The Anti-Antagonist: It’s No Surprise

Nick Paglino

Paul HeymanWhether you love him, hate him, or remain indifferent, it is difficult to dispute the fact that Paul Heyman’s opinions carry significant weight as they reverberate throughout the wrestling world. This is a man who has seen the evolution of the business from a firsthand perspective and, in many ways, has been the catalyst behind significant portions of that change.

In short, whether he’s giving advice to aspiring wrestlers or commenting on the business as a whole, when Paul Heyman speaks, people listen…people talk…and more importantly, people think.

Last week, Paul went on a mini-Twitter rant in which he teased big things to come from himself, Brock Lesnar, and the WWE in general. However, he stopped short of revealing these plans, explaining that he misses surprises in wrestling…that it was time simply to enjoy the ride as the story unfolded.

As an initial reaction, my natural instinct was to agree whole-heartedly with this statement. I’m of the age to remember fondly how it felt to be a wrestling fan before the internet rose to prominence…to react with shock upon witnessing a debut, return, or earth-shattering creative development.

It’s easy to sit back in my rocker and long for those days gone by…to decry the internet for slowly whittling away at the surreal moments that once defined one of my favorite pastimes. However, the more I thought about what Paul said, the more I began to wonder if the surprise factor is even necessary or, for that matter, effective within the sphere of professional wrestling.

Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have given Paul’s words a second thought. Nevertheless, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that 10+ years of living in an insider reality has conditioned us to a certain degree. We are used to a world of wrestling where we know the direction of the product (or at least think we know)…a world that has taught us to focus less on where we are and more on where we’re going.

How many times have you heard analysts and fans alike state that they enjoyed a match, while simultaneously questioning the outcome or even the encounter itself because of an inability to fathom the program’s next step? I’m certainly an advocate of enjoying the moment without overanalyzing its long-term effects on the wrestling universe, but even I can’t escape the temptation to think of the big picture even in the face of an instant classic unfolding before my eyes.

Take the Lesnar/HHH match at Summerslam as an example. I personally enjoyed the physical nature of the match and in-ring storytelling that took place. Lesnar looked unstoppable at the outset before suffering a damaging blow to his famously vulnerable mid-section…a brilliant piece of storytelling that permitted Lesnar to look beatable without sacrificing the dominant persona established throughout the match. While not as brutal as Cena/Lesnar, I would argue that this match was put together in a more logical and artful fashion.

Nonetheless, despite my enjoyment of the match itself, I couldn’t shake a sense of disappointment with the outcome. On the surface, this makes sense, as a near tearful goodbye from a part time wrestler is not the most climactic way to end a show…However, I can’t help but feel that this disappointment reflects a deeper disgust at being left in the dark.

We know bits and pieces about the direction of this angle, but it’s still incredibly difficult to say why Summerslam ended the way it did…why HHH teased a retirement and how this moment will play into the next 4 months or so of booking.

While this type of cliffhanger may seem to be an obviously effective method of storytelling, I’m not so sure that it is anymore. I would argue that our increased access to inside knowledge has left us eager to criticize that which we don’t understand…When we don’t know or think that we know the direction, we often interpret the program as directionless and short-sighted.

Maybe this statement reflects a startling lack of patience, but it also reflects reality. The ending to Summerslam and the follow-up on Raw has been heavily criticized in many circles. From my standpoint, apart from the dubious decision to utilize Tout to write Brock Lesnar off of TV, my chief complaint stems from a fundamental inability to foresee the endgame…I’m not necessarily proud that I need to know, but guess what, I need to know…

This brings me back to the original catalyst for this column. I understand Paul Heyman’s sentiment and certainly did not expect him to reveal the next six months of the Brock Lesnar saga on Twitter. However, Paul seemed to insinuate that something big was coming and that absolute secrecy is essential to maximize the fulfillment.

Maybe something huge is coming in the next few months…Nonetheless, from my perspective, I legitimately believe that my excitement and investment into this storyline would be at an exponentially higher level with an increased dose of insider insight.

In the end, we initially came to the internet for a reason…a reason that separates us from the average fan…a reason that benefits both the fans and product. We read the internet to an extent because we take satisfaction in knowing…knowing invests you…it excites you…and in some cases, motivates you to make your voice heard in order to dictate an alteration of a proposed direction.

Ultimately, I love surprises in wrestling, but question whether secrecy is the best means of keeping my evolved level of fandom engaged on a long term basis. Although I certainly acknowledge that not all fans will agree with this sentiment, I also point out that these are the same fans who aren’t seeking the knowledge in the first place.

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