Working – WWE Style
Any fan who has read articles on WrestlingRamble, or anywhere else on the IWC, will probably be familiar with wrestlers being signed to a WWE contract, either to the main roster or on a developmental deal, and then being asked to work “WWE’s Style of wrestling”. But what exactly is the WWE style and why does the company insist on all their workers having a similar mentality in the ring?
When comparing the in ring styles of WWE performers to that of an independent, lucha libre, or puroresu wrestler, the pace is noticeably slower with more emphasis on psychology and storytelling as well as a lower tone and risk level when it comes to high spots and hardcore matches. The WWE is also rumoured to ban certain moves so that its workers cannot perform them during matches anymore.
To digress for a moment, WWE’s focus on storytelling does not take away from the wrestlers or hamper showcasing the workers in-ring abilities, far from it in fact. Any fan who loves wrestling will have their reasons for doing so, but most will agree that pro wrestling is one of the most unique forms of entertainment in the world and in many ways is an art form that very few have ever truly fully mastered. What makes wrestling so special is that it combines athletic ability with storytelling and therefore is a cross between sport and entertainment. Most matches tell a story, not unlike a film or a play at the theatre. The basic plot of the story will either be of triumph or tragedy, triumph being the face getting a victory and tragedy being the loss for the face to a heel wrestler. Each match will either be a story in its own right or part or a long running storyline or feud, with the aim of the match to portray one or both men in the match in a certain light (a superhuman come-back, an underdog, an evil monster, etc).
The match will then, again like a film or play, contain the ups and downs of the plot before coming to its conclusion and this is where the wrestler’s story telling ability comes into play. The match itself can contain many elements or spots that change the course of the story such as cheating, overcoming the odds, inspirational comebacks, family involvement, the list is endless. A wrestler will get into the ring knowing what they have to achieve, but perhaps not knowing specifically what it will take to get themselves, and the fans watching, to that point. The guys in the ring need to read the crowd and make them buy into what they are seeing. Think of home alone, if Kevin McCallister, an 8 year old boy, had outsmarted 2 experienced criminals without much problem, it would be a terrible movie. But he didn’t, he got caught and pinned against the wall, he looked doomed until he was saved by an unlikely source, old man Moley who we all thought was evil but turned out to be a hero. This simple plot is much like a wrestling storyline and heel turn. If the babyface gets beat up a bit, beats the heel up a bit then wins, chances are the match won’t be a classic. On the other hand, imagine having two excellent workers in a match where the heel is really doing a number on the face and the face is really selling that he is hurt or injured, to the point that the fans think the heel will win. As the referee’s hand is going down for the third time, at 2 and 7/8s the face kicks out, as the heel looks like he has just seen a ghost, think how much more emotion the fans will show. From there a superhuman effort is needed but finally the good guy gets the win, covered in sweat and full of emotion, and the crowd will not be able to hide their glee as quality story of courage, and the will to win, has been told.
Because of this it is clear why the WWE puts emphasis on storytelling but asking workers to alter their style in order to achieve this seems unnecessary, as well as pigeonholing the WWE product. By limiting the whole roster to a similar style the WWE is moving away from what help get the company to where it is today, offering something different for every type of fan. Asking a worker not to execute certain manoeuvres, with the sole purpose of wanting the worker to fit a mould, is unfair on them as well as depriving the fans of seeing what that worker can actually do in the ring. Giving a wrestler boundaries of what they can and cannot do will not help them learn ring psychology or how to ‘work’, it just limits a wealth of knowledge that the worker has accumulated on their journey to this point in their career.
By limiting what arsenal of moves each wrestler can utilize the WWE is making its own product very one dimensional. During wrestling’s (and WWE’s) last boom period, of 1998 to 2001, one quick look at the roster shows that at this point the WWE had a very varied talent pool that consisted of:
Technical Wrestlers such as Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle and Lance Storm
Hardcore Wrestlers such as Mankind
Risk Takers such as the Hardy Boyz, Edge & Christian and Rob Van Dam
Athletic Smaller Wrestlers such as Chris Jericho and Eddie Guerrero
And ‘WWE Style’ Wrestlers such as Steve Austin, The Undertaker, Triple H and The Rock
This isn’t to say that the entire current WWE roster wrestles a WWE style, workers like Rey Mysterio, CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, and R-Truth have their own unique styles, but you still read reports that they have been asked by management to stop doing certain moves, or to water down their risky offence. It seems baffling that WWE would scout talent that have been in the business for a years and have carved out their own niche on the independent circuit only to be drafted to FCW and told to scrap some of what they have learned and taught how to do things a different way. The biggest, and most recent example of this has to be Daniel Bryan who was, in many circles, considered the best wrestler in the world while in RoH and on the independent scene. Danial Bryan had travelled the world 10 years, becoming a true master of his craft, yet once singed to a WWE contact he spent a year in FCW before being drafted as a ‘rookie’ on the inaugural season of NXT (ironically being ‘mentored’ by former reality TV star The Miz).
There are however arguments against these points on why the WWE should ask workers to work a certain style. Over recent years new styles have started to appear, with the rise of TNA’s X-Division and independent wrestlers developing a faster paced, riskier, high flying style of wrestling, the WWE may simply want to differentiate its product from that of every other promotion. Also, logic suggests that while non-mainstream wrestling promotions can get away with a riskier product, because they are viewed by a much smaller niche market of customers, the biggest wrestling promotion in the world cannot. The WWE is viewed by millions of people around the world and if there are any serious accidents, there will be serious repercussions for the company. Because of this it can be argued that WWE has every right to ‘ban’ certain moves that are considered or proven to be dangerous. Take the piledriver for example. Although I cannot confirm that the WWE has banned its employees from executing a piledriver (although I remember reading this on a news site years ago), I cannot remember the last time I seen a traditional piledriver (only the Undertaker’s tombstone). This move clearly has a higher risk attached to it as it involves driving the opponent’s neck almost into the mat with the weight of two people on top of it, as well as being the move responsible for Stone Cold Steve Austin breaking his neck, and subsequently shortening his career, back in 1997.
There are valid arguments for both sides of the issue, and there is always the possibility that the “WWE Style” is something that has came from years of ‘dirt sheet’ and IWC speculation and doesn’t exist at all, although the latter seems very unlikely and would involve a great deal of coincidence. Some fans will agree with, and enjoy the WWE’s policy and style. Some may have preferred the WWE when the roster contained a variety of different styles. And some fans may wish that there could be a compromise of varied styles in a safe, unique manner. Each fan will have their own opinion. I am a fan and I have my own.
We would love to hear yours…..
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Cheers – Rich x