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READER ALERT: For all the latest wrestling happenings, check out our News & Rumours section.

SLAM! Wrestling Editorial: The believability factor
By ALEX RISTIC -- SLAM! Wrestling

There are always issues to deal with in the realm of professional wrestling, but there's one factor that affects all wrestlers, organizations, promoters, and fans: believability.

The wrestlers get put into a story, or angle, the organization often times comes up with it, promotes and markets it. The bookers or local promoters book local matches that continue storyline and the fans either believe it which contributes to a successful angle, or don't buy into it, and it's dropped faster than Funaki with the hardcore title.

So what does believability have to do with this week's edition of Mat Matters? Well, everything. Lately, it seems that angles and storylines aren't being written well enough for the fan to suspend their collective disbeliefs. More importantly, it rubs off on ratings, attendance, and ultimately could hurt the performers themselves by leaving them buried.

Ultimately, believability in the past was tied in with kayfabe but that almost no longer exists and is a huge factor in why most angles aren't to be believed today. And the organizations really have nobody but themselves to blame because of all the information they put out either on web sites, or reality-based angles. And this isn't a one federation issue either. All of the Big Three have made mistakes, as well as created brilliant strategies, but currently, the effort just doesn't seem to be there.

We'll start with ECW, and yes, we'll re-hash the "Network" scenario. While there's nothing technically wrong with the angle itself, the execution of it hardly has fans believing in it.

Back in the good old days, if someone stole your girl, betrayed you in the ring or was hunting you down because of your title, it was believable. Simple yes, but believable. As a matter of fact, it's often said that the simplest plans are the best to execute. So here's the inherent problems with the Network angle. One, ECW will eventually be moving off of TNN, whether tomorrow, or by the dawn of 2001, so how is it that there are ECW stars feuding with the Network cronies? Seriously. If Vince McMahon didn't change his mind about his exclusivity rights on TNN, there would be hardly any TV programming at all. So, if there was no ECW on TV, then how do you keep an "evil" network angle going with no network? The ratings seem to back me up on this as ECW hasn't garnered higher than a 0.8 in at least a month when they were pushing 1.3 way back in April.

If the fans don't buy it, they won't be there. I'm not arguing the entertainment value of the angle - everything is entertaining to somebody. But let's face it, outside of entertaining the audiences with either mirth, or action, or special effects, the most successful movies and TV shows achieved their status through people being able to suspend their disbelief. Mirrored in other pro sports, the drama of that winning touchdown catch, the batter waiting to tie things up in the bottom of the ninth, or overtime in the last game of the Stanley Cup final, prove to provide the most memorable moments.

The same goes with wrestling angles. One of the Number One angles in the last two years was the Austin/McMahon feud. A lot of people hate their employers or their jobs at the very least. In a perfect world, at one point or another, everyone wishes they could do what Austin had done to McMahon. The believability factor comes in because people can relate to the angle, because they at least have the fantasy or in extreme cases have lived out those scenarios - Austin brought in their living room though. But the angle had a touchstone in the real world.

Of course, the WWF has had its share of doosies too. One of which, is its current angle with Steve Austin. Is all this detective work really necessary? We all know, and you don't have to be a smart, that it's going to be one of the superstars of the WWF. Sure, they could pull a swerve, and make it someone like Crash Holly but that doesn't make sense and is definitely not a match the WWF could sell.

Walk through this one with me. Austin is hit by other someone who has a score to settle, or someone looking to make a name for themselves. There aren't really any other scenarios that would make sense to take into account. So, do you waste everyone's time with a one-off kick, stunner, match, or do you build a feud? You build a feud. So that easily eliminates 85 per cent of the roster. So why is Austin stunning Kevin Kelley and Steve Blackman? For comedic value only, much like Austin's investigation itself.

The fact is, if the angle involved anyone else, save for the Rock, HHH, Undertaker and Jericho, they wouldn't even do it. It's his name, and his name alone, that's carrying the angle, not the story itself.

And the WWF has painted itself into a corner with this angle as well. If it's Billy Gunn, based upon everyone else's observations and Internet rumours, it's definitely going to be a one match feud. If that's the highlight match and main event of No Mercy, you're going to see the buy rate plummet. Fact is, if someone tried to run me over with a car, I wouldn't just be looking to stun them, I would be looking to end their career the same way they did mine - which means a prolonged feud of bloody matches, culminating in a steel cage, or hardcore style match. Which basically suggests you can narrow the list to about 7 people; HHH, Rock, Jericho, Kane, McMahon, Big Show, and Undertaker.

And before you mention Chris Benoit, Tazz, or a bunch of others, please use common sense. Tazz and the Radicals weren't even in the WWF at the time and picking a member of a tag team like the Dudley's just doesn't make sense. Plus, for those people not fully using their noodles, Shawn Michaels is retired and so is Mick Foley. And seeing as how Austin himself - not necessarily the WWF - has already exonerated Rock, HHH and Undertaker, you've got four candidates left to choose from - how long can it take to narrow it down to one? The angle, if done properly, for which there's still time to fix it, could be spectacular. As it is, totally unbeleivable. We already know Austin can stun anyone he wants, so the charade of him going up and down the roster is a useless waste of time.

As for WCW, the main problem is Vince Russo. Not necessarily all of his ideas, but there are a wack that just scream "I can't believe it." Come on. You have a match against Booker T, with no outside interference allowed (even though there was plenty), against a man twice your size, who's an actual wrestler. And as we all know, it should have been a walk for Booker T. So here it is, in the most elementary Sherlock Holmes fashion. Fact, Booker T should win, so we have to do a swerve in order to get people to tune into the match. If you knew for a fact there wouldn't be shenanigans going on you wouldn't bother tuning in. You know Russo has something up his sleeve. But there's the double edged sword. You already know something negative is going to happen to Booker T, so how can you believe he's going to defend his title successfully? Russo was damned if he did, and damned if he didn't, as soon as he put himself in the match, because in one way, or the other, the outcome of the match would have not been realistic.

Of course, I can hear the bitching and moaning now; "But it's wrestling. It's supposed to be fake." Well, in a way, yes. But as I already stated, look at programs like Law & Order, or Hill Street Blues. Shows that won awards, had longevity, and ratings, because of the drama and believability of the stories. The same with movies - all the successful ones are the ones that capture your imaginations, like Star Wars.

To prove my point, we'll use Al Snow as an example. While currently, he is a better technical wrestler than Steve Austin, how many of you would actually pick Snow to go over on Austin. Probably less than 10 per cent. So, there you go. If you don't believe something is going to happen, it probably won't.

If that's not enough, look within, to your memories. Which angles did you tune into and enjoy the most? In ECW, the Mick Foley/Terry Funk feud, I'm sure, is near the top of the list. Two athletes proving to one another who is more hardcore, and one upping each other at every turn for bragging rights - kind of mirrors pro sports doesn't it. In the WWF, the aforementioned Austin/McMahon feud, as well as the Hart Foundation/USA. It's no secret that many Canadians are fed up with certain US attitudes, and that the US thinks we're just another state. That angle was totally believable. As for WCW, how about the nWo? Several high profile super stars claiming superiority and running roughshod over all the lesser talent. It was believable because in a popularity sense it was true. Hogan is one of the most recognisable grapplers of all time, and Kevin Nash and Scott Hall were hot commodities in the WWF.

All the feds have to exercise some believability in angles for stories to work, otherwise, fans just get cheated.


Reader Feedback

  • Sep. 22:SLAM! responds to J.R.


  • I am a college senior and a big professional wrestling fan. I have visited SLAM! almost every day for the last three or four years. As long as SLAM! Wrestling continue to be the most professional Web site on pro wrestling in the Internet, I will continue to visit for a long, long time.

    I wish to applaud you for today's editorial. John Molinaro (my favorite of the SLAM! writers, not to diminish your talents at all) wrote a very professional and well thought out criticism of the WWF's bizzare media policy. The real reason why Jim Ross, the WWF, and their few friends flamed Molinaro and SLAM! is because the truth hurts, and they tried to give the hurt back to you guys. Unfortunately, thanks to their aloof media-relation policy when it comes to the Internet, they gave a more childish and condescending response than WCW or ECW would have. Their attack didn't even register, and SLAM! (through you) delivered another blow to the WWF. Either the WWF will feebly fight back, or they will decide that it's not worth fighting and try to work better with you guys, as well as the other professionally-run pro wrestling sites.

    I am a fan of all three major federations, but it doesn't mean that I have to like everything that they do! Here's hoping that you will land Kurt Angle and Mark Henry before the Olympics end. I, for one, would love to read about their experiences and see if they contrast with those of Mad Dog Vachon and Bad News Allen's.

    Have a good day, and keep up the usual excellent work!

    Rich Knopf


    You hit the nail right on the head. I read the WWF site for "news" and info about the WWF talent and stories. I read the Ross Report to find out any little bit of "inside" info that he might give. I became an avid reader of yours because as a crazy hockey fanatic, I can get better inside info on my home team (the San Jose Sharks) on your web site than I can at home. You have the only credible and objective coverage of wrestling on the web. You certainly will not find wrestling covered by any regular newspapers sports page here the U.S. I read you guys almost every day. You are definitely in the right on this issue. I would love to see any WWF superstars interviewed on your website, especially since some of their best talent is Canadian.

    Keep up the good work.

    Elliot Brand Sunnyvale, California


    Since when are you a professional "journalist"? I understand CANOE is a big Canadian portal owned by big separatist Quebec company, but like the TSN site, all you guys are just staffers who get to express their views in your spare time. When you guys can show us your journalism diplomas and you actually get paid to cover wrestling (Glen Cole, Alex Marvez, Cody Monk...and that's not their main beat) then you're a professional. The fact is the site looks anything but professional and the grammatical errors made by most of the "journalists" would easily fool good 'ol JR when he surfs over to see if you're not a 12 year old. How come neither Wrestleline, Wrestlingobserver and to a lesser extent pwtorch get lnterviews? Even the LAW gets interviews.

    scooter@netmart.com


    Well, if they don't want to give you the interviews, why do you have to report their press releases? They don't give you the interviews, so what? Go talk to the guys that are willing to talk in ECW and WCW, and soon enough the WWF will come around. On the other hand, just because you're on the Net doesn't mean you have a right to all-access information. It would be stupid of them to have un-biased reports on THEIR site. The same goes for ECW and WCW. The point of a company is to promote itself. When I want to hear "unbiased" reports, I'll go to SLAM! or any of a plethora of other Internet sites.

    Jobberman


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