Smart Marks 3.29.14: Wrestling's Great Questions
Posted by Dino Zee on 03.29.2014
Take a break from the usual stuff as I answer three of the bigger wrestling questions. And by "answer," I mean "opine."
Well, that Friday Dinosaur whistle sounded, which means it's the end of another week! So now that you've gathered all your hot, single friends, loaded the bar with all the booze you could afford, and have the lights turned down low and the music turned up, it's time to really start the party with Smart Marks!
Last week saw Smart Marks and UFC Fight Night get moved from their usual Saturdays to Sundays (and honestly, that might happen again this week) in order to make room for bigger ratings draws (Top 30 Mania Matches for me, NCAA Tourney for UFC), and that caused a slight dip in readership, I believe. Not a lot of feedback, but somehow, we all managed to survive. This week, I decided that going off yet again about the criminal stupidity of Samuel Shaw, or about Willow, or how incredibly smart Triple H and Stephanie are at all times, I'd address three questions I think we as wrestling fans have to deal with rather frequently. They may be questions asked of us by non fans, and they may be questions we ask each other. Either way, with WrestleMania approaching, I always like to use this time to reflect on my time as a fan (my entire life of 32 years), and why, though I don't watch it with the same eyes as when I was a kid, I still love it just as much.
I'll do my best to stay away from fantasy booking, as it really has never been my thing. However, that doesn't mean I may not stumble into some "alternate scenarios" while giving my answers. I promise, though, I won't lay out an entire year of fake stuff for you guys to pretend to enjoy.
Why Do You Watch This Crap?
This, I feel, is probably the one we as fans are hit with the most. Humorously, while most would assume that it comes from those who aren't fans, I'd guess that we hear it almost as much from our fellow fans, as well. Whether we're justifying why we watch wrestling at all, or why we watch TNA to a WWE fan, or WWE to a TNA fan, or New Japan to an American wrestling fan, or WSX to those who can't have a little fun... we have to deal with this question at nearly all times. I blame it for the rampant paranoia amongst wrestling fans who can't take a little criticism aimed at their particular favorite show, really.
When I was a kid, this was an easy question to answer. It's because these huge guys are really beating the crap out of each other! Because Hulk and Sting and the Road Warriors and Demolition and Andre and Ultimate Warrior are all cool as hell! Because seeing people overcome the insurmountable odds makes you think you can do it!
Of course, you eventually lose those lenses, as much as you try to fight it. When you pull that curtain back, there is no returning to the innocent days. And if you ruin it further for yourself by reading up on backstage newsbits and rumors and gossip and misinformation pieces, well, it might jade you even further. I remember my moment of uncertainty rather clearly. It was the summer of 2004, and at the time, I tried to watch wrestling "as if it were real" without really caring too much about anything else. It just made it more fun. Then one day, I'm sitting around, watching Mankind take on The Rock at Royal Rumble 1999. It's a pretty famous and infamous match, as of course it features Foley being handcuffed, and taking roughly 11 chairshots to the head. It's a violent, violent match. At the same time, this wasn't the first time I'd seen it, nor was it the fifth, or even the tenth. I'd seen it many times, and actually enjoyed it. I knew it was too much for some, but I had no problems with it. "Foley's nuts," I'd just say.
Well, this time, for whatever reason, I hated the match. It seemed so ridiculous, so... and pardon me for this... so fake. Rock was just lightly placing his hand on Mick's head, and they'd walk somewhere, and then something really vicious would happen to Foley. Rock would pick him up, and they'd repeat the sequence. Once in a while, it'd backfire. Either way- this wasn't wrestling. This was Mick Foley walking to his next stunt spot with the help of his beautiful assistant, The Rock. I know that the "pull the guy around the arena by gently holding his hair" move was a giant staple in the Attitude Era, but this just felt different. Rock wasn't dragging Foley around- Foley was walking and Rock was almost following him. I hated it. I hated it all. And that night, I thought I was all done as a wrestling fan. It was so freaking stupid.
Of course, the next day I calmed down, and put in Undertaker vs. Diesel from WrestleMania XII. My thinking was that if I watched a slower match, with some youthful nostalgia attached, and still couldn't take it, that perhaps I'd be in trouble. So I sat, and I watched, and just as I did in 1996, I enjoyed the hell out of it. Diesel/Taker is one of my favorite unsung matches. As I watched the match, I realized that I'd just have to make some concessions when it came to certain styles, and certain matches. I had to realize that it's always a dance, and while I may not like a particular routine, that doesn't mean the entire art is stupid. It's crazy, but Diesel/Taker managed to pull me back in. I then hit YouTube, looking up the Harley Race/Bob Backlund NWA vs. WWWF Title matches, looking up matches from earlier WrestleManias, just reliving everything I'd seen, and finally experiencing things I had read about for years in PWI.
When I finally had a clearer perspective, I was able to really give my best answer to Why I watch wrestling. Yes, the acting is usually atrocious. Yes, any attempt at a "skit" or "drama" or even "comedy" usually falls extremely flat. And yes, I'm also one of those jerks who feels like "today's" stuff can't possibly touch the wrestling I watched as a kid. However, I still love today's wrestling as much as I loved it back then. In fact, I probably do more now with it than I ever did as a kid. I have the means to order pay per views if I want to. The Network is available. The internet has made it possible to follow feds that aren't close to home. But why?
Because when wrestling gets it right, there is absolutely nothing more entertaining, in sport or in art. When things go wrong, they are abject failures- think of Brock Lesnar not hitting his Shooting Star at Mania 19, or Hollywood Hogan's hilarious fireball fumble against the Warrior at Halloween Havoc '98. When the best laid plans fall short, it's horrible. But when everything comes together? When Hogan actually pulls off the bodyslam on Andre? When Miss Elizabeth and Macho Man reuinite? When Sting finally beats Ric Flair for the World Title? When Hogan drops the leg across Savage's throat while Hall and Nash watch? When Benoit and Eddy hugged in the middle of the ring? When Michaels retired Flair? When Joe and Angle delivered the best World Title feud and match in TNA's history?
There's absolutely nothing better. When you've invested the time that wrestling fans are expected to invest in a certain character or angle, and your time pays off in spades, it's almost like wrestling is thanking you. Many of us are hoping to get that big "Thank you" at WrestleMania as it pertains to Daniel Bryan. We may, and we may not. If we do, it'll just be one of many amazing moments that these odd wandering circus performers smash their bodies into pieces for, all for our enjoyment.
I can excuse the bad acting, horrible jokes, and falling set pieces for that.
Of COURSE I want to know why it is you guys stick around! Spill it down in the comments!
What's the Best Wrestling?
Ah, this question. This is always a fun one. If it's from someone who doesn't really watch, they usually want to know what American league you follow. Is WWE the best? Is TNA? What about this Ring of Honor? More astute fans may ask about other, lower indies. Then, of course, we bring in Mexico and Japan, and eventually start breaking down styles of wrestling.
Obviously- OBVIOUSLY- there is no one set answer to what the best wrestling actually is. Some people may honestly, in their heart of hearts, believe that NXT has the best wrestling program, from top to bottom, on the planet. Who am I to tell them that's wrong? Who am I to say that to the guy who loves TNA the most? Or WWE the most? Or the guy who thinks Raw sucks but Smackdown rules? Or that Main Event is the best? Or that you're all idiots for not following All Japan!
However, when I am asked what I consider to be the "best" wrestling, I usually break it down as follows:
First off is the presentation. You've probably seen me mention "presentation" quite a few times by now, especially as it pertains to Sam Shaw. However, there are different levels of presentation that I consider. The first one is simply how the character matches what we're told the character is. If the character is supposed to be some intimidating badass, does the character look like an intimidating badass? If Fandango was immediately repackaged into some biker, I wouldn't be having it for one second. It's the same reason I didn't buy Garret Bischoff or Wes Brisco as members of the Aces and Eights. It's also the same reason I have a huge problem with Stephanie McMahon most of the time. There's also the issue, especially with Steph, of the presentation she presents of being able to absolutely intimidate every single person on the roster (male or female), even those who have already assaulted one of the 15 other authority figures. Her "McMahon name" shouldn't protect her after Vince has been assaulted. But, when you wield the pen, you can always come out smelling like roses.
Back to the point, the presentation matters. You can't look like a scrub if you're supposed to be a big deal. When I think of Abyss as he is currently, I hate his presentation. This guy just went through a big change rediscovering himself, he's supposed to be totally insane, but he comes back with a new mask and a newly designed jacket. Is that what he was really doing in his free time? Getting stylish new duds? Why did the Prime Time Players only have t-shirts, and nothing else that really helped the way they looked?
So, when wrestling can match the presentation of what they want the character to be, to how the character actually looks, I think we're off to a great start. When I see a CMLL match featuring Super Porky, I get angry. The presentation is that of a fat, slow old man who can still (at least for a moment) hang with young, fast, muscular wrestlers in actual shape. So, while I consider CMLL to be the most enjoyable wrestling show I watch each week, that absolutely ends the second I hear Bomba start playing and see Super Porky waddle out.
Once the presentations are in order, of course I want a match that doesn't fall apart. But let me be clear here- if I'm getting two 400 pound wrestlers going at it, my sliding scale for what a "good" match should be is definitely going to be a lot lower than if I'm about to watch, say, Austin Aries and Chris Sabin go at it. I don't want to see guys attempting moves that they can't do. I don't want to see failed spots repeated immediately. Divas matches seem to bother me in this aspect. If you can't do a move, just don't try it. It's not that hard, and it only helps your match look better.
I think of certain moments in lucha matches, where you'll get a "chain" sequence that is literally a headlock reversed to a hammerlock reversed and switched and then a drop toehold to finish. It's nothing super elaborate or flashy, but it's always done so well, that no one minds seeing it over and over again. It's the same with a flying headscissors or a flying armdrag- if you can do the move well, you can do it thirty seven times in one match and no one cares. Mess up one attempt at the second rope powerslam, and no one's going to forgive you for it.
So while some will die at the stake for Strong Style, or American Lucha Hybrid, or English Catch, or whatever in between, I always feel that the "best" wrestling has compelling characters that have a believable look, and features matches that show off the very best of what each wrestler is capable of. If that means we get an action packed ladder match for 25 minutes, great. If it means we get that 2006 Kane vs. Big Show match that featured a ridiculous amount of technical wrestling, just because they could, then I'll take that, too. I love Diesel/Taker as much as I love Malenko/Dragon as much as I love AMW/XXX. As long as you deliver a believable show that I can immerse myself in, you've created the best wresting possible.
What do you guys consider the "best" wrestling? Is it as simple as what league it is? Or do you prefer a style? Do my criteria bug the crap out of you? Hit the comments!
Who Is Your Favorite?
I was asked this the other day, and while I later thought that "DANIEL BRYAN!" took way to long to be my answer, the fact is, I nearly froze when he asked me. I had the rosters of CMLL, TNA and WWE all simultaneously flowing through my head, and I couldn't think straight. Of course I love Daniel Bryan. He friggin rules. But I also think Dean Ambrose is dope, I root hard for Cody Rhodes and Dolph Ziggler, I like Xavier Woods, and I think Justin Gabriel is one right push away from being a top guy. And there's always Santino, who I probably love the most, but also realize is never going to get a real top level program or push.
In TNA it's even harder. I've gone all in with EC3, but that doesn't take away from Bully Ray, Bobby Roode, Aries, Angle, Joe, Eric Young, and many others. Hell, I like the BroMans, Eddie Edwards, Abyss, and I dig Magnus, too. I'd probably say EC3 is my "favorite", but that seems ridiculous when I think about how little he's done.
Even in CMLL, it's not that easy. At first it was Tamatonga, but he returned to New Japan. I've thought El Terrible rules, but I also think that about Rush, Negro Casas, Averno, Mr. Niebla, Máscara Dorada, Titán, Místico, Valiente, Volador Jr, El Cholo, and Guerrero Maya. Everyone brings something different to the table, and to just have one overall favorite seems a bit harsh. Especially when one considers the absolutely different expectations a TNA audience has for a TNA wrestler in comparison to a WWE audience for a WWE wrestler or a Lucha crowd for a Luchador.
All things considered, I'd probably have to go between Rush and Mr. Niebla for my favorite luchador at the moment. I love Rush, and I love his whole "most hated good guy" character that teams with other faces, hates the heels, yet cheats like an asshole and is reviled by the crowd. Plus, he brings such a physicality to his matches, it's a nice contrast to the usual lucha matches. Niebla, on the other hand, brings the presentation of a psychotic nut, but one who enjoys a great afro wig from time to time. He's comic gold in the ring, and brings it with the wrestling ability.
So, Daniel Bryan, EC3, and Rush/Mr. Niebla. Doesn't that seem ridiculous? That's because it is. It's wrestling. It all is.
Who are your favorites? Do you ever pick a guy lower on the ladder in the hopes of being a fan throughout his rise? Let me know all about it in the comments!
PUT SLICK IN THE HALL OF FAME!!
Well, that should just about do it for this edition. As I said, please add to the discussion, and let me know why you love wrestling, what you think the "best" wrestling is, and who your favorites are! We're getting closer to WrestleMania, which means as a fan, it's absolutely my favorite time of the year!
It's All Wrestling. It's All Stupid. We All Love It.