What Is Wrestling?

Corbin Macklin

Credit: WWE.com

What is wrestling to you? What does wrestling mean to you? What is the first thing you think of when you think of wrestling? For me, wrestling is a sport and a competition that I wish I didn't know so much about. It's still real to me, dammit. I think of Hulk Hogan and my childhood in red and yellow and then black and white. I have been watching a lot of wrestling during this time of quarantine and rioting. I hope as you read this you are healthy and safe, and thank you for reading my shit. That said, 9/10 if you're reading this, you really like AEW and liked the Stadium Stampede match. I'm not writing this to tear that apart as much as to make a larger point: Funny don't draw money, honey. I was disappointed when I watched the Money In The Bank match because that was filled with comedy. In a match that was to determine potential future world champions. I think that the potential still exists for wrestling to evoke authentic emotion from fans.

A clip (I mostly consume wrestling these days in YouTube clips so I don't burn out on the sheer volume of wrestling that I am largely critical of) that I enjoyed was when Charlotte lost to Bayley because Bayley grabbed the ropes. I was pleased. A HEEL CHEATED! Not the babyface. Not the usual outside interference or distraction finish. The heel grabbed the ropes and cheated to win. I live. I feel like it is far too infrequent for heels to cheat to win in today's wrestling. I saw the clip of when the Iiconics jumped Nikki Cross and Alexa Bliss... from directly in front of them. That was not hot. By that was not hot, I mean where is the heat? They didn't jump them from behind or while they were otherwise engaged. They were cutting promos in front of each other in the ring and then the heels attacked the babyface team from the front and beat them up. There is a dearth of old school wrestling psychology out here. I hate seeing heels win matches clean because if they can win fair and square... why is it exactly I should believe the babyface is better than them? What about that presentation makes the heel look like a villain? I think the heels are the most important aspect of the wrestling business because they are the ones who have to sacrifice so much. Traditionally, heels do not sell merch. That means they make much less money for drawing the same money as equivalent babyfaces. Heels have to spend all of the match bumping like crazy to shine the babyface and even when they get heat, it is to feed the inevitable comeback by the babyface. I see it as, you cannot have a crazy over, beloved babyface without a hated heel.

I feel like in wrestling nowadays we get these cartoon characters and soap operatic storylines. I think there is potential in a feud between Rey Mysterio or his son Dominic and Seth Rollins BUT the presentation of Rollins as the Monday Night Messiah is too cartoonish to be taken seriously. I'm pretty positive I am in the majority when I say that the usage of Jeff Hardy in a drunken driving angle is too close to home and not in good taste. I have been watching WWE for long enough to know it was a setup by some heel who will eventually reveal that they drove the car and drugged Hardy and poured liquor on him so he could take the fall. I think WWE is trying to be creative here but it is too much. Think about real sports leagues and the rivalries and storylines that make the games compelling theater that would cause you to drop unimportant things and in extreme fanatical cases, important things to watch. The biggest games are storylines like "these two were former friends and teammates who are now heated rivals who no longer speak" "this person used to play for this team but now they play for the other team and this is the first time they have met" and aside from those stories which tell themselves, you have media creations like the biggest name players being compared to each other so much that the marquee no longer reads "New England Patriots vs Indianapolis Colts" but "Tom Brady vs Peyton Manning" for example. I say this to say, you don't need to do whodunnit mystery storylines to drum up interest in a match. All you really need to do is create the storyline in the interactions between the wrestlers.

That brings me, quite naturallly, to one of my overarching thoughts about what wrestling is now, and what wrestling is to ME. Wrestling now is an overly choreographed exhibition of wrestling moves. In WWE I think they do the moves very well. I don't watch AEW stuff and think that most of their talent roster is ready for primetime. BUT. When it comes to both, most of the matches LOOK fake because you can see right through all the spots where they are clearly waiting to catch each other, how most multiperson matches break down so that you have a bunch of people laying on the floor or in corners selling so that the spot they pre planned in the back can get the spotlight. And as I aforementioned, it is so obvious and looks fake as fuck. You can never see a group of wrestlers brawling with each other on the outside without knowing there is about to be a dive and everyone falls down even though the person who dove may have not made contact with ANYONE. I did not intend on tangentializing on how people do lots of obviously fake high spots but I'ma leave it in because it feels right. I moreso wanted to talk about how modern wrestling fans don't have the attention span for mat wrestling and working holds. Everyone thinks each headlock and arm bar is a "rest hold". To me... holds are inextricable from wrestling. Holds are a part of the storytelling inside of a match. Say you have a wrestler who does a finish that attacks the head, or a leg, or an arm. It makes sense then that that wrestler would spend the whole match trying to work over the body part they're going to put their finish on, to make it easier for them to win the match. And that creates a struggle for the other wrestler who KNOWS "Randy Orton keeps doing moves that attack the head and neck because RKO". I think that we are firmly in an era where the fans being smart affects the wrestlers who also know how the fans interpret what they are seeing.

I often tell anyone who listens, one of the most underrated and misunderstood wrestlers of all time is one Randall Keith Orton. Fans perceive him as being boring and going through the motions in most of his matches. I see him and, yes, I don't think he has the best or most entertaining matches ever. But I see the smoothness and how good all his shit looks. There is a difference between being smooth where there is no struggle for anything because you are cooperating with each other and the smooth that Randy Orton is where he makes everything he does look as though he is not trying. Because he is that well trained and skilled. The timing it takes for him to be able to hit those snap powerslams and RKO people leaping through the air and not make it look fake. His shit looks like it all happens naturally and in the flow of things. And part of what makes him boring is the deliberate pace at which he works. Orton is an old veteran at this point so he understands he doesn't need to run the ropes all match and dive out the ring and go 100 miles per hour. He can get the same reactions from doing one of his signature moves... very slowly. And then, there WWE goes having Edge repeatedly point out that he is lazy and complacent and doesn't try hard and he is only there because he is third generation. Part of that is the dichotomy between face and heel. Edge is the face so he is the one with all the heart and love for the business that had to grind for everything. Portraying Orton as the entitled one is just good old school wrestling psychology. I can't complain about that while also calling for more old school wrestling psychology.

A lot of people who didn't like the Orton and Edge match from Mania don't even really know why they didn't like it. I have heard criticisms about how how long the match was, that Chris Benoit spot somewhere in the middle of the match, and that they just took turns punching and kicking each other and running each other into things. Valid criticisms all. I don't disagree with any of those. The thing that was missing from their match was HOLDS. I'm not saying we needed three minute headlocks in what was already an interminably long affair. Think about it like this: If I grab a headlock on you, you can pick me up and hit a back suplex, push off, counter into another hold. Holds offer options. Now bring in heel and face logic: Heels are not supposed to be as good at wrestling as babyfaces. Randy Orton right now is claiming to be a superior wrestler to Edge. And to sell a match, the heel can't be out there saying that he doesn't have a chance. So, say Orton grabs Edge in a headlock and because Edge is a superior wrestler, he reverses it and puts Orton in a headlock. Orton drops down and gives Edge a low blow, or pokes in in the eye, or grabs his hair. Options on top of options. When you take holds out of wrestling, now all you have is guys taking turns doing moves to each other. And if you thought to yourself "well holds are an extension of that" maybe you will never get it no matter how long I explain it.

What if the real reason WWE ratings and attendance have fallen year over year since 2001 is because not as much thought is being given to the psychology and holds being done during the matches as is being given to the soap opera storylines that no one really likes or cares about?