Okay, I’m back. Not that I was actually gone. And even though I wasn’t there to respond, I did enjoy reading the comments on last week’s column. But to answer one – yes, that mid-moonsault photograph is of me. I wrestled barefoot and took to wearing a t-shirt as my billed weight approached 300lbs (and my real weight was not far behind it), and that right leg is carrying a Steve Austin leg brace. But I could still throw a mean top rope moonsault. So, yes, me.
Ah-hem. Self-congratulation aside, I do appreciate the commenting.
So to this week’s topic that has absolutely nothing to do with anything happening in the world of professional wrestling at the moment.
Some myths about wrestling. Now, I don’t mean the urban legends that have grown up in pro wrestling, like Ultimate Warrior dying and a replacement doing the run-in at Wrestlemania 8, or that Iron Shiek was offered money to break the legs of various wrestlers, or that Psycho Sid had unfortunate trouser-related accident when fighting Undertaker at Wrestlemania 13, or that Kelly Kelly could wrestle. No, what I mean is generalisations that we all just take for granted. Like the column I wrote on blading some time ago.
Okay, not “we all” – I am making another generalisation. But let us say that many people believe them and that’s all that matters.
Got that? Phew.
Myth 1) Only the best wrestlers make it into the big time.
They make it into the WWE or the old WCW or even TNA, so they must be the best of the best, plucked from the obscurity of their indy playgrounds and thrust into national – nay, international – superstardom.
The truth: Getting into the big time nowadays has very little to do with skill, and a lot to do with luck. The WWE especially likes to have their talent homegrown, with people going into their feeder system and now their training school. TNA looks a little wider afield, but apart from Ring of Honour, they tend towards wrestlers who go to Taz’s dojo or one of the other training schools they have working relationships with.
The biggest problem here is that ‘big-time’ wrestling is different to independent wrestling. In the indys, you are wrestling for a live audience. Your strikes need to connect, your skills need to be clean because the front row can be as close as 4 feet from you and they are the ones you are performing for. In the big leagues you are performing for a television audience. It’s all different.
To explain it a little better – many stage actors fail when placed on the big screen. They are great actors, so why the failure rate? Because on stage, live, you need the people in row four hundred to get what you are doing as clearly as those in row 1. In film or on TV the camera does that for you. Understated is the best way to go. So it is that people like Daniel Bryan actually have to dumb down what they were doing in the indys for WWE television because it looks like over-acting.
The best wrestling is on the independent scene for that reason. But the best wrestlers may not be able to transition to the televised big-time.
Myth 2) A number of wrestling matches turn into shoot fights.
While very much in the minority, there are plenty of stories of wrestling matches that turned into shoot fights (or real fights) mid-way through, with very real and very serious consequences for all involved.
The truth: While it has been known to happen, the actual happening is really quite rare. The numbers are inflated somewhat, often by a wide-eyed media or by sycophantic crowds or (most often) even by the wrestlers themselves to make sure they have the bad-ass image they so desperately crave.
In the big leagues, going against script is a sure way to get yourself fined or fired. But often this isn’t technically a shoot. It’s just one guy being an arsehole to make the other look bad because of a perceived slight or because of what is seen as an undeserved push. Bruiser Brody and Lex Luger, Steve Regal and Goldberg, and many others spring to mind. A shoot is when some-one goes to town on the other, like Perry Saturn taking his frustration out on Mike Bell.
The problem is, if you go off-script and take matters into your own hands, who is going to want to work with you? You’re cutting your own throat if you go and do that, so any serious pro wrestler avoids anything like that.
Now, having said all that… Some indy wrestling promotions – especially those with a strong influence of the “good old days” – have a hooker, whose job it is to go into the ring and dish out punishment on some-one who has transgressed whatever locker room rules exist in that area. I remember one guy who, if you were booked against him, you started to wonder what you’d done wrong. But he went into business for himself a couple of times, and so the hooker was hooked, and thus the problem continues.
Oh, and remember: you get one mistake in the ring. A second mistake will get you payback.
Myth 3) Professional wrestling as we know it is an early 20th century American invention.
Somewhere between the late 1800s and World War One, a core group of American catch-as-catch-can wrestlers decided that there was money to be made in pre-arranging the winners of their wrestling matches and entertaining the fans at the same time. It came out of legitimate wrestling competition, but the professional wrestling, with its emphasis on showmanship, became more popular than the legitimate sport and thus attracted more followers and more athletes.
The truth: The actual origins of professional wrestling are still shrouded in mystery because kayfabe was so alive and well in the early years, and because ‘rigged’ matches were frowned upon and anyone who admitted to doing it could have been putting themselves at risk of personal harm. It is said by some, for example, that the famous Frank Gotch won all of matches legitimately, while others stated that many had predetermined outcomes so the rematch could draw an even larger gate. But none of this can be said for sure.
What can be said, though, is that it was happening long before catch-as-catch-can wrestling made it to the United States. It happened in the carnivals where betting was rife – the challenge put out by the strongman who was defeated by the unlikely little guy (and so a lot of money was made) was a classic of this tradition, and this existed throughout Europe. There is some evidence that in even earlier times wrestlers would put on exhibition matches, and that these (which didn’t result in the usual deaths) were quite popular, and it became something of a carnival or circus show. And it was hinted in some Roman writings that the winners were swapped from day to day: “Victor non victor sequenti die esset” (yes, I studied Latin at school, why do you ask? Oh, it means the winner was not the winner on the next day, which can be taken two ways). So, Monty Python could well have added “professional wrestling” to their list of things the Romans have ever done for us.
Myth 4) The jacked up guys are good wrestlers because they’re so strong.
They look like body-builders with large bulging muscles. And, seriously, if they have that sort of physique, then they must spend a lot of time in the gym and so they have to be strong guys who can lift and do anything in the ring.
The truth: The jacked up guys become wrestlers because they have a look and like to show it off, and professional wrestling gets more people looking at them than body-building competitions. Especially female people looking at them. And there are some things to know about jacked up guys:
To get the large muscles, yes, you need to lift heavy weights. But to get the muscle definition requires lifting a lot of lighter weights with lots of reps. To keep the muscle definition requires almost constant lifting and strange diets. And if you want to be strong as well you might as well set up a camp bed in the gym and that’s all your life’s going to be. Even with the help of chemical stimulation, you still need to lift and lift and lift some more. And then, if you want to wrestle, getting in the ring every so often could be a good idea.
Look at the better wrestlers who were/are built like WBF rejects and were legitimately strong – Lex Luger, Ultimate Warrior, John Cena. What do you notice about them? Their wrestling repertoire is/was, shall we say, somewhat limited.
The really strong ones have some flab and less definition. Even Hulk Hogan – who was actually quite a strong man – was billed at somewhere between 290 and 310 lbs, and did not have the most finely chiselled physique. But these guys, the real strong ones (Mark Henry, Bill Kazmaier, Hulk Hogan, et al), have one thing in common – they lack a certain agility in the ring.
The only one I can think of with everything was Sting. And maybe, to a lesser degree, Bill Goldberg. (That’s gonna get me some abuse…)
Myth 5) Professional wrestling is easy.
All you need is some athleticism and a bit of a character and some personality and, really, so long as you’re willing to do some training, anyone can become a professional wrestler. Hell, Kelly Kelly was revered as a women’s wrestler for a long time; anyone can clearly do it.
The truth: This is something that has the devil in the details. There is a difference between actually going out and trying to do something, actually doing something well enough to be considered a person who ‘does’ it. As I wrote in a previous column, if you want to be a pro wrestler, just getting into it requires a lot of work. Sure, if you have the looks, maybe you have a head start getting involved, but really, would you rather be seen as a joke (like the Great Khali, hired because he’s big) or as an athlete?
But it’s not just putting up with the physical pain of what you are required to do in the ring (and, for the record, wrestling rings are not great big trampolines with nice spongy coverings – they are really boxing rings designed to make louder noises). To be wrestler you have to tell a story in the ring. You have to have the crowd believe just what you’re doing. And all the time you have to make sure your safety and that of your opponent are kept paramount. Yes, you have to look like you want to kill your opponent but at the same time protect him. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?
So, that’s the view. Now, I know I’ve done a few list columns recently, but they have been fun to write. Hope y’all are enjoying them, too!