Over the last twenty years, no single archetype has been more beloved in wrestling than the anti-hero. Whether it be an individual (CM Punk or Stone Cold) or a group (the early nWo or DX), anti-heroes are the living embodiment of what the vast majority of wrestling fans would like to be, if it wasn’t for those pesky laws, rules and regulations keeping us in line. While we desperately want to give our boss the finger, crotch-chop the rude barista at Starbucks or knee the idiot yelling into his cell phone right in the head, we know we can’t, so we live vicariously through the anti-hero.
Dean Ambrose is poised to be the next great anti-hero in wrestling; in fact, one could argue that he’s already there. Over the last few weeks, Ambrose has gone to whatever lengths necessary to exact his revenge on Seth Rollins for betraying The Shield and joining The Authority. He’s attacked him before a match, during a match and after a match. No amount of security is seemingly enough to stop Ambrose; kick him out of the building and he’ll find his way back in. If not, he’ll lie in wait for you in the trunk of your car, a moment that will likely been one of the more memorable of 2014.
When you listen to Dean Ambrose speak, you are drawn in by his charisma. You can feel the vitriolic hate emanating from his every pore. You can see, as my partner Doc Manson so eloquently calls it, the Portrait of Malice. But you don’t always understand or remember exactly what he said, which is a problem, one that can be solved with today’s lesson.
Lesson: The biggest superstars always have a catch-phrase fans can latch onto.
Oh, you didn’t know? Yes! Yes! Yes! It’s true, it’s damn true. In order to be the best there is, the best there was or the best that ever will be, wrestlers need to smell what The Rock is cooking and get themselves a saying. Whatcha gonna do, brother, if you don’t have one? Well, if you’re not down with that, I’ve got two words for you. YOU’RRREEE FIRRRREDDDDD!
You see my point. Call them mantras, mottos, slogans or whatever, but a good saying immediately bonds you with the fans. It’s something they can say along with you, even if they hate you at the time. It’s something that people can use on social media to find their fellow brethren. Plus, and don’t think this isn’t important, a catch-phrase can instantly be put on merchandise, growing your overall brand.
Do you need more proof? OK, fine, let’s talk about Steve Austin, who many (including myself) are comparing Ambrose to left and right. It’s time for a history lesson.
March 1996 – Wrestlemania XII. “The Ringmaster” Steve Austin, the Million Dollar Champion, defeats Savio Vega. Lame character, lame match, lame future for Austin.
June 1996 – King of the Ring. After winning the annual tournament (a good omen, but by no means a career maker), the newly christened Stone Cold Steve Austin says for the first time in history “Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass.”
March 1997 – Wrestlemania 13. Stone Cold, blood streaming down his face and locked in The Sharpshooter, passes out from pain and loses to Bret Hart. This match, which is deserving of its own column at the very least, cements Austin’s main event status, a status that was all but guaranteed with his victory speech 9 months earlier.
Now, whether Austin would have still reached top-guy status without that fateful improvisation is a thought experiment of its own, but there is no argument that the birth of that catch-phrase catapulted Stone Cold to a new echelon of success. Plus (or perhaps, thanks to this) it sold a LOT of t-shirts.
How many T-shirts? In 1998 alone, there were 12 million Austin 3:16 shirts sold. That’s 1 million shirts a month; over 30,000 shirts sold a day.
So now, back to Ambrose. As I said earlier, many have been watching Dean these last few weeks and seeing the similarities between The Lunatic Fringe and The Texas Rattlesnake. Both have no respect for rules or authority. Both will stop at nothing to accomplish their goals. Both will fight through pain, injury and overwhelming odds, likely doing so with a smile on their face.
Dean Ambrose is heading down a path that can lead him to main event status and, quite possibly, the Hall of Fame. However, he won’t get there if he doesn’t find some sort of saying that can further connect him to the WWE Universe. And that’s the bottom line, because Stone Cold said so.