The first rule of narrative – of storytelling of any kind, in any medium or format or genre, from the weightiest novel to the flimsiest comic book to that little white lie you told your mum – is the suspension of disbelief.
Without that rule in place, your story doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter what kind of story it is: unless your target audience are prepared to go along for the ride, it doesn’t matter how fast the car goes and how shiny it looks. Professional wrestling also stands or falls by that first rule of narrative: since this is a story about a combat sport, and not genuine competition, our perception of the outcome of the matches the characters pretend to have is key to maintaining that vital suspension of disbelief.
And when the finish to a match doesn’t do what it’s supposed to, it screws everything up. It affects how you remember the ten to thirty minutes of wrestling you’ve just seen. It affects your understanding of the characters involved and your interest in seeing what happens to them next. Most of all, it drags you out of the soothing bath of your suspension of disbelief, bringing you face to face with the fundamental ridiculousness of the spectacle you’re trying to enjoy.
When the finish to the match you’re watching is a sack of unhappy crap, it ruins wrestling for everyone. Here’s ten of the worst examples of what we’re talking about in recent WWE programming.
10. The Dusty Finish
Eddie Graham may have innovated this booking finish, but the late, legendary Dusty Rhodes helped popularise it (hence the name). The way it works is pretty simple: the heroic babyface manages to score the win, the crowd gets to feel good about it, then the decision is reversed on a technicality and the win reverts to the heel (or, in title matches, the babyface still wins but the heel retains after all). The crowd’s good feeling dissipates, the heel is the focus of all that heat, and the crowd is all fired up to see the babyface try again next time.
Back in the days of the NWA’s dominance and the territories, the Dusty Finish wasn’t as widely known – these days, free television comprises the bulk of the wrestling content fans will experience, and like many successful gimmicks of the past, the finish is now over-exposed and usually poorly laid out.
A perfect recent example of this issue is the otherwise excellent WWE world heavyweight championship match between Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose at the Elimination Chamber event this year. After plenty of interference from Rollin’s Authority cronies, a referee bump saw the crowd already beginning to boo, sensing what was about to occur. Ambrose hit his finish, Dirty Deeds (the boring double arm snap DDT version, not the headlock driver everyone fell in love with), and another referee slid into the ring to count the pin and hand him the title.
The crowd went ballistic, the announce team had a stroke… and then the second ref was buttonholed by the recovering first ref, who informed him all about Rollins dragging him into Ambrose’ path. Referee two then informed Lillian Garcia that Ambrose was the winner… but by disqualification, and that the match was officially done at the point of Rollins’ cheating referee bump. Since the title couldn’t change hands via disqualification, Rollins retained after all.
The crowd in attendance hated the finish, as did most of the people at home. Quite apart from the worthless retcon of the outcome, it made no sense whatsoever for the second referee to have no idea what had happened to the first referee until he was told. It’s also questionable as to whether a DQ was even warranted for an ambiguous assault on a referee, especially given that the offending party didn’t gain from the attack and lost the match fair and square.
In the end, Ambrose hightailed it out of there with the title belt anyway… just because he could.