This isn’t the Midnight News. I am Chris, however. Hello.
So, Widro suggested I do a Best of And Another Thing compilation thing to tie into the end of the year. And I chewed it over and decided, why not. I mean, they are only the best friggin’ pieces of writing pertaining to wrestling that anyone has ever seen. Who cares if they’ve been available for years at the old site?
And besides, 411 is all pop-ups these days… and the old columns are buried deep in there… I think it’ll be okay to dust off a few of them and introduce the one or two newbies out there to Hyatte back when I had a little passion.
So here are four of my faves, which also nicely cover the wide, wide, WIDE spectrum of topics and approaches I used.
Basically, what I’m saying is that these are the more timeless ones… the ones that are still pretty relevant today, Hyatte rules.
So what did I select?
*a forgotten feud
*the right to whine
*book this (which is still SO relevant right now it’s scary. I could’ve wrote this yesterday and it would be topical)
*and the third best pure story I think I’ve ever written.
So read them all, read the ones you forgot about, or read nothing. It’s here for your pleasure.
And Another Thing: The Last Battle Of Atlanta
Let me tell you about the bloodiest feud of them all. It was also the most pointless. And… it might very well be one of the longest. Clocking in at eighteen months.
I don’t know how it started, or why it started, all I know is that at the very end, the two wrestlers were changed, and not for the better.
Let’s go back to the length. Eighteen months. Eighteen. How many feuds do you know go that long? I’m not talking company power struggles that raged throughout the late 90’s, nor am I talking about the rebel flipping off the company’s owner in a two year act of defiance. I’m talking about a fight between two wrestlers of equal standing that raged on for over a full year and a half. Non-stop. These two guys didn’t take a break for a few months to fight someone else, they just kept going at it. Night after night, for eighteen months. It doesn’t happen anymore. It hasn’t happened in a long time. Not since the advent of the pay per view, where feuds begin and end inside of a month, for the most part.
There were no titles involved for this feud. No elevations. Nothing was to be gained from this thing other than a small measure of pride. These two men, in the very heart of the Deep South in the early 80’s, poured it on and into each other for so long because they hated each other. The tossed all personal well being and career advice aside and tore it up. The WWF was two years away from taking over the fabled 6:05-8:05 Saturday evening time slot on the Superstation TBS. Dusty Rhodes was four years away from having his ankle broken by Ric Flair and the Andersons which kicked off a group called the Four Horsemen. Rocky Maivia was still in High School. Hulk Hogan was busy playing “Thunderlips”, and a Texan named Steve Williams was admiring his luxurious blonde locks while wondering if he should give this wrestling career a shot. Wrestling, in general, was only a couple of years away from becoming one of the biggest media attractions of the 80’s, welcoming millions of new fans. These two wrestlers never had any inkling of what was to come… their careers came during the time where wrestling was still a small time business. To them, their feud meant constant work. A constant spot on the card. The promoters kept asking them back to the houses… and why not? The crowd loved it. The blood feud between the Young Stud and the Wild Man. Between Georgia’s Favorite Face and it’s Craziest Heel. Between Wildfire and the Mad Dog.
Tommy “Wildfire” Rich was the youthful, blonde Hero that promoters loved. The girls squealed after him and the boys admired him. Clean-cut, wide, bright smile, he was exactly the type of Face that you can book an entire card around. In 1979, he was voted “Rookie of the Year” in the annual “PWI Year-End Awards” (although he made his technical debut in 1974). In 1978, he was voted “Most Improved Wrestler”. In 1981 he won “Most Popular Wrestler” and came in second to Andre the Giant one year later. Also in ’81, he finished third behind Ric Flair and Bob Backlund in the “Wrestler of the Year” category. In those first few years after his debut, “Wildfire” lived up to his nickname. In those days, most of the handsome babyfaces of the time were in Texas and shared the last name “Von Erich”. Almost everywhere else, Wrestlers still looked like hardened ex-cons… tougher than a piece of raw bull steak and twice as mean as the steer you took it from. Even the NWA World Champion, at the time, Harley Race, looked like he won the belt by drinking the most pints. In those days, wrestling was about watching beer guts hang over the tights as they punched and kicked each other into unconsciousness. Tommy Rich was different. He was good looking. He was a kid, only 25 years old. He didn’t have the roughened gravel-like voice from chain smoking Camels, instead he had an easy going, mellow Georgian twang that went nicely with his smooth grin. He was a pretty boy, the perfect Face for Heels to want to smash.
For a time, Wildfire was hot, hot enough to actually win the NWA heavyweight title from Harley Race in 1981. Not so hot enough to keep it, though. Four days later, Race beat him again and re-took the title. That was the closest Rich came to being a serious player in the Wrestling game. From 1978 to 1981, he was the future of Wrestling… and it would only be a matter of time before he would take his spot in the Upper Echelon. That’s what everyone thought.
Then he met “Mad Dog” Buzz Sawyer.
Buzz Sawyer was a man before his time. He made his debut in 1979, one year after Rich officially was voted “Rookie of the Year”. Buzz was bald on top, keeping the hair growing around his sides, but there was no mistaking him for an Accountant. He wore thick fur around his boots and made the look cool. Truly, had he been born a short ten years earlier, he would have been what Steve Austin is today. The Mad Dog was wild, inhuman, and frightening to watch. Like Rich, his star shone brightest in his early years, just not as brightly as Rich’s had. In 1982, he came in fourth place in the PWI’s “Most Hated” poll… just behind Ted DiBiase, Blackjack Mulligan, and Superstar Billy Graham. In 1982, he trailed behind Barry Windham and Otto Wanz in the “Most Improved” category. Finally, in 1983, he was third in the “Inspirational Wrestler of the year”, beaten out by Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper. The reason why a monster Heel like him would be considered “Inspirational” was because of his brother, but I’ll get to that later.
The funny thing is, while Rich had the looks, it was Sawyer with all the skills. Rich was a strict puncher who had a few dropkicks, some basic lock holds, and the occasional Sleeperhold to his arsenal. His Finisher was as simple as it gets, the Lou Thesz Press, which is basically a vertical cross body-block. Sawyer knew how to work, what’s more… he knew how to flow. Buzz Sawyer was not afraid of climbing the top ropes, or taking a bump, or of creating a new suplex on the spot. He punctuated each spot with a loud, wolf-like howl that echoed throughout the building. He also had a perfected Powerslam before anyone knew just what the hell a Powerslam was. Maybe this was what made the feud so lucrative? Buzz Sawyer not only represented everything Tommy Rich stood against, but he could also out-wrestle him. The fans knew this, and even if they loved “Wildfire” or hated him, they couldn’t wait to see how he would deal with Buzz next. Mad Dog was the ultimate nightmare for the pretty boy. Mean, ugly, ferocious, and a hell of a fighter. It was a match(-up) made in heaven.
After eighteen months of blood, eighteen months of pain, and eighteen months of rage, enough was enough. Georgia wrestling was exhausted from this feud, and so were the wrestlers. Rich probably noticed that while he was getting mauled for the last year and a half, he was also two full years gone from his four day title reign. He was an “ex” NWA champion for two years now, and wasn’t making any serious bids to reclaim the belt and show the world that his first win wasn’t a joke. Buzz probably was just itching for a change. Plus, his brother, Bret Wayne had just joined the sport and he wanted to do some work with him awhile. Either way, the eighteen month journey had one more stop… it’s final stop. Fittingly, since both men were children of Georgia, it only made sense to finish the war at it’s capital, and in Georgia Wrestling’s home base. So, seventeen years ago this week, Tommy Rich and Buzz Sawyer stepped inside a Steel Cage in the Omni and finished the game in what was called “The Last Battle of Atlanta”. For one night, before Wrestlemania, before The NWO, before Cliques, before Monday Nights, before 3:16, before Luche Libre, before Horsemen… Tommy Rich and Buzz Sawyer made their last stand against each other. In a few short years, wrestling would take off and be re-defined a couple of times. Nobody knew this was coming… they just knew that there was one last score to be settled, old school style.
They say that it was brutal. I hear more blood came out of that match then ever before, for it’s time. AIDS was just starting to show up in San Francisco’s gay community, so nobody saw the problem with a nice, messy blade yanked across the forehead. If a few fans should catch a few drops of Mad Dog’s blood, they probably loved it. I didn’t see the match itself, but everyone saw the end results. Tommy Rich walked out of that cage the eventual winner, but only from a technical stand point. The truth is that neither man really walked out of that ring on that fateful October night. Both men left a part of themselves inside there.
Tommy Rich never really recovered. Oh, he still worked the circuit, but never adapted to the changing times or to the fact that his youthful good looks were now hardened and scarred from a year and a half of having a Mad Dog try to bite his face off. Rich never presented a serious challenge to the NWA title, which was now in the hands of this guy named Flair who everyone still called a “Buddy Rogers rip-off”. He really didn’t do much of anything while the WWF was steamrolling everywhere. Time marched on, Rich got pudgy, then downright fat. He even turned Heel a few times, telling the fans to go “straight to hell”. As a heel, he got a slot as a mid-carder in the Alexander York’s (Terri Runnels) stable and got a little mileage off that. Some years later, he turned up in ECW and managed the “Full Blooded Italians”. He seemed to be having fun.
Buzz Sawyer still had a potential career after the cage. In an effort to put the feud in the past, Georgia promoters gave him a heartwarming angle where his brother Bret would have a tearful, dramatic re-union in the ring. Tired of seeing Bret get beat up by the Road Warriors, Buzz ran into the ring and made the save. Babyface Bret Wayne would admit that he was a Sawyer after all and show the whole world that his Brother wasn’t all that bad by adopting his last name. Unfortunately, while Buzz had tons of skill and charisma, Bret was about as exciting as watching paint dry. The Storyline was hot for a while, but not for very long. Buzz migrated to Texas for a bit and gave the Von Erich’s headaches. Turned up in the WWF once or twice… but never made much of himself. Then, in 1992, thirteen years after he debuted and almost ten years after his feud with Wildfire began, Buzz Sawyer died quietly in his apartment in Sacramento from drugs. He was 32.
Wrestling is a hard profession. For every Flair, Hogan, and Funk who know how to stay active for decades, there are countless other men who know only too well what it’s like to flame out early and burn out before their ready. These men, who’s talent shined brighter than a wildfire and brayed louder than a rabid dog will tell you how cold the thousands of miles on the road can be, matched only by the heart of the promoter who tells you that at 30, you are already “yesterday’s news” and aren’t worth the cost of the gas you used up to get to the building. This is the real life of Professional Wrestling. The life nobody talks about. The life that breaks your heart, and your spirit.
Tommy Rich and Buzz Sawyer didn’t see what was coming. They just saw each other. For eighteen months they gave each other everything they had and bled gallons. Then, they had one final dance at the Mecca of Wrestling in the Deep South and bled one last time, pouring out their souls into each other in an ultimate blaze of glory that burned the house down. Atlanta burned famously once before, a century ago. Well, seventeen years ago this week, Atlanta burned one more time. Only no lives were lost this time around, and there were only two victims permanently scarred from the blaze.
I’ve just introduced you to them.
R.I.P Mad Dog. You would have loved the 90’s
And Another Thing: Hart Pounding Commentary
Bret Hart can’t be satisfied.
Time after time, he finds something to complain about. No matter what WCW does… or tries to do, it’s not enough. He’ll always find something to cry about. “Waah waah waaah… my head hurts. Waah waah waaah… I was screwed. Waah waah waaah… WCW won’t pay me after Goldberg stiffed me in the head. Waah waa waaah… my Brother died.”
Luckily, Internet Writers have almost universally banded together and said, “Enough, Bret! Stop being such a crybaby! Suck it up and try to adjust to today’s brand of wrestling. If you can’t, then just go away. Quit whining and be a professional. We are all sick and tired of this!” You know something? After some thought, I’ve decided that I’m sick of this crap too.
All of you Internet Writers can go straight to Hell.
How dare you criticize Bret Hart for being bitter. How dare you act so incredulous that someone so well-known would publicly speak his mind about the sport that he spent his ENTIRE life involved in. From day one, Bret has lived, breathed, drank, and ate professional wrestling. This was his life. Maybe you people need a reminder of what Bret is all about?
Professional wrestling defined who he was… and in return, he tried to define wrestling in a respectable manner. He spent ten years in the WWF before winning the world title. Ten years honing his craft as a member of the Hart Foundation. Ten years slaving away on the road, quietly working under the shadow of Hulk-A-Mania and larger than life characters. His was an emphasized substance against a world of exaggerated styles. He never complained. He simply bided his time.
He got his chance and became the company’s number one man. The World Champion. Was it his fault that Wrestling fell out of favor with the mainstream right around the time Hulk Hogan ended his relationship with the WWF? Maybe and maybe not. All I know is that he tried to present a different and unique image of a World Champion that was missing for many years. Bret actually worked. Bret actually worked hard. Wow, here’s a scary concept… the World Champion actually worked house shows? He actually defended his title off-camera to a roomful of grateful fans who maybe saw Hogan work their town once every two years, maybe? Oh, and Bret actually had moves. Sure, the running gag was that Bret just used the “five same moves” over and over; well guess what, they were three more moves than what Hogan did, and none of them involved a boot to the face and a leg drop. Oh, and Bret never posed either. Hang the bastard.
The recipe for achieving the “American dream” is simple: work, toil, and labor as hard as you possibly can, and you can achieve whatever you want. Well, Bret did just that… and he got exactly what he worked for. Then things took a bad turn… a horrible turn. In the last three years, everything that Bret dedicated his life to, went sour. Let’s recall what Bret’s has had to go through in three short years, shall we? Or would you just prefer to call him a baby some more?
Well, Bret was told by the man he trusted more than anyone, save his Father, that he was no longer “financially viable” for the company he gave his entire life to. This was just a few months after the man gave him a 20 year contract because Bret was “just that valuable”.
Then, he was betrayed, in front of millions, and stripped of his dignity by the man he trusted, and the one worker who he could never get along with. To make matter worse, that night started the great WWF comeback, which they are still enjoying today. Instead of becoming one of the Greats, Bret Hart is now one of the greatest scapegoats. He wasn’t just humiliated in front of his home country, his humiliation is now considered the smartest move Vince McMahon has ever made. Try dealing with that, just once.
Shawn Michaels, a petty little diva who firmly ruled the locker room with his Clique of friends, refused to put over anyone; yet he was given periodic work even after he couldn’t wrestle anymore. Shawn is welcomed into the WWF whenever he likes. Bret built a reputation on making people look as good as he could, putting people over for the sake of the story, and never, ever hurting people… now he’s a pariah up North. What’s wrong with this picture?
He moved to WCW, and was thwarted by Hulk Hogan right from the get-go. The whole plan was to milk the “Screwed Over” factor for some worth by making Bret a “Wrestling Cop” of sorts, preventing fast counts from shady Referees to keep the title around the Heel’s waist. Unfortunately, the Heel was Hulk Hogan, who did not want people thinking that he needed a fast count in order to beat Sting, so he made the Referee count normal. There was no fast count. Bret knew this, but he tried to sell the story anyway. Because of Hogan, Bret’s first WCW angle fizzled. He was put in a program with Flair for a while, turned Heel, turned Face, flip-flopped like that constantly… even right up to today. Oh look, Bret’s a face! Oh, wait… he’s a Heel. Nobody popped, either way. How could they? He’s turned Heel so many times it’s become obligatory.
A year later, Bret’s younger brother Owen died. Violently, abruptly, and pointlessly. He died getting ready to drop from the ceiling in an exhibition of flash that went against everything Bret stood for. Everyone agreed, it was an accident. Should that make Bret feel better? Should he forgive and forget? There is a lawsuit, but it doesn’t look too promising. Does that mean Bret should stop being upset over it?
The funeral even helped insult the man. The WWF promised that they would show no footage of the Funeral, but they did. Vince McMahon told the world of a private conversation they shared, where he painted Bret as a whiner who blamed Vince for everything that went wrong with his life. Nice.
Then, finally… WCW, under Vince Russo, finally gave Bret a good, solid angle to work through. He was put in a program with Goldberg and given the WCW title. He was getting over as a solid heel, and even became the leader of the re-formed NWO. Then, Goldberg, the WCW Golden Boy, closed his eyes and blindly drove his foot in Bret’s head. The resulting concussion was so bad that Bret still gets migraines, nauseating dizziness, and memory loss. The man who was famous for taking great care in never harming his opponent may never work again thanks to a selfish monster who the company is resting their entire future on. Goldberg got a raise, Bret got a cut in salary because he’s can’t work. Much like the WWF did with Shawn Michaels, WCW used Bret as a way to put over someone else. He has some nerve bitching about it. Some nerve, indeed.
In three years, Bret Hart has had his entire life turned into a punchline. The man gave everything he had to help build this business, only to have it fall on him like a house of cards. Sure, you can argue that he has made it hard to feel sympathetic. He compared his (ex) Brother-in-law, The British Bulldog to a “dog rolling around in his own crap” and threatened to run him down with his car after Davey re-joined the WWF. He routinely criticizes the new direction wrestling has taken in this new Era. He even publicly denounced WCW for “making him shoot” on Goldberg on a very recent “Thunder”… embarrassing the company, and himself in the process. Bret didn’t care for the way his injury was turned into part of the storyline. Yes, he can get whiny. He calls himself an “advocate”, and plans on keeping it up.
He has every damn right to do so and NOBODY has any damn right to call him on it. He’s a human being expressing his hurt and his pain in the best way he knows how. I know, he should shut up and adjust. He should shut up, keep smiling, and not DARE criticize the sport that’s been so good to him. Oh, the little, ungrateful, scum. Crucify him for the unforgivable crime of being human. The audacity of it all.
I’d like to say to those Bret bashers, who have the gall to snipe at him for expressing his rage, to shut your ignorant mouths. I hope that you guys get humiliated out of a job that you spent your life working at, be forced into a different job that can’t seem to use you to the best of your abilities, see your younger sibling die working at the same place that threw you out, then having the death joked about by talent-less recappers who go for the cheap joke. I hope you can’t do your job anymore, much less do much of any physical activity, because of a lazy co-worker who could not care less about anyone but himself.. I’d like to see you go through this hell and not feel bitter. There is not a doubt in my mind that you can’t. All you can do is bash Bret Hart for the intolerable sin of becoming disillusioned. Let’s lynch him.
I’m not saying you have to like Bret Hart and what he’s become. I’m not even saying you have to respect him. I’m just saying that he’s earned the right to say anything he damn well pleases. He’s earned that right. Nobody on the Internet has earned the right to complain about it. None of you have any idea what it’s like to go through what Hart has gone through. So until you do, keep your mouths shut. Wrestling is not the perfect business where everything is good and just and nothing goes bad. There is a dark side to professional wrestling. The “magic” is a little tainted. No one knows this better than Bret Hart, and if he wants to spout off about it, he has every right to. He’s earned the privilege. Just keep your fat asses in your cushy chairs and keep your opinions to yourselves on this, or explain why you feel you have the right to criticize him. Try trading hardships with Bret Hart. I doubt you can even come close.
No, you don’t have to respect Bret Hart. Although he’s earned it through years of hard work, it’s your business whether you want to respect him.
But, you had damn well better respect his right to be bitter. He has earned it.
Paid for with his very dignity. And his Brother’s blood.
Just remember that next time you feel like bashing the man.
And Another Thing: The Greatest Story Never Told
I stopped by my nearest Barnes & Noble bookstore the other day… just to be sure.
Wedged in the “Sports” section, between a few Boxing books were the following tomes dedicated to Professional Wrestling:
The Idiot’s Guide To Professional Wrestling by Captain Lou Albano and Bert Randolf Sugar for $18.95… which was structured just like all the Idiot’s series are. User Friendly.
Rulers of the Ring: Wrestling’s Hottest Superstars by Robert Picarello for $10.95. There were a LOT of pictures, and some cheap bios.
WOW: World Of Wrestling: The Very Best of the WWF, WCW, and ECW for $14.95 and $19.95. There were two of them, with different covers. More pictures to go with zippy single-paragraph bios. Just for a little extra, they threw in a look at some other “Extreme” sports such as Snowboarding and… well, I put the book down after seeing pictures of Snowboarders. No single or group author was credited for the book. Once you see the thing, you’ll understand why no one in particular wanted to get credit.
WCW: The Ultimate Guide by Bob Ryder and Dave Scherer. This beaut, for $19.95, will give people who never saw wrestling ever in their lives a glossy, slick rendering of the world of WCW. Of course, this brand new reader will walk away assuming that Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, and Kevin Nash have spent their whole careers in WCW, and that WCW is the only company around. I hope Mr. Ryder and Mr. Scherer were well compensated for this oversized brochure. These “Journalists” should be ashamed of themselves.
That was it for the general wrestling books. There were also a few biographies on the shelf. Both Mick Foley’s hardcover and paperback were displayed. The Rock’s hardcover was there, with the paperback on it’s way later this month. There was also Every Man Has His Price by Ted DiBiase for $10.99, but be warned… the book slowly yet surely turns into a sermon on how Christ can save you too. Bret Hart’s Bret Hart: The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be that he wrote with Peray Lefko is available for $19.99. This is another big, glossy book with large lettering and lots of pictures so it feels like a lofty read… it isn’t. Finally, there was a little, fast book called Texas Rattlesnake: The Unfiltered, Totally Unauthorized Story Of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin by Scott Edelman. This is one of those “On-The-Fly” quickies that hack writers love to slap together for a few fast bucks.
That’s everything on Wrestling that I could find in the store. So, I went online to Amazon.com and checked out the selections there. They are selling Arn Anderson’s book for $22.00 and Dallas Page’s book for $23.16 (with Terry “Hulk Hogan” Bollea credited as a co-author).
Interestingly enough, I also found two books on both Page and Hart by the same author! Diamond Dallas Page: The Story Of The Wrestler They Call “Diamond Dallas Page” (Pro Wrestling Legends) by Jacqueline Mudge for $8.05 and Bret Hart: The Story Of The Wrestler They Call “The Hitman (Pro Wrestling Legends) also by Jaqueline Mudge for $8.95. One wonders why Bret’s story cost 90 cents more than Dallas’s? Maybe because she had to work harder in the whitewash she gave Bret?
Among the more “broader” wrestling books, Amazon provided these:
Stranglehold: An Intriguing Behind The Scenes Glimpse Into The Private World Of Professional Wrestling by Larry Nelson, James R. “Jim” Jones, and Marilee Chiarella for $14.99. AWA Announcer Larry Nelson jams inside stories and exclusive pictures of saggy Verne Gagne wearing his tights into a paltry 152 pages.
Kayfabe : The Secret World of Professional Wrestling (The X-pert X-plains) by David Flood. Priced at $19.95, this “X-Pert” only needs 168 pages to break the news that wrestling is NOT real.
Professional Wrestling As Ritual Drama in American Popular Culture (Mellen Studies in Sociology, Vol 8) by Michael R. Ball. For $79.95… it’ll probably be the most expensive sleeping pill you’ll ever buy.
Professional Wrestling: Sport and Spectacle (Performance Studies Series) by Sharon Mazer $14.48. Don’t get excited. This one clocks in at 191 pages… hardly enough to cover the career of the Mulkey Brothers, much less this entire sport.
There were other books, but you get the idea.
Checking out the books that have not been released yet, such as the Rock’s paperback, Bios from Goldberg and Chyna, there are also:
Biographical Dictionary Of Professional Wrestling by Harris M. Lentz III for $55.00. More definitions and explanations… only this time, it’s the long winded version.
The Buzz On Professional Wrestling by Scott Keith and John Craddock for $16.95. To fill in those blanks left by Albano and Sugar?
The Encyclopedia Of Professional Wrestling: 100 Years Of The Good, The Bad, And The Collectible by Kristen Pope for $17.56
Meet The Stars Of Professional Wrestling by James Preller for $5.39
The Professional Wrestling Trivia Book by Robert Myers for $9.95 ( $0.85 special surcharge)
Anyone see a recurring theme here?
You can buy the books if you want. I’m not telling you not to. All I’m saying is that… well…
They’re all crap.
Truth is, the real story on Professional Wrestling has yet to be written, and probably will never be written.
The best we can get are more trivia books, lots of quickie, harmless bios, lots of Guides, Dictionaries, and other handbooks designed to explain this crazy sport to the “normal” people. We’ll also get autobiographies from wrestlers who will share with us some private stories of the road… just as soon as their bosses carefully scour the finished manuscript and delete anything that may show Wrestling in a negative light. Oh, if you are perfectly happy with seeing things on the sunny side, then you’ll probably enjoy reading Page go on about how everyone is a pal and how everything about the sport is wonderful. You’ll also thrill at the unique literary device the Rock employs as he switches… from first person narrative to speaking in the third person. You’ll have lots of pictures to look at too.
For the rest of us, though, we are out of luck. I doubt we will ever see the book that long time wrestling fans deserve to read. The book that encompasses the entire wacky, sordid, hidden, and beautiful world of Professional Wrestling. A book which tells of the rise of the WWF from a small Northeastern territory to the Global Carnival Freakshow that it became in the 80’s. A book that also probes the NWA’s consolidation from being an entity that supported many smaller territories to becoming the Atlanta based WCW that alone tried to face down the WWF 80’s Juggernaut. A story that reaches deep into the heart of Texas and tells of the tragedies that were heaped upon the Von Erich clan. A story that recounts the pre-ECW “extreme” UWF, the years in the Sunshine State when Dusty ruled, the years of how Verne Gagne tried to stay true to History as McMahon paved a new future, the years when a young wrestler was not a Wrestler until he traveled to Memphis and was put over by the King. Can you imagine what kind of book that would be? Can you imagine what kind of book the second volume that covers 90’s Pro Wrestling would be?
This is the story that should be written. One that tells the real story, warts and all. One that conveys the deep, deep loneliness of a road tour. One that talks of drugs, homosexuality, steroids, deceit, backstabbing and black-balling. One that describes just how a Wrestler turns over his pride, his integrity, and his families survival with just one signature on a contract. How the business has managed to keep the talent from Unionizing. How they are ALL truly “Independant Contractors”, yet still form a loose “clique” to watch each other’s back. One that shows off the insecurities all wrestlers have when a new, exciting star joins their company and the lengths they will go to insure their own personal continued success. A story that shows the raging Egos and the sly, political power-plays. Stories like these are famous… legendary, in fact, among those in the business, but they will most likely always stay within the confines of a whisper, somewhere in the shadows.
The real story of Professional Wrestling will never be written, if Vince McMahon has anything to do with it. For you see, not just because of the potentially embarrassing skeletons that he, himself has locked in his closet, but because even though Wrestling is now more in the public eye than ever before, and even though it is now under the brightest media spotlight possible, this is still a very secretive, very controlled business. McMahon and his ilk still try to control every scrap of information given out. It was only a few years ago that they even recogonized the “Entertainment” part of “Sports Entertainment”, much less embrace it. It will be quite some time, if ever, when they will allow the darker side of the business to be revealed. It took someone under a mask to show how Magicians make Elephants disappear, men like McMahon will never allow anyone in the business to show how these Illusionists can make Wrestling’s underbelly vanish into thin air. If someone tries, that someone will never work in the business again… period. That’s why Wrestling is such a hard business to break into. It’s the most exclusive Inner-Circle in the world. They protect their own out of loyalty, fear, and their sense of self-preservation.
Then there are the disgruntled stars. Bret Hart and Roddy Piper have both promised to write the “real” story. Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, and the Ultmate Warrior have also made threats. Should he decide to try, I’m sure Phil Mushnick could put together a book detailing the low points of the business and why we are fools for watching it. If these books are made, I’m sure that they will be chock full of depravity and amoral stories. Given the apparent bitterness of these people, I’m sure they will explain how evil McMahon is, how shameful their fellow workers are, and how the business rode them like a horse until they couldn’t walk a single step further, then ate them up and spat out their bones. Of course, they will be sure to portray themselves as naive innocents guilty of only putting their trust and faith in the wrong hands. They gave their all to the business, and have nothing but millions in return. They’ll pen the tell-all, all right, but they’ll be sure to twist the “tell” just enough to make sure they come out of the “all” looking like Saints.
No, that won’t do either. For you see, the Great Wrestling Novel needs to justify our love for the sport. It needs to be a book that shows Wrestling as it really is, good and bad. It needs to shock us with it’s candor, yet celebrate the glory of the business as well. There is an honor in professional wrestling. The utter simplicity of a staged showdown between good and evil is something to be cherished. We are fans because wrestling is fun and basic and unapologetic in it’s inherent foolishness. What we now need is the book that dares challenge our loyalty by showing the business in an uncompromising light, and by showing us that these larger than life Heroes are just as Human as we fans are.
Who can write this story? Someone who loves the sport. Someone who still loves the sport and asks us to love it after bringing the corrupt stories out of the shadows where they have dwelled for twenty years. Someone who loves the sport enough to track down hundreds of sources who have hundreds of stories they are just waiting to share. Someone who has no connection to the business other than adoration and admiration. Someone who is understands that we do not need another book that explains to us what “kayfabe” is and even the most uninformed non-fan in the world will be able to read the True Story of Wrestling and fully comprehend it without needing to know why “getting over” is so important.
Who is this someone? Well, he or she has to be out there somewhere.
Maybe he or she is reading this?
Maybe the author if the Greatest Story Never Told is you?
There are more than enough Wrestling books for Dummies.
How about a book for the rest of us?
And Another Thing: The Road
The following story is rooted in pure truth. Liberties have been taken with the details. I hope the party involved will understand if my accuracy is off.
He’s driving down the long highway. He’s been on a million of them back in the “day”. Occasionally, whenever a pothole sneaks it’s way under a wheel his knee would throb a dull stab of something that’s not quite pain . Occasionally, he’ll catch himself looking in the mirror, looking at the hair that went away. Looking at the face that has registered every inch of those miles traveled.
That “day” was a long time ago.
He doesn’t do this anymore. He doesn’t even need to. He’s got his own thing now. Away from wrestling, away from the road. He owns a gym now. A few short miles from his home. He used to preach too. Maybe he still does? It hardly matters. Because once in a great while, the road calls him to take another trip. Once in a while, he answers the call.
He agreed to be a Hero for one more night. He agreed to this months ago. Although he’s been known to break his word every so often, he wasn’t about to break this one. Even when his wife got sick and he had to drop her off at a Charlotte Emergency room, then speed down to Mississippi for the card. He did so with little regret. She would be all right, she HAD to be. She gave him her blessing to leave. She knew that look in his eye.
As sick as she was, she knew that he had to see if he could still cut it. If he could still work a match.
He was a great one back in the day. Not the biggest. Not the strongest. Not the fastest. Not even the smartest.
But he was the sneakiest. The craftiest. Give him a mic, and he’ll force you to respond. That was his gift. That was his talent. He made you hate him. He made you want to see him get killed. By God, he exploited it to it’s fullest. The bonus was, nothing is black and white, not everyone wanted the Dream beat him within an inch of his life. There were those who cheered his every devious move. There were those who loved his evil ways. He liked those folks very much.
He had friends, and enemies. In this business where everything usually changes every ten years or so, except for the egos, he was proud to say that when his back was to the wall, he had four or five solid friends who would take the bullet for him. Knowing full well that he would do the same for them without hesitation. He would too.
Push him on it and he’ll tell you about the time him and his best friend made it to the MAJORS. Ran with the steel, yet oddly comfortable hand of a single family. His time in the show lasted around a year. It also was his last year in the business. Perhaps his best year. Because he got to stay himself. The Family had a habit of handing out dumb gimmicks to established talent, but he got to stay who he was. Sneaky, crafty, and a sheer terror in the stick. Life was good.
Too good in fact. Life imitated art as he got used to the Limousines, the women, the liquor, the cocaine. The good times are only good in limited doses. Nobody survives going at it full time. Nobody.
The road never ends. It’s up to you to get off and settle down when the time was right. He had to stop because it was killing him. No, not the business, he was smart enough to play the game, but the lifestyle. He had to stop. He remembered his friend from way back in the Southwest, Gino Hernandez. Gino lived much like he did, but Gino didn’t make it. Changes had to be made before he fell apart too. Changes that included finding an off ramp and getting off the Road. For good.
He did just that. He got off the road. He settled down. Had a family. Used whatever money he had left and got going with his new life. A life OFF the road. It took him as far as he could handle. Time for someone else to take it on. Time to stop moving.
Still, he didn’t complain. He had a great run. Was a member of one of the finest tag teams the sport has ever produced. Held one particular title longer than almost anyone. Held a LOT of titles in fact. He never won a World title, but he never HAD to. He got along just well without one. You see, back in the day the World title went to the one with the sizzle, with the pop, with the Flair. It went to the one who was guaranteed to fill an arena on his presence alone. To “put butts in the seats” as one once coined. As good as he was, he could never be accused of being able to put butts in the seats all by his lonesome. He knew his limitations, he knew where he excelled. Second from the top, the appetizer before the main course. Cut a promo, work the mic, be a Heel and soak in the heat. He’ll trade wins with Dusty, or Magnum, or Nikita all year long. It’s all about the show, it’s all about the heat
Still, it was early for him. He still had some years left. His ears were strong enough to hear the road calling. Mostly, he could ignore it.
It’s not the first time he got back on the road. It was just the latest. The road was not his enemy; it was his friend. An old buddy who always welcomed him back. “Where to my friend?” No problem! Just relax and enjoy all the sites I’ll show you!” He’s in control this time. No pressure. He’s gonna have fun.
If only his knee would stop twinging.
He arrived at the site where Heroes will gather. He’s set to work against and old ally. A fellow vet who knows only too well the lure of excess. They planned out their match and even worked out a nicely booked set up. It’ll be nice to revisit the life. It’ll be nice to remind the fans that it doesn’t take bulging muscles and lightening speed to keep them interested. Time for a little Old School to take everyone back to the Day.
The set up went along smoothly. A guy he hardly knew stuck a mic in his face. He stumbled a bit, the thoughts not moving from his mind to his mouth as effortlessly as it used to. He had a script, but he only glanced at it. Maybe that was a mistake? Maybe he’s been away for too long? For a moment, he felt old.
Then it happened. Almost a snap. Like a muscle that hasn’t been used in quite some time, but was still coiled, was still ready.
The words flowed out like it was ten years ago. Effortlessly. Smoothly. I told you he was the best.
He finished up and was greeted with a round of applause. Someone yelled, “That’s how you cut a promo, Dammit!” It WAS ten years ago!
He geared up into his tights. Like the road, they were old friends. Unlike the road, they slept until called upon to go at it one more time. The tights never called out to him. He never even thinks of them anymore. They fit perfectly. He always had a good body, genetics can be thanked, owning a gym doesn’t hurt either.
He walked down the aisle feeling like a 21 year old again. Cheers and boos were tangled in an odd sort of way. The folks weren’t sure how to react. It HAS been a while. Maybe they forgot about him? Maybe they didn’t care anymore?
The match went well at first. The sweat seemed to flow a bit easier, not to mention sooner. The breathing was good, but occasionally, the muscles softly moaned in fatigue. His opponent was in slightly better shape, but he’s out of condition too. Conditioning for a wrestler is much different than for any other athlete; especially when the audience has a habit of breathing and sucking the oxygen right out of the ring. The hot lights didn’t help much either. They agreed early on to use rest holds. Logic being, rest holds were Old School through and through; and of course, this was an old school match. He needed every single rest hold tonight. Thank God for rest holds. How the Hell do these kids survive without rest holds?
That knee gave out. That damned knee had to remind him that while he felt 21, he wasn’t 21 anymore. Not even close.
He pulled off the worked finish with all the strength he had left in his old body. Making several pacts with his knee just to hang on a few seconds longer. The knee argued, but reluctantly agreed.
He limped to the dressing room and grabbed the nearest ice pack. There was one more job to do. One more promise he had to keep. He had to give a few minutes of his time towards an Internet Chat session. The Fans asked their questions. They seemed polite, genuine, and happy to hear from him, yet they also seemed a little distant. They asked about his old friends, what he’s been up to, what he thinks about the Rock, Stone Cold, Goldberg, backstage stuff that he never DREAMED they would have insight on. This business has changed.
Or perhaps the business never changed? Rather, it just passed him by?
The knee greedily soaked in the ice pack. The Web Master who ran the “Chat” seemed genuinely concerned when he asked how the knee was doing. He answered his question with two simply words.
That was all he needed to say.
He was back on the road now. Heading home to his wife, to his business, to his new/old life. The knee is feeling better, but not much. It will still be a while before he can do a Squat, or hit the Treadmill. He’s sure that some of his friends from back in the day will call him and ask how he was doing. If in the right mood, he may even pick up the phone and answer them.
Or maybe not. Why revisit the past, when he has no future in it anymore?
The Road is quiet on the way back, which somehow makes the trip seem longer. The Road won’t call out to him for a while anymore…for a long while. It knows better. As his headlights cut through the thick Southern night, he has time to think about things. Think about depressing things. Such as the REAL reason he agreed to be a Hero for one more night.
For you see, it wasn’t because of the call of the Road. He learned to ignore it a long time ago. I already told you, he made his decision to get off it, and whether he liked it or not, it was the wisest decision he could make.
He agreed to be a Hero because as time goes on, his deepest fear grows stronger and stronger. In a new Era filled with Rattlesnakes, Juggernaughts, Lionhearts, Bulls, Outsiders, and Filthy Animals, will anyone remember an Old School Heel who looks like your next door neighbor, but could take out anyone, at anytime simply by outfoxing them?
Will anyone remember the guy who knew how to piss you off in 30 seconds on the Mic?
Will anyone remember a member of the Finest Elite Stable the 80’s had ever produced?
Will anyone remember a Fallen Horseman?
Will anyone remember Tully Blanchard?
Or even worse, will anyone care?
The car headed North to Charlotte. The Road acted as any old friend would, it left him alone.
This is Hyatte
I remember Tully Blanchard.
And I care.