Written By: Adam Kalogeros
Whether they like to admit it or not, everybody has, at some point in time, either regularly watched or caught an episode of World Wrestling Entertainment programming. Most people say some variation of the same question when discussing WWE products, regardless of whether it is Monday Night Raw or SmackDown Live (formerly Friday Night Smackdown): “You do know that wrestling is fake right?” No, thank you very much I had absolutely no idea and have never heard that before.
An article titled, “From Parts Unknown: WWE v. Jim Hellwig In The Ultimate Battle For Character Copyright” (found at Marquette.edu), writer Daniel Bilsky states,
“Wrestling shows are akin to soap operas rather than sporting events; the audience knows that the outcomes are predetermined, but they watch to see the characters play out the plot and react to scripted obstacles. The wrestlers themselves are akin to literary characters or characters in a play individually spinning their author’s character conception.”
For someone who has watched WWE programming from the time I was 10 this concept of characters/storylines comes very natural to me, and I, more often than not, look forward to character and/or feud development more than the actual match itself.
Now, that last sentence may seem a little weird, since the scripted fighting is why most viewers tune in; however, in order to truly understand the match that is taking place one has to know exactly what is occurring, character-wise, between the wrestlers involved. More often than not, wrestlers will be involved in anywhere from 2-8 month feuds focusing on a good guy/girl, more commonly referred to as a Face, facing off against a bad guy/girl, more commonly referred to as a Heel. This principle is not a new one, but it is the basis for nearly every match in the WWE.
There are several different ways the WWE keeps both the live crowd and viewers at home interested in what is happening. The most common way that WWE either starts or tries to escalate a feud is to have in-ring or backstage interviews between the two wrestlers. There are several in-ring talk shows, such as Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel, The Cutting Edge starring Edge, and The Ambrose Asylum featuring Dean Ambrose, which will feature either the Face or Heel as the talk show host. This gives their characters personality, as well as the opportunity to tease an altercation between the two or cause a full out brawl. The way in which a wrestler fights also reflects heavily on their character. Someone like Kevin Owens, commonly referred to as WWE’s “Prizefighter,” will often bail out before a brawl ensues because he likes to pick his own fights. This gives him that cowardly Heel persona that the crowd loves to hate, while at the same time making the audience interested in Owen’s matches when he actually does step into the ring. He is also known for having help during matches, specifically from his best friend Chris Jericho. This helps to give more more depth to both Owens and Jericho’s characters by emphasizing their “Friendship,” on screen. Owens and Jericho’s friendship also gives each wrestler a reason to interfere in one another’s matches, and to help each other keep their titles in illegal manners. The interferences got so bad that Jericho had to be suspended over the ring in a shark cage in order for a clean match to take place between Owens and one of his last opponents.
This concept of good versus evil is also used to draw huge (HUUUUUGE) crowd reactions, especially in instances when a character flips from Face to Heel or vice versa. A flip like this opens a character’s personality up to whole new levels by showing the audience a new side to an older character. A flip like this is also a good indicator that the wrestler is soon going to receive a title shot and be elevated to the main event level. Emphasizing the importance of this example, Daniel Bilsky also states, “Professional wrestling companies expend tremendous effort and financial resources toward character and plot development, and they compensate their wrestlers for how they adhere to and advance their characters and their stories.” So when a character jumps ship to the light or the dark side they are most likely getting a raise, and this correlates with the number of regular shows, such as Raw or Smackdown, and Pay Per View shows, such as Wrestlemania or Summerslam (much bigger venues), he/she main events.
A prime example of this is the breakup of the tag team called The Shield, made up of Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, and Dean Ambrose. The three literally tore the WWE roster apart and worked their way from the bottom to top, while developing their own unique personas along the way. Seth Rollins was the “Architect,” as he was the one with the plan and fought more strategically than the other two. Dean Ambrose was the “Lunatic Fringe,” due to his extremely violent persona both on the mic and in the ring. Roman Reigns was the “Big Dog,” since he was by far the largest and strongest of the three.
The team had just drawn massive ratings from their feud with three of the WWE greats Triple H, Randy Orton, and Batista, which put them at the top of WWE programing. Then out of nowhere Seth Rollins turned on his teammates by beating them down with a steel chair (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWPmJOjm8uM). My jaw hit the floor like a brick and from there on out the man was HATED by everyone. I watched week-by-week as Rollins exploded into a main event title reign as the company’s top Heel. It also elevated Roman Reigns to a similar level as the company tried to make him their top Face (even though that failed miserably). Dean Ambrose has achieved the least success since the group’s split, but he remains in the main event picture on a consistent basis.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that there really is a whole lot more to this business than just athletes fake fighting each other, and for one to appreciate that they need to invest in each wrestler’s character. The feuds consisting of good versus evil mean nothing without an interesting Heel and Face. There could be a lot of physicality in the match, but it will eventually fall flat without having the right story and characters to create the drama and tension needed between the two wrestlers to have a successful few months of battle. I love this aspect of the wrestling business and I know that I will always be a fan of WWE, even though people will continue to ask me if I know that “wrestling is fake.”