In Defense Of…10.19.05: SPECIAL: The Sport Of Professional Wrestling [REPOST]
In Defense of…
By JP Prag
25th Issue Spectacular Special: The Sport of Professional Wrestling
Hello fellow celebrants, and welcome to the 25th amazing issue of In Defense Of…!
We’ve had a lot of fun getting here, and a lot of turmoil. For those new to the concept, this article has had a pretty simple premise:
Certain people, events, organizations, and storylines in wrestling history have gotten a bum wrap. Certain writers have presented overtly critical comments and outright lies as fact, and others have followed suit. Well no more! “In Defense of…” has one reason: to bring the truth to the wrestling fan!
And that is what I have done.
Me? I’m the one and only JP, and I’ve been happy to win these cases:
Eric Bischoff (found Not Guilty by default)
The Elimination Chamber (found Not Guilty with 94% of the vote)
Kevin Nash (found Not Guilty with 89.7% of the vote)
The Fingerpoke of Doom (found Not Guilty with 64% of the vote)
Dusty Rhodes: Head Booker(found Not Guilty with 81.5% of the vote)
Earl Hebner Screwing Bret Hart (found Not Guilty with 59.8% of the vote)
Vince Not Buying Out WCW’s Contracts (found Not Guilty with 62 and 2/3% of the vote)
Goldberg (found Not Guilty with 81.1% of the vote)
The Brand Extension (found Not Guilty with 90.5% of the vote)
WCW Thunder (found Not Guilty with 89.4% of the vote)
Last week we finished the case of the IWC vs. Lex Luger, which can be found in Part 1 and Part 2. And despite the hypocrisy of my Hidden Highlights co-writer JT turning on me, the man of 1004 columns Larry Csonka linking guilty to my article, and Mathew Sforcina stealing my gimmick (turn-about is fair play) and defiling my stenographer with Stephen Randle’s alter ego, with 88.1% of the vote, Lex Luger has been found:
Just like in the Devil’s Advocate, I can’t lose! Of course, I’m Jewish by birth and agnostic by choice, so I don’t believe a devil can do anything to/for me. Everything I have done has been with my own words and the responses of you the readers.
Regardless of the general premise of this article, I have decided to take a different approach to our 25th Issue. Many people often write in asking my opinions of one thing or another, or how to improve the product. Well this is the big answer to all: What is wrestling missing that can bring it back to the masses?
Why has wrestling been popular in the past?
The general argument is that wrestling exists on a cycle. It goes up in popularity, and it goes down. There are periods of expansion, and periods of contraction. While the latter is true, the former is not. If wrestling really existed on a cycle, it could be timed and measured, and there would be no problem. But let’s look at the boom and fall periods of wrestling below:
1901-1913: BOOM – Unification of titles, era of Hackenschmidt and Gotch
1914-1923: BUST – World War I, stringent rules by the NYSAC
1924-1929: BOOM – Roaring 20’s, boxing and wresting become central forms of entertainment
1930-1951: BUST – Depression, World War II, post-war depression, lower male population
1952-1957: BOOM – Baby boom, growth of suburbia and television, reunification of title
1958-1961: BUST – Splitting of the World Title, huge stars do not appear around the world anymore
1962-1975: BOOM – Growth of the regional system and major inter-regional stars
1975-1983: BUST – Post plane wreck era, major stars gone or injured, rebuilding organizations
1984-1989: BOOM – Rock and Wrestling, Cable Television, 80’s opulence
1990-1995: BUST – Cartoons and bad gimmicks
1996-2001: BOOM – nWo turf wars (Edgy TV, shades of grey), WWF Attitude (Crash TV, Sex)
2002-Present: BUST – Riding the previous era’s success and nostalgia
As you can see, there is no discernible pattern with timelines. It may look a little more straightforward now-a-days, but that is only because I am rounding, and there is much overlap between all of these eras. More then that, different regions and countries found success during the bust time, and vice versa.
There is something else you should notice. Each of the boom periods in wrestling is accompanied with a bit of pop culture that made it popular. With the 80’s it was the connection with MTV and the stars of the day that made Hulk-a-mania run wild and the WWF to dominate almost all of their competitors. In the late 90’s it was the edginess of the characters and storylines—the more adult themes and tones, if you will—that attracted the audience.
That edginess, that attitude, has become passé. The WWE and to an extent TNA are missing the boat on the biggest pop culture phenomena of the time. And what is the biggest bit of pop culture going? Is it the Paris Hilton-like dumb blondes? Nope. How about Reality TV? Not in the way you are thinking. What about faux-religious agendas? No way in hell. Video games? TIVO? Internet Porn? What is it?
No the biggest and fastest growing phenomena in our society is one thing: Sports.
Proof is in the pudding
Professional sports have been on a major upswing over the past few years. Television ratings have been steadily rising, live attendance has increased, and more sports and sports-related programming have been taking up time all over the dial. Want more proof?
In 1990, the Superbowl had 73.9 million viewers and last year, despite a small drop, still had 86.1 million viewers. But even more amazing is this year’s pre-season football games which had television ratings 26% higher then last year. That big of a jump for games that generally have no purpose in the overall scheme of things is quite amazing.
Two years ago the baseball playoffs averaged 21% higher then the year before. NASCAR’s revenues have doubled twice in the past five years. Meanwhile, the World Series of Poker and all of its spinoffs and knockoffs have taken over almost 15% of the Travel Channel’s and FSN’s schedule. The X-games have grown in popularity as skate boarding and in-line skating have gotten mainstream acceptance.
You want to look deeper? ESPN now accounts for nearly a third of Disney’s profit! ESPN has been credited as single-handedly contributing to the amazing growth of Disney over the past ten years.
Also, the largest growing demographic in sports viewing and participation is young women. This untapped market has been the focus of major sports marketing over the past several years to great success. But now that women have become more accepting of sports, men are freer to watch more sports then they were before. It’s a double whammy!
The point of all of this is that sports have become more central to the American and world culture (see the NFL game in Mexico City three weeks ago for that one) then they ever were before, and are a central part of pop culture.
And what are all these reality shows? I once read in an article (I believe it was USA Today) that said reality shows are just like sports that start in the playoffs. So forget the endless months of waiting for the all-important playoffs: you start right away knowing who the finalist are and people start getting eliminated. That is why Survivor still draws in 24 million viewers for its finale, despite years on the air.
No, sports and sports related entertainment is the current trend in society, yet wrestling promoters seem to be missing this.
Who is this for?
When I fist came up with this idea, I really thought it fit in perfectly with WWE RAW. Not to say SmackDown! couldn’t benefit from this, but RAW just seems like it needs more structure and storyline control. On the other hand, TNA is the closest when it comes to sports, almost always putting atheism over stories and (until recently) implementing more sports-like concepts, like a clock (I’m really missing the Fox Box). Later, though, you will see why this works better with a larger organization.
Still, I present this idea to any wrestling organization in the world. I give it up. This is by the far the stupidest business decision I could ever make, but I have decided it is worth it. All I ask is that if you want to implement my idea, please bring me in as a creative consultant. I cannot, and will not, force you to, so I leave the actual decision in your hands.
So the question is: how does sports entertainment become more sport?
Now there are several things you can do to make wrestling more sports-like. For starters, you can actually enforce the rules. Along those lines, you can bring back time limits like TNA used to have on FSN, or do more tale-of-the-tape type stuff.
Those are all fine small bits, but what I am proposing is a major change in the way wrestling is run. And it all comes back to statistics.
What do all sports have in common? Standings, records, history—all of these things lead back to numbers. For hardcore fans, it gives them something to compare and know. For the casual fan, it gives them something to learn from the announcers. Now how does this come back to wrestling?
Well what is one of the major problems with wrestling? Matches do not matter! Why should Triple H try to win a tag team match and not cause a DQ for himself? Why should Funaki try to become a better wrestler and win some matches? Why should the Undertaker wrestle at all? Why would Team Canada not avoid matches?
There needs to be an incentive to win matches. That is why I would want to see a point scale implemented in wrestling. Each wrestler on the roster would start out with 200 points (except a few that I will get to later, like non-wrestlers who would have 50 points). Any new wrestler signed to the company would start out with 75 points. Now, points are not exclusive, but they are always on the line. In a televised match, each opponent puts up 10 points for the match, while at non-televised events the opponents put up 5 points each. So if this if the first match ever between two 75 point competitors on RAW, one will be walking away with 85 points and the other with 65.
You want fewer points to be on the line at house shows because there are more house shows then non-televised events. But this now forces the house shows to change up the cards, and allow different people to win. You do not want standings to change too much based on house shows, and television should always be important. At the same end, you want the house show matches to actually have a purpose beyond just being there as practice for the wrestlers. This will actually draw fans to these events.
Also, if a wrestler loses by DQ, there should be an additional penalty. I would say they should lose double the amount of points for a disqualification, but the person or team that wins should only receive the original bet amount. If we go back to that first match again, and the loser goes out by DQ, then the winner will have 85 points at the end of the match and loser will have 55 points. This way, there is more reason not to have a match end in DQ, or at least to be sneakier behind the refs back instead of the blatant cheating that goes on nowadays.
Of course, you should be asking yourself: what will these points get me?
How to become champion without even trying
Remember how I said some wrestlers would start out with different points? Well those people are the champions!
World/Company champion – 2000 points
Secondary (IC/US/X) – 900 points
Other champion (Women’s/Cruiser) – 750 points
Tag Champs – 600 points
Now why would the champions start out with more points? Because the plan says that in order to challenge for a championship, you must have at least HALF of the points the champion has. That means, Kevin Nash, Triple H, Jeff Jarrett, or Scott Steiner could not just walk in off the street and demand to be number one contender. They, like everyone else, would have to earn the points for it.
And championship matches should not just be for a mere 10 points. What would be the purpose? No, the matches have to be for at least half of the challenger’s points. That way, a challenger could not just demand a second title request after losing, or a champion could actually only get one rematch based on points. Let’s look at a couple of scenarios:
The world champion has 2000 points and the challenger has 1000. They have a match for 500 points (at least one half of the challenger’s total), and the champion wins. Now the Champion has 2500 points and the loser had 500 points. If he wants to get another title shot, he’ll now have to earn an additional 750 points to 1250 points. As time goes on, a champion can accumulate more points and become more untouchable. IE, there is a greater reason to want to hold on to the title (and not lose matched by DQ. If the champ had lost that match by DQ, he would have 1000 points and the challenger would have 1500. The challenger then could ask for a match almost immediately, and the champ would now be open to people who only had 500 points).
From the other perspective, let’s see what happens. The challenger wins the match and has the belt and 1500 points. Meanwhile, the former champ has 1500 points and is probably still the top contender. So they have a rematch for 750 points and the title, which the new champ wins again. Now he has 2250 points and the former champ has 750 points. Well, he cannot challenge for a title match then, and he will have to work his way up to at least 1125 before he can challenge for the belt again. That, at the very least, holds off the rubber match for a while.
The person who has the highest number of points that is at least 50% of the total is the number one contender. It is up to the number one contender if they want to challenge for the title (any title) or not, and the authority figure to schedule the time and place for the match. A heel might save up points beating jobbers so that he can challenge for the title three times in a row (or afford a DQ to badly hurt the champ). A face might scrap and save for a title shot and take it as soon as he can, and have to work his way back up again when he loses by shenanigans. The possibilities are endless.
Someone might also win the secondary title in order to gain points quicker. For instance, the champion with 900 points will only have to win one match before (450 points) before he’s in the running for the top championship. This way, other titles are important stepping stones to the top.
And think about the tag team championships! Why would Val Venis and Viscera start teaming together? Because by working together they can gain points faster (if each person puts up 10 points, each tag match is for 20), and winning the tag team championships will also help them gain points just as fast as being IC champion. Their singles aspirations can be acquired through tag team gold! Or, two people who have a lot of points from singles competition might team together to win tag team gold. Now you have a reason for random tag teams, and not just because.
This also provides a unique opportunity for mid-card and lower card wrestlers. These wrestlers could slowly pick up wins over time. Those watching the statistics (most likely through the company’s website) can see them move up the rankings. Someone like Shelton Benjamin, Christian, or Petey Williams could gain enough point to challenge for the top title. They would not have to win the match, but it would provide a nice change of pace. Which is more exciting, three months of the same two wrestlers fighting or a breakup in the middle with some up-and-coming wrestler? It’s a chance to see new people in the main event that would not normally get there. And at some point you would have to pull the trigger, and a new main eventer will have been born!
You may have noticed throughout this that I have said “at least” a number of times when referring to points. That is because any match could be for more points based on a bet! Let’s see we are in the rubber match between two top wrestlers in a blood feud. What if they did a point versus point match, winner takes all. That way, the winner can move on to new dreams (probably a title), while the loser has to start over from scratch. Is there anything more demeaning to a wrestling superstar then having to start from the bottom?
Something that has bothered me in recent years is why a wrestler would not want to be involved in a big event. For instance, why would any wrestler not sign up for the Royal Rumble? There’s a title shot and the main event of Wrestlemania on the line! Or if the title was vacant, why wouldn’t everyone want to be in the tournament?
Well what if the price was too prohibitive? What if you have to put up 200 points to even be in the Royal Rumble, and the winner of the match took all of the points (6000!)? That would certainly make it too costly for most wrestlers and keep them away. It’s like in blackjack. The vast majority of people can really only afford up to $15 tables. There is a better group that plays hands of $25 and $50. Beyond that there are larger $100-$500 hands. And then you go on to the high rollers playing at least $1000 a hand (By the way, I was once at a $5 Let it Ride table, and the guy next to me was playing $500 a hand. It was quite odd, much like Tyson Tomko in the same match as the Shawn Michaels for the same prize). Yes, it does create a stratification of the players, but that is the point of all of this.
And again, this could be applied to a triple threat match, fatal four-way, the Elimination Chamber, or any other multi-participant match. If too many people have enough points to challenge for a title, the types of matches have a reason. If multiple people are trying to gain a lot of points, a multi-participant match can help move the points quicker.
I’ve also come up with a few fun scenarios that you can do with the points to “abuse” the system. Because what fun is a system if you cannot abuse it?
In one situation, a heel top contender could keep challenging lower-mid-carders for all-or-nothing matches, wracking up 100 points at a time and looking like a dick for doing so. Or even better, he could challenge women for their points, and look like a coward doing so. The GM or authority figure could continually make matches in favor of a heel, like a 10 to 1 match where the opponent (of lesser caliber) has to put up 10 times the points of the heel. The abuses of the system can be even more fun then the actual intention of it.
There are probably a couple of problems you have noticed throughout. Well, what if the wrestler is a jobber and gets down to zero points? Well I say, continue to let him have 5 and 10 point matches until he starts winning again. So if the wrestler has zero points, and he is fighting someone with 100 points, and the former loses, then the other person will now have 110 points while the loser still has zero. There is no need to go into negative points; zero is as low as you can go. The other wrestlers need to fight over something, though!
This, of course, brings up the problem of infinite points. As zero point wrestlers continue to wrestle and new people are brought up, the points will continue to grow. So what? That just means it is harder to get title shots (or the points will be distributed more evenly). Maybe at some time the points for regular matches have to be re-evaluated. That way, the points always seem fresh and not out of touch with the times. Also, it makes the elite more elite. And with time, people will leave and take their points with them. Points also fall out of the system via DQ. With proper planning, it is reasonable to keep the points in line.
And that brings up another pitfall: planning. Since wrestling is pre-determined, extensive planning will be required to make sure that wrestling points match wrestling storylines. And do you know what I say to that? GOOD! Extensive long-term planning should go into the product, and the points will help enforce that mode. You cannot have fly-by-night booking with such a precise system.
Of course, that brings us to the last problem: the fans. Wrestling is generally an escapist form of entertainment, and promoters would fear that this would cause too much thinking. I completely disagree for the points I outlined before. The hardcore fans will have statistics to follow, and casual fans can follow along with the announcers. Listen, do the vast majority of the 84 million fans who watch the Superbowl understand all the rules and statistics of football? What about the 50 million who watch the World Series—do they know all of the endless stats of baseball! Of course not, yet most of these events are still escapist entertainment. Casual fans are fine with watching the product unfold, just so long as the point system is used as a proper tool for storylines.
Now with the idea in place, it has to start somewhere. After some debacle with the championship and having 6-10 people (including a returning superstar) claim the right to a title shot, the authority figure should get pissed off. He’ll implement this plan with the intention of never having to pick a number one contender again and making everyone earn their shot. Then, on the first night there would be a battle royal for 20 points a piece. So if there are 40 wrestlers excluding the champion, that means the battle royal is for 800 points. The winner would have 1000 points, making him the first number one contender of the new generation. From there, everything else would pan itself out with normal matches until the rest of the next PPV shaped out.
Heels could get upset, but the authority figure say that the rules were the rules. He would never have to worry about intimidation again and could actually act like an authority. At the same time, it could come back to bite him if he wanted to stop a face from moving up the card. There are so many directions to go, the trick will be not to blow them all at once. These scenarios need time to develop, and a solid plan to develop them as they go.
The world of professional wrestling is in a slump right now. Despite a second organization starting on national TV, the overall market is still half of what it was just five years ago. In order to tap the casual fan market and bring them back to wrestling, those in power need to find the pop culture phenomenon that has the public’s interest. Today, that item is sports. In order to make sports entertainment more sports, I have developed a point based system that works just as well for casual fans as it does for hardcore ones. These points work in storyline development as well as statistical data. This isn’t just a little fix to pop rating. This is about redefining the way professional wrestling works—a long term plan to revamp wrestling the likes that has never been tried in the modern era.
The <del>defense</del> proposition <del>rests</del> stands.
Well everyone, I’ve laid my idea out there. What do you think? I look forward to your responses, and will probably post a couple of your ideas in Hidden Highlights in the future.
For now, though, it is time to get back to our normally scheduled programming. We have cases lined up up the yin yang, so we better get started forthwith!
It’s time for a big challenge for big man who deserves a big case. That is why next issue we will start In Defense of… The Undertaker (Part 1 of 3)!!
In the meantime, be sure to check out Hidden Highlights! Don’t forget to send JT and I your Hidden Highlights for RAW, SmackDown!, Heat, Velocity, Impact, or any other show you saw this week (that includes house shows and indy events, you know)!
Until then, the next time you read some throwaway line presented as fact, challenge it. The truth matters, and you have a right to know.
Know a particular person, event, organization, storyline, etc… in wrestling history that needs a defense? E-mail the One and Only JP at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll be glad to hear your case.