Formula for success doesn't exist
By Rennie Detore
Sunday, February 20, 2005
The rise of a professional wrestler to sports entertainment prominence
almost never follows a specific path. As much as critics and cynics
want to talk about blueprints for success, there isn't one formula
that stands out as being full-proof.
The character aspect of the aforementioned formula remains the only
real bridge between a rookie and main-event stardom. The only rule for
the development of a persona, however, is that there is no formula.
In fact, some of the more successful wrestlers have been the ones
whose characters are merely an extension of their own personality.
John Cena, one of WWE's budding superstars, debuted in 2002 under that
same name but with little character direction. Then, on the Halloween
edition of "Smackdown" in 2003, Cena injected life into his listless
on-air character and simply tapped into his own personality.
"It sounds so cliche, but when you see me out there on TV, it's just
me, really really amped up and over the top with a lot of energy,"
The 2005 version of John Cena mirrors the 2002 one in name alone. Gone
are Cena's generic purple-and-orange neon tights and non-existent
personality. In its place is the real John Cena, the one who is
successful because he's not pretending to be a cookie-cutter
"When you look at me at face value, you see a kid with an OK looking
smile, neat and clean, so throw him out there. I was Johnny Boots and
Tights," said Cena, regarding his 2002 introduction.
"Once they (WWE's creative team) got to know me, it was only a matter
of time before creatively we did the hip-hop thing. They put me in a
costume, I cut a rap, and the people took to it. It's just a
reflection of who I am."
The reflection Cena speaks of is nothing new to an up-and-coming WWE
character. The idea of giving a wrestler a microphone and shoving him
into the national spotlight is risky but ultimately can reward a
wrestling company with a new superstar, especially if that wrestler is
allowed to speak from his heart.
Steve Austin's "Stone Cold" character wasn't necessarily created by
Vince McMahon. "Stone Cold" merely was Austin's catharsis after years
of being held back by higher-ups in WCW. To McMahon's credit, he
afforded Austin with an opportunity and forum to sound off.
That same opportunity was given to Dwayne Johnson, who turned up the
volume of his own personality and developed "The Rock."
Similar to Austin, Johnson's "The Rock" character was a direct
retaliation to fans who disliked his previous persona, Rocky Maivia.
Johnson took his real-life professional plight and turned his
frustration toward WWE fans, and The Rock was born. Kurt Angle didn't
suffer the same rejection as Austin or Johnson, but his condescending
Olympic gold medal character that debuted in 1999 wasn't given a
master plan to follow. Angle took the microphone and cut his first of
many memorable promos.
"When I was in Memphis (WWE's minor league territory) for six months,
I didn't cut one promo, didn't do one tape. I didn't even know if I
could talk," Angle said. "The first night I was on, I had to do it,
and it just clicked."
For Angle, his inexperience in the pro wrestling game mattered little.
What stuck was how quickly he adapted from amateur champion to
professional phenom. But Angle's success doesn't need to be explained
via a long-winded diatribe.
"I took my personality and added a little comedy and this and that,
and I took my Olympic gold medal and wrestling background and my
athleticism and learned so quickly that I was elevated to a position
that no one else had ever been elevated to -- I was champion 16 months
after I first stepped into a ring. "
With those kind of results predicated on a simplistic mentality -- let
the wrestler be himself -- a detailed, step-by-step approach to
creating main-event superstars seems rather formulaic.