Substance Over Styles

by Steve Carr

We’re neck-deep in the era of self-promotion. Virtually everyone alive has a project in which they want you to invest. Whether it’s a crowdsource opportunity or a podcast (yikes), we’re inundated with people shilling themselves or their creation as the next big thing.

AJ Styles IS WWE’s next big thing—except that he’s already been a thing for awhile now. Even though he was just recently introduced to the WWE audience, Styles is well-known to TNA and Ring of Honor fans. What’s working against him is Father Time; he’s already in his late thirties and will likely see a drop off in skills in the coming years. It’s very apparent, however, that he still has the ability today to draw people in. He’s on a path to getting over.

So if he's so good, why did it take AJ so long to get to the WWE? I'm going to say that it's because his mic work was lacking. You can't underestimate how important the way a wrestler handles the microphone impacts their success. The very best—Flair, Hogan, Savage—were defined by their monologues. So if AJ doesn't self-promote well, how is this guy positioned to get over? A couple of reasons:

1. Substance
Even though modern professional wrestling is known for glitz and glamour, Styles brings a technical acumen to the ring. He’s been doing this for years, which is why he has an underground swell of support from wrestling purists. People will tolerate poor communication skills in exchange for unparalleled competency. In this day of self-promotion, this should give us hope that there’s still space for those who aren’t slick. Look at Bernie Sanders as a political figure: he doesn't come across as prepackaged; he’s your cranky uncle. He’s the antithesis of style but he’s gaining popularity with people who are sick of hollow words. I’m not sure if Bernie is really any different than any other politician, but he has a substantive track record that’s carrying him through right now.

This lesson is applicable beyond wrestling and politics. If you want to make it today without having to endlessly retweet your endeavors, be substantive. Build a robust resume or create projects that are so prolific that they don’t require horn-tooting.

2. Support
One guy who had no issue with working the mic was Chris Jericho. Maybe you’ve been puzzled by the whole Chris Jericho/A.J. Styles plot line; it’s the new Ross/Rachel of the WWE. But I have to give it to Jericho here because he’s positioning himself to put Styles over. At this point in his career, Jericho understands that he no longer has the skills to deliver as he did earlier in his career. So he’s determined to use his work to advance another wrestlers and, in my opinion, it’s working. And, ultimately, this makes me like him even more. If Styles is going to be successful in the WWE, he’s going to owe Jericho a lot.

Again, there’s a lesson here: instead of focusing on promoting yourself, find a partner you can elevate. This usually ends up being a symbiotic relationship that will further the both of you. So you get to see someone else be successful and you don't come across as egocentric. Supporting someone else is a better option than self-promotion.