Faces and Heels

Imagine the scene.

This weekend, as thousands of people file out of the door of cinemas all over the country having seen Dark Knight Rises, conversations start about the movie itself. People are impressed with the story, the effects, the costumes, the soundtrack and the all round scale of the thing. Plenty smiles on plenty faces. Then one brave soul pipes up with “You all might have enjoyed it but you do know that the fight scenes are staged and Batman isn’t real right?”. There’s a moment of stunned silence as the rest of the known universe as everybody prepares to punch him in the jaw. There’s no accusations of fakery in movies, nobody says that a movie isn’t worth any emotional investment because it isn’t real. Pro Wrestling doesn’t get that privilege.

Ever since the day in 1992 when a friend of the family got that new fangled Sky TV thing and taped me the Royal Rumble pay-per-view saying ‘It seems to be what all the kids are into these days’ I have been hooked on Pro Wrestling. I loved the loud music, I loved the different characters who walked down that aisle towards the ring and I loved the action itself. Plenty people had told me it was ‘fake’ and ‘over the top’ but I soon worked out that, like any form of entertainment, the best results are when you just let go and enjoy what you’re watching. For those not in the know, the Royal Rumble match itself starts off with two wrestlers and every two minutes another one joins the fray. The only way to be eliminated is to be thrown over the top rope and have both feet hit the floor. It’s last man standing. The 1992 Royal Rumble is infamous among fans for being the one in which the legendary Ric Flair lasted for nigh on the full match and won.

I started watching more and more wrestling. I’d go from the World Wrestling Federation to World Championship Wrestling, I then took on some Extreme Championship Wrestling and then onto some Japanese action from All Japan and New Japan. I’d also watch Lucha Libre from Mexico if it was on. During this time I’d usually get the same reaction from non-wrestling fans.

“You know it’s fake right?”

‘Fake’ has always been the wrong word to use to describe wrestling, it’s an insult to those who perform each night. It infers that it’s completely risk free and without injury if it all goes wrong. It’s true to say results are predetermined, winners are chosen beforehand to suit the storyline, but then isn’t that true with any form of entertainment? Stuntmen performing a fight scene in a movie get as many takes as they need to get it right, wrestlers have to make it look convincing in front of a live audience whilst bringing no harm to their opponent. It’s an art form many do but even fewer do well. Factor in the need for athleticism and the need for the ability to tell a good story to an audience and you’d have a better appreciation for pro wrestling.

In Britain we still have the memory of pro wrestling being the kind of stuff they used to show on World of Sport back in the 70’s. It was fat men rolling around in the middle of the ring, grannies getting worked up in the front row and all this taking place in a bingo hall. There’s an inbuilt sense within us that those dastardly Americans took our great institution and messed it around by actually applying production values to it and making it suitable for TV. There’s a line of thinking that it’s overblown, it’s out of hand and that there’s no point in watching two people ‘pretend to have a fight’. If you’re in this way of thinking then I’d say you’re approaching it wrong. If you watch pro wrestling whilst trying to view it as a competitive sport then it’ll never work for you. Take a step back and look at it as high performance, physical theatre. Allow yourself to be taken in by the storylines and then admire the skill of these guys who can use this environment to tell you a tale that in some cases has been building for months. I’m serious when I say if some of this was being done on stages in a theatre then it would be praised as high art.

It’s tough to pluck an example of this out of context and show without all the build up but some matches do stand very much on their own sometimes. One of the most recent examples was The Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels from Wrestlemania 25. Both of these men, at this stage, had around 45 years of experience combined and it showed. If you have 45 minutes spare and want to see Pro Wrestling at its finest then click play below.

But why bring up pro wrestling in a blog that’s supposed to be about writing? It’s mainly because there’s a few parallels between script writing and wrestling that I’ve usually gone by. Bearing in mind that part of the lifeblood of wrestling is getting and audiences attention and keeping it, putting them through twists and turns, then you can see why some of the rules can apply quite easily. Wrestling features both good guy (Faces) and bad guys (Heels) and these roles have to be clearly defined. It’s common knowledge in the industry that the best heels are those who, no matter how despicable their actions, believe themselves to be right. There’s also a saying about how a conflict will only be as good as it’s weakest half essentially meaning that nobody will tune in if they think that one side will definitely win. These are all tips I usually try to carry through to any of my writing, especially with the emphasis of great drama being all about conflict.

There’s also the small matter that wrestling is my ‘go to’ thing if I ever get stuck whilst writing. I usually turn to Youtube, select a random match and then return ready to write more after watching it. Most of the time this snaps me out of whatever stupor I was in before even if I have no idea why it works out that way.

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