WHY SO SERIOUS? iT’S JUST WRESTLING…

31. December, 2012

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You can’t play the hero if you don’t know the lines. And nobody gets out alive…NOBODY!

I watched the Christmas Eve RAW a couple days after it aired and wondered what all the fuss was about.  Alberto Del Rio ran over Santa.  Ricardo was crying.  John Cena valiantly and indignantly confronted Del Rio and Santa granted a “Miracle on 34th Street Fight Match” in that very ring on RAW, tonight!

Christmas Eve.  Santa’s handing out presents and gets hit by a car.  Plausible.  The cops were obviously on top of things because the official yellow crime scene tape was keeping any pedestrians from lurking about…At least we got updates on Santa’s condition throughout the night. Prior to the match he actually started clicking his toes together to prove miracles do happen!

And wouldn’t you know it, that “Scrooge” Del Rio got his comeuppance in the end via Santa and John Cena just in time to get back on his sleigh to deliver presents to all the good boys and girls around the world.  Wow.  What a relief!

People were actually upset that WWE would “stoop” to a ridiculous storyline involving St. Nick.  To quote one of my favorite Superstars, “Really?”

I grew up in the 1960s and 70’s.  A different time and place.  A different world altogether… Watching guys like Terry & Dory Funk, Harley Race, Bruiser Brody, Stan Hansen, Ernie Ladd, Wahoo McDaniel, Johnny Valentine, Jose Lothario, Dick Murdoch, Kurt & Karl Von Braunner, Iron Mike DiBiase, Jack Brisco and so many others during that time period made me not only a believer but want to be a part of that business.

It was regional.  No Internet or dirt sheets.  There were “pen pals” who sent each other cards, pictures and newspaper clippings but for the most part  the local wrestling you saw on your TV was what you got.  Some promotions ran weekly while others were monthly or sporadic visits to the smaller towns that got the local show via UHF or a strong channel.  If you told the viewing audience that Verne Gagne was the “World Heavyweight Champion” who were you to dispute he wasn’t?

The 60’s and 70’s had three “major” organizations with claims to the “world” championship.  If you were a hard core fan who read the magazines or corresponded with others across the country it might be confusing.  There are enough books out there today to explain how the wrestling business got to where it is today.  Real students of the game and people intrigued enough to find out the history of this business will find the answers…

Even in those days when the defenders of honor and the wrestling business would fight at the drop of a hat if you dare to question the validity of professional wrestling, you had “gimmicks” that were so outrageous it was laughable.  Whiskers Savage, Ivan Putski, Mighty Igor, Indian Chiefs (right off the Reservation or Italy), Masked Men with ‘loaded’ boots or masks, fire throwing Sheiks and real life Kings, not to mention the question that always came up…”How did that guy get hit 8 times in the face with a fist and not suffer any broken bones?”

Well, in Texas there were wrestlers who did hit each other and break bones. They did what they had to do to protect their business and there was the understanding that ‘things might happen out there’ that we need to do to convince the paying customer that we are in fact the “real deal.”  That was how business was conducted in the place I watched growing up. It was still “sports entertainment” and a business. That was then…

I find it almost amusing when some people still cling to calling this business “sport” when in fact it is a business.  ALL sports at a professional level (AKA you get paid to do it) is about selling tickets, creating revenue and making money.  Yes, teams and individuals want to win and succeed.  But the owners who pay these talents want to make as much money as they can!  They are businessmen, running a business. Not “sports-men” running a “sport.”  That’s more in line with amateur sports where having fun and winning are more important and emphasized over making money.  I believe you should have fun while playing a sport you love on a professional level. I also believe once money enters the equation it becomes a business and fans these days understand that.  I’ve heard baseball and football announcers call those sports a “rough business” on a few occasions with no one complaining about losing ‘credibility’ by not always referring to them only as “sport.”

Wrestling is a sport.  Like it or not, Professional Wrestling is and always has been “sports entertainment” and a BUSINESS.

It’s just that in the earlier days secrets were kept a little better and most of the boys kept their cards close to their vests.

There was no developmental system back then. It was on the job training. You learned by going up and down the highways and two lane roads wrestling and performing in front of different crowds varying in size and attitude.  Traveling in a car for hours every day could bring out creativity and inspirational conversations at times I’m sure.  Those territories no longer exist and the world is a much smaller place thanks to 24 hour access to anything you want.

Terry Funk was who he was in and out of the ring.  He was wild, crazy and he made sure that no one knew for sure when he would or could snap. He wasn’t “playing a character.”  He WAS that character 24/7!

While a hero in Texas (West Texas anyway) Terry was a villain in Florida where he had epic battles with another true blue, real life “character”  The American Dream, Dusty Rhodes.  Terry sent a promo into Florida with a headstone by his side that had Dusty Rhodes name and career ending date engraved on it.  Terry bought a ticket for that headstone, carried it through the Amarillo airport, put it in the accompanying seat with people watching his every move.  When the plane landed, Terry walked through the Tampa airport wearing a cowboy hat and boots, carrying that headstone through the terminal.

All heads turned and the best part was most people knew who Terry Funk and Dusty Rhodes were.  CWF was the most popular TV show at the time and The Dream was the most popular wrestler in the state.  He could have probably ran for Governor…and WON!!!

The extremes guys like Terry and Dusty went to was common in those days because they protected their business.  They knew people weren’t going to come to see a scientific match between two of the greatest technicians in the world (although that would be on the under card) but they would buy tickets to watch two wild and crazy Texans beat the hell out of each other in a hot, sweaty Fort Homer Hesterly Armory on a summer night!  And they did!

The debate has always been “is this sport or theatre?” The answer is both.

Someone much wiser than I once explained it to me this way:

I like strawberries.  I also like to go fishing.  When I’m trying to catch fish, I put worms on the hook.  Fish don’t like strawberries.  Therefore, if I’m trying to draw people and sell tickets, I give the people what THEY want to see.  It doesn’t matter that I prefer two wrestlers that can tear the house down with pure wrestling.  If there’s 30 people watching, I’m losing money.  But if I tell people that these two guys are going to brawl, really hate each other and there’s no telling what could happen and I draw 5,000 or 10,000 people then what do you think I’m going to promote?  I might be a purist but I’m also a realist.  If there’s no people, there’s no money.  No money equals no business.  No business turns into “I need to find something else to do to feed me and my family!”

The wrestlers back then were given more freedom to be who they were and succeed or fail by cutting promos using their words, their ability to connect with the fans and overall talent to create revenue, AKA drawing money…When you’re the only game in town (for all intents and purposes) I guess you can’t leave that to chance or you don’t have confidence that talent can pull off money drawing promos or vignettes on their own.  With several  hours of programing to produce every week maybe having a boatload of writers is the only way to go.

I do know the creativity isn’t what it used to be but once again, this is a different time and place.  Change is inevitable.  You must learn what’s relevant to your audience and create a compelling TV and live event show.  No one can expect the young talent in WWE to understand how to perform or be who they are with the volume turned up in a real and natural manner unless they’ve seen and felt what it’s like themselves.

If it looks good, you’ll see it.
If it sounds good, you’ll hear it.
If it’s marketed right, you’ll buy it.
If it’s real, you’ll feel it.

I know the wrestling/sports entertainment business is down everywhere.  The economy is down, people are out of work, there’s a special at 7-11 and Target has a special on Easter cards….In other words, you can make all the excuses you want, but if people are into your product they will watch and pay to see the live events. Why pay when you can sit home or log onto your computer and watch whatever you want?

I believe there’s plenty of untapped talent in WWE.  I hope things turn around and everybody has fun and makes a lot of money.  WWE’s motto is “We put smiles on people’s faces.”  And they put a smile on mine constantly!  I enjoy seeing new talent debut and succeed.

I can wish all I want that they will give so and so an opportunity and be given a chance to just be themselves and get over.  It could happen.  But in the meantime, guys like CM Punk, Paul Heyman, John Cena, Dolph Ziggler, a returning Rock, The Shield and a wealth of developmental talent will be in charge of making 2013 a profitable and memorable year.  I have faith they will…

Some people need to lighten up in my opinion. This is professional wrestling AKA Sports Entertainment. Relax and enjoy.  There will be those “that wasn’t supposed to happen” moments (I hope) and you can get lost in the fantasy and magic of the business.  One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean someone else thinks it’s the greatest thing in the world!  Yeah, I know…I reserve the right to change my mind!

But if you’re drawing 30-60 of the same people to your events maybe you should take a look at your business.  Don’t adjust the goal; adjust the action steps!  Why would anyone pay to watch guys who look like them or their unemployed uncle wrestle a horribly embarrassing match every week or month?  If you look, dress and act like you’re one of the crowd, you should be IN the crowd!

I am about to embark on a journey that will evoke some strong emotions and criticism, no doubt.  Doing a wrestling school in Knoxville, TN along with Jupiter Entertainment filming parts along the way with some interesting characters, will have some purists outraged and hopefully outright pissed!  It will be an enthralling journey for sure…

For those who still decry the words “the wrestling business” please stop and come to your senses.  Without any fans (paying customers) you can’t pay the rent.  You can’t pay your ‘talent.’ And you won’t be able to feed yourself or your family.  Take a look at your talent.  Why are you drawing what you’re drawing?  No TV?  OK.  You put out fliers though. Oh yeah… Once you get a good house and they witness the quality of talent on your show and walk out asking what they just saw is NOT a good sign!

Enough ranting.  Santa’s OK.  John Cena and Santa are heroes. They do know their lines and their parts in the big picture. There are people in WWE with passion and dedicated to making things better.  But it’s wrestling.  Entertainment.  In the end, does it really matter? To some, maybe.  But if you look ahead and know that time is a fleeting entity, you’ll realize we’re only here for a short allotment anyway.  Make the most of your time while you’re here. A lot of friends and acquaintances are no longer with us.  A new year gives everyone a chance to start over and reset.

I hope everyone hit their ‘reset’ button and has a great 2013!

(The opinions expressed above are mine and mine alone.  Some say I’ve backtracked and maybe I have but this year has never been lived before, so go out and make it your best year ever! It’s never too late to change…)

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

 

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