Great teaser, don’t you think?
This column came about due to an e-mail I received in my Inbox, following my Hall of Fame: Part II (1995-1996) column, where I said that Ivan Putski represented everything that was bad about professional wrestling. It was an unusual comment for me, as I try to put a positive spin on most aspects of wrestling, but then we all have our off days don’t we? In any case, my remarks on the Polish Hall of Famer persuaded on of my readers to send in his own comments.
“I have just read your column with interest and I would like to know exactly what your problem is with Ivan Putski. As a man of Polish ancestry, I can tell you that Ivan Putski was a hero for my people, as much as “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes might have been for yours. He is one of the few Polish wrestlers who was treated with respect and dignity and attracted huge numbers of people from the Polish community and elsewhere. He was also a physical legend and a far better wrestler than you make out. Could it be that you dislike Ivan Putski simply because of his background?
I await your response”
Well…you asked for it.
First of all – let’s just clear up a few things. Don’t start hurling suggestions of racism my way, just because I don’t like your particular homegrown hero. My contempt for Ivan Putski has nothing to do with the fact that he’s Polish, and everything to do with the fact that the man can’t wrestle, can’t cut a promo, can’t sell and is utterly devoid of any natural talent that might earn him a place alongside legitamte legends like Jimmy Snuka and Ernie Ladd. Secondly, Dusty Rhodes was not a hero for me, seeing as I’m British, but that’s fair enough – you’re probably not to know. I suppose British Bulldog was the closest equivalent for me when I was growing up, but I never really liked the greasy headed steroid monkey. Hey-ho.
When I first read this e-mail, I wondered whether I was possibly being too harsh on Ivan Putski. After all, the man was, as Leo points out, a massive draw in the seventies, so maybe I’d just seen a handful of really bad matches. With that thought in my head, I decided to open both my mind and my wallet and get The Best of Ivan Putski from the only tape trader that stocked it. Eleven matches showcasing the very best wrestling that Polish Power had to offer and at the end I felt oddly ambivalent. True, I had proven to myself that I wasn’t biased and Putski really was the worst performer ever to lace up a pair of wrestling boots, but at the same time, my joy was tempered by the feeling that I had just lost two hours of my life and I was never going to get them back.
As far as I can tell, Putski had exactly two things going for him – his physique and his ethnicity. Oddly enough, these are the two qualities that Leo also pointed out in his e-mail. Now, I have no problem whatsoever with people get a push due to their background; after all, this is a business and if having an ethnic main-eventer pulls in certain key demographics then that’s all well and good but, whilst a person’s heritage might push them to the top, it’s only talent that keeps them there.
A recent case in point is Latino Heat Eddie Guerrero. Now the WWE has taken Eddie’s Hispanic heritage and made it an integral part of his gimmick, hoping to pull in the Latino crowds whenever Eddie is in the house, even though his character has almost become a stereotype. Hell, even his voice has changed, from the quiet, softly spoken American accent that he has in his shoot interviews to the way he talks now, with his full-blood Hispanic accent and his constant inclusion of Spanish phrases in his promos. Now that, as I said, is all well and good and I’m not one to judge the morals of this kind of stereotyping. In my view, it’s no worse than William Regal being portrayed an upper class British snob, even though he comes from Blackpool. However, I don’t believe that Eddie would have maintained his popularity were it not for the fact that he is a marvel in the ring. Some fans may have been initially enticed by his streetwise Latino gimmick, or possibly by him having the Dirtiest Mullet in the Game (whatever happened to that hair?) but I guarantee those same fans continue to support him because of the quality of his matches and his tireless work ethic. To put it another way, do you think that Chris Masters would be more popular if he was from an ethnic background?
Ah, Chris Masters – the man who hopes to make the Full Nelson popular again. Masters is a prime example of my second point, as he hopes to get over on his physique alone, no matter how much he might lack in basic wrestling skils. This never works – look at the track record of guys hired just for their build, be it freakishly ripped or some other sort of physical abberration. Lex Luger, El Gigante, Ted Arcidi, Mark Henry – all genetic freaks in one way or another and all sold to the public on that premise. I exclude the likes of Scott Steiner (Big Poppa Pump version), Rick Rude, Ken Patera and Billy Graham from this list, even though it was certainly their physiques that got them signed with the WWF/E as they all brought something else to the proceedings. Steiner had the drawing power of his name and his incredible wrestling ability before the steroids kicked in. Patera and Rude were both excellent workers in their day and Billy Graham was better on the mic than nearly all of his contemporaries. Those other witless goons however, were hired due to the Putski Syndrome – where promoters take one look at this rippling adonis/supersized freak and see dollar signs flashing before their eyes. They then express their shock (and, no doubt, mild revulsion) when these guys don’t draw a dime, which frequently is the case.
Putski had both of these things going for him and you can’t deny that he was a draw, but I just don’t like him. You know the sterotype of wrestlers as being thick-headed, muscle bound oafs and wrestling itself being more than a little homoerotic? It’s thanks to guys like Putski, who are obsessed with the bodies, and care more about preserving their chiselled physiques than they do about learning their craft.
Putski could not work, it’s as simple as that. He lacked even the most rudimentary talents that should be required for anyone stepping between the ropes. I have no doubt that he was a phenomenal body builder, but he wasn’t a wrestler, no matter how much you stretch the term. His moveset was severely limited, consisting mostly of kicks, punches, bodyslams and the horrendous Polish Hammer (of which more later) and he couldn’t wrestle for more than 5 minutes without getting completely blown up. Of course, you don’t have to be a technical wizard to be a good performer, as fans of Hulk Hogan and Kevin Nash will readily attest. Those guys were hardly men of a thousand holds, but on a good day they made their matches interesting by playing to their strengths, manipulating the crowd and, most importantly, taking bumps and selling for their opponents. Putski couldn’t even manage that – he was far too musclebound to take anything approaching a decent bump and his selling was ridiculous. Sure, he’d reel back from a punch or screw his eyes up from a jab to the throat, but that was about it.
Again, some of this might be forgiven if Putski was solid gold on the mic like Junkyard Dog or Kevin Nash, but he wasn’t. He promos consisted of little more than “look at me, aren’t I strong” and “Polish Power!” Fuck off. When the Iron Sheik used to yell out “Ayatollah” he would get booed out of the building, but at least the man had some genuine heat. Why is it that grunting foreigners are heels if they come from the middle east, but grunting foreigners from the Eastern Bloc are fan favourites?
And so we come to the final touch, the crowning turd on the cesspit of Putski’s career – the Polish Hammer. If you haven’t seen this devastating finisher, check out a Chris Masters match some time on Heat. You see that bit where he puts his hands together in a double axehandle and runs towards his opponent, thumping his fists into their chest? That’s the Polish Hammer. Now imagine that move being done by a roided up, muscle-bound midget who can hardly walk and you’ll see just how credible it was as a finishing move. In fact, I think it ties with Ronnie Garvin’s “Hands of Stone” for worst finisher of the seventies. It comes to something when Chris Masters would sooner use a Full Nelson as his trademark move.
Does that explain it all? Okay, how about the fact that Ivan Putski is the father of Scott Putski, another talentless blemish on the great sport of pro wrestling? The talent in that family truly has to be seen to be believed…just make sure you have a really powerful microscope.
I don’t deny the points that Leo made, nor do I wish him to take this as a personal affront. We’re all entitled to our own opinion and, in my opinion, the wrestling world would be a brighter place without Ivan Putski stunted shadow hovered over it.
How much to I hate Ivan Putski? Well, whilst researching this column, I found a website of deceased pro-wrestlers, that had Ivan Putski’s name on it and I was really disappointed when I later found out that it had been included in error.
Well, I must say, I enjoyed that rant – it can be a bit difficult maintaining my usual level of chirpy optimism all the time. Let me know what you thought about this week’s column and I’ll be back soon with something ‘Mania related.
Until the next time…farewell.