Okay, look – I like pro wrestling. I like to watch two talented performers put on an entertaining match. I like watching said match for free on my television.
But here’s the thing…with the WWE putting on four hours of programming per week, every week, plus a monthly pay-per-view, that’s a lot of wrestling and a lot of matches to put together.
It not only causes them to burn through a lot of match-ups fairly quickly, it doesn’t really allow them to showcase performers, build up finishers and create stars without doing it at someone else’s expense, usually someone else who is also trying to get showcased, establish a finisher and a character. There’s something missing…
That something is the “squash.”
Now, if you’re reading this, you are almost surely familiar with the term, but just to quickly explain: When I was a kid, there was no Raw or Smackdown, or Impact or Nitro or anything like that really. What the major promotions did offer was a show like “World Championship Wrestling” on WTBS. Every Saturday night from 5 to 7 p.m., I got two straight hours of wrestling and interviews. Now most of these matches featured my favorite stars of the NWA, but not usually against one another. No, we would get matches like Dusty Rhodes vs. Nelson Royal, Ric Flair vs. Mike Jackson, or Tully Blanchard & Arn Anderson vs. Bill & Randy Mulkey.
Now if some of those names don’t sound too familiar, there’s a reason…they were nobodies. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. They were there to lose. But not just lose…they were there to let the other guy look good in winning. They didn’t just go out there and lay down, and they weren’t talent-less. In fact some of these guys were fairly successful in some regional promotion or another and just happy to be getting national exposure, even if it was in a losing effort. Now, I have no idea how much any of these guys made or what percentage of these guys ever got to transition over onto the other side of the squash (although I do have distinct memories of Shane Douglas of ECW fame as a jobber and I know from Mick Foley’s first book that he did some “talent enhancement” work in the WWF early in his career).
Admittedly, these were not the most exciting match-ups, but if you wanted to see Nikita Koloff clothesline somebody out of their boots or the Rock & Roll Express hit some sweet dropkicks, this was the show for you. Plus, they almost always a decent TV main event – usually some decent mid-card feud or a big star giving a little of the ol’ rub to an established but lower-on-the-card guy. Plus, the show allowed for feuds to be built via interviews and ringside altercations without giving away the match for free on TV (Back in those days, more often than building toward a pay-per-view, the guys were building on a match they could take on the road and get people to pay to see live).
The WWF had a couple of these shows that ran in syndication, and they actually seemed to do a little better job of not going “THIS GUY IS GOING TO LOSE!” The jobber usually got a full introduction and I remember Gorilla Monsoon seeming to know a lot about Ted Arcidi or Barry O or Rene Goulet, even though they never seemed to win. In retrospect, he may have just been pulling data out of his ass, but it certainly helped sell the match, even though there is no way in hell Roddy Piper was going to get beat by George Wells or whoever.
One thing the WWF had going for them was “Prime Time Wrestling” on USA. That show featured a mix of squash matches and better match-ups featuring what was in the 1980s, a very well-developed mid-card. Guys would spend a year or more squashing jobbers and feuding with other mid-carders, and then they would “rotate” or whatever into a feud with the Intercontinental champion or even Hulk Hogan if they were a heel and got over enough.
In know, I know…squash matches aren’t really chock full of surprises and awesome work-rate and all that, but I think we’ve gotten spoiled. Just this past week on Raw, we got the following matches: Kane vs. Big Show (two former world champions and two guys who should be considered nearly unstoppable monsters in a one-minute match), the U.S. Champion (theoretically the #2 belt on Smackdown) Santino Marella vs. David Otunga (who is being built up as a credible threat) in an even shorter match, the World Heavyweight Champion vs. a recent holder of the U.S. Champion, Zack Ryder in a 90-second squash, John Cena, the face of the company and a multiple-time champion vs. Mark Henry, a recent holder of the World title and supposed monster (again, for free with no build-up), former WWE Champ and Wrestlemania main-eventer the Miz vs. current #1 World title contender and former WWE Champ Sheamus, and arguably the top two contenders to the WWE tag-team championship, Ziggler & Swagger vs. R-Truth & Kofi Kingston in your main event.
Now, all of these guys are pretty established stars (except maybe Ryder, I guess, but he’s popular), and half of them just lost in meaningless matches that did nothing to help them in any way. They just jobbed out their “giant,” their U.S. Champion, their “hot new face,” their “monster heel,” one of their best mic guys, and one of their only tag-teams, less than a month before the biggest show of the year and made no more money than if everyone who won their matches was wrestling against NXT and developmental guys. I mean just on one freakin’ show they gave away a half dozen potentially compelling matches. I mean, John Cena vs. Mark Henry sounds like a pay-per-view main event, not a 7-minute extended squash. Newly re-masked Kane beats the Big Show clean in less one damn minute? It makes no sense.
And it’s not like they don’t know how to do this…Brodus Clay has been fed a steady diet of opponents to squash. No one he has beaten is any worse off for losing to Clay because none of them was far enough up the ladder for the loss to hurt their future ability to get over. No one is going to go, “I can’t take Heath Slater seriously. He lost to Brodus Clay in like 45 seconds.” All Slater has to do is win a match or two, and he can be established as a guy who can win. Hell, maybe Clay gets over, Slater begins to build some momentum, and down the road a few months, they feud in the mid-card with Slater looking to avenge his loss and give the “Funkasaurus” his first loss.
Because let’s face it, it’s pretty awesome when (and it does happen) the jobber pulls off the upset.
I mentioned Shane Douglas earlier. One of my favorite moments as a kid was when the then-unknown Douglas replaced and “injured” Sting in a UWF TV Title match against the champ “Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert, and Douglas pulled the upset and won the title. Yeah, he lost the belt to Terry Taylor just a couple of weeks later, and yeah he only got the belt to avoid using the up-and-coming Sting to transition the title to Taylor, bur I didn’t know any of that crap back then, so it was super-cool. The UWF also featured one of my favorite jobbers Mike “The Hippie” Boyette, whose “perfect” record of like 0-150 or something was just awesome as he racked up loss after loss each week. It turns out he had a fairly successful career in the Deep South territories and just did the losing streak gimmick on UWF TV.
One of the few things sadly that WCW did right was the build for Goldberg. He went through a slate of jobbers in squash after squash. Eventually fans accepted the destructive power of the spear and jackhammer, and when he moved up to mid-card guys the combo was getting massive pops and everyone knew it meant the end. He then went to the upper-card and eventually to the Main Event against Hogan. He used the same move-set to beat Hulk Hogan that he used to beat Scotty Riggs, but because he was able to establish himself and his arsenal in squash matches, we all knew they could take down Hogan.
The WWE needs to use their TV time to build stars. Stars can’t be built beating on each other in 2-minute throwaway matches. Use that time to get developmental guys some TV time, get mid-card guys and their gimmicks and finishers over, and let the stars showcase their talents for the fans who want to cheer and boo them. Have one or two “main event” matches that go 10 minutes or so and end clean or further storylines. You save match-ups, you replenish the roster, and you give the talent the opportunity to shine.
Makes sense to me.
Tags: goldberg, Hulk Hogan, NWA, Ric Flair, WCW, WWE, WWF