Welcome back to the locker room Cagesiders. This time I continue the Fundamentals of a Wrestling Promotion series with Part two: Cast of Characters.
Cast of Characters:
Everyones a character in their own special way. We all have characteristics that define us and we all know people who we can relate to with those same characteristics. We as humans also love to see the portrayal of characters that we are different from, so we can laugh, cry,smile, learn and grow. The business of pro wrestling, like no other sport, relies on the portrayal and development of characters to entertain. Some members of the industry and fans alike, parallel a wrestlers persona and gimmick portrayal as a certain form of theater, and rightly so. Wrestlers have time and time again shown us what we want to see--Characters we love, and hate. These characters are the foundation of the wrestling business. What kind of characters can we have the wrestlers portray that fans will connect with?, and ultimately draw them in and make us money? Wrestling federations have supplied us with some of the most entertaining characters of all time. Who could forget Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase, Gorgeous George, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, Undertaker, Sting, Macho Man, and the list goes on and on. Every fan has their own personal favorites, current and former. Names in the present might be Daniel Bryan, John Cena, Bray Wyatt, Damien Sandow, Cm Punk, or Steve Austin and The Rock. Others enjoy characters from TNA, ROH, or from wrestling companies the world over. No one can say you can't like a wrestlers character because it's an individuals personal preference or opinion. And that's what makes wrestling so great: That a fan can like, or not like, whoever he/she wants and cheer them or boo them accordingly.
But how do these characters get decided upon by the executives and performers? How do wrestling companies forment ideas for characters, and how do they make those characters work? That is what we'll be exploring in this edition of The Locker Room.
Lets take a look at the AWA and its owner Verne Gagne. Started in 1960,and led by Gagne, the AWA was formed by territories coming together and breaking away from the NWA. The AWA would expand and promote matches in many major cities such as Minneapolis, Denver, Houston, and Memphis. Verne Gagne believed in the technical side of wrestling and less in the "sports entertainment" model, thus his Champion was Nick Bockwinkel who some believe to be the best technical wrestler of all time. During the early 1980s the AWA would acquire some of the best wrestlers to ever step into the ring. Names like Roddy Piper, Hulk Hogan, Greg Valentine, and Ricky Steamboat. Although Hogan was a big star for Gagne and the AWA, Gagne refused to give the title to him because he was not a sound technical wrestler and this prompted Hogan, and many others, to jump ship to Vince McMahon's WWF. One could say that because Gagne didn't have the same vision that Vince McMahon had, or did not want to "commercialize" his characters and turn them into more cartoonish over the top performers, his bottom line suffered. Although after the departure of Hogan and other wrestlers, the AWA was still able to turn a profit and remain relevant because of the addition of The Road Warriors and a rising Curt Hennig. Eventually The AWA would suffer the fate of most other wrestling companies and succumb to the juggernaut that was the WWF. Why do I mention Gagne and the AWA? Its simple really: The characters that were created and/or developed in that territory were the same characters that reached unbelievable heights in Mr. McMahon's WWF. Forming the basis for their domination over the wrestling world. Indeed Vinces ideas to "plunder" and reshape a lot of the AWA talent had a large part in his early boom and success.
As many wrestling fans know and can attest to, we've seen our share of HORRIBLE characters, most of them coming from the WWE. Hornswoggle, Issac Yankem, Bastion Booger, Shockmaster, were all terrible gimmicks. Some characters though have captured our hearts and have had a lasting impression on popular culture. Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, were all great characters. What made them work? What is about great characters that continuously draw us back to wrestling? First and foremost it's the wrestler behind that character making it work. Some performers are able to add nuances to their gimmick that really puts them over the top and makes them a huge success. A prime example of this is Daniel Bryans Yes! chants or Jake Roberts and His snake, or Razor Ramons Gold chains. Props and promos that add depth to a character are what really gets them over. Some performers are even able to execute numerous face and heel turns during the length of their careers with exceptional results. The perfect example of this would be non other than Randy Savage. He started out as a heel using Elizabeth as a shield and using foreign objects in matches, then became a mega face that rivaled Hulk Hogan by cutting pitch perfect promos and using intensity to propel him into the spotlight. After that it was the heel turn against Hogan over the love of Elizabeth that saw him adopting the crown and scepter, then back to face again with his Cowboy hat and lavish costumes. These type of subtleties I think are largely lost on the current generation of superstars. Yet they are small things that make a large difference.
One area I will touch on briefly is the "Attitude Era" and NWO. This was a time when all wrestling was taking a hit financially and the WCW capitalized on a new era of wrestling. The NWO brought an edginess and a controversial spin to the world of wrestling. Once again Vince McMahon saw the writing on the wall and emulated those characteristics with his version, "The Attitude Era". In fact Vince has been purported to say that during late 1995 and into 1996, that he felt "popular culture" had passed him by and that his ability to think of new gimmicks was waning. He actually told superstars like Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart to put more of their own personalities into their in-ring personas. This radical departure from standard characterization and gimmicks was very successful and influential up to the present day. Yes we've left the AE behind but specific character models and personalities have lingered over into the present.
One other point I would like to make is the fact that in the past, and not so distant past I might add, performers were given the luxury and the freedom to expand on their characters in their own unique way. Scripting their own promos and making additions or subtractions to their characters on their own merit. That is certainly not the case today where a whole team of writers influences how performers characters are portrayed. In my opinion this has affected the quality of the wrestling product and also stifled some performers from reaching their full potential.
Characters are all around us, they ARE us, and the world of professional wrestling culls personas and gimmicks from every source you can think of. Wrestlers that are not technical wonders have long and illustrious careers because of their ability to portray a certain character. Federations have been built and dismantled because of characterization. In fact Forbes magazine produced an online article dated February 2nd of this year 2013 entitled, "Want to communicate better? Watch Pro Wrestling". In that article there is a passage that states, "Just look at the most successful wrestling characters of the past twenty years: Hulk Hogan (Juiced up American exceptionalism); “Stone Cold” Steve Austin (Blue collar ‘Take This Job and Shove It” defiance); The Rock (Wisecracking hipster cool); and Ted DiBiase (Sneering corporate callousness). They are manifestations of our alter egos, of how we’d behave if we weren’t tethered to social conventions, bosses,mortgages, and loved ones."
I think that speaks volumes and it's why I put it in bold. What do you think about characters in pro wrestling CSS? What have been your favorite characters of all time? Your least favorite? Why did you like or not like those characters? What characters would you like to see again? What characters would you like to see that we haven't seen yet? I know those are a lot of questions, but they're important ones because they expose who or what we would like to be in our personal lives, like that Forbes article points out. I believe that a great cast of characters is the most important part of any wrestling promotion, and can make or break that promotion. Thanks for reading. See you next time in.....The Locker Room.