Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I'm 22 goin on 12

For those of you who know me well and know my smell, you knew this blog would one day come. We are currently on the "Road to Wrestlemania," and with the big show being just days away, I see it only fit that I reflect on something that's had a big impact on me. My earliest memories of professional wrestling date back to when I was 5 years old. Although my parents were certain that it was something I would grow out of......I never did. I'm currently 22 years old and over the past 15 years I've rarely missed an episode of Monday Night Raw. I've never missed a wrestling show that has been within a close proximity to Minnesota. I am on the verge of attending my 13th live wrestling event. So long story short, I am about as into this stuff as you can get.

The one thing that really worries me about this blog is I fear that it will end up looking like a dissertation. When it comes to the things you're passionate about, you have a tendency to go on and on. I'm trying my best to keep this short, but it's not going to be easy. The last thing I want to do however, is turn this into a big "Rebuttal Blog." More than a lot of people don't like wrestling, and I've spent a good portion of my life defending wrestling, but I don't tend to do it anymore. If you don't like it, that's your MO, but my main goal in this writing is trying to explain my fascination with it.

When someone finds out that I'm really into wrestling, one of three things usually happens: Most frequently they roll their eyes, they say "I've never heard of it," or they try to spark up a conversation with me. Now in most cases, someone expressing interest in your interests is a cool thing because this gives you something to talk about. But this situation is a little different, because there's usually two kinds of people who wanna "talk wrasslin" with me that I cannot tolerate for too long. I have dubbed them to be: "The Attituders" or "The Detectives." The Attituders are those who briefly watched pro wrestling in their middle school and junior high years and tuned out then after, while the Detectives try to analyze every move in the ring and explain why this would never work in a real life situation. The highest form of conversation the Attituders can have with you is "Whatever happened to (insert wrestler here)" and they remember the Rock's catchphrases, but struggle to recall some of the great matches from this period. The Detectives just can't seem to get past the fact that matches are predetermined, so it's hard for them to get any entertainment value out of the product. Like I said earlier, people wanting to talk wrestling isn't always a good thing, and often makes me even more frustrated.

Now I understand that it's hard to look at professional wrestling from an abstract viewpoint because it appears to be a such dumbed-down form of entertainment. I mean the concept is a little ridiculous to begin with - here's two oiled up guys in small attire that are staging a fight. Who the hell ever thought of this? But what draws me to this realm of entertainment is that the storytelling is just so intricate and unique that it just grabs me. When I talk about storytelling, I'm not referring to a leprechaun midget being the Chairman's illegitimate bastard son. This is not the kind of story that captures my interest. It's the story and the art of two guys in a ring pretending to hurt each other without actually doing it. It's how they can walk down the aisle with only the finish in mind and improvise a 15 minute match. It's the facial expressions, it's the ability to elicit a reaction from the crowd, it's how they can communicate without words, it's how they can choreograph moves with perfect timing, and it's how they can create perceived competition. For 13-14 some odd years I've watched this stuff with my chin on a fist being absolutely mesmerized by it.

I don't like wrestling being called "fake," and it's not because it offends me, but because you wouldn't look at something like a movie a refer to it as "fake" - that would be absurd. There are however many elements of a movie that can be found inside the squared circle: You have morality conflict with good guys and bad guys, you have dilemnas, you have surprise, and you have controversy. And when you combine that with great athletes, in my estimation you've got the best of both worlds. A question often posed to me is "If all of this wrestling stuff is rigged, how do you know which guys are the best at their profession." I believe that a wrestler's talent is threefold, and if you gave each one of these categories a 10 point scale, the best wrestler would be a 30/30. If you look at the history of this business, every single wrestler who has ran with the ball for this company has at least scored a 10/10 in one of these categories. They are as follows:

The Look:
This is what the origins of this business were first predicated on - the circus mentality of "selling freaks." The idea is that you can't see physical specimens like this in your everyday life, so you're gonna have to pay a ticket to see them. This is what drew people to the shows, and it still does to this day. Image is huge in professional wrestling. In order to be marketable, you have to be tan, muscle-bound, and then there's the LC part of the equation where you have to complement your character with a great outfit. All of these components play an essential role in getting over. Watching wrestling on t.v. was honestly what first got me into weight lifting at such a young age. I never viewed wrestling as "guys walking around in their skimpies" as my roommates refer to it. To me, it was more like "Woah, I wanna look like that!" - being awe-inspired by all these muscular physiques.

There have been champions in this business who have coasted on "The Look" alone, but the number one problem with these wrestlers is they have no longevity because it is easy for their act to stagnate. It's kind of like looking at a hot girl - she can be fun to look at, but if she's got an empty head, I don't care who you are - eventually you're gonna get jaded out. Thankfully, the Lex Luger's, Psycho Sid's, and Bill Goldberg's of the world are slowly starting to fade out of wrestling. The company is starting to realize that the fans will not accept a wrestler who only has "The Look" - or else they would have bought a ticket to the Arnold Classic instead.

Cutting Promos:
Promos, or interviews, are another small piece that puts the wrestling puzzle together. This is usually the part of wrestling that draws a clear and distinct line between the people who love it and the people who think it's absolutely stupid. Either people will "get it" and laugh at characters that fill this show, or they will take it way too seriously and think they're too intelligent for the product. Some of time, I do see the nay-sayer's side of the argument. But most of the time I would have to say that if they watched an entire wrestling program and didn't laugh once - these people simply cannot be entertained.

Although some colorful controversy is fun to watch and has the ability to draw in a crowd, there's a certain part of "mic skills" that I cannot stand. What bothers me about this aspect of wrestling is that some people believe this is the ultimate standard for evaluating a WWE Superstar, and it's definitely not. Promos are similar to the "The Look" in the sense that their an additive, just an additional topping. If you disagree with this statement, then take a look at the current state of the business and compare a wrestler's skill set to his ability to connect with the fans. If you only watch this show for comedy, it boggles my mind why you ever got into wrestling in the first place, because there are a myriad of entertainment outlets out there. Go watch an episode of Entourage if you want to hear a bunch of one-liners - Ari and Drama got a million of them for ya.

In-Ring work:
This is the number one standard for gaining respect in this business. People don't care about what you look like or how well you speak if you can't get it done from bell-to-bell. If you have the additional skills, it adds to the strength of you character, but the two aforementioned qualities will never get you over in the long term. Wrestling fans want to watch great wrestling, because it's the only thing that makes this product unique.

I'm not a fan of John Cena's act. He is currently the figurehead of the WWE and although I feel he is in this position for all the wrong reasons, there's no arguing that he is good for business. He's mainstream, he's marketable, he talks the jive, but he definitely cannot awe you in the ring unless he has a great dance partner. Odds are if you've seen him wrestle once, you've seen all that he has. It disappoints me that the top guy in the WWE is somebody that I'm not a fan of, but I would like to talk about my Top 5 favorite people in wrestling today that I think make this company absolutely great.

5) Jim Ross:
-If there is ever a conceivable downside to attending an event like Wrestlemania, it's that you miss out on listening to the guy who essentially puts the entire story together. You wanna talk about guy that has been around and been apart of literally every significant piece of wrestling history, look no further than Jim Ross. His voice is plastered on all the companies greatest moments, and he's been a part of everything. I absolutely love listening to JR call a match, and in my estimation he's the greatest announcer of all time. Now when I talk about announcers, I'm not making this exclusive to wrestling - football, boxing, baseball, you name it - he's the best of the best. Wrestling is so unique in the sense that an announcer not only has to call the action, but he has to simultaneously implement the background story, interpret facial expressions, and use their clever wit to keep the viewers interested. Announcing wrestling is so fast paced, and JR has such an intelligent mind for the product.

He's honestly the primary person that inspired me to have a blog in the first place, because when he posts his weekly updates, it's the number one information source in the world of the marks. Because of his talent and experience, nobody's opinion is valued more. When you turn on the TV and you hear his voice, you know it's Monday night, you know you've got the right channel, and you know your on the right program. I hope he continues to do this for as long as he's able to, because it will be a sad day for me when I turn on Raw and can no longer listen to Good Ol' JR.

4) The Undertaker:
-You know you've got something special when no matter how many times someone has seen your act - it still gets over. We've seen his routine a million times: The lights go out, a slow and methodical walk to the ring, the eyes rolling back coordinated with thunder roaring over the speakers, and even though it's been played out again and again, there's no arguing that there's a greater ring entrance in the history of the business. I got to see it live for the first time last year in Detroit, and when that gong hit, the building absolutely flipped. Seeing him come out with the fire and druids ranks up there with one of the coolest things I've ever seen. The thing that I like about the Undertaker character is to me, he's the only thing that's really left of "old-school." He keeps a pretty low profile - you won't see him make a whole lot of appearances, he won't do interviews on WWE DVDs, he won't be at the Hall of Fame the night before, and he does it all to save face on his character. There's a certain element in wrestling today of "let's stop pulling the wool over, and treating our fans like idiots - like the characters we see aren't actually people in real life." But the Undertaker really takes pride in the mystique of his character, and doesn't sell that out so easy. I think it's for that reason that he's had more longevity at the top of this business than anyone else I can think of.

3) Edge:
-The history of the WWE has shown that it lives and dies with the characters who can be great bad guys - A great bad guy is the most important part of wrestling. You need to have a strong antagonist in order to create strong good guy. The more the fans want to see the bad guy get his, the more they buy the PPVs, the more they watch on TV, and ultimately the more revenue the wrestling business draws. It's a proven formula that has worked for many years, but the problem is the current state of wrestling doesn't have a whole lot of strong bad guys. Edge is currently the number one heel in wrestling, and in my opinion he's carrying the torch by himself. For the last 3-4 years, he's done a great job each and every night of getting everybody in arena to absolutely hate him. He's a man that has been described as having no weaknesses, and I'd say that it's hard to argue with that.

2) Shawn Michaels:
-He's a man of several nicknames: The Showstopper, The Headliner, The Main Event, The Heartbreak Kid. But even more than the ones listed previously, without a doubt my favorite Shawn Michaels nickname is Mr. Wrestlemania. You've heard JR say it time and time again that "Nobody's ever out-staged Shawn Michaels in a big time match" - and it's absolutely true. Even at his age of 42, I can't how many times in the past couple of years where I have been watching a bad Raw or a bad PPV and said, "Thank God HBK was here to save this show." He's the number one consistent guy in this company where you say, no matter what happens, Shawn Michaels is going to be fun to watch to tonight. And history will show, that at Wrestlemania, he's always turned it on big time. One of my favorite memories as a kid was going to door-to-door with my neighborhood friends, asking the people we lived next to if we could shovel their driveway, just to scrounge up enough money to watch Wrestlemania 12 where Shawn Michaels was taking on Bret Hart in a 60-minute Iron Man Match - it's still to this day, my favorite moment in wrestling history.

I always loved watching him as a kid, because I can't think of any other athlete or celebrity that just embodied "cool" like Shawn Michaels did. Everything he did was just flawless perfection, he was so athletic, so charismatic, and just so talented that how could you not want to be like him? I don't care how many times I here that "Sexy Boy" theme song, whenever I hear it, I am 12 years old again - the raving mark that just wants to be like Shawn Michaels.

1) Ric Flair
-I think it is so unfortunate that so many wrestling fans of my demographic look at a guy like Ric Flair and say, "Why does this guy still do this?" He's 59 years old, his physical skills have obviously declined, and his physique definitely won't be on the cover of Muscle and Fitness anytime soon. Most of the people my age have heard he's the "Kiss stealin, wheel-n-dealin', limousine ridin" wrestling legend, but I don't believe they know why he is all of those things. All they see is the person he is know, and not the person who's had those unbelievable matches in the 80's with Ricky Steamboat, Barry Windham, and Terry Funk. Not the person who's the greatest interview in the history of the business. They see that old guy who just won't hang it up.

Ric Flair was the longest running champion when the title actually meant something. I look at wrestling nowadays where there are so many damn belts that wrestlers don't even look like champions - they just look like guys holding belts. Ric Flair was the primary champion in the 80's in a wrestling organization that was called the NWA. I've had a lot of fun in the last couple of months re-visiting a lot of the old NWA stuff, because it had such a cool concept. Back in those days, the business wasn't yet monopolized, and there were 9 primary wrestling territories throughout the United States. The 9 wrestling promoters would all get together and vote on who the champion should be, and Ric Flair was usually the overwhelming favorite. The champion would go from territory to territory facing the top act from each promotion, and when the Champ came to town, it was always a big deal.

Flair's gimmick back then is that he would always be neck and neck with his opponent, do a 1 hour broadway, and just barely retain his title by the skin of his teeth. Flair did such a good job of playing the chicken shit heel. He was the guy who would poke you in the eye, give you a ball shot, and then be on his knees begging for mercy - a guy that you just had to hate. But the problem you run into, is that when you have a guy that is so good at the character he plays, the people can't help but cheer him. And that's subsequently what ended up happening.

Earlier I mentioned a scale that I believe is the best way to evaluate a wrestler's talent level, but in my estimation, there's only been one person in the history of the business that's been a perfect 30 - and that's The Nature Boy Ric Flair. He had the bleach-blond hair accompanied with either a diamond sequined robe or a $5,000 suit. He was such a character, and if you ever looking for some cheap entertainment, YouTube: "Ric Flair promos" and you'll be rolling on the floor laughing. And although he can't exactly pour it on now like he did back then, in his prime nobody cut a pace like he did. Hulk Hogan may be the most recognizable figure in pro wrestling, but Flair's the real deal. Although my personal favorite is Bret Hart, there's no doubting that Ric Flair is the all-time best.

And finally, this brings us to Wrestlemania - the biggest show of the entire year. Wrestlemania is a production where no expense is spared when in comes to advertising, lighting, pyros, and bringing in the celebrities (John Legend, Snoop Dogg, 50 cent, and Floyd Mayweather...just to name a few) because several thousands will be in attendance and millions will be watching around the world. For an entire year, everything thing they do as far as story and character development is culminated on this one night. It's about giving back to the fans who support this company by putting on the best show possible. It's about #1 facing #2, and this year we are even fortunate enough to have #3 vs. #4.

I'm very certain that Flair vs. Michaels will not be on last, but I am very certain that it will be the best match of the night. Collectively, these two guys will do what they've done best over the course of their careers: Make the fans scream for the loudest and the longest. There is much speculation that this WILL be Ric Flair's last match - and I am so fortunate to be able to see it live in person. A 35-year veteran who is the gold standard in this line of work will walk down the aisle and tear the house down one last time. Emotions will be running high, and in the wrasslin business, you wouldn't want it any other way. Wrestling has always been about eliciting emotion. It's about making you laugh, making you angry, putting a smile on your face, and when it all comes to an end for the best wrestler to ever live - there will most certainly be an emotional reaction from the fans as well. Because when everything in wrestling is supposed to be bullshit, that bullshit means everything to them, as it does to me. Not a single fan at this show will leave wishing they hadn't spent the money and wishing they hadn't made the trip. It's Wrestlemania, where everybody involved is 22 goin on 12 - that young kid turned mark who has a little part of them that doesn't ever wanna grow up.

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