I want to talk about the importance of failure.
To me, failure is one of the most important ingredients in pro wrestling. It can be frustrating, it can agitate, and it stings you down to your very core, but in the end when used right, when done correctly, it can make those moments of triumph and success even sweeter. It can make them more impactful and significant. Sometimes before the rise, you have to have a fall that’s equally important and hard. Failings, we all fail. We all hit a certain point where we look up to where we want to be and wonder if there are enough footholds to climb up and obtain it. We’ve all failed, and it’s hurt every single one of us. The failings can be small, they can be huge, they can even be unfortunately catastrophic. They are daunting, and they can overwhelm you if you allow them. Trust me, I have allowed them.
My life is a pathway of failure itself.
That’s not to say my story is a tragedy. No, no, no, my story is a triumph for while my path is littered with failures it ultimately has led to successes. Small successes, big successes, successes I’ve been told I would never achieve. They may not seem like massive successes compared to others, but to me, I cling to my successes because each one means something to me and is important no matter the size or scale. I find failure at times to be endearing. Because failing implies trying, and I love it when my heroes try, and I can feel my heartbreak, my emotional strings pull, and my eyes water when they come up short.
I know when we get lost in fantasy we want to think we want our heroes to be 100% successful. Save the girl, protect the village, beat the bad guy, and we do want that ultimately, but there must always be trial and tribulations. I’m not talking about our comic book heroes mind you, I’m talking about our pro-wrestling heroes. The path to success must be littered with setbacks, disappointments, and yes failure. It makes them endearing, it makes them relatable, it makes us root for them to rise to the occasion and overcome the odds placed against them. It becomes a magical journey and for some of us, it can make us live through them vicariously. It can give us inspiration and hope that we can overcome our own shortcomings.
Hulk Hogan slamming Andre The Giant is fun (even if it had been done countless times before blah blah blah), Hulk Hogan slamming Andre the Giant after failing the first time though adds so much to it.
It showed he could overcome his inabilities and failures to do it the first time. Kazuchika Okada beating Hiroshi Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom in a legendary match was significant, but it was even more impactful after he failed twice. I remember the image, the image of Okada being led away by Gedo in tears, thinking this was his moment only for it to be snatched away.
He was so close, his fingertips touched it and then… it was not his. Made me want Okada to achieve more. More recently Hangman Page, his failures to win the AEW World Championship, or even earn a shot, were all amplified by his ability to finally beat Kenny Omega.
All his heartbreaks, all his downfalls forgotten in an instance all because of that one massive moment of triumph. Wrestling needs failure in order for that success to taste that much sweeter.
IT IS possible for too much failure, for too much coming oh so close but not getting it. Ring of Honor was notorious about this for a time, waiting too long to pull the trigger on some wrestlers. If I just mention the trials and tribulation of Tetsuya Naito the thousand-yard stares from his most die-hard fans will tell the tale. As with anything in life, there must be a balance, and if you skip the tale to fall in either direction you miss the sweet spot. You pull the trigger too soon, you miss out on a lot of stories and the impact the moment could’ve had is lost forever. If you pull the trigger too late, fans may have already lost interest and it may not achieve the effect it would’ve had. Failure enhances the story, but too much of it and fans lose hope, and you want your fans to have that hope. Cling to that hope, believe in their hero that they will eventually achieve that ultimate goal. Once they lose that hope, it can be near impossible to get that feeling back, even if you finally do throw them a bone.
I think that’s why I gravitated a lot toward Bret Hart as a child.
Bret Hart would break your heart and fail, but would ultimately come back. I think about how he lost the title to Yokozuna at WrestleMania 9, saddening and disappointing an 11-year-old me. It would be one year, one long year of wondering if he’d ever been champion again. Then at WrestleMania X he would lose to his evil jerk of a little brother (I miss Owen Hart) to start his night off in horrible fashion, only to finally end the night world champion and lifted up on the shoulders of his peer as everyone celebrated and Yokozuna was vanquished, and Owen Hart was reminded who the top Hart was… beautiful. Made more beautiful he had to overcome a lot to achieve it—that includes the booking decisions of Vince McMahon but that’s a story for another article.
When it comes to the art of storytelling, I love failure. True, I get depressed when it’s nothing but failure, but when the hero can pick themselves back up, rebuild, move on, and claim their glory it is spell-bounding. It can not only tell an impressive story, but it can also make you feel better, maybe get it in your head that “I too, can succeed.” Failing isn’t a flaw, it is a reality of life, therefore it must be a reality of our stories and our fantasies as well. For it is through failure that we ultimately end up with our most memorable pro-wrestling moments. Steve Austin failed to beat Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13, he failed to break the sharpshooter. But in the end, he was better for it, he was made by it. Many of us felt us rooting for him to do it, to achieve it. Blood dripped from his face, agony coming out of his lungs, and then he collapsed in a heap. He failed, and he was a bigger star for it. Failure succeeds, and yes that’s a purposeful contradiction.
Failure in wrestling is essential.
It can make us groan, it can make us angry, it can make us upset, but as long as it makes us feel to the point that we root for them to succeed next time then it is working. Yes, when done excessively failure will, well, fail. It will tune you out, cause you to move on. WWE has had an over-excessive use of failure in the past for HEAT when it’s clearly the right decision to choose triumph and it’s been disastrous for their creativity, not that they care. Having your wrestlers fail is important, but having them overcome those failings must happen because we all need hope, we all need inspiration, and we all need our heroes to win in the end. They have tragedy, they have hardships, and they have absolute heartbreaking scenarios, but in the end, they stand up, dust themselves off, tell us “I can do this” and then do it. It fucking rules, and it makes you feel like you can do it also.
So in conclusion, I love failure in pro wrestling.
I feel it is very vital. I love it when a wrestler comes so close, it brings me to the edge of my emotional investment, and then it shatters my heart. I can’t begin to explain why I enjoy that feeling. Maybe it’s because it leaves enough slivers of my heart for me to pick up and rebuild, and with that rebuild, I find specs of hope, specs that next time I tune in it will be the moment, the next time they try they will overcome. The next time they go for it, their failures will have been worth it. For I have fallen on my face a lot in life, and I’ve gotten back up, bruised, battered, but not broken, and have made my way forward. So I relate to wrestlers who have to do the same. I cherish them, I respect them, I love them.
Keep trying, never stop trying, and I promise, I will do the same.