By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
Grading on a curve – can you think of any other sport that abuses such a notion more than pro wrestling?
A celebrity comes in off the street. Throws a few working punches. Maybe tries a bodyslam. Awkwardly takes a couple bumps. Gets the hand raised and goes back to their corner of said celebrity world. It’s been that way for ages. If wrestling is this weird combination of acting and athleticism, it should mean that successful personalities from both screen and sport can adapt for at least one night in a way that at least gives them a passing grade.
Enter Logan Paul.
The detestable YouTube star decided he wanted to wrestle and because of his celebrity, the ability to do so on the biggest stage was more than obtainable. And so, he obtained it. By now, you’ve heard, read about or watched his match with Roman Reigns at Saturday’s Crown Jewel event. The praise bestowed upon him as a result of his performance against Reigns rivals that of a pope’s visit to a third-world country.
And it’s not without merit. The match was great. He was great. Above all else, he looked like a natural in the ring and he wasn’t afraid to take chances that typical celebrities moonlighting as wrestlers would agree to take. Furthermore, the guy managed to do something so impossible, nobody has even brought this to the center of the discussion yet: For the first time in the aftermath of these worthless Saudi Arabia shows, the discussion isn’t about how bad the show was or how politically corrupt WWE is for agreeing to do them; instead, it’s dominated by a wrestler’s fantastic performance in a fantastic match.
But here’s the thing: Coming into WWE as a celebrity to wrestle really well for one night (or maybe even some more, if all parties agree) has become so common that I wonder what would happen if we just viewed someone like Logan Paul as a wrestler. No background. No celebrity. No pomp. Just a guy who trained for a bit with Shawn Michaels and got in the ring to put on a performance.
What Paul did on Saturday was commendable, but it was also the latest in a line of celebrities that have come into WWE and not sucked. Bad Bunny showed up and because he learned how to do a Canadian Destroyer, wowed fans and critics alike. Pat McAfee fit in immediately when he started a program with Adam Cole in NXT and had everyone in the palm of his hand because of how natural he appeared to be after months, if not years, of training.
In fact, McAfee, in a lot of ways, was the modern day standard for greatness when it comes to celebrities hopping in a WWE ring for a cup of coffee. I suspect that’s going to change now, after Paul’s performance Saturday, but even so, there’s one thing I can’t quite fully buy into as the discourse surrounding celebrities dabbling in wrestling continues to grow and that one thing is this.
Times have changed.
Gone are the days when Pete Rose took a tombstone and everyone lauded him for being a good sport. In its place is a crop of young, athletic people who appear to have been genuine fans of the product for quite some time. Karl Malone, a noted wrestling fan who once threw the worst clothesline ever seen by human eyes, probably wanted to be good at the craft, but an 82 game NBA season can get in the way of allowing one’s focus to be solely on being a good pro wrestler.
Logan Paul, meanwhile, has a podcast and a cellphone and that’s about it. He’s also young. If he wants to spend 10 hours a day, five days a week in a wrestling ring to perfect what’s asked of him for a match with the biggest wrestler on the planet, he’s got the time and he’s got the resources. McAfee played eight seasons in the NFL, so it wasn’t like he was sitting around, eating Doritos and watching “Love Is Blind” for years until he decided he wanted to wrestle. At a minimum, he was a high-level athlete, even if he was a punter.
My point is that the stars who have dabbled in wrestling recently are a different breed. They want to have matches, learn spots, understand psychology and put on an infinitely better performance than Jay Leno ever could. Do those changes in the celebrity-to-wrestler landscape make people like Paul’s or McAfee’s performances any less impressive? No. But they do move the bar a bit – enough to stop acting like these guys are the second coming of Dory Funk Jr. or Will Ospreay or “Stone Cold” Steve Austin just because they could hang for 20 minutes once or twice.
Such is where my problem with the celebration of this begins. These guys have been so good that they changed the standard. But now that the standard has changed, let’s start using that standard when evaluating celebrities who come through and do a really good job in the ring. For as long as popular culture and pro wrestling have flirted with one another, the notion of grading on a curve has been at the center of the conversation. “Well, he wasn’t great, but he also wasn’t rookie Davie Arquette, so that was fun,” has been the norm for these appraisals.
That’s not going to be the case moving forward. Or, well, at least it shouldn’t be. With people like Paul and McAfee and even Bad Bunny impressing fans in their own ways, the notion that Pacman Jones could come into TNA and do … whatever the hell it was he did in 2007 is laughable. If this is the era of the Smart Fan, everyone in every company has to know that celebrities can’t get away with not knowing how to work a chin-lock anymore. And shoot. At this point, if you don’t go through a table, you really never were committed.
It’s this weird purgatory that sits between praise and expectation. Logan Paul The Celebrity deserves all the credit he receives for having a tremendous outing against Roman Reigns. But does Logan Paul The Wrestler bask in that same praise if he was just the next in a locker room line to be pinned by Roman Reigns? We’ll never know.
What we do know, however, is that the curve on which he, along with other celebrities, is graded as the wrestling world moves forward has significantly changed. And if there’s anything of which Paul or his contemporaries should be most proud, it’s that they were the ones to move it.