Cult of ROH: Why We Don’t Like DQ’s

Well, I survived the ice storms. Something like 500,000 people in Massachusetts and 150,000 in my home state of New York were without power from last Thursday night on, in sub-zero weather and with roads made impassible by frozen debris. Some are still waiting for electricity. I want to take the first paragraph just to thank all the rescue workers, professionals and simple charitable souls who helped try to alleviate the emergency. My personal thanks goes out to my neighbors, Billy and Cindy Rogers, who didn’t have heat, but gave me something warm to drink while we waited it out.

On to far more trivial matters. Professional wrestling is a great diversion to those who can “get it,” but the fiction of it is sensitive. Sometimes it’s downright bizarre to hear what ruins a match for someone, when it never even occurred to you. One the touchiest changes that might just ruin ROH for a lot of fans is the increase in noticeable disqualifications. The most notable occurrence came during Nigel McGuinness Vs. Necro Butcher in Canada, with the first ROH World Title match to end on a run-in DQ in the almost seven years the company has existed.

It was one of many inelegant moves the Pearce administration made in its first few shows, giving rise to a lot of fan outrage. The DQ case seemed to spark the most argument, as some pockets claimed they were necessary and even just as good in any given match as a clean finish, while others claimed it ruined a match entirely.

For me it brought up an essential question: why do we like pins and hate DQ’s?

One common defense of DQ’s alluded to a reason. They said a wrestler might consciously DQ himself if he was afraid of being pinned. This very suggestion recognizes that the pinfall is significant, where the DQ is so much less significant that he would settle for it. Right there you tap the sense that many audiences have in preferring pins to DQ’s. If they are to buy into wrestling at all, they too should have this feeling that one ending is preferable.

The vast majority of disqualification finishes are unsatisfying because they end a match in an unfair way or against the goals the two wrestlers should have had in mind when they prepared to wrestle. The object of this fictional sport is to win, and the audience has expectations of how it ought to be done. Disqualifications have long been used with the intention of being unsatisfying. Back when kayfabe was stronger, bookers consciously disappointed fans and generated “heat” on the offending party. Fans are not supposed to like most DQ finishes, and if you do, it may be you who is abnormal. I think a lot of the arguments in the other thread rise from different people intuiting these tenets in different ways.

Yes, professional wrestling is “fake.” So’s The Incredible Hulk, but if there’s something I don’t want to see in the movie, even if it supposedly helps market it to a wider audience, I’m angry. All art is artificial; it’s in the word. But good art strives to engage. And in the fiction of professional wrestling the point is a night of contests between athletes. If the Age of the Fall ran in on a boxing match, what do you think would happen? If Mike Tyson not only bit a guy’s ear, but proceeded to do something illegal in frequent contests he would be banned.

This is beside the point that what the fans are supposed to want to see are issues resolved through this style of art, where pinfalls and submissions are generally considered the most decisive conclusions, and the goals that the contestants strive towards. We have decades of conditioning for this. Someone disqualifying himself specifically goes against what is supposed to be the goals of the sporting contest. A disqualification by run-in means someone not in the match messed with it, something that would be a disgrace in a real sport (not to mention something that makes the people running the company and the security in the building look like ineffective idiots). Unless a disqualification trigger is executed extremely well or extremely creatively, the audience is disappointed.

That’s the fiction of wrestling.

In prior decades the writing practice of making bad guys pull screwy finishes was very useful for audiences who could believe more that it was real, or who were ambivalent to the whole “joke sport.” It made people hate the Horsemen for doing that to Dusty, or they already just didn’t care because this was dumb and they were only here with their kids. ROH has never marketed to this audience. Your typical ROH fan compliments good or bad booking instead of commenting in kayfabe. In essence, what you can and can’t get away with has shrunken.

Nowadays, kayfabe is severely damaged. Vince McMahon told the courts that pro wrestling was scripted. Rohwrestling.com sells shoot videos where all your favorites discuss why certain endings happened. ROH in particular has milked the “smart” audience and gets no free pass at all when it disappoints them, nor should it.

In a post-modern and damaged-kayfabe world, your audiences know Larry Sweeney didn’t plot that evil deed. And audiences don’t just know that someone in the back scripted it; they know his first name. And that’s who they’re pissed at when they’re disappointed. What once made audiences angry at a character now makes them angry at a writer, or worse, the whole company. The same way “Gabe” was stroked and inflated to a god-like figure when the shows he was believed to be writing entertained, he got labeled “stale” and perceived patterns were called his fetishes.

You don’t like it? Scrap the company and start a new one, but don’t complain when you take it in a new direction. To ROH’s credit, Pearce and Silkin haven’t jumped on their message board to fight the complainers.

If you make too many matches end in screwy ways (King walking out on a tag match, Rhett Titus costs Delirious a tag title match, the Age of the Fall hitting the ring for a DQ, etc.), the point of the fictional world disappears for many people. It’s why I can’t take TNA’s storylines seriously, even on the weeks when they do them well. If violated, there is no longer a believable construct of the “fake” sport, and belief is vital to pro wrestling, even when it is arbitrary. If the wrestlers inside the fiction actually want these improper finishes on a frequent basis and they go unchecked, then clearly there are no adults in charge or no effective administration. These characters should be afraid for their jobs, not to mention that if they’re employed, they ought to be good enough to actually wrestle to a victory. What moron lets factions interfere like this? What moron keeps a wrestler who is so bad he has to cheat to win, and leaves video evidence of those transgressions? It should mean something for a heel manager to desperately get his client’s match thrown out by illegal activity. That rarity would make these endings seem more special is only one reason to make them rare.

DQ’s and the like have the stigma of “lazy booking” for good reasons. We have decades of television showing us how writers “protect” their wrestlers. It cheapens the contest to see an ending that violates the rules. A time limit draw can tick people off, though it’s the easiest non-submission, non-pin ending to accept because it’s still the legal actions of the competitors. DQ’s and interference are classic ways for lazy writers to prolong a story without “hurting” someone or thinking creatively.

Often they aren’t even done creatively. Even a little cleverness about the execution, like the old Eddie Guerrero tossing a chair to an opponent and pretending he was hit to win by DQ, can circumvent the problem. The generic “his enemies run in and cost him the match” thing is not only a DQ, but has been done so often that it’s a cliché among disappointing endings. You’d have to execute this incredibly well to earn it. It is possible to earn overused and traditionally disappointing endings, though.

It’s this same force that made Danielson’s DQ loss at Glory by Honor 6 so good. A guy snapped and got himself DQ’d – hardly original. But it was my favorite match of the series. Within it, they convinced me that Danielson had snapped. How dare Morishima go after his eye? He could have ended his career! Danielson was so overcome that he just wanted to hurt Morishima, and let go of the rules. Both guys played their roles famously. They earned the typically undesired ending because the emotion around it was so strong. It felt far from typical. It was an extraordinary DQ, and an extraordinary ending. It also made people legitimately interested in a rematch. It did what DQ’s can do when done very well, but they’re not as easy to wield on this audience as they were for Ric Flair to wield on his audience in his heyday.

Where an excellent DQ or other such finish begins and where typical stuff I wouldn’t even bother to watch for free on TV ends is very difficult to identify. But it’s there. It differs from person to person, which explains why you may not feel as I do. Still a promoter, especially one attempting to build a company, should pay it close attention.

That’s it for me. Coming soon is my Herculean effort to list and write up my top 100 matches of 2008. But right now online:

-Vinny Truncellito introduces us to New England Championship Wrestling and interviews its founder, Sheldon Goldberg.

-David Ditch concludes his Kenta Kobashi retrospective. It’s pretty much my favorite series of columns anywhere about anything. But this is about chops and cancer.

-Meanwhile Phil Clark and company sink their teeth into what’s holding Pro Wrestling NOAH back.

-And if you like my writing, check out my blog at www.johnwiswell.blogspot.com

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