I never really appreciated the way Ric Flair falls over until watching TNA’s live iMPACT last night. He kicks back a leg to fall flat on his face at such startling speed it looks like one of those single frame collapses that Family Guy uses so much. This is the craft of professional wrestling – taking as much time and technique in being beaten up as one would on their offence. A very odd, bloody ballet. With chairs and tables and barbed wire bats and garbage cans and cheese graters and forks…
This was meant to be the program that will reinvigorate the ‘Monday Night Wars’ – Monday night being the fabled ‘wrestling night’, the wars referring to two or more promotions going head to head (WWE/TNA, in place of the last round, WWE/WCW). Yet, strangely enough, it took Flair’s stumble for me to realise how much the wrestling industry needs this crucial dialectic.
WWE has become so repugnantly stagnant over the last few years. To their credit, they’re build to ’Mania has been exceptional, but through isolating their more avid fan base (anyone who still likes wrestling past being 15), they have created a gap in the market, and without any serious competition, WWE has stalled creatively. UFC poses a threat, but it will never have the same lie that everyone can buy into and bonds fans together – that professional wrestling is reality – to then overly obsess about (presumably to compensate for the emptiness of the lie).
Besides the comedy falling (WWE lost its sense of humour a while back – you can laugh at a midget only so many times), the contrast between WWE and TNA, and a contrast that TNA are basing a lot of their product around, is seen perfectly in their respective blood policies.
WWE have a no blood policy. This is to stay a PG product, and because Linda McMahon (Vince ‘CEO’ McMahon’s wife) is running for the senate. If someone accidentally gets “busted open” and wears their “crimson mask”, the match is stopped for a fella with some glue to seal it shut. This works well in that when someone does bleed, it is truly a holy-shit moment, but overall results in a bland, watered-down product.
TNA, however, have an ALL BLEED policy. A while back, the Motor City Machine Guns refused to cut themselves open during a match. The creative team said it was necessary to the story, the MCMGs said it wasn’t. As punishment, the MCMGs were given the worst entrance music in wrestling history. It sounded like an annoying Sonic the Hedgehog song, not from the classic games (as there was no such tune), but from the more recent outings, where the vocalists can’t separate inhaling, exhaling and singing from each other. So they were punished. For not cutting themselves open. Granted, they work in an industry based around bodily harm, but it still reeks a little of sadism – says the man who watches it for enjoyment.
Where this does work, however, is when you get someone who can really bleed. Where a single cut won’t finish gushing for an entire match, that will cover their face in blood and turn their hair red. Now I sound sadistic, but the visual is so effective, so real, that it suspends one’s disbelief just that little further. Flair is a notorious bleeder. His white hair conducts the stuff, making it matted and dry. The blade job he performed on March 8th, combined with a smaller one from Hogan (although Flair literally bled enough for them both, Hogan’s chest being covered in it from putting Flair in a headlock) completely distracted me from the clunkiness of their wrestling. Yes, Hogan only properly did one move (a punch), and maybe Flair didn’t always land so well. But seeing Hogan hulk up against the begging, bleeding Flair, in all its nostalgia, in all its glory blood, made me forget that the lie even existed. My mind didn’t only deny the fact it was fake, it denied the process of denying. Like a super-injunction.
Although WWE’s may be the safer in terms of the two policies, by no means think it’s for the wrestlers’ own welfare. It’s purely marketing. And as a fan, as sick as it is, blood looks awesome every now and again – when it’s needed, and it has to suit a story line. And when used properly, in a heated feud, nothing goes over better.