Pro Wrestling Needs More “Bad” People
Irony, Fun, And Athletic Competition Are Secondary To Unmitigated Disgust
Of the many problematic things about professional wrestling — at every level from World Wrestling Entertainment to regularly running independents like Capitol Wrestling, the one I co-founded, co-own, and co-promote— is that in the modern era, the most is the lack of truly convincing “bad guys/girls” playing the role of “lead heel” in organizations worldwide is a frightening deterrent to sustainable business redevelopment and growth. It’s probably the one thing that, above all else, is the worst of all things for the economic sustainability of what we do. Troublesome to the idea of “bad guys/girls” Because we’ve successfully indoctrinated a generation of fans into believing that professional wrestling is “a fun social exhibition” instead of “a real sporting event,” we’ve lost the crux of the actual commercial value in leading our industry with good versus evil as the core principle upon which the enterprise can and should always, inarguably, be foremost built.
There’s nothing in the annals of the traditions of American borne entertainment quite like an intrinsically and stereotypically “good” human being and an intrinsically and stereotypically “bad” human being having a serious athletic contest. The idea that a person who is stereotypically good, by virtue of their good humanity blending with their appearance of athletic dexterity, can be victorious over the person who is stereotypically “bad,” (and thus, of a lesser level of athletic dexterity than the person who is “good”), is, of course, a wholly illogical notion actively highlights the flaws of human nature. Alas, it is the paradigm upon which professional wrestling, uniquely, is built.
Without this bizarre combination being present, you’re either watching a bad soap opera, or are front row at the Olympic games, a boxing match, or UFC showdown. If you’re marketing either “good vs. bad” or “athletic confrontation,” by themselves, implicitly, as professional wrestling, then it’s a short-term draw with no long-term appeal as “pro wrestling.” The best soap opera, big money boxing match, UFC tussle, or Olympic meet will always be better than pro wrestling, and the same goes when any of the aforementioned entertainment vehicles veer into rasslin’, too.
Human beings typically want to believe that humanity is intrinsically good, at as much of all time as possible. Thus, pro wrestling — because so much of it is based in a struggle between good and bad versions of human behavior — violates what are very established modes of humanity. It’s then easy-to-argue that the internet’s breaking of pro wrestling’s fourth wall for the past thirty years directly attacks that violation, thus rectifying the problematic issue upon which the entire enterprise of professional wrestling is very tenously constructed.
The idea of a “bad” person who wrestles being a thing worth having in professional wrestling as a key top economic driver is fascinating. Many professional wrestling fans have negative opinions of the humanity of WWE’s Universal Champion Brock Lesnar. Intriguingly, it’s likely tied to the fact that they do not like him as a person that allows for his success in matches where, moreso than “grapple-defined” wrestling his opponent, the match looks like a savage assault driven by very human anger driven by a person equally as ill-tempered outside of the ring as they are inside of it. Lesnar’s matches are memorable and all largely important. The fact that more wrestlers who may themselves feel oftentimes more standoffish or ill-tempered turn this into a 360-degree, full-time persona that lacks any sort of ironic, put-on angst is frankly, stunning. “The promoters, fans, and my fellow wrestlers don’t like me” should not be the rallying cry. Rather, from a pure business level, “did I get the job done? Was the match compelling? Was there a person in a chair every 18 inches multiplied 100 to 100 times over?” Maybe that’s the goal.
Thus, we’re now left with athletic competition as the most significant and connective part of the draw. Less so in the draw for the business is comedy or just general benign positivity, because there ultimately is absolutely no reason for hold-to-counter hold exchange unless its the most tedious of ironic exhibitions. “Tedious ironic exhibitions” do have a place in the entertainment universe-at-large, and yes, even within professional wrestling. But as a consistent, top-drawing concept, it’s just not THE thing.
THE thing is good versus bad. It has, is, and will forever remain the crux of the main matter as to why professional wrestling has succeeded as a money-making enterprise that has grown first to the place where from the 1940s-1980s, it supported 30 different individual territories worldwide, and then to the level where it supported WWE’s ability to be publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Anything less than a pro wrestling built on good versus bad — even though market conditions now allow for this to exist as an illogical, absurd, and frustrating desire —is not a pro wrestling that exists to be anything more than an eventual money drain and not an enterprise driven to desire significant, multi-generational longevity.
So, how do we get back to “good” versus “bad?” It’s honestly much simpler than it appears on the surface. Quite simply, promoters and bookers alike must be willing, on a local, national, and global level, to support people who are both able to convey athletic dexterity and in real life, rub 99% of the people with whom they come in contact, the wrong way. Of course, when doing so you must have someone in your employ who in an exaggerated manner, serves as counterbalance. This “good” performer — who displays positive in-ring character demeanor, a beloved private and public perception as an employee, plus is someone whose athleticism is unquestionable.
Too often, we see, from the independent level through World Wrestling Entertainment, a desire to satiate the desires of fans now firmly entrenched behind the fourth wall. Thus, there’s either an impetus placed on ironic “fun” wrestling, or athletic competition that chafes at the veneer of professional wrestling’s traditions. Again, those are perfectly fine. Even deeper, Impact Wrestling star Jordynne Grace notes on her Twitter regarding this very issue, the following: “Flippy wrestling is cool. Technical wrestling is cool. Hoss fight wrestling is cool. Comedy wrestling is cool. All wrestling is cool.” Yes, all wrestling is indeed cool, but there is absolutely one tenet of wrestling which is best: “Good versus evil” is the most sustainable significant draw.
Negating this idea of where the business should be headed for its best results is the fact that we’re in an era where people are readily willing to say that they are human beings outside of pro wrestling, and that their wrestling gimmick is a character in the employ of a promoter whose job it is to use the human-as-character in their business. As true as that is, I would also be willing to advance the idea that it’s the person who is willing to sublimate or conflate their humanity for the stronger will of their character self (ideally the human turned up to 125%) who are the people that are willing to take on the responsibility for the industry truly being able to extend to the next level of earning potential and sustainability.
The idea that someone is a bad guy “on screen” but a good, upstanding human off-screen is ultimately frustrating to the bottom line of the industry. This is not to say that one should not be in this industry if they think they are both employee and person outside of their employment. Everyone has a place somewhere on the card. All wrestling, is yes, cool. But, again, when consistently proves that outsized personalities who overwhelm the line between reality and fiction underpin the large-scale success of the business, not being that type of personality definitely leaves some room for growth towards being a big money main eventer.
As a promoter myself (who also spent the better part of 15 years as an on-again/off-again weekend warrior pursuing being passably capable at the art of sports entertainment), I find it cripplingly sad to see fellow promoters and their promotions on all levels tussling with how to promote entertainment during this era. We have spent three decades tearing down the fourth wall that allowed the established mode of humanity that “all human beings are good” to be perpetually violated for our financial gain. Now, when likely aware that forcing the issue to change the tide is what is actually best for the long-term, we look instead at the short-term goals of turning a small profit, or heck, just being liked and accepted by our peer community and fans alike, and promote “ironic happy fighting” and “athletic battling” as a top draw, which is akin to pounding a square peg into a damaged and worn, bizarrely obtuse, yet still somewhat rounded hole.
We have reached an era in professional wrestling wherein without the return of “good versus evil,” it’s entirely possible that, due to the financial return of these events, the industry will largely be comprised of massive corporations subsidizing promoters’ fantastical notions of sports entertainment. Do we want something different or something more? Surely, so. Here’s a vote for the traditionally sustainable idea of bad people good at wrestling fighting good people good at wrestling. Moreso than two nice humans exchanging wristlocks, or two hyper-athletic people having a contest devoid of much more than the result mattering, it’s probably a worthwhile endeavor to pull the brakes on our descent into absurdity and re-establish standards we know have, do, and can continue to work well.
As always, the darkest hour is just before dawn.