The Resurgence of Tournaments in Mainstream American Wrestling

One of the wrestling highlights of last summer was the WWE Cruiserweight Classic, a weight-restricted tournament that saw sport-like presentation meet WWE production value to create a memorable, unique event. With the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Invitational a yearly event in NXT, the UK Tournament currently underway, and the Women’s Tournament looming on the horizon, we are seeing a resurgence in the tournament format in mainstream American wrestling.

The format is generally well-received worldwide: Pro Wrestling Guerilla hosts the annual Battle of Los Angeles, CZW holds the Tournament of Death, and New Japan Pro Wrestling holds both the Best of the Super Juniors tournament and the massive round-robin G1 Climax. WWE is the only promotion that seems to actively shy away from the format, especially with the apparent demise of King of the Ring.

The one objective drawback to a tournament setting is that a promoter can’t advertise matchups in advance, which does hurt drawing power. That can’t be argued with. The inability to have in-ring promos or storyline segments can also arguably be a drawback to fans who are more attracted to that kind of storytelling, but given that tournament-style events only come around every once in a while, those folks can get their fill on the rest of the year’s many shows.

The inherent inability to present wrestling as a soap opera in this setting forces bookers to produce the alternative: storytelling in the ring. These stories tend to be simpler, but more effective; after all, conveying a story in a physical performance medium is “show, don’t tell” by its nature.

It’s also possible in a tournament to tell a story that feels long over a relatively short period of time. Charting one wrestler’s performance over a series of matches spanning only one or two nights has potential for great character development that can read as something of a “long dark night of the soul” for a designated protagonist. It can also tell a lot of small stories among a large roster.
It’s the epitome of restrictions promoting creativity.

I love tournaments, especially ones that draw talent from a number of pools like the Cruiserweight Classic did and the UK and Women’s Tournaments will. They’re such a unique setting to blend sports and story, and I hope to see them embraced more by WWE in the future.

Maybe the return of the king (of the ring)?

Written by Bobby Murphy (@RobertJMurph)

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