Here are a set of my first 10 questions. I plan on doing these throughout the year and compile them later on down the road. Thank you, Brian, for answering all my questions now, and over the next year.
1: Why is there a Monday night raw and Tuesday night smack down?
Originally it was because back in the Attitude Era (late 90s), wrestling was so huge that one night just wasn’t enough, so both WCW & WWE added another night of secondary shows (making for 8 hours of programming a week, not counting their other minor weekly shows or monthly PPVs.) After WWE bought out WCW, they did the brand extension where Raw & Smackdown were comprised of entirely different rosters. I loved that because each show had a different vibe and there was real competition between them. That lasted for several years until WWE recombined their rosters in 2011. At that point, Smackdown became the definite ‘B’ show. Each week might have been one or two minor story moments and a good match, but the next week on Raw they’d just show clips of the story bits and have rematches for any good matches. I hated this period, because there were no stakes. You could skip Smackdown every single week and not miss a thing. That’s why I was really excited when they brought back the brand split in 2016. Two brands mean twice as many people get opportunities to be seen. Having separate titles for each show means twice as many people get a chance to hold championships and prove themselves. Plus, it keeps wrestlers separated so when people change shows they have a whole new set of opponents to face, resulting in fresh matches.
2: What is NXT?
NXT is WWE’s developmental territory and it’s Triple H’s baby. Originally, NXT was a place where they would train new wrestlers to be the next big stars in the company. The NXT Performance Center is the top wrestling school in the world. After the WWE Network launched, they held the first NXT Takeover, and it blew people away with how good they were. I’d also credit that first special with kickstarting the entire women’s revolution. Over the years, NXT has shifted from just being a developmental territory into being the WWE’s legit third brand. They’ve been bringing in some of the biggest independent wrestlers from all over the world to work right alongside the wrestlers WWE’s building from the ground up. The NXT Takeovers have consistently been just as good, if not better, than WWE’s PPVs. It’s a great place for performers to try things out and see what sticks, and for management to decide if they’re ready for the main roster.
3: How many belts are there?
Raw (5): Universal Championship, Raw Women’s Championship, Intercontinental Championship, Raw Tag Team Championship, Cruiserweight Championship
Smackdown (4): WWE Championship, Smackdown Women’s Championship, United States Championship, Smackdown Tag Team Championship
NXT (4): NXT Championship, NXT Women’s Championship, NXT Tag Team Championship, UK Championship
4: How often do they change?
This varies. There was a time when belts were changing hands every few weeks, which has a tendency to devalue the title. On average lately, titles have been changing hands every 2-6 months, with several outliers on both sides. Recent notable title reigns include Brock Lesnar, who’s held the Universal Championship for nearly a year (easy to do when you only wrestle once every 2-3 months), The New Day, who held the Raw Tag Team Championships for a record 483 days, and Asuka, who held the NXT Women’s Championship for 510 days, which I believe is the longest single title reign in WWE since the 80s.
5: For someone new just coming in, what is the first fight you recommend they watch?
That depends on the person. For you, it was the Sasha Banks/Bayley match from NXT Takeover: Brooklyn because it has fantastic in-ring storytelling and I knew you’d enjoy seeing women who kick ass in the ring. I followed that up by showing you Usos/New Day from last year’s Summerslam because it’s an awesome example of tag team wrestling done right, and I knew you’d like New Day. Other matches I’ve used as introductions include Undertaker/Mankind from King of the Ring 1998, Randy Savage/Ricky Steamboat from Wrestlemania III, Trish Stratus/Lita main eventing Raw in 2004, and Shawn Michaels/Undertaker from Wrestlemania XXVI. For me, it’s all about matches that tell a great story. That’s how you get people hooked.
6: Who are your top 3 current women wrestlers and why?
1. Becky Lynch: She’s the perfect babyface. She has an instant connection with the crowd because her passion for the industry radiates from her, and you can’t help but feel for her. She’s a great wrestler not just because of her technical ability, but because she knows how to use her facial expressions to tell the story. Also, she’s an Irish redhead with a steampunk vibe and a background in theatre. There’s no way she wouldn’t be my favorite.
2. Alexa Bliss: She is SO GOOD on the mic! Any time Alexa has a microphone in her hand, I know it’s about to be gold. She has mastered her character in such a short amount of time, and her ring work is full of nuanced character moments, which I absolutely love.
3. Sasha Banks: Consistently puts on great matches and has a mesmerizing presence. When WWE lets her turn heel and she can go into full Boss mode, it’s going to be awesome.
7: Who are your top 3 current men wrestlers and why?
1. The Miz: The best mic worker in the business today, bar none. Calling his segments “must see TV” used to be a catchphrase, but now it’s just plain true. I love that The Miz went from a mediocre personality to a decent worker with good mic skills to a great wrestler and the number one talker in the company. His growth has been so much fun to watch, and right now nobody in the WWE can touch him. He’s the kinda wrestler you love to boo. I want to see what he’d do with the world title around his waist, because he’s earned it at this point.
2. AJ Styles: The best pure wrestler in the WWE today. He can get a great match out of anyone, and when you put him up there with any of the other top guys in the company, magic happens.
3. Finn Balor: Not only is he a great wrestler, but he has that “it” factor which can’t be taught. Whether he comes out as his cool Balor club character or his Demon persona, he’s all in. He’s someone else who absolutely deserves to be in a top spot right now.
8: How long have you been watching Pro Wrestling?
My earliest memory of wrestling was watching the Dangerous Alliance attack Marcus Bagwell and Sting on WCW Saturday Night, which Google tells me was December 28, 1991. That sounds about right, because I remember getting into wrestling during the build up to Ric Flair winning the 1992 Royal Rumble.
9: Why do you watch?
It’s a unique form of entertainment that’s unlike anything else. It’s part live theatre, part improv, part stage combat, part soap opera. It’s drama, it’s comedy, it’s action. There truly is something for everybody who’s willing to give it a chance. I love that it’s a long, ongoing show whose characters have years or decades of backstory to build on. And, of course, the athleticism is impressive as hell.
Part of it is also a nostalgia factor. My brother and I got into pro wrestling together when we were kids, and that’s something we’ve shared ever since. It was how I connected with a lot of friends in high school. I met one of my best friends in an improv class in Chicago, and while doing an acting exercise we realized we were both pro wrestling fans and nearly derailed the whole class geeking out over it. Our two man improv/sketch comedy group, Michinoku Driver, had a light pro wrestling theme to it (and was named after the finishing move of an obscure Japanese wrestler from the late 90s.)
10: A lot of people call wrestling fake. What would you like to tell them?
It’s not fake. It’s a work. You wouldn’t go to the theatre to watch a play and then afterward say to everyone, “You know that’s fake, right?” It’s staged. They don’t even hide the fact that it’s staged anymore. The WWE has numerous programs where they openly show you the behind the scenes of wrestling. Yes, there was a time when wrestling was passed off as legit fights, but that time has long since passed. To point out that wrestling is fake in 2018 is to show ignorance for what wrestling is. More often than not, the person doing it is someone who just doesn’t get it and thinks they’re being cool by dumping on something someone else likes (which is unfortunately prevalent in all forms of entertainment.)
But even acknowledging that it’s staged, I still hate the term “fake.” Not because they’re saying the outcomes are fixed (of course they are,) but because it belittles the work these men and women do. They’re storytellers using their physicality to tell a story in the ring. Just because they’re not trying to injure each other doesn’t mean what they do doesn’t hurt. You can train someone to fall in a way that’s less likely to cause serious damage, but you can’t fake gravity. Injuries happen all the time, sometimes with severe consequences. Telling someone who’s had their neck broken that their job is “fake” is a slap in the face.
The emotions instilled in the crowd are real. The smiles on kids’ faces are real. The cheers and jubilation when your favorite wrestler wins the title are real. In the end, isn’t that what matters?