The art of the promo in professional wrestling is a must-have for any star wanting to be successful for a long period of time. One can have all the technique and skills in the world, but without being able to speak to thousands on a microphone, or direct to a camera backstage, the skills will count for little when any prospective opponent can defeat you in a war of words. Hell, sometimes even having the gift of the gab can make up for being not so great in the squared circle, and many have ran their mouths better than they ran the ropes. Sometimes you get the total package where words match actions, and in those moments, stars are born. Think Flair, Rock, Austin, Piper, Savage etc.
Those stars got over on their words and the way they brought audiences into their world, their minds and made the character transcend beyond the screen and into real life. Each of those men delivered lines that sometimes blurred the division between real life and professional wrestling. ‘Shoot’ promos, if you will. Were they serious, or is it just a way to draw interest? Sometimes it was hard to decide. As a fan, I’ve always enjoyed a great promo, especially when they reach out and grab you to take notice. Off-script or not, it’s fair to say that on occasion, the fourth wall can appear to be broken, or comments get a little too personal.
These past few weeks in WWE have seen some promos try to be edgy or personal and speaking personally, I don’t really like it when WWE tries to be controversial in having their wrestlers say something over the top purely to gain a reaction from the crowd. I say crowd, because the opponent knows what’s coming, so this isn’t like a boxing or MMA sit-down where nothing’s scripted (or is it?) and tempers can genuinely flare up. The emphasis on the ‘controversial’ comments in WWE are targeted at us the audience, to make us go ‘Ohhh’, ‘Wow’ or ‘Oh no she didn’t’.
I read a few commentators bemoan Dean Ambrose’s recent promo on Raw that referenced Roman Reigns and that it was unnecessary and uncalled for. I saw the show and what he said. Personally, I don’t think it went too far, just a snide remark about how Roman now had to answer for his crimes to ‘the man upstairs’ – I highly doubt Ambrose would’ve gone out and said that if he knew it would upset his former Shield brother. It was a ‘meh’, shoulder shrug from me that was forgotten moments after the words left his mouth. A seed planted for a hopeful return of the big dog down the line, nothing more. Roman could give his thoughts if he wanted to, and perhaps will have a response someday.
The same could be said about AJ Styles’ recent feud with Samoa Joe. It went beyond the normal boundaries and involved a more personal story-line with Joe (who was excellent, by the way) becoming this creepy, stalker-esque heel who took pleasure in tormenting Styles’ family and addressing AJ’s wife in his promos. Though quite uncomfortable at times, it was good because a response could be given and Styles could show his personal side when he would rush to defend his family from Joe and his threats. I’m certain that all parties were fine with the decision to go down that road and it didn’t overstep any lines. It was simple and very effective. On the same theme, interactions involving family members at ringside are always fun, especially when the family really play it up. Two that stand out to me are Zack Ryder’s excitable father and the impressive bump-taking father of John Cena, who was great when Randy Orton took shots at him.
What I didn’t like recently were the comments made by Ruby Riott about the late Jim Neidhart, when the leader of the Riott Squad was addressing Natalya. The breaking the sunglasses moment was silly, perhaps slightly effective in an attempt to draw emotion into the feud, but I’ve never been comfortable with heels trash talking dead wrestlers or deceased family members of their opponents. I find it cheap, unnecessary and poor storytelling. Many of the talents look uncomfortable delivering the lines, and I don’t blame them. It’s not edgy. It’s not funny. It’s not raising the bar or pushing the envelope. It’s shitty. Ruby is better than that, and her character shouldn’t have to stoop to such low levels to gain a reaction.
I also detested the ‘angle’ on an episode of Raw where Ric Flair’s deceased son, Reid, was used in a promo between Paige and Charlotte, and the feelings were the same for any member of the Flair family if you listen to interviews. They may smile, nod and say ‘Oh, its fine. Just part of the business. We don’t care and neither should you.’, but when your job is on the line and your career in the hands of the writers of those promos, your hands are tied and you say nothing and keep your head down. Not every talent can stand up to Vince McMahon and co and staunchly defend their deceased relatives. In fact, if you search online, you’ll hear an interview where Ric Flair voices his displeasure at the angle, but knew he couldn’t kick up a fuss as it would threaten Charlotte’s fledgling career in WWE. That’s a damn shame, and shows that WWE will impose their will on the talent even if it makes them uncomfortable or upsets them. Imagine your employer doing that in your workplace. You simply wouldn’t stand for it, would you?
Perhaps I’m being over-sensitive and shouldn’t read too much into these storylines. Maybe my opinions aren’t valid, and let’s face it; WWE couldn’t care less about what I think. It could be the storyteller in me that doesn’t like barrel-scraping, uncomfortable and needless angles involving deceased people who can’t answer back. Those who have given blood, sweat, tears and sometimes their lives for a business that drags their name up on live TV for a cheap pop or a moment of scripted controversy.
Maybe I shouldn’t care or even voice my opinion, but if the talent can’t say anything when they’re forced to endure such crass writing, perhaps we should? Let me know what you think in the comments below.