Character development is the key ingredient to success in wrestling, according to our newest contributor. Here’s why:
In professional wrestling – whether it be WWE, TNA, ROH or any other promotion – as important as the action that takes place in the squared circle is, it is the characters that make the difference. One might argue that surely both are equally as important, but looking at the way wrestling works, that just isn’t the case.
To use an example: if we had two people competing in the ring and (going with the WWE way of booking matches) following a list of spots drawn up by one of the road agents, the action taking place in the ring would be nigh on identical – whether it was being performed by a couple of unknown indie wrestlers, or by two contracted ‘Superstars’ that each have their own persona.
The difference would be the level of engagement by the audience. They might enjoy seeing the moves being performed in both cases (particularly if they consist of high risk spots), but wrestling works best when there is a story, a purpose. The classic match scenario of portaying wrestler A as someone whom the fans support and pitting them against wrestler B who is the antithesis of wrestler A (and as such will resort to rule-breaking to win) is mainly about the story between the characters. It is this story that brings about the action, and also what makes this action so engaging.
So the character portrayed is a powerful component of a professional wrestler. It can make up for shortcomings in a grappler’s repertoire, and it can also make or break a wrestler.
To back up the former point, consider Brodus Clay.
Clay appears to be a competent and, so far, safe worker,although he will never be considered as one of the all-time technical greats. But the thing is that, with his current persona, he doesn’t need to be. While it might be that his Funkasaurus gimmick was created with the primary objective of removing the need for him to work long technically intricate matches that he might struggle with, the fact is that it accomplishes this extremely well, and providing that he gets involved in some good storylines, he has a character that both he and WWE should be able to depend on for some time.
But, if skill is there, surely that will prevail? Not necessarily. Just look at Alberto Del Rio.
Del Rio is a technically proficient wrestler who has studied the mat game for far longer than Clay and whose in-ring approach is the classic orthodox one of targetting a body part (in his case the arm and shoulder for his Cross Arm Breaker submission). On paper he is a far better wrestler, yet that doesn’t really seem to matter to the WWE Universe as his Mexican Aristocrat gimmick wasn’t really setting the world alight prior to being removed from action due to injury. He would say a few things and the fans would boo. Of course they would, it happens when unknown local indie guy A and unknown local indie guy B take the microphone prior to being fed to Ryback each week.
There needs to be more. Even in the crazy world of WWE, there needs to be belief. As has been considered in some circles already, it might be that people cannot extinguish from their minds the fact that the cars Del Rio arrives in are rented (how about if he used some of the same cars on a rota basis maybe?). It might also be that it is actually Ricardo Rodriguez who is mainly responsible for the reaction he does get. It would imply that Del Rio’s character is a failure in its current form, or at least not strong enough to stand up on its own.
Which leads to a current and noteworthy example: Damien Sandow.
Sandow hasn’t wrested much at all since his debut, and the occasions when he has been coaxed into competing have brought matches that have been quicker and almost as one-sided as the times when Ryback is ‘let out’.
Yet, even with the limited ring time and taking into account the penchant WWE has for editing the audio on Smackdown, Sandow is arguably more over with the crowd than Ryback because his character has more depth. Yes, it draws upon the classic method of verbally abusing the crowd and opponents for cheap heat, but Sandow does it in a way that riles up the crowd, and for me at least, is humorous.
The way he, like an intellectual prima donna, runs down his given opponent for the evening (in a manner that one might assess a second hand car that has been around the block a few times) is funny, and given that his tirades have so far always been directed at smaller wrestlers, it makes one want him to get pounded on that much more. The disdain he seems to direct largely at WWE management suggests he is more established within the ranks than he really is, and all of this points to one thing: Sandow is totally believable in this role. And yet, at the same time, one can also tell that as a young wrestler fresh out of FCW, he is confident in the character he has been given.
Time will tell of course whether he is as skilled a grappler as Del Rio and other ring technicians, but with a simple yet solid character idea, for this writer alone, there is an interest whenever the sounds of ‘Hallelujah’ come over the sound system and the red curtain is drawn back on the TitanTron. He may be forced to work the WWE ring style like everyone else, but cart-wheeling like a modern day Lanny ‘ The Genius’ Poffo, his character is his alone and thus separates him from the crowd, which is, at the end of the day, what every wrestler truly needs.