In this day and age, wrestling fans have a variety of ways in which they can watch wrestling whether it’s the big, corporate WWE or the small (not always so small now) independent promotions. The independent scene’s popularity has grown, not only with fans but apparently with WWE as well. Many wrestlers have used this scene as a stepping stone to make it to “the big leagues.” The last ten years has seen an influx of talented wrestlers make their way into WWE with the likes of Bryan, Rollins, Ambrose, CM Punk, Balor, Itami, Zayn, Neville and Owens. In that time, WWE’s attitude to smaller wrestlers with vast amounts of technical ability has changed, which I believe was first confirmed by CM Punk’s WWE title win at Money in the Bank 2011.
However, with this technical talent on show, some fans seem to have begun to resent those in WWE who do not possess great technical ability. In this case, I’m referring to the guys who in the olden days would be considered brawlers. Of course, it’s not the case that brawlers can’t wrestle, they’re usually just not as good technically as others. There are plenty of examples in the WWE of superstars who perform well in the ring without being technically brilliant.
Let’s start with everyone’s favourite superstar to despise, John Cena. This article comes at a good time with Cena having recently appeared on Chris Jericho’s podcast discussing his career. In that interview, John Cena basically admitted he wasn’t a great wrestler, saying that of all the OVW stars at the time he was there, he was the least skilled. The Doctor of Thuganomics showcased that Cena had charisma and he got over with the fans, who at the time didn’t pick up on the fact that he apparently couldn’t wrestle. Even when John Cena got his title match at Wrestlemania 21, there wasn’t a sense (at least not in my eyes) that John Cena was being shoved down our throats because his character had developed over the three years into a credible challenger.
Although, in truth, that’s where the character development stopped but John Cena kept on winning titles. This is where the resentment of the fans really lie, the chants of “you can’t wrestle” are more reflective of the fact that it was a brawler who kept winning the title. To me, personally, I think it’s nonsense to say that John Cena can’t wrestle. That’s because I don’t see wrestling as a series of holds and perfectly executed moves, I see it as a fight and, at the very least, John Cena looks like someone who can fight. John Cena has had a lot of great matches in his time at the top when he’s allowed to do more than his “five moves of doom” which only adds fuel to the “you can’t wrestle” chants. The real argument revolves around whether Cena should have been the face of the company and held so many championships with limited wrestling abilities (merchandise sales aside) in comparison to the Attitude Era’s Rock and Austin who had more technical ability and more charisma than Cena.
Then we come to the man many people have dubbed John Cena 2.0, Roman Reigns. I’ll be honest, I do like Roman Reigns but not as much as I like Rollins and Ambrose. The Shield was a perfect fit for everybody but particularly Roman Reigns. He didn’t have to speak much and when he got in the ring, he was all about hitting high impact moves and the fans loved it. I think there was an early sense of resentment for Reigns because some fans could tell that while Ambrose and Rollins were the better technical wrestlers, the WWE had their eye on making Reigns the star. Roman Reigns will definitely be WWE champion one day but he still needs to improve his in-ring work overall but don’t expect him to put on a technical masterclass because that’s not what he’s about. It doesn’t help Reigns that he’s the only member of The Shield who hasn’t progressed his character, he still comes down from the stands to the same music and he basically wears the same clothes. Reigns not winning the title at Wrestlemania was the best thing to happen to him and Reigns has shown improvement since then.
By comparison, there are people within the WWE who are beloved by the fans despite not being a great technical wrestler. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of Bray Wyatt but he is not a great technical wrestler but that doesn’t matter because Wyatt has shown he can put on great matches. In fact, I consider his matches with John Cena at Wrestlemania XXX and the Last Man Standing match at Payback to be instant classics. All this apparently from two people who are not pure technical wrestlers. What sets Wyatt apart from Reigns is that Wyatt has a captivating character and what separates him from Cena is that his character is fresh.
I’m aware Kevin Owens has great technical ability but so far on NXT, his matches have been fought as a brawler and I’m enjoying it a lot. Then there’s Tyler Breeze. I’m not suggesting Tyler Breeze is a great brawler or a great technical wrestler but I think he’s a good all rounder (similar to Cody Rhodes’ ability) and I consider him to be the best performer who didn’t enter NXT with a previous following or reputation.
My last subject is going to be a controversial one, The Undertaker. I think The Undertaker is the perfect example of the point I’m making. The Undertaker will go down as one of the best, most memorable wrestlers of all time and yet, I wouldn’t consider The Undertaker to be a technically brilliant wrestler. The Undertaker gimmick is probably the most successful gimmick in history which has helped him but he has backed that up with over 20 years of great matches. The commentators often call him the best striker in the business and that’s the point, The Undertaker’s game is all about brawling.
Some fans have to understand that there is a difference between being a great technical wrestler and being great in-ring. As far as I’m concerned, Wyatt, Undertaker and Cena are great in-ring and Reigns has the potential. In conclusion, I think it’s all about character. There are great technical wrestlers like Itami who has yet to become a character (I realise that’s difficult while he still has limited English) and there’s the charismatic brawler Bray Wyatt becoming a fan favourite. In this case, the brawlers have to work even harder to connect with the fans. I think the point to draw from this is that brawlers are under more pressure from fans to build a character and adapt it otherwise the fans will point out your technical shortcomings.