While scrolling through my twitter feed this quiet, gray morning, I came across several people talking about WWE’s Dave Bautista. Apparently, during an interview for his new (soon-to-be hit) James Bond film Spectre, Bautista mentioned that WWE did not deliver the things they promised him during his last run with the company (early – mid 2014). I can understand that must be incredibly frustrating for him, or for any returning WWE superstar, to have a limited run back in WWE and have it bomb so spectacularly. But who is REALLY to blame?
I believe a truly great (and super over) gimmick is the product of a happy marriage. It means three of the most important components in WWE (or any wrestling promotion for that matter) are all in sync with one another: the wrestler, the creative team, and the audience. Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean to say that these three components should be in cahoots with one another – that’s no fun for anyone is everyone is working off the same script. But rather, there should be a natural give and take between these three elements.
Any good creative team should understand how to communicate with its talent, how to read its audience, and what sort of product it wants to put out into the world. This last bit is extremely important, because not all promotions are the same, and ought not to be attempting to operate on the same level. Molding believable story lines and creating true competition should be any creative team’s top priority. If the creative team is doing that, the business department shouldn’t have any trouble paying the bills. Creative is responsible to the talent for helping them to create characters that audiences can relate to, but are also versatile enough to carry the wrestler through a variety of story lines and feuds. Creative is responsible to audiences, as well. The creative team should know what the landscape of the industry is, what their market audience is, and what the social atmosphere of the time is. For example, in a time where race issues are a volatile topic in the US, an incendiary company might use that to their advantage, while a more family-friendly company might steer clear of such subject matter.
The wrestlers are the connection between the idea and the product. A wrestler’s job, quite simply, is to get over. In an ideal environment, a wrestler has worked in tandem with the creative team to create a persona that they are comfortable in and have a full understanding of how their character would react in any given situation. The character should become such a natural extension of the performer as to create believability within the audience. It is the responsibility of the wrestler to absorb the reaction of the crowd and respond to it. This response may not be direct – it’s never fun to see a wrestler get angry at a hostile crowd and yell back – but it is up to a wrestler to be fluid and malleable. Forcing a gimmick on a resistant crowd is a recipe for disaster.
The audience has the hardest job to define. It is up to us (yes, that means you) to respond. The absolute worst thing on earth is a dead crowd. It’s not fun for anyone when there is no response from the audience, and it makes the job of both creative and the performers a thousand times more difficult if they’re not getting any feedback. it is NOT, however, (and I cannot stress this enough: IT. IS. NOT) the job of the audience to become the star of the show. I am not sure when the change over happened, as it clearly happened some time between 2005 and 2013 while I was away from watching any wrestling, but fans suddenly decided that they were the most important piece of the puzzle. It’s now the rule, instead of the exception, that audiences hijack promos to the point where performers with microphones are drowned out. It’s now the rule that audiences regularly chant during matches for things that have nothing to do with the match or the story line. If the audience is connecting more with a heel than a babyface, that is the problem of creative and the performers. If the audience is connecting more with itself than what is happening in the ring, that is likely a group failing. It could be boring story lines, poor matches, or subpar mic skills, but it could also be the audience’s desire to see themselves get over before anyone else.
After exploring all of that, is it fair to say WWE did not deliver for Batista? Perhaps. Personally, I feel it was predictable that a babyface Batista was doomed for failure. The characters with more heel-ish tendencies are hotter in WWE right now than any of the true babyfaces. And when Batista made his return WWE was already stacked in the babyface department. But it is also, partially, the fault of the audience. We all latched on to our hatred of returning veterans so tightly that even after the creative team embraced Batista’s heel status, it was too late. We weren’t booing him because that’s how we respond to heels. We were booing him because we wanted him to get lost.
(And then we all went to see him in a huge box office smash movie, so maybe it was all for the best.)
What do you think? Who was really at fault for Batista’s flop of a return in 2014? Are all the pieces in WWE working together? Later this week I’ll revisit this concept with some of the current talent, so make sure you leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!
The Lady J To Watch List
1. How WWE formats RAW after such a stellar episode last week.
2. Reigns and Rollins looking at each other longingly again.
3. Me, yelling on Twitter for Ambrose to turn heel already.
4. Prince Pretty
5. Hopefully Kevin Owens teetering back and forth to his entrance music a la this video.