Developing a Sustainable Relationship with a Man in His Underwear

How to cope with the changing ways we get our wrestlers
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The new face of the WWE's developmental model, at least in the way the door hit his ass on the way out.

Photo courtesy of ProWrestlingPowerhouse.

In case you missed the breaking news filed under “WWE DEVELOPMENTAL ROSTER RELEASES”, the beginning of last month was not a good time for fans of NXT, WWE’s almost dangerously experimental-and-because-of-that only-available-on-Hulu developmental program. It was during the first few days of November that Kassius Ohno, or as he is significantly better known, Chris Hero, was released from his developmental contract for unknown reasons.

When Hero was signed after what felt like an eternity waiting to get his number punched, he came under the crushing weight of expectation, the same weight that was thrust upon CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, and his former tag team partner in The Kings of Wrestling, Claudio Castagnoli.

Given the reputation of his work on the indies, there’s a serious tone of disappointment that comes from Hero's departure, especially considering the tremendous track record the WWE had with independent stars making the transition to the big stage. Evan Bourne (nee Matt Sydal), Daniel Bryan (Danielson), Antonio Cesaro (Castagnoli), Dean Ambrose (Jon Moxley), and Seth Rollins (Tyler Black) all found major league success in some way in the last seven years since the first of them -- C.M. Punk -- made his debut on television.

But the shock went beyond fanboyism, and seemed to generate genuine confusion and worry in the Internet Wrestling Community: Hero hit the physical notes WWE wants in “their” workers -- tall, with a frame that can carry muscle and better looking than the people watching -- and from a business perspective, no matter where he went, he drew a fan following and sold tickets.

Like Punk, Castagnoli, and Danielson before him, he traveled the world over and brought innovation back from places that exist entirely separate from our understanding of what professional wrestling is, like Japan and especially England, where Hero even pulled the legendary “Man of a 1,000 Holds” Johnny Saint out of mothballs. It seems like Hero couldn’t possibly be the one at fault here, inasmuch as there is someone to “blame”.

And because the batting average has been astronomical on prospects even less seemingly can’t-miss than Hero, any failure, no matter how few in the face of the many successes, stands out even worse.

But WWE has had just as much luck with the performers they’ve culled from other less “traditional” wrestling sources than the modern-day territorial system of independent wrestling, so it's hard to challenge their methods. Big E. Langston -- one of the brightest young stars in the industry and a must-follow in the odd word of Wrestling Twitter -- is the type of weightlifting ex-football player who is more often than not the subject of “Goldberg”-chants levels of ridicule from certain segments of wrestling fandom. Brad Maddox, the understatedly wonderful authority figure/punching bag, cycled through circuits outside of promotions outside of the independent strongholds like Ring of Honor, Chikara, and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla before stumbling into his current job. Sheamus -- outside of John Cena and CM Punk, perhaps WWE’s biggest star -- produced for years in the rings of the British Isles before making his way across the Atlantic , and the troubled-but-successful-enough-to-keep-his-job Jack Swagger was grabbed (almost) directly from the wrestling program at the University of Oklahoma.

However, the type of fans that pay attention to things and people like Chris Hero don't see the places where these other performers -- the WWE’s “guys”, or “them” -- get taken from. We don't have the same hopes and expectations for them as a Chris Hero, and because of this, we generally care about them significantly less.

We don't get attached as strongly to “them”. And we definitely don't write wailing walls for their demise in the WWE. The fact that we get a bit crazier if a guy we watched coming through the bingo halls and high school gyms gets let go or root just a bit harder for if he or she makes it big within the WWE's corporate structure than we would if our first exposure to them was in NXT is what fans do, whether or not we really should. (We should.)

If you grew up in State College, watching games every Saturday in Happy Valley, you’d likely root a little harder for Penn State players on Sundays, and the same thing goes for professional wrestling. These aren’t just performers, but people who come into your town for weekends at a time and become part of the fabric of the local entertainment scene. It’s not necessarily better, but it certainly is different.

With the rise of NXT and the state-of-the-Art Performance Center, learning to accept that WWE's talent scouting system can sometimes recruit so well that not every wrestler that we know should make it eventually will is going to become a larger and larger part of the WWE experience. Everyone is biased on some level, whether they want to admit it. For me and thousands of other fans of the current major indie scene, our biases dictate much more of a reaction when Ohno becomes Hero again.

For a guy like Enzo Amore -- as beloved a character among the small, passionate NXT crowd as Hero is on the indy scene -- the incomparable national exposure that the WWE offers even with its internet-exclusive streaming content has allowed people to feel as badly for him when he recently broke his leg (which he did just two days after Hero’s release) as they would for someone like Kevin Steen or even Adrian Neville, who made his bones on the indies as PAC before joining the NXT roster.

And the WWE is realizing that. FCW and the former developmental systems were obscured from general view for the most part, but NXT has begun to be featured on Hulu for free (after months of needing a subscription to HuluPlus to watch it, which for cheapskates like yours truly, is a godsend.) Maybe WWE is realizing that they need to keep up with the modern indies in terms of accessibility so that everyone can start off on similar footing when they're ready for the big stage.

Of course, none of these circumstances really make what happened in the WWE with a performer like Ohno any better, but at least he has the chance to be a Hero somewhere else.


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