Friendship is the most beautiful thing in the entire world. The WWE has forgotten this for much of its history, especially the last decade, and we oftentimes only see friendships happen between bad guys. CM Punk seems to be friendless while a hero, but as a villain he seems to be surrounded by people who value his friendship. Who, after all, is Sheamus or Randy Orton friends with?
Lately the WWE seems to be changing this. Brodus Clay and Tensai are now friends, Daniel Bryan and Kane’s entire gimmick is built around their roller coaster friendship, and even Sheamus seems capable of working together with other good guys these days. Even little things like R-Truth coming out to rescue Kofi Kingston from the fiendish Damien Sandow goes a long way towards creating an actual living and breathing world. When wrestling exists as just a roster of individuals all out to become champion we no longer have an actual world, but alliances and friendships really help add a lot of context to each match, and gives more meaning and gravitas to the proceedings. Not every wrestler should be a champion, but if I can still be invested in their character and their relationships we can start to have more compelling stories occur in a vibrant world.
No two people represent this shift more than Alberto Del Rio and Ricardo Rodriguez. For years these two worked together as villainous versions of Don Quixote and his personal servant Sancho Panza. Del Rio was fixated with his destiny, and believed that he was entitled to become World Heavyweight Champion, while poor Ricardo was his much abused servant. Del Rio was largely unsuccessful, at least after an initial flurry of successes, and Ricardo showed a base level of intelligence and willingness to do all he could to serve his master.
Like Don Quixote, Del Rio became delusional and acted as something he was not. Don Quixote’s armor and thin horse, Rocinante, are no different than Del Rio’s fancy cars and parades of wealth and class (doubly so if you think of Sancho’s ass as being no different than Ricardo’s beat up junker he drove out in at the 2012 Royal Rumble). Despite acting as a jet-setting Heavyweight Champion Del Rio was still without the belt and merely tilted at windmills. Del Rio even had the quixotic habit of butting into situations that resulted in humiliation, with his servant getting the worst of the punishment.
Del Rio and Rodriguez had played out their master-servant relationship for years when something funny happened. While Don Quixote believed he was jousting with giants, Del Rio and Ricardo Rodriguez wished they were facing a windmill instead of the giant Big Show. While Don Quixote’s windmills could not fight back, Big Show could and did. Delusions of grandeur disappeared as Del Rio fought hard and long against this giant, and something changed within him as well.
Throughout history the servant-master relationship has evolved. JRR Tolkien talks much of this evolution in various letters relating his experiences as an officer from a privileged background in World War I. Many British officers were assigned “batmen”, oftentimes enlisted men from the working class, who would assist them in much of their day to day life on the front lines. Tolkien spoke highly of these people and openly admits that he and many of his fellow officers were completely unprepared for life on the front and would have died without their trusty servants.
Tolkien wrote of this servant-master relationship in the Lord of the Rings. Without Samwise Gamgee there is no chance that Frodo Baggins finishes his quest. Sam doesn’t just make the quest possible for Frodo, but he gives Frodo strength to retain his own humanity so that he is not completely consumed with the horrors they encounter on the quest. At the end of the quest we find Sam not just another servant and a gardener, but something more. Just like World War I brought about societal changes that flattened, even if only a little, the class system in Great Britain we see the same happening in the Shire as well.
Alberto Del Rio similarly finds his humanity because of his servant. Fighting with the Big Show saw him supporting Ricardo Rodriguez and realizing that he should no longer be his master, but that he should instead be Ricardo’s friend. We have not heard Ricardo Rodriguez talked about or treated as Del Rio’s
servant since Del Rio became a hero. Instead, they are seen and act as two friends who are equal to one another and who help one another. Now that Del Rio has achieved his raison d’etre, we see him growing and changing as a person. Gone are the fancy cars and the act of being the World Heavyweight Champion, and instead we see him acting as a champion by defending those weaker than himself against bullies.
Instead of remaining villainous versions of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, we see Alberto Del Rio finding his humanity because of his servant. This very humanity leads to him breaking the servant-master relationship and instead becoming equals and friends with someone who has remained loyal. Don Quixote could never break the servant-master relationship with Sancho, so much so that while Don Quixote realizes his own madness he finds that Sancho has instead bought into the same flights of fantasy. Conversely, Frodo and Sam do become friends and equals. By surviving and supporting one another through their quest, just as Del Rio and Ricardo survived their harrowing quest for the Heavyweight Championship, we see Frodo and Sam becoming friends who redeem one another.
Without Ricardo we would never see Del Rio’s rise to heroism and success, as it would be even more difficult if Del Rio was merely fighting for himself and for his destiny. It is the creation of their friendship that made this so. For once in a long time we see two good guys become friends and for it to mean something.
Friendship is awesome.
Casey Campbell writes for his website, The Hammer Dialectic, where he talks about Wrestling, Warhammer, and Marx. Follow him on Twitter and he’ll probably follow back if you chat with him about any of those things.