Thursday Morning Backlash – Is Having a “Great Match” Enough These Days?

Over the weekend I was hanging out with some of my Wrestler friends (I don’t need to namedrop, but between them they’ve worked for all three of today’s major companies – WWE, TNA, and ROH) and we got into an interesting discussion about what’s entertaining in wrestling these days.

Having recently watched ROH’s “Richards Vs. Daniels” DVD, and noted that while the main event was a typical “great match,” the fact that the word “typical” entered the sentence made it something worth discussing. Davey Richards and Christopher Daniels are two very talented wrestlers and great athletes, and they’ve had numerous great matches with a variety of opponents. But I feel like I’ve come to the point where just seeing a “great match” doesn’t do it for me anymore – especially when the competitors get on the microphone after the match to cry and tell the audience what a great match it was. I don’t remember Shawn Michaels or the Undertaker getting on the microphone to talk about what a great match they just had.

I’ve been watching Ring of Honor since about 2004, and I’ve seen so many great matches over the years. After a while it’s hard not to become desensitized to it. Take for example the match Daniels had with Richards – both men have had similar matches with other opponents. Variety starts to go out the window when you get characters like Richards (who it seems doesn’t view himself as a “character”) who want to treat wrestling as being realer than it is. I don’t want to see a real fight. I want to see a Wrestling Match. Those are two very different things.

With the popularity of MMA and a lot of wrestling fans gravitating more towards that, it’s understandable that some wrestlers would try to capitalize on that. But what I think some are forgetting is that the most successful Pro Wrestlers have been so because they are entertaining. Stone Cold Steve Austin is a great wrestler, but he was also extremely entertaining. Davey Richards and others can pretend all they want that their style of wrestling is more “real,” and while I’m sure they hit harder than some of the guys in WWE, that doesn’t change the fact that they win and lose based on what the booker tells them to do.

It’s time to stop treating “entertainment” as a dirty word in wrestling, because that’s what wrestling has always been, and always will be, designed to provide.

And now, the reunion of one of the greatest reviewing tag teams of all time is upon us, as Brad Garoon has agreed to add his thoughts on this matter. After reading what he has to say, head over to his blog Open the Garoon Gate for the most comprehensive series of Dragon Gate reviews anywhere, and check out his hilarious Grapefruit Chronicles on the YouTube.

“I was a fan of Ring of Honor right from the beginning. As each show was released on tape I rabidly waited for it to arrive at my apartment. From 2002 until just before Gabe Sapolsky’s departure from the company ROH was far and away my favorite company to watch. However, it was near the end of his tenure that Sapolsky started using “great matches” as a crutch. The man who formerly had crafted some of the most interesting storylines and angles of the decade was using Great Wrester X vs. Great Wrestler Y as the selling point for his shows. And while I could watch great matches forever, I’ll forget every one of them if they don’t have a compelling storyline behind them. These storylines don’t need to be built up for months, but there has to be SOME reason that the two guys in the ring are fighting each other, especially when no title is on the line.

Jake spoke primarily about Christopher Daniels vs. Davey Richards. That match was billed as one “six months in the making.” But what about this pairing was supposed to get fans excited? Was it that Daniels was in TNA when Richards was coming up in ROH? A lot of good wrestlers were in TNA and WWE while Davey Richards was honing his skills in ROH, so why should a match against Daniels in particular excite me? The answer is that there’s no reason, so while the match might be great, it will also be completely forgettable.

Jake also mentioned the MMA influence here. I love MMA, and typically welcome its influence in wrestling. The one place where I don’t welcome it is when it is used to replace an angle for a match. In fact, the presence of angles is something that MMA organizations, and boxing organizations for that matter, regularly borrow from professional wrestling. I think back to Matt Sera vs. George St. Pierre in particular. In the build to that fight the two talked an unbelievable amount of trash about each other, and right after his defeat Sera admitted that almost all of his talk was hot air used to promote the fight. So if the UFC, a growing promotion, knows that a backstory is important to selling a PPV, why would ROH get lazy and not use the same tactic in promoting their shows?

I recently listened to a podcast in which Sapolsky addressed this issue. He said he was using the same old tricks during the end of his ROH tenure and the beginning of his Dragon Gate USA booking. He promised that in 2011 he would be more creative, and so far we have seen and benefitted from the fruits of that promise. ROH produced one of the most compelling angles of 2010 in Kevin Steen vs. El Generico, but in 2011 they’ll have to work just as hard as Sapolsky to keep from becoming forgettable.”

What do you think?