If I see one more sloppily applied submission maneuver (I’m looking at you, John Cena) , I might walk out on wrestling all together. Well ok, probably not, but chances are I’ll be equally or more annoyed than I was the last time I saw something applied so poorly.
I get, and appreciate, that wrestlers are trying to not actually hurt their opponent. In a profession where performers simulate violence for the audience’s entertainment, and do their best not to actually hurt themselves or their opponent in the act, I’m totally ok with wrestlers not being allowed to deliver piledrivers anymore out of respect for legitimate injuries that have occurred (see: Stone Cold’s broken neck via Owen Hart), and having other such move restrictions imposed on them. I respect that move by Vince; but there’s got to be a way to have wrestlers not perform moves that anyone with at least one correctly functioning retina could see either didn’t even touch the guy, or is putting zero pressure on any part of the opponents body with that “devastating” finishing hold. It brings down the already flimsy credibility of the wrestlers, the show, and the profession of pro wrestling to display such an inferior performance.
Watching Raw this past week (1/17/11) was a perfect example of what wrestlers should do and what they should not do from a move presentation standpoint. We saw perhaps the most loosely applied STF yet by John Cena on CM Punk; and then later on in the same match, CM Punk slap an incredibly convincing Anaconda Vice on Cena that made even me have a “whoa,” moment. While both guys admittedly kill it on the mic, CM Punk has really surged ahead of Cena in my books as a performer with the touch of realism that’s a standard part of his matches. I mean, try as you might, and even with the best covering camera angle, sometimes you just can’t sell a five-knuckle shuffle that was legitimately a foot away from your face.
I don’t think it’s (totally) Cena’s fault though. As the internet continually surfaces the “entertainment” underbelly of sports entertainment (and WWE fights it less and less), we all get by now that it’s all for show. Once seemingly inescapable moves have now become easily-wriggled-out-of-with-a-little-effort, half-baked versions of what they should/used to be. The awe-inspiring Lion-Tamer was converted to the almost comfortable looking Walls of Jericho; and The People’s Elbow from The Rock, The Worm from Scotty 2 Hotty, The Cobra from Santino, and the likes just get the crowd excited before the wrestler falls nowhere near their opponent, and despite the fish-flopping reaction of the receiver, clearly cause no impact whatsoever. Jericho’s Lion Tamer came equipped with a knee in the back of your neck during an accordion folding of your spine in WCW; now he grabs you by your ankles while you lie flat on the mat and he bends your knees a little bit and grimaces his face. The way John Cena applies the STF is an utter embarrassment to the way people like Chris Benoit would apply a similar move like the Crippler Crossface (different move, same mechanics; switch the arm hold with a leg hold). I think that may be the root of the problem; that fans become accustomed to seeing moves performed in such a way, that when they are applied in such an obviously sub-par fashion, it’s almost insulting to the fan sitting at home who is tearing his hair out at the abolishment, and will subsequently attempt to apply the hold correctly on his kid brother, or whomever happens to be in the room with him, saying to the victim, “You see the difference? This is what he’s supposed to do.” Maybe my generation was just spoiled. But really, why should we believe a guy is going to give up when the move being applied to him doesn’t even look like it hurts?
It’s frustrating to watch because I grew up on the Bret Hart-Mr. Perfect-Shawn Michaels-Steve Austin-etc era where those moves looked like someone’s spine was legitimately going to give way if that hold was kept on much longer. Granted, I was quite a bit younger, and surely the elements of theatrics were still a little beyond me, but youtube a Bret Hart sharpshooter and then one from The Rock, and tell me the performances aren’t night and day. It just seems so lazy, especially from people who you know can perform it so much better. Anyone who’s seen or read many Bret Hart interviews probably knows that one of Bret’s most self-celebrated accomplishments of his wrestling career was never hurting any of his opponents for real. When you look back on his matches and consider that, you know that those times were a completely different era of professionalism and ability of showmanship, on both match participants’ parts. The old saying in wrestling is that “You’re only as good as your dance partner”, and for my money, today’s dancers sure aren’t as good as they used to be. And to go a little further, when you consider how much money is involved in today’s product than back then, it kind of makes it worse to think that guys are getting paid what they are to perform such an inferior act. Vince wants us to shell out $60 a person to buy the Wrestlemania PPV, yet that’s the performance we get put in front of us? Umm, I’ll just read the results tomorrow, thanks.
Don’t get me wrong, there are guys who do a good job these days – CM Punk, as I mentioned, Edge, even Jerry Lawler lately, and plenty more; but I really take it the wrong way when I see guys put in main events who are so lacking in skill sets over other well deserving talents. It feels very… Ultimate Warrior-esque at times (all fluff, no stuff), and we all know how that ended. As a general rule, if it wouldn’t fly to ECW fans, it shouldn’t be allowed in the ring at all. If Vince ever hopes to hook lifelong fans again with this PG shift, he better hope that a strong dose of realism and believability is baked in too, or this generation won’t be fooled as long as mine was.