October 29, 2006
I was asked my opinion on “squash matches” a long time ago and promised to give my full take on this in commentary form. I completely forgot about it but was recently reminded so here we go.
“Squash Matches” for those of you unfamiliar with the term are what WWF used to produce for their television shows “WWF Superstars”, “WWF Wrestling Challenge”, etc. This was in the pre-RAW days in the heart of the Hulk Hogan era. TV back then consisted of interview segments and “squash matches”. The matches would pit a WWF Superstar against a completely unknown usually smaller and considerably less skilled opponent. The matches would be complete one-sided affairs and were designed for the sole purpose of getting the Superstar “over”. The Superstar would always win with his finishing maneuver and the “unknown” would get virtually no offense what so ever.
Obviously these matches weren’t as entertaining as the big name matches we get on RAW or SD today but back in the day that was the norm and actually they were likely much better for business, at least in theory. If fans only get to see “squash matches” on TV there is far more appeal to attending house shows or purchase PPVs, because house show and PPVs are the only places you get to see “big name” stars face “big name” stars. Back during this era WWF ran house more frequently running most of their major towns on a monthly basis, and even did angles at the live events, which carried over to the show the following month.
Making PPVs and house shows more unique wasn’t the only advantage to the “squash match” format. “Squash matches” also provided a better vehicle to get talent “over”, and establish their finishing moves and trade mark spots. Every Superstar up and down the card got victories on TV and with getting wins regularly on TV everyone seemed “pushed” and was able to establish and get their finishing moves “over”. This was a problem Val Venis and I had with our brief run as a tag team in WWE (the baby face version). We won our first match on TV and decided to use the old Hart Foundation “Heart Attack” as our finishing move. We used it that once and never again got a win on TV to utilize it or establish it. Only extremely pushed teams or individuals get to win constantly with the finishers on TV anymore so it becomes nearly impossible for many people to establish let alone “get over” a finishing move.
Had Val and I been a baby face team back in the “squash match” TV era every TV appearance we would have gotten to win with our finish as well as hit any other trade mark moves or spots we wanted to establish, and thus likely been viewed as an “over” pushed team. We might then lose to another more pushed team on house shows but even losing every night on house shows would amount to the entire fan base seeing us lose once every month or two while they might see us win 4 to 6 times strong on TV and still appear to have a strong winning record.
This also provided a fairer environment for talent to get “over” as well, as everyone has the same opportunity regardless of push. There is the Champion who is obviously going to get over because he is pushed as champ but all the non champions get the same 3-4 minutes of TV time to have a match, get a win, and do whatever they want to try to get themselves “over” with the crowd. In today’s TV environment the Champions are on TV each week to further their “Title Program” and the team they are currently working with (who the office chooses to get the push) works with them and any other team will just be used to put over the above teams. Even if the non-pushed team has the ability and charisma to “get over” it will be extremely difficult if they are always losing on TV. Their house show matches will also suffer because they haven’t had the chance to established finishers or trade mark offense, which will make it easier for them to get the needed crowd reaction to impress the office and perhaps earn them a “pushed” spot on TV.
I think this is the fundamental reason behind so few of the “new” WWE talent getting over. Unless they are given the major push out of the gate and protected they never get a chance to establish who they are and convince the crowd they are true Superstars. How often do you see Carlito win clean with his finish? I don’t even know what his finish is. Back in the day every debuting star would get win after win after win and each week it would be with his finisher, every debuting star would get, for the most part, the same chance to “get over”. Look at MVP, he has debuted with what I would consider a lot of hype and push by today’s standards yet I’ve never seen him win and don’t know if he even has a finisher.
In a short TV match environment you will seldom be able to get over more than one party, so unless you continually sacrifice the one, the other isn’t going to truly get established or get over either. This brings up a few interesting options: 1) Going back to the “squash match” format, or 2) Incorporating squash matches into the current format for new talent to enable them to get “over”.
Unfortunately neither is going to work. The biggest problem is once fans are used to seeing “big name” matches on TV you can’t expect them to go back, at least not without taking a huge hit in ratings and to your fan base size. If fans tuned into RAW next week and saw nothing but 2-3 minutes squash matches there would be a huge uproar. Fans would feel ripped off and no doubt a large portion of them would tune out, complaining the show was horrible with nothing but crappy one-sided matches. This would then open up a huge door to someone like TNA, which would then seem like an unbelievable show (in a good way this time (LOL)) with far more competitive and higher quality matches on it.
Incorporating some squash matches into the show has been tried and doesn’t work either. WWE tried this with Chris Masters, and you can all remember how well that worked. It did establish his finisher but everyone complained that his matches were crap and no one took his victories seriously because he was beating “jobbers”. Shelton Benjamin losing in a competitive match to Shawn Michaels isn’t going to be able to establish his finish but he will be viewed as a more serious “pushed” character than Masters will be beating a jobber.
It’s a real catch 22. The industry has become all about the ratings so we get World Title matches, Cage matches, and hell even TLC matches on free TV; fans aren’t going to be happy about giving all that up to go back to squash matches so WWE can better establish their future talent roster. Further more with WWE being so protective of their current business they protect their top guys who are “over” and thus as a result cut off at the knees, in essence, their future talent. To truly get over the new guys they will have to put them over cleanly and strong and eventually beat the currently established stars. Of course since those new stars aren’t proven reliable draws yet, WWE is reluctant to do so. Look what happened with Brock Lesnar. They did what they needed to do, he got win after win clean with his finish. He beat all the top stars (Taker, Hogan, Rock, etc) and got over and was a major player, and then he decided this business wasn’t for him and he quit, leaving WWE with nothing for all their efforts.
It really is a tough situation and I’m not sure what the correct answer is. I think taking gambles like they did with Lesnar is probably the best choice because at least it can produce results if you make the right choice with who you think will be “The Next Big Thing”.
Food for thought,