Lutz's Blog: WWE’s in-ring styles offer something for everyone
By Jeffrey Lutz
On last Monday’s Raw, between mistaking English trash talk by Antonio Cesaro for German and presumably preparing his next diatribe on how to download a smartphone application, Michael Cole actually said something insightful.
Cole noted - and I’m paraphrasing - that observers could learn a lot about Dean Ambrose by the way he wrestles. I don’t know if Cole intended for that to be anything more than a throwaway comment, but it was astute and accurate. After thinking about it, I realized that it applies to just about every full-time wrestler to whom WWE gives prominent television time.
Most WWE stars give in-ring performances that align perfectly with their characters. That’s a testament to every step of the company’s developmental process, from the scouting done previously by John Laurinaitis and currently by Triple H, to the trainers at NXT and WWE’s past developmental organizations, to WWE’s backstage producers to, of course, the wrestlers themselves. It’s also a credit to WWE’s writers for building characters around the in-ring styles of the performers.
There are several examples of performers who wrestle according to their characters because there are several unique styles of wrestling within WWE. Even when the techniques of wrestlers fall under the same general umbrella, such as technical wrestling or power-based performances, each performer carries discernible traits that make him stand out from other wrestlers who possess similar attributes.
The Shield is the latest example of this and one of the best. Ambrose and Rollins rose through the independent ranks and earned WWE contracts based on their fundamentals and for their ability to adapt to the customs of different organizations. As part of The Shield, a faction that creates chaos and mayhem, and while teaming with enforcer Roman Reigns, Rollins and Ambrose have added strength and forcefulness to what has become a free-for-all style.
Wrestling is just as much of an art and form of expression as verbalization, and The Shield's three-on-three match last week highlighted that idea. Their unfocused promo the week before had me feeling as though they were somewhat miscast in tough-guy roles, but they regained their momentum with an aggressive, gritty match that helped them regain their direction.
The definition of technical wrestling has expanded over the last 20 years or so thanks to wrestlers who have added new elements to its criteria. WWE is currently populated with several smaller performers who fit the mold but who each offer a unique craftsmanship to their work.
Daniel Bryan is a mat-based submission expert whose kicks appear more realistic than those of any stars of recent memory. CM Punk’s mixed-martial-arts training enables him to work a style that brilliantly walks the line between traditional and contemporary. Just like his microphone work. Chris Jericho, one of the last of a bygone era in which wrestlers honed their skills around the world, implements elements of Japanese wrestling and Mexican lucha libre within a move set that is completely his own.
Character-consistent wrestling doesn’t end with those three former champions. Wade Barrett’s past as a bare-knuckle fighter serves to tell stories of the possibility that he can end matches quickly with bone-crushing hits. Sheamus fancies himself a brawler and his bruising performances fit that billing. Dolph Ziggler calls himself the Show-Off, and no one is more exciting to watch. Except maybe Kofi Kingston, who uses more high-flying, top-rope moves than Ziggler.
Randy Orton hasn’t given a meaningful promo in months, but he remains popular because in the ring he is plodding and intense, matching his personality. Cesaro is, in some ways, the next evolution of Orton _ a deliberate performer who tactfully works over an opponent’s body to set up a finishing move that can occur out of nowhere.
Even WWE’s big men operate uniquely. Ryback, a man of few words, delivers a wide array of high-impact maneuvers that get his point across quickly. Big Show and Mark Henry, a former college basketball player and a one-time power-lifter, bring athleticism to the super-heavyweight division of WWE’s roster that allows them to have strong showings against wrestlers outside of their weight class.
Then there’s John Cena. He has carried on the tradition, established by the likes of Bruno Sammartino and Hulk Hogan, of WWE’s top star possessing seemingly limited in-ring skills but consistently wrestling entertaining matches because of fan reaction and instincts. Cena may have Five Moves of Doom, but he also has an innate, intangible ability to use them at just the right time.
The rise of wrestlers who have forged their own paths should put to rest the fears that the teaching of “the WWE style” in developmental would lead to a cookie-cutter environment in which every wrestler looks, talks, acts and wrestles the same. That isn’t happening now, and with Triple H’s recruitment and signing of wrestlers of varying looks, body type and experience, it probably won’t happen anytime soon.
Jeff Lutz has written for the Wichita Eagle newspaper in Kansas for over a decade and debuted with Prowrestling.net on November 4, 2012. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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