RBTR – Another One In The Win Column?

Mitchell Gadd

“If you’re overly concerned about who wins and who loses, you’re in the wrong business.”

– Vince Russo

Hello everybody, and welcome to another edition of Reading Between The Ropes. Just how true is the above statement? Is it really fair to say that the result of a match is so important in the wrestling business? Or are wins and losses just as important in wrestling as they are in, say, baseball, hockey, or football?

In order to answer this question, it’s relevant to go back to a less contemporary period. Men like Bob Backlund conjured a legacy on a long title reign which, obviously, included win after win after win. A five year title reign that is legendary and is probably what Backlund is most famous for, despite somewhat of a renaissance in the early-to-mid 90s.

Hulk Hogan became the immortal one because he was made to look immortal in the ring. How was that achieved? Well, I suppose movies and other cross-promotional appearances helped, but the main reason has to be that he was put over with victory after victory after victory as an unstoppable face in the 80s and 90s.

Take the Ultimate Warrior as another example. Warrior’s legacy was built around annihilating opponent after opponent in a matter of seconds. It’s a way of a wrestling company protecting their investment and making him seen unstoppable to the fans. As R.D. Reynolds recalls in his book “Wrestlecrap: The Very Worst Of Pro Wrestling”: “That’s one of the oldest tricks in wrestling, and it generally works. The theory is that if fans see a machine that tears opponents limb from limb, an instrument of destruction that never loses, they will get behind him… Some of the biggest names in wrestling have been created this way. The Road Warriors, Goldberg, and, to some extent, even Hulk Hogan, were pushed in exactly the same way, which paid dividends to the promotion doing the booking. ‘Always win, never lose’ generally works.”

Goldberg is definitely the defining example of this type of booking. If Goldberg had lost at around 20-0 then his famous streak and his entire phenomenon would not have been the same. Would he have gained success without the streak? Well, that’s difficult to say. However, Goldberg became a star because WCW built him up as an unbeatable man who could really tilt the balance of power away from the nWo and back to WCW. It was victory after victory that did this. You only have to look at the numerous theories of WCW’s downfall being applied to Goldberg’s first loss as being a testament to the debate that win/losses are important in wrestling, and that it does matter who you give the ‘W’ to from a booking stand-point.

Moving this debate to an even more modern day setting, you only have to look at guys like Chris Masters to prove that victories are vital to an athlete. Sure, in Masters’s case it’s more of the Masterlock streak than a match-winning streak, but it’s still the same principle. The only way to build people up as credible athletes seems to be through victories.

Cade and Murdoch were recently given the Tag Team Titles in only their second match as a team in the WWE. If they had lost at Unforgiven then the fans may have found it difficult to accept them as a credible new team. Even if that weren’t to be the case then the very fact that the WWE made such a booking decision shows that they felt the need to give them gold early. The tag team division, however, is in such a state that perhaps there is an even better modern day example.

The Edge-Matt Hardy feud is so intense and personal that it becomes difficult to see past victories as the be-all-and-end-all of the rivalry. The most important thing to either Edge or Matt Hardy as a character and as a professional is the victory this coming Monday. I’d say more so Hardy, as well. If Hardy loses this match, after all the momentum and fan support he has right now, it could really kill his return flat. It would make his decision to return seem questionable and would, ultimately, give Edge all the spoils in this rivalry. I challenge anyone to claim that it doesn’t matter whether Hardy wins or loses this coming Monday. I think the result is pivotal to his future. If he doesn’t get that win, like I believe he won’t, then he could lose all the momentum and all the fan support that he has been building up this entire summer.

But what about the other side of the debate. What about the quote from Vince Russo in the opening line of this column? Well, there is a case to say that wins and losses don’t mean so much in the world of wrestling. When John Cena first came in to the WWE he burst on the scene after an amazing contest with Kurt Angle. Angle went on to win that match, but, it did help launch Cena in to a star and make him a household name.

Matt Striker was recently signed by the WWE after a few successful dark matches and a couple of notable TV appearances in the “Kurt Angle Invitational”. Much like Cena, Striker lost the match, and the return match as well. However, the defeat wasn’t important, because Striker landed himself a deal and the recognition of the fans who saw his performance. One cannot, however, ignore the fact that Kurt Angle is the common denominator in both cases.

While the participants themselves, given their history and reputation, might tell you otherwise, the recent encounter between Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels is another example of the outcome being irrelevant. Sure, fans wanted to know who would go over and, sure, both men had pride and their legacies at stake. However, in reality, a loss for either man would not have hurt their legacy. Had Hogan lost, he would still be a Hall of Famer, one of the all time greats of the game, and he’d still be known as the ‘Immortal One’. Shawn Michaels, who did lose the match, is still known as an Icon – ‘The Icon’ – and he’s still considered one of the best wrestlers to ever lace his boots. Did the loss to Hogan jeopardise any of those boasts? I don’t think so.

Indeed, did losses to Randy Orton (Unforgiven 2003), Ric Flair (Bad Blood 2003), HHH (Armageddon 2002, Bad Blood 2004, Taboo Tuesday 2004) and Kurt Angle (Wrestlemania 21) hurt Michaels legacy? Not in the slightest. And Hogan? Defeats to Kurt Angle (King of the Ring 2002), Brock Lesnar (Smackdown) and The Rock (Wrestlemania 2002, No Way Out 2003) haven’t erased his moniker.

How many times has the Undertaker lost a casket match? Plenty of times. How many times have we seen him beaten on PPV? A number of times. Over recent years we’ve seen ‘Taker lose to guys like Randy Orton, JBL, Vince Mcmahon and Brock Lesnar. However, he’s still considered ‘The Phenom’, the casket match is still considered his speciality, and he still has a reputation of being hard to beat (or, perhaps, hard to be put over, in insider terms).

So, perhaps fans want to see a great match before a great result? I know in the past that I cared greatly whether my favourite wrestler won or lost, and I rarely looked at the product with a critical eye. Everything was great as a child, and it was all about seeing your favourite star win. However, nowadays there are very few matches where I care greatly about the result. I’d say the 2004 Royal Rumble was one, and then Benoit’s chance to go for the gold at Wrestlemania was another. Perhaps the Ladder Match on Raw will be the first contest in a while where I will be jumping up and down like a little kid over who wins before worrying about seeing a great spectacle. That’s a rarity, though. Ask me my priorities today and I’d usually say: “I don’t care who wins, as long as I see a good match.” There’s only the odd one or two matches where result over entertainment matters more to me.

But does that mean that wins and losses are non-factors in this business? I don’t think so. Guys like Hogan, Michaels and the Undertaker can get away with losses today with their legacy still in tact because they have already established a good enough win/loss record for defeats to become redundant to them. However, guys like Masters, Carlito and Benjamin need victories. The WWE are trying to push Rob Conway right now – just how are they trying to do that? Through wins. Win, after win, after win, after win.

While there are some examples of matches and incidences where a defeat or victory has mattered very little to an athlete, wrestlers ultimately live and die on wins and losses. In order for fans to buy in to an athlete as a marketable and believable MEGA star, they need to see him beat the competition. Stone Cold Steve Austin would not have had the opportunity to coin the phrase “Austin 3:16” had he not been booked to win the King of the Ring tournament. While wins and losses in wrestling are perhaps not quite as vital as in sports such as baseball and football, I believe they still mean a great deal, and they are still a MAJOR basis of what paths wrestlers take in their career, and just how much of a legacy they leave on the business. I mean, you can’t win a title without a victory, right?

Ultimately, fans get behind winners. As R.D. Reynolds rightly said, wins allow fans to get behind them. “‘Always win, never lose’ generally works.” After all, I never saw Barry Harowitz shift any merchandise.

Until next time,

Mitchell L. Gadd

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