I got a bit behind in my NXT viewing the past few weeks, so I spent the better part of Saturday binge watching a bunch of episodes to get caught up. I noticed that I get a better feel for the product, or any wrestling product, by watching it in bulk. The biggest observation that stuck in my mind during this NXT viewing session was how different the in-ring product actually is compared to what I have been watching since I was seven years old.
Those that know my tastes know that I prefer to see a fight in the ring. I don’t want to watch ballet. I don’t want to watch gymnastics. I want to see two guys in a fierce battle. I want pacing. I want selling. I want strategy. I want characters. I want drama. Most importantly, I want it to look realistic. Keep in mind, these are my preferences. If you totally disagree with me and love the style that you get from promotions such as Ring of Honor and NXT, then you probably should go ahead and click off of this article. It is just not my cup of tea. I will say that the style I prefer is what made wrestling successful in the past and must be prevalent if the business is to become mainstream again.
When I watch NXT, for the most part, what I see is two guys performing an athletic dance. I don’t see characters coming alive in the match. I don’t see personalities driving in-ring performance. I don’t see competitors wearing down their opponents. I don’t see believable selling. Don’t get me wrong, there are exceptions – Kevin Owens, for instance – but for the most part I don’t feel like I’m watching a professional wrestling match. I mentioned Owens as an example, and the reason why is that when I watch a Kevin Owens match, I see the same guy that I saw during an interview backstage. I see the personality that he portrays come across between the bells. I’m not seeing it with most of the rest of the male roster.
I’m going to list arguably the most successful and well-known male wrestling talents since the WrestleMania era began. Keep in mind, I will probably forget some obvious choices. I will also probably include someone you don’t agree with, and omit someone you would have on your list. Don’t, by any means, consider this my “definitive” list of the all-time greats - just some examples. So no hate tweets, please.
Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Sting, Undertaker, Randy Savage, Andre the Giant, Roddy Piper, Lex Luger, Ultimate Warrior, Sid, Yokozuna, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, Mick Foley, Chris Jericho, John Cena, Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero, Goldberg, King Kong Bundy, Brock Lesnar…to name a few.
Ok now look through that list, and tell me how many of those names became successful with high-flying, spot-fest matches? How many of those in that list would receive “this is awesome” chants from today’s niche audience? Those people in the list became legends because they had distinctive personalities and they were able to get those personalities over in a realistic looking match.
Now before you say the business is evolving beyond this style, I will ask you to look at the main events of the last ten WrestleManias. You still have The Rock in there. Triple H. John Cena. The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels were the main event of WrestleMania just five years ago! This type of talent is what draws the masses to purchase the biggest show of the year. It is why we got Lesnar and Reigns (w/ Rollins) this year. It is why some people are expecting Lesnar vs. The Rock next year.
Before I conclude this article and get to the main question I asked in the title, I would like to point out why I specifically mentioned male talent only. It is because all the things I listed that I think is essential to a quality in-ring product are exactly what I see from the women in NXT. Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Bayley, Carmella – they all get it. Their characters come out during the match. They look like they are in taking part in battles that are fiercer then the men’s matches. I don’t know why there is a difference, but there is. Whoever is teaching these women absolutely gets it.
Young wrestlers should want to be The Rock. They should want to be Hulk Hogan. They should want to be Brock Lesnar. NXT wrestlers need to be watching film of all the wrestlers I listed above. They are more likely to be successful if they pattern themselves after these examples, not the WCW Cruiserweight division or a Ring of Honor main event.
The People’s Elbow can be performed by just about anyone…you, me, my grandpa, a six year old kid. Any one of us can pull a dirty sock out of our pants and stick it in someone’s mouth. The 450 Splash and the Shooting Star Press are extremely difficult and impressive moves that most people would be crazy to try. Two of those examples made millions for the business and the performers, and two didn’t. Young wrestlers need to consider this when deciding who they want to study and learn from on film.
Follow Jeff on Twitter: @JeffLane22