And Thereby Hangs a Tale

In a match Rock Hard Wrestling released earlier this year, Trent Novak lights into Cliff Johnson without prologue or fanfare. This expedited approach to ring storytelling is something I like, as I have mentioned in previous posts on this blog. Without having to be told, we recognize Trent, whom a Hollywood casting agent would have no problem placing in the role of a handsome bully at a Southern military academy, as a guy who not only likes to work off spare calories in the ring but also prefers to spend them causing another wrestler considerable pain. He wastes no time getting to the hard bumps that show up only midway in most matches: armbars and slugs to the gut. You don't need a programme then to know that this guy is a heel, and a somewhat pampered one, used to getting what he wants on the weight of his good looks and rugged athleticism.

After getting roughed up for a bit, Cliff Johnson lets loose a few punches and knee jabs of his own, thus establishing that he, despite his slim build and boy-next-door looks, is not to be trifled with. Slamming Novak to the mat, he proceeds to stomp the guy with his boots, paying no heed to the man's agonized cries. If we had not seen Trent's ferocious attack initially, we might think Cliff is a heel, but now, given the order of things, we see him as a potential exacter of justice, giving Trent tit for tat and establishing that this is an even contest between opponents equally matched in skill and determination. When he slams Trent headfirst to the turnbuckle, then straddles his waist for a little gut-punching, saying, "Who's your daddy?" we may begin to suspect that Cliff may be pushing his luck too far, and that his sinewy victim, though probably deserving of the worst that Cliff has got, is already plotting to give him royal hell once the table turns again. A dropkick against the turnbuckles signals the next turning point. Nicely delivered, producing a satisfying yelp from Trent, it is an unmistakable Big Moment that cues us that the arrogant Novak is about to bounce back. By the same token, when Johnson gets back on his feet after suffering at Novak's hands on the Tree of Woe, we strongly suspect that Round 1 is going to end with Trent getting his ass kicked. 

My point is that wrestling hardly ever needs commentary or opening harangues to establish a context for its players or motives for their actions. The order and the action tell the tale. (Timing seems to be another factor, though I have not yet figured out how.) Add to that the wrestlers' appearance and manner of carrying themselves, and we have all we need to know about what's happening between the ropes. I have said elsewhere that Trent has been a particular favorite of mine on the RHW roster since I first saw him. I like his look, clean cut but pale and raw boned, with bristly black hair that frames a face that invites punching. He doesn't embody evil so much as wickedness, by which I mean a mischievous nature that doesn't know its own strength or much minds hurting somebody for the pure jolly fun of it. I'm also becoming more impressed with Cliff, who's improving with every match, and he's particularly good here when he's dishing up payback to Trent.

I'm not suggesting that wrestling is predictable, though it's perhaps needless to say that there are only three or four possible outcomes to any match, so the chances of guessing right are always pretty good. What I am saying is that pro wrestling has its own language--its own grammar, really--which pretty much gives us everything we need to follow a match. TV commentators can provide "color," identifying holds and characterizing the tone of the match, and long opening tirades at the mike (or in gay wrestling, posedowns or shots of the wrestlers working out at the gym) can add to the suspense, but they are not essential to appreciating the fight. Novak-vs-Johnson is a neat match because it's not weighed down with a lot of padding. We respond instinctively to its cues, and nothing would be gained (and much lost) if there had been a lengthy prologue or a lot of exposition from ringside. I'd call this match "classic" because it's streamlined, forceful, and dramatic.


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