You ever hear something so many times it becomes white noise? That doesn’t mean it’s not true. In fact, it’s probably the opposite. But with that amount of frequency, the thing you’re hearing becomes cliche and loses all its meaning.
In wrestling, that cliche is how the best stories, and the best wrestlers, are the real ones. The audience’s collective spider-sense goes crazy the second they smell BS.
Sunday (May 2) illustrated that old wrestling adage with A&E’s Biography: ”Macho Man” Randy Savage and WWE Uncut’s “Two Dudes with Attitude.” The common denominator between Savage, Shawn Michaels, and Kevin Nash was their commitment to keeping it real, for better or worse.
Wrestlers of a particular era didn’t do anything half-ass when it came to their characters. It was either whole ass or no ass at all. Randy Savage was definitely of that era, while Shawn and Kevin were to a degree. One could argue—and I will—the latter two served as bridges to a new era where “living the gimmick” wasn’t as important as there being truth to it. Randy Poffo wanted and needed to be Randy Savage, whether in the ring or at a 7-Eleven.
Maintaining the vaunted sanctity of the business was rules number 1 - 25 in the pro wrestling handbook, and the Macho Man was happy to oblige. Life imitated art, and fans could sense it. The way he looked at Elizabeth, his hatred for specific opponents, and that chip on his shoulder all came from a real place. Macho Madness felt legit.
During an era of larger-than-life comic book characters like Ultimate Warrior or Sgt. Slaughter, Randy gave us rawness. According to the talking heads on Biography, that quality separated Savage’s matches from everything else WWE offered at the time. Randy’s attire and name were inspired by pimps and Village people, respectively, so yeah, the “Macho Man” is flamboyance personified.
But he always gave what those of us who breathe oxygen consider genuine human reactions. Randy wore his emotions on whatever color sleeve he had on that day. Fans could relate to that, even if, at times, they didn’t want to.
The same can be said for the Heartbreak Kid and Big Daddy Cool. Their friendship felt as natural as the way they conducted themselves on television. As wrestlers, Shawn Michaels and Diesel knew it was them against the world. As Shawn and Kevin, their reality matched the wrestling’s soap opera surreality. Michaels and Nash didn’t care who liked them and who didn’t; Shawn wanted to be the best to ever do it, and Kevin wanted to make a lot of money.
The Heartbreak Kid character always had a chip on his shoulder the size of a planet. Diesel was colder than a milkshake in a snowstorm. The only thing Kevin took seriously was the money, the miles, and his relationship with the few friends he had in wrestling. Meanwhile, Shawn took everything seriously.
Like Randy Savage before him, Michaels let the audience know every thought he had and every feeling that moved him. He pissed off his boss and enraged crowds around the world. A time or two, that whole enraging thing got more than a little out of hand. But quicker than a hiccup, he could turn on a dime and be everyone’s best friend, the kid who just wanted to be really good at his job.
It made sense that he needed a bodyguard, or at the least, a friend to watch his back when push came to shove for all the pushing and shoving Shawn did. Nobody did that better than Diesel. Fans saw all of the growing pains as he and Shawn’s “business relationship” morphed into a brotherhood.
Kevin and Shawn were on the cutting edge of what wrestling could be. They had fun around each other; therefore, they had fun in the ring, whether they were best friends or bitter enemies. More importantly, they weren’t trying to hustle the fans into thinking wrestling was a real-life version of Bloodsport. As a pair, Shawn and Kevin’s coolness came from being authentic and letting the audience in on the fun.
It didn’t always work, and they rubbed many people the wrong way in the process, but it’s the essence of the legitimate connection fans had and still have to them today. Whatever a fan feels for these two cats is a sincere emotion.
On Biography, Jake Roberts called wrestling “theater of the absurd” and said the best way to put “asses in seats” is to crossover into a place where the audience wonders if this is really a part of the show. Savage, Michaels, and Nash understood that better than most in their respective generations. They were reality TV before that was a thing because they knew whatever happens inside the ring is nothing without building emotion from what happens outside the ring.
Yeah, it’s boring to say wrestlers succeed when they’re truthful. But it takes unique individuals like these three to remind us why that wrestling truism, when done right, is compelling, meaningful, and never stinks.