Posts Tagged ‘lucha libre’

Every once in awhile I do pieces for the pro wrestling community, especially the younger wrestlers coming up these days who have not been given true, old school educations on our business, to help them get a grip and understanding of what they need to know in order to have a chance at becoming a success in today’s pro wrestling marketplace.

It’s not an easy road.  Especially these days, the business is both flourishing and meandering at the same time: flourishing due to the number of shows being run every which where, but meandering due to the demise of the pay scale as well as the death of kayfabe, the lack of mentorship due to the small number of veteran talents still active in the game from whom to learn from, and the reluctance of promoters to pay out and invest in talents that will cost them more than the guys who work for next to free (or just plain free).

Thereby, I offer you all an educational interview with one of the modern guys who made it in our industry, Sam Adonis.  Sam is the biggest gringo to hit Mexico in about 20 years and has set the country on fire, drawing sellouts, causing all kinds of havoc and finding his niche in the ultra-competitive world of Lucha Libre.  Listen to what Sam has to say.  It might just help you along your path in this game that we call professional wrestling.

Lucha masks

Sam Adonis

Sam Adonis

Q: Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do this educational piece for the younger talents coming up in the wrestling world. Firstly, my heartfelt congratulations for all your success in Mexico. You must be the hottest gringo to hit Mexico since my old friend Corazón de León (Chris Jericho) made it big there back in 1993?

A: I’ve been so lucky with my success in Mexico. I looked at it as an opportunity. I have worked hard worldwide to get this spot. Like the rest of us, I wanted to make my mark in this business and do what I can to be remembered, so I wanted to try my luck in Mexico. Mexico is full of many foreigners at any given time, but I was lucky to catch a stride. Due to my general positivity towards classic wrestling, I embraced the role of a foreign villain and Trump sympathizer and it clearly took off. Being American during this political climate can create heat, but that mixed with my experience and work ethic has resulted in a huge impact for my career. The experience I’ve had here has made me a better wrestler, it’s given me name value worldwide, and it’s presented me with much more opportunity.

Q: You worked a lot in England, cutting your teeth for promoters like Brian Dixon of All-Star Wrestling, before you landed the Mexico deal. Where and what would you say were the places that prepped you the most for the stage where you are at in your career right now?

A: I’ve been lucky to grow up around the wrestling business. With my brother wrestling and my dad promoting, I’ve had a unique outlook at a young age. That was able to get me a WWE contract at age 21 (with FCW, the precursor to NXT). However, nothing on Earth will ever compare to my experience working for Brian Dixon. Wrestling full time some 3-10 shows a week over a 5 year span was how I was able to become “Sam Adonis.” Working with superb talents like James Mason, Dean Allmark, Oliver Grey, Rampage Brown, Robbie Dynamite and countless others gave me the edge to become a well-rounded pro. I credit all those guys for making me as good as I am. Ultimately my experience in the UK made me ready for CMLL. I cannot say enough how grateful I am for the opportunity to wrestle for Brian Dixon, 200 times a year, to help me get to where I am today.

Q: The very ”in” thing right now in our industry is the spot-oriented style, fishing for pops upon pops, arguably popularized and put over the top by the now-famous NJPW Juniors match between Will Ospreay and Ricochet last year. Do you believe this style is going to define the business from here going forward? Or if not, what do you believe will be the next big trend in wrestling?

A: 100% NO! I don’t believe that indie wrestling as a style defines anything in our industry right now. I see it as a sub-culture of wrestling. Your general public doesn’t even recognize that as a style, they don’t even know what that means. Coming from Finland, you can probably understand when I say that indie wrestling is like the black metal of professional wrestling. It might not be necessarily acceptable to the public and the masses. Either way, it’s always going to be a part of our business, something for the hardcore wretling fans. Wrestling has always been about storytelling. Good versus evil, cartoon characters, showmen, characters. Stories are defined by the characters in them. I think it would take more than just a couple of guys to change that general ideology and perception of professional wrestling. Many guys don’t know how to appeal to a mass market, so they do this “Indy style” to earn a keep in the wrestling world. Many of these guys are great at what they do acrobatically. I can’t do that style! I would always encourage guys to do what they can to make their money and make their mark in our industry. But this is our business and we need to protect it and take care of it and sometimes you need to think about the wellbeing of the business before the wellbeing of yourself. At the end of the day, wrestling comes and goes in cycles and whose to say that five years from now, heavyweight wrestling might be in the forefront again? However, Roman Reigns, Braun Stroman, and even myself are good examples of how the people gravitate towards the characters over the “wrestlers”.

Sam Adonis in CMLL

Sam heats up the Mexican crowd.

Q: To have a legitimate chance at having a career in the pro wrestling business in today’s market, what do you believe are the top things on the checklist that a wrestler needs to have ticked off in order to make a living at this?

A: It’s extremely difficult right now to make a living at pro wrestling. It’s completely different than it was 10 years ago when I began, and it’s even miles more different from when you began 25 years ago. It’s a completely different ballgame. I think at the end of the day in order to make it as a professional, the number one thing I suggest is respect. Respect the wrestling business. You need to give back to wrestling. If you take care of the industry, the industry will take care of you. Too many wrestlers will do anything to be noticed online, even if it means they disrespect wrestling along the way. I’m 6’4 and can do a 450. I could have been doing it for years and by now I would probably be the top name on the Indies. However I am heel! I respect pro wrestling more than anything. I believe that if you appeal to the public at large and not just the wrestling public — they are two different things. If you talk about European wrestling, you can talk the names of yourself or Chris ”Bambikiller” Raaber (Austria) and you guys would appeal to an actual public much before you would appeal to solely a wrestling public. It’s arguable that Will Ospreay or Marty Scurll might be more popular amongst the wrestling fans, however yourself or Bambikiller might have sold more tickets worldwide. I think you need to do your best to find a medium, respect the business, give back to it, but at the same time keep your general public happy, because they buy way more tickets than indy wrestling fans or hardcore wrestling fans. That’s the difference between a WWE event drawing 10 000 people and purely a hardcore audience wrestling event drawing 1000 people. The proof is in the numbers.

Q: What are the keys to staying healthy on the job, especially when your schedule starts to pick up if you manage to latch on to some success and get on a roll?

A: I’ve been super lucky because I’ve been able to maintain my ring style and my busy lifestyle to go with it and I’ve been able to take care of myself inside the ring. A lot of times you’ve got to pick your battles, so to speak. Again this reverts back to what I said about appealing to the public, as a good performer does not need to kill themselves for the wrestling fans. A good performer can tell a story and be dramatic without killing themselves and that’s why I’ve been able to wrestle upwards of four times a week as well as do all the travel the job requires. The Mexican rings are a lot harder than the rest of the world but I’ve been able to adapt and overcome and be able to take care of myself. I think that’s very important. There are a lot of guys like Ospreay and Ricochet but before long gravity is going to catch up with them and then guys like that who should be hitting their prime around 30 might find themselves on a downswing instead. It’s sad to say because they’re talented guys, but I feel you have to be able to take care of your body to make this a career and a lifestyle.

Q: Your in-ring persona in Mexico is very character-driven, aided greatly in part and put over by your use of the ”Trump card”, as you’ve been able to latch on to a hot political topic and turn it into a personal career asset. What advice would you give to young talents in terms of character work and finding their own ”voice” with their in-ring characters in order to become viable with the paying audience (and with promoters in general)?

A: I would say the most important aspect of any professional wrestler is developing a character of who they really are. I think that’s the biggest thing that’s lost in wrestling. Too many wrestlers focus just on their moves to realize that a John Q. Public paying customer doesn’t necessarily care about seeing someone doing shooting star presses or German suplexes. They like to see something that’s relatable, something that they understand. My Trump flag is not something that I need to be able to work, however it’s relatable to the Mexican public, and it’s turned a negative situation into a positive situation in Mexican pro wretling. I’ve been accepted because they can relate to the stereotypical racist American. It’s not necessarily my political views or what I try to push, however I know it can add some depth to the wrestling event and that’s why I made the most of it. I think every professional wrestler needs to find something that is relatable to the public and create a character that is you with the volume turned up, cliche as it is. It needs to be worth the price of admission. I can say that I don’t look like your average guy next door. If someone is going to pay to see Sam Adonis against Atlantis (CMLL luchadore), you know you are going to see high-class professional wrestling featuring two superstars, not two guys from next door copying what they’ve seen on TV.

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Sam flies onto a hapless foe.

Q: Ring awareness is a key element to navigating through any given match. How would you frame ring awareness for a young talent in order to make them understand its context and usage/application in practice?

A: I think ring awareness is the number one most misunderstood phrase in all of professional wrestling. Ring awareness is what all the greats had and what the generation past had, that our generation does not understand. The aspect of ”performance” has been misconstrued, as performing now has become a set idea of what they want to put forward in a match and not straying from that idea whatsoever. It’s more than ring awareness: it’s room awareness and audience awareness. It’s being conscious of what you’re doing at all times while doing it. A lot of young wrestlers are so caught up in the moment that someone in the audience could shoot someone with a gun and the guys wouldn’t notice. Being aware of what you do and being able to control your situation and keep all eyes on you at all times, that makes for ring awareness. I’m lucky in that’s what I’ve been good at. I’m not the most athletic, I’m not the most technically gifted, but because my ring awareness is on a level that most guys are not on right now I believe that is why I have had the success I’ve enjoyed. It’s the ability to control a room. This is why if I were to give advice to younger wrestlers, it would be more about getting your ring awareness down and making sure you’re an asset to the show and an asset to the audience in lieu of learning more moves.

Q: The storytelling aspect of pro wrestling has always been the key to making money and having a profitable business. If the story doesn’t resonate with the audience, no one will give a shit and the whole deal is dead in the water from the get-go. What are the main aspects to storytelling in a match from your perspective?

A: I could not agree with you more about the storytelling being the most important part of a match and sadly, most people do not understand that. The general philosophy is that it’s so easy to tell a story. I am a professional wrestler, I get paid to win, I get paid less if I lose, so I am trying to win. And I’m fighting somebody else that is also trying to win. A lot of times, it’s easier to keep people involved when the story is simple. Good versus evil always works. Of course, it’s easier when you have an audience that follows what you do, however, generally most people don’t care about professional wrestling. I would say that the easiest way to go about it would be to assume that no one in the audience has seen you or heard about you ever. It’s your job to tell a new story every night of the week, every match you have and explain and show those people who you are and what you are doing throughout the story of that match. It comes with your entrance and as you leave the arena. It’s your job to explain to those people watching, without words, who you are, why you’re there and why you’re doing it. That is the essense of storytelling in wrestling. I believe this is one of the most important aspects of pro wrestling, right up there with ring awareness.

Q: Jake ”The Snake” Roberts once aptly said that pro wrestling is like the masturbation of peoples’ emotions: it’s the rollercoaster ride before the climax that makes the whole shebang a satisfying experience. In order to master the art of manipulating peoples’ emotions, you must be able to control the crowd and have them eating out of the palm of your hand. Give me an effective 1-2-3 roll of punches that best draw the picture for the reader as to how to commandeer an audience from your success and experience.

A: This is something that is not easy. A lot of people think it’s easy and they think they understand, but they don’t. If wrestling was as easy as explaining how to do it right, we would have a lot more ”superstars” than we do right now. That’s the difference between the Jake Roberts’ and the Randy Savages and The Rocks and the great storytellers as compared to the other wrestlers that are worried about having a good match. My personal experience comes down to the fact that I’ve always had the ring awareness and the storytelling ability. I’ve been able to read the room and involve the audience in an entertaining manner. You want to draw them in with your personality — with who you are. This is something that can be done during your ring entrance. The music you walk out to is important, the faces you put on as you come out, those will captivate your audience. If you go out there as a normal person, it’s going to be a lot harder for you to captivate an audience. I would say that in order to invoke this emotion with people, you have to stay conscious of how to entertain and how to control an audience and control a room while not violating what professional wrestling is. Again, this is a lot harder to explain than it is for me to actually do and I would also say that this comes down to experience. Wrestling every day of the week for All-Star Wrestling in the UK honed my wrestling aptitude to become like an innate ability that I didn’t have to worry about anymore. When you wrestle so much, that becomes second nature. At the end of the day, I would say to guys to wrestle as much as they can, get as good as they can, get as comfortable as they can in the ring. A sad analogy, but it’s true for a lot of us, and I know you are the same: Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler is pretty real in certain aspects, such as your life becomes a reflection of who you are in the ring. Sometimes, I feel more at home in the ring than I do outside of it. The line between Sam Adonis and Sam Polinsky has been blurred, but that’s what it ultimately takes to make a great professional wrestler.

Q: Perhaps the singlemost important thing that a match must have is HEAT. Without it, there is no pop for the comeback and there is no satisfaction with the end result of any given match. You have become a master at drawing heat in order to have an audience engaged in your match. Describe to the people how to best generate heat…

A: Heat is something that can be a lot more complicated than people think it is. Most wrestlers think you can scream and shout at a fan and that’s heat. Generally, heat is just creating overwhelming circumstances for the babyface to overcome. Also, this is your chance to explain to the audience how in-depth your heel character is. For example, you can show what kind of backhanded tricks it takes to win your match. This is when you can go behind the ref’s back, when you can desperately pull yourself out of the way, or just basically explain to the audience that you are just not as good as the babyface. In my opinion, it’s always 100% important to respect the referee, because when you take away the referee’s authority, you take away your potential of getting heat and making the audience angry by breaking the rules. You can also add more depth to your heel character by staying on your opponent at all times.

Q: What advice would you give first and foremost to young talents looking to make it in our business today? It seems that all too many are willing to pay to play, fronting their own visa costs, airline costs and whatnot just to get a spot on the card. Methinks this is doomed to kill the business if it persists and promoters continue to ”go cheap.”

A: Sadly but truly, you are 100% correct about people paying to play. I absolutely hate it but I feel like it’s already taken that turn where it’s very difficult to go backwards. I think that now, so many wrestlers will not get opportunities without paying to play and it definitely takes opportunities away from guys like ourselves who have earned their chance to work in these various places. I would say for a young wrestler to wrestle as much as you can. For the up-and-comers, it’s too far gone to wait for your opportunities in these international markets. I would say for the first two to three years to look at it as an investment and work as much as you can and don’t worry about the money that you’re making. Because if you are serious in the end, you will end up making your money back. You will become a star due to the experience that you will gain in every match. But as far as staying professional and waiting, I feel that in modern times wrestling’s climate has changed so much that the guys would not be able to stay busy if they were to live by the old rules. Luckily, guys like you and me have been able to continue to make our money and get these international shows, but young wrestlers do not have that luxury.

A: Your brother, Cory Graves, works as a commentator for WWE. As the industry leader to this day, it’s still rather telling that the indy scene has had such a dramatic role on the evolution of the WWE style. They are arguably more indy today than I would have ever imagined, and this can only be a testament to the power of the Internet. Where do you foresee WWE heading in the next five years, both stylistically long-term, as well as in the way and slant that the product/game is presented?

A: We touched on this earlier when talking about the indy style. It might be the flavor of the week and people might be interested in it, however the heart of professional wrestling has always been good versus evil, good guy versus bad guy. I personally don’t believe this will go anywhere. Wrestling always evolves and there’s going to be fresh talent. Right now, the indy bubble and the indy style has peaked. It’s what people have liked, and now it’s at its hottest point, however as you’ve noticed, as have I, that a lot of people miss the classic style of pro wrestling. They enjoy ’80s style, they enjoy good guy versus bad guy, and now that the next generation coming along has taken it back to it’s roots, I feel that it will always come back to the basics. Wrestling will always be around, it’s not going anywhere. I feel that WWE will always use the whatever options they have as to the best talent available. I think it’s up to us as to what will become famous in the future. For instance, if wrestling gets hot in the next five years and Roman Reigns is still the top guy, all of a sudden that Roman Reigns style will take precedence on the indies and that will be our basis once again.

Q: What do you think it would take for any given organization to have a legitimate chance at competing with Vince anymore on a global scale? Is there even a snowball’s chance in hell of that happening?

A: I for one don’t think that it’s possible for anyone to ever compete with WWE… well, I can’t say never, ‘cos it’s always possible… however, if anyone has that in their mind, they will never succeed. The only way you could have a worldwide or nationally recognized wrestling company would be if that company were to be self-sufficient, not try to compete with WWE, deliver a product to the fans and basically catch fire. For instance, if a local independent had the right crew and was able to get the local TV, which was able to branch into national TV and grow from the ground up and sustain their growth, they could potentially sell to Disney or Paramount or some national touring company that could take it to the next level. That is the only way I feel it could be done. When wrestling promoters think that they’re going to end up becoming number two (to WWE), they generally end up making mistakes and when you try to work on budget that is that large, your profit deficit is generally something that’s too large to overcome. That looks like the trouble that TNA (Impact Wrestling) is in. It can basically never make back the money it’s already lost.

Q: If any kid out there has dreams of working in Mexico and making a name out there, what would be your best advice to them?

A: For anyone who wants to wrestle in Mexico my advice would be not to wrestle like a Mexican! A lot of wrestlers go down to Mexico to learn the Lucha style and they end up doing too many highspots or getting a mask. My drawing ability and star power comes from wrestling is all because I wrestle an American style in Mexico. It’s definitely helped my cause that I’ve not deviated from what I’m good at. Plus, be open-minded in learning to work with their talent.

Sam Adonis vs. Ultimo Dragon

Sam unmasks the legendary Ultimo Dragon.

Q: Everyone on the indies is scrounging for bookings and looking to get spots and opportunities. What would your best advice be to anyone in the hunt for bookings, to get matches under their belt, wrestle in different countries, etc?

A: This one is very easy. Just think outside of the box and make yourself marketable and be different. Everyone is such a wrestling fan that they think of what they want to do versus thinking of what the wrestling fans would like to see them do. Too many people wrestle for themselves or for the internet. Everybody wants to be like Fergal Devitt (WWE’s Finn Balor) or Will Ospreay but they forget that the wrestling fans already have these guys and they (Balor and Ospreay) are probably better than them. I’m a big fan of classic wrestling and classic wrestling has become ”new” again because it hasn’t been seen in so long, but I’m so different than everybody else out there that I can get work on these bigger independent house shows like House of Hardcore and New York Wrestling Connection just because I’m so much more different than everybody else trying to get on these events. That would be the number one thing I’d tell anybody looking to get more work.

Q: Thanks for your time and all the best from here on out in your wrestling endeavors. In closing, if there was one piece of advice that you would give to any given young wrestler, and one crucial piece of advice only, like a winning lottery ticket or the Midas touch, what would it be?

A: My single biggest piece of advice would be just to respect pro wrestling. Make sure you give everything you can to pro wrestling and look after it more than you look after yourself, because if you take care of wrestling it will take care of you. I do a 450 splash and for a 6’4” wrestler, that’s pretty big. I could have done that in every match over the past five years and I could be some indy darling, however I respect pro wrestling more than myself and I always want to do what’s right and although the journey might seem a little longer, I feel that it’ll pay off in the end. So please everybody, take care of the business, follow me on Instagram at SamElias89 and follow me on Twitter at @RealSamAdonis. Thanks so much, StarBuck, hope to see you soon and hope we can tear the house down together somewhere once again!

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It’s a sad day in the world of pro wrestling. As I got up today, I received the news of the passing of Perro Aguayo Jr. in the middle of a tag team match in Tijuana, Mexico. After getting dropkicked in the side of the head by Rey Misterio Jr., as Misterio set Aguayo up for his trademark 619 maneuver, Perro fell against the ropes lifeless, unable to move from thereon out. It’s hard to say whether it was the kick from Misterio, or the whiplash effect from hitting the middle rope, causing trauma to the cervical spine, that led to the premature death of Perro Aguayo Jr.  A freak accident, yes.  But just another reality of the physical toll of pro wrestling.

For the first time in a long time, this news put pro wrestling (or Lucha Libre, as the game is known in Mexico) on the sports pages en lieu of the entertainment section in the news. For so long, pro wrestling has been balked at as not being a legitimate sport by critics and the opposition at large, but no one can deny that we, as athletes, endure great physical risks in being a part of this ”sport of kings.”

On a personal note alone, I have gone through eight concussions in my wrestling career since 1994 worldwide. Add to that a broken left ankle in two places with eight screws and three plates to reconstruct it, a torn right rotator cuff, a herniated disc in my neck, torn ligaments on two occasions in my right foot and bone chips in my left elbow, a missing tooth, and yeah … I don’t see where pro wrestling is ”fake”.

StarBuck injury

Bandaging myself up to close a head wound after a physical match (photo: Lasse Arkela)

What happened this past weekend in Tijuana, Mexico is another grave reminder of the incredible physical demand that pro wrestling takes on our bodies. Every single one of us that climb into that ring to make the fans yell, scream and cheer should be applauded for putting our health and lives on the line time in and time out. Most times for completely inadequate compensation, be it noted. And what about the retirement and pension plans for pro wrestlers? Are you kidding me?? What about solid insurance policies to cover mishaps and injuries? Good luck in finding coverage that will actually go up to bat for you when the shit hits the fan. I got lucky in the last department, when a decade back I was able to score a comprehensive insurance policy through a gym client of mine, after my former insurance provider screwed me over after suffering my fifth concussion in Italy.

John Cena being stretchered out after a legit injury in 2008

John Cena being stretchered out after a legit injury in 2008

The bottom line is, pro wrestling has long suffered from lack of respect from the media and public at large for not being ”pure sport”. That is not, nor has it ever been, the point. The point is that pro wrestling is the equivalent of gladiators in modern times. It is the art of battle. In battle, one is bound to get battle scars. To quote bygone wrestling great ”Dr. Death” Steve Williams, ”This ain’t ballet.”

Methinks pro wrestling and wrestlers at large are long overdue for a heaping load of respect from the day and age and world et al that we live in.