----A new edition of The Thompson Perspective.
It seems like I always begin one of my columns by talking about how long it has been since the previous column. Well, regardless here is another edition of the “Thompson Perspective,” whether this is the start of a more regular column or the last time you read anything from me for six months. Only time will tell as they say.
In this edition, I want to give all of us affiliated with the wrestling business something to think about. I guess the title of this column could be “Emotion vs. Performance.” It is a discussion that I have had with Brian Tramel and a few others in or around the wrestling business.
What exactly am I talking about? Well, here goes nothing!
To me, one of the lost arts of professional wrestling is emotion. I’ll soon be 30-years-old. I’ve watched wrestling since 1986, so obviously I have seen many changes in the business. At the time I started watching, wrestling was on fire. Texas was hot with the Von Erichs and World Class Championship Wrestling. The NWA was doing massive business with Dusty Rhodes and the Four Horsemen leading the charge. The World Wrestling Federation was going nationwide with Hulk-A-Mania as a driving force. Memphis had Jerry “The King” Lawler trying to be World Heavyweight Champion. Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association (AWA) still had some life with good, young talent like Curt Hennig. As you can see, the business was HOT!
And there was a lot of emotion involved.
The goal of a babyface was to be popular with the fans, preferably of all ages. He should kiss babies, hug grandmas and make girls drool. The heel should be much the opposite, making babies cry, grandmas curse and girls gag. What do all those analogies have in common? Emotion!
I used to watch my late uncle try to go through the TV set to get to a heel. While that was entertaining, it was also indicative of how GOOD the guys were at drawing that emotion that I’m talking about.
Where is that emotion today? It is hard to tell.
How many times have we seen opponents shake hands following a match? I’ve lost count. It seems like the way the business is presented today, it is more about the “performance.” Hey did we have a great match?
This thought first came to my mind after watching a Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling match between the Motor City Machineguns and Generation Me. The Machineguns, arguably one of the top two or three tag teams in the business today, have truly impressed me. They have good fan support. But, Generation Me is hardly that accomplished. The general idea was that it is two babyface teams congratulating each other on a hard fought contest. I guess that’s fine, but who cares was my first though. How about the losers being angry that they just got beat? I know a few weeks later Generation Me turned heel, but still.
For those of you who have watched the business for awhile, you can remember when there were hardly any baby vs. baby scenarios. And when there were, they were special. One of the biggest of all-time certainly had to be the WrestleMania VI match between the Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan. You had the two top babies in the WWF at the time battling for both the WWF and Intercontinental titles. They had a good little feud and then a hug/handshake after the match. Guess what? It meant something! Why? Because it was rarely done.
I guess I’m dogging handshakes, when it reality I really feel that the “emotion” of wanting to see guys win is gone. It is almost like, I don’t care who wins I just hope they put on a great match. And while I love some great matches, I feel that sentiment is the reason we see small crowds around the country. The most recognizable organization outside WWE and TNA is certainly Ring of Honor (ROH) Wrestling. And they often have that performance style. And guess what? The big crowds aren’t there. And they’re not anywhere for that matter.
I had an argument about this with a guy I’ve known for the better part of 10 years. He’s a fan but has dabbled into the business in some ways in the St. Louis scene. I told him I wasn’t impressed by the things like “This is Awesome!” chants. While that’s cool, I guess, it really doesn’t again draw the emotion of seeing someone win or lose. He kind of disagreed but then I reminded him of how in the 1980’s and 1990’s you played off emotion and not performance and had bigger houses.
I equate it to going to the movies. You don’t sit there watching and think, “Gee I hope the cast gives a good performance.” You typically get caught up in the storyline. Yes you know that Robert DeNiro in “real life” doesn’t hate Mel Gibson. But as part of this movie, their characters are at odds and you feel it. You certainly do see the two shake hands when the darn movie is done!
Maybe there is no going back. Maybe things are so exposed that you can’t draw that emotion. I don’t know that we’ll ever see the heights of the 80’s or 90’s, but I know that emotion exists. I’ve seen it. I’ve felt it first hand.
What do you think? Let me know on the Message Board!
(Brian Thompson has been in the wrestling business for 10 years in various capacities. He currently serves as a booking agent for “Beautiful” Bobby Eaton. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)