Most of us who write or read these columns are lifelong fans of professional wrestling. Everyone has their own special wrestling memory or moment that hooked them into being fans forever and every one of us has seen the business through its share of ups and downs. I like many spend literally countless upon countless hours watching both new and old wrestling every week. From WWE to FCW to TNA to CMLL to AAA to WWC to Japan and so on and so forth; as a matter of fact recently I did some match on the situation and discovered that on average I watch anywhere from 15 to 20 hours of wrestling every week, in addition to listening to over 12 hours of wrestling related audio. Rest assured I am not single and once upon a time was even happily married, so I am not your geek living in his parents? basement. I simply just enjoy professional wrestling and not much else. Why am I telling you all this? Well this week I probably took that number and nearly doubled it since I had a whole lot of free time and well I paid close attention and it really just blew me away how the hardest things sometimes are just so easy. So I am going to give anyone who books wrestling or for that matter would like to book wrestling some simple rules to live by because lord knows from some of the things I have watched this week there are many that could use them?you?re reading “Wrestling Rumblings.”
I have to say I am not trying to sound pompous or all knowing, but I do feel that my near 25 years experience watching wrestling devoutly, my knowledge of promotions worldwide, and just my contacts and pedigree make me a bit more than an average fan; however I am still a fan. So I don?t want anyone to feel like I am putting my views and ideals on a pedestal, it’s just that some of the things I have seen on T.V , video, and live this week and the past few weeks make me really question what some people are thinking. I don?t think I can write a T.V show contrary to what many of us think it is a lot harder than it looks. With all that being said, wrestling always does best when it follows the ?Keep It Simple Stupid? rule and I think some bookers have really lost touch with that. So I hope you will indulge me for some simple rules.
Rule #1: Don?t find wrestlers for gimmicks, find gimmicks for wrestlers.
How often do we hear as of late that someone got a job because someone had an idea for a fill in the blank gimmick and was looking for someone to play that role and picked someone who really didn?t belong in that kind of a spot in the first place? Way too often if you ask me, it is no secret that the best wrestlers are the ones who play a character that resembles their personality as close as possible. A perfect and classic example of this is Steve Austin and The Rock. Duane Johnson wasn?t an apple pie white meat babyface good guy who kissed babies and slapped fans. Anyone who watched him chase the mascot in a nationally televised bowl game when he was at the University of Miami could see that which is why Rocky Maivia couldn?t work, same thing could be said of Steve Austin as the Ringmaster. When both of these guys were allowed to be themselves their careers skyrocketed. I remember reading a Paul Heyman interview where he mentioned taking a wrestler out to breakfast because he wanted to get to know him since he was going to write for him. This wouldn?t be a bad idea for any booker or creative writer. I am not saying go out and be friends with the guy but you should have some insight for the man/woman underneath the gimmick. The closer you are to the person the closer you will be to a big payday. I have seen too many talented wrestlers suffer and in some cases have their careers die because of a gimmick they should have never been given in the first place because someone thought they fit the suit. I will admit it works sometimes but 9 times out of 10 you will go down in flames.
Rule #2: Don?t imitate and instead originate.
There is only one WWE and last I checked they weren?t exactly setting the world on fire either so why imitate what most fans are already complaining about? Every booker has there influences but at the end of the day a booker needs to find their own identity and for that matter so should every promotion. I?ve been watching a lot of the early TNA Nashville PPV’s this week and I won?t lie I was not in love with everything on those shows but one thing that really made them stand out is that at the time there product was completely different from the WWE product and because of that fact alone made them ten times more entertaining than they would become in later years. It should be said that most consumers when they want something will often opt for the original and not the knockoff, why should anyone figure that would be different with professional wrestling? This is not to say you can?t borrow or improve upon already existing ideas, but at the end of the day you have to find a way to make that idea your own.
Rule #3: Know your fan base.
As much as people complain about WWE what they fail to realize on many occasions is that WWE does not cater to hardcore wrestling fans anymore but to children. Many fans question that but the truth is WWE ever since Vince McMahon Jr. took over the business has always catered to children. Hulk Hogan, Junk Yard Dog, Hillbilly Jim and others were comic book characters come to life and I would bet my life that for every 100 people that read this column 99 of them were fans before they were able to vote. I don?t know many older people who all of a sudden become wrestling fans but I do know many older people who feel they outgrow the product and stop being fans. So WWE brings it back and goes back and recycles there product to recruit more fans. They know there fan base and for the most part they try to keep 80% of what they put out there to get that target audience. Say what you want about Ring of Honor but they too know there fan base is the internet fans that are into spot fests and long matches and they give it to them. Personally on a different note for any promoter out there looking to start a group I wouldn?t cater to internet fans at all. After all as Ring of Honor is discovering , it’s the same ?devoted? internet fans who are pirating the product on torrents, YouTube and everywhere else and ultimately is hurting their bottom line. I heard a Jim Cornette interview this week where he complained about Vince Russo writing wrestling for people that don?t like wrestling and well basically tore him a new one on it. I am going to politely tweak that idea and say that while you don?t write wrestling for people that don?t like wrestling it would be a great idea to maybe devote something on your show that can attract the casual fan or maybe even the person who doesn?t watch wrestling so that you can grow your audience. There is nothing wrong with reaching beyond your fan base as long as you keep your fan base happy. After all if you go outside of your fan base too much, you will slowly erode the fan base you have built up and find yourself out of business.
Rule #4: Pace a card wisely.
I always hate it when I hear a talent use the words that they are going to go out there to ‘steal the show?. Tommy Dreamer once compared a wrestling match to good sex and in many ways he was correct but I would go one further and say a wrestling card is equivalent to good sex. Think about it if you guys (or ladies for that matter) just went in and climaxed it would pretty much leave the rest of the evening sort of empty. It’s the same thing with a wrestling card. If the opening match ‘stole the show? then why would I want to sit through the rest of the matches on the show? If the opener is the best thing on the show than it should be the main event. How many times have we seen crowds burned out by the time of the main event because the matches that preceded it were just all over the place? While I am a fan of Ring of Honor I have found in the past they were doing that seemingly in every show that by the time the main event came I had nothing left to give. I am not saying that an opening match can?t be the best match on the show but there are certain limitations that should be put on it so that the crowd feels they haven?t seen everything yet. Opening matches shouldn?t have stipulations or crazy insane spots or out of the ring brawling, just some good old fashioned one on one action. Matches should correspond with each other so as not to do things to cheapen the higher profile matches. If you know the main event is going to finish with a chair shot than there should not be a single chair shot on the show so as to preserve the integrity of that finish. Although this is more of a column for bookers a note should go out to the talent as well and that’s that while some fans may remember and be in awe of you for the 50 high spots you pulled in your opening match , what you did in actuality was cheapen the rest of your promotions roster to the point where no one is going to pay money to see them and essentially you devalued men/women that you would eventually work with where you aren?t going to be able to draw the same money you would have if you would have held something back for when you ascended to that spot. Remember if you are as truly talented as you think you are, you can still have a 4 star match without having to resort to that foolishness and take away from the integrity of the rest of the card.
Rule #5: Build programs up slowly and have them make sense.
Unfortunately there is not a booker out there who hasn?t violated this rule at some point in their booking life. TNA does it all the time, how many times have we seen programs start first match out as a street fight that builds up to a regular match? Better yet how many times have we seen a program start out first match out with a gimmick match when the program is just a one and done program to begin with? It makes zero sense. It’s not that complicated at the end of the day no matter what you call it the marquee still says wrestling, what is wrong with just having a wrestling match? What is wrong with a card full of just regular wrestling matches? No steel cage matches, ladder matches or multiple person matches. I honestly can count the number of times on one hand this year where I have seen an X Division Championship match on PPV that was a one on one match. A good friend of mine by the name of Mike Zevon once told me too many cooks spoil the soup and when it comes to matches like this he is 1000% right. A stipulation match should be the end of the feud and not the beginning so that fans have enough emotion invested in the program so that they can truly digest what a steel cage match means to it. Another thing that I want to lump in here is that gimmick matches get burned out too easily. If you have a all steel cage PPV or just a bunch of ladder matches throughout the year the match is no longer special and if it is no longer special than it is just like everything else and if it is just like everything else, it draws the same so why book it? If you are going to book a gimmick match, use the gimmick sparingly to protect it and have it make sense.
Rule #6: Respect the fans intelligence.
This rule comes with regards to stipulations and angles that have been run. We have just recently seen that while on T.V WWE has respected the John Cena vs. Randy Orton stipulation that says that Randy Orton cannot receive anymore title shots while John Cena is champion (just barely since Jesse Ventura sort of trampled on the stipulation during his stint as guest host) the stipulation apparently doesn?t apply to house shows. Why? I have absolutely no idea because one would think it is reasonably safe to assume that the fans that go to house shows are the fans who watch the T.V show. When you do things like this it is very hard to take any stipulation seriously which is why some of these ?let’s make a deal? matches as I like to call them are not ever really respected. Fans are waiting to have the rug pulled out from under them because they have seen it time and time again. Another thing that in the words of Peter Griffin ?really grinds my gears? is the abrupt manner in which angles come to an end. We recently saw the feud between the Hardy brothers come to an end simply because one guy came out and made a save. What happened to the animosity you were supposed to feel for the guy, who burned down your house, killed your dog and tried to injure and maim you and your girlfriend on more than one occasion? Wrestling is a reflection of society and I don?t think anyone in real life would be so forgiving in such an easy manner. How many times have we seen men who have had heated history just team up with announcers not even mentioning it or the wrestlers themselves not showing any real tension? I remember watching a Hulk Hogan match in which he teamed with newly minted babyface ?Rowdy? Roddy Piper for the first time and what made the match so great was that neither man in their work forgot the history of their feud and milked it all the way in there tags and interactions with each other. Say what you will about Hogan and Piper for that matter but that is what is called ?telling a story in the ring?. If you all of a sudden make up with an individual or willingly team with him why should anyone respect what is going on with your program in the first place and if we did I can guarantee you that your next program won?t be as anticipated.
Rule #7: Never hesitate to remind people what they missed or just witnessed.
If you watch a T.V show or even a baseball or football game midway through and are clueless as to what has transpired you probably wouldn?t enjoy the game as much as the fan who is in the loop. Same thing applies to wrestling but with wrestling being sort of an episodic soap opera you have to constantly keep fans in the loop. You can?t just keep trudging forward because chances are someone is out there who is totally lost and as a result will stop watching the show. I give WWE all the credit in the world because when something big happens on there shows you get replay after replay of it on that show, the other weeks shows and sometimes even the next weeks shows, however I have seen other shows (hint, hint TNA) where things have taken place you don?t hear about it throughout the show and when you hear about it next week it is in such a manner where if you didn?t watch the show you have absolutely no idea what anyone is talking about. If you can?t keep up with an angle you can?t invest yourself in it and if you can?t invest yourself in it than why would you pay money to see it come to a hopeful resolution? By the way this just doesn?t apply to mainstream wrestling but to independent wrestling as well. Many independent promotions have adapted to now show a projector or some sort of video screen facsimile at there shows before matches or even during intermission. You should show matches and angles on those screens to get across important information to fans that may be attending your shows for the very first time or maybe just missed a show. It helps the wrestlers to better ?tell a story in the ring? to fans when fans know what the story is. After all a great story is a great story but if it is written in another language how would I know? For those independent promoters that can?t afford a projector or screen it’s really as simple as having an announcer before the shows do a simple version of ?last time in?? and just go from there.
Rule #8: Don?t give up so easily.
How often do we see a wrestler start off with a push or an angle and suddenly it just stops? Oftentimes we are told that the audience didn?t initially get with it the way the company or booker was hoping but I say that’s just crap. If you as a booker/creative writer know where your angles are going and it starts off slow than just continue to build up. The audience is sitting on their hands because they don?t know where the angle is going but you do. One thing I will say about Vince Russo is that as much as people hate his ideas (and lately I am jumping on that bandwagon) he sticks to his guns and well he should because it is much easier to follow a program that is consistent than one that stops, starts, stops and starts again. If you have an idea and you are unsure bring it some people you trust to keep it in house and gauge their reaction. If it is the one you are looking for than proceed as planned. Don?t base a wrestlers push on what a small crowd in Little Rock, Arkansas did, it could?ve been a bad night for those fans or just a dead crowd. As a booker you drive the car otherwise the fans book the product and if the fans are booking the product than why does the company even need you?
Rule #9: Always listen to the ideas of others.
Last time I checked nobody is perfect and we can all benefit from a helping hand or two. A booker/creative writer is no different. It is important to remember that what Joe the booker likes might please 75% of the audience but not the full 100% you should go for, so it might be a good idea to listen to Mark the commentator or Jim the Wrestler and so on and so forth. While I stated previously that too many cooks spoil the soup this is not you asking guys to help you book but for input. Too many cooks do spoil the soup but there is nothing wrong with a few special ingredients to give your soup flavor.
Rule #10: Don?t be afraid to make mistakes.
I?ve always maintained that the best piece of advice I have ever received in life is ?You can please some of the people some of the time and all of the people none of the time, so please yourself? but this is wrestling where you are expected to do more than just ?please yourself?, however it should be stated that not everything you come up with is booking genius and that is O.K. after all you are not perfect and there is no such thing as the perfect booker. If you think about it people will remember the times you succeed more than the times you fail anyway. Don?t believe me well in baseball if you hit the ball 3 times out of 10 you go into the Hall of Fame and the 7 times you made out are never referenced in your induction. Every booker is going to have his ?What was he thinking? moment and you will have yours. The thing that is most important is how you are able to bounce back and learn from those mistakes.
So there you have it, I suppose I could keep going but I will leave it at ten rules as this is probably the longest column I have written in quite some time. Of course you can send your questions, comments, and anything else in between to email@example.com and well that’s it for this week, next week I will try to do better, and until then I am out.