Thursday, 18 August 2016

Opinion: Vader vs Ospreay - Pro Wrestling Personified

Last Friday, I attended Revolution Pro Wresting’s latest York Hall card: Uprising. The main event was a match that had captured the attention of the wrestling world: Vader vs Will Ospreay. In many respects this feud had been one of the most fascinating of 2016. From its odd couple pairing to its unusual build to the execution of the match itself, this was a blend of old and new school philosophies that showcased the weird and the wonderful of professional wrestling. As I headed to Bethnal Green tube station, leaving the white hot crowd heat of the York Hall behind me, I considered the main event a bona fide success. True, the majority of the sold old out crowd had expressed their disgust once Vader had pinned Ospreay (booming chants of “this is bullshit” filled the old hall and the punter standing next to me promised to never watch wrestling again). I, however, felt that the whole programme had offered timely reminders as to what makes wrestling so great. Indeed, every promotion in the business could learn a few things from the Vader vs Will Ospreay rivalry.

Social media can draw money

This feud started when Vader took to twitter to offer his opinion on the bout contested between Ricochet and Ospreay during May’s Best of the Super Juniors tournament in Japan. Praising their athletic ability but bemoaning the lack of storytelling, Vader was echoing sentiments shared by many of wrestling’s old school but it was he who chiefly drew the ire from not just the IWC but from the contestants themselves. Both Ricochet and Ospreay took to social media to defend their style of combat but it was the barbs that flew between Vader and Will that caught the attention of the web. Before you could strap a red leather mask to your face, the challenge had been made and the match signed for Rev Pro in London. Usually social media seems totally unconducive to effective storytelling in wrestling (heels tweeting pictures of themselves at charity events needs to stop) but here it worked: it established a grudge between men separated by continents and generations; it allowed them to build their heat and it advertised the match to wrestling fans of different eras, consequently helping sell out York Hall. So keep an eye on twitter feeds from wrestlers old and young; the next big feud could be blowing up at any moment. Expect Virgil to call out everyone and anyone in the coming weeks.

To import or not to import?

Some companies avoid imports; some companies depend almost entirely on them. Whatever your personal preference, you can’t deny the marketability of nostalgia. WWE’s business plan in recent years has been to sell Wrestlemania on pure nostalgia: the promise of rare performances from the stars of yesteryear continues to be a profitable approach for the company. So if it works on the biggest platform, why shouldn’t it work on the Indies? Rev Pro’s booking of Kurt Angle made for a great night back in June whilst Vader, who headlined Summerslam 20 years ago, was a man I thought I would never see perform live. Whilst some bemoaned a 61 year old man headlining a card in 2016, the widespread coverage of the match suggests that curiosity and excitement were more common responses, thus justifying the booking completely. It might seem more cutting edge to avoid the old names and focus purely on young talent but if the old guard can still draw, why not?

Heat matters

Indie cards provide a lot of joy: often spectacular wrestling, a chance to engage directly with the performers and consistently loud, passionate crowds. However, true emotional connection and genuine heat don’t always come with the territory. Chants such as “both these guys” and “this is awesome” suggest that whilst the crowd is enjoying what they see, they don’t really care about the result itself: it’s more like appreciating art than cheering on your favourite sport’s team. For me, wrestling truly excels when you can suspend all disbelief and get behind the significance of the result. I’ve been to every York Hall show since October 2013, and on no occasion has a match felt as important as it did when Vader stepped out from behind the curtain. The crowd finished the show angry but they also experienced actual emotional investment; the guy who swore off wrestling did so because he felt something real (and he didn’t mean it- the amount of times I’ve said I’m done with football only for the promise of joy to reel me in for more suffering is untrue). Such is the depth of quality on the indie scene that every promotion can book a dream match: it is providing an contest drenched in legitimate intensity that should be the goal for all.

Will’s ready to take on the world (and a certain Universe…)

Ospreay has been the wrestler of the year. In the UK, US and Japan, he has continually stolen the show with his state of the art wrestling, all the while improving his character work. He has played the humble returning hero, the self-confident, almost cocky, cruiserweight and the resilient underdog. His match with Vader didn’t deliver the quality of wrestling seen in his bouts with the likes of Marty Scurll, Speedball Bailey and Pete Dunne but it showcased his ability to do exactly what the likes of Vader has criticised him for being unable to do: tell a story. The match was always going to be worked at the pace of the 61 year old Vader but the well planned spots, from the referee bump to the table to the run ins, ensured entertainment and a distinctly American main event feel. His promo after the match- in which he cryptically made reference to having to bow down to his opponent- suggests he is already familiarising himself with the politics of professional wrestling. Indeed, the speech showcased an awareness of how to stay over and protect his act: sitting cross-legged to channel his inner Punk and communicate the significance of his words to the audience, he deflected attention away from the defeat, setting up his next big fight with Dunne and somewhat soothing the enraged crowd. If WWE is what Ospreay has his sights set on, his performance at this event might prove just as important as any in his career when it comes to securing the deal.

So Vader and Ospreay might be the least likely feud of the year but it could end up being the best. Look past the result and embrace that the contest made you feel something. Consider that on that evening, Ospreay was trending on twitter amidst a slew of Olympians and realise that through his interactions with the Mastodon, his name and work have been introduced to a new circle of fans. By opening its doors to a veteran like Vader, Rev Pro delivered a different kind of main event and further promoted their own brand overseas. If this was a wrestling test, I would class it a success and would expect to see similar experiments in the near future.

#bookbobbacklund #backlundvsvillain #battleofthechickenwings

Written Content - Sean Taylor Richardson
Media Content - James Marston 
Photo Credit - Revolution Pro Wrestling

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