Heroes and Villains: Three Things Wrestling Gets Right


Okay. Last time I listed three things which, in this humble columnist’s opinion, pro wrestling can never get right, due to built-in limitations to pro wrestling as a form of expression (I would say art, but that’s sort of a tar baby type of statement). But fair’s fair, so this week I’m concentrating on things which professional wrestling does get right. And don’t look now, but here’s that list.


Last time I said that love is something which wrestling would never get right. Despite some fine arguments from email correspondence, I stand by that statement. However, wrestling does have a pretty good track record when it comes to love’s less intense cousin, friendship. For you see, the characteristics which make professional wrestling inherently ill-suited to love-based storylines are the very ones which make it well-suited for depictions of love. Why?

Friendship is less intense than love. Love is all-consuming. Friendship isn’t. We all have different sorts of friends. Some are lifelong, godparent-material-types. Most aren’t. Most of our friends are ones which we see predominately in one particular environment: work, school, online, around the neighborhood, etc. We may occasionally see them outside of this environment (like going after work for some beers, or going to a big cookout at a school buddy’s home), but not usually. This is not the case for love, at least not for those of us who believe in monogamy. Your relationship with a significant other will permeate all aspects of your life. You may not work with your S.O., but you’ll think about him/her at work, school, etc.

Why is that good for wrestling? Because it makes wrestling friendships more plausible. I can buy into a friendship between two wrestlers because I can believe that they live completely separate lives when they go home. It’s totally credible that Wrestler A will stick up for Wrestler B (via run-ins, sneak attacks, etc.), yet not go out to eat with Wrestler B, meet Wrestler B’s wife and kids, or help Wrestler B move. There are limits to this, of course. If a tag team has been together for a certain length of time (in today’s environment, that’s probably around 2 years; in the 80s/early 90s, more like 5 years), then I expect that they would have gotten to know each other a little better. Then we are talking godparent territory.

Even so, a tight friendship is less intense than a marriage or serious relationship. Most of us interact with our close friends on a pretty superficial level. They have problems, and we’ll listen to them, but we don’t feel obligated to help solve them.* Compare that with a marriage/etc: every single thing you do will have an impact on your relationship. Maybe not a colossal impact–maybe an incremental, glacial type of impact. But the consequences of your actions are far deeper than the equivalent actions in a friendship. As I said last time, it’s possible that a wrestling writer could chronicle a relationship only by showing scenes from the wrestling world (by which I mean things that happen at the arena during the time of the broadcast of a show). However, this writer is exponentially more likely to do a good job with this limitation if he or she is dealing with friendship rather than love. That’s because of the higher stakes in a relationship versus a friendship. Actions which change the nature of a relationships could happen anywhere. But a wrestling friendship is most likely to be affected by actions which take place during the course of a weekly show.

Wrestling is a homosocial** world. There are some women wrestlers and managers, but it’s mostly an environment in which (ahem) big, sweaty men interact. This environment would be perfect for a gay love story, but it’s hardly ideal for a heterosexual one. It’s great, however, for a story of friendship between two men. And, if the writers are feeling especially daring, it’s the perfect place to inject a homosexual subtext into a friendship between two male (or female) wrestlers. Of course, many of us already read that subtext into every wrestling friendship (e.g., HHH and HBK, Kane and X-Pac, Raven and anybody).

* The exceptions: problems we had a hand in creating, problems which are within our realm of expertise, and drug addiction issues (partly because the addiction treatment industry has perpetuated the idea that friends are obligated to intervene, partly because an addict isn’t likely to resolve his or her problem without help).

**I tried to find a link to the definition of this word, but I failed. “Homosocial” refers to a situation in which there are only members of one gender present. These environments are often associated (but not always, and not by definition) with homosexuality. For most of American history, the army was a homosocial environment. So are NFL locker rooms, knitting clubs, and gatherings in which the primary form of entertainment is watching wrestling videos (that last joke appears courtesy Mick Foley). I only bothered to use this term because I might refer to it again, as I think the homosocial nature of wrestling is one of its most interesting aspects.


Pro wrestling is simulated combat, no two ways about it. It’s not sparring or combat for the fun of it, though–pro wrestling is fundamentally about winning and losing. One guy beats another. That’s the whole reason we care, in theory–we want to see which guy will beat the other guy. Even if we don’t particularly care about the outcome, we want to see how one guy will manage to beat the other guy. That’s why guys like David Meltzer raise Cain when there’s not a clear outcome in a wrestling match; it kind of defeats the purpose.*

This especially true since desperation is one of the strongest emotions which pro wrestling can evoke. There are two matches which stand out to me as the zeniths of desperation as a theme in professional wrestling. One is Hart-Austin II, from Wrestlemania XIII–the image of a blood-covered Steve Austin is a defining moment for this pseudo-sport. The other is a bit more personal/idiosyncratic. I really love the match between Angle and Austin at Summerslam ’01. Angle could barely stand, grabbing at Austin’s trunks in the vain attempt to return himself to a vertical base–great stuff.

Both Angle and Austin were desperate men in desperate situations. But they were also very persistent men. Neither gave up. Austin passed out from pain rather than tap; Angle kicked out of everything Austin threw at him until the (LAME) non-finish. This is the very highest level of execution in a match between two combatants. It marks the point where the struggle isn’t about conditioning or movesets or even psychology. Instead, the match becomes a contest of wills. It’s soooo hard to successfully reach this point in a match. The two wrestlers have to create the illusion that they are perfectly matched, so that conditioning, execution, and strategy are all rendered null. I didn’t see the HBK/HHH Hell in a Cell from earlier this year, but it was clearly intended to be a contest of wills. The online reaction was mixed; some loved it, others thought it boring. That could reflect a reduction in the audience’s attention span, or it could reflect a failure to convince the audience that the match had become a struggle rooted in willpower.

Desperation isn’t hard to convey. If Wrestler A beats up Wrestler B for long enough, B will look desperate. But perseverance is another matter. For perseverance to enter the equation, the match must be well-booked, and the participants must be, you know, good. Despite these difficulties in execution, professional wrestlers have succeeded in conveying this theme many times in the past, and will doubtlessly find new variations on this theme in the future.

* I concede that a non-finish or DQ will sometimes whet the audience’s appetite for more, but I also postulate that this is a dangerous game for promoters to play. Wade Keller once suggested that fans should accept non-finishes at PPVs when it’s the first match of the feud. If fans actually heeded Keller’s advice, we’d simply quit paying attention to any match other than the blowoff match. And since there’s no way of telling when the blowoff will come, given the length of today’s feuds, this sort of attitude contributes to the decline of PPV buyrates. Or maybe not, it’s just a theory.


It’s been a while since the WWE has popped a good mystery angle on us. The Russo era (WWF and WCW versions) might have overexposed the concept, but mysteries can be very effective plot devices. The ideal mystery angle is big; it holds the interest of the audience at all times, and the big names are all somehow connected or concerned with the mystery. The stakes are high; the participants have something big on the line, like a championship belt, their career, the future of their stable, or even the ownership of the company. A good mystery angle has a substantial buildup but doesn’t go on forever; it has a memorable incident or incidents from which the mystery unravels; and it has enough twists and turns to keep the audience guessing. Most importantly, pro wrestling mysteries are most effective when one or more of the participants exhibits symptoms of acute paranoia.

Paranoia is a particularly powerful theme in wrestling for a few reasons. First, wrestling’s inherent violence necessitates constant vigilance. The prevalence of sneak attacks, run-ins, backstage brawls, etc., force wrestlers to remain alert at all times, even if they know the identity of their enemies. An unknown foe necessitates even greater vigilance–or paranoia. Second, tag team matches are an integral part of professional wrestling. Even a singles competitor will often find himself tagging with an ally, rival, or relative stranger. This obviously lends itself to a paranoid theme. Finally, wrestling shows bring together a whole lot of wrestlers under one roof. A wrestler with an unknown enemy has lots of potential suspects to consider.

Mystery angles are great when they work, but often they don’t. Of the three themes I’ve addressed here, mysteries probably have the worst track record. So I include it with some degree of wariness. In fact, here’s a list of a few angles with varying degrees of success, with my comments on why they worked or didn’t work.

Excellent: Who Will Be the Fourth Member of the nWo?
Worked great. The stakes were high, the whole roster was under suspicion, and the fans were completely into it. This angle led to the Crow-style Sting, and might have been the high point of the entire nWo storyline (though that’s certainly open to debate). This is still my all-time favorite wrestling angle.

Very good: Who Ran Over Steve Austin?
Again, the entire roster was under suspicion (even the Radicals, potentially). Austin was out for revenge and creating problems for Mick Foley (thus lending an element of urgency to the angle). The main problem with this angle, at least in my eyes, was the enormous gap between the beginning of the angle and its resolution. The WWF had to constantly remind fans of the circumstances of the vehicular assault and battery, and the whole thing seemed a little stale. Furthermore, we were left wondering (or at least I was left wondering) why Austin wasn’t on the case over the intervening year, especially since he reffed a match at Backlash a few months prior to the angle. Still, this was a pretty solid angle with an okay finish (I wish they’d gone a bit further with the Rikishi-Rock stuff, but whatever).

Good: Who Is Will Betray the WCW/ECW Team at Survivor Series?
Stakes were huge, and the storyline (winning side stays, losing side leaves) was better hyped than anything that’s come down the pike in since (for example, my cable company actually called me to see if I planned on ordering Survivor Series). However, only five folks were potential suspects (Shane McMahon, RVD, Booker T, Austin and Angle, who turned out to be the guilty party in the end). Furthermore, this mystery came immediately on the heels of a nearly identical angle, Who Will Betray the WWF Team? So the impact was a little blunted, at least in my eyes. Add in the fact that the Invasion angle was limping to a sad little death at this time, and you have a potentially red-hot angle which, unfortunately, was served at room temperature.

Mediocre: Who is the Hurricane’s Mystery Opponent?
Remember this? The Hurricane was the Cruiserweight champion on Smackdown in mid-2002 when some mystery person began interrupting his matches via the Titantron. All we saw was a picture of the Hurricane and an unknown party, torn in half so that we could only see Mr. Helms. The mystery person then announced that (s)he was someone from the Hurricane’s past. The mystery acquaintance ended up being Nidia, who was (implausibly) revealed to be a former girlfriend (or something slightly more sleazy) of Hurricane’s. She brought Jamie Noble in tow. There are numerous problems with this angle: Hurricane and Nidia’s relationship was totally out of character for him, the mystery person was not actually someone who Hurricane could wrestle, and the Hurricane was a midcard novelty act of little consequence in the larger scheme of things. This angle at least made sense, but hardly set the world on fire.

Bad: Who is the Mystery Man in the Sid Vicious-Scott Steiner Match?
I realize that most of you probably weren’t watching WCW in the dying days, so you might have missed out on this. Steiner was champ and Vicious was challenger. Ric Flair, who was the authority figure at the time, announced a third mystery participant for the PPV match, with the implication that this person would be an ally to Sid (Jeff Jarrett also participated in this match, but damned if I can remember why that was). Next thing you know some guy in a ridiculous outfit (sort of like the getup worn by volunteers who agree to get kicked in the nuts by women taking self-defense classes) was coming out to intimidate Big Poppa Booty Lighting. There were numerous problems with this: (a) everyone knew this was Rick Steiner, cause the mystery opponent looked and acted like him; (b) the angle made Sid look weak because it implied that he couldn’t get the job done on his own; (c) the mystery person looked stupid; (d) there were no potential returning wrestlers about whom the fans gave a damn; and (e) the company was beyond salvation at that point (which admittedly is not a knock on the angle so much as an insurmountable obstacle). In an attempt to swerve us naughty smarks the mystery person was revealed to be Road Warrior Animal (who, I must admit, I never viewed as a suspect), and Ric Flair revealed himself to have been in cahoots with Steiner from the beginning. The whole thing ended up being another reboot in a long series of them. It didn’t kill WCW, but it didn’t exactly help it either.

God-awful: Who is the Mystery Partner?
There’s a reason Meltzer always refers to mystery partners as “the dreaded mystery partner.” If the mystery partner was anyone worth crowing about, you can bet that the promotion would actually announce his presence on a card in advance. Fans know this, and we universally greet mystery tag partners with a collective yawn.


There’s no good excuse for why I’ve neglected plugging the music section of our site. So this week is especially dedicated to that very purpose. Just bear one thing in mind: I have virtually no idea what’s going on in contemporary music. But these guys do know.

Gordi’s guide to classical music. This week it’s the woodwinds. And he includes a photo of the Bleeding Gums Murphy action figure. What a cut-up, that Gordi. Anyway, if you’re like me, you don’t know nearly as much about classical music as you’d like. So gets to learnin’.

Glomchen’s review of the latest Cradle of Filth alb. I must admit that I’ve never heard this band, but I’ve heard of them. I always kinda suspected that their name was intended to rip off the name of another band–Halo of Flies. And their name came from an Accused album title, if memory serves. Black metal’s always fascinated me, but from a distance, you know? So reading a review is perfect.

Tom D’Errico’s career overview for Danzig. Okay, this is some metal with which I’m familiar. I’m more of a Misfits person, but Danzig’s cool too. Those who compare Glenn Danzig to Jim Morrison have missed the point: Danzig is actually talented.

Jeffrey Fernandez’ Saturday Swindle Sheet, with special guest David Goforth. I can’t believe that anyone still listens to Skankin’ Pickle, much less Jesus Christ Superfly. Funny story though: back when I was a rebellious punk rock college DJ, I interviewed AFI on my show. This was back in 1996; they’ve apparently changed their sound since then. Anyway, this week’s Swindle Sheet includes a Midnight Jukebox by Yours Truly. Check it out and figure out what makes me tick (where have I read that line lately?). And, more importantly, check it out for insightful insights w/r/t the music industry from the man who calls himself the Mexican Messiah on the IP writer’s forum.


No STABBING ISSUES this week. (But here’s a brief thought: I liked RAW last night because internet whipping boys Randy Orton and HHH gave pretty awesome promos. Plus Ric Flair was great, as he always is when he’s actually given something to do.) STABBING ISSUES might return next week, or it might not, depending on the quantity of material included in next week’s column.

Speaking of which–next week I’ll bring this whole subject to a close. We’ve already covered what wrestling doesn’t do well and what it does do well. So next week I’ll look at things wrestling could potentially do well, but no one has yet successfully attempted (to my knowledge). Plus I’ll go into deeper depth about the whole purpose behind this series of columns.

Oh, and you should be able to leave some comments this week, if you’re so inclined.