One of my great life passions is professional wrestling. I have been lucky enough to live that passion for almost 14 years off and on and it has taken me across the country and given me the opportunity to meet and learn from some of the best workers in the business.
People often ask me how I got involved in professional wrestling. Like pretty much everything else in my life, I certainly did not take the traditional path. It started in around 1996. I was in high school and like a lot of people I had become enthralled with the WWF and the “Attitude” era of professional wrestling. I guess it really was the end of professional wrestling and the dawn of “sports entertainment” – but it was captivating programming for sure. I had always been a wrestling fan. I remember the day I stumbled upon the NWA during one of the “Clash of the Champions” broadcasts. It ended up being the legendary Flair/Sting matchup that smart marks still get erections for, so I got lucky and caught a good show.
At any rate, I had no real ties to the wrestling business as a kid in high school, but I liked to write. The interweb was in its infancy, and I was lucky enough to learn about a couple wrestling websites: The Bagpipe Report and Scoops Wrestling. Being the fledgling smart mark that I was, I reached out to Scotsman and Big Gal Al Issacs about maybe writing for the sites. Yes, I was one of the first dirt-sheet columnists on the internet. When I moved back to Pittsburgh and found a cool little local wrestling TV show on at 1am, I decided to check it out. Turns out some of the boys actually knew of the websites and my writing, so I had an “in”. I started out doing interviews for the TV show, then I was a ring announcer for a brief time. After that, I had the opportunity to do play-by-play for the weekly TV broadcast. I basically tried to be a sponge for the wrestling business. All during this time, I was also a tackling dummy for the wrestlers during training. I got the opportunity to work with and train under some of the most talented wrestlers in the area.
My point in telling you how I broke into the business is to criticize the current general state of wrestling, and more specifically the WWE when it comes to cultivating talent. Vince McMahon never had to really “grow” his own stars. When he took over the WWF, he began a simple Borg-Like journey to assimilate every other promotion into the WWF. Resistance was futile, and territories across the country were swallowed up in the early 1980’s across the country. Vince was able to hand-pick the top stars in each territory: Hulk Hogan from the AWA. Rick Rude and Adrian Adonis from Southwest Championship Wrestling. International Championship Wrestling gave them Lanny Poffo and Randy Savage. Harley Race from the St. Louis Wrestling Club. Bret Hart, Davey Boy Smith, Jim Neidhart and the Dynamite Kid from Calgary Stampede, and so on all the way through talent in Smokey Mountain and the USWA that remains active on the WWE’s roster today.
Now that there are no more territories, what can Vince do? There is a lot of talent on the indies but as any fan will tell you – Vince shits on the indy wrestling scene. That brings us to the current problem that Vince and the WWE have: They have never had to cultivate their own talent and as a result, have no fucking clue how to do so.
A lot of this has to do with Vince’s ego. It is that ego that tells Vince that he can hire well known, well traveled and well respected independent wrestlers and pretend like their 10 years of exposure and recognition did not exist. Good examples of this: Bryan Danielson/Daniel Bryan, Chris Hero/Kassius Ohno, Claudio/Antonio, etc. etc. These wrestlers have earned the right to make it to the “big time” only to have to start over as some generic WWE gimmick that they are strapped with. They start from scratch and work an uphill battle to prove that they can establish themselves in NXT, or wherever the glass ceiling takes them.
Even worse than the indy stars who finally get a shot at the WWE is the 2nd and 3rd generation stars who are signed with no mention of their famous families. Bo Rotundo becomes Bo Dallas, despite his father’s impressive 20 year wrestling career. Joe Hennig becomes Michael McGillicutty despite his grandfather being the legendary Larry “The Ax” Hennig and his father, one of the greatest wrestlers ever in “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig. Eddie and Vickie Guererro’s daughter Shaul is competing as Raquel Diaz, shunning the Guerrero family name.
I saw this interview with Larry “The Ax” where he discusses being upset over his grandson not using the Hennig family name and the bullshit reasoning Vince gave him. Basically, “We’ll make him a star, and THEN give him back his name.”
So where does that leave the wrestling business? If you’ve been watching WWE programming for the past few months you’ve probably seen a decline in the product. Shoddy angles, gaps in stories, and a locker room full of wrestlers who just aren’t DOING anything. Look, I know it’s pro wrestling, and there will always be a need to suspend disbelief when it comes to the angles, but it’s just gotten horrid. Payoff for the “Anonymous RAW GM” is Hornswaggle? Why not just have him drive a white Hummer down to the ring. Is it lazy, or is it just bad writing? The issue is that outside of a few top feuds and programs there really isn’t a whole lot going on right now, and that doesn’t look like it’s going to improve when programming is expanded another hour.
The good news is that hard work does pay off, even if your dad wasn’t a big wrestling star in the 80’s. The bad news is that Vince will probably slap some shitty vanilla create-a-wrestler name on you and throw you out there to the world. The best news: Even if you are wrestling as Cumstain McFuckface – You are still in the WWE.
Good luck getting over!
Speaking of getting over: I’m wrestling for HBW Wrestling in the Youngstown/Girard area this Sunday, July 22. It’s a good promotion that is trying to improve, and I’m excited to finally be in a position to “give back” to the business. I’m thankful to the people who have taken the time to help teach me, even if I often only learn the hard way. The bottom line is that I still learn, and I’m hopeful that there are some guys in the locker room who might appreciate not having to take the long, hard road when there might be an easier and more rewarding path for them.