The Pepsi Plunge – Planet of the Apes

Shak


The wrestling boom of the late 1990’s altered the professional wrestling landscape in a number of ways. The more risqué, extreme approach pioneered by Paul Heyman’s Extreme Championship Wrestling, which was later mirrored in the programming of both World Wrestling Entertainment and World Championship Wrestling, saw the bar for dangerous spots in wrestling matches raised to a perilously all-time high. The legendary TLC matches in WWE, perhaps the culmination of the Attitude Era in WWE, saw the teams involved take some incredible risks in an effort to please the expectant fan base. These matches however, accounted for a practically irrelevant percentage of the risks that professional wrestlers had been taking for years as ECW, WCW and WWE strove to out-do each other at every possible avenue.

Since the death of both ECW and WCW, WWE has made a very apparent effort to re-lower the bar for dangerous move expectancy amongst its fans. However, independent companies such as TNA, ROH, CZW and various others have continued to forage ahead with high-spot laden matches, seeing the chance to offer something different from WWE programming. Ultimate-X, Scramble Cage and Cage of Death matches have continued on where TLC and other matches left off, and have been very successful in entertaining fans. With this popularisation of high-spot wrestling, a new breed of wrestler has emerged in force across America. A type of wrestler about which there is a lot of debate, drawing great admiration from some fans, and disdain from others. What breed of wrestler is this?

The Spot-Monkey.

A dirty term to some, a foreign one perhaps to others? A spot-monkey, for those unfamiliar with the term, and you can skip to the start of the next paragraph if you do know the term, or keep reading if you want to look for holes in my definition, is a wrestler who relies on his ability to produce flashy or unique moves to compensate for what can often be a glaringly obvious inability to keep his match flowing in between high-spots. Watching such matches at TLC, Scramble Cage and others, it often does appear that what we are seeing seems very pre-planned. And while this is a result of the fact that, guess what, it actually is pre-planned, the object in wrestling has always been to strive to make the action look as believable as possible. Spot-monkey’s detract from that believability, yet often produce the big moves that get the most intense chants of the evening. Many would call Jeff Hardy a spot-monkey, him being probably the most notable one of the WWE attitude era.

The question is whether these spot-monkey’s contribute more good with their defiance of death, or bad with what some would call their exposure of the sport? Obviously, since the overwhelmingly large majority of the wrestling fan base knows that what they’re seeing is scripted, these poorly executed transitions between high spots are often over-looked due to the spectacular nature of the high spot they have culminated in. This is quite understandable. Frankly put, the attraction of seeing somebody do a moonsault with two full rotations from the top of a cage to the outside of the ring is pretty obvious, even if the manner in which six or seven wrestlers stand tightly together staring up at their slowly incoming opponent for seconds beforehand does require me to suspend my disbelief that bit more. It cannot be argued that some of the most memorable moments in wrestling have derived from spectacular, dangerous moves, however preconceived they might appear.

Let us analyse the negative aspects of a spot-monkey. Firstly, it is hard to deny that this high spot orientated style of combat is often disturbingly difficult to look at and believe that these guys really do hate each other, resembling a group of excitable, daredevil dancers rather than wrestlers at times as they do. While their aerial assaults and flashy moves draw admiring gazes and vociferous chants, they tend to lack any sense of psychology in their matches, meaning the fans care more about what high impact move will be pulled out next rather than what wrestler actually wins the match. This flies in the face of the basic idea of professional wrestling, as in the struggle for victory over your opponent. By having matches in which it appears breathtakingly obvious that the wrestlers are trying to cram in as many eye-catching moves as possible, rather than trying to put together a believable fight, it detracts from the story behind a wrestling match in favour of pre-planned stunts.

This, in turn, detracts from some of the more subtle aspects of what goes into a wrestling match. By throwing these flashy moves and brutal stunts at us, fans expectancy levels grow, and many can become desensitised to the more intricate facets of a match that are found in the work of the more traditional wrestlers. The Benoit’s, Guerrero’s, Hart’s, Danielson’s, Liger’s and many other’s who try to use a good story and believable action to draw the fans attentions, rather than fling themselves through stacks of tables and execute flashy, yet nonsensical in the context of the match, moves. This is not to say that just because a wrestler uses weaponry or does flashy moves that they are spot-monkeys, far from it. Rey Mysterio performs some of the most eye-catching moves of any wrestler in the business, yet has a knowledge of how to fit them into his match at relevant points.

Wrestlers like, and I would mean no disrespect to any of these men, Amazing Red, Teddy Hart, and Jack Evans are often seen to take a terrible beating during a match, yet are able to miraculously recover, shrugging off injuries in a Hogan-esque manner to fly around the ring as though they had taken no punishment whatsoever. Even wrestlers like AJ Styles have been labelled as spot-monkey’s before, due to the fact that sometimes they don’t sell their injuries as well as they should. While I would find it very harsh to call AJ a spot-monkey, others wouldn’t. The failure to properly reflect the damage done by your opponents previous attacks often makes it seem that the wrestlers don’t seem to become worn down at all, and the whole match is just going to be decided by who hits their finishing move first.

Another issue is, of course, that these high spot orientated wrestlers continue to keep the bar for dangerous moves at a perilously high level, meaning wrestler’s are put at more risk of sustaining injury trying to meet expectations. Neck injuries are very common amongst pro-wrestlers; due to the amount of moves they attempt to receive in as

“DANGERRRROUSSS”

–Gabe Sapolsky

an appearing manner as possible, often seeing the wrestlers land on their neck trying to make the move look legitimately painful. WWE had valid reason to lower the bar regarding dangerous bumps, seeking to protect their employees from injury. While professional wrestling may not be true combat, every wrestler takes a risk by putting his health on the line when stepping into the ring. The high-spot bar forces them to keep taking risks and jeopardising their well-being every time they lace their boots. Spot-monkey’s produce the dazzling stunts that heighten fan expectations, and raise their expectancy.

While these are definitely some serious drawbacks to the presence of spot-monkey’s in wrestling, they have some assets that are hard to ignore. Firstly, it is often such high-spot wrestler’s that draw the most aggressive chants of the evening, fuelled by pure disbelief at what has just transpired. While it may be a little disheartening when you really think about it, fans don’t simultaneously start yelling “Holy Shit” at the top of their voice after a crisp, efficient mat-wrestling sequence that culminates in a textbook drop toe hold into a one legged crab. They do it when someone gets powerbombed through a table or someone does a moonsault off a cage with a trashcan over the upper half of their body. These moments have a huge part to play in what makes wrestling so special. The moment where you suspend your disbelief and just admire what is happening in front of you. Foley’s cell fall, Benoit’s head-butt from the elimination chamber, Edge’s spear on Jeff from the ladder are moments that are etched in our mind, and moments that high spot style wrestlers continue to attempt to give us, entertaining many fans in the process.

Another thing I feel that these spot-monkey wrestlers contribute is making wrestling more easily accessible for new viewers. It is easier to see what is impressive about a wrestler falling of a scaffold through a mountain of tables than it is to see what is impressive about a wrestler having a good back and forth match for ten minutes with his opponent, targeting his arm with numerous attacks throughout the match before eventually winning with a crossface. This is especially helpful for introducing fans to independent wrestling. Most fans are introduced to wrestling at a young age, and venturing away from their traditional viewing of WWE can be difficult to adjust to again. High spot laden matches are an immediately apparent attraction, offering death-defying stunts, something WWE has left many fans wanting.

An ability to fully appreciate the technical style is acquired slower, similar to the case with music. Pop music, being whatever is common on radio stations, is all we are exposed to for a long time, much like with WWE and previously WCW, and being introduced to alternative music can take time to adjust, as with a new wrestling compaany. Much like you cannot take a thirteen year old who has listened to nothing but the radio all their life and give them a Tool album and expect them to like it, you cannot expect a fan that has watched nothing but WWE all their life to fully appreciate a Chris Hero vs. Samoa Joe technical wrestling match. Now you can argue all you like that you think Tool are terrible, but it’s really not the point, God knows why I even mentioned it again. Much like soft-rock bands or artists can be good to help people get the basics of what isn’t pop music, high spot wrestlers are the often the first one’s to introduce people to what isn’t WWE style.

So is there a final word on spot-monkey’s to be said? A definitive answer as to whether spot-monkey’s are the daredevil heroes that make wrestling special, or the insane, thrill-seeking idiots that belong on an MTV television show, cutting between ten second clips of men jumping off high perches on to other men and clips of people getting slammed through elaborate concoctions of tables and glass?

Obviously, the term spot-monkey itself is a derogatory one, derived from the fact that many see them as nothing more than people who have been trained to reproduce set pieces. A wrestler will never be considered a great if they are a spot-monkey, that is for sure. Many wrestlers begin their careers in a way that see many people label them spot-monkey’s, AJ Styles, Low-Ki and Paul London were all at one time accused of this. These three have refined their skills and incorporated more psychology into their matches in time. Others have failed to do so. The Amazing Red was once considered one of the hottest prospects in wrestling, but has not become the star many had expected. Red eventually suffered niggling injuries due to his continuance to produce risky moves rather than slow down and learn to pace his matches. This is a common problem for high spot wrestlers, as it is unreasonable to expect anyone’s body to keep going through such danger. Ultimately, they have to adjust their style or they will break down, much like people will lose interest in them.

That’s about it from me. Hope you liked the column. If you have anything you would like to comment on feel free to e-mail me at thepepsiplunge@yahoo.co.uk, I will answer them all.

Thank You,

Shak.

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