Blogging about professional wrestling
You may have seen a clip floating around the internet from Al Snow’s Kayfabe Commentaries interview. He explains that in his opinion the best wrestlers, or wrestling matches, are those that sell the most tickets. After all wrestling is a work, so whatever draws the most viewers is simply the best. Snow passionately argues that the best match at Wrestlemania III was not Randy Savage vs Ricky Steamboat, as many hardcore fans would suggest, but the lumbering Hulk Hogan vs Andre The Giant main event. Why? Because that’s what those 93,000 fans primarily paid to see.
I think Al Snow is wrong and here’s why.
“The best” of anything is personal from one consumer to the next. It’s subjective – defined by individual tastes, opinions, and our frame of reference. And this greatly changes over our lifetime. For example, the song you most liked when you were twelve probably won’t be your favorite song when you’re forty years old. I don’t think Snow disputes this, as he says in the video everybody is entitled to their opinion.
But what about his argument that the best wrestling is defined by the money made, PPVs sold, “butts in seats”?
The main problem I see with this is that it completely negates the individual pieces that make up the pie. How would Andre vs Hogan have fared in your local high school gym, without the production crew, the hype packages and everything else that went in to it, beyond the match itself?
Often something becomes the best in Al Snow’s context, not because of raw unmitigated talent (and that’s still subjective), but because of marketing. Ke$ha’s 2009 single TiK ToK, has sold more copies than any single by The Beatles. In overall sales Taylor Swift outranks Bob Dylan. (Let’s not even get started on Justin Bieber).
Does Ke$ha or Taylor Swift have more raw unmitigated talent than The Beatles or Bob Dylan? Again that’s subjective, but what these ladies do have that their forefathers didn’t is a modern marketing juggernaut, which includes platforms like Youtube and iTunes. Therefore what we’re looking at is arguably the best marketing, not the best music!
You don’t need to study Bernays to know people buy shit because they’re dumb and are manipulated to do so, in fact isn’t that a cynic’s definition of wrestling fans – Dumb marks?
Take a survey of movie critics and those within the film industry and ask them what the best movie of all time is. Do you really think they’re going to say Avatar or Titanic?
Snow’s theory also ignores the fact that a match can be hyped to the gills and sell a boat load of tickets, but on the night it could completely stink up the joint.
Vince McMahon is by far the best wrestling promoter. And Hulk Hogan vs Andre The Giant is certainly up there as one of the most successfully promoted wrestling matches. But that doesn’t necessarily make it one of the best matches ever.
Savage and Steamboat was a way better technical match than Hogan/Andre, it looked more realistic, and it had better pacing and athleticism. What it didn’t have was the World title and a main event build. If it did, could it have drawn better than Hogan and Andre? that’s debatable, but if we go back and watch these matches, which one stands the test of time? Which one displayed raw unmitigated talent, and which one was part of the much broader marketing machine, tailored to the widest possible audience?
Since Snow’s interview The Rock lost the WWE title to John Cena at Wrestlemania 29. This was the highest grossing Wrestlemania in history. By Snow’s logic Cena vs Rock 2 is now the best match in wrestling history. Is that really the case, or has WWE just perfected their business model and ticket pricing?
There are so many variables that go in to promoting wrestling, and many of these overshadow the individual in-ring performance or even the storyline that builds up to the match. For example Ric Flair is generally considered one of the best workers in wrestling history, but he was never backed by Vince McMahon’s machine in the 80s and was therefore never given the opportunity to “draw” on the largest stage possible. Does that mean his matches weren’t some of the best?
In the mid 90s the WWF were drawing more fans live than ECW with Mantaur on the card. However ECW were telling far more interesting stories and were able to get their fans so emotionally invested that grown men thought some angles were real, when they were wrapped up in the moment. The WWF very much stole some of these elements and rolled them in to the Attitude Era. Does ECW not count because it simply didn’t have the rich history of the WWF, and therefore the immediate exposure?
Likewise the in-ring story told by Bryan Danielson and Nigel McGuinness in their ROH series was technically, athletically and emotionally much better than anything WWE was presenting at the time with their IC Champion Johnny Nitro for example. WWE’s subsequent signing of Daniel Bryan show they appreciate his talent and he’s now in a position where he’s the top good guy in the company. Are his matches only considered good now because he’s in a WWE ring?
I think Snow is being deliberately absolute in the clip to make a point about Dave Meltzer’s 5 star rating system and how it tends to favor technically and athletically sound matches over successful showman matches like Hogan/Andre. Their match was a great match! They knew exactly how to work the crowd, play off their emotion and tell the story of Hogan slamming Andre. That takes lots of talent too!
A large portion of the internet wrestling community tend to overlook this kind of “working” because they aren’t personally a fan of it.
While I have no idea what the best wrestling match ever is, I would argue that favoring showman matches over technical skill and athleticism is just as nonsensical as the smarks talking about fake “workrate”. A truly great match should probably be a combination of technical wrestling skill, athleticism, the ability to play off the crowd, the storyline that built up to the match, and an endless list of other factors. In that respect Hogan/Andre would have been even better if Hulk had the athletic skill of Macho Man and Andre was in his prime. Some would argue they had better matches prior to Wrestlemania III.
Perhaps this blog was a waste of time and a game of semantics, but what do you think? Is Al Snow correct, can you define best by money? or is it something more intangible?