Ring Architect 5.04.14: How to Win Friends
Posted by Obi Justice on 05.04.2014
It's tough to feel safe in a pro wrestling promotion, but every so often, someone comes storming out of the back to make a save. Sounds all good, right? Well, sometimes these saves don't go quite as far as they should, and Obi Justice takes a look at why.
"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.
Nobody wants to take a beating, especially not from a guy you can't stand. That's what was going down for Xavier Woods on last week's Raw when he fought Alexander Rusev. Woods certainly got some good offense in, but Rusev had things well in hand toward the end. His manager Lana (who has her own theme music for reasons I can't explain) told Rusev to crush Woods, which he proceeded to do by laying in the camel clutch and cranking back. Woods's mentor R-Truth couldn't stand to see that, though, and he dashed in to the rescue. They eventually fought off Rusev who backed up the ramp along with his dastardly manager, leaving Woods and Truth to stand tall in the ring while the crowd... watched. And that's pretty much it.
The WWE Universe always knows "What's Up," and in most of the speaking segments he gets, Woods goes over well. In fact, I think his ringwork is generally good even though he's not been positioned as a threat. It's not that the crowd doesn't like these guys, they definitely do. On the flip side, Rusev and Lana are clearly disliked by the crowd. Even if they're not the highest on either scale, it should have gotten a bigger reaction than "Cool move!" But that brief applause was all they got. It looks a lot like something's missing here and it is, but it's not the crowd's reaction.
The thing about this match was that Rusev was winning clean. The crowd doesn't like him, but in this particular case, he wasn't doing anything other than what everyone else does when they step between the ropes. Truth butting in to break up a legal hold and causing a DQ is a noble thing to save his friend, but really, it only looks good for Truth if Rusev was literally killing Xavier Woods. Which he wasn't. Not even close. Regardless of how the crowd generally feels about the people involved, you can't really say that Rusev did anything wrong here.
At best, it's like when your friend pisses everyone off at the bar, throws up in someone's shoe, and breaks a window, but you still gotta stick up for him if someone wants to start trouble. Yeah, you know perfectly well that he's a jackass and that if it was anyone else you'd be in line to kick his ass, but he's still your friend. Same thing. This won't make the crowd dislike R-Truth and Xavier Woods but it's not a glowing spot ont heir resume.
I like the fact that they're trying to do something with Woods and I like that it's getting some play on Raw. However, there's a lot of tone-deafness with things like run-ins and saves. WWE especially has a chronic case of just having people run in with no real justification other than "these guys dislike each other," which makes everyone in the locker room just look unstable. Yeah, I know TNA is the perennial example for these things, but a side effect of their ten-car-pileup booking is that the bad guy usually does cheat before the good guy runs in. Used well, saves can be great ways to increase interest, but used well is the key detail.
Red corner is pro. Blue corner is con.
RED CORNER: A well-timed, exciting save can add a lot of new dimensions to storylines. The Shield are one of the hottest groups in WWE, and if the Wyatts were not so popular that would be uncontested. When Kane ordered them to attack Jerry Lawler and they refused, and not only that, they took Kane out themselves, that was the sort of save that really works. The crowd was live for it and it let the Shield capitalize on a lot of momentum and changing attitudes by becoming good guys for the first time. Not only that, it changed the complexion of the Authority's attempt to completely control WWE from oppression on Daniel Bryan into a war between Bryan and the Shield (and other friends) against the Authority, and that forced together the reunion of Evolution. One save, one change of the "expected" events, and a lot of doors have opened up.
It's a fairly simple formula. When you add more people into the mix, you have more combinations to work with. More situations you can put on. And not only that, take the situation of Truth and Woods. Xavier Woods is pretty much just starting out, and though he's got an eye-catching character, he's still not established. Having Truth not just give him pep talks but actually put himself in harm's way in order to protect the kid is a huge vote of confidence on Truth's part, and certainly people who like Truth are a bit more disposed to like Woods. Now, it's not an automatic thing, like when Cena was saving Bryan, that didn't make him universally loved. However, the crowd was already predisposed to hate Cena on some level so that's different. At the same time, I think it helped Bryan to be given that vote of confidence from Cena. It shows that he's not just a guy who's there for Cena to beat, and having Cena stick up for him says he might have a shot to make a strong impression as top dog.
BLUE CORNER: For the save to work, it needs to be obviously justified. I think a lot of the disconnect between "old school" and "new school," and questions about why the Attitude Era got such weird reactions and why people react oddly to things now, has to do with the old "heel/face" divide. I don't think it's dead. In fact, I think people who attempt to ignore it altogether or even mostly end up making bad wrestling. I think the real problem with the heel/face thing is that people misunderstand what it's really supposed to be about. John Cena's a perfect example. Amazing dude. Even on TV, he might be extra chipper, but it would be hard to dislike him. He works hard, he makes people smile, he generally doesn't hold grudges. However, he did also finish a match by burying Wade Barrett under 95.9 chairs. It doesn't really matter what you did before, that's always a dick move.
The goal of every wrestler is to win. Not to be nice or to be safe, but to win. I think everybody basically accepts that. So just how you act clearly isn't enough to define you. I think what defines a wrestler is how they win a match. A good guy fights with honor -- within the rules of the company -- and a bad guy doesn't. Yeah, it's a concept related to Ring of Honor, but it many ways I think they just hit on the main point. People were sick of seeing regular good guys/bad guys because these guys rarely stuck to their roles in the ring, you were simply expected to cheer a guy because he acted nice. So just being nice while you run in and mess up a match isn't enough. You need to be the guy who would rather lose the match than break the rules. It's only when the rules are broken that the "good guy" is free to use any means necessary. But that's totally about honor and playing fair, it's not about morality in the general sense at all. It's about context and reciprocation.
Important lines of thought.
TOP ROPE: What's better: surprise or star power? This one's a tough question and, for most places, it really comes down to who you can get and not which is better for you then. But for the sake of it, we can assume a place like WWE can basically get whoever they want. In that case, it really depends on what you want to do. If you're trying to get a new guy noticed, it probably makes sense for him to be an out-of-nowhere surprise, a guy you wouldn't expect would even come near the issue. But if it's just trying to boost up someone's credibility, having that unknown surprise doesn't do much for them. That's a better time to have the newer guy getting beat on while the established star makes the save. Especially in a company like WWE where there seems to be little foresight given to who runs in when, keeping in mind what the match/save is for could help to focus thoughts.
MIDDLE ROPE: It's very important to carry the reaction over to the next show. Despite the fact that Rusev/Woods/Truth didn't get much of a reaction on Raw, I think it would be a mistake not to feature them on Raw again. People don't have time to digest these things in the moment but they will think about them later, and if this situation isn't followed up on, it does present a disconnect. Next time Xavier Woods comes on the screen, if his previous thing isn't resolved, it may well stay with him. Letting it sit and hoping that in a couple weeks the ground will still be good isn't the way, either, because there are a lot of other things to pay attention to and people are quick to write segments off. If the most is to be made of the Woods/Truth save, or of any save in general, it needs to be followed up on ASAP. Momentum can bleed out of a story pretty quickly.
BOTTOM ROPE: Can a bad guy ever make a save? Well, obviously, technically yes. But really, a heel save should be... well, pretty much what Truth did on Raw. He makes the "save" purely because his friend is in dire straits and he doesn't want that to continue. Bad guy saves are most notable when they're protecting a title, then you'll see them all the time. The important thing is that the bad guy still needs to be dishonorable. If he comes into the ring like a house on fire and clears it, the crowd might dislike the guy that he saved but the savior will likely have some people thinking he was damn cool. Bad guys need to do everything possible to get away from that and that's all about acting dishonorable. Again, it's not about saving really, it's about the context.
Whatever's left to say.
R-Truth still has a good bit of value to give to WWE as an entertainer. I think he'll have a job for a long time, just on his ability to get the crowd up. That's definitely something that Xavier Woods can benefit from. However, if they keep having Truth just save Woods from a beating, it's going to make Woods look weak. He's got to fight Rusev on his own or take the beating like a man. Once Rusev does something dodgy, Truth can get involved with no problem. But the longer Truth prevents Rusev from getting a win just out of spite, the more that people are going to start to like Rusev, since he'll be the honorable guy fighting against the odds, Bulgarian with a Russian manager or not.