“Raise The Stakes” By: Damian Slater #WorldBeaterWrestling
I often look outside of Professional Wrestling to make sense of what I see (or create) within Professional Wrestling. Film, TV, Music and Sport are all fantastic mediums that should give influence to what we do in the ring as they often follow many of the storytelling structures and devices commonly seen in Pro Wrestling whilst being a little more in touch with pop culture and what is attractive in the modern age. As a long-time Mixed Martial Arts fanboy and (very amateur) practitioner, I tend to find myself analysing MMA with a Pro Wrestling lens. When something makes me feel a certain way, I try to understand why and how I can create the same feeling in my own sport.
I regularly teach my students at the EPW School of Pro Wrestling the importance of adding stakes to your match. The most exciting MMA fights are full of them. This doesn’t have to be title opportunities or stipulations. That’s too easy and often out of your control. I’m talking about establishing what you want to do, why you want to do it and what may happen if you are unable to. Then bringing forth some sort of obstacles prior or during the match that may skew the odds one way or the other.
Most, if not all, emotionally-driven Pro Wrestling matches will have some kind of hurdle for the babyface (fan-favourite) to overcome. An injured limb, an outside threat, a lack of skill/experience in a particular area, a questionable heel tactic etc. The tale of the protagonist ultimately overcoming the odds is the most commonly utilised in all forms of scripted entertainment because, quite simply, it feels empowering to view such acts of resilience, courage and unexpected achievement.
The benefit of this in a Pro Wrestling sense is that by adding obstacles, you have now created tension in your match which is necessary for an effective comeback and therefore, climax. There is a very clear shifting of the odds, particularly important if the babyface begins with an advantage or matches up very well with their opponent. Then even if the heel is victorious, the babyface may still look strong. There will always be that question – what if they hadn’t picked up that injury? What if there wasn’t a second on the outside? What if the referee caught the cheating?
This doesn’t just have to be exclusive to the babyface either. If you have a heel that is expected to win in dominant fashion, but an obstacle is presented by a resilient babyface, then suddenly we create a glimmer of hope. Without hope, there is no reason to invest.
One of my most memorable fan experiences was sitting in the stands to watch Mark Hunt vs. Stipe Miocic at UFC Fight Night 65 in Adelaide. Everyone knew that if Mark Hunt could land a punch, it may very well be goodnight for Stipe. A majority of the fight was spent with Stipe taking Hunt down and landing an incredible amount of strikes. Without even reciprocating strike-wise, Hunt would slowly work his way back up to his feet to an increasingly more raucous reaction. The time taken to get back up would become slower as the match wore on, but he would continually find a way. The man was getting one of the biggest babyface responses I’ve ever heard just by standing up.
We knew the stakes ahead of time… he just needed one clean punch. The obstacle was presented… he couldn’t punch from the ground, so against a strong grappler, needed to get to his feet first. It was one of the most one-sided, extended squash matches I’ve seen to this day, but all of us in attendance bought into that little window of hope in a big way.
In the end, Stipe looked like a monster killer and Mark Hunt became the toughest man on the planet. It was Pro Wrestling at its finest.