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  1. #1
    Author of 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die Samuel 'Plan's Avatar
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    May 2018

    [KOTC Round 2] Just Business: Human


    When the details for Round Two of this King of the Columnists tournament were announced, my mind turned immediately towards writing a very specific column. It is a column about a subject I've written on before, and it is a column that always feels necessary to write; now, perhaps, more so than ever.

    We live in an age of excess as professional wrestling fans. More and more, matches in every corner of the industry become increasingly physically demanding. 'Strong style' has become the pre-eminent in-ring fashion of the day, its risks coming right along with it. Wrestlers developing their craft face the unenviable position of having to do more and more to stand out from a crowd beloved by the so-called 'die hard fans' lest they be considered unequal to their task. Even in the mainstream world of WWE, matches become ever more obsessed with content over character and with sizzle over substance. Today is a day in which the stars of the Indy circuit and of the developmental system destroy their bodies with superfluous spots from off of top ropes or down onto ring edges before they have even hit the age of thirty. Where once professional wrestlers were lauded for not injuring their opponents, today professional wrestlers are hyped for deliberately turning the chests of their opponents into something akin to minced meat, simply for effect.

    When the world of professional wrestling becomes this physically dangerous, a return to an old status quo threatens only to invoke accusations of mediocrity, in turn endangering budding careers because of audience dissatisfaction. What choice is there, in such a world, other than to take greater and greater risks or perform with greater and greater physicality? The age in which the likes of Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano turn match-ending moments into now-forgotten transitional spots is the age in which all professional wrestlers must commit to unreasonable risk for anything to mean anything, while any and every attempt to make things safer for the performers in the wake of this rising tide is met with the frustrated and sneering derision of a fan base more capable of vocalising their criticisms than ever before, be they a vocal minority or not.

    One of my favourite NXT matches remains a powerfully evocative example of this worrying culture: Finn Bálor vs. Samoa Joe at Takeover: Dallas. If you want a stylised representation of man's animalistic nature in the form of a wrestling match, you needn't look further. The visuals, the pace and the tone blended together that night to paint a vivid picture of what happens when man abstains from his humanity. It infected the crowd too, and continues to estrange fans from their conscience still now in that strange way only professional wrestling can encourage. When Samoa Joe began bleeding moments into the fray, the referee intervened to seal the wound. “Let him bleed!” bayed the crowd, and criticisms remain to this day because of the decision to not let a man spill a pint of blood for the purpose of our entertainment. The match is considered worse off specifically because of its good intentions towards the safety of Samoa Joe, many will tell you.

    In any other context, such an attitude would be disturbing. In fact, in most other contexts, such an attitude would, rightly, be actively condemned. Were a dog fight to be stopped because one of the dogs was hurt, would we criticise? We would be right not to. Yet in the world of professional wrestling, when it's two human beings performing before a crowd that wants everything to look more real, to be more violent, we instead decry the comparable decision.

    I relent: the comparison might not necessarily hold up to scrutiny all that much – dog fighting shoulder never happen at all - but my underlying point should still ring true. Professional wrestling is an industry in which, through the demands of the blood-thirsty group-think of fan frenzy, we tear men down to a status less than human, less than animal even; and the costs of that have been high in the past, and threaten only to grow higher still if we remain on the path we currently walk.

    That this is the story of professional wrestling was the very specific column I knew I wanted to write when I first saw my topic for Round Two, because it was the column that I believed had to be written.

    So, when TheLAW did just that, then, you can therefore imagine my frustration. You can imagine how that frustration might have grown when, upon reading his work, I discovered he had written his best column to date. Bravely confessional and unflinchingly honest, it seemed LAW had stumbled upon a moment of true inspiration courtesy of his continued affection for the controversially divisive figure of Chris Benoit.

    It was upon that realisation that my frustration ebbed away and I hit upon a different truth.

    For LAW, the performances of Chris Benoit still now cast an inspiring light, the power of which is enough to pierce through the black curtain of the industry's most unforgivable consequence as wrought by that same man, carrying my opponent to his finest work here at LOP yet. The events of that day indisputably stand as stark warning about how this great industry can reduce man into animal; but so too, it seems, do they inspire at least one of us to think on how we can do better, and fuel him, in one way at least, to become more than what he had been before. That, in itself, is a lesson worth learning.

    It strikes me that the story of professional wrestling, the true value of it, is not how it threatens to turn us into monsters demanding the devolution of men and women into something lesser. It is not in how it pulls all of us – performer and fan alike – down to the level of animals, frothing uncontrollably like a mob at a dog fight. Rather, the true story of professional wrestling, the true value of it, is in how it defines in tangible terms that which separates us from the animals. It is the story of our humanity, of the amazing things our humanity makes us capable of, not just in the negative light of its basest form but also in the blindingly positive light of its most elevated.

    I think of wrestling as art, you know this, and implied within that is the concept of professional wrestling as inspiration, because art is nothing if not inspired and inspiring. In any form, but especially in the form of professional wrestling, art is an amazingly beautiful thing, a window into our soul that never fails to inspire us to reach for more and expand the scope of all that we are.

    Professional wrestling is the inspiration a writer finds to question the moral scruples of what we all love so as to become a better version of himself, in both the relatively ordinary scope of demonstrative talent and the grander scheme of empathic virtue, all because of the industry's darkest hour.

    Professional wrestling is the inspiration an aspiring teacher finds to unapologetically acknowledge and embrace the full extent of his own worth and chase it to new heights in his professional career, all because Mankind impossibly became WWF Champion in defiance of all those who told him he never could.

    Professional wrestling is is the inspiration a budding husband and father finds to squash the ailments of his own mental health through the sheer force of his own determination, all because of Daniel Bryan's defiant stand against the fascistic schemes of an oppressive Authority to accomplish a seemingly impossible feat.

    Professional wrestling is the inspiration a young woman finds to lift herself out of emotional tumult and never again self-harm, all because of the self-belief and moral certainty fuelling CM Punk to reclaim the World Heavyweight Championship in a summer that was never meant to be his.

    Professional wrestling is the inspiration this insecure and timid man found to publicly come out a year ago so as to live a better, happier and more open life, all because of Seth Rollins' plight to reclaim his soul in spite of the daily fight with the demons of his past.

    These are all real stories related to me by real people when I asked how professional wrestling had inspired them in their lives, each one of them powerful and each one of them as pertinent as your own; we all have one, of that I am sure, because the story of professional wrestling is a universally applicable one.

    Truly, TheLAW was absolutely right to pen his column, Feral, because the questions he raises in it are questions in need of raising. If he had not done it, I most certainly would have. I am glad that I didn't have to, though, because there is a balance between the darkness and the light found in the world's greatest art form, and we should recognise both in equal degree. It can destroy, yes, and reduce strangers we come to love intimately to man's most animalistically destructive nature when we do not tread lightly. But so too can it inspire, and lift all of us beyond the limitations we might otherwise unconsciously accept, so as to achieve more than we ever thought we could and become more than we ever thought we might be.

    Boil it down to its most abstract form and it is my belief that professional wrestling is not the story of human denigration but the story of human exceptionalism, both in its composition and its effect, as found in our capacity to endure, to empathise and, most of all, to transcend. In the end, for all its intrinsic darkness and ever-growing risk, professional wrestling is not so much about what can turn us all into animals but about what it is that makes us all so indelibly human.

  2. #2
    Senior Member 205 Clive's Avatar
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    May 2018
    As always, Plan, another excellently crafted column.

    I find it fascinating how you and LAW focused on similar themes for your columns, yours an exploration of why fans crave more risk in their wrestling, and LAW's with an apology for doing just that in relation to Benoit.

    Due to the linking nature of the entries, it should be interesting to see where the judges fall.

  3. #3
    HUGE Member TheLAW's Avatar
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    May 2018
    Dammit. 'Plan, you were supposed to forget how to spell! Lol. This was great man. I think we're gonna see another solid win for you here. Hopefully I gave you a good fight though! Thank you for the kind words in here. Phenomenal job dude

  4. #4
    Lamb of LOP anonymous's Avatar
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    May 2018
    186 miles from Sheepster
    You duplicated the word “is” on the 15th paragraph.

    Other than that it was a reasonably good column. Far more emotive and stirring than your usual work, which I appreciated. Well done.

  5. #5
    Senior Member
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    May 2018
    Quite interesting that you and LAW took similar paths with the word "animal." Quite honestly, when I saw the topics it was also the path I would have chosen too. Well, I might have also written a 1600 tribute piece to Matilda. Who knows. Anyway, I disagreed with LAW's take that we are to blame, at least in some part, for Chris Benoit's actions. I don't believe for a second that is the case.

    However, I do believe that today's crowds want "something" that they don't normally get. If you look at perhaps 75-80% of WWE live crowds, they seem rather complacent. The excited nature of what once was has somehow dissipated to apathy. So when you see the hard-hitting nature of NXT and NJPW and other indy shows, it strikes a cord in the viewer. Now the question has to be asked, is that the style that is necessary to engage today's attention deficit crowds, or is that the style that the crowds engage in because the WWE norm is somewhat stale?

    Really good thought-provoking piece 'Plan

    This one jumped out at me though:

    "dog fighting shoulder never happen at all"

  6. #6
    The Brain
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    May 2018
    The early part of this got me thinking about how wrestling was damaging in the past compared to the present, as far as those who practice it goes. In the olden days the schedules were harder, the medical care was less, and you might be expected to bleed that pint of blood seven nights a week and twice on Sunday. Nowadays there are more safety nets, but the in ring risks are also greater. As a fan who both enjoys those bruised chest wrestlers (when done judiciously, at least) and also values safety for the performers, it can be difficult to reconcile. I suppose a stinging red chest doesn’t seem so bad compared to the untreated concussions of yesteryear, but even so. It’s something that I may explore more on my own time.

    I wasn’t entirely sure where you were going with this, but I did enjoy the ending in particular. I don’t know if wrestling has ever inspired me quite on the level you mention, but I know it’s played an important role in the lives of many, and I do believe in the best of times it’s a very affirming and uplifting experience, not only for those who watch but for those who partake as well. I liked it more than your first round piece, well written as always, though perhaps a little over-stylized for me.

    I did also notice “dog fighting shoulder”.

  7. #7
    Senior Member
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    May 2018
    Wonderful stuff here. Your second and third paragraphs in particular had me nodding along wholeheartedly in a way few columns do. Everything from the pride in visibly marring another man’s chest to the Ciampa/Gargano risky elevation is absolutely pinpoint, in my estimation, and declared in a well-worded and powerful manner.

    I dig how you ramped up the intensity as you got closer and closer to discussing the sheer animality of wrestling, only to have your words and your language develop a lighter, more optimistic and even uplifting tone as you brought things back to humanity. Past that, I love that you brought the reader along the journey to “how bloodthirsty and predatory can we get?” and then looped around to the opposite with getting into “how inspirational can this art be?” I think the general expectation for a topic like “Animals” – certainly my expectation, I admit – is to see the columnist discuss that barbaric, primitive mindset wrestling fans can sometimes slip into. By beginning that way, you had me nodding along, only to eventually find that door cracked open, describing a 180 on the original topic. Excellent storytelling.

    I think it’s possible I was even further convinced that you were going the “expected” route (note that that’s not a bad thing if you had!) because of your exceptional proficiency in a similar avenue in previous works. I’ve stated before that of all of your 101 Matches, the column/chapter that I found the best was #2 – Eddie/JBL at Judgment Day 2004. That was the one you described as the industry flashing its bared teeth at the audience, asking if it had had enough.

    I offer only two very minor points of critique. Last round, one of my fellow judges noted that he thought you may have sacrificed clarity for the sake of wordsmanship on occasion. On that column, I disagreed, and I think you managed to avoid that trap in 98% of this one as well. With that in mind, though, I had to reread “Were a dog fight to be stopped because one of the dogs was hurt, would we criticise? We would be right not to” a couple of times to decipher your true answer to the question, whereas something more to the point might’ve sufficed and in fact been even more impactful in its brevity.

    The other nitpick is that I think this column would’ve worked even a smidgen better without the multiple mentions to the tournament, the round, the topic, LAW’s column, etc. I appreciate your transparency and honesty in describing how you to got around to your thesis, but I think a parallel column that described the animal side of things and the eventual journey to the humane half of the coin completely organically would’ve been just as inspirational and even smoother without the repeated peeks from behind the curtain. Personal preference only, of course, and, again, a minor quibble at best.

    Excellent stuff, and a nice little bonus in a positive column in a round with some heavy material!

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