In my previous article, I spoke about one of the best feuds I’ve ever witnessed in wrestling, and how it was in my local promotion, IHW. They managed to create a hero that was likable and worth cheering, and a villain who was detestable in every way, that you would pay to see him get beat. That story continues here, but not just for me to tell the story leading into their December 1 Steel Cage Match at IHW’s final show of 2017, but to illustrate a point that has been lost in much modern day wrestling, particularly in WWE.

Real heroes and villains.

In the last article, I spoke about how Titus and Markus Burke’s feud has become very personal, as Titus taped Markus to the top rope of the ring and attacked Burke’s father who was sitting in the front row. He dragged Burke’s dad into the ring, beat him with a chair, and then put the chair around his neck and told Markus that if he didn’t quit, he was going to break his dad’s neck. Markus quit. Titus flew off the middle rope and stomped the chair anyway. Chaos ensued, and Titus was booed out of the building.

When the next show arrived, tensions were high. This was the biggest show in IHW history, as it was their 12th anniversary show, and they were teaming up with SMASH Wrestling (an up and coming indie based out of Ontario) to do a huge two day series of shows in Moncton and Fredericton that featured a seven-match series with the wrestlers from Ontario vs. the wrestlers from the Maritimes. IHW Promoter, Kevin Tyler wanted no trouble between Titus and Burke, because this was too important for that. Titus came out with a clipboard, handed to Kevin, and told him to read it. Titus pointed to Burke’s father in the front row and claimed he had a restraining order put on him, and that he wasn’t allowed within one hundred metres of Titus. Security came and escorted Burke’s dad out, to boos from the crowd, as again, he’s one of us, sitting front row at every show. Kevin then threatened Titus and said that if anything happened between Burke and him, he’d strip Titus off the IHW Heavyweight Championship, and if Burke attacked, Burke would be banned from ever getting a title shot again.

Burke came out, and reluctantly agreed to the terms, but Titus taunted him, and threatened his dad again. Burke snapped, and a huge pull apart brawl started that lasted well over ten minutes. It was utter and complete chaos, but perfectly logical. Titus tried to kill Burke’s dad, and Burke wanted revenge. Tyler got them separated, and banned Burke from ever getting another title shot in IHW. The crowd, and myself, were very angry. This was injustice! Burke, grabbing the mic, then told us that he was already booked in a Battle Royal for the next month, and that the winner of that Battle Royal would get a title shot in December. Burke promised to win (and this is a really important point, right here, that we will return to), and we popped huge, and they had my money again for the next show.

The end of October couldn’t come fast enough. Throughout this there was also a subtle change with Kevin Tyler. He started to act a little more heelish, and it was just subtle enough that you could dismiss it, but just obvious enough that you would notice, and it was sign of things to come. It was some brilliant and simple storytelling that rewards the fans for paying attention, and it’s that kind of stuff that can make wrestling fun, as even a kid can sense that something was wrong with Kevin. The next show arrived, and there was a buzz in the building, because the stakes were high in the main event Battle Royal. The hero had to win. As the crowd was filing in and sitting down, there was a loud disagreement with a fan at the door that turned out to be Markus’ dad trying to get into the show again, and he was shown his way out by security, to great heat from the crowd again. Later on in the show, Titus had an incredible match with Cody Blayde, where Blayde bled everywhere, and Titus showed no mercy to the youngster. After the match, Titus grabbed a chair, and started beating on one of the announcers. He, again, wrapped a chair around the head of the announcer, and stomped on it. We have seen several victims of this now, and the crowd was begging for Kevin Tyler to strip him off the belt. Tyler just shook his head and said nothing.

Something was wrong here.

IHW Lead Play-by-Play Announcer Injured:Brian Langille suffered serious neck and back injuries after the vicious and heinous attack perpetrated by Titus at the Moncton Lion’s Club on Friday night. Brian has been working with the promotion since 2015 as the lead play-by-play announcer on the Unstoppable TV show generally accompanied by “Rockstar” Chris Cole. The IHW Heavyweight Champion, Titus, attacked Mr. Langille after seriously assaulting Cody Blaydes, with a chair, in a post match altercation. After savagely beating Brian with a chair, Titus placed his neck in the partially opened chair and proceeded to jump on it from the second rope. Mr. Langille was taken to the hospital, and is said to be home now in the care of his family and a provided nurse. He has been reported to be in stable condition. IHW promoter Kevin Tyler released a video with a brief comment about the incident stating: “Langille, it didn’t look good for him, I’ve heard he doesn’t have a broken neck though…Langille, you shouldn’t have been in there dude, I’m just saying… shouldn’t have been in there”Brian is sidelined from current productions and IHW Staff and Management wish him a speedy recovery. Please direct any well wishes and words to What’s The Finish or via email to Chris Cole at rockstar@chriscole.caVideo of the incident is below.

Posted by Innovative Hybrid Wrestling on Sunday, October 22, 2017

Fast forward to the Battle Royal. It came down to the final few, and Kevin Tyler came out and said that he wasn’t going to let Markus get this title shot because of what he has done, and that he has inserted the champion, Titus, into the Battle Royal to ensure that he doesn’t win. The heel turn was completed, and the crowd was angry. How could the champ be in a match that was for the Number One Contendership to his title? Soon, it came down to Titus, Markus Burke, and James Liberty as the final three. Slowly, but surely, every ally Burke had was eliminated by Titus, and all hope was lost. Suddenly, Burke manages to eliminate Liberty, leaving just Titus and Burke. We were all buzzing at this point. We knew the stakes. The champion did not want to face Markus. The company was against Markus. We were for him. Suddenly, James Liberty hops on the apron and grabs Markus, and it looks like Titus was going to win, but Markus ducks, and Titus hit Liberty instead. Titus turns around, and Markus dumps him over the top rope, leaving Markus the victor, and all of us cheering. Markus kept his promise to win. Markus grabbed a mic and said that he was a man that was defending his family, and the he was one of us, a Maritimer, and proud of it. He said he fights for his dad, his wife, and us, to represent us, and that a regular match with Titus wasn’t enough. He brought a kid who was celebrating his birthday into the ring, and asked him what match would be enough. It came down to a steal cage match. Burke then promised that on December 1st, he would walk out IHW Champion, and that Titus would be left destroyed in the middle of the ring. If he didn’t win, he’d leave IHW forever. They had my money again.

December 1 arrived, and Markus and Titus tore the house down in a 45-minute cage match that left all of us stunned. The end came when Burke hit his finish (somewhat similar to a Go 2 Sleep), and pinned Titus, but the promoter restarted the match, due to the interference of Markus’ dad. Titus then retained the title, screwing the babyface out of a title win and forcing him to leave the company. However, because this was devastating, they still found a way to send us home happy. As Titus left the cage bloody and beaten, it was clear that he won the match, but did not win the war. Markus absolutely destroyed him, and it was as satisfying as promised. Not only that, but the promoter, Kevin Tyler was left in the cage with Markus, and Markus beat him down to the delight of all of us in the audience. Our hero was given a standing ovation as he leaves his home promotion (for a WWE tryout, I believe). We were heartbroken, but we saw the champ barely escape alive, the promoter get destroyed by the babyface, and our hero was given an ovation. Again, they have my money for the next show – will Markus return, as a surprise? Who will finally defeat Titus? Will Kevin Tyler continue his descent into full out heel promoter? We’ll find out in the spring, but regardless, they gave us a hero to believe in and a villain to hate, and I loved every second of it for the last year.

So why did I speak so long about this story? I want to draw your attention to several things.

First, Titus is just plain evil. He has attacked people without repercussions, has had a man who is one of us ejected from the building twice, and now has the Promoter on his side. Not only is he evil, but he’s favoured by management, which is even worse. Suddenly the picture starts to become clearer. Not only is Titus despicable, but he has every advantage over Burke. You can almost taste the dislike for this man, and all that he has done over the last year. Meanwhile, Burke has proven himself to be a family man, and someone who fights, not just for the fans, but for our little region of Canada, where he is proud to represent us (and this is very real. He means every single word of that, because he loves The Maritimes, his home). He became a sympathetic hero, where he is one of us, and that he has everything against him. Suddenly, he’s the biggest babyface in the world, and it makes perfect sense. He’s very likable and charming, and takes great joy in wrestling for us. Not only that, but he told the truth and kept his promises. There’s an old saying when it comes to wrestling that if a babyface promises to win before a big show, they’re going to keep that promise most of the time.

In this story, we have a real, clear cut villain, and a real, clear cut hero. I’m very emotionally invested, and want to see the hero win because of how evil the villain is. Here’s the kicker, I know full well that Titus is actually a really good guy. I’ve spoken to him many times, and he’s one of the friendliest people you’d ever meet. Running into him at local store has led to a great conversation about wrestling, and how I love his work. But when he’s wrestling, I believe he’s an evil jerk. He’s that good, that even someone who has watched wrestling as long as I have, is angry. He’s a real heel.

A Love Letter to The Maritimes & Maritimes Wrestling

How often in today’s WWE do we see a real hero and villain? We could look at the recent feud Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens have with Shane McMahon. In the case of Sami, Shane has ignored him, lied to him, and didn’t give him the chances he has promised him. Sami is completely justified in his dislike of Shane. In Owens’ case, he was screwed over more than once by Shane (and even Daniel Bryan), and had legitimate complaints against management. In WWE’s backwards booking world, this makes Shane the babyface, and Owens and Zayn the heels. Even though Shane was the jerk, and Owens and Zayn were sympathetic. Not only that, but heels often make promises and keep them, tell the truth, and get screwed by management, while babyfaces lie, cheat, and spend a great amount of time whining. In IHW, the heels cheat, lie, and whine, while the babyfaces fight valiantly against all odds. The babyfaces get cheered and the heels get booed. It seems rather simple, doesn’t it?

This problem is further illustrated in the build to WWE Survivor Series 2017, where the heels and babyfaces that hate each other on SmackDown, suddenly got along and decided to attack Raw, and even some of their own friends. I understand that they want to elevate brand loyalty beyond person feuds, but it would help if they have been laying seeds for that throughout the last year, rather than just out of nowhere. The whole thing made no real sense. Another would be Braun Stroman teaming up with Roman Reigns not long after Roman tried to murder him in their ambulance match. The whole thing is just utterly confusing, especially when you consider there is no real grudge between Raw and SmackDown, other than SmackDown attacking first for no reason. The lines of babyface and heel are completely unclear. While the angles themselves were relatively well executed, they could have had far more heat if brand loyalty was important throughout the year, and we were given a reason for why they should dislike each other.

In WWE, we often have babyfaces who act heelish, and heels who act like sympathetic babyfaces, and we wonder why the heels are often cheered more than the babyfaces? It’s because they’re more likable, plain and simple. Secondly, we are given a story where we are expected to believe that these two brands suddenly hate each other for no other reason than brand loyalty. If draft picks, or Royal Rumble positions were at stake, then we would have a reason to believe that these matches actually mattered. In storytelling, you must give the audience a reason to believe what is happening matters, and a character that is sympathetic and another that you want the hero to overcome. This doesn’t mean the villain or hero can’t have shades of grey, but that generally speaking, you know which side of the line they’re on. I still watched Survivor Series because it I thought it would be a fun show, with good wrestling (and it was) but I wasn’t emotionally invested like I am for IHW.

IHW gives me a reason to believe that Markus Burke hates Titus, and that the match they had on December 1st will had meaning. Who won that match, and everything leading into it matters. I’m 100% emotionally invested in their simple story (and in fact, I told Markus and Titus after the show that I never experienced an emotional roller coaster like I did seeing that cage match), and a return to simple storytelling like that might just be what wrestling needs these days. Give us a hero to cheer, a villain to boo, and a reason to believe they want to fight. It’s simple, and it works, as this slightly jaded wrestling fan will tell you, because as seen in the video below, I’m just a fan cheering on one of my heroes with that 650ish other people in that audience.

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