wrestling / Columns

Ricochet vs Ospreay: High Spots Galore

June 14, 2016 | Posted by J. Onwuka

Wilkommen 411millionaires, they call me J Onwuka and I’m ambling my way back to annoy all the see-throughs. Miss me? No you didn’t don’t lie. I’ve got some words for you, it’s about That One Match You Know The One Where The Guys Are Doing The Thing. More importantly though, it’s about storytelling and high spots.

I’m gonna do the banner now. I know you’re excited but keep your pants on.

So I finally watched The Match. For the past few weeks I’ve been wrapped up with work, reprioritizing, etc. Those of you who have got to know my outlook a bit will know that I don’t put watching wrestling every week very high on my ‘to-do’ list. What interests me is less getting popped by ‘big events’ on the show and more the way that wrestling flows and works. So what got me to watch The Match wasn’t the thrill of seeing these two world wonders going toe-to-toe and nailbiting about what they might do. The buzz got my attention.

The Match is Will Ospreay vs Ricochet in New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Best of the Super Juniors tournament. Everybody’s seen that picture with them both upside down in the air I bet. For about twenty minutes these two showed the best of what the world has to offer in leaps, flips, twists, and bends. Even writing that it sounds like a crude description but I feel like even Ricochet and Ospreay themselves would say that’s what they’re presenting. That’s what they mean by ‘King of the High Flyers’: the guy who can do the best & most complex stunts with the best composure. At the end of it, Ospreay picked up the victory by escaping Ricochet’s deadly Benadryller to hit a spinning kick and his springboard cutter.

Both of these guys have been called the best wrestler in the world today. Ospreay in particular has got real high praise, likely tied to how young he is, and not just on his aerial game. Watching it, though, there was one word that came to mind first: spotfest.

Then I had to ask myself, are spotfests bad?

I feel like there’s a strong difference in how the idea of ‘spots’ is used for heavyweights (especially pre-2000s) and for cruiserweights (shorthand for ‘anybody who can do flips’, again pre-2000s). We can all agree that heavyweights always did spots but they were seen as rarer in those matches. Superplexes, throwing the guy out of the ring, piledrivers, those were the big spots that heavyweights used. And, the veterans always stressed, they were used sparingly. They absolutely did not no way no how pepper their matches with spots from morning to evening no sir. For cruiserweights, everything they do is a spot. 450 splash, spot. Spinning wheel kick, spot. Dropkick, spot. Crucifix pin hold, spot. If you go off your feet, this old school thinking says, you’re doing too much and you gotta think harder about what you’re doing, tone it down, make it believable.

Let’s look into the history a bit. Historically, all the up to probably the 90s, the only way you were going to make money in wrestling was as a real heavyweight contender. Those were the guys on top, those were the guys with media attention, that was where you needed to be. A guy who was a little bit lighter, let’s say a Dolph Ziggler in relation to heavyweight John Cena, might be able to make it if they are really good and can get the crowd behind them. A guy like Daniel Bryan, though, never had a chance. He just can’t get up to the size that will get the bookers of the time to set him up in a match. He could still wrestle but he’d be wrestling for lighter weight titles for less exposure and less money. If 1950s Daniel Bryan really wants to make a go of a big money career in wrestling he’s going to have to go outside the box. To draw attention to himself, he’s most likely going to do more high spots of the kind that heavyweights can’t do, precisely to show off what is exciting about his lighter weight. Heavyweights hated the shine being taken off them so they buried that stuff as often as possible. Greg Gagne in the AWA High Flyers and Shawn Michaels in 90s WWF are great examples of guys who were less than the ‘accepted’ heavyweight size but got over by being able to use those out-of-the-box moves to get themselves noticed.

That’s really what high spots are for: getting the crowd excited, waking the crowd up. And as much as the older school heavyweights decry spotfests of the acrobatic kind, there were a hell of a lot of spotfests back in the day. Magnum TA vs Tully Blanchard in the cage is pretty much all ‘high spots’ involving throwing the person into the cage, blood, weapons, etc. John Cena vs Brock Lesnar from Extreme Rules a couple years back, maybe one of the greatest matches of the modern age, entirely composed of spots. They put all these moments in there to make sure the crowd is watching. The reasons that we don’t really recognize these things as high spots so readily is that wrestling commentary associates high spots entirely with flying. That’s not true, it’s too narrow. A high spot, to me, is a part of the match that’s designed to be extremely exciting all on its own. A punch is not a spot, but a punch exchange probably is. The pin countering mess, or when the two people keep leapfrogging and bridging and then both miss dropkicks and land on their feet, big spot. The Flair flop, great and literal high spot.

So yeah, Ospreay and Ricochet was a spotfest. But if it’s good, why does that matter? It matters because a spotfest really only resonates with people who are into that mode. Ospreay/Ricochet, for instance, isn’t my kind of thing. Both guys are amazing at what they do but I don’t get that jazzed for millions of flips. The kind of spotfest that would get me going is like Roderick Strong vs Davey Richards off of ROH Final Battle a few years back, or an Elgin vs Ishii match: power strikes, big time throws, tight submissions. War Machine is one of my favorite teams and Sheamus is one of my favorite WWE guys, and when you know that I prefer to see really powerful heavyweight wrestling I think it makes a lot more sense; even though these guys are snoozers to a lot of people, I don’t think anybody can doubt that they’re some of the best at throwing their weight around, as well as the weight of other people.

A match that is able to stretch beyond the ‘general interest’ of those involved is one with story. I mean, just think about all the most dramatic sports moments in history: Miracle on Ice, Red Sox breaking their curse, Michael Jordan leading the Looney Tunes to victory over the Mon-Stars. They all had a story that was easy to translate beyond the rules of the sport and one that developed over time. The Red Sox went through several periods where they slumped, then rose and almost got it, before they finally won the title again. I don’t need to know much about hockey to become wrapped up in the Miracle on Ice. All the elements, the second period USSR lead, the third period rally from the States, can be got across without taking note of the intricate tactics that go on even while I’m watching.

Telling a full story requires beats, points in the story that change its direction. Even in the best sports stories there are beats. In fact, that’s why sports stories resonate with us: out of this seemingly random set of results we can pick out clear beats that form a narrative for us to follow. I’m sure there were more viscerally exciting games than the US vs Soviet Union hockey match but there is none with the legend of this one, both because of the setting and because how it played out. If you wanted to tell someone about a hockey game and why it was exciting, the Miracle on Ice would be a great place to start because the story is relatively easy to tell. A match with ping-pong scoring right up until the 5-4 finish might be much more exciting to watch but how exactly does someone who isn’t invested in the teams make sense of why that’s exciting? With the US going down early and then having to rally back, we can show both that the Soviets are a dominant team (in the beginning) with more than twice the number of shots on goal and that the US then turned it around by guts and crafty play.

This is where the Ricochet and Ospreay match fell down for me. I felt that the theme was very strong, the idea of Ricochet being the reigning king and Li’l Will being the upstart wunderkind. As far as telling a story that changed and drew me in, I didn’t feel it. Ospreay was really never more than a step behind Ricochet at any time and there were plenty of moments where he was right up with him. Ricochet definitely seemed concerned to ‘defend his spot’ but there wasn’t any particular veteran trickiness. That is to say, his veteran knowledge didn’t really give him a considerable advantage. Both guys took pretty similar amounts of damage at pretty similar paces. Now, if there had been a stronger sense of story, if Ospreay had been in real peril for an extended period for instance, I might have been interested in ‘how will Ospreay get out of this?’ Instead, the only thing I could really look forward to was the flips and tricks, and as I’d said before, that’s not really my thing.

There’s a lot of mixing up of theme and storytelling these days. I think there is a lot more strong theming than there is good storytelling. Guys who can put on the good facial expressions and have great body language, that’s great for selling the themes. Both Ricochet and Ospreay did great at that. For a stronger story, there’s gotta be less immediate exchange, more chance for a particular idea to resonate with the crowd before turning it on its ear. These guys are doing great for themselves so it’s hard to argue with how they wrestle. Still, I believe there is another tier that even guys as athletically talented as Ospreay and Ricochet can reach. And I’m not saying that more heavyweights ‘get it’ than cruiserweights; there’s a reason that Moose is super over right now and that Hogan initially wanted to learn the dropkick, because spots do work. So it’s not just a vanilla midget thing. Across the board there could be a much better use of time, drama, and real storytelling to draw people in.

I’m just putting this here cause eventually I’ll use it to say/shill stuff again. Recombobulating and all that. I’m not getting paid for this if y’all didn’t know, so I’m gonna take things at my own pace.

Pace to the paceful.