brands within the same company. You have those that are on the flagship program, the Raw Brand, those that are on Smackdown which is referred to as the “Blue Brand” and then you have the up and comers on NXT. Therein, lies the problem.

Within each brand, you have stars doing their best to get themselves over. When you really look at it, this is done very well in NXT. But you have a heavyweight champion, tag team champs and a North American Champion on that brand…. Then you have tag team champions, a WWE Title and currently a feud involving the intercontinental title that seems to be shades of the old Shawn Michaels/Razor Ramon feud with both men claiming to be the undisputed champion.

Move to RAW and you have the same problem. You have a Universal Champion in Roman Reigns, tag team Champions in the Street Profits and add in the Women’s division both having their own titles and tag team championships. It’s just too much. It makes you wonder how certain superstars are seemingly lost in the shuffle.

It all comes back to less is more. Let’s turn our attention to the Attitude Era. Much like the Golden Era, you had a heavyweight championship, you had tag team championships and you had the intercontinental title. Three championships. Stars designated and built up to compete in one of the three divisions. Built up to vie for one of three titles. Each match, serving a purpose. Lower card matches to elevate up and comers to another level and perhaps a different division, the mid card to showcase established talent with the goal of hoisting the IC strap and the rest working tirelessly to grasp and take the brass ring. Reread this paragraph and think about the simplicity of it all. There was no confusion over what anyone’s job was. Everyone knew their purpose, and this would allow them to simply focus on putting on great matches while getting themselves and their opponents over with the crowd. If the heel was on top, the face would work and sell and make his opponent’s array of offense look devastating on that given night. Flip the switch on the heel, and if the face was on top, it was the heel’s job to do everything in his power to ensure that the crowd was hyped up to the point of sitting on the edge of their seat. It was his job also to do everything and anything to be so hated that when the good guy got the upper hand, the fans were spewing so much heat that they were almost ecstatic to see the bad guy get his comeupance.

Simplicity. Today, there is so much focus on making things complicated, that it is almost confusing, and that is when you start to lose the fans.

Let’s take Retribution for example. For weeks, throughout both RAW and SmackDown, WWE  has had a masked group of unknown people cause chaos throughout their broadcasts with little to no explanation as to what is going on. From beat downs on superstars, to match interruptions to destroying of property, it has been a continuing guessing game as to what the motive and the purpose of this all is.

Again, there has been very little time to get fans emotionally invested. This writer is hoping for this story to be more fleshed out for a great payoff, but for some reason, I haven’t been able to keep my hopes up.

Then there was the story with Mandy Rose and Otis, and the continuation of Otis as Mr. Money In The Bank… But let’s be honest here, how many of you can truly say that you are emotionally invested in the character of Otis? I mean, sure, the good guy getting the girl scenario was great, but what has happened since then? Dolph Ziggler, who at one point was heavily featured throughout the happenings between Rose and “Dozer” has been relegated to help in highlighting Raw Underground, and Otis’ partner Tucker has played second fiddle to his partner for way too long. Now, there is a back and forth battle between both Heavy Machinery and Miz and Morrison to one up each other while the latter of the teams attempts to steal the Money in the Bank contract. Why? There has not been a clear answer, but still we have been subjected to sub-par comical segments throughout the last few weeks.

For me, the lack of “meat and potatoes” in these examples is keeping me confused and uninvested. The same could be said for The Iconics. Both of these ladies are multiple time tag champs, but somehow it was decided that The Chairman wanted to push Peyton Royce, seemingly at the expense of Billie Kay…. What does this accomplish?

The sheer confusion and the complexity of these angles is almost assuredly part if not the entire reason why certain stars have difficulties in getting over.  Let’s bring back simple. A simple example is Tag Team has an incredible run, wins multiple championships, one member possibly gets over more than the other, second member becomes jealous, miscommunication during a match and BAM, one member turns on the other. Anyone remember The Rockers? They built up dissention for months and then pulled the trigger, and the reasoning and end result were easy to follow.

Look at Randy Orton… He is a master at milking a crowd, garnering sympathy for his opponent and all the while making himself the most hated man any time he is in that ring. He knows when and he knows how to slow things down until just the right moment to drop a bombshell for maximum effect. He is one of a dying breed of superstars that knows how to build and build and build and then have fans in the palm of his hand for the payoff.

It’s as easy as every action has a reaction. Wrestler A does one thing and it pisses off wrestler B. BAM, you have a feud. Or Wrestler A costs wrestler B a title… BAM you have a feud. In these examples, the reasoning is clearly defined.

Today, you have wrestler A gets infatuated with female superstar, wrestler A gets shot down, wrestler A puts in a ton of effort, and gets female superstar’s attention. Wrestler B gets injected with another female superstar to foil wrestler A’s progress, wrestler A and wrestler B have a match, wrestler B loses, then goes to other female superstar and has her text Wrestler A as female A saying a date is cancelled, then the date is back on, and then Wrestler B ends up crashing the date as wrestler A is bringing flowers to the restaurant while wrestler B is just arriving and they see each other and wrestler A becomes disappointed and leaves…. Does this sound simple to you??? Are you as confused as I am? Wrestling and the drama within it should not be this complicated and this is a huge reason why fans today are turned off of the product.

If promotions today, took a step back and went back to the tried and true methods that work, I think you would see a surge of interest and viewership across the entire business. Not only that, but by de-cluttering the journey from point A to point B, and giving fans a concrete reason for why a feud is happening or why an angle is taking place, you would see fans become emotionally invested a lot more often than you see today.

Then, once you have them emotionally invested, a company can work toward rebuilding the prestige of each and every title.

One thing that this writer believes is that if they would nix the brand split, quit focusing on introducing a new title every couple of months, and amalgamate all brand titles once again to one, then renewed interest and importance being placed on the championships would be at the forefront once again.

Do you think the less is more mentality can provide an upswing for viewership across the wrestling world? Feel free to let me know! Also, be sure to tell me who you think is going to be the next star to truly get over in today’s product!

Until next time, this has been another edition of The Magnificent Mind!  

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