Ring of Honor recently conducted a short feud with Bully Ray and the Briscoe brothers on one side and Dalton Castle and his Boys on the other. This feud was a fairly short one, lasting three television episodes and the ensuing pay-per-view event, but it was a great piece of wrestling psychology. Let me bring you up to speed on the feud, in case you missed it, and then I will explain.
On the June 4 show, Bully Ray, the Briscoes, and Dalton Castle faced off in an eight-man tag match against Los Ingobernables de Japon, represented by Naito, Evil, Sanada, and Bushi. As the match progressed, Jay Briscoe and Dalton Castle found themselves in the ring performing the Dudley Boys’ “Get the Tables” routine. As they did so, Bushi snuck up behind them. The Boys jumped in the ring and shoved Castle out of the way, leaving Jay Briscoe to absorb Bushi’s green mist and be rolled up for the pin. Jay Briscoe absolutely lost his mind after that, having to be restrained from attacking the Boys by all three of his partners in that match as the Boys hastily went to find a hiding place. On the following two shows, Briscoe was seen ranting about and hunting the Boys in an effort to get revenge for his loss. Briscoe cut promos stating how angry he was that he got pinned, because that rarely happens to him. He placed the blame squarely on the Boys.
At Best in the World, ROH’s June pay-per-view event, Bully Ray and the Briscoes defended their ROH 6-Man Tag Team Titles against Dalton and his Boys. The Boys, for those of you that don’t watch ROH, are a pair of effeminate flyweights that are more effective as dead weight that Dalton can toss at his opponents than as any type of athletic competitors, which Dalton actually does in this match. Castle effectively contests a 3-on-1 match for the belts, and likely would have had no shot had Jay Briscoe been able to focus. Instead, in the middle of the match Jay chases the boys into the stands. Bully Ray comes out, trying to get Jay focused on the match, and Dalton is able to utilize a modified small package to pin Mark Briscoe for the belts. After the match, Bully Ray was extremely upset with Jay for costing his team the championship.
What makes this match such a stroke of booking brilliance is that it was able to utilize an aspect of the business that most bookers overlook in today’s pro wrestling environment (and the WWE clearly misses the mark on this every time)…relatability. Fans could relate to the Boys because they got themselves in over their heads while just trying to help out their friend. Many of us have had the smaller friend that we have to look out for because they cannot take care of themselves in a fight, and we can relate to Dalton Castle. And who among us cannot relate to the blinding rage that Jay Briscoe displayed at feeling screwed over, even when logic would tell you that you are going too far? Bully Ray also allows us to relate to his frustration that someone else’s lack of focus just cost him something important. And Mark Briscoe, frustrated with his brother but also unwilling to turn on family, allows fans to relate as well. The key word in all of this is “relate.”
You see, kids come out to see comic book superheroes perform. However, those kids make up an ever decreasing portion of the sport’s audience, despite WWE’s considerable efforts to draw them in, and they often do not exercise control over enough money to make them the most lucrative segment to chase anyway. Adults, however, want to be able to relate to their heroes, to see something of themselves in them. This phenomenon is why kids love Superman but adults prefer more flawed superheroes, ones with doubts, anxieties, and weaknesses. Relatability brings emotional investment. Emotional investment brings loyalty and money. Too many promotions, especially the WWE, struggle to recognize and take advantage of this fact. Vince is said to love big, muscular
guys like Hulk Hogan and Jinder Mahal. He likes the look of Roman Reigns and the Undertaker, but isn’t sold on guys that look like AJ Styles and Kevn Owens. However, Owens and Styles are two of the most over guys in the company with fans. Why? Fans can relate to them. Most fans are not 6’8” and 300 lbs. They are 5’9” and 170 or 6’2” and 250 with a beer gut. These fans want to see guys that look somewhat similar to them overcoming those behemoths; they don’t want to see the behemoths win.
Relatability is one of the most important, and overlooked, concepts in professional wrestling. Hopefully, bookers will recognize that fact before they finish destroying a business we all love.