I had a surprise this week. I was listening to the Stone Cold podcast with Braun Strowman and was struck by a sudden realisation that I really wanted the guy to succeed.
He spoke so eloquently and well about what he wanted to do in wrestling and how he wanted to develop and grow into his character, that he turned me around almost on the spot to wanting to give him time to become what he said he wanted to be.
I wouldn’t say I became a fan with that one podcast because I think the guy still has a very long way to go, but I thought he talked a pretty good game.
The only trouble with that is…Ryback used to talk a good game as well. I happen to think he wasn’t THAT bad in the ring either, but that isn’t even what this is about. I got behind Ryback a bit more than some others (a lot of others?) did because I liked the guy’s passion and dedication. I thought his matches perhaps weren’t as good as he thought they were, but they weren’t always atrocious either – the problem with Ryback came with the booking and with the monochrome, overly simplistic characterisation.
Why am I talking about Ryback when I said I was talking about Strowman? Well, a common thread between the two is that I always thought Ryback’s best moments were when he was allowed to be himself, when he spoke from the heart and when you could tell he meant it. We haven’t had Strowman’s best moments in a WWE ring yet (I hope) but I do think that’s only one of two worrying similarities between the way Ryback was treated and the way Strowman is being treated now. Ryback, too, went on a rampage against enhancement talent and then, eventually, against more established midcard wrestlers. It’s a formula that works, to a certain extent, but not as well as I think WWE thinks it does because you have to follow that dominance up with significant feud wins down the line, or you get a Ryback situation where all the momentum is lost just as quickly as it’s been built up and there’s no real point any more trying to call him a monster when he loses all the time.
There’s another bonus to letting people be themselves too – not everyone is a great actor. Strowman’s mentor Bray Wyatt is – he can pull off creepy compound leader with what seems like almost no effort, but I’m sure it’s anything but effortless to stay in that character. I wrote enough about Bray last week though.
If you let Strowman talk like he talked on the Stone Cold podcast, just have him be a big dude who’s real with it rather than a stereotype, then you might have a technicolour superstar on your hand instead of another monochrome big guy vehicle like Ryback became.
When I listened to Braun on Stone Cold’s podcast this week, I thought of about ten ways I could improve his character straight away just based on what he was saying, so the guy could at the very least start talking a good game because while having him come out and destroy enhancement talent every week is fine as an original concept, it didn’t take me long to get bored of it.
This isn’t going to be popular.
I think WWE should have Strowman reference the fact he was a legitimate strongman competitor. I didn’t know he had a strongman background – I could have looked that up really easily, but WWE hasn’t really given me a reason to want to, but just adding that small fact to his background story on screen gives him a character before you even start.
Just as a quick aside, I’m not a stupid man. I know that Mark Henry already has the strong man gimmick sewn up, but it’s not like he’s using it week-in, week-out any more and it’s also not like WWE has never recycled a gimmick before. They’re both legitimate strong men and you even get the obvious feud out of the way to start with by getting Henry to pass the torch. Not with a ridiculous arm wrestling match or test of strength – by a match that specifically focuses on power moves, pitting strength against strength. The battle for the title of WWE’s strong man.
Am I mad for wanting to see Strowman vs. Henry? Well, as I said last week, I like Mark Henry but more than that, I’ve never thought they made enough of the World’s Strongest Man gimmick, because it never benefited him enough. It hardly ever seemed to be worked into matches. Not properly. He should have been body pressing people from over his head, blocking offense through strength, fighting out of nearly every hold (particularly rest holds) with ease, giving his opposition no respite, and no match should have gone beyond ten minutes because strong men aren’t endurance athletes, their energy is explosive. Use that.
It’s easy to do. You never have him pulled into the ropes, he reverses every attempt. Start a few matches with tests of strength – particularly with the mat technicians. Sell moves he performs as if they hurt more because he’s a strong man, or have longer-lasting effects, than if other wrestlers hit the same move. It doesn’t bury other wrestlers; it strengthens them, or the ones chosen to overcome the threat at least.
Then…you give them an Achilles heel. It really, really isn’t hard and it’s better than “ooh, look nobody can get him off his feet” which only matters if he does something when he’s on those feet.
There’s so much more depth to the strongman gimmick that it doesn’t even have to be treated like a gimmick – it’s no more ridiculous than being an Olympian or a distinguished amateur wrestler, which are things that are built into people’s wrestling characters and match styles all the time.
The most impressive thing I’ve seen Strowman do is toss the enhancement talent on this week’s Raw out of the ring with one hand – that’s what he should do more of.
Let Braun be Braun
This is something I actually think more wrestlers should be allowed to do – talk as if they are themselves. If this really is a new era, then let’s have a new type of promo, where said promo is based on character, which is based on some very real part of the wrestler and which avoids cliché like a plague.
Let me be clear – I’m not talking about natural talent here. Punk, Trips, Rock, Bray and Enzo, among many others, have a talent on the mic that can’t be taught but when wrestlers clearly can talk, as Braun showed he could on Stone Cold’s podcast, I think WWE should let them. The strong silent type is for husbands, not WWE superstars.
If you don’t, then you get too much of a clear difference, as there has been in the past 2 weeks, between recorded packages about or by a wrestler and their performance in live promos. I loved Finn’s video package this week, I hated his performance in the promo with Seth Rollins because none of it felt real. It ticked boxes rather than engaged with me as a real conversation. If Finn is better on video promos, let him do the video promos and do the rest of the talking with his wrestling, that’s fine – but when someone clearly has a voice, let them use it.
It’s horses for courses, not shoving square pegs into round holes. I don’t think many would actually care if Finn didn’t talk much live because he’s that good in the ring. With all due respect to Strowman, who I think has a tremendous upside as I’ve said, he probably needs to talk more at the moment.
This is a more general…well, rant, really.
Heels should misbehave. They shouldn’t care about rules, about what anyone thinks and should be frustrated each time they have to do follow rules or consider others. For an example of how a heel works, see everything Kevin Owens does. I don’t think I need to explain it any better than that really – just watch that guy.
Braun isn’t coming off as a brilliant heel to me – unless being big and strong is heelish. If he’s a ‘bad guy’ he should be destroying these jobbers after the match to drive his point home at the very least. He should be shown backstage being a jerk or a bully to everyone. He’s got the looking like he enjoys beating people up thing down, but if he enjoys it that much, then why does he stop? Sheamus did this really well I thought when he first came into WWE – he was aggressive, angry, destructive and dominant. Recently, I think they’ve watered heels down far too much. I think being a ‘tweener’ works when you’re technically a face, not when you’re technically a heel.
Braun got halfway there this week with the look he gave the jobber as he came to the ring and he demolished him with a clear disdain. I also loved that he shouted “with or without my family everyone will fall at my feet” at the camera after he’d beaten the jobber. It fits his reverse chokeslam move, his attitude and his history with the Wyatts.
I’m not saying Braun won’t get there with the direction they’re going in, I just think the point this direction always ends up at is ultimate heel monster being built up to lose far too soon and become much less of a threat to win than WWE likes to think. See Big Show, Ryback, Henry, Kane – the list goes on.
Or maybe that’s just me – maybe people still think of those guys as threats to win just because of their size, but surely when someone loses more often than they win, their likelihood to win in the eyes of fans decreases?
I guess we all have different opinions on that as fans and I don’t think the WWE will deviate from the road they’re on or try anything that radical with Strowman – but I think if they did those three things, then at least you’re equipping Braun with the tools to talk a good game – giving him a basis to succeed. The rest would be up to him, but it’d be a start.
What do you guys think? Do you want a realistic, talkative, realistic Strowman or do you think the angry, shouty heel giant thing works?