Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tell Me Now, What's the Point of EVOLVE?

Post inspired by a Twitter conversation today with Sean Williams

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Is the concept of EVOLVE being executed on correctly?
EVOLVE's been open for business for 20 months now, right? I was excited for the promotion from jump, and yeah, two of the three shows that I watched from it were really good. However, I'll be the first to admit that I'm an anomaly when it comes to wrestling fans. I can watch wrestling for wrestling's sake. I don't necessarily need context to enjoy a match, even if a good backstory always enhances a match for me, if that makes any sense. Most people would watch a real sport if they just wanted to see people do moves to each other all the time. I had high hopes for EVOLVE when it first started. A pure sport promotion, done right, could have been huge, could have been great.

But again, when pure sport is the only thing going for it, then it gets boring. You can tell me that whoever wins and loses matters and has meaning, but saying it and showing it are two different things. By now, I expected EVOLVE to have an endgame, a sort of thing that the wins and losses amount to. Instead, what are their metrics? What are, as KSP and Jason Mann would say, the MacGuffins? According to the mission statement, having the best record and having the longest winning streak are the only real prizes, and in the meantime, the other focus of the promotion was getting to know the "real" person.

The former to me feels like spinning wheels. Okay, you can have the best record or the most wins in an ephemeral sense, but that's just it. It's an intangible thing. Pure sport doesn't operate that way. Team sports have year long seasons. Combat sports have Championship belts. Individual sports like golf and tennis may not have tangible season long titles, but the thing is, each event isn't just a collection of head-to-head battles. They're tournaments with one winner.

But again, wrestling is not like "real" sport because it's not a sport. It has sporting elements, but in an environment where most of the fans, especially in the indies where everyone's moved past the whole "kayfabe-as-gospel" stage, know it's staged, it needs to have more pronounced stories to hold interest in a general sense. So how does that fit into a pure sports build? It doesn't mean that the stories have to be just like they are in Chikara or even in WWE, but they have to be pronounced. Even if it's chasing the right to be in a playoff system to compete for a Championship trophy to complete a season, that's a solid story right there.

I know what you're saying, a tangible Championship is no greater a story or no more tangible than a wins record or a winning streak. To a point, that's true, but only to a degree. Saying you want to win the most matches is great, or wanting to have the best record is fine, but at the same time, there's no transference. I can retire with the best record, or with the most wins, but there's no changing of the guard when I go, and that can be perfectly acceptable in the barebones scheme of things. In sport, that's okay because it's wholly results driven. In wrestling, having something be results driven is pointless because having the best record never means you're the best at what you do. It means that someone likes you or you're a great politician.

People see through that, and it's a HUGE reason why stuff like Shawn Michaels losing his smile or Impact Wrestling booking angles to strip titles so frequently go over like farts in church with many fans, hardcore or not. Stories need resolution, and in wrestling, stories need conflict. Any story where a guy can surpass another without ever facing him feels cheap. Especially when a lot of what has been used to sell tickets and DVDs for the promotion has been guest stars, from Ikuto Hidaka to Bryan Danielson to Finlay, that cheapness comes through when the main thrust of the fed isn't even the concept anymore, but the guys who come in and act as "gets" for dream matches.

Typical ROH Fan jokes on Twitter that Davey Richards leaving Gabe Sapolsky in the lurch was a big reason why EVOLVE was destined to fail. I'd say that even if Richards had stuck around, the concept would still be where it is because of the plan1. It feels nebulous, and it feels like it's pandering to a crowd that doesn't exist, or at the very best, is small because they still like wrestling but don't realize what wrestling is all about. People who want to watch "real" watch UFC. I admit that I do want realism in my wrestling, but wanting realism and wanting it to be "real" are two way different things. I would even go to say that they're missing the point about what kind of realism they want. Again, putting on a pure sports fed where people are "real" would mean that there needed to be something to fight for more than just wins and losses or having a temporary prize like "the most wins" or "the longest streak".

I do admit that they have done some things right. The Style Battle was a neat diversion, they have done a few pretty cool - albeit short - feuds and yes, after the dreadful EVOLVE 1 card, the actual matches have been good for the most part. That being said, when there's not guiding principle at the top and too much focus is put on guest stars, things get stale and directionless.

So, 20 months in, I'm not sure it's an unfair question to ask what the point of EVOLVE is. What are they providing that isn't being provided, and are they doing it well? Even if you have an answer to the first question, I'm not sure that you can answer the second question in a positive manner. Wrestling for wrestling's sake is not an effective longterm vision for a good company, and I just don't want to see EVOLVE become just another fed that missed the boat because they were directed to a demand that just wasn't there.

1 - To be fair, so did Typical ROH Fan.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein - Please visit his site to view the plentiful amounts of pictures he's taken for DGUSA, ROH and other indie feds: Get Lost Photography

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