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The Cruiserweight Classic Bracketology Special and Wrestling's Future: An Alternate Perspective

My good pal Tierney wrote a great piece yesterday that I in many ways agreed with about the potential for building on the Final Deletion, but after watching the Bracketology special and talking with other folks about it, I came to the conclusion that this could also potentially be a direction for success for wrestling's future.

If you have the WWE Network, even if you're not interested in the Cruiserweight Classic (CWC), I'd really recommend checking out the special because it has such a different feel to everything else WWE does.

And more importantly, it feels like in some ways it could be indicative of what a future WWE when Vince McMahon and Kevin Dunn are gone could look like, because it's extremely clear they had no involvement in this whatsoever.

There are two key things about the presentation of the Bracketology special that I think could be valuable:

The first, and less important, is the more sports-based presentation. As crazy as it sounds, I do think the sporting elements to Bracketology could actually have a place in the post-kayfabe era wrestling exists in today.

The way Daniel Bryan broke down the differing styles with an analytical lens could really imbue psychology of wrestling on a new generation with the way he talked about how Kota Ibushi, like Shinsuke Nakamura, practices the Strong Style, which means that he's willing to get hit to deliver hits whereas Zack Sabre Jr. is fundamentally different in the way he is trying to escape out of adverse situations and avoid getting hit.

Having a true analyst like that could be very valuable rather than Byron Saxton just sitting there solely to be bullied by John Bradshaw Layfield and Jerry Lawler because it pops a 70 year old man.

But the second and more important thing I want to talk about is the spotlights on guys like Rich Swann and TJ Perkins and Brian Kendrick. Their stories are personal and human and feel like a way that wrestling can build characters and personas based in reality in the post-kayfabe era where traditional 'gimmicks' don't tend to work in the way they once did.

... If they ever did.

Thinking back on wrestling history, the idea of gimmicks was always overemphasized. Who would be the most successful gimmicky wrestler ever (aside from The Undertaker, who's the exception to basically every rule about what works in wrestling)?

My best guess would be the "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase, but when you really break it down, the gimmick is so surface level to what he did, that it seems largely irrelevant. He was just a rich asshole in a slightly different way than Ric Flair was in the National Wrestling Alliance. He still conformed to a sense of realism and humanity, even if it's a very unlikable representation of humanity.

And beyond Million Dollar Man, many of the other biggest stars in history were The Rock and Steve Austin and Ric Flair and Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan, among others. Did they truly have a gimmick, or did they just have outsized personalities that were still based in normal human behavior that could feasibly exist with a little less intensity and caricature.

The Rock at his core was just an arrogant lovable jock. He was the captain of the football team that you couldn't hate because he was too damn charismatic. Or could hate when he wanted you to.

Randy Savage had his catchphrases and taglines, but he was at his core an overprotective, jealous boyfriend who would flip his top at the slightest hint that someone had eyes for Elizabeth, or threatened his title he held so dear.

These people aren't defined by gimmicks, there is a humanity to it all. You surely know someone in life sorta like The Rock, or Ted DiBiase, or Randy Savage, because they're people that could exist in the world, if slightly caricatured, which is what gets people invested in loving or hating them. No one knows a Stardust.

And you look at the biggest successes of the modern era, and they're the same way.

CM Punk is the biggest example that springs to mind. You could call being "Straight Edge" his gimmick, but it's just him actually being straight edge in life, and being a bit of an irritable prick and turning both of those things up to 15 and getting heel heat in 2009 not seen since heels were getting stabbed in the parking lot because people really don't like an obnoxious jerk who thinks he's better than you because he doesn't succumb to the vices you struggle with.

Another great example as a face is Eddie Guerrero when he reached his peak in 2004. That Eddie Guerrero was just actual Eddie Guerrero, and was a huge ratings mover for WWE because someone overcoming their demons and rising to the top is a compelling human story that people can connect with. His promo before the match with Brock Lesnar was one of the best in the history of the wrestling business, and it was him speaking from the heart in service to a wrestling angle. It felt real. It was authentic.

When you listen to Rich Swann or TJ Perkins or Brian Kendrick (his is particularly interesting, because it could easily flow either face or heel depending on how he wanted to play it) tell their stories, that's the core of a character that you can connect with on a human level. I know wrestling is fake, but after hearing his story, I sure as hell want to see Rich Swann win more than ever because whether the match is real or fake, those wins and losses still affect how successful he's going to be in life.

That's what wrestling had at its best throughout its history, even the glory days when the business was making tons and tons of money. People being invested in who won, and who lost. Whether that investment came from patriotism in a time when America was feeling down on itself with Hulk Hogan or it came from feeling for a brief moment like we could revolt against our cubicle frustration with Steve Austin or it came from feeling like we knew Daniel Bryan Danielson in real life and knew how much success in this fictitious sport would meant to him and wanted to see someone's hard work rewarded even if he didn't look the part... it's all investment, and that's what drives business.

And it's what wrestling is really lacking now. Bracketology gave hints that it could return some day with the naturalistic character developing interviews, rather than inauthentic, thinly drawn characters with no personality and new traits based on the whims of that day that WWE is currently awash with.

The only real change that needs to be made in the modern post-kayfabe/social media era is that the characters need to be more representative of people in real life. That doesn't mean you need to be unlikable dirtbags to play a heel, given that the two best working heels in WWE are Kevin Owens and The Miz, who are both by all accounts lovely people. But there's something in their personality they draw from to create those characters, and it's still authentic in its own way, which is why they can keep it up in so many situations. Kevin Owens when on screen is never not 'Kevin Owens, obnoxious loudmouth bully'. Nor is The Miz never not a self-important D-List celebrity that thinks he's an A-List celebrity.

The concept of 'kayfabe' is about portraying fictitious events as real. In the post-kayfabe era, wrestling should probably just focus on tying itself to reality in a more genuine way, which accomplishes the exact same goal of getting people invested in personalities and stories that encourages them to tune in to see what happens.

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