Sunday, November 30, 2008
Fast forward a year later. I'd started a recurring feature over at World Wrestling Insanity entitled Great Moments in Wrestling which recapped some of the hottest angles in wrestling (such as the birth of the nWo, Hulk Hogan's WWF title win over the Iron Sheik, and Ric Flair's big win at the inaugural Starcade). It was a lot of fun and it finally struck me that it might be a good idea for a book.
The problem was that I really didn't know how to proceed from idea to book. Fortunately, James Guttman (owner of World Wrestling Insanity and author of two, count 'em two wrestling books!) told me how he broke into the business. He suggested I check out ECW Press, the same outfit which published his first (and eventually his second) book. I went to their website and checked out their submission policy. The folks over at ECW Press were looking for new books and when I told the editor what my proposal was, he suggested that I send him an outline of the book along with the first thirty pages of the manuscript and they'd review it.
I'd been fiddling around with an outline and some rough drafts for about six months so this part wasn't too difficult. I sent my manuscript and the outline to a couple friends, got some feedback, made some revisions, and sent the proposal out. Now all I had to do was wait.
Like Tom Petty once sang, the waiting is the hardest part. For the next three months, I agonized over what ECW Press' reaction would be. I knew better than to pester them with emails so I sat tight and hoped for the best. Every day I checked the mailbox, looking for a reply. By May, I still hadn't heard anything so I decided I'd write to ECW Press. The editor was very courteous and told me that he'd have an answer in a few weeks. I didn't have to wait that long and just a week later, I found out that he liked the book and he was definitely interested in it!
I felt like I was on top of the world! I'd sent a book proposal ten years earlier to an agent only to be turned down. For some reason, I never tried finding any other agents. Now, I was about to enter the book world. The journey was just beginning!
Friday, November 28, 2008
When I think about the greatest announcers in wrestling history, three names spring to mind-Jim Ross, Gordon Solie, and Lance Russell. These three gentlemen made it look so easy calling action in and out of the ring but as anyone who's watched the sport for any significant amount of time knows, it's a lot tougher than it looks.
What makes these guys so great by my estimation? The first is credibility. All three men could make the most incredible situation (and we all know how prone wrestling is to getting ridiculous-even in the old school days) believable. Lance Russell and Jim Ross have both had their work cut out for them whether it was Mr. Russell working in Memphis (can you say Frankenstein's Monster?) or Jim Ross calling the WWF and WWE (how about that fake Diesel and Razor Ramon?).
Second, all three gentlemen had an air of professionalism and respectability about them. While Jim Ross is prone to getting caught up in the action emotionally, it rarely seems fake. When Gordon Solie or Lance Russell lost their temper on air over an angle, it was something special as they were usually strictly business. All three men took pride in their craft and it came across in their announcing, adding to the suspension of disbelief that is so special to wrestling (and heaven knows Jim Ross has had to call some pretty ludicrous things in the WWE).
Finally, all three men know that calling match is about more than describing the action in the ring. I will be the first to admit that Lance Russell's announcing was usually short on the names of moves but he knew that his most important job was to establish the stories being told in the ring and the angles behind them (as did Jim Ross and Gordon Solie). During a shoot interview with Jim Cornette, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan wisely observed that the fans don't need play by play (as they're watching rather than listening to the match) as much as they need to know the stories in the ring. I couldn't agree more and the work of Solie, Ross, and Russell supports this (although Jim Ross and Gordon Solie were both thorough in learning the names of wrestling holds).
These three gentlemen are the cream of the crop. There are certainly other announcers in wrestling who deserve praise but no one in my opinion (with the possible exception of Joey Styles) was or is as good as any of wrestling's three wise men.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Eventually, the success of PPV's like Starcade and Wrestlemania would lead to these holiday supershows showing up as PPV's. For a few years, Thanksgiving meant Starcade and Survivor Series. I remember how excited I was when I found out the WWF was running a show on Thanksgiving in 1987. The show turned out to be a pleasant surprise and I really enjoyed some of the tag team matches. It was an exciting change of pace from singles matches and it quickly became an annual tradition.
While I miss the holiday cards, I am happy that the wrestlers have the days off. I don't think anyone should have to work big holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. That's a time for family and friends to enjoy a night off and each other's company. Still, there's a small part of me that wishes I could tune in to some wrestling every Thanksgiving.
I hope that everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving with their friends and family.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
As much as I don't miss the endless squash matches that used to fill TV, I do miss the hot promos that ran between squash matches. Fact is, they were often the highlight of weekly shows. Sure, once in a while there'd be a name match but it usually ended controversially in order to set up a match at a house show (which makes perfect sense as promoters almost never made money off of TV and derived just about all their income from house show tickets).
This was the golden age of talkers. Guys like Ric Flair, Roddy Piper, Jake Roberts, Sgt. Slaughter, and Randy Savage all were so good at talking that I probably would listen to them read the weather forecast. That's how good they were. Whether it was Flair boasting about his lavish lifestyle, Roberts incorporating catchy song lyrics into his promos, or Savage cutting fantastical promos about himself, these guys knew how to talk and how to get the fans excited about their matches. It didn't matter if Ric Flair was wrestling Harley Race or Ron Ritchie; "The Nature Boy" made you feel that you were going to miss the match of the century if you didn't attend the local house show.
What's interesting to me is that even the guys who weren't blessed with a silver tongue were usually good enough to get fans interested in a house show. One reliable trick was to make fun of the local town and/or their sports team. Coming to New York City? Run down the Yankees or the Mets (although making fun of the Mets is like shooting fish in a barrel). Coming to Boston? Make fun of the Celtics or the Sox. It wasn't rocket science and it didn't take a script writer for guys to talk the fans into building.
One of the more unusual promos I ever saw resulted in a prime example of wrestlers talking the fans into a building. The year was 1985 and WWE Hall of Famer "Cowboy" Bob Orton was coming to Buffalo for a house show. Looking back at Orton's promos, the guy wasn't in the league of guys like Flair, Savage, Roberts, or Piper but he could hold his own (and he certainly didn't need a manager) and this particular promo was something special. Here, Orton managed not only to make fun of Buffalo but during the promo, he took a shot at musician John Fogerty. Fogerty had just released a comeback album called Centerfield and he was back in the public eye after years since his glory days in Creedance Clearwater Revival.
Orton's promo struck a nerve with one of my friends who was a big Fogerty fan. Terry was a wrestling fan as well but not a diehard like myself and some of our friends. However when he heard the Orton comment, he was livid and made sure he was included in our regular sojourn to Buffalo's Memorial Auditorium to see the latest WWF house show. This was a classic case of someone getting caught up by a promo. Not only did our friend buy his ticket but he made an anti-Orton sign and talked about little else but seeing Orton get his comeuppance.
The night of the show, Fogerty's #1 fan made it clear to Bob Orton that he hadn't forgotten his deregatory remarks about rock star John Fogerty. As soon as Orton made his way down the aisle, Terry began to bad mouth Orton and couldn't wait to see Orton get some much deserved punishment in the ring. Sadly, Orton's scheduled opponent wasn't there and instead, semi-retired veteran grappler Billy "Red" Lyons (who was quite a competitor in his prime but who was now relegated to announcing matches for Jack Tunney's Maple Leaf Wrestling). We all knew that Lyons didn't stand a chance and he lived down to our expectations, falling to Orton after filling as many minutes of the card as he could. Terry wasn't too happy but then again neither were the fans who had paid to see Orton take on a name opponent (DAMN those "card subject to change without notice" disclaimers!). His only satisfaction was getting to berate Orton in person for mocking John Fogerty.
Nowadays the WWE comes to town two or three times a year, usually with one house show and a RAW or SmackDown! taping. The WWE usually gets a good attendance but I can't help but wonder how many more shows they could run if they relied more on the classic promo. Chances are, you're not going to see them coming back but it's yet another old school trick that promoters everywhere could benefit from bringing back. Don't believe me? Just look at the guy who paid money to see Bob Orton Jr. just because he mocked John Forgety.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Back during the height of the Monday Night War (1995-2001), TV execs scrambled to tap the success of wrestling any way they could. Obviously, no one really started their own promotion to compete against WCW and the WWF (although it would have been interesting to see a major network buy a company like ECW and try to promote it). Instead, you had wrestlers guest starring on TV shows. A&E biographies on wrestlers, news shows examining the new popularity of wrestling, and finally- Exposed! Secrets of Pro Wrestling Revealed (Secrets).
During the late 1990's, there was a rash of TV specials that "exposed" the inner workings of magic tricks. Apparently, some network saw the show's popularity, saw that wrestling was popular, and decided that exposing the world of professional wrestling would be an instant hit. Little did they know that Secrets would quickly become the butt of jokes amongst wrestling fans.
By 1998, there were very few people over seven years old who doubted the worked nature of pro wrestling. Secrets acted like they were exposing the Kennedy assassination instead of telling people things they'd heard before. To be fair, the show did do a pretty good job of showing how certain moves were performed without causing injury. However, several of the aspects of the wrestling business that show purported to "expose" were complete nonsense. For example, the show suggested that most of the signs in the audience were given to fans by promoters. "You didn't really think those fans brought all those signs from home did you?" the announcer would ask rhetorically with a douchebag like laugh at the end. While it's true that promoters sometimes hand out signs, Secrets would have the general public believe that every fan is given their own sign to wave like an idiot. Anyone who's gone to a live event knows that wrestling fans definitely don't need any help making signs.
Without a doubt, the funniest part of the show was when it was revealed that promoters used plants for wrestlers to attack. This led to the revelation of the heretofore unknown phenomenon known as the "stunt granny". That's right, promoters planted little old ladies at ringside every night for heel wrestlers to attack. Knock over Blanche from The Golden Girls and you have instant heat! Add in a bit about heels tearing up a kid's autograph book and you can see why this particular show became so reviled amongst fans. It quickly earned a spot as Wrestlecrap, sealing its place in the annals of history.
What's really ironic is that in real life, the grannies were the ones who usually attacked the wrestler. Back in the day when many fans had their doubts as to whether wrestling was worked, wrestlers had to watch their backs every night for fear some crazed fan would attack them. Having read many wrestlers' autobiographies and seen many shoots, it seems like the little old ladies were the ones attacking the wrestlers, not vice versa. Whether it was canes, hat pins, umbrellas, or something worse, these old-timers made life miserable for heels.
The funniest thing about this show is that it's constantly popping up on cable channels (or so I've been told). Worse yet, I hear there's a new special coming out in 2009. If so, I can't wait to see how they've updated the stunt granny. That should make for some fun viewing.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Which incident am I referring to? None other than the infamous roll full of quarters (or was it dimes?) incident involving the American Wrestling Association (AWA) World Heavyweight Championship.
The year was 1987 and Nick Bockwinkel was once again AWA champion. What was different was that after years of being one of the promotions' top heels, Bockinkel was now a face. Bockwinkel put his AWA strap up against Curt Hennig at the AWA's Superclash II show. When the smoke was over, there was a new champion and a ring full of coins surrounding the fallen Bockwinkel. Bockwinkel fans would claim that Hennig's second Larry Zbyszko had handed him a roll of coins to kayo the champ, Hennig's fans might suggest it was raining pennies (or in this case, dimes-or was it quarters?) from heaven.
So many people sent in this great moment that I had to include it. My friend Scott also sent in a great story about meeting Mr. Perfect. Check this out:
Great Column my brother!!!! The first great foreign object match I can remember really pissed me off because I was young enough to think it was real. It was back in the AWA when Larry Zabisco handed Curt Henning a roll of dimes to knock out The legendary Nick Bockwinkle to win the AWA title. I thought he was a spoiled daddys boy getting the belt. Later in life I was fortunate enough to meet Curt in Las Vegas at the grand opening of the WCW cafe. It was during the heyday of the NWO. The whole wolfpack arrived and were as arrogant and shitty to the crowd as you can imagine. They even had a roped off area where they went and ate and drank without even looking at the fans. Sting and DDP were also there in the roped off area. I was thinking I wasted an entire evening waiting for these jerks to show up and went over to the bar to get a drink. I looked up at the area next to the bar and saw a guy from behind that looked like Curt Henning talking to a couple fans. He was wearing a purple suit and sure enough it was. He was mingling with the "low lives" that paid for that purple suit and I went over and introduced myself. We talked about a few things and I found out what a down to earth funny guy he was. He disliked the way the wolf pack treated everyone, yet there they were in droves standing at the rope waiving hoping for a glance and I was there talking to Mr. Perfect. I never asked him about the foreign object. I knew at that time it was meant to drive us all nuts, it was entertainment and it was .......Perfect.
Thanks for the story Scott!
Unfortunately, I never got to see the AWA during its heyday but I did see the infamous roll of coins incident with Hennig winning the AWA gold. Thanks to bootlegs and the WWE's DVD The Spectacular Legacy of the AWA, I've had a chance to sample the promotion's golden years. Despite all this, it just goes to show that you can still have some great moments even when a promotion is down on its luck. Of course if someone mentions the Turkey on a Pole Match as a classic, I may have to use my own roll of quarters.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
What was particularly interesting about this era was the largely forgotten rule that you could only make one save per match i.e. if your teammate was about to be pinned or submitted, you were allowed to run in once (without a tag) and break up the pin/submission. Any attempts after that earned you an automatic disqualification. Over time, this rule went the way of the Dodo bird (much like the NWA's old rule that throwing your opponent over the top rope meant an automatic disqualification) but I can't help but wonder if it was a good thing or a bad thing.
I still wonder if this rule disappeared in order to facilitate the second golden age of tag team wrestling in the 1980's. I'm not quite sure if teams like the Midnight Express, the Fabulous Ones, the British Bulldogs, or the Hart Foundation would have been exciting if they were limited to one save per match. Then again, they could have been even more exciting had their matches been booked around this rule.
What old school rules do you think should be brought back? What rules are you glad are now nothing more than memory?
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Every fan of professional wrestling remembers the moment that captured their heart forever and hooked them for life. Whether it was Ric Flair regaining the NWA Championship from Harley Race at Starcade, the Freebirds turning heel on Kerry Von Erich, Mick Foley flying off the cage at King of the Ring, Jake Roberts DDT-ing Ricky Steamboat on the concrete, Samoa Joe’s epic trilogy with CM Punk in Ring of Honor, or the premiere of WCW’s Nitro: these are the matches and moments that thrilled, terrified, or outraged – overwhelming you with real emotion.
Mike Rickard’s Wrestling’s Greatest Moments brings you all the most memorable and controversial moments from modern wrestling history. It’s an insightful and essential compendium of thirty years’ worth of groundbreaking matches, angles and interviews. From Hulkamania to the Montreal “screwjob,” from the NWA to the nWo, you’ll rediscover what really occurred in arenas and on the air worldwide, and learn all the backstage and behind-the-scenes secrets that made these highlight-reel moments possible from the men and women who were there.
Whether you watched Stone Cold Steve Austin point a gun at WWE honcho Vince McMahon’s head, or stood outside the building as D-Generation X “invaded” WCW; whether you look back with nostalgia to “The King” slapping Andy Kaufman silly on Letterman or believe wrestling was better when Bruno sold out Shea; whether you were one of the Philadelphia “bingo hall” faithful who made ECW “extreme” or a casual observer of the Monday Night Wars; whether you’re reliving these moments or discovering them for the first time, Wrestling’s Greatest Moments will enthrall you with the exploits and extravagance, the tragedies and triumphs of the sport of kings.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Despite our dream of seeing a title change, we were pretty realistic. If a WWF title was going to change hands, it probably wasn't going to happen in our humble hometown of Buffalo, New York. While Buffalo has been a traditional hotbed for wrestling in general, it never seemed like one of the crown jewels of the WWF like Philadelphia, New York City, or Boston.
That's not to say we didn't get some really interesting house shows. We had our share of cage matches, WWF title matches, and even an "anything goes" Battle Royal (back in the days before hardcore) with "Leaping" Lanny Poffo wearing a suit of armor into the ring. Yeah, we had some fun but we pretty much gave up on the idea of seeing a belt change hands.
Flash forward to June 2, 1987. Buffalo was going to host its first ever TV taping. Naturally, everyone had to go because if ever there was a chance to see a title change hands in Buffalo, this would be it. Even if the belt didn't change hands, there was that chance to appear on WWF television!
We all got our tickets but I had a problem- I had to work that night. After a couple years going from job to job, I had secured what I thought was a decent job (at the time). Unfortunately there was no way to get out of working. I was on probation and if I called in sick to go to wrestling, I knew I'd be up the creek. For once in my life, I did the responsible thing.
Boy, was I ever sorry. The next day my friend Keith called me to tell me about the show. "You'll never guess what happened!". I knew I was in trouble. "The Honky Tonk Man beat Steamboat for the Intercontinental Title". First off, I was shocked (as was Keith) that the HTM actually beat Steamboat. Second off, I was pissed because I'd missed the belt change hands-of all the nights to miss a show!
Since then, I've seen my fair share of title changes in person but I still rue the day I decided to do the right thing and ended up missing the beginning of the "Greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time"'s reign. The worst part of the whole I-C debacle was that I would eventually get fired from that very same job (after blowing it off to spend a day with my girlfriend). If I was going to get fired, it should have been for a title change!
Thursday, November 13, 2008
One thing I really miss in wrestling is the use of foreign objects. Sure, some wrestlers use them from time to time but I miss the days when you could count on a heel to use them whenever the chips were down. They're just great ways to taint a win. Who can forget such classics as Roddy Piper using a foreign object to beat "Nature Boy" Ric Flair for the U.S. title, Randy "Macho Man" Savage clobbering Tito Santana with a mysterious object to win the Intercontinental Title, or Johnny V helping the "Dream Team" (Greg Valentine & Brutus Beefcake) win the WWF Tag Team Titles from the U.S. Express (Barry Windham & Mike Rotundo) with a lit cigar to Windham's eye. So many great moments were made with heels using whatever it took to get the job done. When done correctly, it added so much heat to a feud.
Somewhere along the way, the foreign object has gone out of favor. The worst was when WCW announcers were reportedly ordered by Ted Turner not to use the word "foreign object" and instead say "international object". That's a true WTF moment but then again, you're talking about Ted Turner.
Personally, I think foreign objects have taken a back seat to things like run-in's and chair shots. There's nothing wrong with those but I long for the day when an arena full of fans were screaming bloody murder after a referee missed a babyface getting clobbered with a roll of quarters or a fireball. Naturally, if the referee didn't see it, then it's legal which only adds to the fans' frustration and desire to see a rematch.
Over the next few weeks, I hope to take a look at some of wrestling's greatest foreign object moments and some of the masters of the foreign object. Feel free to send me your favorites and I'll post the best ones!
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
My dad always told me that no matter what your job, do your best. Whether you're pushing a broom or performing brain surgery, you should give it your all. Wrestler "Special Delivery" Jones epitomized this. The guy never won all that many matches in the World Wrestling Federation but he always entertained the fans and he always made you believe this could be his big week to win.
Born Conrad Efraim, the man who fans would come to know as "S.D." began his career working in the territories of the day. He often teamed with storyline cousin Rufus R. "Freight Train" Jones, feuding with the legendary team of Ole and Gene Anderson. From there, S.D. worked several territories in the National Wrestling Alliance before coming to the place where he would become best known-the World Wrestling Federation.
While S.D. won his fair share of matches in the NWA territories (including three regional tag team championships), he was better known for being what is euphemistically known as "enhancement talent". S.D. Jones was the guy who lost matches week after week, making the WWF's star wrestlers look good. Jones would give it his all and his opponent would usually know they'd be in a fight but most fans can't remember too many wins for "Special Delivery".
But oh was he good at what he did. S.D. always put on entertaining matches and unlike most of the enhancement guys, he had a definite moveset. S.D.'s headbutt nearly won him many a match as did his pugilistic skills. S.D. always came up on the short end of the stick but he always made the fans believe that this could be his big week. That was the magic of Special Delivery, the guy lost week after week but he always put on such an engaging match that you felt like his first win was about to happen. He also had an endearing quality that made you want him to win.
And for a guy who never won a lot of matches, he sure did a lot of other cool things. S.D. was involved in the legendary haircut match where Ken Patera and "Big" John Studd cut Andre the Giant's hair. S.D. made history at Wrestlemania by losing to "King Kong" Bundy in a record-breaking (at the time) 9 seconds. And how many job guys do you know that had their own action figure? S.D. did! Even better, he appeared in the WWF's music video "Land of a Thousand Dances". Pretty impressive for a guy who was paid to count the lights every night. Jones definitely delivered in the ring and he always gave it his best.