Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic

About ten years ago, the leader of the Buddha World Order hooked me up with my very first dirt sheet, Eric Chmiel’s The Wrestling Tribune. After Buddha read his most current edition of this comprehensive insider news source, he passed it my way and I devoured every word on every page. It wasn’t long before I got my own subscription, and never looked at the industry the same way again. As a wrestling fan I was fascinated by the plethora of insider information, especially at a time when things were exploding all over the North American grappling scene. I can honestly say I wouldn’t be writing this column today if not for my exposure to the Tribune. Not satisfied with producing the best weekly newsletter I’ve seen to date, Chmiel then topped himself by offering an amazing array of compilation tapes, each consisting of enormous amounts of otherwise-lost American professional wrestling history.

TODAY’S ISSUE: The Wrestling Tribune Tapes

Much like a Ring of Honor pay-per-view, the value of content versus price in these tapes is phenomenal. At $20.00 each, they contain over five very full fours of material including matches, interviews, angle breakdowns, and other little nuggets of joy. Each tape has a focus, such as highlights from WCCW, classic NWA, Memphis territories, the AWA, Mid-South, ECW, et cetera.

I popped in one of Chmiel’s gems the other night, and spot I randomly selected was a brutal war between reigning King of Memphis, Jerry Lawler and the Ugandan Giant, Kamala from sometime in the 1980s. Suspending my disbelief was easy – they quickly pulled me into their intense struggle. The story they told was very simple, yet highly effective. Lawler, the beloved champ, could not slow the onslaught of the crazed foreigner no matter what he tried. The King nearly broke his hand delivering his vaunted rights to Kamala’s head again and again with little success. Even when the Ugandan was knocked off his feet, he quickly regained his vertical base and bulled the King outside the ring.

Although the words “extreme” and “hardcore” were not yet part of the standard wrestling vernacular, these two gladiators were about to get nasty as they took their battle into the crowd. Kamala mercilessly pummeled Lawler, not allowing him to return to the relative safety of the ring. I could feel the King’s desperate plight as legendary play-by-play man Lance Russell explained that in this match a count-out would cost the champ his title. Each time the King valiantly drove toward the ring apron in another attempt to reenter the squared circle, Kamala attacked, knocking Lawler back down to the cold, hard, concrete floor.

Lawler had no response for the monster’s persistent offense, and he was unable to improvise a strategy to stem the tide. A true case of babyface David versus evil, foreign heel Goliath was unfolding before my eyes, and I couldn’t help but appreciate the elegance of the in-ring story. The psychology, pacing, and uncomplicated development of the “plot” made for an effective pro wrestling match.

Unlike a count-out, apparently a disqualification would not cost the champ his gold, because finally, a desperate King conceded the match but continued the fight when he picked up a chair brought to ringside by Kamala’s manager, none other than the “Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart. The two shots Lawler delivered to the skull of the Ugandan Giant were tame by today’s standards, but Kamala sold them as if Wile E. Coyote had dropped an anvil square on his face, complete with D-Von Dudley’s leg spasms. This was absolutely the correct way for Kamala to react, but it got me thinking…

The match I’d just witnessed was a product of a simpler time. It was completely effective in establishing that Lawler had endured a huge sum of punishment, although he never once bladed. It came across as a wild brawl, even without any dives off 20-foot ladders, broken tables, or ridiculous weapons like cheese graters and staplers.

The crowd could clearly see that the King was in dire straights, so much so that he resorted to a vicious retaliation when his back was up against the wall. And while the actual chair blows to Kamala’s cranium were not so impressive as to merit a spot on an ECW highlight reel, they were perfect for advancing the story. Remember, it’s not about how much you can really hurt your opponent, but how well you can appear to hurt them (without actually doing so), and the emotional ride you take the fans on along the way.

On commentary, Russell used the phrase “professional wrestling”, not “sports entertainment”. He called Lawler and Kamala “wrestlers”, not “superstars”. He added to the event without overshadowing the action or trying to get himself over.

The King and the Ugandan Giant battled over Lawler’s championship title, not a pink slip on a pole, custody of a child, the right to marry a woman, or to avoid wearing a turkey suit. They weren’t attempting to prove themselves innocent of necrophilia, claim ownership/management of the company, or to keep from getting fired. They weren’t each other’s evil twins, long lost cousins, or members of a bizarre cult.

This was wrestling as it was meant to be: pure, straightforward, and easy to sink your teeth into. These two great performers made it easy for a fan to wonder, “What would I do if I had to defend myself (and my title) against a marauding madman?” Thankfully the King was there, so we’d never have to solve that problem for ourselves. Like a good movie or an intense television show, this match engaged the viewer’s emotions; I found myself worried about Lawler’s title, his physical well-being, and his very career. That’s good storytelling.

There’s a parallel between the hottest indy fed in the world today, Ring of Honor, and the simpler, grittier days of yore. ROH presents professional wrestling in the same light as the good old days. Certainly the action is more athletically oriented and faster paced in ROH, but the soul of Ring of Honor harkens back to that style, and I think that’s why I enjoy their product so much.

Without all the gaga and ballyhoo, without pyro, massive sets, ridiculous angles or glorified stripers at ringside, without a world-wide viewing audience or a $40 snooze-fest of a pay-per-view to shill, Lawler and Kamala went out and entertained the fans, told an effective story, and gave us some compelling television. What more could a true pro wrestling fan ask for?

We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

p.s. – “The best way out is always through.” – Robert Frost


Join our newsletter

never miss the latest news, reviews, live event coverage, audio podcasts, exclusive interviews and commentary for Movies, TV, Music, Sports, Comics, Video Games!