One of the biggest problems of professional wrestling these days is the concept of booking.
Once upon a time, booking was a lot simpler, a lot less involved, and an activity focused more on matchmaking and scheduling. Booking these days has morphed into a complete creative control over the product, and along the way the ensuing losses (in talent, character, interaction with the fans, storytelling and any sense of logic) have reached the point where booking itself is no longer meaningful.
There was a time when booking was the compilation of matches across the circuit.
Sure, the modern day fan acting as an apologist, will claim that such scheduling is a thing of the past. I’ll be chided for not accepting that TV is no longer for building up arena events (let along PPV events, I retort) and that the same match held in multiple cities just isn’t realistic.
Back in the day, matchmaking focused on putting talent together to put on a good match, to build up a wrestler for bigger and better things, to fill out the card. To me, there are basic rules for matchmaking, which I will get to later, where I will also touch on realistic, my friend the modern day apologist.
(If you are still watching and/or caring).
The best comparison for booking is the comparison between Mixed Martial Arts and any given professional wrestling promotion, setting aside the reality that MMA matches are not scheduled across a circuit. But then again, my modern day apologist types should understand that most pro wrestling doesn’t focus on scheduling the same match across the circuit anymore.
Which explains why it doesn’t draw, but that’s a digression.
To me, the basics of booking should be meaningful, and here are some of my rules.
Matches should be based on putting someone over, not so much wins and losses (I hear the laughter piped in as I write). To spell that out for the modern day fan, wrestling matches shouldn’t just have an ending, and shouldn’t just be for portraying a modern day acceptable performance, but should focus on showing someone winning, and showing someone losing.
It’s a nuance; it’s a lost art; it’s a concept lost on Hollywood types, but show me a match where the emphasis is on back-and-forth action, getting all the spots in and eventually playing out a finish and I’ll show you a match that cannot light a candle to a jobber match from the 1970’s.
Winning should mean that someone is better.
Better could be for that night, or in long terms. Better could mean that someone got tripped up, had an injury, or got the worst of a move. Better could mean that someone had a bad night, or someone else had a great one. Better could mean the domination of one guy over the other, or the inability of one guy to do anything to the other.
Read that last paragraph and tell me the last time any of that played out in a match.
I’ll stop my rules there.
I happened to turn on the TV and saw some Ring of Honor matches: Same old, same old, in many ways; some not-so-new faces, and some not-so-unexpected approaches, but Ring of Honor remains mired in its slotting in the professional wrestling pecking order for the same reasons… booking being the glaring, main reason.
What really pains me is to point out the flaws with Moose, with Roderick Strong, with The Kingdom, with Michael Elgin, with Jay Lethal, all of whom I have great respect for. Ring of Honor, as a promotion, has been a favorite of mine, and not just because they sent me a lot of free stuff over the years.
I’ve been backstage at Ring of Honor, and I’ve seen the respect they have. I’ve sparred with Kevin Kelly, shook hands with Joe Koff and had Hunter Johnston give me the thumbs up after Bruno Sammartino got a rousing ovation, in a ring surrounded by ROH talent.
ROH is scarily like TNA in too many ways, and five minutes after watching the ROH TV show, I hear how the former Tag Team Champions never lost the belts directly. Just like EC Carter in TNA.
What’s frightening about ROH and TNA is that they remain the shadows of all that is professional wrestling. There was a day when wrestling meant different things to different regions, fans and promotions, but these days the aping of the 800 lb gorilla is the only thing anyone gets.
And everyone wonders why no one cares.
Booking was on display when I watched, the kind I griped about earlier in this piece.
The glaring example is Moose vs Donovan Dijak.
Moose, who’s entrance, chant and look are all different, all interesting, but there’s a problem when you establish the up-and-coming guy, who’s big and bad and dangerous and a little green, by placing him in the ring with a guy that’s a bit bigger and also up-and-coming and big and bad and dangerous.
So they introduce two big guys, have them do flip dives and high-flying stuff, and then … well, what was the point of these two guys on a free TV match where one wins, the other loses, but what’s the point.
What’s worse, and I hate to rip on Jay Lethal and Roderick Strong, but what’s worse is the dialogue between Lethal and Strong and the setup for the TV Title match.
Did I hear Jay Lethal says that he wrestled Roderick Strong a “thousand times”?
How much worse can it be? Imagine I’m a wrestling fan who never watched ROH, and I hear the Champion (who, by the way, is merely aping the “I’ve got two belts” gimmick of the WWE) say that he’s not wanting to wrestle another guy, because he wrestled him a “thousand times”, which is the biggest problem in the business with the static rosters, but …
But that’s not all.
While it was clever, we end up getting that match, just not for the Heavyweight title.
We get it for the TV Title, thanks to some interesting but ultimately goofy logic from Nigel McGuiness.
In the end, the Ring of Honor Champion looks like a chump, the challenger looks like old news, the promotion looks foolish, and having one man have two Championships is just unrealistic, and no matter how much of a gimmick is involved, it cheapens it all.
Think about this for all the cleverness of the Strong vs Lethal TV Title match: there was no TV Title #1 contender until Nigel declared Roderick Strong as the #1 contender. What does that mean for ROH? What does that mean for pecking order, levels of talent or the meaning of any given match in this promotion?
I like Jay Lethal a lot, but giving him two belts as a way to prove his worth (instead of tying him into being the protégé of Samoa Joe, or tying him to the glory years of Gabe Sapolsky, or portraying him as the greatest wrestler around weren’t good enough… but copying what isn’t working at the WWE level… yeah, that’s the way to go!)
As if starting to push two new guys who would tower over the Champion wasn’t the first problem.
As if having a bunch of potential challengers, but not focusing on any one of them as THE Challenger, but many (Elgin, AJ Styles, Strong, Moose, etc) hasn’t plagued the promotion for years.
Really, having a half-dozen interchangeable guys means that no one gets over, not even the Champion, and doesn’t really give anyone a reason to watch.