(Editor: The Salt Mine is a new segment, which Jordan will be carrying in much the way AJ Styles carries Roman Reigns. You know, heavily, like it’s a burden, but he’ll make it look easy because he’s just that damn good.)
Hi, wrestling fans, it’s Jordan here with some comments on something that’s been setting the internet aflame with commentary. Today I’d like to talk about what makes wrestling what it is, and to do so I can think of no better match to talk about than last week’s Best of the Super Juniors tournament match between Will Ospreay and Ricochet.
Now, I would like to first off point out that this is nothing more than one wrestling fan’s opinion. Feel free to agree or disagree – nothing I am stating here is absolute fact, it’s just how I feel about wrestling in general.
Jumping right in I’d like to point out that, as a whole, this was not a bad bit of theatre to watch at all. But herein lies the first issue I have; this is theatre. It’s not a match, it isn’t even a competition – it’s two men putting on a demonstration of what they can do inside of a wrestling ring which, while beautiful to watch, isn’t what wrestling is really about. One can argue that it’s just a different style to what we’re are used to, and maybe that’s true, but I watch a lot of different wrestling and a lot of different styles, and at the end, all of these styles have one thing in common: they tell the story of two or more people fighting, competing against each other to achieve victory.
This match fails to do that; both men are obviously helping each other out, and the idea that this is actually anything more than a dance is thrown right out the window in the first couple of minutes when, rather than going at each other, they decide the best thing to do is flip around the ring and offer up no actual offense during the opening of the match. While this was spectacular to watch, and very beautiful, it was not a competition; it was both of them simply showing off and looking more like gymnasts than wrestlers.
So I guess my second problem with the match is simply that its narrative is totally disjointed. We start the match with athletic displays and the obvious teamwork of the two men in the ring, only to then move on to what would be considered more traditional wrestling. The issue here is that when the performers do this, the idea of pacing and selling big moves goes out the window. Both men hit moves that, in any other production, would be considered big ending moves and yet either fail to be pinned by them, or in some cases don’t even hit the mat, giving us absolutely no impression of impact to any move – and again in so doing divorcing the move of any actual point. To top this off a quick examination of the men during the semi-violent displays shows that both appear board and like this is the set up the bit they have to do in order to get to the next high octane flashy spot.
This I could forgive if the moves had an impression of impact, this I could forgive if in the next moment they were not so obviously working together to perform a gymnastic like stunt. The whole experience and pacing of the match left this fan feeling a total lack of immersion. Nothing felt like it could be real and so I had nothing to hang my suspension of disbelief upon. The match, while a beautiful display of the participants’ talents, in the end was nothing more than an exhibition of the men’s vast skillsets. It was not two men competing so much as two men showing each other off. I feel at this point I should stress again – I know wrestling isn’t real, but I also know I do not want that fact thrown at me as much as it was in this match.
As a last sort of foray into this, I would like to point out a comparison to a match I truly do love; for its story, for its competitive nature, and for the wrestlers’ ability to sell the idea that they were actually going at each other hell for leather to win, to prove themselves, and to, in the end, compete to see who the better man was. That match is “Stone Cold” Steve Austin vs. Bret “The Hitman” Hart in a submission match from WrestleMania 13. These men enter with Bret as a baby face, angry and upset at the rude brash up and coming Austin, and Austin himself thinking that the “Old Guard” of Bret should stay out of his damn way. The pacing of this match is such that each bit of offence feels like it has genuine impact, that the men involved are actually doing something to each other that will adversely affect them, and in doing so both men end up telling a story of heart and how easily your morality can change. Throughout the course of the match, Bret shows how much better he is at the technical side of wrestling than Austin, and Austin shows that it doesn’t matter because no matter what Bret does, he will come back at him and beat him down Smash Mouth style.
This all comes to a head when, after making Austin bleed, Bret locks in the Sharpshooter and Austin never taps, so the ref (who, by the way, was Ken Shamrock – a legit UFC fighter) calls an end to the match when Austin passes out in a pool of his own blood. Just so we’re clear, I don’t think wrestling needs blood to tell its story well, and there may be stories out there better than this one for wrestling – but its narrative is one of heart, of struggle, and of two men competing to be the best at what they do. When you compare this to the story Osprey and Ricochet tell, which amounts to ‘look how we work as a team to do flashy things’, I can’t help but think that one is professional wrestling, and the other is almost a demonstration of what a pro-wrestling match can be like.