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What makes a popular Pro Wrestler?

‘Hey Dad,’ I asked, “Have you ever heard of Daniel Bryan?” He shook his head and continued singing the Neil Diamond song I brought up on Spotify. “What about CM Punk?” “Who? What is this, a survey? I don’t give a damn,”. In defense of my dad’s Pro Wrestling knowledge, his frame of reference is essentially teasing me about “how fake it all is” during my middle school days. The joke was on him, of course, as the fakeness he was teasing me about cost him somewhere in the neighborhood forty dollars U.S.  depending on which PPV that was hogging the TV on Sunday nights.  “What about Hulk Hogan?” “Yess of course,” he paused.  “Don’t go putting me into whatever it is you’re doing,”. Oops

Personally, I consider myself a pro-wrestling aficionado. I’ve always loved the business, the product, the figure-skating esque, largely improvised programs workers put on night-in and night-out. I’m by no means an expert, but I like the wrestling for the, well, wrestling. My Dad doesn’t like it at all.  

“Stone Cold?” Dad nods. “The Rock?”  “Yeah,”.  “John Cena?” He grunted a negatory.  “Triple H?” He had a vague recollection.  “Vince McMahon?” “Thats the manager guy, right?”. He’s probably heard these names peripherally. But in terms of “The Business” getting a fifty year old man who drives a truck to know who these people are is probably as close to a brass ring you’re going to get from non-fans. If you get a pro wrestler’s name and likeness to occupy space in a non-fan’s brain, you’ve probably done something right.

He’s never heard of Shawn Michaels, nor does he particularly care about *any* of these people, but it’s interesting none-the-less. As he took over the music that was playing, demanding I play Tina Turner because “It’s his house too” I had something of an epiphany.

Larger than life is where it’s at. If you want to break through in pro-wrestling,  It’s a combination of look, charisma, and a memorable name. I’ve heard of Tina Turner, but don’t particularly care about her, but I know what she looks like, a couple of her songs, and remember Ike Turner used to beat the crap out of her.  If she was on TV, maybe I’d pause to see what she was doing. Much like Dad would if he saw “The Rock” on Leno.

Unfortunately, unless you know what you’re already a fan, whether or not any of these people are good wrestlers is a moot point, because you won’t care about a match until you care about a wrestler. This is probably why WWE trots out The Great Khali every so often. This is why The Big Show gets a push. This is why it Brodus Clay’s entrance is longer than his matches.  If you manage to catch, four or five non-fan’s eye with something out of the ordinary, you may make a fan out of one, then they may give a damn about the product.

Which is why pro-wrestling is kind of sucky for us hardcore fans at the moment. WWE probably knows it needs something to cling on too, and ride into the ground, and is probably the main reason for the generally inconsistent nature of the product these days. They need *something* to hitch their wagon too. People who sing the praises Zack Ryder or bemoan why current U.S Champion Santino isn’t being used properly, are, more or less, going to watch wrestling because they’re already fans.

So, unfortunately, until WWE finds “The Next Big Thing” (It’s not Brock Lesnar, though it’s a start and the sort of thing that will bring WWE into the frame of reference of non-fans), we’ll have to take what we can get, which is some great workers that put on great matches, but are never *really* given the ball to run with, simply because no one outside of the WWE universe has heard of them.
One last question for Dad, though.  “Kevin Nash?”  “Is that the tall guy with the good hair?”


  1. Great read, champ.

    A lot of great points were brought up to. I got an old man that despises that I trained to wrestle, despises my DVD collection, and says that I waste my money when I should be saving it.

    However...if I bring up Psycho Sid or Stone Cold Steve Austin, his eyes light up. "Classics', he says. "Remember when Sid and Austin took on the Hart Foundation?" They never did, but my Dad obviously remembered the heat when the Harts were confronted by Shawn Michaels, The Patriot, Ken Shamrock, Steve Austin, and Sid Vicious. I believe this was a Raw in the middle of July 1997 (this all ended with the debut of "Dude Love", if you'll recall).

    The point I am making is that the UNPREDICTABILITY of Professional Wrestling has lost its luster. In its place are things that I can call from a mile away, to the point that it's not fun anymore. Sure, I'm in my late 20s and I am a little more cynical than I used to be, but the idea here is that there is not an element of WWE that makes me think that they're telling the stories they need to tell. The character development has been very good, and I can be emotionally invested in everyone from John Cena all the way down to Primo and Epico. However, there's no threat to WWE's way of life. Austin was a threat, DX was a threat, The Corporation was a threat, and all of these things were the very foundation for what made wrestling watchable in the first place.

    I was 5 years old when I wrapped my little hand around Andre the Giant's huge thumb at the Wharton Fieldhouse. I understood why he was the threat that he was to Hulkamania in the years prior, because he was the one threat that people believed in. Even two years ago, and I've written novels about it...The Nexus was the single greatest thing that WWE had in YEARS, because it was the first time since The Alliance that there was a major threat to WWE's way of life.

    Once WWE understands this concept, instead of trying to make movie stars, they'll make money again.

    Personally? I think we've seen the best that wrestling can offer. I'd love to be surprised, though.

  2. There are other components though that you're missing that are incredibly important and crucial to success in the pro-wrestling game -- promotion and good booking. 

    You're getting hung up on the term 'larger than life' which is a Vince McMahon term -- really what you're talking about is getting noticed.  It basically comes down to -- you have to be not totally embarrassing in the ring, you have to have
    some charisma, you have to have a unique look or gimmick the fans take
    to, and you have to be booked like a star and get the full promotional
    put machine behind you.  Some guys get noticed because they are big, but other guys get noticed because they can talk circles around anybody else in the promotion.  It's up to the organization to give a guy the push -- the wrestler can't make their career by themselves. 

    Guys like Hogan and Austin are freaks though -- that kind of popularity beyond the wrestling world and into mainstream culture is rare and fleeting and requires a perfect storm of timing, talent, and luck.  The Ultimate Warrior was marketed and promoted as Hogan clone right down to the "Little Warriors" and the trademark no-sell comeback -- and yet he didn't work as a promotion carrying champion, despite the fact he was massively popular before that point and connected with tons of fans on every single thing I mentioned above.  This is where bad booking and promotion comes in -- all of the other factors were there for The Warrior.

    It may not seem it today when guys have gotten smaller, but Randy Savage was a small man in a monsters world in 1988 -- but he succeed on a massive scale anyway despite his size, because Vince decided to give him an honest shake despite his size and put the full machine behind him.  He had all of those same attributes in 1990 as he did in 1988/1989 -- but his popularity suffered nevertheless, because he was booked poorly and not treated like a top guy.  The Hulk Hogan/Randy Savage double page of merchandise in the WWF magazine became Hulk Hogan/Ultimate Warrior.

  3. It's weird, it could be simple nostalgia, but I find that mentioning almost ANY old pro wrestler from about 1985-1994 gets fond reactions.  For example, I was bowling last month and threw a (rare for me) strike, so I promptly reacted by throwing up the X sign and bringing it down in a crotch chop.  This got a big laugh from both my group and the folks in the next lane, so for the rest of the night, it became a running series of wrestler taunts after throwing the ball, no matter the result.  The ones that drew the biggest reaction and most laughs?  A guy in the other group doing the Barry Horowitz pat-on-the-back and one of my friends doing the Bob Backlund stare-at-his-hands routine. 

    The point is that those old-timers stood out because WWE made it a point in those days to MAKE everyone stand out.  It's marketing 101 --- if you sell a wide array of products, make sure you emphasize how one is different from the other so consumers will buy several of them and not just be satisfied by buying one.  If modern-day WWE was General Mills, they'd produce 17 brands of the same cereal and then wonder why nobody was buying them. 

  4. "From the makers of Frosted Flakes... come Frosted Flakes EXTREME! Now with MOAR SUGAR!!!! SUGARRRRRR!!!!"

  5. You are no longer an asshole after this video.

    You are The Chosen One.

  6. Actually, there's only one element to being a popular pro wrestler....

    By being positive! Just like me! 



  7. We take part in a pub quiz every week down the local (in Wales). About half a dozen teams enter but the 3 regular teams take turns writing the quiz. When it was my turn about a month ago I thought it would be fun to have a guess the wrestler picture round. Bread and butter to people on here, arguably the 15 most popular, influential or ones that've gone in to other media. Some teams struggled, 2 teams obviously had people who had been/ are fans of WWE. The best team had 14 out of 15 and the worst had 4. Only 3 wrestlers were answered correctly by everyone. The Rock, Hogan and Big Daddy. Austin, Lesner,Undertaker, British Bulldog and Bret Hart came next with 4 teams knowing them. Only 1 team knew (the top team) Kurt Angle and Chyna (Or people just not wanting to admit they watch her porn) and only 2 teams knew HHH and John Cena.

  8. Poor Dynamite Kid gets no love in the UK? A damn shame. Best pound for pound pro wrestler ever.


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