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Sugar Dunkerton and the Importance of Self-Doubt in Wrestling

Why do we love underdogs so much? What is it that makes people get behind someone who fights against the odds? More often than not, it’s because we can easily relate to an underdog. Whether it is our perception or our reality, we all think at some point in our lives that we are at a disadvantage compared to those around us. Most people, some more than others, struggle with the idea that they may not be good enough to achieve their goals. We have a certain image in our heads of who is “supposed” to succeed and who isn’t. We think “I don’t have what I should have” or “I haven’t done what I should’ve done.” For many, including myself, the feeling that we’re constantly under-performing plagues our minds. It involves so much thinking; too much thinking. The overthinking fatigues us, paralyzes us. We doubt ourselves to the point where optimism seems foreign. But we fight. We fight our insecurities, we fight our doubt. We fight this idea that we’re not good enough. And through that fighting, we cultivate ourselves into our best form. The best version of ourselves. That is why we love guys like Daniel Bryan or Sami Zayn. Their struggles are relatable. They lose…a lot. Even when they come so close to winning the big one, they lose. We imagine their thoughts and feelings as similar to our own. We imagine them fighting their doubt the same way we are. When they finally pull off the big win, it reaffirms that our insecurities have no merit. We are reminded that we have no reason to doubt ourselves and that our goals are always obtainable.

The problem with most underdogs in wrestling, however, is that most of the time the idea that they’re not good enough is purely planted by an outside force. For Daniel Bryan, it was the Miz and The Authority. For Sami Zayn, it was Neville and even Kevin Owens to an extent. When they weren’t being put down by these people, Zayn and Bryan’s self-confidence was palpable. I understand why this happens in wrestling. Wrestlers want to be superheros, characters that empower fans through their well-rounded personalities. But in my mind, there is nothing more empowering than showing that even the people we idolize can be their own worst enemy. So many forget that in reality, NO ONE has ANYTHING figured out. We are all constantly winging it through life and fighting through self-doubt. Sugar Dunkerton stands out from the rest because self-doubt is an essential aspect of his character.

On his 13th year as a wrestler, Sugar Dunkerton has transformed his lovable persona into something more profound. Throughout 2016, Sug D has had a very consistent story across multiple indie promotions: he can’t stop losing. In promotions like AWE and DREAMWAVE, this story is portrayed light-heartedly. In promotions like Beyond Wrestling and especially Freelance Wrestling, Sug D’s story is far more serious. Every time Sugar lost a match, you could see the disappointment eat him up inside. He would have the face of a man one step closer to giving everything up. One of the things that makes Sug’s character so realistic is that you always got the sense that his loses got to him more than his wins. Yes, Sug isn’t actually on a losing streak, but I guarantee fans remember Sugar’s losses more vividly than his wins. That’s because Sugar sells every loss like he lost a close, personal friend. When he wins, his reaction is joyful but not nearly as strong. Real people think this way. When someone has a self-critical personality, their screw-ups tend to hit them harder than their achievements. You see it in Sugar’s eyes. He believes he should be better. He doesn’t see the point in continuing wrestling if he can’t reach that “better” state. When a heel mocks Sugar for his loss, the heel isn’t planting the idea that Sugar’s not good enough. Rather, they are exploiting a thought that was already in Sug’s head. Sugar’s self-doubt is almost entirely self-created. This detail is so important since one of the reasons insecurity eats away at people is because they can’t get over the idea that the root of their suffering isn’t tangible or easy to figure out. WWE has a tendency to portray their heels as the simple, material cause for the face’s problems. This can be seen as an ideal view of the world. Feel bad? Have a problem? Boom! Just take it out on this thing or person. Sug D understands that most of people’s issues are internalized, and the external world only adds to what’s already there.

Nowhere has this been more evident than in Sugar’s feud with Christian Rose in Freelance. Rose made his debut attacking Sugar after a victory over DJ Hyde. Rose called Sugar a “failure” who was wasting his time wrestling for the fans. The thing that I loved about this dynamic was that Rose did all of this after Sugar WON. The most cruel, cynical person possible put Sugar down at a time where he had the most reason to celebrate. Every show after that consisted of Rose costing Sug D matches due to interference, with Sugar showing more and more frustration with his excellent facials. The fact that this feud started the moment after Sugar finally won a match, and has been made to lose ever since, leads me to believe that Rose represents Sugar’s self doubt. He’s that voice in Sugar’s head saying “even when you win it doesn’t matter, because you’re still a loser.” Rose is the physical embodiment of Sugar’s inner turmoil. This turmoil reached a boiling point when Sug teamed up with GPA to take on Rose and Ethan Page. Rose low-blowed Sugar behind the ref’s back, costing him the match. That loss was the last straw for Sugar. He grabbed a mic and gave one of the most emotional, heartfelt, and genuine promos I’ve heard in quite some time. With a shaky voice and tears in his eyes, Sugar admitted to the crowd that he came dangerously close to believing Rose’s words; that he was never gonna be good enough. So few babyfaces are willing to show that much vulnerability, but the fact that he was willing to open up to the fans about how he was feeling made Sugar that much more admirable. He said that even with all that self-doubt, he knew in his heart that Christian’s words were lies. He refused to give in to his insecurity, and promised the fans that he would never turn his back on them. Sugar finally announced that if he lost to Christian Rose, he would leave Freelance Wrestling forever. What makes this promo great is that it shows how pathological issues are rarely resolved in a neat bow. Sugar’s denial of Rose’s words shows that he’s actively fighting his self-doubt, but putting his career on the line implies that Sugar still has a very self-critical personality. Self-improvement requires recognizing that our problems are nuanced and they can’t all be solved in one foul swoop. Exhibiting this nuance is what made that promo feel so human. At that moment, Sugar was the most relatable wrestler on the planet.

Wrestling was built on very idealistic concepts. There’s a good guy, there’s a bad guy. If a good guy has a problem, it’s usually because the bad guy did something wrong, either to the good guy directly or to someone else. The good guy defeats the bad guy, and the problems disappear until a new one is introduced. The time has never been more right to change this standard. In a time where some of the most popular characters in media have multiple layers, adding a third dimension to wrestling personas would be welcome. One of the most important lessons any art form can teach us is how to embrace the complexity of human emotion and thought, rather than reject it. Sugar Dunkerton is proving to be ahead of the curve by portraying arguably the most realistic babyface character in wrestling. His secret? He’s not afraid to show that he struggles with something so many others struggle with: self-doubt.

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