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  1. #1
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Take Up Thy Wrestling Boots and Walk - State of the Wrestling Union: WWE vs NJPW


    Welcome for the first time in a few months to the column that maintains wrist control, Take Up Thy Wrestling Boots and Walk. Iím the man who routinely resorts to giving himself these hands, Prime Time, back once again to discuss the happenings in the world of professional wrestling.

    A quick Easter egg for the people whoíve been around a while: in doing that old-style intro it tripped off the fingers so fluently that I very nearly called myself Pt2. Years fall away in seconds. Oh well. But I know thatís not really why youíre here so letís get to talking wrestling.

    Right now it seems as if there is something of a culture war around, between the WWE and NJPW. That these two are the biggest promotions in the world is beyond doubt. I think you might make the case that theyíd be the only two promotions to combine a fan base that contains casuals with a genuinely global reach. Iíd struggle to name too many others, though my expertise on the lucha scene is too limited for me to speak on that side of things with any real consequence. Nevertheless, I donít see any reason to believe that any other promotion could challenge WWE or NJPW as the number one and two promotions in the world, respectively.

    The reason I call this a culture war is that both sides seem more and more inclined to take digs and shots at the other side, and at fans of the other side. Letís gloss over the fact that the inclination of both sides to do this automatically and frequently makes the entire discourse surrounding wrestling worse than it should be. The real instance of this is that it seems to lead to a far greater polarisation in the audience, and to a firming up of views in both camps. People that once said Roman Reigns was a decent enough performer who took too much stick Ė a reasonable enough position Ė are now stating that heís a great wrestler and actively attacking fans who arenít entertained by him. On the other side of the coin, thereís always been a tone amongst the indie wrestling crowd aimed back at the WWE. While Iím not sure that the content from that side has changed massively in the last few years, it does seem as if New Japan has become something of a Mecca for that kind of sensibility.

    I find myself without a home in this conflict. On the one hand, Iím a longstanding WWE fan, following the product through various champions, betrayals and name changes from 1989 to 2008. I found a time away was a necessary step at that point, but Iíve been following Ė with various levels of commitment, admittedly Ėsince 2010. On the other hand I have more on-again off-again relationship with New Japan over the years, but Iím certainly intrigued by some of what theyíve done and have picked up an NJPW World Subscription in the last few years.

    But on the other hand I have at best one eye on the WWE at the moment, and for almost twenty years now Iíve been suggesting that their best days as a straight-up wrestling promotion have been behind them. I can find things to enjoy in the company, but you can count the number of things that Iíve been invested in over, say, the past 15 years or so, on the fingers of one paltry hand. I am far from an acolyte of the way theyíve done their business for most of this century. And similarly, though I find myself drawn in by many aspects of NJPW, itís also undeniable that a lot of their success has come from propagating aspects and a style of wrestling that I simply cannot get behind.

    You can see me as both a critic and a supporter of both and with that in mind, I feel like I can offer a few words on the debate between the two sets of hardcore fans. Consider it an arbitration, if you will. And for the record itíd make me very happy if you read that last sentence in Dusty Rhodesí voice.

    I donít have any time for the idea that matches between Okada, Omega, and Naito are regularly the best things that weíve ever seen in wrestling Ė the proverbial Ďscale-breakersí. I donít believe that anything can really be considered a great wrestling match once it has stopped trying to present itself as something of a legitimate sport, and where the cooperative elements outstrip the competitive grounding of the match. Nor do I hold any truck with that phrase, offered as a simple truism, that Ďthe business has changedí, a sentence that invites so many more questions than it answers yet is still offered as something of a catch-all explanation. It is Ė and will likely continue to remain my opinion Ė that what you have here are not great wrestling matches so much as they are interpretive dances that feature wrestling moves. A NJPW match tends to start far more convincingly as a match than a WWE match, but very quickly things descend into this kind of abrogation of the art.

    The trouble is itís not an argument that a WWE fan can exploit with any great gusto when you look at their programming. Yes, there may be fewer spots in a WWE match that are fragrantly collaborative, and the rapid recoveries that defy credibility might be less obvious, but the WWE has till moved quite a long way in that direction itself. Johnny Gargano has probably had the best singles matches in the WWE this year and his work is rife with the same problem. It doesnít really matter whether you like AJ Styles, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, even my own personal favourite Daniel Bryan - all of them exhibit the same problem to some degree.

    So WWE fans find themselves in a curious position, since to make the point is fair enough. But to overstress it, and to imply that this is some kind of red line, is to become a hypocrite.

    You donít even need to really consider just the people we might think of as Ďinternet darlingsí either. Roman Reigns and John Cena have been the Ďtop starsí for the lack of a better term for the past 12-13 years between them, and neither of them has been working a style that could be considered even close to plausible. A NJPW fan might rebut quite fairly that if you are fine with their style of superhero wrestling, in itself rife with unbelievable traits, then you should be perfectly content with the gymnastic excesses of a Kenny Omega. It is hard to envision someone arguing their way out of that one; fortunately, as a long-standing critic of both menís take on wrestling, this is not a task that falls to me.

    In short, if you are fine with a superman punch Ė a move that by its very logic defies the conventions of wrestling as wrestling Ė it is only a short walk, and one that you could be reasonably expected to take, to dick flips, superkick parties, and superhuman recoveries. Itís also possible that you could create an argument that says if you liked the Undertaker in the 1990s that you canít base your objection to NJPW on any grounds of realism. For my part I remain unconvinced that Undertaker is a model that extends to other examples, though Iím not going to dwell on that here Ė mostly because I covered a lot of that ground way back when, in Prime Time on Wrestling XVIII. Now Iíve mentioned that, I guess I should repost it since you canít look it up post-reset.

    While the in-ring action doesnít lead me to a clear winner, there is an area where I think that someone does beat the opposition fairly convincingly. In overall presentation, I donít believe WWE actually holds a candle to NJPW at the moment. I donít say that lightly, but for this very simple reason: NJPW is actually successful at selling me on matches that I know Iíll probably not like, while WWE actually kills off interest in people in which I am already invested on a routine basis, whether thatís people that have done well in NXT or those who have done well elsewhere, such as Bobby Roode whose title run in TNA was, again, better than anything WWE has managed in a similar timeframe.

    But to focus briefly on where NJPW succeeds, rather than where WWE fails. I do not love the matches I have seen between Omega and Okada, for instance Ė and I have seen the first three, to this point, so itís not like Iím a novice. But whether I love the match or not, NJPW has sold them to me. I am interested in the result even if I know Iím not going to think it is Bret vs Bulldog or Flair vs Steamboat. You can pick up the big fight feel before they start, and thatís something WWE rarely has anymore and itís legitimately exhilarating. Perhaps more to the point, through the way they present their talent theyíve taken two guys who washed out of Deep South Wrestling and TNA respectively and turned them into two of the most over wrestlers on the planet, people more over in their territory than anyone is in the WWE Ė at least in my judgement.

    I have to give them one extra thing. If you were to cherry-pick details from the matches between the two, and add it to the overall storyline, then you do have something really special. In that case itíd be not only better than what the WWE is doing now, but probably better than anything that they have done in the past fifteen years, combined. You could also say the same thing about Tanahashi and Okada before this. From a storytelling perspective it is simply, categorically, better.

    That is in part what makes the excessive nature of the matches so dispiriting for me. In all other respects this is about as good as wrestling gets, and I could love this show Ďto the depth and breadth and height my soul can reachí if it were just closer to a more credible style. People who donít share my philosophy on wrestling will no doubt think this is a crazy statement, but in some ways itís a shame the bell has to ring.

    As I see it, right now we have a situation where we have someone promoting pro-wrestling, and we have a company producing TV content that happens to contain wrestling. Things may continue that way. Looking at the shows run by Triple H, though, itís interesting to think about what might happen in the future. They definitely feel like they have more of a pro-wrestling grounding. And I canít help but wonder if the ultimate irony could come true, that WWE under Hunter could wrest the critical attention back from NJPW by actually moving back to a more believable philosophy of wrestling? It seems unlikely Ė ever more so given the hiring of people like Ricochet Ė but itís a more palatable thought to finish on, than the alternative of more of the current storytelling model mixed with them bringing an ever more sensationalised in-ring style to their product.

    My conclusion on the state of the wrestling industry, then, is that each side has things they might learn from the other, and that neither is as good as its biggest supporters would have it believe. Often times they defences that are offered by both sides make little to no sense either. But while I donít concur with the critical judgement that NJPW is far and away the greatest thing ever, I must admit that itís easier to find the good in what they are doing than it is in their wealthier rivals from across the Pacific.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  2. #2
    Good read this, your unbias attitude to both really helped with everything. I've often said, I'm extremely bias for NJPW, but fully understand their style of wrestling isn't for everyone. Not everyone will find the level of enjoyment in it as I do, I just don't get someone who bashes it for the BS non reasons Tito does lol.

    Your reasons are all legit, they may not bother me personally but that doesn't mean those issues are not there. And ditto for WWE, the actual in ring style has it's own issues just like NJPW. Good God, the over reliance on the suicide dive in WWE has completely nullified the move for me. However the story side of things is so astronomically better in New Japan to me, that I always get a coming down adjustment period after one of their big shows. That gradual parachute down to the level I perceive WWE to be playing at.

    Which I find interesting, because NXT has started to also create that feeling to me. Cody brought up something during the AXS TV conference call, the point that both NJPW and NXT tell long term stories with the now and then event you get hyped for. And he's right, almost everything I praise NJPW for on the creative end, NXT are ticking those exact same boxes. Velveteen Dream and Johnny Gargano are two fantastic examples of long term booking and arcs that work absolute wonders for me.

    So yeah, before this turns into a full out column by accident, great read PT! Got me thinking lol.

  3. #3
    The Brain
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    You and I are very much on the same page in one respect here, insofar as I also don't feel much of a need to engage in the WWE vs. New Japan debate, as quite frankly neither one would make my top 20 most interesting promotions running today. WWE is rife with all the problems you've mentioned and more, and while I do value New Japan to a certain extent, the style they practice is largely antithetical to my interest, and with a few exceptions their stories and characters feel rather thin to me. I've got nothing against fans of either, but the idea that either one represents the creative pinnacle of modern wrestling isn't one that I can share.

    I do find it curious, though, that you call out both styles for being overly cooperative. This isn't a criticism so I hope you won't take it as such, but the line you draw for what is realistic and believable seems so arbitrary to me. You immortalize Hogan and Warrior in your title picture, and both of them are about as cartoony and largely hard to believe as you can get. I don't think either one is a true favorite of yours but I know you consider their era better than the one we have now, and while I agree, I feel like our reasons for thinking so diverge by quite a bit. With the exception of a few rare periods, I find almost all of wrestling obviously cooperative, so if that were a barrier to me I don't see how I could be a fan at all.

    I also don't see how to avoid it, unfortunately. Except for some lucha (and I know your barrier with that!), pretty much the whole world follows some version of either the WWE or the New Japan style. Some do it better than others, and some have much better characters and stories (in my view), but there is always that element. I've thought many a time that I should try to recommend you a product you'll enjoy wholeheartedly in 2018, but I'm not sure it exists. All Japan, maybe? wXw? CWF: Mid Atlantic? I can think of issues you might have with just about anything, because your vision of pro wrestling may just not exist anymore. :/

    Even so, really enjoyed this breakdown and a lot of it really spoke to me, even if I didn't agree with everything (shocker!).

  4. #4
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Imp: I think you've got to try and be unbiased in something like this. If you are going to show bias, then what is the point in anyone who does have a vested interest in one side of the other reading? You become easy to write off, then. Much better to check your agenda at the door, unless you're not worried about the quality of what you say and are just trying to drive traffic by getting people riled up. That style isn't for me.

    You're right about the suicide dive. They're overdone, and they mean nothing now. Considering the risk involved in doing something like that I actually don't think it's worth it anymore. There's no real benefit in it the way there used to be and all the risk is still there.

    As I said in the column, I can't disagree with your assessment of the way the stories are working. If you take the HHH run stuff out of WWE you probably have to go back to the Summer of Punk for a genuinely compelling story (Bryan's success was more in spite of than because of the writing) and even that got ruined when it was still fairly in it's infancy. I don't believe they've been playing at a strong level for a long, long time now.

    I do agree with you about the storytelling being better on NXT. I think it goes back a while there. I get a huge kick out of the way they booked Bo Dallas for example. Sami and Kevin was very solid. The story of Gargano and Ciampa outstrips anything on the main roster in a generation. I could go on. Plenty to like in there and just maybe cause enough for some hope.

    mizfan: That's an interesting first comment. I think there's an intriguing mix of characters in New Japan because some are, as you say, quite thin. Others are actually quite nuanced but they tend to be the more subtle ones, and sometimes in pro-wrestling with it's OTT nature that can be a bit lost. I mean, I think there's quite a bit of layering to some of the top guys like Tanahashi, Okada, even to Omega in more recent stuff, and probably a few other people on the card too. They have contrasting things in their personality, and it's broadly... kinda Realist, if that's not a ridiculous thing to say about a wrestling show. Then you have others, who are dominated more by a characteristic, a type, and they may have some mannerisms but they don't really have any more characterisation than that. Broadly speaking I think this applies to LiJ, who seem to me to be governed more by attitude than by individual characteristics. Many in Suzuki Gun are 'generic villain' far more than they are rounded, either. So I get it, both in terms of where they are not so good and also I can kind of see why the better stuff might not be so obvious. Guys wrestling as monsters may not have the kind of nuance as a multi-layered Ace but when so much of that is below the surface, the monster might grab you by the balls much quicker!

    I can't deny that Hogan and Warrior were both cartoony. I doubt I'd be a Warrior fan today, for example. That's not just about my own ageing process but also about the fact that when that happened crazy shit was far more in the minority, whereas I've now had 20 years of silliness being the majority around wrestling, and that context does change things more than I think newer fans realise. And similarly, while I was a Hogan fan.... Hulking up wouldn't fly with me today. In fact with the increase in the amount of rubbish I see elsewhere in wrestling, I'm less tolerant of when I go back and see it in the older stuff - and that's a tragedy to me because this stuff isn't only stopping me from enjoying a lot of wrestling now, it's having an active negative effect on the stuff that I used to love.

    But collaborative? I'm afraid I don't see that at all. I've got to give his due even to Warrior here, who is not someone I think of as a great talent particularly, but even when I think back to his stuff I don't remember much.... in fact sitting here I'm struggling to remember anything at all - from his WWF run at least - where the move itself looked like he was working with, rather than against, his opponent. I'm sure there must be examples where something went wrong, didn't come off right, but honestly no, I can't go along with that style looking like it was a dance. One thing you could say is that with the cartoonish style you might need to infer that for him to stand up and shake the ropes after being beaten and all that there must be some teamwork going on, but that's far from the same thing as seeing people jumping into moves or stopping dead to wait for a blow to arrive. So I do get the point about it being hard to believe because of the cartoony elements - but that style, and by the implication of your comment the style of a Lou Thesz, of a Nick Bockwinkel, all being as cooperative as the current style I just plain don't get. I mean, hiding that was a huge part, the biggest part, of what they are doing. It's a bit of a harrowing thought for me. Are they just not as good at their job as I thought they were? Man, that's a depressing thought.

    Maybe because you came to it so much later you can't help but see it that way? No offence but I prefer that to the idea that these guys were kidding themselves for decades. It'd also go some way to explaining why the vast majority of people who watched wrestling in the 1980s and 1990s don't watch anymore. The number of people who either gave up completely or, more often, slid into UFC/MMA in the early 2000s is actually staggering. I'd say based on the people I know who were watching through the 90s it's around 80%. Not a scientific sample but most of the people I know who do watch wrestling now in real life started in the Attitude era, or later. Something to think about, although it does beg the question as to why newer fans, if they do want the athletic stuff, would find anything to enjoy in what I like. I don't know, I'm basically having a wrestling Cartesian crisis here because that is such a fundamental point to me that I'm questioning everything. It's one thing when people don't agree with the centrality of it but for the idea that the distinction isn't even there has blown my mind a little.

    What I will say is that I know how it's all done, so yes, if I really stare and wait for it with the stuff from the 1970s and 1980s I can still see how it's done. But that's the difference, with the modern stuff there is no way to not see it. Go back in time and it's a bit like being in an art gallery. When I get right up close to the painting I can see the individual dots of oil and I can see how the effect is made, but if I stand back to the correct viewing distance then the whole image comes together. I'm not watching for how it's done because I want that final picture to come together. It's the same reason if I watch a magic trick I'm not actually trying to catch the magician out. I want to be entertained so I am watching in what I sometimes call 'good faith'.

    A very last point on Warrior/Hogan - I love the match and think it's everything that cartoony wrestling should be if you're going to do that style, but the real reason it's my immortalised title match is that it's really the only one I know of - in the WWF at least - where you've got a red hot crowd, split between the two reasonably equally, and where either one could genuinely win, at Wrestlemania in front of that sort of number of people. You can't say that about any of the first 4 Wrestlemanias, and through the 1990s things were never as hot again until Austin comes along. The closest thing to compare it with is X-7, but there you've got a pretty partisan crowd for Austin and... well, I simply don't think that many people really thought Rocky could win. Not the way they were before that. And there's been no star on that level to get close since.

    On the last note, AJPW is less problematic than NJPW but it's still there. Mid-Atlantic is actually an interesting one. Their main problem for me is that they seem to have trouble getting really good talent in, from what I've seen. So the main event will be about what I'd want it to be but you have to sit through either some real garbage stuff where nothing looks believable at all, or the next level up, where they can do the basics but every spot they try and do looks so mechanical and they haven't got quite enough talent to make it feel like it could be natural. There's also the fact that when it's 'art' to you watching this kinda thing can feel a bit like an off-broadway, but when it's meant to be 'sport', minor leagues are just minor leagues, and the poor production quality does hit me there. But it is a problem of execution rather than of philosophy with them, I think.

    Generally speaking I think you're right though. I'm not sure my vision really does exist anymore, and if it does I'm pretty sure it's going extinct when the Jericho's, Tanahashi's and Marufuji's all retire. I don't see enough guys under 35 working the style to keep it going. Quite what happens then, I don't know. Maybe I'll follow the other trend and find myself gravitating more to MMA. Right now there's still just about enough matches I like (even if I don't love 'em) that I can get something out of it, but if that trend continues then there's always a chance I'll end up saying I need to cut my ties completely rather than sticking with something that makes me feel a bit sad out of a perverse sense of loyalty.




    Well, that turned into another column by itself. Thanks for reading and feeding back gentlemen, much appreciated.
    Last edited by Prime Time; 06-21-2018 at 07:24 AM.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  5. #5
    LOP's part time glass ceiling DynamiteBillington's Avatar
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    That comment was almost as good as the column itself!

  6. #6
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Ha, I do like an epic F2F.

    From that I'm going to infer that you've read the column too, so thanks for checking it out!

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  7. #7
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    " It is – and will likely continue to remain my opinion – that what you have here are not great wrestling matches so much as they are interpretive dances that feature wrestling moves."

    I really don't understand this at all. You expanded on it in your reply, of course, but I still don't get it. I have rarely seen an NJPW match that looks like interpretive dance, and NONE of them have been Omega vs. Okada. The style in NJPW (and ROH and nXt) looks more realistic to me than what we have seen in WWE in years. Maybe it's your pro wrestler background (even if it was short,) I don't know. I just know NJPW has a stiffer, more realistic style than WWE does, so I really don't get where these statements are coming from.

  8. #8
    The Brain
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    Xan's comment kind of illustrates the point I want to make, which is even deciding if moves look "collaborative" or not is so subjective that it's honestly hard to talk about without mixing terms. I think you may be right that coming into wrestling in the 00s made it impossible for me not to see behind the curtain, even with the older style. Every Irish whip, every vertical suplex, even at a young age it always seemed obvious that one guy was helping the other. And that's putting aside that yeah, when Hogan is shaking his shoulders, wagging his finger, and being re-invigorated by punches to the face, it is pretty much impossible for me to think I'm watching anything besides a performance.

    But that never mattered to me as a fan, because once I learn the unspoken "rules" of whatever wrestling style I happen to be watching, I can slip into that mindset. That's not to say there aren't tropes that bother me, but I can suspend my disbelief a long way as long as those rules are internally consistent.

    But I already know we're on different sides with that, because your definition of wrestling itself is different than mine, as we've established before! But hopefully it's still fun to talk about.

  9. #9
    Administrator Prime Time's Avatar
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    Xan - for me it's not about being stiff. I mean sure, there are times when you want to work that way, but that's not really what I'm talking about here. It's completely possible to stiff as hell and still rub the fact that this isn't a contest in your face. In my philosophy that's arguably the worst of both worlds, because you're beating yourself up and not really convincing anyone of anything in the process. I could give you specific examples if I went back through it with a notepad but I certainly have the time to do that until next week, and honestly going out of my way to look for things I don't like is not something I think I have the inclination to do, either. Life seems too short. But what it really boils down to can be summarised by the turn-taking (and not doing enough to explain transitions) the rapid recovery (without even the cursory bit of acting to try and cover it), the obvious leaps into moves and the awkward wait to hit a pre-arranged spot. All those are in WWE but I think I see more of them in NJPW, and that's why even though they absolutely cane WWE in story terms I'm always put off when the match starts.

    To be more specific than that, I'd need to go back over the matches again with a fine tooth-comb.

    Mizfan: The fundamental thing to me is that it just isn't subjective, or at least not as subjective as this seems to be implying. I can see how a subjective element might enter into it but I am basically convinced that it's as close as you'll get to a fact that a Lou Thesz match is more believable than a Young Bucks match. It's hard to have a conversation about it when we don't even agree on those terms, like trying to talk two different languages.

    The Hogan thing... two things I'd say. Again, you've got to factor in that when Hogan was doing that he was usually the craziest thing on the show (at least pre-Warrior), and I think the old saying about 'give them something believable most of the time and they'll believe the lie' held true with Hogan for the most part. And the other thing is to give ground in part on the subjective thing, which is that yes, I know it's probably not consistent with what I believe, but I was, what, four years old when I first saw Hulk Hogan. I didn't have a critical palette and once someone is over with you, they are over with you. So there's some justification out there in the real world of what was happening, I think, combined with the more mundane matter of what was going on in my infantile head.

    I mean, if I were to pick up on the example of a vertical suplex, there's a good way to take it and a bad way. If the guy taking it can time it right, you can make it look like the guy is strong enough to flip you over his head. Yes, it's pretty implausible, but it's not completely beyond the realms of possibility, and with a bit of help from the commentators with the old blood runs to the head explanation, I think you can buy it. But if you see the guy jump into it, then you just can't, or at least I can't. You've gone from there being two possible explanations there (and all the artistic possibilities that stem from that) to just one (and something as mechanical and functional as an instruction manual).

    To pick up on something you said in the previous post about how, if it was a barrier for you, you couldn't be a fan. Truthfully, I think if wrestling had always been like this (and obviously you do, but y'know, we'll have to differ on that) then I'm 99% sure I would never have been a fan at all. I'd have probably ended up getting into MMA a few years later instead. Hard to imagine given how important wrestling has been to me, but probably true none the less.

    It's funny that you use the phrase suspension of disbelief, because if you only ever see it as a performance then you're not really suspending disbelief at all, I think it's probably fair to say. Suspension of disbelief can only really happen in those moments where you're buying into it as a sport. Wrestling itself is kind of post-suspension, in an area where disbelief is irrelevant. And it's not irrelevant to me. That's actually the best summation for my problem that I can think of.

    It's definitely fun, but don't take it the wrong way if I say it also isn't at the same time! I do get the feeling that my time being connected to wrestling probably has a clock on it, unless I can find something to turn that around. Right now I'd say it's running down. And if modern wrestling continues to infringe on the older footage I used to love then there might come a time when I don't watch anything. I mean, I loved wrestling as much as anyone at one point, I maintain that to this day. There's no one who loved it more than me, even when it was what many people now consider 'bad'. But things like the idea that Nick Bockwinkel or Bret Hart weren't working somewhat believably is the kind of thing that chips away at the foundations of what I loved and I could see it hastening up the date when I have to jack it in and find something else to do with my time. It's just that's how close to my core those issues are and without them, there isn't a lot left in wrestling for me. So I do enjoy talking about it but when things do come along and shake that core, the conversation takes on something more of a bittersweet tone. I hope that's somewhat understandable.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  10. #10
    The Brain
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    Definitely understandable. A few thoughts on what you've laid out here:

    I take your point to a certain extent about degrees of believability. Yes, I'm sure it would be easier to convince a non-fan that a Thesz match was "real" than a Bucks match. But I also think, at least for fans "in the know", it's not a question of increments of belief, it's a hard yes/no. If I watch a Thesz match and say I almost find this believable, and I watch a Bucks match and say I don't really think I could find this believable, I'm still confronted by the fact that I don't actually "believe" in either one. I avoid this by not confronting the fact at all, because it has nothing to do with why I'm a fan or how I enjoy wrestling, which I know is a fundamental difference for us.

    I think you can also extend your point about Hogan being the "craziest" thing on the show to the Bucks, who are usually the outliers. The goal posts on what constitutes "crazy" has moved a lot, of course, but perhaps the fundamental concept remains? And I also think your point about being over applies too. Just like Hogan is not believable at all to the discerning eye but gets a pass because he's already over in our minds (or the minds of his fans), so too Bucks fans can accept their matches without a qualm.

    Maybe I didn't use the term suspension of disbelief right in order to get my point across. I was thinking not in terms of I am convinced to "believe" in the wrestling as something other than a performance, but rather if everything is consistent within the story and the rules then I stop thinking about whether it's a performance or not at all. I never think it's not a performance but I'm just enjoying the story, or the action, or whatever the match has to offer. Funny enough, if my investment depended on me buying into it as a sport, I would never have become a fan either, and would spend a lot more time watching film and TV to get my narrative fix. I continue to believe the sport/story divide is the biggest and most insurmountable barrier that divides wrestling fans into two groups.

    All that said, I do hope you never drift away from wrestling entirely... it's never been easier to go back and see wrestling from the era that probably fits your tastes the best. On the Network alone there's a wealth of territory era shows to work through, to say nothing of the staggering volume of older stuff that exists out there on the web. Even if you completely stop being a modern fan, I feel like you could watch the older stuff for decades and not exhaust the supply.

  11. #11
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    I guess what it comes down to, then, as the difference between us is that I am so involved with what is going on in the match that I don't notice those things. I mean, sure, if it's really egregious that a wrestler is recovering too quickly, then I might get taken out of it a little bit, but for the most part I can just chalk it up to the old "adrenaline rush" and it's become such a subconscious thing for me that I don't even notice it. I do, in fact, normally watch it as if I'm watching a sport than a performance art. I let myself buy into the lie, because otherwise, what would really be the point of being a fan? That's probably the delineation between a fan like me and one like you or 'Plan. I can still appreciate the art, but I don't watch it for the art, nor do I do so with a critic's eye for people jumping into moves, etc. I do notice that at times, but it's very rare. One thing that can take me out of a match is that stupid stomp from the top onto an opponent who is in the tree of woe, because the guy is obviously holding himself up. The "cooperative" thing doesn't bother me, because that's not the level I look at, I guess. Please don't go through the trouble of finding certain examples; that's unnecessary. I can agree that some of the Bucks matches look overly choreographed, but that's usually when they are just going out there for a fun time and not a serious match. You may say it should always be a serious match, but I'd rather get the Bucks/Kenny going out there and having fun than something like Santino or the Worm.

  12. #12
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    Had to chance to sleep on some of this and think about it some more. It's quite interesting because you're both coming at it from very different positions, I think. Quite useful because it means I have to try and think about my argument from 'both flanks' as it were.

    Mizzie: To the first point about the Thesz/Bucks comparison, this is where suspension of disbelief comes in for me. I go into it looking to believe, and what I'm after is the performers giving me a chance to buy into that illusion. And yes, although if I'm going to be rational about it and think about it after the fact then I'd have to admit I don't believe it, the point is - to come back to that point about 'good faith' from earlier on - if they can sustain what they are doing then for the duration of it, I'll be lulled into something that is a lot more 'real' than the sensations I have in any other medium. That might be hard to grasp if you've never experienced it, and maybe I don't have the words or the sophistication of argument to express it particularly well. But if I'm conveying what I think I am even remotely successfully, it's true to my experience (and is something you can see replicated in the faces audience members around the world in the 1970s and 1980s).

    The paragraph on the Bucks thing, I'll happily admit one point on that and push back on the other. If you're into the Bucks, of course you'll give them more latitude. That will apply to everyone in every promotion through time. The only thing I could say to that is that I think with some bits of the stuff you are into you have to defer to the more disinterested eye. I can defend a lot of Hogan stuff, but not hulking up. There's bits of Warrior that I could make a case for, but I can't defend popping up from the pedigree. I marked out for both those things but, when push comes to shove, I can't defend them as 'good' and would merely have to smile and say 'I like them but you're probably right.' But this basic principle that once you are over is sound. Of course, for me that still doesn't tell the whole story. Hogan got over and got sillier with time, and even his silly bits started out less silly than they became. The Bucks got over precisely by doing that kind of stuff, so where a fan that would care about this could get into them is beyond me.

    But to the other point, the goalposts moving is precisely the problem. See, when Hogan did his stupid shit it was reasonably well protected. So this is probably a slight simplification of the argument but you'd have 2 hours or so of stuff that didn't push it too far, and then 95% of Hogan's match would be fine too, and then he'd do 1-2 things that were a little bit out there. But because you could invest in the rest of it you could slide through the rest. Now on any given show you're given ten things you can't believe in, in the first match. Then the Bucks come out they'll give you three things to object to in a minute. So if you're the kind of fan who is trying to suspend disbelief, you're just sat there saying 'well, that's bullshit. And that's bullshit too'. The goalposts moving is not so much a defence as the fundamental problem with modern wrestling.

    The term suspension of disbelief does get thrown around a lot; no worries there, but I just felt I had to make the point because what people are talking about is basically my whole method of watching wrestling and when we nail down the meaning, it conveys how much more important it was to the wrestling business for most of it's history. To use an example, if you're watching a film and you're thinking about how great the villain is as an actor, then you haven't suspended disbelief. If you are hating him for trying to close down the orphanage, then you have. Similarly in wrestling if you are not seeing it as a contest while it is taking place, then you've not suspended disbelief. And to complete the metaphor, anyone praising someone for their 'good heel work' is clearly not doing so either.

    I'm not at all surprised you'd have never got into it as a sport!

    I'm not going to give up wrestling on a whim, but if I stop getting anything out of it then I will. As I say, the more people throw shit at the old to the old to try and justify the new, and the more people question things that were the grounding truths of everything I've been taught and that I believe, the harder I find it to watch certain things that I used to give a pass too. And that's a shame. And if that continues into other things then it's the only way I can see it ending. But who knows. I'm no fortune teller.


    It occurred to me last night that by trying to explain it as sport, I'm selling it to you all wrong. So I'm going to try and explain my position using no sporting metaphors at all, but just other arty ones. Because what most of my objections boil down to, for me, are bad acting. You ever watched a film where there's an actor in it who is either really bad or just does something really off-putting every so often, and it just takes you out of what you're watching? Because that's as good an explanation for what I'm talking about as anything else. I wonder if that's something you can relate to a bit more?

    Xan: See, the thing is I feel like I actually watch much more like you. I may become a critic after the fact and when I'm on here, but while I'm watching I'm trying to get into it the way that made me fall in love with wrestling in the first place. Honestly, for me, it's the only way I can ever enjoy it. The trouble is that a lot of what I can see in those matches (though having now seen the fourth one, though it still has the problems I think it has less of them than the others) just won't let me stay in that mindset. It breaks the illusion. The worst offender of the two is actually Okada rather than Omega, I think, but there's lots of others - Naito being a key example - of people who do the same thing. But yeah, I'm absolutely trying to buy into the lie. There's a moment in the second one, I won't go into it in too much detail, where my god, they totally had me. Like, full on, the way that I used to be as a kid, and for that one moment it felt amazing. But it's only about a minute later that they turn to something that brought the whole thing crashing down.

    For the record, I don't think everything needs to be a serious match. I love some of the old Southern 'ha-ha' tag team matches. I just think even the joke matches work better when they're presented as consistent with the idea that this is a contest that everyone involved actually wants to win. It's a lot more fun to me to see heels tripping and bumbling around and getting angry about it than it is to see a load of silly moves.



    Good to see this one pick up some traction, even if it wasn't in the areas I was expecting. Thanks for reading, gentlemen.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  13. #13
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    Stupendous re-feed, Pete. I'll focus on the last part, as the rest would be basically me saying that I take your point even if we're in different places.

    Regarding the sport/non-sport explanation, I feel like I still get what you mean even in the context of pure sports, so using a movie metaphor doesn't clarify it further. Rather, it once again highlights just how differently we view wrestling on a certain level. I'm 99% sure we've had this exact exchange before, but goofy stuff like the Bucks and Joey Ryan is the equivalent of a slapstick comedy to me if we're talking in terms of film comparison. The way you enjoy it is totally different than an engrossing drama or thriller. But I know you don't think wrestling is capable as a medium of that kind of range!

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by mizfan View Post
    Stupendous re-feed, Pete. I'll focus on the last part, as the rest would be basically me saying that I take your point even if we're in different places.

    Regarding the sport/non-sport explanation, I feel like I still get what you mean even in the context of pure sports, so using a movie metaphor doesn't clarify it further. Rather, it once again highlights just how differently we view wrestling on a certain level. I'm 99% sure we've had this exact exchange before, but goofy stuff like the Bucks and Joey Ryan is the equivalent of a slapstick comedy to me if we're talking in terms of film comparison. The way you enjoy it is totally different than an engrossing drama or thriller. But I know you don't think wrestling is capable as a medium of that kind of range!

    I mean, as I hinted at in the reply to Xan I think wrestling is capable of all sorts of stuff (including slapstick), but that it's the connection to reality and the blurring of the boundary that animates it, gives it life, and makes it worth watching. Divorced from that I think it becomes a pretty poor form with little merit that does everything less well than the thing it's trying to copy. For me the choice we've made is to give up being brilliant at something exceptional in favour of doing a pretty hackneyed job of what other people were doing in the pursuit of their approval, and we're just plain not going to get it. Kinda sad, really.

    But if the movie metaphor doesn't do it (and I don't think any other art form will map on exactly as a metaphor because to me it's an exceptional case, but they can still be kinda illustrative), imagine if you'd been watching a serial for years - a soap opera, say - and then one day the show you loved just upped and changed everything about it and all of a sudden the whole world shook on it's axis? Because that's the thing for me. Wrestling isn't just a show to show thing, it was part of a rich tapestry and is more like a serial. I'm sure I've probably shared my idea of the three interconnected layers of story in wrestling before, and it's the outermost layer that is in many ways the most important thing for me. But that's also what links us with the soap opera fans - and y'know, the woman who has been watching General Hospital for decades is probably going to be either confused or fucked off if all of sudden the show starts to feel like Twin Peaks. It's going to feel like a betrayal. And y'know, I think that's as good a word for what a lot of people felt as anything else.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  15. #15
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    I can't speak to the specifics, as I don't watch WWE or NJPW, but I have noticed that a lot of people get very defensive when the critique of the choreographed, collaborative, dancing together critique comes up. It's been the biggest turnoff I've experienced since casually coming back to wrestling, and it's so often these no physique, no nothing, (for me, at least) folks whose only calling card seems to be this ridiculous style that lacks psychology, lacks any feel of grit or realism, lacks, lacks, lacks, and lacks. Of course, I'm coming from very old styles that haven't always lived to see today, so it is what it is in that regard. I don't spend much time critiquing, as I know how little it will do. Probably why I'm lost in the 80s at the moment.

    Other than that, I love this: "but that it's the connection to reality and the blurring of the boundary that animates it, gives it life, and makes it worth watching."

    Agree completely.

    Per the movie metaphor: If I made a drama, but cast Dane Cook to appear in it every 15 minutes, the drama would lose something. It's not saying there can't be a good comedy, but I'm not sure I want them competing for the same time/show. This is why I don't critique much, because I know my views are out of fashion. I am HAPPY that every medium that exists exists (except maybe WWE which I kind of wish would go out of business for the greater good). I just wish, in the midst of all these diverse companies and genres, there was ONE promotion that was enough of what I enjoy that I could enjoy it. But to even the stuff I hate (minues the great northern devil that has done so much evil that it need only pay in its elimination before the old devil himself dies), I wish nothing but good. Dane Cook has never and will never be my taste, but his having a career does not mean that other actors can't create other brands.
    Last edited by Mystic; 06-25-2018 at 09:26 AM.

  16. #16
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    Yes, I've noticed that people are very defensive of it, too. It does make it quite hard to talk about in any meaningful sense because there's often more a desire to defend than to truly engage with what's being said. Glad you liked that line; a pity it was in F2F but not in the column, really!

    Just to the last point, I think I'm a bit more of a hardliner because I think it becomes a lot harder for an older style to survive while people are doing those other brands, and doing it in the same way, with the same passion, becomes almost impossible. With that said, I think I could still watch it if there was something produced in that way - I'm just sceptical about them being able to survive or to hit the same heights as a generation ago. Besides, most of the people who worked that style have quit now, there's only a handful left who would know how to teach it.

    "The worst moron is the one too stupid to realise they're a moron."

  17. #17
    Member #25 SirSam's Avatar
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    Wow, I pegged this one as something I knew I would like to read when I finally got time to get stuck into the forums and I was not disappointed. I haven't yet read the second, third or fourth chapters you and Mizfan have penned in the comments yet but thought I'd reply to the main piece first before digging in.

    Firstly I don't know if you came up with the term 'super hero wrestling' but that is a really fantastic way of describing current wrestling trends, especially in the current pop culture climate of super hero movies. I believe we see wrestling a bit differently, I know you lean into the sporting side of it quite a bit whereas I lean more towards the fictional aspect of it. What I think that means is that I'm more concerned with the fiction maintaining consistency across its story 'universe' (for lack of a better term). Reflecting on it NJPW is very much a land of super heroes and super villans, men capable of incredible feats beyond that of a normal human, it extends beyond the main event to guys like Osprey, Susuki, Ishi, The Bucks, even Jericho when he is there. I tend to be a little more tolerant of it in NJPW than in the WWE and I would like to say that is because of consistency but in reality it is probably just because I have watched a lot more WWE than NJPW so don't have the in built history of the capabilities of their characters that I do for the WWE. For example I have really enjoyed the Omega/Okada matches and how the One Winged Angle factored into it but really disliked the fact that a powerbomb to the concrete on the outside in Gargano/Ciampa was just a mid match move.

    Anyway more to what you have said, over the course of this year I have started watching NJPW regularly and delving into their history while slowly becoming more and more disenchanted with what the WWE is offering up, although MITB did actually make me very interested again. The main thing has been the story work that NJPW have been doing which has been giving me in spades what I have previously loved about the WWE. I wrote a fair bit about this in my column after Dominion: NJPW Just Beat The WWE At Its Own Game. The long term consistency and arcing of the stories is what I love most in wrestling and the WWE have been absolutely abysmal with this in 2018 whereas I feel like particularly with the Golden Lovers, Bullet Club Civil War and Omega/Okada arc NJPW have been going on a tour de force, uniting three long term stories into one and resolving them all in a way that is both logical and pleasing.

    That said for me the WWE is only a good month away from getting me back into them, I have a lot of investment in a number of their characters and to be honest it is probably because of that investment that I have been so disheartened when seeing the WWE just screw up story after story this year.



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