RBTR – The Debate on Form

Mitchell Gadd

Hello everybody, and welcome to another edition of Reading Between the Ropes. Men like Barry Bonds, Brett Favre, Tiger Woods, and Wayne Gretzky all share the distinction of carrying around the label of ‘legend’ in their sports. What persuaded fans of their chosen pastime to call them such was talent, determination, a will to succeed, and that x-factor, which sets them apart from others. However, they all share something else in common. At one point, all of them have lost form.

Now, form can mean different things to different athletes. A loss of form to a man like Wayne Gretzky may be a hot streak to another hockey player. What defines a loss of form in most fans’ eyes is when a sportsman fails to live up to the expectations he, himself (or herself) has met. In these men’s cases, those expectations are high.

So, what of the wrestling world? As wrestling enthusiasts, we are prone to engage in all sorts of debate about the sport we love; whether it be dream matches, predictions, who’s better that whom, current storylines, etc. But form? That’s a more complex argument, and perhaps therein lies why it’s an area this writer considers relatively untapped by both fans and wrestling journalists alike.

Wrestling is a more difficult beast when it comes to assessing form. Perhaps it is down to the fact that wrestlers are restricted by how a match is booked, or what environment they’re thrown in to (gimmick matches, perhaps). Or, looking back to my previous column, perhaps some athletes are restricted by their dance partners; i.e. their opponent. Alternatively, these features can also aid a wrestler. A poor wrestler may get the rub from working with a much better athlete, or a gimmick match could help gloss over the faults that superstar possesses in his arsenal. Perhaps the layout of a match, with several ref bumps or planned spots may also hide a wrestler’s weaknesses. It can work both ways.

All of these factors make it extremely difficult to assess a wrestler’s form. One may argue that working with more difficult opponents/partners may be the wrestling equivalent to Gretzky having to come up with the goods against the best defence, or Bonds having to hit one out of the ground against the meanest and most miserly pitcher. But there’s something that can be said about how a wrestler’s form is slightly taboo amongst wrestling fans and writers. It seems that there are just too many variables in the equation.

Make no mistake about it, though… wrestlers do lose form. In sports like baseball and basketball – sports where stats play such a major factor in attributing form to athletes – it becomes far easier to spot form, and the subsequent loss of it. However, in wrestling there is a danger that talking about a wrestler’s loss of form can be discarded as purely subjective nonsense. While I agree that it is still a subjective issue, we must be careful to not totally neglect the debate on form for the very simple reason that form does exist in the wrestling industry.

Examples, you may ask? Well, in true subjective merriment there are examples in my eyes. Triple H’s return from his 2001 quadriceps injury saw many fans disappointed by some of his in-ring performances. Considering that HHH was an MVP of some sorts for the WWE in 2000, his return performances were very sketchy in comparison. Some may argue that he has never been the same since.

Edge returned to action in 2004 from a lengthy neck injury, and struggled in the eyes of many to re-ignite his career. Kevin Nash was a major player in the wrestling industry in the mid 90s, but, for whatever reason, his in-ring work has been lambasted by critics in more recent times. Nash’s great friend Scott Hall was one of the safest hands in wrestling at one point, but personal problems affected Hall’s performances as his career went on. I was a firm believer that Booker T lost form a couple of years ago. He seemed to go through the motions. The very fact that I now believe his level of performance has increased again leads me to believe that this wasn’t simply old age catching up with Booker T.

Now come on Mitchell. There are perfect explanations here. Injuries are one of the common themes in those examples. Perhaps it isn’t form that wrestler’s lose, but, more bluntly, ability. Do they simply just lose the ability, whether it be from injuries or personal demons? Conditioning may also be affected. Too much time out of the ring may have affected the performances of HHH, or Edge. It takes a while to work off ring rust. Booker T may have had an undisclosed injury during that time. Not to mention the fact that there are plenty who believe Booker did just fine a couple of years back. There is a variable for everything.

So if my examples can so easily be cut down, then does this mean form isn’t a factor in wrestling? It’s up to each individual, I guess. I am a firm believer that there are cases when a wrestler loses touch. This could be attributed to age, injuries, ring rust, their opponent. But consider for a second the argument that sometimes – just sometimes – everything doesn’t click for an athlete. The rhythm is lost, and things don’t come as naturally for them.

The debate on whether wrestler’s lose form, and the debate on whether there is even room for such contemplation in a business like wrestling seems to be rarely explored. Perhaps with good reason. There are too many variables in the equation. To back up your arguments you need examples, but when giving examples you find yourself being completely subjective in thinking, because for every person agreeing with you that wrestler x has lost form, there’s another guy thinking he’s doing just fine.

In a sport void of the kind of stats and figures that help fans gauge form, wrestling becomes a very difficult beast to judge. Performances in soccer and hockey can easily be judged by goals scored, or goals conceded, but performances in wrestling are usually attributed to match quality. We use our own interpretations to judge matters like this, making it less black and white than any other sport. In this sense, form in the wrestling business becomes encroached upon by taste, opinion and interpretation.

I guess, in a way, it’s a lot like reading a column.

Until next time,

Mitchell L. Gadd

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