In the real world, a name is a name is a name (unless it’s changed via deedpoll or through marriage…). It’s a solid, dependable constant in the real world.
But we’re not talking about the real world here.
This is wrestling. The hyper-real soap opera / sporting extravaganza, where a Name is not only a wrestler’s moniker, it’s their reputation, their selling-point, and their lasting impression all rolled into one. Just like a great opening line to a novel, a wrestler’s Name is the first insight into their overall persona.
Some of you may think: yeah, but so what? Well, some concerns of mine as an armchair wrestling expert have grown increasingly more pressing of late. The reason?
The Fed. Or the Entertainment. Whichever suits your generation.
Back in the day, before the advent of the internet and all its worldly doings, a wrestler’s name wasn’t much of an issue. Coming from Wales and only really being able to watch the Big Three of the Nineties wrestling companies, I only ever knew of Mick Foley as Mankind, and was introduced to his earlier persona of Cactus Jack much later, at the behest of the Fed. Likewise, I had no real clue Steve Austin had been Stunning before: he had always been Stone Cold to me.
Nowadays, however, with the increasing accessibility of quality indy wrestling promotions through the internet, there are hundreds of amazing wrestlers that I now know and love. And it seems the Fed know about them too. And the problem with the Fed is: if it can get you, it can change you. Wholesale.
In some instances, that isn’t a bad thing. As much as I love El Generico – his wild style, his hilarious broken English/Spanish promos, even the mask itself – NXT’s Sami Zayn is championship material. World championship material. As much as I would have loved to see it, poor El Generico probably never would have reached those giddy heights without some luck that would have made winning the lottery and scaling K2 elementary in comparison. Sami Zayn, fair play to the Fed, is a champ, and the sooner the Fed realise that they’ve created this champ, the sooner they can get back to making exciting shows that focus on WRESTLING.
Conversely, some wrestlers don’t make the transition. As one half of the Kings of Wrestling, Chris Hero should have been a sure-fire success in NXT and even WWE if they’d let him be a Hero. However, they let him be an Ohno. Kassius Ohno, in fact. And yes, it was cute that his abbreviation spelt ‘KO’, but we all groaned ‘oh no’ to Ohno. Changing a Name is a double-edged sword: some can revitalise, others can restrict. The Fed has a tremendous amount of power to them. The sad part is: it doesn’t fully know how to wield it.
Which brings me neatly to my next point: the newest trio of wrestlers to be brought to NXT. Kenta, Prince Devitt, and Kevin Steen. These three guys are monumental, and their Names are revered throughout the in-the-know wrestling community. By all rights, the Fed should have said: here they are, we brought them in as they are, watch what they can do for us.
But they haven’t.
Kenta. The Hulk Hogan of latter-day Japanese wrestling, which a moveset which leaves the viewer gawping in amazement. He was bestowed the honour of receiving one of the seven fabled Burning Hammer finishers from Kenta Kobashi, and knowing that Kobashi had to use this move on this guy is enough to garner my respect. But Kenta is a guy who has held multiple titles in Japan, been a powerhouse in Pro Wrestling Noah, and just generally blown the roof off of every venue he’s wrestled. So the change to Hideo Itami is a little jarring. Granted, Kenta himself had a say in the change, but why stop using such a revered Name and turn yourself into a relative unknown again? To build up a new reputation? So the Fed can own all rights to your name and likeness? Hmmm….
Likewise, Fergal Devitt is a known wrestler on many fans’ radars, not only for his professional accolades (of which there are many), but also for his startling persona. His use of body-paint (the Carnage Devitt being of particular note) and theatrics (dressing up as The Joker and also Bane) have given Devitt this almost devilish mythos, surrounding him like a dark cloak, swirling about him with mystery and intriguing purpose. Again, he did have input into his new name… but Finn Balor? Finn McCool was an Irish figure of awe, and Balor being Irish Gaelic for Dark One, so it really is hammering home his heritage right there. But there’s this sinking feeling I’m getting in the pit of my stomach that this Name is just too Lord of the Rings to make Devitt a Lord of the NXT Ring. I hope I’m wrong.
Which brings us to the final Musketeer. Kevin Steen. Mr. Wrestling. By the ‘Land of the Giants’ Fed standards, by all rights Steen shouldn’t even be in the WWE. But he is. And, like CM Punk before him, I believe Steen should be the exception that proves the rule. I’m guessing they will have to change his moves: although they were very proud to mention the Package Piledriver when they brought Steen in, isn’t it on the Fed’s list of banned moves? In addition, will he be able to Cannonball into people? Or Sleeper Suplex them? Hell, even the Deep Sea Diverticulitis is out for him, because there’s another guy that uses it that’s further up the wrestling food chain.
My point is: Steen should be allowed to be Steen. He is something the Fed hasn’t had on their roster since Punk quit, and that is a guy who is known for doing things on his own terms, and damn anyone who says otherwise. To repackage him is to piledrive his reputation, and that could make a lasting and indelible impact on his entire professional life.
What’s in a Name? In the real world, not too much. But in the wrestling world, it’s the difference between keeping a legacy going, revitalising a career, or hurting an existing career. I’m hoping the Fed know what they’re doing with this latest batch of talent…
Agree? Disagree? Let me know on Twitter at @MarkwellJones and let’s grapple the weird world of wrestling together!