Rob Maltman: British Gimmicks
As defined by Dictionary.com
BRITISHNESS – ‘used especially by natives or inhabitants of Great Britain’
GIMMICK –‘an ingenious or novel device, scheme or stratagem especially one designed to attract attention or increase appeal’
Professional wrestling needs gimmicks – In a world of sports entertainment, the ability to entertain is what separates Wrestling from other sports. Or to be more specific the ability to manipulate stories and scenarios to entertain. This is where gimmicks come in. A gimmick can be larger than life or a subtle way of presenting a character– however all talent (and I include managers, refs and announcers) once they step through the curtain they are all performing a gimmick.
Wrestling at its best is a 3 ring circus or variety show of sorts – a combination of different matches and fighting styles and characters all there to entertain and amaze the audience – which in turn means there will be a section of it you don’t like – but you will stay for the parts you do, in turn appealing to a wider audience than pigeon holing yourself. I.e. in a circus you may not like clowns but go along to watch animals or acrobats. A good wrestling card will feature technically sound matches, comedy, storytelling and various gimmicks and gimmick matches – and for this you need a diverse roster. I.e. would mark henry seem as much of a behemoth and obstacle to overcome if every other match on the card featured a large wrestler? Or is he more imposing after a 5 star master class from the likes of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan? Or even a comedy match? Variety is key and it’s a simple way to enhance both matches in their own right (and for that matter the talent involved) and rewards the audience, retains their interest and eventually gives them enough reason to want to come back
This is where gimmicks come in. a gimmick can be all kinds of different things from mark henrys ‘world’s strongest man’ to Windham Rotundas ‘Bray Wyatt’ to Barry Darrow’s amazing ‘repo man’ – gimmicks can often dip into the world of stereotyping, which whilst is a tricky subject to explore is also one that goes hand in hand with wrestling characters and has done since its territorial days and still uses them in major promotions. It’s easy to establish a character with a clear stereotype/image because we all recognise it and therefore have an established expectation of what that character will/should behave like based on our own real life experiences. The list is endless Umaga, Rico, Kofi Kingston, Trish stratus. However I believe that wrestling needs these gimmicks (they are evident in all forms of entertainment) and they are a vital part of its past and future, yet why here in the UK don’t we explore a uniquely British gimmick?
Wrestling is at its best when you believe either side has a strong chance of winning and you can understand or relate to at least one wrestlers motive. Two wrestlers with individual skills, history, styles and motivation will create a more compelling story than two wrestlers thrown together for no reason. For example the Undertaker v Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 26 (streak v career) was more exciting than undertaker v mark henry 3 years earlier (not that I am saying this was the only reason but it does illustrate my point). This concept is one of the reasons UFC is so successful, it sets fighters with different styles and training against each other to see who comes out on top – in fact it’s the basis for all combat sports – the only difference with wrestling is that it can create and manipulate it to its own will.
This is where gimmicks come in – and particularly the racial/foreign gimmick. Wrestling (and the WWE in particular has a history of using talent from all over the world and can put them together in never before seen matches. Often this leads to stereotyping and over the years we have seen Mounties, rednecks, fighting Irish, Asian martial artists and in some cases characters and gimmicks that are relevant to the culture at the time for example straight after 9/11 America was gripped by a wave of national pride and unity (arguably Vince McMahon still has this) and gimmicks such as la resistance and Mohammed Hassan surface to capitalise on this new found feeling of Americana and support of the military. This even goes back to the days of Sgt Slaughter during the first gulf war and his turncoat Iraqi sympathiser character. With wrestling’s tendencies to recycle gimmicks it was a genuine revelation when Sheamus arrived on the scene with a gimmick although very obviously Irish wasn’t a drunken wife beater/leprechaun but a dominate Irish warrior. By looking back into his own culture and countries history Sheamus used an image of masculinity and strength to become a new style of Irish gimmick that remained true to his heritage (and in its own way was still true to the fighting Irish stereotype). So why doesn’t this happen more often? Why is the cliché of English wrestlers always to play a pompous aristocrat when we have a rich history of cult heroes, warriors and folklore? Which ironically the Americans love us for.
Having seen a number of promotions and footage of British wrestling and wrestlers over the last few years one thing that stands out is that we have an abundance of extremely talented men and women here, which is evident when you look at our contribution to the world wrestling scene – names like Zach Sabre jnr, Paige, Prince Devitt, Pac, Nick Aldis and Joel Redman prove that as a nation we have a lot to offer (interestingly none of these mentioned are stuck with a ‘upper class snob’ gimmick). However here in the UK the scene itself is very different and is not a worldwide entity like the WWE and isn’t available as easily for the casual fan to discover it – therefore its primary fan base are right here in Britain, regularly go to watch live shows and most of which aren’t aware of the various other promotions and wrestlers that are currently active. Rather than being a negative this can become a positive by using locality and regional differences and stereotypes to create a feeling of ownership within the fans. In the same way football clubs have a tribal following and pride because they represent the town/city that they play in and wear their crest on their shirts – what’s preventing wrestling doing the same thing? The British are a nation of fighters and are extremely patriotic and proud of their homes and communities – surely this is something that can be transferred into the world of British wrestling. By using existing rivalries and emotions it is possible to create heat and passion and why not exploit it? For example I have seen Harvey Dale wear a Nottingham Forest shirt in Leicester Championship Wrestling – and get a crowd of people all to boo him without having to say a single word, and how many times have we seen ‘England v Scotland’ matches? This nation’s attitude to football and what is in essence a regional pride can and should be transferred to wrestling.
With Football being such an integral part of UK life, to the point even if you are not a fan you are aware of its cultural significance, for example think if the excitement this country feels when there is a world cup or a British team makes the final of the champions league – I am quite surprised not many UK wrestlers have jumped on this subculture to parody and portray and a gimmick. Premier league footballers are now superstars and treated like aspirational figures to generations of young boys (in particular David Beckham whose impact is still being felt today) and of course for every Beckham there is a john terry. In fact football has a cast of characters to rival any soap opera or wrestling card, you can’t turn on a TV, search engine or open a newspaper (front and back page) without seeing a football related story. Raynaldo is one wrestler who is working with the football gimmick. Entering the ring with a modified Liverpool Fc logo on his shorts, bag of footballs and a vuvuzela – he is instantly recognizable as a character and the fans already have a pre conception of what he is all about – the basis of a successful gimmick. It wasn’t until I saw Raynaldo do a post-match interview (and read the Wristlock Rovers Facebook page) that I saw the depth of this character. Delivered in a perfect ‘match of the day’ style of a media trained footballer complete with lots of ‘umms and ahhs’ and being careful not to say the wrong thing and making reference to tactical formations and how the gaffer will react – it’s a perfect parody of everything we have all seen on TV year after year.. Which has shown the full potential of this character that can thrive to a UK audience? Will Raynaldo make a big money transfer? Will he become the next Ashley Cole? Will he emulate David Beckham? As I mentioned before Football is engrained in our society and culture and regardless of age / sex everyone has an opinion on the players – at its best wrestling reflects society and offers a morality play, Reynaldo has found a gimmick that reflects British society and can be utilised in storylines for many years to come and at best can reflect and opinion on current news.
The London Riots are one of the few tag teams who use where they come from and their past as the basis for their gimmick. The Riots are two big smash mouth brawlers whose wrestling style is reminiscent of the Legion of doom. But rather than just being ‘two big guys from London’ the riots have become the embodiment of the street riots in Tottenham (and later the rest of the country) from 2011. They represent the spirit and attitude that started the actual riots, an anti-establishment rebellion and reaction to years of political and social issues that have been causing the working class in this country to suffer for years under a recession whilst Politian’s get richer and the gap in class widens. The beauty of this gimmick is that whilst the London Riots are referencing the riots of 2011 – riots and social revolution are not new, it happened in the 70s and 80s and is engrained in our history with folk heroes such as Robin Hood, Guy Fawkes and Oliver Cromwell – the British public as I mentioned before have a strong sense of community pride and are prepared to fight for what they have earned and deem important to themselves. Regardless of a person’s opinion of the riots, they happened and had an effect on the communal mind-set of this country and in turn when you see The London Riots at a wrestling event you will instant have an opinion of them and a reaction to what they stand for.
The Prime Time Crew portray a Chav gimmick – again a social movement that has captured a generation of youths. Chav has been likened to Punk, Mods Rockers and Teddy boys as a youthful movement and rebellion that gives a sense of belonging to this generation. A direct reaction to gang culture and the Americanisation of culture – the British chav is seen in every small town in the UK and can be seen in all newspapers with stories of violence and criminal activity. As with all good gimmicks this will get a reaction and instant recognition with all of the audience – and whether you are booing them or cheering your local hero for beating them up and teaching them a lesson – a chav gimmick is relevant to British society and offers an extra layer to any feud/match.
Sa Samuels, The East End Butcher, comes to the ring in braces, Chelsea scarf and flat cap and captures perfectly all the images and stereotypes of a London gangster/football hooligan. It’s another character that is well represented in our society and personifies another aspect of brutishness. Sha expertly treads the line with this gimmick as not to let himself fall into the trappings of caricature but has created a legitimate persona that is often crowned champion in the various promotions he works for ( he is the longest serving Champ in IPW and has been RevPro Champ)
When Samuels lost his Rev Pro belt it was to Import and fan favourite Colt Cabana. Interestingly for London based character defending a London promotions belt (in London) Sha headlined as a heel against the American Cabana. But the character that Samuels portrays with both the gimmick tapping into societies perceptions of the London thug plus the work he had done to the fans in his time as champion – this match had an important subtext of UK v USA and the fact neither man looked to outshine each other, an example of how some of the best in the UK can equal the best in the world. And whilst the fans were firmly rooted behind Cabana it is testament to Samuels that he managed to avoid getting the UK fans to back him against the visitor.
I believe that there is a very real market for British gimmicks and that they can be a huge success if done correctly. As with everything in wrestling its vital that whoever is portraying the character that they are a talented and trained wrestler and are 100% into the gimmick. We are lucky enough to live in a multicultural country, rich with history and inspiration and with UK wrestling split into town by town divisions the opportunity for local hero gimmicks is too good to ignore – wrestling has the ability to create aspirational images and heroes/villains not always achievable ones, again using the football analogy –nearly all children would like to represent their local club, doesn’t mean that they will all get the chance, but it also doesn’t mean that they can’t dream and won’t go along to support those that do make it.
In the UK we have a variety of subcultures – mods (which does get represented by Flash Morgan) and rockers, punks (which does get represented but I think has much more to offer), Chavs, a large Polish community, working class heroes, hated politicians, British Military, an Asian community , the North South divide, England, Scotland, Welsh and Irish rivalries, regional differences (i.e. scouse, Geordie, brummie, etc) and many more – all things that will be instantly recognisable to the fans and have readymade story’s waiting to be told.
It’s been said that the best wrestling gimmicks are just the performers real life persona turned up to 11 – and we are British is it time to use that and celebrate it?