Emotionally investing….that’s what works best for professional wrestling. If you want large crowds, big ratings, or DVD/ippv/digital download sales, then you absolutely have to make your audience emotionally invest in your wrestlers. I appreciate, respect, and admire many wrestlers, but the difference between most indy shows or even Ring of Honor (most of the time) and shows like WWE’s NXT and Lucha Underground, is that the latter drive the viewers emotions more. There are so many great wrestlers, so many awesome performers, but when done best, wrestling goes beyond admiring someone’s talent, to having a passion and desire to see their story unfold.
There’s no better example of what I am talking about than the women’s division in WWE’s NXT. These ladies passion comes through each and every week. Their desire to steal shows, and prove that they are just as good as any of the men shines through. NXT producers realize this, and focus on it appropriately. They take the women on their roster and make them about more than their skills, without over shadowing those skills with corny gimmicks or angles. They build characters (or gimmicks if you prefer) around each woman’s talents and attributes. Charlotte is the daughter of the greatest wrestler of all time out to not only match Ric Flair’s abilities, but surpass them. Becky Lynch is the self-made woman that’s risen to be a star and she is proud of it. Paige is the no nonsense woman out to kick ass because she can. Becky Lynch is the girl from another land that’s made it to NXT to prove she belongs. Asuka has come in from Japan to show the WWE what Japanese women’s wrestling is all about, and Bayley was built so incredibly well, from the shy, fun loving, goofy rookie into the more serious, determined, and talented babyface that I’ve seen in all of wrestling in some time. Her rise through NXT was incredibly well done, and perfectly paced. They forced you to get on the Bayley bandwagon by pure story telling.
Lucha Underground tells better stories than anyone in professional wrestling has in 20 years. They’ve taken one of the greatest wrestlers in the world in Trevor Mann (Ricochet) and put a mask on him and convinced the world he’s a kid from Boyle Heights that rose from the bottom to the top. They’ve taken a man that doesn’t speak any English and made him one of the toughest, and scariest heels in all of wrestling in Pentagon Jr. No company has parody like Lucha Underground either, you really don’t know who is going to win any match, ever. They’ve taken Fenix and applied his gimmick name to his angle and have fans lapping up the idea that nothing can keep him down. Hell, they might even be doing the “Undead” gimmick better than WWE did it with The Undertaker and Kane! One thing I know they do better than anyone else is the evil authority figure. Sure, it’s no Austin vs McMahon, but it’s a more mature version of an evil owner out to make money off the backs of all the hard workers he brings into his “temple.” They also constantly create new ideas or “spin” on old ideas that no one else in all of wrestling ever even attempts.
While I’ll keep going to my favorite companies, and shows, to see the awesome performers and match ups, I sure wish more of them would try to build up some emotional attachments to their gimmicks, angles, storytelling, and wrestlers. I sure wish that more companies would realize that leading fans along on a journey is just as important as putting on great matches. If you help fans emotionally invest in what you’re doing you will have more attentive and devoted fans that will bring others with them based on their excitement alone. Don’t just give me a bunch of great wrestlers, give me the reason that they are facing off, tell me why they want to be wrestling for your company, other than the pay day. Step up and do something bigger than just finding good match ups. One example on the indy scene today is the story of David Starr and JT Dunn. The former “Juicy Product” have been telling the story of their demise all over the Country and it’s coming to a head this weekend in CZW. Guess what match has been getting all the hype for that card? The match that fans have emotionally invested in. That is what I’m talking about!