The Missing Link
The missing link, not the wrestler, but the magic that made me run from Church on Sunday, beating my parents who drove home, to catch the 1-hour Superstars of Wrestling

It's been a few years since The Missing Link graced the squared circle, I believe retiring in the mid-2000's after having had a journeyman career between different professional wrestling organizations. While I may have some brief memories of watching him on Maple Leaf Wrestling, I probably remember him from hearing his name more often on the World Wrestling Federation stage in the mid-80's. As much as I enjoy talent of yesteryear, the wrestler isn't the focus of this piece. It was however the best comparison, fitting name, and organic description that I could think to describe the unsettled, perhaps entitled landscape of today’s wrestling product.


The missing link, not the wrestler, but the magic that made me run from Church on Sunday, beating my parents who drove home, to catch the 1-hour Superstars of Wrestling, even though I knew Barry Horowitz was going to lose to George “The Animal Steele” was from the ingredients of mystery, patience, and story-in-story-telling. The match itself was one story. The announcers helped tell a short, wrestling-credible pre-story, and there might be a post-match story with some additional performers being engaged. You might argue, that’s the same formula they use today and from a perimeter perspective, I would agree. There is however a significant difference in the context and content from then and now. The stories were all woven from a series of week-before matches, promos, ups, downs, planned absences, the hushing of information, and efficient use of tv time, while laying a path for some major pay-per-view event that was several weeks away. There was, momentum. 


I’ve identified four elements to consider as what I believe is the missing link in today’s product:


1. The in-show talk show hosts like Brother Love were a mainstay that didn’t become the focal point on the receiving end of conflict that resulted in some up-coming match including the host, an often-predictable part of the segments today. The interview was succinct and effective in a well-managed time frame (pssst… they didn’t need long segments to get to the point and they didn’t have to drop alternative language to do it). The setting was another special element. It was its own set, off to the side – a break from the ring where battles were being fought. Today’s ring-transformation comes across as a cheap afterthought filled with furniture to make up for the lack of ambiance. The missing link is that the intermediary host that made the guests gel is gone. Today, we all know at some point the host, more times than not, will be involved beyond being what they should be – a host. The setting in the middle of the ring also makes the shows come across passive, almost lazy. 


2. The finishing move was the finishing move and anything beyond one was deemed special, not the norm. In most of today’s shows, you can watch a performer get choke slammed five or more times and still kick-out. Plus, you might have watched the same move in the match before by another performer. The audience has become desensitized to the effectiveness of the moves.  That finishing move that once turned men and women into Superheroes, has been watered down like a bar shot on cheap night. The missing link is that nothing is really special or unique any more with the finishing moves. It’s become a Looney Tunes series of watching the Coyote fall off a cliff and get back up over and over, making the audience skip its awe, rendering it an in-effective part of the match, focusing only on who won or lost and not so much the art of the journey.


3. The championship belt(s) never made the performer as much as the performer made the championship. Think about some of the champions in recent times and ask yourself, “would they have ever held that title in an earlier era”? The belts have changed hands like a roll of toilet paper, a perhaps fitting comparison. Arguably, belts (did I say “belts”, oh no – that might not be modern enough), get put on performers to boost their profile and in doing so, it cheapens the value of the belt. In turn, the entitled fan then spirals into tirades of claiming this performer or that performer “deserves” the belt next, devaluing its worth. Icons like Hulk Hogan, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Ric Flair, Bret “The Hitman” Hart and so on, they made the championship relevant. The missing link here is that the Championship belts have lost their allure, their identity amongst the “you deserve it” entitlement era.


4. Less is sometimes more. There is a saturation of wrestling product today and when I say that I mean of the same product. For example, five hours of product from the same brand ends up yielding the same moves, the same finishes, the same storylines from over-hyped, sometimes green performers who don’t have the support (or history) they need, as some are still trying to figure out how to make the best use of their fifteen minutes.  Sadly, when they don’t “get-over”, they find themselves on the recently released list of a no-compete-for-90 days shelf. Think about how over the product was with 1 or 2 hours of content years ago and how it left the audience wanting more instead of fast-forwarding the PVR through “what are they doing now” segments. The missing link here is that there’s too much time to provide consistent, quality content that keeps the fan interested and the company is failing the talent not because they’re disconnected from the fan-base, but because they’re mostly wasting time and opportunities. 


I imagine there are “marks”, “experts”, “professionals” out there who can provide a countermove for anything I’ve said from an opinion perspective. I mean, let’s face it, we’re talking about pre-determined sports entertainment, right? Disagreeing would be like soap-opera fans arguing about who’s more bold and who’s more beautiful, perhaps. After all, everybody is right in today’s landscape from an opinion perspective, right? That being said, as I continue to watch for magic and mystery, I can’t ignore the missing link.