Posts Tagged ‘Hulk Hogan’

I make no bones about the fact that I am an old school representative of the pro wrestling trade. My style, psychology and etiquette are all derivative of the old school and I highly espouse the way things used to be versus the way things are nowadays. But instead of sounding like a grumpy old stalwart, let me digress and let’s take a look at the supporting arguments et al of the old school against the new school.

In many ways, I do enjoy the colorful variety of modern day pro wrestling, especially when it comes to WWE, NXT and New Japan. Lucha Underground has a very compelling product, which cannot simply be seen as just pro wrestling. Lucha Underground is really more of an action carneval show, and that, in their case, is a good thing. It’s different, and it’s almost grindhouse in a way. I could see Quentin Tarantino or even Robert Rodriguez scripting Lucha Underground.

As the industry leader, WWE does a lot of things right, and arguably a lot of things wrong. But they can get away with it, because their brand overall is stronger than the action or stories in and of themselves. I can really appreciate the strength of the NXT product nowadays, and Triple H is doing a lot of apparent good with that product. A plethora of capable hands are coming up down in Florida with NXT and their system just seems to work the way that it is orchestrated nowadays.

As atheletes, today’s top new stars are leagues beyond what the old school wrestlers used to be. Guys and gals are in crazy crossfit shape and can go like nobody’s business when the bell rings. Whereas old school grapplers like Dick Murdoch, Terry Funk and Lou Thesz could go out there for 60-90 minutes a night and put on a compelling grappling clinic, their pacing was worlds apart from the hyper-athletes of today such as Seth Rollins and Dolph Ziggler, who do more in a lesser amount of time. And what they do is damn impressive from an athletic standpoint on any level.

So wrestlers today are much better at the dynamic body movement part of the game, performing all kinds of leaps, spots and such that the old guard would never have dreamt of doing. The talents today are more akin to living incarnations of superheroes in their athletic performance than Ric Flair or Hulk Hogan could ever have dreamed of in the 1980s. Their conditioning is second to none, and they can burn at a faster pace, like a spinter versus a marathon runner. The old school were the marathon men, they shifted diesel gears. The guys today shift turbo-charged gears. Both approaches are commendable, but there is more…

Hulk Hogan didn't have to do nearly as much as Seth Rollins for an equal response.

Hulk Hogan didn’t have to do nearly as much as Seth Rollins for an equal response.

If one looks simply at the probable outlook for the career longevity of many of today’s newer stars, I’d wager to say that should they keep taking the crazy, high risks that they do – only to elicit a pop from the audience – then their longevity will be short-lived indeed. Let me expand on that one, single argument here. I stand to argue that had these younger modern talents understood the nature of capturing human emotion in their audience, they would not need to go out on a proverbial limb to risk their own health doing spots that will typecast them and be damn hard to top, follow or live up to the next time around. If you condition your audience to expect and want more and more from you, you will find yourself up against the wall before long. And your health will pay the price. And for what, just a pop? I understand utilizing a certain style to ”get over” with the audience, and then working an altered style to ”stay over”, but most of that is all geared toward instant gratification at a high personal risk and cost. And belive me when I tell you, that instant gratification is short-lived and frivulous, demanding more of the same, demanding to up the ante, the next time around.

Everyone remembers Jake The Snake, right?

Everyone remembers Jake The Snake, right?

Another thing that really strikes me as funny and befuddling at the same time has been the inability of many of the newer ”stars” to ”stick” with their audience or have the audience ”buy” them as lead players over the past several years. As a point of comparison, in the ’80s, once a guy like Jake ”The Snake” Roberts made his imprint on the national stage, the people ”bought” him as a lead star. Whether he won or lost, it did not matter. He was ”made” – a recognized, household name – and he was perceived as being a big deal. People to this day still fondly remember the old guard and remember them as larger-than-life stars. I would argue that the characters of bygone years, like ”Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, The Iron Sheik, Dusty Rhodes and Bruiser Brody were much more organic and at the same time they came across as more ”authentic” and thereby unique, as compared to the vast majority of talent that parades across our screens these days. The same could be argued for classic era wrestlers like Gorgeous George, Buddy Rogers and Lou Thesz. Perhaps much of this aforementioned ailment has a lot to do with today’s apparent oversaturation of media visibility, which waters down everything and everyone, due to the inane amount of shows on tap these days, in addition to the limitless internet. Perhaps it simply becomes an insurmountable challenge to rise above the programming deluge, which tends to make the viewer more prone to instant gratification and lends greatly to a near-complete lack of attention span. Would that lend credence to why nothing seems to ”stick”? It stands to reason and it does present a valid question.

The force-fed lines of script that today’s talent are given to spout and embrace create a situation where I can see many having grave difficulties in finding their own ”voice”. Back in the day, when Dusty Rhodes talked, shucked and jived about hard times, you bought into every word. When Ric Flair ranted about breaking Ricky Morton’s nose, people were genuinely infuriated. When Roddy Piper verbally lambasted Jimmy Snuka and cracked a coconut over his head, it went to live on in infamy. That kind of emotion is really missing these days, and it’s rather apparent in the lack of connection between the newer ”stars” of today and their audience.

Now, I understand that everything evolves. But in the same breath, you will always know the tree by the fruit that it bears. If something isn’t connecting, there has got to be a glitch, be it in presentation, character or credibility. Once again, back in the day, people were legitimately scared of Abdullah the Butcher, The Original Sheik and ”The Ugandan Giant” Kamala. Fans in Japan scattered out of the way like ants when Stan Hansen, Bruiser Brody or Tiger Jeet Singh made their ring entrances. I don’t see anyone scattering these days. I don’t see anyone who is legitimately afraid of a said wrestler, with the possible exception of Brock Lesnar.

Now I’ve hit the provebial nail on the head, so let’s talk Lesnar as a case example of a moment. Lesnar was ”made” in pro wrestling back in 2002-2003. He went on to become a WWE and UFC champion, adding to the legitimacy of his tough guy aura. When Brock came back to WWE a few years back, he was as believable as they came. People bought into him being the real deal. When Lesnar broke The Undertaker’s undefeated streak at Wrestlemania 30, he was the only guy with the solid arguments to be ”the guy” to be in that spot. People perceived Brock Lesnar to be a badass, to be the real deal, and therefore he was projected as a star. With Brock, it doesn’t feel like he is playing any character. He is his own man, himself. What you see is what you get. So with the real life aura of a beast and monster, everything about Brock Lesnar, from his movement to his offense to his body language, is rock solid and believable. With that thought, I would wager to argue that Brock Lesnar is the last ”real” superstar from the newer stock (taking into consideration his second run with WWE) who has the aura of must-see stardom, across-the-board legitimacy and match believability. With Lesnar, you don’t get any bullshit, smoke or mirrors. (Keeping my fingers crossed that they don’t finally pull that valuable rug out from under Lesnar against the gimmick-heavy, mystical Bray Wyatt at Wrestlemania this year.)

Brock Lesnar

Brock Lesnar

Pro wrestling gets a lot of flack and criticism for not being a legitimate competitive sport. With the reality TV era upon us, every single televison product out there is scripted, and pro wrestling is no exception. With programs vying for the same viewership demographic in prime time (or any other time) against other entertaining shows, viewers must be manipulated and hooked, so as not to change the channel. The problem that pro wrestling encounters nowadays, in my assessment, is that with the talent being labeled as ”sports entertainers” versus professional athletes (which, trust me, pro wrestlers truly are), the ”boys” (and girls) in the business are stripped of the requirement to come across as legit, and the matches are no longer reminiscent of an actual fight. The talent simply become characters, and as characters, why should they make their product credible and believable in a ”real fight” sense when they can simply aim to be entertaining and get reactions? I see this as a huge problem in the modern era, and it lends understanding to why so many holds are applied so loosely and sloppily that no viewer out there can buy into what they are seeing. Snug that shit up, people! Have some pride in your craft!

Someone please point out who taught Cena his STF...

Lou Thesz sure didn’t teach John Cena his STF…

Me personally, I enjoy much of what I see nowadays, as I can appreciate the athletic endeavor of the talent themselves. It’s damn entertaining! No bones about it. But a lot of it is also forced, unnatural in flow and lacks believability. To paraphrase something former WWF champion Bret ”Hitman” Hart once said about match psychology, ”If you can’t see it happening in a bar fight, it shouldn’t happen inside of a wrestling match”. I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but I still want to believe. When I compare some of the old school matches to what I see today, I see a lot more in the way of emotional investment and credibility. I see talent that got more mileage out of doing less, thereby saving themselves and prolonging their career longevity. I see masters of the craft that wrestled more than 300 dates a year on average, at whose matches people both young and old alike hollered and screamed like their lives depended on it. I look at matches from the bygone past that are so believable that anyone would have a problem finding fault in them, bouts like Ric Flair dropping the NWA championship to Ron Garvin in a 1987, where the real fight vibe was all over the place.

So in the end, with all of the aforementioned assessments and arguments, I would have to still tip my hat to the old school approach and philosophy to pro wrestling in favor of the modern product. I just believe it was better for business back then. I believe when the talents were looked at and treated as athletes versus entertainers, they put out a better product and showing. I believe the personas of times past were more organic and believable, and also more charismatic in a natural way. I believe that at the end of the day, people still want to come out and see a fight, not just a show.  And on top of that, pro wrestling used to be a trade where c0untless men and women that didn’t wrestle for WWE and chances were you never heard of them made a living, fed their families and did this as a full-time job.  Sounds like a better world to me all around back then…

Call me old-fashioned, I wouldn’t have it any other way!

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When I was young, just like any boy, I had my heroes.  These were male role models that I looked up to, icons of strength and heroism.  Actually, I think that those two attributes and characteristics resound in any young boy’s psyche, regardless of the convoluted and gender-confused age that we live in modern days.

My first heroes were The Incredible Hulk (both the Lou Ferrigno TV version and the Marvel comics version), Godzilla and Conan The Barbarian (both the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie version and the Marvel comics version).  Very soon thereafter, however, I discovered pro wrestling’s Hulk Hogan.  Let me tell you, as a kid, nothing was more real and more potent as a tangible idol than Hulk Hogan.  I recall watching mesmerized in front of our old, snowy television set in Thunder Bay, Ontario, watching Hulk Hogan battle the likes of Nikolai Volkoff and King Kong Bundy on late night Saturday Night’s Main Event broadcasts on the NBC station.  I was sold for life, marking the beginnings of my foray into the wonderous world of professional wrestling, a journey along which I found many more icons and tangible heroes.  Whether it was a Canadian wrestling star like Dan Kroffat or Steve Strong out of Montreal’s International Wrestling scene, or American stars like Ric Flair, The Road Warriors or Bam Bam Bigelow, I had discovered real life heroes that resonated with me at my very core.

I recall  drawing detailed, color portraits of guys like Bigelow and Flair, and at specific wrestling events, I would boldly walk up to the promoter or agents prior to the event and tell them that I would like to present my artwork in person to the star.  NWA promoter Gary Juster allowed me behind the curtain in Boston, Mass. to meet Bigelow, whereas arena security in Calgary at the Saddledome allowed me the chance to meet Flair.  As a kid, those were milestone moments, where I got to even fleetingly meet my heroes for real.  I have no idea if those stars ever retained or treasured the artwork that I drew of them, but as you all can see from the Artwork link here at my website, I am a very proficient graphic artist with an extensive resume nowadays.  I was pretty damn good back then, too, even if I say so myself.

Tom Zenk (left) and Dan Kroffat (right) mug for the TV cameras with Milt Avruskin interviewing

Tom Zenk (left) and Dan Kroffat (right) mug for the TV cameras with Milt Avruskin interviewing

As I became a professional wrestler myself, actively starting my in-ring career in 1994, I purposed myself to become more than just a plagarized copy of my heroes: no, indeed, I would become an original.  Once I found my groove in terms of my wrestling style and persona, the doors opened up for me.  I became one of the most popular wrestlers in all of Italy over 2005, so much so that the promoter even noted it in front of the entire locker room.  I became one of the most loved foreign bad guys to ever frequent Norway from 2003 onwards.  Girls would bring “StarBuck is a starf*ck!” signs to the shows, which, of course, I plead innocence to!  I would become one of the most popular foreign stars in all of the country of Japan in 2011, a buzz that lives on even to this day.  In Finland, I have become an icon of the country’s pop culture fabric, due to my contribution above all in professional wrestling, and secondly as a rock vocalist, fronting my various bands over the years.

Streamers thrown into the ring are a sign of popularity in Japan

Streamers thrown into the ring are a sign of popularity in Japan

I recall strapping young lads, like a teenage Mikko Maestro, who now wrestles for FCF in Finland, run into me while jogging seaside, telling he’s a big fan.  I recall wrestling in Tallinn, Estonia in 2007 and making such an impact on one young fan, that he turned away from partying, drugs and alcohol, choosing to follow my example.  I recall signing loads of autographs for sick children at a special charity wrestling match at the American Car Show in Helsinki in 2009, with broad smiles on those children’s faces.  I recall my numerous trips to Japan, where fans have eagerly treated me to the finest restaurant meals, presented me with spectacular gifts and cheered me on in the ring unlike any other audience prior or since.  In short, I reached my goal and fulfilled my aspiration of becoming not just an original, but a hero to others myself.  For this, I am extremely proud … in a good way.

When my wife last visited her homeland of Romania and gave one of my signed photos to an 11-year-old kid there, I was told that he looks forward to the day that he can take a picture with me and mug together for the camera.  All he has is YouTube and the Internet to follow my wrestling exploits, but for him, that is suffice.  To know that I have made an indelible impact on a complete stranger like that, who doesn’t even have the opportunity to see live wrestling events, speaks volumes.

Looking back on my career and lifetime contribution, I know that I have done something right, knowing somewhere out there, I am somebody’s hero.

The cultural significance of PURORESU.

Having wrestled on 20 trips already in the ”Promised Land” of pro wrestling, Japan, I thought to scribe a piece regarding the cultural impact and significance of Puroresu (pro wrestling in Japanese) on the social and pop culture landscape of not just Japan, but the world in general. After all, were it not for New Japan wrestlers Akira Maeda and Satoru Sayama breaking off in the mid-’80s and forming their UWF promotion in Japan, there certainly would have been no RINGS or Pancrase to jumpstart the MMA craze that has been blazing worldwide for many years now. Truth be told, the entire MMA scene, UFC included, can thank Japanese pro wrestling for their scimilating impact on the fighting business in general.

Going back to ancient Rome, the gladiators of old would reenact famous battles of lore, by dressing up in gimmicks and thereby producing very visual storytelling through their art of battle for the screaming fans of the coliseum. The most famous and loved gladiators were protected to a great degree by the emperors and promoters of their day. The action-hungry audiences at the coliseums had their distinct favorites, and some of the gladiators could even retire alive from active competition, if they lived to see the end of their fighting careers. If a gladiator managed to retire, he would live the rest of his life in luxury, reaping the rewards of his earned fame.

gladiator

In this way, professional wrestling is the natural extension and lineage of the gladiators of ancient Rome. After all, there is no other game or sport in which the competitor must ”woo” their audience, and specifically engineer and draw a desired reaction from their viewers. Just like in the old days of Rome, the success of the fighter is still, to this day, completely dependent on the relationship and interaction that the wrestler has with their audience. A boxer does not trap his opponent in the ring corner, and then turn to the crowd to ask if they would like to see him hit his opponent, but a wrestler can, and will, do exactly that. In doing so, the professional wrestler draws his audience emotionally much deeper into his matches, as compared to a boxer or mixed martial artist, who simply focuses solely on his opponent during the match.

hulk-hogan

In this way, pro wrestling becomes the ”Sport of Kings”, because it mixes the perfect balance of theatrical flamboyance in regards to the characters themselves and hard-hitting, fighting aptitude. Pro wrestling is simply more entertaining to watch than any single other fighting art: There is more variety in the movements, techniques and flow of the match, than compared to any other combat style. The chess-like element of utilizing ring psychology to build a compelling match that builds towards a passionate and dramatic crescendo is a very demanding artform and very few are masters at it. In this way, professional wrestling is the finest and most intricate, psychological fighting art of them all.

lou_thesz

In mixed martial arts, the combatants are solely interested and focused on ending the match as quickly and effectively as possible. This does not always make for a very interesting or emotionally compelling fight. Even nowadays in the UFC, there are many more pro wrestling-like elements to the matches and fighters themselves, as compared to the past. UFC fighters like Chael Sonnen sound like reincarnations of wrestlers like ”Superstar” Billy Graham when doing promos. Some UFC fighters even play to the crowd, just like pro wrestlers do, during the course of their matches. 10 – 15 years ago this phenomenon would have been unheard of, or perhaps even balked at.

In our modern day and age, mythology is rapidly disappearing from our western culture. In the past, mythology was handed down from generation to generation, as a kind of parable of lessons to be learned in life, plus it always featured the ever-present battle between good and evil in mankind. Nowadays, Hollywood and the movie industry offers little in the way of actual substance, instead opting to try and fill the viewer’s emotional register through special effects, multiple camera angles, quick editing cuts and flimsy but funny dialog. In the process, our culture is losing its grip on true heroism and real life icons. In the movies, everyone is a fictional character, and even Arnold Schwarzenegger is not the same character in The Terminator as he is in Conan the Barbarian. Therefore, the movies do not offer actual heroes or icons, but instead they offer virtual, imaginary heroes and icons. This is where professional wrestling comes in to save the day in our modern age.

mythological-gods

In no other game or sport are there such strong characters, as in the world of professional wrestling. When people witness the charisma and passion of Rikidozan, Antonio Inoki, Hulk Hogan, The Rock, ”Stone Cold” Steve Austin or perhaps even good ol’ StarBuck, what they are seeing is the real thing. The character is real, the passion is real and the charisma is real. Even though the professional wrestler might have an extravagant artist name (such as Hulk Hogan, The Great Muta or StarBuck), it stands to argue that the person behind the character name is as real as real gets.

muta

The Great Muta clamps on a headlock

Sometimes people ask me how much of my wrestling persona behind StarBuck is a made-up, fictional image. I tell them: ”None of it!”. I am not acting or pretending to be something that I am not inside of that ring. I only take my personal strengths and turn up the volume to the maximum level in terms of those traits, to make my wrestling persona even more effective. Yet, the man you see in the ring fighting is the real me.

I know that there are many gimmick wrestlers in our business who do not portray their actual selves. Doink the Clown and Eugene in WWE are good examples of this: one is not a true circus clown and the other is not a mentally handicapped person. The Undertaker is not a living dead man. In the same way, I know of big time rock musicians who drink non-alcoholic beer on stage in front of their fans, only to project the image of them being hard drinkers and party animals, while the truth is very different and they might be family men with children at home. Yet, I am not talking about the gimmick wrestlers in my underlying argument here.

Rikidozan - the pioneer and founding father of Puroresu

Rikidozan – the pioneer and founding father of Puroresu

In Japan, we have seen very many ”real life heroes” throughout the years in the professional wrestling business. Men like Rikidozan, Inoki, Baba, Tenryu, Fujinami, Misawa, Mutoh, Hiroshi Hase and countless others have undoubtedly portrayed their real personas inside of the ring. In the same way, famous gaijin talents like Stan Hansen, Dick Murdoch, Dynamite Kid, Terry Funk and many others have also portrayed their ”real me” personas inside of that ring. In this way, professional wrestlers are the modern day equivalents of iconic heroes of lore. We are modern day gladiators. In this role, as modern day fighting icons with strong, cultural, real life characters, we safeguard and uphold the tradition of the ever-burning battle between good and evil, and this in turn makes us the heirs of traditional mythology in modern times.

There are many lessons to be learned from professional wrestling, and it is no light matter that our game is aptly said to be the ”Sport of Kings”, for we, as professional wrestlers, are the Kings of Sport!

Long live our tradition and mythology – SOU DESU NE!