I’m a firm believer in the idea that a good match can get someone into wrestling but a good story is what you need to keep people watching. In-ring wise, main roster WWE is probably as good as it’s ever been but their awful storylines make people tune out in droves (myself included). The lack of compelling storylines in WWE is not the fault of the performers. They’re doing the best with what they have and there’s only so much you can polish a turd. It is both a systemic problem of how the company is managed and how their stories are written. Writing stories is hard. Writing stories collaboratively is even harder. And an out of touch old man running in and changing your stories at the last minute makes it nigh-impossible. I won’t get into it too much here, because this article isn’t about WWE. But if you want to know more, listen to Jon Moxley’s interview on the Talk Is Jericho podcast for a peek behind the scenes at WWE.
This is why I appreciate independent wrestling now more than ever. In general I find stories on the indies I watch to be more interesting and willing to take more risks than main roster WWE. Whether it’s Jimmy Havoc’s run with the PROGRESS World Championship as the most dangerous heel in the business, the redemption of the TK Taskforce in Explosive Pro Wrestling, or even Kazuchika Okada’s mid-life crisis after losing the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in New Japan Pro Wrestling, there’s always something cool to find.
I’m also deeply interested in the process of telling stories, and wrestling is perhaps the most interesting and unique medium there is for telling stories. You can tell stories through promos, wins and losses, and even body language. Wrestlers are athletes, but they’re actors too. Being a wrestler is a combination of disciplines and skills that take significant time and effort to learn and even more to master. Professional wrestling is an art and wrestlers are artists. So let’s talk a little about in-ring storytelling.
Wrestling has a unique approach to telling stories in the ring. The most common form is one wrestler targeting a particular body part during a match and the other selling that it hurts and having to adjust their strategy accordingly, but it’s extremely diverse. Sometimes the moves a wrestler chooses to do can reveal so much about the situation they’re in. For example, they’ll use an old finishing move out of desperation because they don’t think their normal one can get the job done. Or they’ll steal a move from their opponent’s arsenal to really rub in their confidence. The more you watch a certain wrestler the more you pick up on their quirks and patterns, like Sami Zayn’s overwhelming confidence in his Blue Thunder Bomb despite it rarely winning him a match, or KUSHIDA’s style becoming more reckless after his shocking loss to Hiromu Takahashi. I believe this is how fans can stay invested in wrestlers and companies for so long. Wrestling, when done right, can reward long-term investment and paying attention to detail more than any other medium.
I do have my worries about wrestling right now. I fear it might be too insular at the moment, with wrestlers mostly looking to other wrestlers for inspiration and so many promotions trying to ape the production style of either WWE or New Japan. I think getting input from people outside the industry could be very valuable, if done correctly. That’s how you get promotions like Riptide Wrestling, who use a trained video production team to shoot their shows and put microphones on the ring posts to better hear the in-ring banter between the wrestlers. It helps their product stand out in the sea of independent wrestling available right now.
You hear a lot of stories of wrestlers becoming wrestlers because they were fans growing up. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing! It’s so important to chase your dreams and aim as high as possible when doing it! But please don’t just stick to watching wrestling to try and improve; diversify your inspirations because that way you can add things to your character that nobody’s ever seen before and that’s one of the ways you can really stand out. I listened to the We The Independent podcast interview with Cara Noir recently where he talked about his influences being stage acting, contemporary dance, and off-the-wall performance art shows and it kind of blew my mind because I finally found someone in the actual wrestling industry who thought about wrestling the same way I did. I’ve found many more since then now that I know what to look for.
I might be slightly biased when I talk about wrestling like this; I’m a bit of an outsider when it comes to wrestling fandom. See, I didn’t grow up watching wrestling. I was always vaguely aware of it but I didn’t start watching it until I was in my early 20s. I had seen a few promos on YouTube, and once I learned that my best friend was also a wrestling fan I would frequently ask him about what was going on on Raw. And when I finally started watching myself, I took a lot of my own life experiences and education with me into it. So once I got over the initial adjustment period of watching people fake-fight each other, I quickly started looking at stories and characters I could get invested in.
I want to wrap things up by gushing just a little bit more about Riptide Wrestling because it’s the kind of wrestling I’ve always wanted. They have an interesting presentation style, a strong focus on character and story, quality matches, and most importantly, an obvious care for their talent and respect for their audience. They have a clear vision for their product that I believe they have achieved through hard work, investment in their talents’ ideas, and a dedication to providing clever and unique entertainment for people of a variety of backgrounds. They have an on-demand service for an affordable monthly fee with an excellent archive for you to watch, as well as some free matches and even a full show on their YouTube channel. I recommend starting from the first show and working your way forward, as the ongoing stories are the most important part. After I recently unsubscribed from the WWE Network, one of the first things I did was sign up for Riptide and watch a bunch of shows. It was such a breath of fresh air after years of the same thing every month. They do the right things for the right reasons and I want to support them because they really understand the art of professional wrestling and I really want to see them do well. In the future we might even see others follow their lead.