To put it bluntly, there’s just nothing quite like the world of professional wrestling, yet it’s most common criticism will always be “it’s staged.”
But is that really a bad thing?
Wrestling storylines and gimmicks can be just as creative and well written as any other medium. After all, a good story is still a good story even if it’s in the ring.
You get drama, action, and romance. Friends become enemies and enemies become friends. Ambition leads to obsession. Will the hero overcome all odds and reign again as champion? Or will he be the latest victim to a gang of cutthroat villains?
The soap opera theatrics of pro wrestling are just one of the things that many find appealing about the show.
Smash Wrestling is returning to the London Music Hall on April 29 for another round of bodyslams and backbreakers. And with it, of course, are the twists and turns that only wrestling can provide.
At the helm of the promotions creative force is Sebastian Suave, founder and wrestler for the company. He began Smash near the end of 2012, although his character – an egocentric villain who constantly promotes his sponsors – has taken an decade-long journey to get to the top.
Starting off his career with a blue blooded aristocrat gimmick, Suave eventually spent time in the international scene where he began to focus more on in-ring performance. After a brief hiatus from wrestling, he returned to Smash as “The Endorsement” Sebastian Suave, a character he current thrives with.
“I really wanted to come back with a fresh start,” Suave explained. “Being in better shape, being mentally more focused, and offer something more compelling.”
It goes without saying that as a heel (villain in wrestling slang); Suave likes to cheat to win. Either by assistance by his manager, Anthony Kingdom James, or perhaps by distracting his opponents by having sponsor commercials interrupt the match – a fresh twist compared to the usual low blow or holding tights to prevent a kickout.
“This has been a fun character,” he added after describing his villainous traits. “It’s allowed me to still be very competitive while showing an evolved and different side of myself.”
His own character isn’t the only one that Suave has invested effort into helping evolve. Among the Smash roster is Kevin Bennett, who not only can perform in the ring, but as it would turn out is also a hip hop artist and producer.
Combining the two talents has helped launched Bennett into becoming “the remix of professional wrestling,” and one of the most despised heels in the promotion. It’s a successful gimmick that Suave can speak proudly of.
“We like working with people that like because we’re not telling them they’re bad,” Suave stated. “We’re saying you’re good. You have potential. You’re already doing great. Let’s roll with that, let’s do something more with that.”
Wrestling gimmicks have a strange and unique place in the world of entertainment.
Pretty much anything under the sun can – and probably has – been used as a character. From being completely over the top (minotaurs, vampires), to more risqué (porn stars, satanic cult leaders), to more realistic (a certain no nonsense, beer swilling, Texas anti-hero), there’s nothing that the creative minds of professional wrestling aren’t willing to take a shot at.
The appeal of pro wrestling, as Suave said, is that it’s “like a circus”.
“There’s a bit of something for everyone,” he mentioned. “There are some people who love the animated characters; there are other people who want to see real hard hitting contests and an athlete who’s no nonsense.”
But an evolution of a wrestler’s character is only one part of a good story.
As storylines progress, new and refreshing ideas have to be added to keep things exciting to fans. If gimmicks weren’t bizarre enough, sometime the match types themselves can become a key feature. With a wide range of audience in mind, Smash has shied away from some of the more dangerous and gruesome matches of the industry such as barb wire ropes or thumbtacks.
While they’ve had successful ladder matches and cage matches in the past, Suave prefers to use gimmick matches wisely, sometimes at the climax to a long, grueling feud.
It’s got to be in the right place at the right time.
“I think there’s a big flaw in a lot of the smaller promotions out there in different markets,” Suave explained. “That pretty much throw in a tables match or a weapons every other show, or they dilute and saturate their shows with too many titles and too many feud matches. You don’t build up to give it that importance.”
The card for April 29 as it stands now may not include any cages or ladders, but it does bring some of Smash’s top competitors.
For the first time in London, all four members of the heel group Malice will be in competition.
Among them is the current Smash champion, The Beast King FTM, who dethroned local fan favourite (and longest reigning champ) Tyson Dux to win the gold. By his side are the Super Smash Brothers – Evil Uno and Stu Grayson – a twisted duo who will finally face off against Dux and fellow Londoner Cody Deaner in a tag match after months of anticipation.
Rounding off the faction is Vanessa Kraven, who will take part in a triple threat match against American star Shotzi Blackheart and Jody Threat.
Suave himself will face off against Daniel Garcia, a top prospect for the promotion who made his Smash debut at the last Smash show in London.
And fans who maybe want some rhythm and rhyme with their wrestling will find Kevin Bennett competing against five other wrestlers with the winner getting the opportunity to fight in the main event for the championship.
“We’ve always taken pride in London being treated as an A-town, not a B-town” Suave claimed.
Early arrivals to the show will have an extra treat in store for them. Making their wrestling debuts are four students of the Tyson Dux Wrestling Factory. London fans will get a unique chance to watch homegrown talent at the start of their own journeys into the world of professional wrestling.
“One thing that we’re excited about is that we are affiliated with Tyson Dux’s school out of London,” Suave said. “We’re looking to hopefully open our own in Toronto, and one thing we like to invest in is the future.”
The future in wrestling storylines is not always the easiest to plan for. Injuries, other obligations, and other things in life and sometimes prevent wrestlers from taking part in a show.
“The reality with stories is that you’ve got to take it show by show,” Suave added. “Things can always change even when everything’s flowing properly.”
There’s also fan reaction to take into consideration.
Surely to a lot of wrestling fans, the name of “Katie Vick” will bring back memories. To those who haven’t heard the name, it was a WWE storyline that went disastrously wrong (necrophilia is a hard one to sell) and was quickly scrapped from the program.
Despite only lasting a few weeks, it’s considered one of the most infamously terrible wrestling storylines ever conceived.
When something just isn’t clicking with the audience, the creative team has to react quickly. They can either try to alter it, or drop it.
“Did your story on this particular show get the reaction you wanted? Did you or your team come up with a better idea or alternate route to take on that story?” Suave explained. “Did something change on the following card that causes a ripple effect that requires you to make other adjustments?”
Wrestling promos work the same way.
If a wrestler isn’t getting the crowd reaction he wants, he has to act quickly. The promos themselves aren’t always written word-for-word by a talented group of writers, they often take good improve skills on behalf of the wrestler.
Microphone work can easily be a make or break scenario for a wrestler, even if they are tremendously talented in the ring. Everyone knows about the era-defining “Austin 3:16” speech, but what if Stone Cold fumbled his words or said something boring?
So yeah, wrestling is staged.
And maybe some of those gimmicks are just a little too ridiculous. But there’s a reason why Hulk Hogan body-slamming Andre the Giant can still can give fans goosebumps even after thirty years.
It’s because a compelling story was being told inside and outside of the ring. And a good story will always be a good story.