In conventional athletic competitions, opponents can be scheduled to face each other on a more-or-less random basis. Or, if the competition is building toward some finals or playoffs, rankings become important in match booking as the athletes or teams proceed through a regularly scheduled season. Wrestling, on the other hand, is completely different. So much of wrestling is based on entertaining the fans that story-telling becomes a primary factor and match scheduling is based on developing some plot or resolving a conflict.
From a federation owner’s point of view, they could personally care less who wins or loses a match as their most important motivation is pleasing the fans. To use a boxing example, millions of people around the world will tune in to watch a Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield re-match. But no one will bother to tune in to watch John Doe slug it out with Joe Average because they lack name recognition and that ever elusive factor called “heat”.
This is something that wrestlers need to spend a lot of time on. Being a good wrestler is one thing but to succeed in the BUSINESS of professional wrestling, “heat” is incredibly important.
So… what is “heat”? And how do you get some?
In simplistic terms, “heat” is focusing the audience’s attention on yourself. It’s getting them to care about what happens to your character whether in a positive way or a negative way. “Heat” can be categorized as “face heat” when referring to the adoration fans will bestow upon their popular favorite or as “heel heat” where the fans express the overwhelming hatred and repugnance they feel towards the evil villain.
However you slice it, “heat” refers to getting the audience to pay attention to you. And it is that elusive element of keeping the audience’s attention focused on you that will make or break your career as a professional wrestler. Remember what the scholars say, the average human attention span is only seven seconds long. So to maintain the audience’s focus exclusively on you, something needs to be constantly bringing them back to you, watching your matches to see what happens next.
The most fool-proof method for generating heat is to involve yourself in a compelling storyline or “angle” that takes time to proceed and keeps the audience on the edge of their seats as they watch the plot unfold. Some have said that wrestling is like a masculine version of television soap operas and there’s a certain element of truth to that statement. Soap operas are serialized dramas which play out over a length of time and keep the audience tuning in to watch day after day after day. From a promoter’s standpoint, having an audience tune in day after day after day is a guaranteed way to generate revenue and the surest method for putting your character on top of the pile.
So how do you get yourself into an angle? There are several methods:
Let’s take a look at an example of a scenario that two wrestlers may have come up with to generate an interesting angle and feud:
Freddy Flyer joins the ABC federation and records an interview in which he announces himself as a dynamic young man who wrestles with honor and seeks competition. Following his debut match against a nameless jobber, he is walking back to the locker rooms when he accidentally interrupts the interview of one Paul Power. Power is the ABC Television Champion but more importantly, he is an arrogant heel who believes that wrestlers need to be of a certain size to be effective. Power resents Flyer‘s accidental intrusion and verbally abuses him, insulting him as being too small to be able to compete. Flyer responds with a challenge. At the next card, Flyer and Power meet in a non-title match but it ends in a double countout when neither man is able to put the other one down for the count. A re-match is scheduled but in the meantime, Power attacks and beats up Flyer’s younger brother. The war of words heats up and in the re-match, Flyerwins by disqualification when Power uses an illegal weapon to knock him unconscious. Neither man is satisfied as their struggle continues until finally they meet in a title match at a pay-per-view, preferably with stipulations such as a ladder match or cage match.
That’s a pretty straight-forward angle and feud in professional wrestling terms but it meets the classic criteria of what it takes to keep the audience interested in you. Why is Freddy Flyer motivated to defeat Paul Power? Firstly to prove he can compete as a cruiserweight against a heavyweight. And then later in revenge for the attack upon his brother. Why does Paul Power want to defeat Freddy Flyer? To prove his point that heavyweights are superior to cruiserweights. And later to establish his supremacy as the Television Champion.
These are some of the things that make up a compelling story. And how did it all come about? Simple – Freddy Flyer approached Paul Power before everything took place and arranged for the initial confrontation at the interview. Between them, they worked out the attack on the little brother and then they let the angle develop from there.
To be successful in professional wrestling, you have to take care of yourself and go out and show some initiative. And using that initiative, find others you can cooperate with so that both of your careers benefit.
The day may come when wrestler’s names will appear at the end of television shows as part of the writers’ credits. And in the meantime, you’ll need to hone your storytelling skills if you want to get ahead.
By “Fireball” Ken Keening
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