Source: Wrestling Observer Newsletter
The age-old multi-generational debate over the evolution of pro wrestling made its way to the Internet once again this past week. It started with Rip Rogers and evidently opening up old wounds between Randy Orton and Mark “Bully Ray” LoMonaco, and led to a new T-shirt design by Will Ospreay.
The crux of the deal, which was a big topic last year at this time after the Ricochet vs. Ospreay match on May 27, 2016, at Korakuen Hall, at the Best of the Super Juniors tournament, is about acrobatic moves and modern pro wrestling. The bout, one of the most talked about of the year, getting worldwide attention despite it being on a minor card in Japan. It placed sixth in last year’s Match of the Year balloting. Some people including some former industry stars were heavily critical of it. It even turned into an angle where Ospreay worked with Vader in London, although that turned into a disaster when Vader wouldn’t do the job in their match as was originally agreed to, and then Ospreay all but said so on the mic after the match was over.
Anyone who has followed wrestling for any length of time has seen major changes in the in-ring product and these same arguments have gone on probably since the beginning of time. Strangler Lewis in the late 1920s, when he was still an active top star, was critical of Gus Sonnenberg, a former college and pro football star, bringing the flying tackle into pro wrestling since such a move wouldn’t be realistic in a real wrestling match. But Sonnenberg over the next few years became an incredible drawing card, and he and Lewis set the all-time U.S. gate record battling over the world title in Boston.
Even before that, Farmer Burns, more than 100 years ago, was complaining about the modern wrestlers using moves that he would never use because they wouldn’t work in a real match. In time, little of pro wrestling looked like a real fight, and when it does today, many veterans and long-time fans will complain because they aren’t doing the art form of pro wrestling and are instead imitating real fighting. Those same people will criticize modern moves and styles as not making sense, forgetting that most of what takes place in any style of pro wrestling of the last 65 years doesn’t make sense. Indeed, when the complaints regard being realistic, it is often longing for rules and a style that is also not at all realistic. Quivering and selling one move for minutes is far less realistic than getting right back up. That’s not to say the taught form of traditional selling is wrong or passe. It’s not. Without it, wrestling loses a lot and moves mean less. Great selling is an art form. But timing the audience well and getting a reaction, and sometimes big reactions from unique forms of selling or even not selling at the right moment, is also part of the art form.
But so often, particularly of late, I see guys doing great selling and those who watch it and don’t understand it, because it’s different from the patterned wrestling selling of their childhood, will complain that the guys aren’t selling when their selling is obvious, more realistic, and effective as hell in getting their opponent and the match over. But it’s a new style of selling is very different from the pro wrestling style of 30 or 40 years ago.
Having lived through the late 70s, when the first round of the classic Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat matches, long fast-paced bouts with a lot of big bumps and no down time were at the time decried by some veterans as being examples of two guys who don’t know how to work, tells you how these stories always end up when viewed in hindsight. Shawn Michaels got some of the same criticism, and even before him, some veterans said the acrobatics of Ricky Morton were hiding his lack of wrestling ability, although to be fair, many gave them their due as well. But today they are considered some of the greatest workers of all-time.
At the same time, as the style involves bigger and bigger bumps, and more high risk moves, the injury rate does escalate. There is a price to pay. Another aspect of the natural evolution of the business is Mick Foley and Sean Waltman, who 25 years ago in their very different ways were taking extreme risks in the ring to make their name.
In both cases, in what was a very cosmetic business around 1990, they were two fans who grew up loving the business and badly wanting to make it. Foley had size, but didn’t have the right look or body to advance past mid-level, even while having great talking ability.
Waltman, because he was so skinny, by the standards of that era, wouldn’t have even been able to get a job. People forget how much the business was size-based. The best example was in 1989, when Terry Funk brought in Eddy Guerrero from El Paso to work a match on WCW Saturday Night. Guerrero was a natural worker and great high flyer and they had a television match far better than almost all television bouts of the era. However, WCW decided to pass on Guerrero, thinking he was too small to hire or be a player. Guerrero instead ended up several years later wrestling in AAA, where he became a major star, got bookings in Japan, and ended up as a major U.S. star many years later when he got a lot more muscular and the size restrictions changed.
Foley got himself over taking crazy bumps on concrete, doing anything to be noticed, although his interviews were also a major part of his success. Waltman got over at first by high heavy risk style. Both, decades later, have second thoughts on what they did given the physical issues later in life that their styles resulted in them having. But at the same time, they also never would have had successful wrestling careers if they wrestled like the older wrestlers advised. Foley, now 51, having just undergone major hip replacement surgery, recognizes the risks got him to become a bigger star and making more money in wrestling than he probably ever would have thought possible when he started, but at the same time, regrets taking so many bumps on concrete floors at small shows starting out, which took away from the end of his career and what would have been some of his biggest money making years.
As time has gone on, wrestlers have gotten smaller, faster, work a more athletic style and have taken more risks. Some want smaller guys to work like 250 pound guys did 25 years ago, but that’s inherently silly. In the 50s, the junior heavyweights worked faster and did more than heavyweights. Watch a smaller man boxing, wrestling match or MMA fight and it’s based on speed and less on power. And the world has become more action oriented. In both boxing and MMA, the heavyweights are no longer the biggest draws, when in boxing the heavyweights always were for much of history, and in MMA the light heavies and heavies were until the emergence of Georges St-Pierre.
In the natural evolution, wrestling is in that sense, behind the times and still somewhat stuck in an era that everyone else moved past.
Doing spectacular moves is what has gotten most of the smaller wrestlers over. But they also take more risks than wrestlers of any previous generation, who have the experience and knowledge of all of their injuries to teach warnings of that style. Waltman said it best when he said that the veterans tried to teach him to cut a lot of what he did out to preserve his body, and he didn’t listen. He said he now tells that to the young wrestlers today, with full knowledge that they, like he in his youth, will not listen, but he still thinks it’s his veteran duty.
Rogers (Mark Sciarra, 63) trains wrestlers out of Ohio Valley Wrestling in Louisville. He played a part in a number of today’s top stars training, including John Cena, Dave Bautista, Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton. He regularly posts on the Internet lessons he learned about pro wrestling in the 70s and 80s, when he went from place-to-place as a journeyman wrestler who was a sound psychological worker.
Another wrestler sent him a post, which he then sent out, which read: “Every Indy match now: handshake, drawn out move exchange, this is awesome chant, strike exchange, dive, no sell Indy strongstyle, dive, more strikes, no sells, dive, flippy floppy sequence, dive, hit everyone with each other’s finisher, then Humpty Dumpty, we all fall down. Fight forever chant, rinse and repeat until every move is useless and means nothing, dive, take unsafe shot that looks like shit and hurts like hell then roll-up finish. Handshake and hug after match. Everyone’s hand raised. All these guys chant. Go home and type on social media thanking your opponent and company for the match and telling others they should book these guys...dive.”
The Young Bucks read that and joked that this sounds like a great match. Within days, Ospreay had a “dive” T-shirt marketed. Rogers then had a “no dive” t-shirt marketed.
Actually, when I read that, I found it funny. The chants like this is awesome, fight forever and all these guys, which started out as fans being moved in tremendous matches, became cliches where sometimes you get it before the match has even started. In the end, it’s people having fun chanting at pro wrestling, which is what a lot of pro wrestling in North America and the U.K. has turned into. The star indie wrestlers know what spots to do and when and how to do them, to get those chants, just like the WWE stars do. For all the people talking about how excessive dives is some indie thing and an example of why WWE is better, the reality is, watch Raw every week. It’s almost like it’s a rule that you do a dive for no reason other than to set up a commercial break.
Moves that are silly and choreographed done to elicit major crowd pops has been a part of wrestling for generations. Pro wrestling rarely looks like a real fight, and when it does, some will criticize it for being too dangerous or not appealing to enough people. Some will criticize at the other extreme, feeling things are too choreographed. Everyone has their tastes and is entitled to them. Wrestlers, at least the good ones, are going to learn what works to get over to the audiences they are playing before. Often the style you grew up with is the one you wish would still be the one used all the time, but that’s simply not possible. But as the style evolves and gets more dangerous, there is a very important issue of physical punishment.
The top independent wrestlers of today, who travel hard, often flying every weekend either to or from Europe, or Japan, don’t work as many dates as their predecessors. But they test the limits of their bodies even more. Most do a ton early, making their names, and when they are stars, can do less and make it mean more. They get their own trademark spots. They often get over, just like young wrestlers in every era, by doing things that based on the mentality and psychology of the previous generation, would be as wrong as wrong could be. Yet, it works today. Criticizing the Young Bucks for doing too many superkicks is as silly as criticizing Dusty Rhodes for doing too many bionic elbows. Has it created an audience that wants too much and expects too much? Probably. Are there limits. We all have them as far as too much, and it varies by night and building because today’s audience, and frankly audiences in many eras, varied by night and building.
But it’s also created a fairly thriving industry that is getting stronger on the grassroots level even if it has less weekly mainstream viewers, and is allowing people to be able to make nice livings and work all over the world that a few years ago would be struggling to survive and holding on just hoping one of the major promotions may give them a chance.
Like with every generation, there will be guys who make it from this world to become big stars and make a lot of money. There will be others, who today are shunned by some for not knowing how to work, that will be regarded by the next generation the same way Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat and Shawn Michaels are regarded today, as the innovators who had the classic matches of their youth. And then they’ll get old and see young guys making mistakes learning and feel they don’t know how to work. The cycle is likely forever, but the style within the cycle will always be changing. History tells us it will become faster and with more high flying and acrobatics, but on the flip side, due to MMA, there can also be a wider variety of believable submissions worked in. And sometimes what’s old is new, such as people reviving moves from another generation that ran their course, and today, are things that would appear to be innovative.
LoMonaco then posted a photo of him coming off the top rope with a crossbody onto three guys.
Orton saw it and then joked, “Lol, there is a difference between a young hungry talent diving and an old outta shape ‘vet’ falling.”
Orton was injured by LoMonaco early in his career, which probably explains him taking the shot. LoMonaco was on the Busted Open radio show, praised Orton heavily as a worker, and while admitting they had issues in the past based on a tag match where both of them got hurt in a disaster of a match, said they buried the hatchet and acted like they became friends. Given Orton was clearly giving a cheap shot, I guess LoMonaco’s thinking they buried the hatchet wasn’t correct.
LoMonaco shot back, “Dear Randy Orton, my tweet had zero to do with you. Looks like you were wrong again. You’re still awesome.”
Orton got heavily criticized for what to him was likely nothing more than an inside shot. Rogers also took it bad from people with less than a sliver of his knowledge and understanding of the business. That’s the nature of social media. There is a reality about overuse of moves. When the big dive now becomes a three dive sequence to a lesser reaction, it is a move being burned out. That happens to every hot move in wrestling over time. Moves that were finishers then become near fall spots, then transition spots, and then rest holds, and then sometimes even disappear.
In time, the market corrects itself. When moves are getting less of a reaction, it’s time to try different things. But the one key lesson from the veterans that is important is not regarding not doing moves that get a reaction or become your trademark, but learning overdoing things on a show will lead to those things working less. Things that did work in time can become obsolete if they are overdone, unless they are a signature part of your act in the sense they always get over because people come to see ut, And the other key that can’t be stressed enough is protecting the body, especially the head and neck.
Orton, on the last day of his European tour while in Copenhagen, Denmark, wrote, “Sorry to the indy marks, indy guys and old-timers who do dives took offense...just having a good time over a few drinks in Denmark closing the Smackdown live tour...while beating Raw in making over $5 million (his estimate was low, I’d guess the figure was closer to $7 million) in the last 11 shows. Now I know to some that doesn’t equate to a standing room only crowd of 150 people paying $8 at an armory somewhere...bit in the big boy world that’s called putting asses in seats. So enjoy your flips, dives and 20 superkicks per match. To each their own. I will go `dive’ back into my 13th title run and get ready to `flip’ when my make statement comes this month...headlock.”
After being lambasted, Orton then wrote, “I really need to issue an apology,” which he meant in complete jest.
Of course, Orton, being 6-foot-4 ½ and with great looks and the advantages of being Bob Orton’s son who people pegged as a potential top player from his first day in camp, he didn’t have to do things to be noticed that smaller guys or guys who never had the magic wand put on them by a top promoter would have to do. To each his own. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and this whole debate is probably 100 years old and will continue to play out as long as there is pro wrestling and guys wanting to be noticed, and figuring out ways on their own to make themselves stars.
Besides, if you look at the statement for what it is without the wrestling bubble blinders on, Orton is the actor in the major franchise movie, not the draw or top star, but a major regular part of the ensemble cast, bragging about his money and his winning fake choreographed fights and running down people making their name with no studio help who have managed by garner a worldwide following of their own and steady work and solid or in some cases even very good money doing independent movies that are getting significant critical acclaim. Would Dwayne Johnson make fun of award nominated movie stars and publicly brag about his box office numbers while making fun of their box office numbers, and then, in the end, brag that he gets to win his fake fight scenes in the movie? If he did, to the public, the reaction would be a whole lot worse than any that Orton got, both from the masses who don’t have a clue, and those who do.