Ring Architect 4.20.14: The Best Around
Posted by Obi Justice on 04.20.2014
The WWE started a tournament to crown a top contender for the IC Title, but does it really fit WWE's image? 411's Obi Justice looks at how tournaments can be used showcase the best of the best…
"Ring Architect" is a format I've come up with to break down wrestling topics. The 20' x 20' is the main idea that I'll be talking about in the column. Red Corner/Blue Corner are two opposing takes on it that I see. Of course, it'll just be my thoughts on it, so I'll leave it to you guys in the comments to see how valid they are. And the last bit, the Main Strands, are three key pieces of information that I think should be kept in mind when considering the topic. Spare Parts is just a quick summary. The format'll definitely help me sort out my thoughts and hopefully it makes things easy for you guys to read.
The whole deal, the main idea.
I can say that one thing that a lot of 411 commenters and I are on the same page about is wanting to see more action out of the midcard titles. The United States belt has been around Dean Ambrose's waist but he hasn't really made it a focus, so while the belt itself is on TV a lot, the title doesn't play a part. Big E has been impressive as Intercontinental champion but he hasn't really had any standout opposition yet. The tournament that kicked off on Raw last week could be a great start to building that sort of opponent for Big E. And really, the thing that will make Big E and the Intercontinental title successful is having better opponents to defend against.
That phrase "Who did he ever beat?" is a running joke in wrestling, but it's one of those jokes that's funny because it's true. One of the most important things about pro wrestling is making it look real, especially since it is fixed. If it's MMA, Jon Jones vs. Scrub "No Chance" Inhale, Jones could go down to a fluke shot. People would be up in arms for sure but people have gone down from all kind of weird hits before. The fact that it's real forces you to put up with it. With wrestling, you don't really get that, so whenever you get the chance to put on a quality match, it's best to make it count in every way possible. That doesn't mean just in the match itself, it also means having credible contenders.
Anybody who's tried to follow Japanese wrestling will tell you it's a little bit tough, which you can imagine because of the language barrier. Doesn't even use Latin script half the time. Outrageous. One thing that makes it a lot easier is the fact that the big groups frequently run tournaments, though. Not only do you get to see who people are, you get a vague idea of where they stand in relation to each other. Granted, sometimes a top guy will go on a bad streak, but on the whole, it's the best look that I as an outsider can get. I've also appreciated ROH's Top Prospect Tournament in recent years, and TNA's Bound for Glory Series has been the closest they've been to getting the whole pro wrestling thing right.
Relationships or attitudes or relative ability, however you want to say it, is something that's usually swept under. Especially in WWE, where you have guys seemingly very strongly tiered, people really lose any sense of who can beat who, what skills any one person has, and so on. That's what I think tournaments can be great at. They can help people shine and help separate people out in a way that Money in the Bank matches and big clown-car in-ring segments can't.
Red corner is pro. Blue corner is con.
RED CORNER: Tournaments give a (usually) prestigious snapshot of a division. One of the most well-respected tournaments in the world is New Japan Pro Wrestling's G1 Climax. Once a year, the best in Japan (and around the world through their affiliates) gather to see who is the best of the best in a far more structured way than the championship. The IWGP Heavyweight crown is certainly important but it's different. It's staying power but it's also the possibility of winning or losing the belt every night. G1 Climax is a single event where everyone has the same stakes. Not to mention that a victory in G1 Climax almost always leads to a title match, if not the title itself. What happens is that you can go back through the G1 Climax results and really get a sense of who was making waves, and not only that, where they were from the year previous.
It's not all about history, though. In 2010, Ring of Honor put on their Tag Wars tournament revolving around the World Tag Team championship held by the Kings of Wrestling. This wasn't the first edition they'd had, but it wasn't a regularly held tournament, either. ROH has, in general, had a very spotty history with annual tournaments. So it's not really the same thing as G1 Climax's legacy building. At the same time, the point was that ROH had a pretty hot tag team division at the time, so it definitely makes sense to put the spotlight on that. The "snapshot effect" isn't just about the past, it's about presenting the division to the fans of the present as well. Same thing in WWE. Broadly, by seeing who was in the Intercontinental title tournament, you see who WWE sees as associated with the belt and about where they see it fitting in their framework. Not only that, with the promise of a big pay-per-view match for the winner, there's an extra shine on it.
BLUE CORNER: Tournaments use too much time to get to their result. A lot has been made, especially in the bitter wrestling industry, about the click-happy attention deficit culture of today. That might be the case. Certainly, delivery of all sorts of things -- from food to videos -- is many times faster now than it ever has been in the past. People's interest is very important to keep and wrestling understands that perhaps better than any other entertainment form. In such a culture, a tournament is a pretty inefficient way to set up a title match, when you could simply have more challenges or simply more varied action with those guys who would be locked up in the tournament. When you have battle royals, scramble matches, gauntlets, and now Money in the Bank (and the Asylum knockoff), there are plenty of ways to quickly get a challenger if you need one.
Plus, it can't be denied that WWE is a dramatic company. They use lots of time in setting up their matches through promos and viginettes. The biggest WWE matches are pretty much always grudge matches whether they involve the title or not. The history of the people involved is very important for them and that's gotten across a lot better with speaking segments. Even in companies like ROH or even New Japan, personal feuds drive a great deal of the action, and there's a lot of that development that can't just be bracketed out. When you have a TV company like WWE, time might be better spent actually developing that aspect instead of putting on a long series of matches without explicit history.
Important lines of thought.
TOP ROPE: Having more competitive matches to watch is always a blast. Now, I'm assuming that if you're reading this article you watch wrestling of your own choice, and if you watch of your own choice then you enjoy the matches. Given all that, more hard-fought matches are never a bad thing. I can't say that I would be able to watch a show that was 100% matches with no filler at all, but on balance I prefer to watch a match than to watch any other sort of segment. In a tournament, not only do you get a lot of matches, you get a reason for these guys to fight that is fairly uncomplicated. If the prize is valuable, they fight hard, it's exciting, and that's what wrestling's all about.
MIDDLE ROPE: More matches means more chances for key people to get injured. Christian has long been one of my favorite guys, but he's also proven extremely injury-prone. In fact, if the 411 recap regime dirtsheets are correct, the Intercontinental tournament only came about because he's been injured, otherwise he would have simply challenged for the title. Whether or not that's true, it's the sort of rumor that comes about because plans have in the past been derailed by injuries, and that's a danger that will always be there. "It's not ballet," they say, and that's true. When the company's big money challenger is out with a bum leg, though, saying that will probably get you punched.
BOTTOM ROPE: Running tournaments is really a matter of presentation style. To me, at the opposite ends of pro wrestling presentation are "sports style" (tries to keep it realistic in the sense of concept as a sports organization) and "dramatic style" (plays up the personal issues instead of precise structure). Everywhere is a mix of the two, of course, but broadly companies seem to lean toward one or the other. Tournaments are a very sports-style thing to do. It breaks things down into a question about ability in the ring. I almost get the feeling that with enough tournaments I could run a sabermetric-style analysis of wrestling. More dramatic groups might be undercut a bit by that presentation, though, especially if it forces a chickenshit heel to start wrestling straight ahead or something of the kind.
Whatever's left to say.
I personally like a good tournament. I'm not saying I will watch every match. I've never been particularly bothered about completion (except stuff like college, work, y'know; I just mean I don't bother about finishing video games or TV series). What I like is that it gives me an immediate context, and when I'm looking back, it helps me figure out what was happening. Plus, I think with high stakes and quality participants, you can build a "big fight feel" a lot quicker than you would be able to with storyline. Still, it really depends on what you want to achieve. In WWE, I'm not sure if it was the right way to go. One of the best things about tournaments is getting a lot of different matches, but if most of them are going to be the typical 5 minute Raw match like we saw last week, I would rather they just did a battle royal and moved on.