It’s quite interesting that while the entire audience of WWE’s brand of pro wrestling understands that wrestling must be predetermined in order to be considered good, or even watchable, sometimes the lines between reality and artifice have to be blurred to shock the universe.
We fans are largely conditioned to accept and suspend our collective disbelief for what’s insidethe confines of fiction, so it’s often great to have our brains rattled, questioning the viability of the story–breaking things we get every now and then.
Sometimes it’s flat. When Shinsuke Nakamura won the NXT Championship from Samoa Joe at NXT Takeover: Back to Brooklyn by nailing Joe with two Kinshasa knees, the referee threw up the dreaded X to signify a legit injury, fearing something had happened to the former champion. The official story is that Nakamura apparently dislocated Joe’s jaw with those hard-hitting knees, but last Friday’s set of NXT tapings revealed that the injury was just scripted in order to prolong the inevitable rematch. There was very little point in throwing up the X when you can easily put out a statement in the post-show; they just ended up further devaluing the gesture.
Sometimes it’s great. When the Miz pretty much shot on SmackDown Live General Manager Daniel Bryan for even suggesting that he “wrestles like a coward,” he pulled out of the Hollywood character for a second and dug deep into the territory of Mike Mizanin, the guy living his dreams every night in a WWE ring. He wrestles like a “coward,” Miz says, but he never gets injured. What about Bryan, he asks—who wrestles the popular way he wrestles and promises to return to capture the fans’ hearts, but ultimately never could because he’s just too banged up to continue doing it.
Word has since come out about this Talking Smack segment as being a complete work, designed to get people to sympathize with Bryan for no longer being able to do the thing he loves, but Miz pulled so deep from the void in his soul to call Bryan the real coward that there is some sympathy on his end as well. Granted, he completely overlooks the fact that Bryan only retired to save what’s left of his health while there’s still a lot to save (making his tirade still within the realm of what heels should be saying) but he brings up a valid point as well. If it’s his job to come out for the fans’ entertainment every night, regardless of whether they like him or not, shouldn’t he be doing his best to preserve his welfare?
The blurred line is great here because it opens up pro wrestling to philosophy, therefore elevating the discourse beyond “Miz sucks!” or “YES! YES! YES!” in a manner a lot of fans can understand. (You gotta give the Miz props for that.) It’s much like CM Punk’s famous pipebomb, which was designed to be both a frustrated expose of how WWE really worked backstage and an invitation to the audience to critique it, and see whether the model holds up.
As much as I enjoy this kind of line-blurring, it’s still best saved for big moments every now and then. To overuse it would be to abuse it the way infamous wrestling writer Vince Russo did back in the Attitude Era. Pro wrestling fans, while appreciative of the backstage lives and goings-on of their favorite wrestlers, still want to see something they’d suspend their disbelief for.
Which brings us to the part where sometimes, it’s absolutely terrible.
You already know by now the way Brock Lesnar defeated Randy Orton in the main event of this year’s SummerSlam. I bet that one doesn’t need recounting, but okay, for those who live under a rock and still haven’t seen it:
Yeah, the WWE didn’t put that one out on their YouTube account. They either thought it was too bloody, or want you to go pay $9.99 to see it.
When you leave a crowd stunned, wondering whether Brock Lesnar really did break the most important unwritten rule of pro wrestling—which is to never go into business for yourself, meaning don’t take real control of the match (unless you have to do it as a reaction)—you know it wasn’t a wise finish.
Yes, I’ll give Lesnar credit for being himself and pulling it off like he should (it was 100% scripted) but the blame is on those who scripted it. Very few, if any at all, fans liked that for what it was, because they expected a pro wrestling match. They knew what a pro wrestling match constitutes, and that finish did not look anything like one. It was too abrupt, too savage, too brutal for the relatively refined taste of what’s usually choreographed for these things. Even Lesnar’s systematic destruction of John Cena a couple of years ago, and his brutal, unceremonious ending of Undertaker’s streak at WrestleMania XXX were still works of pro wrestling. This was not.
It may have been a reaction to Conor McGregor’s latest insults towards pro wrestlers, or it may just have been McMahon stroking Lesnar’s beastly ego, but that finish was not a work of pro wrestling. When you leave an audience with more uncomfortable—in a bad way—questions than answers, you know you did something wrong. There just isn’t any place here for things like this.
TL;DR? If you’re going to blur the lines between work and shoot in pro wrestling, do it in a tasteful way that invites healthy debate. It can be uncomfortable so long as it creates the kind of discomfort that discussion and engagement can help solve. If you’re gonna spill blood for the sake of spilling blood, think twice.
Do you listen to podcasts? Would you want to listen to a local podcast about pro wrestling? If the answers to those questions – especially that last one – are yes, then you should check out the cleverly-named Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast, featuring Mellow 94.7 DJ and PWR General Manager Stan Sy, wrestling writer and Wrestling God Romeo Moran, and all-around multimedia person and former voice of PWR Raf Camus! This week, they talk about everything that happened over SummerSlam weekend, and the fallout! – Rappler.com
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