In thinking about one of the issues currently being faced by WWE’s product, my attentions were turned to some old Ring of Honor matches.
The match was Samoa Joe and Low Ki vs. Homicide and the great Kenta Kobashi fought under NOAH tag rules. From Unforgettable in 2005, the outpouring of love from the crowd towards Kobashi and his Burning Spirit genuinely brought a lump to my throat. A man of distinction and excellence, who had proved himself time and again inside and outside of the ring, his performance is riveting.
His Burning Sword, Burning Lariat and Orange Crush are all used, as well as his famous multiple knife-edge chops. It truly is a master class in working a match, and a crowd, to perfection.
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The emotion, and pride felt in pro wrestling got me to thinking, ‘who else creates/created that kind of emotion’. It’s reasonably clear that this is what is missing from today’s WWE product.
Shawn Michaels was an absolute master of knowing what to do and when. His qualifications as a wrestler have been well documented, and I’m sure seen by everyone who is fan of WWE.
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The moments of emotion that lead him to being great at are touches such as the moment in his match with The Undertaker at WrestleMania 25, where he was willing the referee to count ‘Taker out, bobbing up and down with each count the ref made, as if his life depended on the result.
Or, how about ‘I’m sorry, I love you’ before retiring Ric Flair at ‘Mania XXIV. Or his defending of his wife’s honor against Chris Jericho at Unforgiven ’08? The man was a wizard at appearing like a real human being, which is actually very rare among WWE wrestlers, larger than life as they generally are.
‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage created an everlasting moment at WrestleMania VII when he reunited with Miss Elizabeth. Besides carrying The Ultimate Warrior to easily his best match ever, Savage provided a great culmination of a storyline that had been effective since he won the world title at WrestleMania IV and formed The Mega Powers with Hulk Hogan.
That kind of slow build story telling will never happen in WWE again, but the emotion in the arena is palpable, as ‘Mach’ and Liz reunite after being estranged since ‘Mania V. That wedding at SummerSlam was a bit much, though. From that moment on, Savage was hot property as the public ate up the on screen romance, and attempted hijack of it by Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts.
‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin was a man whose crowd reactions came from deep in the diaphragm, and from the heart. People loved him because he was, essentially, them.
The guy that the company didn’t want to succeed or advance. The guy who wanted to kick his bosses head in (and did). The guy who enjoyed a beer whilst celebrating with the fans.
Austin was a guy who, again, came across as an actual human being; someone that you could believe in, someone who could not and would not stay down for anyone, not even his maniacal boss. The company hasn’t found a figurehead since that who hold a candle to the gut reaction that he brought out in people.
Hulk Hogan’s connection with the fans is what made him a megastar, as his ring work was never his strongest suit, was it?
The way that Hulk could work the crowd is probably unparalleled, as he could hold them in the palm of his hand from his entrance, to being put in a rest hold, to Hulking up, to leg-drop. His heel turn and formation of the nWo worked for the exact reason that he inspired emotion.
The only person in recent years to connect on this kind of level is the dearly missed Daniel Bryan.
His journey from losing to Sheamus in 15 seconds, to Team Hell No, to defeating John Cena for the WWE Title at SummerSlam was a rip-roarer. The fans had had respect for him from the get-go in the earlier, lamer, version of NXT, where he was forced to lose to everyone from William Regal to Batista.
The constant barracking, and clear dis from the company, from his mentor The Miz placed the crowd further in his corner. This would become a pattern when The Authority were constantly questioning the abilities of Bryan, calling him a B-Plus player, insinuating that it was only the ‘Yes’ chant which was popular, and seriously trying to make him look like a fool.
The reaction among fans at Royal Rumble ’14 when he wasn’t even entered illustrated clearly that he was the guy people wanted to main event WrestleMania XXX. Again at the following month’s Elimination Chamber he was screwed over, by Corporate Kane this time. The crowd again voicing their displeasure.
Finally, the company acquiesced and inserted Dan the Man into the ‘Mania main event and we saw the best WM main event since Shawn Michaels’ retirement match. Watching on Sky Sports, me and my friends were chanting ‘Yes’ along with crowd as our champion had become the World Heavyweight Champion.
Looking at WrestleMania Texas Star, there is not a single wrestler on the main roster who can elicit the kind of gut emotional reaction any of the men listed above could provoke. This may be why people are turning RAW off at home, and leaving the arena before the main event when in attendance.
There is no visceral, emotional reaction to anyone on the main roster (except John Cena maybe as he splits fans right down the middle).
The only person who leaps out is Sami Zayn. Like a more instantly charismatic version of Daniel Bryan, Zayn provokes an emotional reaction on NXT’s smaller scale (see his title victory against Adrian Neville), but it remains to be seen whether this will translate successfully to the main roster.
Dean Ambrose has had it for a while, but as seen in his match with Brock Lesnar, WWE are unwilling to put him over against the big guns.
Emotion: it’s something that envelops all parts of our life; when we are awake and when we are sleeping. In this medium that we love, pro wrestling, it’s something that is required for us to become properly attentive and invested. Roman Reigns does not inspire it. Sheamus does not inspire it. You could argue that no-one on the active roster genuinely does. That may be a difference maker in the future.
Do WWE superstars need to show more emotion on TV? Have YOUR say in the comment section below!