On Wrestling: Booking Lessons From Texas

Submitted By Ben Miller

There are some things from the March 7, 1983 episode of World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) (now available on the WWE Network) that cannot be duplicated.  A booker can hope for three local babyface brothers.  A promoter can want a mad villain like Michael Hayes.  But they are stars.  There is no way of knowing when they will appear or how bright they will shine.
What bookers and promoters have control of is the storytelling.  Great storytelling will elevate present wrestlers and draw future wrestlers.  It will make dreamers want to work for you and make deciders want your show on their channel.
There is a wrong way to learn from great storytelling, too.  But before that, a breakdown of what the storytellers did right:
The salient angle of the March 7, 1983 episode of WCCW begins at about the twelve minute mark.  The match is "Ice Man" King Parsons vs. Buddy Roberts of the Freebirds.
The angle begins before the match with a shirtless Michael Hayes accompanying Roberts to the ring.
The Lesson: Two fundamental heel/antagonist move here.  Heels will try to bend or break rules.  Heels are happy to outnumber the opposition if it gives them a better chance of winning.  (This is why America is always a babyface.  We don't do these things.)
Hayes was not a licensed manager, so he was told that he had to return to the dressing room.  Hayes took to the public address system to not only protest the decision, but to ridicule Parsons.
The Lesson: This time the heel shows off three antagonistic traits.  He complains to the authorities.  He offers unprovoked ridicule to the opposition.  He makes himself the center of attention in a non-humble way.
The match was short.  It began after Parsons took the microphone to give Hayes a verbal retort.  The retort ended with Parsons slapping Hayes.
The Lesson: The babyface/protagonist is now making himself the center of attention and ridiculing the opposition.  He even drew first blood with the slap.  But it's all acceptable babyface behavior because he was provoked and the retaliation isn't excessive.
Roberts jumped Parsons to avenge the slap, but Parsons hit a quick finisher to win the match in about fifteen seconds.
The Lesson: Michael Hayes did not take the loss because he is a top heel.  In DIE HARD Karl (the blonde German who lasts until the very end) has to look invincible unless he's battling John McClane (Bruce Willis).  Fritz (Karl's brother in the movie) can die early in order to enrage Karl.  In the Freebirds vs. Von Erichs angle, Hayes is Karl (or maybe Hans Gruber) and Roberts is Fritz.
The post-match angle was the best part of all.  Hayes jumped on the mic to tell the world that Parsons would regret his actions.  Terry Gordy, the third member of the Freebirds, then came to ringside.  Hayes finally got on the mic and said that the Freebirds are not leaving until Parsons returns to receive his comeuppance.
The Lesson: Ahh, the key part of the angle.  This action builds suspense.  All great drama needs suspense.  In THE CONTEST episode of "Seinfeld", there is incredible suspense because the audience doesn't know which character is going to masturbate first.  (Sounds gross, but this was the 90's; before everyone began believing that everything should be graphically shown on screen.)  When Kramer (Michael Richards) slaps his money down and declares that he's lost the contest, there is uproarious laughter because the tension is broken.  In the WCCW angle, Hayes's interview builds incredible suspense.  Either Hayes is going to have to go back on his word and leave, or Parsons is going to have to come back for a certain beating, or the show is just going to stop in its tracks.  The audience knows that none of these three options is expected or likely.  Something incredible is about to occur.

After Hayes's proclamation, the announcer tells us that the television show is at a standstill.  The Freebirds won't leave the ring and Parsons rightfully wants to avoid a one-on-three beating.
The LessonGive the audience some time to feel the tension and suspense.  Let their minds process the possible outcomes.  

A noise ripples through the crowd.  Parsons is coming back to the ring.  But he's not alone!  The Von Erichs, archrivals to the Freebirds, are in tow.
The Lesson: Another stroke of brilliance in WCCW booking.  Not only did they build tension, but they broke that tension in a way that is surprising, sensical and satisfying.  If a story breaks tension with those three S's, it's gonna make some money.  The audience didn't know that Parsons was buddies with the Von Erichs, but they knew that the Von Erichs were enemies of the Freebirds.  (Surprising and Sensical)  The biggest feud in the promotion is the Von Erichs vs. Freebirds, so the audience wanted to see a confrontation.  (Satisfying)

The heels immediately take a powder once they see Parsons and the Von Erichs approaching the ring.
The Lesson: Look at the "rules" of booking that are being broken.  The babyfaces have the heels outnumbered, four-to-three.  The Von Erichs are interfering and breaking the rules.  And they don't get away with it simply because "they're the local babyfaces".  They get away with it because they were provoked and the retaliation is not excessive.  Another lesson is that the heels go back on their word that they were staying until Roberts's loss to Parsons was avenged.

The rest of the March 7, 1983 episode of WCCW is unspectacular.  The main event is pretty good and David Von Erich's good-ol'-boy promo is cute, but by and large everything else in the hour is missable.  And that's the final lesson.
The Lesson: All that matters is the central plot/main event angle.  WWE and TNA should take special note of this one.  Even though wrestling has become a serial business rather than an event business, the money still flows to great main event angles.  If WWE or TNA had one hot Austin/McMahon or nWo Invasion level angle, everything else would fall into place.  They could offer a three hour show filled with angle-less matches and they'd still dwarf their current ratings. 

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