By Tony Cline, Staff Writer
Yes, sadly, kayfabe is dead.
Vince McMahon killed it over 25 years ago to save himself a little money. To be fair, though he didn’t know it at the time, he was only speeding up the process. The internet would certainly have spelled the death of kayfabe once it exploded near the start of the 21st century. However, just because kayfabe is dead does not mean we have to bury it. What do I mean by that? The following steps would add some realism back into the sport:
- The action should look real. That doesn’t mean that we need to go super-stiff in the ring, but neither does it mean that performers should look like students in a middle school play pretending to strike one another. If your opponent kicks at your midsection and misses, don’t double over in pain. I assure you half the live fans and EVERYONE at home just saw that stupidity. If the blow misses, carry on like you would if a real opponent had missed you. Ad lib getting back to where you need the match to be without telegraphing to everyone that you are just play acting. Also, the moves need to look real. Slapping your opponent’s chest a dozen times from two inches away is garbage. You should be fired on the spot if you do that. Also, if your opponent is about to pick you up for a scoop slam, let’s let him get his hands on you before you help him out. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen a guy about to get slammed and before his opponent can even get his arm between his legs to pick him up the guy has already started to turn himself upside down. This is just sloppy work, and it needs to stop…now! Also, this is supposed to be an athletic contest between two (or more) competitors who are trying to defeat one another. Let’s stop with the synchronized gymnastics moves that are more a nod to the smarks than anything one might see in a real competitive endeavor.
- While we are on the subject of realism, let’s get some realistic finishers. A move that is supposed to incapacitate an opponent should look like it really hurts them. If an elementary school kid can tell that’s not a believable finisher, change it. The worst offenders? The big leg drop (unless you are supremely overweight), the Attitude Adjustment, and Twisted Bliss are just a few of the worst offenders.
- While we are on finishers, let’s start protecting finishers again. The idea that every opponent can kick out of at least three finishers is ridiculous, and it is injurious to the business. Obviously, not every finisher can be protected to the same degree, but the finishers that are clearly the most devastating should be the most protected. Kicking out of the LEAST protected finisher should happen maybe a third of the time, and the top finishers should only be kicked out of on very special occasions…if ever.
- Fix the kick outs!! First, not every kick out needs to be at 2 ¾. Kick out at one. Then, kick out at two. Sometimes, kick out right after the three count. You take a loss but you make it look close and keep a little steam in your tank for a rematch. Second, quit putting your hands in place to push your opponent off of yourself at the one count and wait another second and a half WHILE CLEARLY STARING AT THE REFEREE to kick out. Learn the ref’s rhythm and kick out at the right time. If you aren’t that good, then quit trying to wait until just before the three to kick out. You look stupid doing this, and you give away what’s coming. Also, if you are going to wait until late in the count, don’t be late. All you do is expose the referee when that happens. Third, if you are just going to get your shoulder up, make sure you lift the shoulder that doesn’t have your opponent’s body weight on it. If your opponent is on your left side, get the right shoulder up. If you lift the left one instead, you expose the fact that he’s not putting his weight on you.
- Rules matter. Professional wrestling is supposed to resemble a sport. A sport needs its rules enforced evenly across the board, and refs cannot look utterly incompetent at every stage of the match. Referees should look like they are zealously trying to enforce the rules. Guys cannot be allowed to have run-ins and use weapons with no consequences. Also, tag teams need to be required to make a quick exchange after a tag, not be allowed to spend a couple minutes double-teaming the opponent.
- Did someone mention rules? Can we please bring back a few rules that have been missing in recent years? First, let’s reinstitute the time limit on matches. This not only adds a little realism to the spectacle, but it adds in some options for ending a match without having to make either guy look weak. A heel champ that purposely runs out the time limits can give rise to a no time limit stipulation for a PPV or special television main event. Second, the sport is supposed to be professional wrestling, a high-level grappling event. Let’s outlaw punches (though heels will still use them behind the ref’s back) again. This is another rule that has disappeared in recent years to the detriment of the show. Was anyone ever disqualified for punches in the past? Very rarely. However, it did give the ref a reason to break the action, and it allowed the heel to be a heel and tell his story.
Making the above changes to the action in the ring would add a much-needed dose of realism to the current product. Yes, I know it’s a television show and everyone knows it’s not real (or at least the story lines aren’t), but that doesn’t mean we need to be sloppy with the product. NCIS has been one of the top-rated shows on television for many years, a fake show about federal agents, and everyone knows it’s not real. Yet, never once have I seen Mark Harmon point his finger at a bad guy and say, “Bang bang,” and have the criminal fall to the ground. Instead, the show goes to great lengths to make the action look real.
Why? Because viewers would tune out if they didn’t, much like almost 70% of the fans who watched professional wrestling two decades ago have tuned out now. If we want to build this business into what it once was, into what it can be again, we must quit being sloppy and start putting a realistic-looking product on television once again. Kayfabe is indeed dead, but that doesn’t mean we must bury it.