By John Napolitano
“You sit there, and you thump your bible. And you say your prayers, and it didn’t get you anywhere. Talk about your psalms; talk about John 3:16. Austin 3:16 says, ‘I just whipped your ass!’”
This King of the Ring “acceptance speech” from “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in June of 1996 was all it took to catapult the young Texan into superstardom. Concise, deliberate, and attitudinal, this promo will go down in WWE history, as the first step of a long, historic journey, but why was the birth of Austin 3:16 so hugely successful in launching “Stone Cold’s” legendary career? Factoring out the shock value of spewing such vile verbiage in the family-friendliest era of WWE and the unprecedented character that was and is “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Austin accomplished something that few current WWE Superstars can seem to deliver.
In four short sentences Steve Austin told the casual viewer who he is and what he’s all about. Sounds simple, right? It’s not. The “Texas Rattlesnake,” more or less, explained to the WWE Universe what his values were, accompanied by a mission statement. In a creative and provocative manner, Austin articulated what we can expect from him during his tenure in World Wrestling Entertainment. This is an aspect of present day promos that has become a lost art. It is not enough to lace up a pair of boots, hit the ropes, spew out a rehearsed post-match interview, and expect to get over with the WWE Universe. In order to differentiate one’s character from another, as viewers, we should be told what makes Neville, for example, different from any other babyface in the company.
Sure, Neville is an agile walking highlight reel, but what is his motivation? What are his long-term and short-term goals? It’s not enough to introduce a character to the WWE Universe and just stamp the “hungry challenger” character on his or her forehead and call it a day. It is not enough to say that Bray Wyatt and the Wyatt Family are a psychotic band of evildoers and then have them get beat time and time again. The words and actions of the WWE Superstars should not contradict one another. Imagine if “Stone Cold” Steve Austin delivered his Austin 3:16 promo, and then he went on to constantly get beat, while delivering 110% percent-type promos in his post match interviews. The character would have died before it ever took off. WWE Superstars should always have short-term and long-term goals and never contradict their actions from their promos.
Another key to establishing a character and getting support from the WWE Universe is utilizing more realistic dialogue. Seeing as though professional wrestling is in the business of suspending disbelief, it’s only appropriate that the superstars’ post-match interviews, backstage run-ins, and in-ring skirmishes sound believable. Albeit, this is no secret key and World Wrestling Entertainment has come a long way since the late 1980s, but not every promo is a success in this department. When I hear Roman Reigns convene with Dean Ambrose backstage, I don’t feel as though I’m watching two friends wishing each other good luck before their matches. I feel as though I’m watching forced companionship, highlighted by Roman Reigns regurgitating lines he was fed five minutes beforehand, capped off by his repulsive catchphrase, “Believe that.” Friends don’t use marketable catchphrases in everyday conversation. Yes, The Rock always used catchphrases in his backstage segments, but he was an over-the-top character, and he still managed to make his dialogue seem believable. Kevin Owens does a great job of blending reality and fanfare, and his backstage run-ins and in-ring promos always hit their mark. Combine clear motivation with realistic dialogue, and you’re halfway there to getting over with the WWE Universe.
There is certainly a lack of superstardom in WWE today. There is too much reliance on the tried and truly over part-timers of the past and not enough dependence on the up and coming superstars. It seems as though everyone, except a select few (Seth Rollins, New Day, Kevin Owens, Dean Ambrose etc.), just blends into one another. To the casual viewer, it looks like they’re just there to collect a paycheck. This identity crisis will come back to bite the WWE in the backside, if they do not start taking chances and putting more focus on the younger guys. Believe that.