Thursday, March 1, 2012

Guest Post: The Disconnect of Writing about Wrestling

Mike Lortz, aka Jordi Scrubbings, is a semi-frequent guest commentator for TWB. He took some issue with my Austin Aries/Brandon Stroud post from a couple of weeks back and has written a rebuttal. I don't necessarily agree with it, but at the same time, in the interest of healthy debate and equal time for all sides, here's his take on the role of wrestling writers and where it disconnects with the view of wrestlers themselves:

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A few weeks ago, wrestler Austin Aries got into a bit of a twitter kerfuffle with With Leather writer Brandon Stroud. Aries apparently believed Stroud didn’t have the background to properly analyze Aries’s performance. TH wrote a reaction piece to the spat that lambasted Aries and tried to give credence to his own and Stroud’s work. As a fellow writer and wrestling fan, I wanted to opine and drop my two cents into the collective well of opinion.

Whereas TH disagreed with Aries’s position that fans don’t know enough to write about wrestling, I tend to side with Aries. There is a lot fans don’t know about wrestling. As an avid watcher of the Florida indies, I have often had wrestlers ask me what I thought of their match. More often than not, my perception as a fan is vastly different than what the comments they were looking for. I like spots or parts of the match that they might not have thought very important and parts of the match they think are important I might tend to overlook.

And that is in-person discussions with wrestlers. People who write about wrestling generally have an even great disconnect with the talent.

I believe because discussion of pro wrestling is so nebulous, writing about it is incredibly difficult. I would agree with TH that few do it well, but also say that few do it right. Because pro wrestling weaves between the worlds of entertainment and sports, writers consciously or not choose their perspectives when writing about it. In my opinion, 99% of wrestling writing done by fans could fall into three categories: Athletic, Entertainment, and Mark.

Of course, academics, historians, and others who take long-term, big-picture views could be fans as well, but they are writing to educate, not inform. Among these writers, I consider among the best Grantland/Deadspin’s TheMaskedMan, Sam Ford, and Henry Jenkins and the rest of the contributors to the book “Steel Chair to the Head” – which, by the way, I think every wrestling fan should read.
First, the “true mark” perspective. In the world of pro wrestling writing, the mark perspective is like narrative sports writing in the mainstream “real sports writing” world. As such, mark wrestling writing is written from the fan’s perspective and leans mostly towards the kayafabe side of wrestling. This is where most fans reside and where most are most comfortable writing from and relating to. It is not a behind-the-scenes view nor is it written from the view of someone with much experience in the ring.

(Side note: I’m a big fan of separating the performers from their characters when writing about wrestling. For example, calling David Smith as TH did a "cracked-out-of-his-mind British Bulldog" is misleading. The British Bulldog wasn't cracked out, David Smith was. Sure, using the kayfabe name is a shortcut to recognition, but unless it is part of the story, the element in mind (drugs) is not a part of the character of the British Bulldog.)

Entertainment-based pro wrestling coverage is something you don’t see very often. This type of wrestling analysis would talk about the kayfabe side from a big picture storyline view and also cover the wrestlers as actors playing the roles. It would discuss roles and how they should or shouldn’t be used. There are a growing number of voices who touch this view, but unfortunately many weave in their fan bias. Dave Lagana and many of his recent former WWE writer guests are exceptions to the rule and look at wrestling from an entertainment perspective.

Writing about pro wrestling from an entertainment perspective would be similar to how Hollywood media writers cover movies. You always hear actors, for example, referred to by their real names, not their character names: “Heath Ledger did a great job as the Joker”, for example. Writers who look at the art of acting may also say how well Heath Ledger captured the true essence of chaos as the “heel” in The Dark Knight as compared to Jack Nicholson’s looney portrayal of the same “heel” in Batman. In some cases, the writers might even be given credit for the character development as well. However, rarely do you see wrestling talked about in this manner, despite wrestlers playing different roles with different names in different companies no different from actors in different roles in different movies put out by different companies. Yet most wrestling sites talk about bad storylines and failed performances as if they are experts.

The final way I think we should see pro wrestling covered is through the prism of athletic analytical perspective. Comparing wrestling writing to other sports coverage, there are many sites that break down athletic mechanics such as baseball pitching motions. A simple web search of “pitching mechanics” brings up numerous sites that dissect motion, kinetic energy, force, and the most efficient ways to perform for the maximum athletic result. Another simple web search finds absolutely nothing on “pro wrestling mechanics”. Are there any sites that break down pro wrestling from the athletic point of view?

Imagine a site called “” mirrored off “”. This site would use the immense library of professional wrestling videos to determine who got the most lift off the top rope, whose clotheslines packed the most power, whose punch really would stop a heart. Of course, analyzing wrestling athleticism much be couched in the fact that some of the moves are not delivered in their full capacity and are designed to minimize injury. But there is still some athletic questions that can be answered.

Pro wrestling athletic analysis, for example, would determine how wrestlers are recovering from injury. Do they still have the same muscle explosiveness through their moves? What about older wrestlers? When do we know if someone has lost a step in the ring has to reduce their in-ring action for the sake of injury and performance? How much less effective has Mark Calloway become as an athlete since his debut as the Undertaker? Does he still generate the same power, drive, and physical energy from his moves? Are their wrestlers he should not be in the ring with as they or he might get hurt?

Physical analytical wrestling study and related writing could also help in scouting. Perhaps certain styles of wrestlers need to be brought up to “The Show” sooner than others. For example, wrestlers with a high-flying style such as Evan Bourne maybe need to be brought up quicker as they lose their athletic ability sooner. Big bruising brawlers such as Brodus Clay, on the other hand, could spend more time in development as their skills can be used through their 40s.

Without sites that break down athletic movement and the like, how do we know wrestlers are really “botching” moves? Are fans really qualified to pass judgment on wrestlers’ athletic moves? Are fans who critique pitching motions taken seriously without a body of expertise or degrees or a serious scientific background? I would say no. Yet we read wrestling sites that talk about botched moves and who talk about the moves as if the writers truly understand the level of difficulty that comes with performing them in from 15,000 people on live television.

In conclusion, I might be the wrong person to pass judgment on this. As I mentioned in the opening, I know many indy wrestlers and have talked to them about how to write about wrestling. I’ve read numerous sites try to write about wrestling. I like many of them. They are fun to read and add a lot to the experience and to the fan community. There are several great writers out there that I am sure some wrestlers might even read regularly.

Maybe one day someone from the wrestling community will cross over into the media world and provide first-hand perspective and analysis on the art of wrestling and what goes on in a wrestler’s head. This would give fans greater insight to the complex world of pro wrestling. Until then however, most of us are fans and should get used to hearing wrestlers quote the Rock’s famous line of “know your damn role.”