The Nature of the Gimmick and the Career of a Wrestler
by, 05-10-2011 at 09:20 AM (4139 Views)
It seems that anytime a new character debuts in wrestling, sometimes it seems easiest to compare them to a similar character that has come before them. When Del Rio debuted, the first words out of most people’s mouths were “JBL”, with Sin Cara it was “Rey Mysterio” and with Jack Swagger it was “Kurt Angle.” The constant comparison of wrestlers to those who have come before them has always got me wondering whether the wrestlers we are seeing are true originals, or mere re-hashes of old gimmicks, given a fresh layer of paint.
When I hear that a new developmental wrestler has been signed, I always think of the potential that they could have. I think of what sort of character they could be, what sorts of feuds they can have and what sort of move set they will adopt. I look ahead to see which brand I can see them on, how far their look and mannerisms will take them, and then when they finally debut, I like to see what WWE comes up with. Similarly, whenever a face or heel turn takes place, I am usually more interested in that character, because they will be trying on a new face, a new voice, and sometimes, a new gimmick completely. When that potential is squandered, I am always slightly disappointed, imagining in my head what they would have been like. And when that happens, I always wonder – was their gimmick right? Were they marketed right as a wrestler? Did the company get behind them? A wrestlers success can depend on a lot of things, as I discussed in last weeks article, but the one thing that will define them, is their gimmick.
Many good wrestlers have been either wasted or not used properly after being saddled with a gimmick that doesn’t fit them. A perfect example of this is Ted DiBiaise. His actions and behaviors are not those of a rich man. He does not flaunt any kind of wealth or arrogance, which his current gimmick suggests that he should be doing. He does not cheat to win, or bribe for favours (ala the Pope), or degrade the audience. Sure, he has charisma, but it is subtle, and not the in-your-face charisma that his gimmick needs. But who is to blame for his lack of success with his gimmick? Is it Teds fault for not running with his gimmick, the way that the other half of Legacy, Cody Rhodes, has ran with his? Is it the fans fault for not reacting to him, perhaps in the way that the WWE wanted them to? Or is it, as I would most likely suspect, WWE’s fault, for giving him the same gimmick that his Dad had, even though he is clearly not suited to it.
I was not in the creative meeting that took place when Ted’s new direction was decided upon. Maybe it was his idea; maybe it was Brian Gertwitz’s idea, who knows. I suspect that it was the idea of the whole group, who just plain didn’t know what to do with him. He presents no obviously marketable talents, so maybe in their haste, they relied on using an old idea that has been used a thousand times before, and hoping that it works.
Now, I feel I have to point out that I am no fool. I know that there is realistically a small pool of wrestling characters that can be portrayed on TV, due to the nature of wrestling. Characters are generally clear-cut heels or babyfaces. A positive crowd reaction is achieved through positive actions, moral fibre, comedy and wish fulfillment (i.e. sticking it to your boss or beating the bully). Crowd heat is achieved through cheating, arrogance, negative traits and lack of moral fibre. The characters need to be larger-than-life, as these characters evoke a stronger reaction in the crowd (quiet, bland characters generally tend to evoke little crowd reaction). Therefore, as a default stock character, Heels are either arrogant or condescending and faces are either happy-go-lucky or athletic. Once some time and effort has been put into establishing an actual character, the superstar can break free from the 2D personalities, and begin to get a real reaction from the crowd. But as I have said before, not everything works. Gimmicks fail all the time. Some go down like a lead balloon (Slam Master J, The Usos intelligent Samoan, Kerwin White). Some don’t seem to gel well with the individual. Some have the rotten luck of either bad timing, falling out with the creative team or just not getting the right feud to help get them over.
With all these uncertainties that surround a new gimmick, is it wiser to actually go out on a limb with something truly original, or to fall back on something that works?
Looking at the current and past rosters, and crowd responses to them, the gimmicks that generally work are always the ones that are easily relatable for the crowd. It is easy to boo an arrogant, rich heel as he will look down his nose at the crowd and say he is better than everyone. It is easy to cheer for an underdog baby face, as he always comes back from the brink of defeat to snatch a victory, despite all the obstacles placed in his way. These gimmicks are tried and tested, and they work. Crowds respond to them. Does it make it a bad thing? I personally don’t think so. The current WWE needs to be accessible for a large variety of people, most of them being of varying age, gender, interests etc, as this is who watches the product.
This means that each character needs a few traits and motivations that everyone can understand. Since the overall goal in the WWE is to win titles and matches, character motivations must somehow relate to this. This doesn’t mean that they should fill the roster with dumbed down characters that just want to win matches, but instead have to present people with obvious character traits and motivations. There are some viewers like us that will dissect each show, and each action of each character, but will the average viewer? Not everyone will notice the gimmick changes that take place, and the character tweaks that occur on a weekly basis.
As the WWE currently markets itself towards a younger market, will they care that Jack Swagger’s formerly boring World Champion heel persona, has now changed to a slightly goofier, buffoon like heel? I personally found Swagger’s heel run with the belt very entertaining, and sometimes wish that he would return to this persona from where he is now, but the trouble is, I will probably watch WWE regardless. They have my viewing figures week-in week-out. If they want to aim themselves to appealing to the potentially more fickle viewing audience of children, then this will alter the gimmicks that appear on TV, and the consistency of which they appear.
True character innovation is rare. Cast your minds back, when was the last truly original character? CM Punk’s cult like savior on last year’s Smackdown is a contender. But how long did that last before he was slightly changed to suit Raw? The creepy edge to his character has been played down recently, and he has been reduced down to a more simple character for the mainstream Raw audience. His character seems less complex that it was, which could be related to management scaling back on him whilst his contract is up in the air, or watering him down to make him easier to understand.
You could take this as a sign that he is over with the crowds, and he no longer needs to express himself in a constantly maniacal fashion, as the crowds are already aware that he is like that. WWE likes to reinforce character traits over and over again to make sure that all viewers, both new and old, can see what they are like. That’s why catchphrases exist. Not only so the crowd can feel like they are involved, but so the superstars can convey what they are like in one simple sentence.
Sin Cara has jumped straight in at the deep end, and is already proving himself popular with the crowds, but what is his gimmick? An athletic luchador who has no fear. Hardly the most original idea, but he got over with the crowd instantly. He has connected with his primary audience through a few weeks of TV exposure, so much so that people are already starting to buy his merchandise. A sign that someone cares enough about a character that they want to spend a lot of money (WWE Merchandise is incredibly expensive) buying the clothes that they wear, so they can look like him. Sin Cara hasn’t had a feud, a standout promo, or even any promo in fact, to convey his character. His character is getting a reaction though, getting people talking etc, and he is using a gimmick used many times before.
The lack of original gimmicks is therefore hardly surprising, but is still disappointing. When they decide to let someone run loose with a gimmick, or take a chance on a performer, then they really stand out from the pack, and ultimately, this is what creates a moneymaking character. There will never be another Hulk, another Rock, another Stone Cold, another Undertaker, but there will be successful gimmicks. The trouble is, again, it takes time. It takes the right combination of the right person given the right gimmick and the right time. Who knows what would have happened if, for example, the WWE had given D’Lo Brown the push from Nation of Domination, instead of the Rock? Can you smell what D’Lo is cooking? No, no one can, because ultimately, the right person got given the push to the top.
The over-reliance on stock heel and face characters can only get the WWE so far, and sooner or later, they will have to take a chance on someone new. They will have to give a new gimmick a chance, push someone else to the top and create a new moneymaking star.
The recent developments in the world title pictures indicate that they are happy to cement Cena and Orton as the top babyfaces, meaning that there probably won’t be a big push for another baby face gimmick soon. This is frustrating, as creating top tier babyfaces is where the money truly lies for WWE.