Rogers, Realism and Wrestling

Added by Laura Brooke

Another week, another unedifying wrestling Twitter spat. This time, it was Rip Rogers who started off the whole thing, with a tweet about kickpads. On Jan 21st, Rogers wrote “If u wear kickpads in ur match ur telling the fans u don’t wanna really kick ur opponent too hard … he mite get hurt …I know .. I wear kickpads so I can’t hurt him ….what a great idea!!! Fucking idiot ….we kill our own business ..”

Needless to say, it didn’t take long for many to point out that kickpads are generally worn to protect one’s own shins. (Hell, even Glen Joseph was able to burn Rogers with a tweet; the equivalent of Milhouse Van Outen beating someone up).

Just when you thought things couldn’t get anymore embarrassing, Rogers then tweeted “Maybe I shud do s (sic) Dick spot , a hand grenade spot , wrestle a 9 yr old girl and s blow up doll , do a slow motion spot , a dive , and tell promoters they shud book me …and memorize a whole match for next month too …” Joey Ryan – he of the dick spot fame – retorted (not unreasonably) “C’mon man, you spent your whole career not being over. You know you wouldn’t know how to get any of that over either.” Inevitably, this prompted a response from Jim Cornette: “Fuck you you midget piece of shit. [Rip Rogers] has done more for wrestling as a wrestler, trainer, and man than you ever could do, unless you burst into flames and disappear. He could also kick the shit out of your pussy ass at twice your age, and I could probably have a decent shot at it.”

The issue – beyond that of old men yelling at crowds – is the ‘reality’, for lack of a better word, of wrestling. Camp Cornette maintain that wrestling should be as realistic as possible: that it should mirror what would actually happen in a real life fight situation. For them, the downfall of the business has been caused by the proliferation of spots/trends/whatever that ‘expose’ the business.

Those of you expecting a long dissertation on this issue will be relieved to know that there won’t be one; because the idea that pro-wrestling was ever executed in a one-hundred percent realistic style is, to be frank, a fiction. If wrestling was real, then it would be like when wrestling really was a shoot: you’d have two, three, four hour draws. Indeed, the one of the reasons that professional wrestling superseded shoot wrestling was that the latter spectacle bored the fanny off people. As Chad Dundas puts it, “Fans no longer wanted to spend an evening cramped inside a smoke-filled theater sweating through a four-hour wrestling match. They wanted a leisurely afternoon at the baseball diamond or the action-packed drama of newfangled inventions like football.”

Wrestling has always operated according to its own internal logic. Lance Storm put it nicely in an old shoot interview of his; when Goldberg was questioning why would he do X in situation Y, Storm replied “because that’s the spot.” Wrestlers have always done things in wrestling rings that you wouldn’t do in a real-life fight situation. The late Bobby Heenan – who ironically was say next to Cornette when he said this – summed it up perfectly: when was the last time you saw a fight in a bar and one guy threw the other one in the corner? It just doesn’t happen. But it does in wrestling, and that’s fine. In the Matrix (and indeed, in The Matrix), Neo can punch through walls; in wrestling, guys/girls run the ropes, stand and stare at someone on the top rope while they leap at them, and so on. QED.

Now if Cornette or Rogers were to argue that wrestling was more realistic in their time in relation to today’s product, then very few could argue. There were no hand grenades or dick spots in Mid-South or Crockett Promotions. However, the point, while true, is somewhat irrelevant, because – and this was one of the points I made in Notes on Cornette – wrestling has changed. To put it another way, the internal logic of wrestling has changed. In particular, what operates today in wrestling is what we might call a local realism. We expect realism in certain matches; but not in all of them. We’re happy to see comedy in Joey Ryan bouts, but not in ones involving Brock Lesnar. You can have a comedy match and a serious bout on the same card, and people can enjoy both – but for different reasons.

At this point, I suspect Cornette’s response will be that in the 1980s – when the ‘realistic’ style reigned supreme – a lot of people were making a living from wrestling. Since then, the wrestling business has severely contracted, and this is due to the shift from a realistic style to a more ‘hoky’ one: hence, the new style killed the business. There are a few issues with this argument; perhaps the most pressing of which is that it’s unprovable, in the sense that we cannot re-run history like an experiment – remove the WWF expansion from the 1980s and see what happens – in order to see if Cornette is right. (As Kitson-Clark once said, we cannot unscramble the eggs of history to see which one of them spoiled the taste of the dish that was to be eaten).

For my own part, I suspect that the advent of the internet would have led to the exposure of the business in some form or another, regardless of whether the territories had survived the 80s or not.

Kayfabe was always based on controlling information: control information and you control the marks. Once you had the internet in play, it was no longer possible to keep the inner workings of the business inside the business. And even if, for whatever, kayfabe survived until the early 2000s, once people started seeing MMA, the game would have been up for the idea that wrestling was ‘legit’.

I ended the last piece on Cornette with a quote from Thomas Kuhn; I’ll end this one with a remark from Max Planck that’s also relevant to the Cornettes’ and Rogers’ of the world: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”