Wrestling is a business built around a performance. Which is more important? How much attention should be paid to the art, and how much to getting people to pay to experience that art?
It’s always an interesting, and tricky, debate. It’s most recently been raised by comments from Randy Orton about Tommaso Ciampa and the brand he represents, NXT.
In an interview with Bleacher Report which largely focuses on his in-ring career and the end of it - his WrestleMania 26 Streak vs. Career match with Undertaker - Shawn Michaels has offered some valuable commentary on the issue.
The Heartbreak Kid’s chat with Jonathan Snowden was published last week, so he’s not directly addressing Orton. But he is one of the main people behind the scenes at NXT, working with Ciampa & others to tell stories with their characters, angles, and matches. So it’s easy to see their statements as part of a dialogue.
“A lot of the things that I did in my career were real to me out there. I didn’t have to act. I’ve done this stuff since I was 19. It’s been a big part of my life...
“I don’t know if this is the right philosophy, but it’s one I’ve always had. I’ve never ever felt that you had to make them believe something. It isn’t about believing. It’s about having a doubt...
“That’s what you do in wrestling. It’s just about getting them, for just a moment, to think they might not be right. That maybe they can’t call it. And after that, it’s just finesse. From that point on, you’re just doing your best to take them on that ride.
“I always connected with Pat Patterson because it was real to him. He could sit there and cry in front of you trying to tell you about how much he loved the wrestling business or what he wanted for somebody. He did it with Bret (Hart). He did it with me. He did it with guys that he didn’t know, didn’t have any relationship with, but he saw talent and ability.
“He developed a relationship with us and pulled for us in every aspect. No matter how much trouble, no matter how much hassle we might’ve been, he brushed all of that aside because he appreciated the person and the passion and the desire that they had. And I guess that’s what I do with all my guys. I don’t lie. I don’t B.S. them. You know?
“It’s OK to take this stuff too seriously sometimes, to sometimes not be able to blur those lines between real and what isn’t real. Everybody talks about how ‘It’s just business, brother’ and you know, that’s a bunch of hogwash. Some guys in a lot of this generation, they’re like me. I think that’s why so many of them have connected with me is because I think they saw through the character and saw that, ‘I think that guy really, really loves this. And he loves us. He absolutely is thrilled being out here doing this.’
“I care about them and their success and their success in the ring and their creative fulfillment in it. Creatively there are some things that they want as a human being, as a performer. And sometimes in wrestling, you have to forego that for money or for a spot, or for this story or for that story.
“I understand both sides. I understand the business side, but I understand the performer side, too. I try to connect the creative and the office standpoints in a way that doesn’t cause any dissension. I work pretty hard to weave those two worlds together. And I tirelessly do it on their behalf, no matter how much it gets on people’s nerves.”
Neither Michaels or Orton is discounting the other side, just speaking up for whether the creative or money aspect is more important/fulfilling for them.
Honestly, it’s great that the generation of performers coming up behind them have veterans of Shawn & Randy’s stature encouraging them to have this conversation, so they can think through why they’re wrestling and what they want out of their careers.
Snowden’s entire interview with Michaels is worth a read. Check it out here.
And give us your thoughts on the discussion, and how The Viper and HBK articulate their points within it, in the comments below.