Sure, there was the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and a good parking spot at the mall to bust my suspension of disbelief bubble long before I discovered pro wrestling was scripted. I was a Hulkamanaic, darn it, and when he channeled our cheers, those pythons did what they were put on this great Earth to do.
Fast forward nearly 30 years and even with knowledge of outcomes pre-determined, pro wrestling remains an art form to its most dedicated followers. One would be hard pressed to fail to appreciate the history and storytelling of lucha libre’s finest tecnicos and rudos.
Of course, each wrestling promotion and body type has its own style of match. Strong style kick fests. Big men slam-a-thons. Lucha acrobatics. Grappler submission battles. They all tell the wrestling tale in a unique way. Like any pro wrestling aficionado, I have my favorite genre. Still, any well presented battle of ring titans, unfolding in a logical fashion, never ceases to draw my attention and applause.
Well, here’s the catch.
Perhaps it wrestling over saturation (streaming services, cross-pollinating, talent transfers), but I’m noticing a disturbing and sudden drop in physical storytelling where many matches seemingly are just going through the motions. Three moves of doom are being replaced with staccato sequence of give and take. Counters rarely chain together, personality left before/after matches, selling a story in the ring an afterthought.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not declaring this a universal malady, rather something that’s becoming too common and therefore noticeable. An uninspired match does happen on occasion (due to injury, illness, or simply life). But PPVs with an occasional outlier are now seemingly the reverse. In the suddenly ultra- competitive pro wrestling landscape, is the talent so physically taxed to inhibit pace?
Meaning, and in short: pro wrestling is not looking as ‘real’ as it should. Yes, I know a DDT doesn’t actually incapacitate, a sharpshooter nothing more than a comfortable stretch well sold by the opponent. On the same token, kayfabe is over-enthusiastic acting with a sprinkle of humor, not Shakespeare soliloquy.
“This is awesome” was near-exclusively reserved for moments when disbelief suspended. Now it for longer matches free from quick hit endings a slave to TV commercial breaks. It brings to question whether the greatest and perhaps lone chance of suspending disbelief is at empowered, smaller indy and/or house shows. Perhaps the best example of this occurred at an epic, 2015 Full Impact Pro match between Monster Tarver and Rhett Giddins. This was both a physical and psychological brawl. It’s no wonder this a success, knowing what Tarver brought into the ring that night on a personal level. It’s also one of the reasons Lucha Underground became such a sensation.
Going back to where I started from: I’m well aware Hulkamania didn’t need me. But it was dedicated to the experience of selling something beyond exhibition. I’m wondering if the present are tell tale signs of talent stretched too thin.