Wednesday, March 14, 2007

mexican mask match

I was totally awestuck by the mexican masked wrestlers' performance we saw on wednesday night. The format was so different from american wrestling-- it was super-acrobatic, choreographed with an impossible precision, and performed cleanly and with a breakneck pace. I'm really suprised that these wrestlers were consistently the undercard, and that the audience seemed less engaged with their incredible physicality. They were just SO good at what they were doing, and what they were doing seemed to be on a different level of physical criteria than the often slow-moving, power-move-wielding american wrestlers.

What was notably absent from the mexican wrestlers was the drama, the grimaces, the sweat, the blood. Neither wrestler made any dramatic twitches of pain; the struggles to get back up were short and largely without the elaborate performance that we see from the WWF stars at the time. Just the fact that they are masked changes the dramatic format completely. There is no person represented, just the character embodied by the costume.

So, I guess this just compounds the point that we've been discussing all along, that the success of pro wrestling is largely dependent on it's soap opera dramatics; that fans tune in for the story and the personality as much as the athletics. The athletics become the medium for all that drama, and therefore are integral, but first and foremost the entertainment is coming from the performance of personalities.


Carolina said...

99% of the time, Rey Misterio Jr. leaves me awestruck. It was peculiar though to see how bored the audience was by this match. Or maybe they were just watching intently, I don't know, but to me it came off like they were bored. It wasn't until the amazing finishing sequence where Rey countered the move (I forgot who he was wrestling - Psychosis was it?) from the top rope into a hurricanrana that the fans finally got off their seats in appreciation.

I really like the point you make though that pro wrestling is based on the dramatics, and it's true. You can have the best athletes in the world and sometimes it's not enough to be successful. Characters are what draw people in and make them care about the matches. But at the end of the day, you can't satisfy everyone. There will be those who want to see matches like these all the time, and then there are those who want the larger than life characters like The Rock, Hulk Hogan, etc. I think it's too bad -- I could watch guys like Misterio go all day.

Peter "The Malcontent" Rauch said...

A lot of the theory we've been reading seems to fit "Mexican wrestling," for lack of a better term, better than the modern American brand. The balletic acrobatics, the masks that obscure actor and intensify character...the roots in religious reenactment and theater we've all talked about (to the chagrin of some) seem much more apparent. I'm not sure why it doesn't seem as prevalent here; perhaps while the Rey Mysterios of the world put on better shows, the Rocks (the The Rocks?) certainly photograph better. Perhaps the celebrity culture is different, emphasizing still bodies (triumphant or defeated) over bodies in motion.

But mostly, it just reminds me of an old Angel episode, and El Diablo Robotico.

Sam Ford said...

You all have some good points here. We are not doing the class on Mexican or Japanese or Peurto Rican or European wrestling, but you all may note that WWE may have plans to expand their brand internationally. Either way, these other countries have had a continued influence on American wrestling. There are plenty of major Mexican figures in American wrestling history and in the contemporary product, just as several big American wrestlers have gone to Japan.

It's interesting to note that WCW always featured these cruiserweight lucha=style matches, but only a few of the cruisers were given definite personalities. Rey Misterio became one of them, and this week's Observer emphasizes that he is seen internally as one of the "big 8" top WWE superstars to this day. Eddie Guerrero was certainly in that top tier at the time of his untimely death as well...

I just think that people need to be introduced to a new style and figure out why to care. WCW had been presenting a largely personality-driven product up to this point, and keep in mind this was on the undercard the night the main event featured Hogan going heel. I think it just took time to gain an audience for people who watched for hte physical stunts, and also get people to invest in the physical performances and not just the characters.

katejames said...

I'm glad to hear that WWE is going international-- though international relations and pro wrestling seems like strange bedfellows to me. I know wrestlers have been travelling to perform in japan for a long time, and that some imported wrestlers have found real success in american pro wrestling.

But it seems like maybe some of the initial hesitation on the part of fans may have to do with a conditioned response to always root for the americana wrestler against the evil foreigner. These 'others' in the ring are easy to identify -- it's the one in the ethnic garb that we're supposed to hate; he is anti-american, anti-fan, anti-rules.

In the Misterio match, there's no american to root for. As Sam points out, there's also a clear break with character-driven action. So, without a clear ally, and without a character to attach to, I can see how the audience might be initially disengaged. I also really like Peter's point about our celebrity culture favoring still bodies over bodies in motion. The main problem might be the incompatibility of the lucha-style match with what else was going on at the time-- you can't easily engage the static Hogan with the superflying Misterio- the styles just wouldn't seem to mesh (though we've seen a lot of 'mismatching'- size, skill, age-- in wrestling that has been very successful and exciting).

This match has stuck in my head more clearly than any other we've watched this semester, probably it's because i connect easily to the choreographic content. It was just really, really well done.

Sam Ford said...

It's important to note, though, that it didn't take long for the lucha style to catch on. So, while this was one of the first lucha matches on the national stage, WCW included a lot of lucha matches on their show in the coming months, and Eddie Guerrero and Rey Misterio became two of the most popular wrestlers in the world. Eddie remained so until his death, and Rey Misterio (one of the two in that match) is one of the top stars in the WWE today, although his style has changed some a decade later.

Ismael said...

It seems like the mexican wrestlers take pride in their wrestling style. Even though they were the undercard and probably not payed much attention to, they still performed at such a high level. The degree of difficulty and daredevil tactics are very different from the theatrical performances we have witnessed from Hulk Hogan. It can be argued that the mexican wrestlers' fighting style raised the bar for every other wrestler who now had to compete with them. The fact that it was so different from the usual wrestling performances of the time maybe brought some hesitation to the audience. Once this fighting style became more familiar, it's obvious that it has become a huge draw for many wrestling fans.