In the wake of this week’s WWE roster cuts; one has to ask is there something wrong with the system that wrestlers go through there these days? Of course I realize being a user of this website that the preceding question exists to us wrestling fans as being rhetorical; we all know that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. The problem is that the question is increasingly becoming one that WWE blatantly needs to ask of itself; then do a lot of soul searching that leads to realization.
It’s difficult enough in the wrestling industry in terms of getting over and being accepted as a legitimate star by the fans as it is without WWE’s almost sadistic way of throwing other obstacles in the way. That old chestnut of “creative has no ideas for you” has it’s bearing on the issue also; but, when you step back and look at it objectively, the common wrestlers answer to that problem (“sack the writers then”) is as unfairly balanced, in the opposite direction, as the original statement. The writers have to operate under the borderline mental illness like and reactionary changes that WWE make as to the future paths of wrestlers; if it devalues a talent in the eyes of a fan then it would be seen even stronger in the eyes of the guy writing the script.
The more I thought about it the more I thought “instead of complaining and lamenting about it; why not try to come up with a solution?” So I put the imagination to work and came at it as if I was the head of creative of a decent sized promotion in the UK, owned by a promoter who’s as changeable and has some of the same proclivities as the McMahon’s, with TV time on a middle of the dial channel on free TV (between no. 15 and 30) with a decent audience and potential for expansion; and I found that, in my opinion, it wouldn’t take a lot of creativity to preserve the star power of my roster. In fact; most of my ideas are updates of practices from wrestling’s history.
I’m not saying that what follows is the answer to the problem; but it’s what I’d do in the situation. This is a view from a point of fantasy; it does not take into account many of the variables that would happen in real life that could knock this plan off of course. But, all things being right, I believe that this is a viable plan of how to operate under the constraint of having to work for a promoter who operates like Vince McMahon; but I fully accept I could be wrong.
Let’s start with –
The Return of Enhancement Talent as Stock Characters (Gimmicks).
The current trend I’ve noticed is McMahon’s desire to seemingly turn the clock back to 1994 and run things the way they were then; as a result wrestlers are being repackaged with cartoonish gimmicks like Los Matadores more frequently. Despite not being able to fathom wanting to do business in the style of one of your least successful periods of company history; I can see why he likes those style of gimmicks and that the have a place in the business. WWE exploded in the 1980s off of cartoon like and OTT larger than life characters that drew in the kids and, most importantly, were easy to gear merchandise towards those kids for them; the early WWE action figures wouldn’t have been as successful and have become as collectable as they are now without that.
Wrestling has always operated with broad archetype and stereotype characters; it’s easier to tell stories with them and to play off of the audiences prejudices to the point where they’re willing to pay to see them get their ass kicked. We like to kid ourselves they ceased to exist during The Attitude Era but they did; just in a different form. Val Venis, The Godfather, The Big Boss Man, Kane, The Undertaker, The Three Faces of Foley, Gillberg, The Right To Censor, Gangrel, Too Cool, The Dudley Boyz and others were all on the roster at various points during that time and were all broad representations of a stereotype or archetype; or a modern development of a pre-existing gimmick that had been one. The style had changed but the practice was still the same.
What I would do would be to design several stock character gimmicks that required some form of mask or hood with a costume; luchadores, super heroes, warlocks, slasher film villains etc. But it would be designed as a role to be played; with height range, weight range, race and even their wrestling moves dictated by me and my team. The idea would then be that these characters could conceivably be played by different wrestlers on different nights; allowing for the existence of enhancement talent without the guy doing it being forever marked as a “job guy” in the minds of the audience. You could then conceivably put a bigger star with a reputation for making their opponents look good under the mask on a night when you want a new guy to look like a big deal; and you’d have the gimmicks beat each other from time to time so they maintained some level of popularity.
Then you merchandise the characters (particularly as kids toys) and collect the royalties to be split amongst the talent that played the character by a percentage based on how many times they played it that year; so if the character had a hundred matches in a year and wrestler A played him in 45 of those matches then he’s entitled to 45% of the royalties the character generates at the end of the year (TV and video royalties would go to whoever was under the ask on the given video). There’s more merchandising opportunities when, if you’re talking about WWE, you have at least six hours of TV time a week to fill; give these gimmicks their own one hour show on a Saturday morning, a la Saturday Morning Slam, and give them a belt or two for them to fight over.
Having these stock character gimmicks that multiple wrestlers can play can also have other benefits when it comes to protecting or maintaining star power; take a situation where my promoter thinks wrestler B needs to be jobbed out because of something he said in an interview that the promoter didn’t like (cough… Dolph Ziggler… Cough…). I would then have the luxury of removing wrestler B from the roster either through suspension, injury or stipulation and having him serve his time jobbing as one of these stock gimmicks; thus protecting the character from becoming unsalvageable in the eyes of the audience while still having him serve his punishment. This practice can also help alleviate the audience from getting the old contemptible familiarity; if a guy’s been in the same spot for a while it can be hard to take him serious anymore. In the territory days you just moved him on to a new territory so he was rested in the minds of your territory’s audience while still working; then you brought him back after a while and he was fresh again and sometimes easier to elevate. Wrestling doesn’t have that luxury anymore; so removing a character from screen time for a rest and rejuvenation in the audience’s eyes is rare. With the stock characters in place; you could rest a guy whose doing nothing in the middle of the card (say Kofi Kingston) by removing him via injury, suspension, firing or stipulation but keep him working as one of those gimmicks. When the time was right then I’d reintroduce this wrestler to the card as their character and put the gimmick on someone else; yes it’s a patch up job but it could have the same effect if executed rightly as the old way of doing things