Wrestling is one of my favourite things. I’ve been a fan since I was about eight years old and if anything my crazy level of fandom has only got worse in recent years. The best thing is that as a comedian it seems to be completely acceptable to enjoy watching men in their underwear pretending to fight.
Of course, I’m aware that when writing this some of the people reading it may not be as big fans of the grappling arts as myself. So this will be the first (and probably the last) of my blogs to include a glossary at the end to explain terms that you non-wrestling fans may not understand.
Anyway, for all my love towards those man-mountains clad in spandex and drizzled with baby oil, I could easily identify ten things that I despise. So… here goes.
TEN: A LACK OF MANAGERS
Eeh, when I was a lad it was usually quite easy to tell who the bad guys were when you watched wrestling on the telly. Wasn’t just that the fans booed and they had hairier chests then the good dudes (that’s a FACT, go back and watch some videos) but they always had managers. Sometimes male, sometimes female, usually evil (except Miss Elizabeth and to a lesser extent, Virgil). There was loads of them – the best being Jimmy Hart, Slick and the legend that is Bobby Heenan. Who do we have now? Vicky Guerrero, whose managerial skills consist of being shrill. I miss the managers, and this is in no way to do with wanting to work as one in the future because I have no wrestling skill whatsoever and I harbour dreams of being ringside for the heel stable of William Regal, Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins.
NINE: TOP ROPE FINISHING MOVES
You need a slight suspension of disbelief to enjoy wrestling, and to believe that two (or more) dudes fighting in a choreographed way with a completely fixed outcome is in any way realistic. This is why the best finishing moves are either simple and can be done out of nowhere (the Stone Cold Stunner, RKO etc) or really complicated tie-you-in-knots MMA-like submission holds. What isn’t realistic at all is when a fight pauses so one of the combatants can stand upon the top rope and jump off, usually twirling or somersaulting, and brings their body crashing down on their foe. Which would probably injure themselves as much as their opponent. I once watched a friend of mine in a fight, aged 12, jump open his opponent whilst screaming “ELBOW DROP”. It ended the fight, but only because we were all laughing too much.
EIGHT: KEN SHAMROCK
I don’t want to pick a fight with Mr Shamrock, mainly as he will hunt me down and rip out my Achilles before eating it in front of me. However, if your glory years of wrestling are the “Attitude” era then Mr Shamrock was the constant ruiner of matches. When he was new to wrestling he was too stiff (watch the footage of him vs Vader where they start knocking seven shades of shit out of each other), his facial mannerisms were either “calm and a bit angry” or “really really REALLY angry” and his promo skills were so bad that they made me want to make mini torches out of cotton buds and shove them into my ear canal. At least his finisher was decent (see above) but he was living proof that the worlds of MMA and Wrestling are leagues apart. After all, MMA is just enthusiastic hugging with the occasional punch to the temple.
SEVEN: STEEL CAGE MATCHES
What could be more terrifying than two men fighting to the ABSOLUTE END within the four walls of a deathly steel structure? Well, a gaggle of baby geese. Good steel cage matches are hard to find – not Hell in a Cell matches, or Wargames, or even Elimination Chamber matches, they’re fine – but good steel cage matches? I’m struggling to find any. Out of the hundreds, probably thousands, that have taken place in history… I can think of two. Bret Hart vs Owen Hart and Magnum TA vs Tully Blanchard, and the matches there were great because of the storylines involved, not the structure itself. Plus, the old WWE cage was ugly blue steel and the formula was ALWAYS the same. Good guy gets beaten up, bleeds a bit, recovers, climbs out as the bad guy tries to crawl out through the door. Dull as fuck.
SIX: THE TAG TEAM FORMULA
This point continues the one from above. In the 1980s certain tag teams made that form of wrestling ludicrously entertaining. For example, the Rock and Roll Express and the Midnight Express had a great feud where every single match was worth watching. Trouble is, they got so good at the format that everyone else started to copy it. The fact that you can now use the phrase “playing Ricky Morton” to describe the good guy in a match getting destroyed before he brings his partner in to clean up and get the win OR get cheated by the bad guys. That’s it. There’s no tension in a tag team match, not even in the indies. Japan still kind of has it down, as does Mexico, but finding a decent tag team match in the USA is tricky (the last one I really loved was from Summerslam 91 – The Hart Foundation vs Demolition). If you want proof, watch a match involving current WWE Tag Team Champions “Air Boom” (stupid, stupid name). They all go like this:
* Air Boom start out well
* Bad guy team traps Evan Bourne
* This stage lasts for about 8 minutes
* Evan Bourne – after trying valiantly for ages – makes the tag to Kofi Kingston
* Kofi jumps into the ring, top rope clothesline, SOS, a couple of kicks, Trouble in Paradise, he tags Evan back in, he hits Air Bourne (as it’s prettier to watch) and they win.
I’ve watched this match four times in the last month.
FIVE: THE LACK OF PSYCHOLOGY IN INDIE WRESTLING
I’ve got a ton of DVDs from obscure promotions, from Japan, from all over the world. I love watching all wrestling. But you know what? For however much I’ll get cross about the content of the WWE from time to time, at least they ensure that their talent understands psychology. They’ve got guys who will work a body part and tell a story, rather than just hit finisher after finisher after finisher. I adore indie wrestling – it’s incredibly entertaining but I can promise that there is usually one match on each card I own that takes this route. I sometimes think that wrestling in the indies is like being a new comedian – at every gig you feel you’ve got to smash out all your biggest, most offensive stuff and you’re afraid of telling a story. Doing finisher after finisher is like being a comedian and shouting the word “cunt” repeatedly. It might be entertaining to start with, but after the twentieth time at that show it’s pretty fucking tedious.
What makes this worse is that guys will take someone’s finisher and THEN GET STRAIGHT BACK UP! No. You are not Antonio Inoki and this isn’t the Tokyo Dome. Watch the WWE. You may hate it sometimes, but at least if someone gets hit with a GTS or RKO they stay down. Finishers do exactly that. A vertebreaker is not a transitional move.
Better still, watch a load of stuff from Japan. Just not anything involving Inoki or Giant Baba.
FOUR: PAST IT WRESTLERS
I’m a big football fan. When someone can’t perform anymore, they retire. They don’t end up playing in the top flight at the age of 50 just because they have a media profile or a film out. Wrestling is a tough business – for all the fakery it’s hard on the body, tough on the mind and incredibly draining. Guys that everyone should look up to got out of the business just in time – Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley, Edge. They all knew when to stop performing and retired at the top of their game. Bravo to them – walking away from good money to ensure that they can still walk when they’re 60.
Then you have guys who retire, come back, retire again, come back… and ruin any legacy that they may have by competing in AWFUL matches that nobody outside of their egos care about. I’m looking at you – Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, Kevin Nash, even Terry Funk. Stop clogging up the system.
The Undertaker is excluded from this as he has the good sense to only wrestle once a year, and hopefully this year will be the last.
I’ve been to watch TNA twice in this country, and enjoyed both of the shows tremendously. You know why? Because they weren’t taped for TV, so the wrestlers had time to put on decent matches, laugh at our chants and best of all, all the old deadwood stayed at home. I watched some great matches and came away energised about wrestling.
Then, sadly, I watched their TV shows. And their pay per views. Sweet Jesus.
You know that your weekly TV show will be weak when you film it at a theme park in front of punters who haven’t paid to get in and just want to sit somewhere air-conditioned for a while. Even worse if you look at some of their booking decisions:
* Let Jeff Hardy anywhere near the top of the card, when he’s essentially a smacked-up waxwork
* Build up a guy to become champ then decide against it because Hulk Hogan decides he isn’t ready (you should never listen to a man who clearly fancies his own daughter)
* Wasting talent like Samoa Joe because he’s not Hogan’s cup of tea
Essentially I should amend this bit. I quite like TNA, but until Hogan is living on a pacific island in an incestuous relationship with his daughter then I do feel that it’s quite doomed. Hope not.
TWO: PG RATING
I got back into wrestling at the age of 20 because I was flicking through Sky Sports one afternoon and happened to catch the Hell in a Cell match between the Undertaker and Mankind and was slightly turned on by the violence. Stiff shots, death-defying falls, thumbtacks, blood, carnage. Wrestling was like that all the time back then – racy storylines (sometimes stupid ones, but mainly good) and violent battles that appealed to the fanbase which was guys aged between 18-40. Then advertisers started getting freaked out and the McMahon family decided that they wanted to get into politics, so it all stopped. So what do we have now? The same set of fans liking the sport (like me), plus a much more vocal amount of kids (who were there before when it was violent, just the same as they all play Grand Theft Auto when they’re 7).
This tactic strikes me as a bit stupid. The boom time for wrestling was precisely when it had a “new rock and roll” vibe and it became cool to like it. That’s what drove the viewing figures and the revenue. Steve Austin was a rock star, for crying out loud. It was a great time and you actively looked forward to watching wrestling. Does that happen with the WWE now? I don’t think so.
But who has the money? I can afford to buy merchandise, DVDs, PPVs and event tickets. My 11 year old nephew can’t. What’s so wrong with violence? For crying out loud, the product is American and when I was a kid we used to get told to not watch the A-Team because of the violence. I still had a load of A-Team toys and ran around my playground spraying imaginary machine gun bullets at my classmates. Nobody got hurt. Just like in the A-Team.
ONE: JOHN CENA
For those people who don’t like wrestling or have any frame of reference, let me tell you who John Cena is. He’s essentially the golden boy of the WWE. He’s often their champion, headlines most of their shows and is a fairly decent wrestler. Fairly.
He’s also as charismatic as a slice of breaded ham and fans have been sick of him for the past two years.
When he wrestles, fans like me boo him. Kids and women cheer him. It then ends up in a feud between the fans as to whether he is loved or hated when there are more loved or hated wrestlers on the roster, but they don’t sell as many babygros or bibs to the slathering idiots in the mid west of the USA. I’ve never met a wrestling fan who likes John Cena. And when I say I hate him, I don’t hate him in a way that I’d pay good money to watch him get beaten up. I’d pay good money to never watch him again. I’m serious – I’ll start a whip round right now to try and buy him out of his overblown WWE contract.
He’s a square-jawed, white bread safe-option wrestler for the generic and bland product of 2012 WWE. That said, there’s a revolution coming I’m sure. I keep predicting that the glory days of anti-heroes and wrestling aimed at me is coming back.
Well, I’ve been predicting it for ages.
Then me and my mate Jon started this: THIS IS PROGRESS.
Plug over, here’s the glossary.
Miss Elizabeth: Manager of Randy Savage in the 80s and 90s. Now sadly dead.
Virgil: Servant of “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase (who was my favourite wrestler as a kid), eventually turned on him. Was called Virgil as a dig at Dusty Rhodes, who booked the WWE’s rival shows.
Jimmy Hart: “The Mouth of the South”. Genuine 60s one-hit-wonder who became involved in wrestling in the deep south Memphis hotbed in the 1970s. Very good friends with Hulk Hogan, so has always been kept in work. Wrote a lot of 1990s WCW wrestler theme tunes, and worked as both a good and bad guy.
Slick: “The Doctor of Style”. Now a reverend. Vaguely racist “jive-talkin’” manager from the 1980s. Wore a flat cap to great aplomb.
Bobby Heenan: “The Brain”. The greatest manager of all time, and one of the best colour commentators. Referred to bad wrestlers as “ham and eggers”. Despite being a manager due to his slight size, wrestled in many bloody and brutal matches in the 1970s. Survived throat cancer recently, and is still tremendously popular with fans despite being retired.
Vicky Guerrero: Current WWE manager of Dolph Ziggler and Jack Swagger. Screams a lot. Was married to the late Eddie Guerrero, former WWE legend.
William Regal: British wrestler, billed from Blackpool but actually from Stoke. One of my heroes, I remember watching him on “World of Sport” when I was growing up. Incredibly funny and yet responsible for some brilliantly brutal wrestling moments. Try finding footage of him roughing up Bill Goldberg in WCW, or his amazingly stiff fight against Fit Finlay where it seems obvious that they’re best mates with the amount of violence they trust one another with. His autobiography is excellent.
Daniel Bryan: Nicknamed “the best in the world” during his indie days. Formerly called “The American Dragon” Bryan Danielson, changed his name for WWE copyright reasons. Current WWE World Champion and one of my favourite current wrestlers (the other is CM Punk).
Seth Rollins: Current WWE developmental talent (it’s kind of like a reserve team in football), formerly called Tyler Black in his indie wrestling days. Cracking talent.
Stone Cold Stunner: The finishing move of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Usually prefixed with a boot to the gut. It’s a three quarter facelock sit-out jawbreaker.
RKO: The finishing move of Randy Orton, who looks a bit like David Beckham. He does. A three quarter facelock neckbreaker drop.
Ken Shamrock: Former UFC champion that signed with the WWE in the mid 1990s. Has a brother called Frank, who is also an MMA legend. He had a storyline sister called Ryan, who was not really his sister.
Vader: Born Leon White, a massive wrestler from Colorado who had his best times in Japan in the 1990s, but wrestled in the USA as well for WCW and WWE. Responsible for Mick Foley losing his ear.
Bret Hart: Legendary member of the Hart family. Has a great autobiography (if a little bitter). Was involved in the “Montreal Screwjob” where he was due to leave the WWE and they changed a match result without telling him in front of the rabid Canadian fans. There’s a documentary about it called “Wrestling with Shadows”. Now retired after a series of strokes.
Owen Hart: Brother of Bret Hart, arguably the better wrestler. Died tragically after falling from the rafters of the Kemper Arena in Kansas City at the “Over the Edge” pay per view in 1999.
Magnum TA: Excellent NWA (the rival to WWE in the 1980s) wrestler who had a moustache to rival Magnum PI. Hence the name (TA stands for Terry Allen). Career was ended when he crashed his Porsche into a tree, but could have been the NWA version of Hulk Hogan. Except he could, you know, wrestle and shit.
Tully Blanchard: A member of the legendary “Four Horseman” stable alongside Ric Flair, Arn Anderson and Barry Windham (at least originally). Lost a famous cage match against Magnum TA when he submitted after he had a wooden splinter jabbed into his eye.
The Rock and Roll Express: Good guy tag team from the 1980s NWA that was most famously made up of Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson. Morton would often get beaten up for most of their matches, coining the phrase “playing Ricky Morton”.
The Midnight Express: Bad guy tag team from the 1980s NWA that was made up of two from Dennis Condrey, Bobby Eaton, Stan Lane and Randy Rose.
The Hart Foundation: Tag team from 1980s/90s WWE. Featured Bret Hart and his brother in law Jim “the Anvil” Neidhart.
Demolition: Tag team from 1980s/90s WWE comprised of Ax (Bill Eadie) and Smash (Barry Darsow). They were joined later by Crush (Brian Adams) so would sneakily swap their members around when it suited them.
Air Boom: Current WWE Unified Tag Team Champions, comprised of Kofi Kingston and Evan Bourne.
SOS: One of Kofi Kingston’s signature moves. It’s a Japanese move called a Ranhei.
Trouble in Paradise: Another signature move of Kofi Kingston, a jumping kick.
Air Bourne: The finishing move of Evan Bourne, a shooting star press from the top rope. Bourne basically does a reverse somersault and lands belly first on his fallen opponent.
Indie Wrestling: Wrestling outside of the “big leagues” – in the past that would have been WWE, WCW and ECW, now it’s basically anything outside of WWE and TNA in the USA. Smaller promotions – like Ring of Honor, which was featured a lot in the film “The Wrestler”.
Antonio Inoki: Japanese-Argentinian wrestler, now retired, who has been running the top promotion in Japan for about 30 years. Once wrestled Mohammed Ali. Beating Inoki was incredibly rare.
GTS: The finishing move of CM Punk, short for “Go To Sleep”. Invented by Japanese wrestler KENTA, it’s a firemans carry dropped into a knee in the face.
Giant Baba: Massive Japanese wrestler, died in the late 1990s. Was Inoki’s rival both in the ring and outside it, running his own successful promotion.
Shawn Michaels: Texan wrestler, known for being a bit of a bellend during his initial singles run in the 1990s, has since found God and mellowed out. Now retired and a member of the WWE Hall of Fame. Nicknamed the “Heartbreak Kid”. Sang his own theme music. It’s stuck in your head now if you know it.
Mick Foley: One of the greatest human beings that has ever lived. Great wrestler, now a writer and stand-up comedian.
Edge: Top-level WWE talent from the 2000s who had to retire last year due to a neck injury.
Ric Flair: The best wrestler in the world in the 1980s, now a bankrupt and tired husk of his former self.
Hulk Hogan: An orange goblin.
Roddy Piper: Wrestler and actor (he’s in “They Live”, which is ace) who has always been one of the best talkers in the business. Still wrestles from time to time, and shouldn’t.
Kevin Nash: Giant wrestler who is best friends with HHH (wrestler who is involved in running the WWE, largely as he married the owner’s daughter) and so still hobbles into a WWE ring from time to time.
Terry Funk: Legendarily insane Texan wrestler who first retired in Japan in 1981. He’s still wrestling.
TNA: The main rival to the WWE’s output, owned by wrestler Jeff Jarrett and financially backed by Panda Energy. TNA stands for “Total Nonstop Action”, but the company has recently been rebranded as “Impact Wrestling”. Records its weekly TV show at Universal Studios in Orlando.
Jeff Hardy: One of the former WWE Tag Team “The Hardy Boyz” (with his brother Matt). The more successful of the two. Fired by the WWE for drugs test violations, famously ruined an entire pay per view in 2011 by showing up in no fit state to perform. The match was cut short to 90 seconds.
Samoa Joe: Great wrestler in the indies, now languishing near the bottom of the card in TNA despite being their former heavyweight champion. His gimmick? He’s a big Samoan guy who’ll kill you.
Hell in a Cell: A special type of cage match – the cage is wire mesh and has a roof. Mick Foley was famously thrown off of the roof of said cell in the match I describe.
The McMahon Family: Owners of the WWE. Vince and Linda McMahon (who bought the company from Vince’s dad, Vince Senior), daughter Stephanie and her husband Paul Levesque (the wrestler HHH). Her brother Shane is also still a shareholder, but no longer works for the company.
Steve Austin: The biggest WWE star of the 1990s before Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson took his mantle. Now a TV presenter and film star.
PPV: Pay per view. The WWE has one PPV event each month (as does TNA). They cost $45 to order and watch live, usually on the last Sunday of the month.
John Cena: A slice of breaded ham.