Wednesday 12 August 2015

The Look Versus Charisma

Randall Keith Orton was booked to criticise indy darling Kevin Owens' physique earlier this week, mockingly asking if the former NXT champion had put on weight during a promo on RAW. It's true that KO is something of an anomaly on the WWE roster, not possessing shredded abs or twenty-four inch pythons (not that that particular breed of python is en vogue these days after recent... revelations). But is that such a bad thing? Owens is far from a slob and his look helps him to stand out. Being able to pass as a cover star for Muscle & Fitness isn't the be all and end all for wrestlers, despite beliefs to the contrary over at Titan Towers.

Massively out of shape apparently.
This is an old problem within WWE. So much so that it's not really worth me going into great detail on the back-story here. These are issues that have been documented elsewhere by people far more knowledgeable than me. The gist, for any newcomers to wrestling and WWE in particular, is that decision makers in The Business frequently opt to push guys based on their "look" (that is to say their general attractiveness and dedication to hitting the gym) as opposed to generally more sensible qualities like experience, aptitude and ability.

It's a tendency particularly associated with WWE and Vince McMahon. There are dozens of stories floating around online and in shoot interview DVDs (most of which are also, I realise, available online, but whatever) about Vince's love of signing muscled up dudes to big money contracts despite them having little or no wrestling experience. They range from the signings of duds like The Great Khali and Lex Luger to the debacle that was the World Bodybuilding Federation, a company Vince set up to showcase muscled lads doing a flex and that, funded by money from his wrestling promotion1.

The drawing power of lads with big muscles is not great. Yeah, Hulk Hogan and, to a far lesser extent, Ultimate Warrior did well and were by any reasonable definition, body guys. But in both cases a substantial part of their attraction lay in their charisma. People paid to see them because they were larger than life characters, not because they had big muscles. Their looks were definitely a part of their charm, I'm not denying that. A Hogan promo delivered by a guy with the physique of Mr Bean would not work anywhere near as well as they were delivered by a six foot six pulsating mass of steroids. But there was more to them than being big.

There are far more failures than there are successes when it comes to body guys in wrestling. Lex Luger, Kevin Nash and Billy Gunn (even Orton himself, ultimately) all have enviable bodies but none have ever proven to be a draw, and all were given ample chances to be. Meanwhile guys like Mick Foley, Ric Flair and Kurt Angle, while all in good shape in their primes, didn't have megastar bodies yet were successful contributors to the success of their employers. Meanwhile the closest 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin, a guy I personally believe to be the single most important wrestler in WWE history, came to a six pack when he was in his prime was his post-match beer-swilling celebration.

"Yeah, I see your double jump moonsault and Swanton bomb. What else ya got?"
Look is important in wrestling. Having a good body is too, and it has the added bonus of ensuring that you're healthier and likelier to live longer. But there's not really any tangible correlation between having the proverbial million dollar body and being of great benefit to the company. On some level the people that run WWE know this. If they didn't then Cesaro, who is a great wrestler, a great promo, can speak five languages, is very, very strong, and is in amazing shape, would be headlining pay-per-views.

WWE is wrong to criticise Owens based on his look alone, and even more wrong to use Orton as the man to deliver the message. Owens has proven is talent again and again during recent years, including his time in WWE's own developmental territory. I've not seen 'The Viper' bust out many double jump moonsaults lately, despite being in such better shape. I'd rather look like the one time 'Mr Wrestling' and have his attitude and outlook on life than look like Randy Orton and think it's okay to defecate in people's bags and be a general under-achiever despite being given every opportunity to become The Man in WWE. And judging by the comment made during RAW WWE seems to think it's Orton, not Owens, who's the better role model.


1 A running theme with Vince is that he routinely takes money from the one thing he's successful at, that being promoting pro wrestling, and diverts it into vanity projects designed to show that he is capable of succeeding at literally anything else. These have included the WBF, a film studio, and, perhaps most ludicrously, a football league. That none of these things have never succeeded to the point of being self-sustaining has taught Vince nothing2.

2 In fairness this is part of Vince's charm.

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