By the time you read this I’ll be on holiday for a week, and will not have seen the Battleground PPV, will not know its results, and may not see it until it’s released on DVD (unless one of my oh so generous friends records it for me). That is because this is the school holidays, and so the family is going on a trip. But the school holidays have actually already started this past week, and so I am introducing my son to some more of my favourite wrestlers.
It must be said I have had a success. Mr Perfect is now held in as high esteem as Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley and Daniel Bryan. We’ve just started on Randy Savage and early indications are that this will be another success. But watching those old matches made me think about the things I was seeing on the screen that we just don’t see any longer.
(Pause! Today’s column is brought to you by the wrestler Jake Roberts and the number 10.)
Now, before I start, this column is about aspects and concepts. Otherwise it’d just be names like Randy Savage, Eddie Guerrero, Arn Anderson, Ricky Steamboat, etc. And this is in no order other than the order I wrote the paragraphs in. Okay. Ready? Let’s take a look.
We still have the odd manager here and there, mainly to act as mouthpieces for wrestlers who have trouble talking. But that’s about it. They run some interference, do the distraction thing, every so often get in a sneaky shot. But that’s not the managers I remember. Heenan, Ellering, Dangerously – these were managers who had complete stables and talked about money and looked after every aspect of their wrestlers’ lives. They were more subtle about their assistance at ring-side, they argued a lot more with the refs and their interactions were a lot more avuncular. Managers back then had personalities, but they did not let themselves overwhelm their charges. They were people you would be proud to have actually representing you.
2) Masked identities.
I don’t mean the lucha libre masks from Mexico or the similar masks worn by some Japanese wrestlers. I mean when wrestlers whose identities everyone knew who wore masks. It might be something like the Killer Bees donning masks and doing the ol’ switcheroo in order to win matches (man, I love that spot!), or a fired wrestler wearing a mask in order to keep wrestling. The Yellow Dog, Giant Machine, Hulk Machine, The Midnight Rider… there is quite the list. The most recent was Hulk Hogan’s run as Mr America, but this was totally negated by the fact he kept lifting his mask to drop the wink at the crowd… as though they were so stupid they could not work it out for themselves.
3) Finishing moves.
What? You ask, interrupting me. Of course we still have finishing moves! You is crazy. Well, I counter, ignoring your appalling grammar, yes, but are they actually finishing moves? They have to hit the moves three or four times before they actually get the pin. What I miss is that move that once it’s been hit, you know the match was over. Jerry Lawler’s piledriver, Jake Roberts’ DDT, Macho Man’s flying elbow, the Perfectplex, Hulk Hogan’s apparently devastating leg drop… the list is pretty damn comprehensive. You only let some-one kick out of your move if you were retiring (like Savage v Warrior at WM7… although the retirement was then 15 years in the future). For a while a few were sacrosanct, but nowadays even HHH’s pedigree and Undertaker’s tombstone have been kicked out of. Sure, it might make the finish of matches a little more uncertain, but there was something about that killer finishing move that the crowd was just waiting for.
4) Tag team formula.
Yes, tag teams still exist, but there was something about the tag team formula that just made the matches so much more heart-attack inducing. The Ricky Morton, face in peril, false tag formula. It rears its head every so often, but you so rarely get to see anyone play the genuine Ricky Morton, get your arse kicked from end of the ring to the other until you finally make that last gasp hot tag and the crowd, who has been taken along for the ride of the story told in the ring, explodes. It still appears in the indys every so often, but, again, who wants to play Ricky Morton and (to quote a wrestler from Victoria, here in Australia) “look like a loser”. That selfishness is a big part of the issue. And it’s a shame. Because Morton never looked like a loser. He looked like the toughest SOB to step foot in the ring.
5) Wrestling announcers.
I know, cutting you off before you interrupt me again, we have wrestling announcers. Yes, but that’s not what I mean. I mean announcers who know about wrestling. Play-by-play announcers who could call the moves, and even colour commentators who knew what the moves were called. Now, some announcers are quite good – JBL, for example, CM Punk when he steps behind the mic – but it is as wrestling announcers that there are issues. It all boils down to being forced to sell the story of the match because that is what is expected. Even some-one like Mike Tenay is forced to interact with the semi-motivated Taz as the straight man; in WCW he could rattle off the names and history of wrestling moves with hardly a second thought. Nowadays you’re lucky if three moves (and two of them are the finishing moves) are even named by the guys on the mic.
This is what started this column, after a discussion in my column’s comments section last week. The unsung heroes of early wrestling were the jobbers. The guys whose job it was to lose but also make the other guys look good. But it was Vince Russo who changed that when he gave every guy on the card, no matter how low on the totem pole they stood, a back story. While that was great for the guys, what it meant for the audience was that they expected these people they were starting to develop a relation ship with to win, and so now everyone had to get some wins. But the days of Barry Horowitz, Mike Bell and, my favourite, Iron Mike Sharpe (the greatest ever) were gone, and now everyone has to look like they could win, and we don’t have those guys who didn’t even get an entrance just so the wrestling star could look good.
7) Tag Team Survivor Series matches.
I can’t remember the real last one of these we had. There was no rhyme or reason to them, it was just all the face teams against all the heel teams and let them go out there and have fun for 20+ minutes. What more could a fan ask for? All survivor series matches started as something that just created fun matches that – because nothing except pride was on the line – had uncertain winners (unless a certain orange-skinned human with pythons instead of arms, which made using utensils rather awkward, was involved). Even better, they showed that the WWF at the time had more than enough legitimate tag teams to do this. And the Conquistadors.
From Frankie to Damien to Matilda, there was just something about a wrestler having some sort of animal mascot accompanying them to the ring. It created insta-feuds – Heenan dog-napping Matilda, Earthquake serving snakeburgers – and it just helped add to the whole circus atmosphere of the WWF at the time. And then there was the iconic – who could forget the snake biting Macho Man while Miss Elizabeth cried at the side? Of course, then we had Pepper (the dog, not the condiment) and that was the last time I think an animal was featured heavily on WWF/E programming. But for some wrestlers, the presence of an animal just added to the mystique. Seriously – would Jake Roberts have been as creepy without being able to drop Damien on the bodies of his fallen victims?
9) Introductory vignettes.
Nowadays a new wrestler is first seen on NXT or announced via Twitter or Tout, but the whole series of introductory vignettes setting up some-one’s personality and outlook on life is missing. Sure, we had the Wyatt family things that sort of set them up as a cult-like entity, but that was for the group, not an individual. Sure some made us look forward to a wrestler who ended up being a huge disappointment – I’m looking at you, Outback Jack, and you in your comeback, Billy Graham – but then there were some that helped set up some-one who became a legendary performer – and, of course, the epitome of this is Mr Perfect and his perfect series of sports shorts.
10) Looking over the crowd.
Yep, I’m now done. Of course, this is wrestling, and the old “never say never” thing holds as true in the indys as it does in the big leagues. But I will miss the sound of the crowd booing me, and cheering when I get pinned or submit in the middle of the ring. I will miss the adrenaline rush that wipes out all pain the moment I swing out through the curtains. I will miss the camaraderie that exists backstage and at training. I will even miss doing bump after bump and taking suplex after suplex, slam after slam, move after move in the training ring. Okay, I won’t miss 500 Hindi squats and the aerobic training, but that’s such a little part of the overall experience. The concussion, my worsening knees and shoulder, and my kids getting older have made me think I should hang up the boots. Maybe a manager at some point? Who knows, but I will miss wrestling from a wrestler’s point of view.
So… is there anything you miss in wrestling?
Now, while this column and what I write might not be to your taste, we have had a plethora (a plethora, I say!) of new writers start to submit their columns to IP in recent days, so go and check them all out and give them your love.
And that’s the view!
Tags: bobby heenan, curt hennig, ddt, HHH, Hulk Hogan, Jake Roberts, Jake the Snake Roberts, Killer Bees, Midnight Express, mike tenay, mr perfect, Nikolai Volkoff, NWA, Randy Savage, Retirement, survivor series, Ultimate Warrior, undertaker, WCW, WWE, WWF, wyatt family