You Say You Want An Evolution?

“Wrestling has evolved” has become the pat reply to anyone with a grievance against the current product.  But I believe a more-accurate appraisal is that the definition of wrestling has evolved—to a certain portion of the audience.

Advocates of the more traditional style often claim, while certain techniques (e.g. an Irish whip) require some very cooperative suspension of disbelief, the overall structure of a wrestling match should come off as plausible, regardless of the fact it’s worked.  They point to modern spots—such as where one man remains motionless for several seconds blatantly just waiting for his opponent to deliver some splashy blow—as ludicrous.  And, personally, I agree.

Let’s not get into “Well, Don Muraco laid on the mat all that time while Snuka climbed to the top of the cage for the legendary MSG Superfly Splash, and nobody complained about that.”  First off, The Rock had taken a beating, putting him on his back, semi-conscious.  Secondly, it set up the finisher, not a kick-out spot.

We could go back and forth for thousands of words, citing old and new examples.  Which would constitute entirely missing the big picture.  What the traditionalists most oppose is how clearly modern grapplers send out the message “We laid out every step of this selling-free 60-second barrage of 36 moves and counters, nothing spontaneous- and, hence, realistic-looking about it.”

The argument generally is “It looks like a dance routine.  That’s not wrestling.”

This brings us back to my comment about the DEFINITION of “wrestling.”  And it’s become clear to me that—“right” or “wrong”—some people now consider wrestling to be any form of activity that transpires within a three-roped ring.  So, to them, something that resembles a fight scene in a kung fu movie is perfectly acceptable as “wrestling,” and they sincerely don’t know what the fuss is all about.

Proponents of the spot-heavy style are prone to claim those knocking the style have not kept up with the times.  But what’s really the case here is simply a matter of human nature.  What sparked a new fan’s love for a particular hobby—and this is by no means exclusive to wrestling—is a set of components that greatly appealed to that person.  And, be they shredding guitar solos, bone-jarring quarterback sacks, braggart rappers or glimmering full-length ring robes, when those elements get phased down or out, OF COURSE the product is going to have less appeal.

“Stuck in the past” has such a negative connotation, implying stubbornness and bitterness, it is not a fair description of the perfectly reasonable act of preferring a product when it contained more of the elements that inspired one to get hooked on it in the first place.

 

Okay, traditionalists let’s look at the Golden Age, when the Flair-Steamboat series was electrifying and you’d much rather see the Midnight Express face the Road Warriors or Fantastics than watch something like the Young Bucks vs. Private Party.  Wrestling was firing on all cylinders, but the flippity-style guys have really dragged it down, right?

Wellllll…I became a dedicated wrestling fan in the Seventies.  In that era, it was acceptable for Muraco to call Pedro Morales “a greaseball” during an interview, TV matches were primarily quick squashes, a victory could come via a near-lethal “brain claw,” and about 20-percent of the men had bleach-blonde hair.

It was wildly absurd, considered “lowbrow,” politically incorrect (by later standards)—and I couldn’t get enough of it.

As such, Golden Agers, am I not within my rights to say the lengthy athletic Dragon vs. Nature Boy matches “really dragged it down”?

[For the record, I enjoyed both Superstar Graham winning via a bearhug and the Flair-Funk “I Quit” match. Just trying to make a point.]

And let’s be real, fellow long-time fans.  What was incredibly entertaining decades ago would be a complete bore now, if promotions and wrestlers were still doing the same things that floated your boat way back when.  If the Beach Boys were still around, only the most fanatical completist would be rushing to buy their 318th song about a surf bunny.

 

Some Related Points

*Nostalgia fills auditoriums.  The “latest thing” fills football stadiums.  That’s always been the case for every form of public performance, and will never change.  Accept it.

*Nostalgia is nice—in manageable doses.  (We really don’t need a seemingly bimonthly DX “reunion.”)  But if you have zero tolerance for it, just shut up.  The whole world isn’t about you.  This also goes for close-minded members of the opposing camp who can’t stop droning on and on about the past being “so much better,” while their selective memory forgets PN News on a scaffold.  Every era has its stinkers.  That’s not up for debate.

*Neither side is “right.”

*If you don’t like a particular style, don’t put all the blame on the wrestlers.  The fans, bookers and promoters who encourage it are equally to blame.  The boss says he wants more/less/none of something, that’s what appears on the card.  Period.

 

To Bump Or Not To Bump

 

Person A:  You can’t be considered a wrestling expert if you’ve never taken a bump.

Person B:  I’ve never directed a movie, but that doesn’t mean I can’t review one.

(With the option of “(Famous promoter’s name) never took a bump. Are you saying he’s not a wrestling expert?”)

 

Full disclosure.  During the late Eighties-early Nineties newsletter boom, I contributed (to a small degree) to the Observer, Torch and a couple of other minor “sheets,” and subscribed to several.  By 1994, I subscribed to only the Observer; and by 2010, no longer subscribed to any.

For 30 years (1984-2014), I wrote for Wrestling World and Power Slam magazines, primarily as a heel columnist, though also did many WW features.  The heel persona opened the door for me to do color commentary, manage and perform in-ring skits a la Piper’s Pit.  And, yes, I’ve bumped.

In short, I have the rare perspective of one who’s been in both camps.

So whom do I “side with” in the seemingly eternal debate?

I have to go along with Person A…mostly.

First, we need to clear up some semantics.  The term “taking a bump” is shorthand for “being involved, as a participant, in at least some rudimentary aspect of a wrestling show.”

Person B and colleagues can take Person A’s quote quite literally as a means to dismiss it—though I suspect some know very well what the quote means and are essentially playing dumb.

As for the Famous Promoter defense, yes, Vince McMahon, Sr. and Sam Muchnick did exceedingly well in the sport without ever once getting decked within the squared circle.  However, by the intended figurative definition of A’s phrase, they most certainly do qualify as experts.

Nonetheless, Person A, you’re not completely off the hook.  A number of the newsletter editors past and present have participated in licensed matches before paying audiences.  No matter which definition is chosen, they have “taken a bump.”

Furthermore, at the top of the newsletter food chain, there are publishers who routinely go in the back at top-promotion shows, have served as consultants, made phone calls to get wrestlers employment, and similar tasks that define them as “inside.”  If “never taken a bump” is not going to be taken literally for the inclusion of promoters, TV announcers and so on, it also applies to said top-rung newsletter journalists.

Granted, they are few, but they do exist.  And of course they’re not about to print anything that would directly reveal their connections, or destroy their good standing with promoters or wrestlers by publishing very private dirt they have been privy to.

Which brings us back to you, Person B.  Because those publishers withhold information, reading the newsletters by those individuals doesn’t mean you too are a bona fide expert.  And that’s without factoring the possibility those writers have biases or agendas.

Again, I’ve been referring to the top “sheet guys.”  From what I’ve seen via clicking Twitter links, once you get past the upper echelon, there is a substantial drop-off in credibility, understanding of the business, and journalistic standards.

I have been published in a variety of journals outside of wrestling; and, believe me, no professional editor would ever go to print with “news” articles loaded with speculation and editorializing, which I see regularly on B-list wrestling sites.  (Unless the article was clearly presented as an editorial column rather than hard news.)

I will readily admit that, back when I was reading many newsletters, I too thought I was “smart.”  That all went out the window the first time I got involved as a participant.  So much so, I later publicly apologized in a Power Slam column.

Once you step behind the curtain, as it were, there are so many revelations that simply do not appear in the newsletters and related sites.

Who does the promoter pal around with.  Who is a great athlete but can’t cut complicated promos because he’s low in the IQ department.  Which fly-ins work surprisingly cheap—and those who are not worth their fee.  Which veterans are very helpful to the young workers or keep the locker room mood upbeat with their larger-than-life personalities.

Who has heat with another worker and refuses to put him or her over.  What popular-with-fans wrestler drives the booker nuts because he constantly varies from the way the match is laid out.  Who the boys love or hate to work with, dependent upon how stiff, cooperative or limited that man is in the ring, or whether he has a penchant for risky spots.

What less-than-stellar wrestlers are constantly booked on locals shows because 80 of their friends will buy tickets, they own the ring or lighting rig, they’re the nephew of someone of importance, they can get the promotion plugged on local radio, or they graduated the promotion’s training school and were promised a public match when they enrolled.

Who is a troublemaker or brown-noses the brass.  Who nobody wants to ride with.  Who, out of character, is radically different…for better or for worse.  Which refs are excellent ring generals.  Whose push is directly related to sexual favors.  Who you do not want to be around at post-show bar gatherings.  And, conversely, who’s popular with the bosses and the rest of the talent because he always draws women to the latter.

What a promoter will do to “sell his house.”  Who among them is more driven to get written-up favorably in the sheets than to run profitably.  People in the organization whom outsiders never heard of but have much clout.

Getting the picture?

And I haven’t even gotten into the intricacies of what also transpires at TV tapings and PPVs.

 

It’s natural for a fan to be puzzled as to why certain less-talented wrestlers or managers get pushed.  Or why one promotion can run a loaded show while another can’t.  Or why “some old-timer” is even employed.  Many—seemingly most, online—fans think they could book a promotion better than the people running the show.

But, with all due respect to the better news providers, you are never going to learn all the variables outlined above, by reading newsletters and listening to podcasts.  These are all factors that, in some form, affect the product presented, and the promotions believe—and rightly so—are “none of the fans’ business.”

Consequently, the only way a person is going to be in an environment where he or she can absorb all this knowledge is to (figuratively) “take a bump.”

 

POSTSCRIPT:  My conclusion won’t sit well with some.  “What about my friend Mike, who can recite every Wrestlemania match and NWA World Champion in chronological order, and subscribes to three streaming services?  Are you saying he’s not an expert?”

What I’m saying is, Mike is a wrestling historian—and that’s excellent.

This article is not implying there is anything remotely wrong with being a historian or superfan who can’t get enough of the King Of Sports.  A good portion of them are more knowledgeable about wrestling history and up to date on current goings-on than some full-time wrestlers constantly on the road.

The conflict arises when those on the outside looking in see the proverbial tip of the iceberg and, making presumptions based entirely upon it, declare themselves experts. Being the best driver in the county doesn’t make someone a master mechanic. They are two different specialties.

 

What about wrestling magazine editors and contributors?  Thoroughly discussed the subject in a previous On Manor’s Mind  http://bit.ly/2nbaFKQ

Everything You “Know” About Wrestling Magazines Is Wrong

About the author:  Started writing feature articles for Wrestling World in 1984; launched a heel column in WW the following year, continuing through 2001. Beginning in 1994, initiated a second column, for Britain’s Power Slam magazine, and was the only staff writer with PS for its entire 20-year run.

The combined 29 consecutive years (1985-2014) is the longest uninterrupted run by any wrestling magazine columnist ever.

They were once all over the newsstands.  Wrestling Eye, Pro Wrestling Illustrated, Wrestling World, WOW, WCW Magazine, Superstars Of Wrestling, Inside Wrestling, Ringside Wrestling, Victory Sports Wrestling, Wrestling’s Main Event, Wrestling Revue…a bunch of hooey exploiting gullible children, and nothing more, right?  Not so fast.

Let’s examine some common knocks—misconceptions, actually—regarding the newsstand wrestling publications as a whole.  In several instances, real names will be withheld to protect privacy.

 

*“Nobody in the business cares about those things.”

Although grapplers may act as though they are too cool to care, watch their social media explode every time the annual PWI 500 is released.   (And for those of you who tweeted outrage over Roman Reigns ranking #1 in 2017, guess what?  That was the hoped-for reaction, as your scoffing gave Pro Wrestling Illustrated massive free publicity.)

If you ever see documentary footage—as opposed to a skit shot elsewhere—of a wrestler at home, take a good look at his “décor.”  Besides belts and perhaps trophies on display, you are extremely likely to spot a number of framed magazine covers prominently featuring the bonebender.

I personally have befriended name wrestlers—and I mean eventual Hall Of Famers—by contacting them when they were on the cover or in the main feature of Wrestling World or Power Slam and offering to mail the contacted party said item.

Unless it’s revealing something unsavory or making a false allegation, everyone gets a kick out of seeing their name and/or picture in a publication, especially one covering his or her profession.  Even more so when it is one with national or international distribution.

[FYI, because it was sold on military bases (APOs) globally, Wrestling World did in fact live up to its name.]

Not surprisingly, many future stars read the mat mags in their youth, dreaming that maybe one day they too would appear within the pages.  Some of those kids who eventually entered the sport grew up to be major players; most had a bit of regional success or a brief moment in the national spotlight.  So, in addition to serving as an inspiration, whether the mat mags are held in high regard or not, an up-and-coming wrestler has not official “arrived” until at least his name has appeared in a magazine.

That’s not to suggest Ric Flair and Undertaker rushed to the newsstand every week for decades.  But for every megastar who headlined Wrestlemania, there are hundred who never achieved a fraction of that success.  And rest assured most of them got a thrill out of seeing themselves in a fan magazine article, and have the issue(s) tucked away as memorabilia: “something to show the grandchildren” or an item broken out on occasion to illustrate to neighbors and current coworkers (in a different field) that they were once in the stretchin’ profession.

The point here is:  Though ring stars may publicly act blasé about the magazines, it’s another story privately.

And it goes a lot further than that.

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I’m betting virtually everyone reading this—and all fans ignoring it—had no idea certain wrestlers were “friends” of the magazines.  (Just like some are today, with the top newsletters.)

Wrestlers love to talk…and gossip.  Some would go so far as to regularly phone the office and shoot the breeze with an editor for an hour or so.  The loquacious men got a captive audience, passed along some digs at disliked colleagues and rightly figured cultivating a friendship with the staff increased their own odds of getting favorable publicity.  You know: “You scratch my back….”

This friendly association between wrestler and media extended well beyond the occasional phone call.

Writers with press passes and especially photographers spend a lot of time hanging around “in the back” while covering an event.  Consequently, they get exposed to the authentic personalities of the wrestlers, refs, ring announcers and assorted non-performing employees of the promotion.  As with any sizable group, one tends to hit it off well with certain others, and this camaraderie extends beyond “work hours.”

If you are allowed in the locker room in the first place, that tells everyone else there that you are “inside” enough to be trusted.  It also suggests you are local.

As such, for example, once an MSG card ended, it was common for the multi-time tag champs to paint Manhattan red with Famous New York Photographer A.  Or a fly-in may need a ride from the airport to the arena, getting one from his pal Writer X.

Once “the boys” accept a magazine staffer is okay—meaning what happens in private is NEVER going to appear in ink—he is privy to all sorts of sights and activities I guarantee you’ve never read in newsletters or on websites or heard on podcasts.

 

*”Those magazines are written for marks by marks.”

Pffft, that’s close.  If you believe noted editor/photographers such as George Napolitano and Bill Apter–who have spent hundreds of hours in the back and in private with every name wrestler and promotion–don’t know what really goes on within the business, well, frankly, you are an imbecile.

Want to fire back with “You are still marks.  The reason a bunch of those people were nice to you is only because you were with the magazines.  You said so yourself”?

Well, OF COURSE some were!  It didn’t escape or surprise me how, the moment Wrestling World folded, my opinions and presence suddenly took a very dramatic dip in value.  (Most either not knowing or caring I was in my seventh year with the UK mag.)  This practice is the nature of the beast in all forms of entertainment, whether it be a beat writer covering your local MLB team or a singer cozying up with Rolling Stone.

Nice try, though.  Here’s another pro tip for you.  Every journalist on Earth caters to his audience.  It doesn’t mean he’s a member of that group, believes what they do or, in some cases, even believes what he is putting out to the public!  (That, incidentally, applies to wrestling announcers as well.)

Ultra-bloody covers were once a staple

*”All those articles are fake.”

Um, have you thumbed through a mat magazine this millennium?

Power Slam was revolutionary in the sense it was the first European and one of the first worldwide to not “fake” anything.  And PS debuted in 1994.

Admittedly, the old-school mags were “fiction-oriented.”  But here’s the thing:  So is the entire wrestling product.

If we fabricated an interview with Steve Austin, first off, we did it well and in character enough to fool everyone, including ten-year-old you.  Secondly, Steve Austin himself is fabricated, right down to his last name.  Do you really want to spend time knocking the validity of an article about someone who doesn’t actually exist?

The fact that no magazine was ever sued says all you need to know regarding what the stars and promoters thought of what we were doing.  If anything, because we adhered to storylines, they understood how the magazines helped, further developing gimmicks and characters (which they didn’t have time to do on TV) and providing a non-stop flow of free publicity.

During the magazine heyday, it was very common to find a half-dozen of them on the average newsstand at all times.  Wrestling World was stocked in every 7-11 in America.  If we had Bret Hart or the Road Warriors on the cover, imagine how many pairs of eyes saw the WWF or WCW stars peering back at them.

If you don’t understand the significance of that for the promotion involved, please research the term “product placement.”

 

Before there were national promotions, the only way fans learned about wrestlers who didn’t appear in the local territory was via magazines.  For instance, those of us growing up in the Northeast got our first and often only exposure to Flair, Dusty Rhodes, The Masked Superstar, Verne Gagne, Jerry Lawler and similar main-eventers elsewhere.  And when a Mil Mascaras finally did come to the area, we were stoked, “knowing” he was a big deal because, after all, he was frequently on the cover of Wrestling Superstars.

[As a columnist, I would later carry on the tradition, providing the first U.S. newsstand exposure for Sean Waltman, Sabu, Rey Mysterio (as well as an full feature primer on lucha libre decades before Lucha Underground premiered), ECW and others.]

 

Odds are you gobbled up the mat mags as a kid—and equally likely you felt like you outgrew them at some point.  Nothing wrong with that.  Did it myself before renewing my interest in the sport as a young adult.

To illustrate how welcome “the magazine guys” were, watch older matches on the WWE Network or YouTube, and you will see one to several photographers around the ring.  Once Turner Broadcasting took over, I got comped (as a writer) to every WCW house show and PPV I cared to attend.  Same for the infamous Tri-State indie supercards.  WWE was once tight-fisted with press passes, but now extends them to independent photographers.

Okay, so we’ve established that, at one time, younger you thought we were awesome; and sharper promoters welcomed us, grasping how we helped popularize the product.  What I find odd—and irritating—is the widespread disrespect today accorded the classic newsstand magazines.

Unlike old toys, baseball cards, model railroads or any other reminder of youth, wrestling magazines invoke contempt rather than nostalgia among so many.  The WWE Hall Of Fame has shall we say a “very liberal” qualification standard—Drew Carey, anyone?—yet there’s not a whiff of a “magazine guy” ever entering, and it will likely remain that way, unless Paul Heyman or Jim Cornette someday get inducted, both having broken into the business as photographers.  Even the most respected Hall has more newsletter editors—once loathed by veterans—than magazine writers.  I don’t claim to know every mat mag scribe, but of the ones I’ve discussed this with, none is on the committee that elects the HOF members for the most popular newsletter.

Bear in mind that I’m generalizing here and do recognize—and appreciate—that there are fans with a fondness for the vintage print magazines.  Additionally, I do realize we were only one of many cogs in the machine, and am not trying to give the absurd impression we controlled the business.  Nonetheless, we did play a part in the growth of the billion-dollar industry and were essential reading for tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of fans over the years.

Now that the above clarifies our involvement and eradicates many misconceptions, the hope is that at least some of the cynics will change their tune. As for those who couldn’t be bothered to even give this a look…well, clearly, they’re not as “smart” as they claim they are.

(And, yes, I gladly accept gratuities via PayPal.)