A disturbing trend is beginning to manifest itself within the wrestling community, both young and old participating in an act that simply wouldn’t have been accepted a few short years ago.
The trend in question is Happy Clapping. For those of you blissfully unaware, Happy Clapping is the art of flapping hands together at furious speeds at anything that is presented in front of you.
Happy Clapping is most prevalent at ROH events, where the word ‘heel’ is mostly considered to be a word dirtier than mud itself. However, this trend is seemingly spreading everywhere and was certainly evident at recent UK Supershows (1PW, International Showdown) and shows no sign of slowing down.
Why should you care about this? More importantly, who is to blame for all this?
1. Are the promoters to blame?
Well, a little to do with potential promoter blame would be to look at how all this started, with all of this purely being my theory.
Japan is cool. Tons of people can’t enough of Japanese culture, the food, the style, the videogames, the anime and of most importance, the wrestling. Japanese Wrestling is a whole different kettle of fish to American Wrestling. The larger Japanese promotions (AJPW, NJPW, NOAH) have much less of a conventional face/heel divide than their western counterparts. These matches are portrayed as contests of pure athletism, with the best man triumphing on that day. Because of the respect for Professional Wrestling in Japan, wrestling is high profile, often making for big stories in large newspapers and doesn’t concentrate as heavily on out-of-match story, after match angles and suchlike.
In 2002, Rob Feinstein, Gabe Sapolsky and Doug Gentry started a promotion in America based on the model of the larger Japanese Promotions and thus, Ring of Honor was born. ROH was focussed on workrate, respect and honour, forgoing the usual American tradition of a strong face/heel divide and building the usual hatred between two wrestlers to a single climax (and usually one with a larger payoff). In the quest for five star matches and much coverage in the Wrestling Observer, ROH tried to make the promotion as much like 90’s AJPW as they could. The fans hadn’t really seen anything like this before, instead becoming used to ECW style promotions running in the Philadelphia area and without being given anyone to cheer and anybody to boo, clapped through the shows, enjoying the action given to them.
Since then, ROH has influenced many other independents throughout the United States and Europe, with the fans thinking that ROH has shown them the way to behave (we’ll get to the fans a little later).
2004 saw ROH undergo many changes, attempting to bring in more of traditional US feel to the promotion, with more heels and story than before, but it was too little too late, the fans clapped and cheered almost every heel that stepped into a ROH ring. Homicide got visibly upset a recent show, with his heel tactics being met with applause and tried to use mic-skills to tip them the other way. Sadly, it didn’t work and a deflated Homicide was left with walking away, wondering why he bothers at all.
1b. Wrestling is all about the promotion and presentation of something.
A promoter can present something however they choose, a face or a heel, a coward or a monster, a technical whiz or a high-flyer. Vince McMahon (and many, many others before him) has had a long history of taking a virtual nobody, with very little talent and making some money from them. Its all about the presentation.
Using the recent 1PW show as an example, the card featured a match between Doug Williams and Austin Aries (and quite a good match at that). However, the problem was nobody had a clue who was the face and who was the heel. Recently, both men have turned (Aries from heel to face in ROH and Williams from face to heel in FWA), but the crowd was simply clueless to what to do, torn between countryman and import, they began the terrifying duel chanting and clapping.
Obviously, the problem here is the same one that affects many promotions. No regular TV show to build someone as a heinous villain. However, promotions of years ago didn’t need to rely on 15 minute promos to get somebody over as a heinous villain, but we’ll get to that later too. The problem affecting Supershows like 1PW is the shows run too infrequently to push anyone one way or another and gaining momentum and continuity from one show to the next is therefore difficult.
The solution is tragically staring them right in the face (although is hardly an easy solution, giving the geographical problems). To get things back to how they were, they need to use the internet more. Hell, in this day and age, catering to the Internet seems to be audience they want to attract, so why not use it more? The 1PW website featured one or two promos from wrestlers coming across but very little else. Not good enough. They need to buddy up with another promotion over in America (since 90% of US Indy’s use roughly the same roster) and film small vignettes, showing sneak attacks and wrestler disdain. SHOW us who we should be cheering and booing ahead of time and we might actually have a chance.
2. Are the wrestlers themselves to blame?
In the past, you could tune into a promotion like SMW or Memphis or any Lucha (and you still can), without ever having seen it before, and know that one guy was a heel simply because of the way he works. His style was much different, he took shortcuts, cheated to win and generally wrestled a more intelligent, slower match. Today, I see no difference between the AJ Styles of 2005 and the one from his TNA heel run in 2003 (save a grimace or three). It’s the same for guys like Roderick Strong (who I like, but I really want to love), who could be an awesome prick, but can’t convey any believable emotion and hasn’t changed at all in his recent transition into facedom. Faces shouldn’t instigate brawling on the floor unless the match stipulation calls for it. Faces shouldn’t be using shortcuts either (unless a slow turn is happening).
Its not just that most US wrestlers now use the same moveset whether heel or face, but many of them share a similar set of moves and look dangerously alike. You can hardly tell the difference between around a third of the current ROH roster, with almost every ex-Special K member being completely interchangeable with one another.
Most Indy wrestlers get to choose entrance music, so perhaps stopping everyone from coming out to a similar sounding heavy metal track might be a start. Metal music is generally dark and heavy and something that perhaps a heel should use. The music should reflect the personality of the persona of the wrestler. Now Austin Aries is a face, I hardly consider Marilyn Manson’s rendition of Personal Jesus to be appropriate.
The opening match at 1PW was actually promoted as a match between UK and USA, being Jody Fleisch and Jonny Storm against Jerry Lynn and Chris Sabin. Why Sabin and Lynn didn’t exhibit any kind of heel tactics to get the fans to rally behind the UK team defies belief. I wondered if I should have stuck this point in the promoter section, but with a promoter/booker that is still new to the game, I consider the wrestlers part responsible for helping the promoter/booker with the layout of the matches and should have suggested heeling it up during the match.
When Iceman issued an open challenge, claming that nobody could stand toe-to-toe with him in the ring, why on EARTH did he shake hands with Low Ki after the match? If he tries to wrestle as a heel on the next show, I’ll hang myself.
3. Are the fans to blame?
The type of fans that I’m getting at are the ones that should probably know better. The IWC (generally, not as a whole) are the ones who know a little more about wrestling and understand that wrestling doesn’t begin and end with the WWE. The type of fan that attends ROH and UK Supershows are generally older than those who attend shows from World Wrestling Entertainment. Many of us remember ECW, which although spawning its own set of undesirable mutants (You f’cked up, Holy shit etc) at least generally managed to tell the difference between a heel and a face. So why can’t you anymore?
Raven tried to set himself as being the heel in Doncaster, but the fans stupidly cheered every insult that he threw directly at them. I wouldn’t be surprised if Raven actually felt insulted by this response, when the only response that a wrestler doesn’t want is silence. A boo is equivalent to a cheer, that he can provoke the right emotional response from the crowd and most importantly, it shows the heel that he’s doing his job properly. Why do you continue to go to wrestling events of you can’t get emotionally involved?
I know that writing all of this is unlikely to make me new fans. I can already picture a number of ‘I paid for my ticket, I’ll cheer and boo whoever I like’ responses. Fine, you can, that’s your choice. But in five years time, when wrestling is one big, emotionless clapalong pantomime, don’t expect me to do anything but laugh, lick the tears from your face and watch some 80’s Mid South.
So, wrestling fans around the world, I only want one thing for Christmas, for you all to remember why you stared watching wrestling from America in the first place, for the eternal struggle between good and evil.
(I’d just like to make a couple of things clear, I actually watch ROH and have done since the first show. I like wrestling, and ROH is damn good at it at times. Sometimes, when done properly a face vs. face match like Joe vs. Punk can be great. I just think some ROH fans now need to see what the promotion is trying to do, although some of its roster and matches lack idenity. Also, I’m not picking on 1PW, its just the show most fresh in my mind and anytime I get to see Tracy Smothers an hour from my house is a very good thing indeed.)