Features

A True New Era in Wrestling by Marc Madison

A term that has been a focal point in WWE programming is the words ‘New Era’. What exactly does it mean? Who does it represent? Should it only be reflective of what happens in the WWE? The idea of a new era is also meant to be reflective of new beginnings. The idea is that new beginnings also mean new opportunities and new matches. Let’s explore that; when identifying new matches and new opportunities, does that mean these are matches that are new to those competing in them or simply new to the televised audience? For example, the animosity between SamiZayn and Kevin Owens isn’t new to fans that have followed the two over the years as they competed in Ring of Honor or with Pro Wrestling Guerilla. Does it make their feud with one another any less special? Not in the least.

Maybe the idea of a new era isn’t about new opportunities, new stars and new challengers after all. The idea of a new era could mean that it is about listening. By listening, we aren’t talking about faces always going over or heels always winning via the most unscrupulous of ways. It could actually mean providing fans with competitive matches involving talented workers, regardless of their size. They aren’t oblivious to which men and women are better workers, and which men and women are better suited to represent a division and carry a title.

However, with that said, the company also wants to build stars, and the challenging part is that can be a harder sell. We need to look no farther than the challenges the company has faced in convincing fans that Roman Reigns is actually not all that bad. The new era does have some value though. While the term and phrase is often overused, the talent that has comprised the new era in the WWE are largely men and women that they have developed in their NXT brand. The new era could in some ways be tied to the brand split that is upcoming, as WWE will divide their roster between their Smackdown and Raw programs.

What if the new era was even bigger than the WWE had led fans to believe? One of the biggest matches that has recently taken place was in Japan between two talented men. It raised a lot of eyebrows because it was different. Traditionalists would consider the match nothing more than a display of acrobatics and gymnastics, while others would applaud their athleticism and give credit for the storytelling that they did. The match was between Ricochet and Will Ospreay during the Best of the Super Juniors tournament for New Japan Pro Wrestling. If you’ve heard their names, then you’re more than likely aware of what they can do in the ring. This match also reflects a progression in professional wrestling.

That argument is put forward by some talent today, in response to the argument being that this style doesn’t reflect wrestling the way it was. However, wrestling wasn’t the same during the attitude era as it was in the 1940s and 1950s. In stories from wrestling of the past, we hear terms like a wrestler getting ‘stretched,’ which suggests that there was a greater focus on submission, which descends from ancient Greece, and is the root of the term ‘greco- roman wrestling.’ The counter to this is that wrestlers are athletes, and even traditionalists would not argue that point.

Much like football, baseball, hockey or baseball, there is a physical demand put on a wrestlers’ body. The match between Ospreay and Ricochet were intended to also demonstrate how athletic both of these men are. The flips were said to be overdone because the belief is the amount was excessive. However, wrestling now caters to a different audience; the younger demographic for the most part counts on seeing lots of moves that will excite them, and the biggest bang for their buck. While this fanbase is described as not understanding psychology, today’s wrestlers are more willing to give them credit for what they do know. Can you tell a story without having to use a number of spots? Certainly. Are you as a fan less compelled to want to watch it because it’s less exciting or interesting to watch? More than likely.

kushida-kyle-oreilly

While this match in particular has received as many accolades as it has criticism, it isn’t the only style employed in today’s era of wrestling that can capture the attention of wrestling fans. A growing form of wrestling that also showcases athleticism with realism is the much stiffer style that has been employed in Japan. Take for instance the Kyle O’Reilly/Kushida match that also occurred during the Best of the Super Juniors Tournament for the New Japan Pro Wrestling tournament. This match combined the technical style of wrestling that showcases a refined grappling style with the use of stiff strikes to their opposition. One has to think that the growing popularity of this form of wrestling may in fact be rooted in the popularity of mixed martial arts in promotions such as Bellator, Pride or the UFC. Mixed martial arts still has a following and in fact will continue to because of the nature of the sport.

There is of course a difference between MMA and professional wrestling. Dana White received criticism for calling wrestling ‘fake,’ because while the outcomes are preplanned, the competition for the most part is real. There will be instances of blatant missed punches or kicks, but as wrestling has identified a ‘new era’ it is also ushering in more realism. The problem then is; how do you begin to promote your product? If your form of entertainment is ‘real’ does that affect your target demographic, with parents unlikely to bring their kids to these events? It would be safe to say if parents knew that at one point during each match someone will bleed, and an excess amount of violence was set to take place, they would reconsider purchasing tickets for their children for the said event.

This is where certain promotions in countries like Japan and Mexico will generally cater to different audiences. The high flying luchadores in Mexico have a great deal of folklore tied to them, and their hidden identities make them like superheroes which spectators of all ages enjoy. This style of wrestling wouldn’t be (negatively) compared to gymnastics, so why are a younger generation of wrestlers being called that? One team that has a polarizing effect on wrestling fans today is the Young Bucks; Matt and Nick Jackson are constantly faced with questions as to why they wrestle the style they do, and told that what they do isn’t real wrestling. If that’s the case, then I ask you do we all live our life the same way? Sure, we all get up in the morning, get dressed, brush our teeth and (generally) have breakfast, but how we do it is different. The order we go through our daily routines is different, the choices we make in life are different, and what we do for a living is ultimately different. We aren’t in any place to tell someone how they should live their life. It doesn’t make their choices bad, but simply different. Our nations are built on difference, and if we were all the same how dry would life be? The same should also be applied to wrestling. The difference in styles, promotions and characters provide us that unique outlook on the sport.

Anyone that has seen either O’Reilly or Kushida compete likely knows they have a martial arts background, which has contributed to them incorporating that into their style in the ring. Wrestling has been a part of the mixed martial arts discipline for years and yet, is it really fair to call it new? To those that are unfamiliar with something it will feel new because you haven’t seen it before.

So what exactly could be meant when we say ‘new era’? Is it the different styles on television? Is it the exposure to different styles? Could a new era simply mean different? Much like we mentioned above, it could very well be that the difference that wrestling offers us today, whether it leans on the combat style used in MMA or the high flying style used in Mexico, it is circular. Punches may be quicker and harder in nature, and the height which wrestlers’ leap may be higher, but is it necessarily ‘new?’ The styles of different wrestlers reflect the journeys that each one has gone though to make them who they are today. Whether a Canadian born wrestler competes in Mexico, Japan and the United States or a Japanese wrestler develops his skillset in North America, they are all telling their story in the ring.

Some will criticize wrestlers that are new to the country and offer something different. The definition of how we see it shouldn’t really be the focus, but rather embracing those differences should be what a ‘new era’ is all about. Whether we have the next Arab world heavyweight champion, the next transgender tag team champions, or the next black female wrestling champion, those differences in character, personality and style should be what we focus on. If this is what the ‘new era’ could embody, then that’s great. WWE will be doing more to be a forward thinking company that reflects the world we live in, and the differences that it represents. Some fans may not want to see the types of champions suggested, while others will applaud their portrayal. All that can be said is that the new era in professional wrestling should be something that is reflective of what people like, hate, aspire to be and can relate to. Therefore, the new era doesn’t really provide us with much difference than what should be happening anyway.

Check out Jon Curry, Mike Holland and I on TheMemNetwork. Check out their regular Wednesday podcast @ 8pm ET. This week they discuss this past week’s events in the world of professional wrestling!

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @TheMarcMadison