And Another Thing: Stone Cold Inc.
Posted by Hyatte on 01.16.2001
The Curse of the Superstar
The Curse of the Superstar
"It's the same five moves!"
When Michaels uttered those words a little under three years ago, he probably had no idea just how neatly he encapsulated something that has bothered wrestling fans for almost as long as the existence of the sport itself.
In those five small words, he completely pinpointed and nailed that one, nagging flaw about Bret Hart that many fans probably didn't recognize. Like that actor whose name you just cannot remember, even though you can feel it wandering somewhere in your brain just waiting for a synapse to grab hold of it and fire it off to your language center, there was always something about Bret Hart, especially in his WWF prime, that bothered you.
Whether you liked him or hated him, there can be no denying that Bret worked hard to justify his main event slot and strove to give the best possible performance he could for night after night. You had to respect the champion who grew up in the WWF and in front of our eyes. Where the Era before him placed a stronger emphasis on flash and style, Bret purposely worked to be a Wrestler who was Champion instead of a Wrestling Champion. He gave it his all, and it made him a Superstar. By all rights, the fans should have been thrilled to death, and for the most part, we were.
There was just that one, nagging, little problem. Ironically, it took the one wrestler Bret probably disliked the most to point it out and clarify it for all of us. For all his work and effort, Bret had slipped into a comfortable routine... the same five moves.
Yet, doesn't that apply to every wrestler? Doesn't Hulk Hogan stick to his small cache of moves? Doesn't Kevin Nash? Steve Austin? The Rock? Goldberg? Flair? The answer is an obvious yes.
What if we expand on this notion, and instead of focusing on just the wrestler's spot supply, we look at the entire character of the professional wrestler. The ring attire, the way he makes an entrance, his attitude on mic, his very actions. We see that it's not just a wrestler's ring work that rarely changes, but his entire gimmick stays completely the same too. Oh sure, Faces turn into Heels all the time, but does the essence of the character ever really change?
Of all the complaints about the sport that fans have, the one that everyone agrees on is that things have a tendency to grow stagnant. We get bored with the same character doing the same moves on the same opponent for years on end. Anyone who watched the sport in the 80's would rather snort a line of fire ants than sit through another Tito Santana vs Greg Valentine on a local Indy card. Do we really need to see Steve Austin give Vince McMahon another Stone Cold Stunner? Haven't we seen more than enough "Hulk Ups", Flying Elbowsmashes, Scorpion Deathlocks, big boots to the Face, and 120 second matches that end with a spear/jackhammer combination? Have you ever wondered why these people don't even try to come up with a new move? Why are wrestlers usually the last ones to learn that their gimmick has lost any relevancy and appeal, and why are they so hesitant to do anything about it? We all have heard of the philosophy, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". So how come they don't do anything when it does break?
Well, the answer is simple, if put into proper perspective.
In 1984, for the first time in it's long history, Coca-Cola was on the verge of being the number two soft drink in the world. Through use of celebrity endorsements and the "Pepsi Challenge" promotion, Pepsi was fast closing in on the venerable soft drink king. To make matters worse, the company's own "Diet Coke" product was luring health conscious consumers away from Coke itself. Coca-Cola Chairman, Roberto Goizueta knew he needed to shake things up, but what he finally did would be considered one of the biggest blunders in corporate history.
On April 23, 1985, New Coke was unleashed. With a completely different taste then the old brand, New Coke was sweeter, smoother, and much tastier than Pepsi. Goizueta marshaled his entire promotional force on the public and had no doubt that New Coke would re-assert itself as the dominant soft drink in the world. Production was stopped on the old Coke, and it soon completely vanished off the shelves.
A couple of months later, thanks to a national public outcry not heard since after the attack on Pearl Harbor, production began on "Classic Coke". The old was back, along with the new. Within just a few years, the new was phased out of the store and the "Classic" was taken off the label. New Coke became a thing of the past, mercifully forgotten save for snickers in the Pepsi boardrooms and for various "Remember the 80's" time capsules.
Goizueta got off lucky. The massive wave of consumer outrage was so fast and so furious that he immediately went to work re-stocking refrigerators around the globe with as much of the old stuff as they could make. Coca-Cola wasted no time in recognizing it's mistake and rectifying it. As a result, they lost little money from this fiasco. None of the higher ups lost their jobs... there were no real scapegoats. In fact, this blunder served to remind people just how patriotic it was to have a good old fashioned Coke in their hands on a hot, summer day or during a ballgame. Coke quickly broke away from Pepsi and reclaimed it's title as undisputed soft drink in the world. A title it hasn't lost ever since.
How does this apply to wrestlers? Ask Gay Mullins. He's a retired real estate investor from Seattle who founded the "Old Cola Drinkers of America" when New Coke arrived. He set up a hotline number, issued newsletters, staged public protests, and helped rally the public against Coca-Cola for doing the unspeakable and messing with a piece of Americana. Gay knew the lesson that Coca-Cola had apparently forgotten, and he spent his entire life savings and much of his pension to remind them of it.
There are only, maybe fifteen major brands of soft drinks in America. There are a few hundred wrestlers who make a living off the sport, and only maybe a third of those wrestlers ever get on TV. This is a cutthroat business where one truly needs eyes on the back of his head to see the knife coming. Out of these few hundred active wrestlers, there are only a handful of them who are "Superstars". Out of these select few, there are only precious few who become so ingrained upon the public consciousness, that they transcend the sport and become mainstream celebrities. Hogan, Flair, Piper, Savage, Goldberg, Funk, Lawler, The Undertaker, Hart, The Rock, Sting, Nash, Foley, and Austin have all become household names, even in the households that do not watch wrestling. They are the ultra-elite in the business. The ones hundreds of wrestlers are gunning for. These are the guys every wrestler wants to be.
Coke only had to worry about Pepsi and maybe 7-Up.
So, in perspective, it's easy to see why these guys fall into a comfortable routine and hang onto it beyond their expiration date. Oh sure, some wrestlers have dramatically restructured themselves. Hulk became "Hollywood", but he stuck to his moves. The Undertaker jettisoned all of the hokey "mystical being" aspects of his persona... but he is still essentially the same man he once was.
Then there's Sting, who made the most radical image makeover of them all... but does anything think he didn't damage his career in the process?
A wrestler's gimmick is his very life. Wrestlers on the whole get so little of the company's profits. He does not get a chunk of the gate, a piece of the ad revenues, and often times they even have to pay for their air fare, car rentals, and hotel rooms. Wrestlers do not even get a fair chunk of their merchandise revenues. Most of that goes to the company that actually licenses the gimmick. They do get a chunk, however... and that piece of merchandise profits is the proverbial Holy Grail for the wrestler. They will do anything to have a gimmick successful enough to convince people to buy their personal wares.
There are so few gimmicks in the business, and so many wrestlers. This is a business, after all. A business where every single wrestler is his own product. The company will give him a solid promotional push, but it is up to the wrestler to sell himself to a public that is already flooded with products just like him who will do anything to draw attention. If a wrestler finds a gimmick or a batch of moves that generates audience buzz, he'd be stupid to try to let it go. Just ask Steve Austin. How many gimmicks did he go through before finding himself the perfect character that caught the audience's attention and held on to it? How can someone in the business not ring every scrap of energy and potential out of a successful gimmick if it makes him stand out from the rest of the pack?
Oh yeah, right... someone did abandon his mega-successful gimmick once. Whatever happened to Dustin Rhodes, anyway?
When Coca-Cola had the first batch of "Classic Coke" all ready, it sent the very first six pack to Gay Mullins as thanks for reminding them that if something works, you stick with it. He spent almost every penny he had in order to get that six-pack.
Somehow, I doubt Gay is a wrestling fan.
These boys are on their own.
This is Hyatte too