By Tony Cline, Staff Writer
On June 23, Ring of Honor held their annual Best in the World event in Lowell, Massachusetts. The event was very good overall, with some great moments, and the main event saw Cody “The American Nightmare” defeat Christopher Daniels for the ROH title. Unfortunately, the card also contained perhaps the worst example of professional wrestling that I have seen in my forty years on this planet. In the third match on the televised card, Search and Destroy faced off against the Rebellion in a match that stipulated that the losing team must disband forever. About two-thirds of the way through the match, Jonathan Gresham attempted a maneuver in which he would jump onto the middle rope and springboard into a moonsault onto Caprice Coleman. Unfortunately, as sometimes happens, Gresham slipped off the rope and got caught up in the ropes. In itself, this is not a huge deal. Mistakes happen, and they add to the realism of the show. What followed, however, horrified and angered me as a fan of the business. Coleman, rather than take advantage of Gresham’s miscue with an offensive move, picked his opponent up, set him on the second rope, and stepped back three steps to allow Gresham to hit his move!!! I exploded, screaming at the computer in a house that was, thankfully, otherwise empty for the night. The assault on kayfabe, the absolute abandonment of any sense of realism, was a putrid stench upon an otherwise good event. I stated immediately on social media that Coleman was the worst wrestler in the business and should be immediately fired for his actions. I have since moderated my opinion a bit, but I do believe he should suffer some strong sanctions for the black eye his actions give the industry and the company. Unfortunately, Coleman’s actions, while the worst I have seen in a very long time, are not the only ones that damage wrestling as a realistic product. The following are a few points that the industry as a whole should adopt to bring a more realistic feel to the business again. Remember, just because kayfabe is dead doesn’t mean we have to bury it.
DON’T DO YOUR OPPONENT’S JOB FOR THEM – This is supposed to be a show about a competitive sport. Make it look like one. If your opponent knocks you down or slams you in a position that is not ideal for their next spot, stay there!! Make them move you into position. If you go back and watch the business in the 1980s (my childhood era), guys were not scooting themselves into position for the next move. If Randy Savage knocked Koko B Ware down, Koko wasn’t going to scoot over into the predetermined spot for Macho Man’s elbow; if he was in the wrong place, Macho had to either drag him into position or scoop him up and slam him there. In today’s product, only the top five or ten performers in the entire industry seem to understand this concept.
DO NOT PRE-PLAN EVERY MOVE OF YOUR MATCH – This is a terrible idea that has taken root in professional wrestling over the last few decades. Matches should all be different from one another, and the way you make that happen is by not planning out every move. Certainly, the finish should be pre-planned, and how you get there. You should discuss the flow of the match and how you are going to convey the match’s story, perhaps even plan a few high spots. The rest of the match should be called in the ring. If you are working with someone you have spent a lot of time with in the ring, you should be able to simply follow one another’s lead without the need for a lot of calls that can be caught by the audience. This will give the matches a more realistic feel and will prevent fans from feeling they are seeing the same match show after show.
QUIT WATCHING THE REFEREE DURING COUNTS – Wrestlers should look dazed during an attempted pin, not have laser focus on the referee so that every attempted fall can be a 2 ¾ count. The referee needs to count with the same rhythm every single time. Wrestlers should use the early attempted falls to pick up on that rhythm so that they can kick out at just the right moment. Most of the false finishes we see in the business today lack their intended effect because fans can just look at the guy being pinned. If he is looking at the ref, we know it is going to be a kick out; if he is not, we know it’s a finish. This robs fans of the full experience we pay for, and it lessens your impact as a performer.
LEARN TO IMPROVISE – If your opponent or your partner make a mistake, you have to know how to continue on without looking lost and confused. You certainly CANNOT just pick them up and put them back on the ropes and pick up where you left off. If your opponent misses a move, simply go on the attack as if it was a real fight, and circle back to the point in the match where you got off-track. This becomes much easier if you don’t have a match completely pre-planned.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL – This is as much for the bookers and producers as it is for the wrestlers. Make sure the story lines and details of everything make sense. If a wrestler is going to be found unconscious under a stack of metal pipes, maybe we should get a logical reason why there is a random stack of pipes in the backstage area. If we are going to create a video that shows that wrestler faked the incident, the video should actually recreate the incident, not look completely different from what happened a couple weeks before. If something happens outside or in a remote area backstage and gets caught on camera, let’s have a reason why the camera was there. These and a million other details get missed on a regular basis, and it is simply a result of sloppiness and laziness in producing the show. No other major television show would have so many mistakes without being cancelled, and a realistic sport certainly would not have such inconsistencies. Quit being lazy and sloppy and get the details right.
Professional wrestling is best when it is presented as a realistic sport with good stories and great characters. Unfortunately, the industry has let much of that realism die over the years, and we are left with a really cheesy-looking product that simply isn’t realistic. Some will say that wrestling is just sports entertainment, and realism isn’t necessary to entertain the fans. If you really believe that, watch Batman. Watch the old Adam West series, then watch the Dark Knight, and tell me which production is better and more entertaining. Pro wrestling used to have the realism of the Dark Knight, but much of it, including the WWE, now has a production value of closer to Adam West’s show. I am just waiting for the “POW” and “BAM” to start popping up on the screen.
It is time to stop the regression of this business, and move it forward into ever more realistic presentations. If we do so, the business will once again attract fans in the droves we saw during the Monday Night Wars. Those fans didn’t come because the shows were battling, they came because the products were amazing. We shouldn’t need that level of competition to put on the best shows. If that’s what it takes to motivate WWE and others to do their jobs right, well, that’s just sad.