Posts Tagged ‘Lucha Underground’

Having been in the pro wrestling industry all across the globe for a good quarter-century, I thought to write a handbook or guide of sorts for young wrestlers and newer talents in – or just coming into – the wrestling business, based on what I’ve seen and experienced over my career.

I do this partially out of necessity, as I’ve seen the younger stock damn near kill the ”business” side of the industry for the other workers out there, and in part as a public service to give back to the industry where it stands today.

When I say this guide was born out of necessity, I say so mainly out of the fact that the ”professional” side of our industry is suffering tremendously, even though there are more shows taking place now than at any time in recent memory. Yet, the pay scale is one of the facets being demolished and many a newer talent is to blame for this, be they promoters or workers. I’ve also seen the near-death of actual etiquette in terms of how to carry one’s self in the business, which should be addressed for the welfare of the industry at large. With this in mind, now is the time to listen up, so let us commence with this free, but invaluable, 101 in How To Handle Yourself In Pro Wrestling!

Lesson #1: Act Like a Pro

How to Look in Pro Wrestling

Now kids, boys and girls alike, working for free just to get bookings and paying to play is not the way to go if you want a future in any trade. Earning your stripes and paying your dues while working for nil to free is one or two year period, at most. Back in the day when this business was still a real trade that supported a workers’ family, if any said talent undersold themselves intentionally just to get booked, or if they sabotaged a comrade in the territory by underselling themselves just to get booked, they risked getting the living shit beat out of them by the locker room.

It’s called PRO Wresting for a reason. The Pro word is there to let you understand that you should have the intent of making as much coin at it as you can over the course of your career. You must learn to make yourself valuable. Your work must be worth something. If not, why should anyone pay to see you?

Get real wresting gear, invest in yourself.  Get a good looking pair of tights, singlet or trunks made.  Buy a quality pair of real wrestling boots.  Look the part.  Do not wrestle in sneakers and shorts, to say nothing of a t-shirt.  If you look like a punter, you deserve to be treated like a punter.  If you don’t have enough sun around your climes to get a natural tan, then either hit the solarium or get a spraytan for any and all wrestling shows that you might be booked on.  I cannot stress this enough: look the part.  Look professional.

Now, I understand the way the world is going. I understand that all across the board, in live music, in the postal service, in the construction sector, etc. the jobs are increasingly going to those who will work harder and longer for less pay. This, however, is pure sabotage and is destined to end badly for everyone. You can always negotiate down, but it’s freaking hard to negotiate up. There’s always someone who will do the job for less, as you all know. Make yourself and your personal piece of business so valuable that promoters and fans are going to be willing to pay for your talents, but also, know what the pay scale is. Know your place on the pay scale, based on your experience, number of matches worked, past accolades, current profile and overall value on any said, given card. It’s not grand on the indies these days, by any stretch. Like former WCW wrestler PN News, aka Cannonball Grizzly, so aptly stated back in 2013 in a locker room in Germany: ”I might be a whore, because I sell my body for money. At least I’m not a slut who gives it away for free.”

There have been several gaijins (foreigners) over the last few years who can be held accountable for killing the once extremely profitable wrestling promised land of Japan. These newer faces went in, paying their own three-month visa, paying their own flights, sleeping on dojo floors and making next to nothing in pay just to play superstar and say they’ve wrestled in Japan. Talk about being a mark! It makes me sick to my gut. By the same token, the promoters who took them up on their offers are just as guilty. They collectively killed Japan for the rest of us, for the veterans included, who deserve to make a reasonable living at this game after sacrificing their bodies for so many years. Japan used to be a place, along with Mexico, where a good hand could make a decent chunk of change and maybe even put some of it away in savings. Sayonara now to that notion.

Moral of the story: you must act like a pro to be considered a pro. Period.

Lesson #2: Make Yourself Valuable

AJ Styles

AJ Styles is a classic case of a guy whose work ethic and skills made him valuable, so that he was able to reach the pinnacle of his profession.

Get your look in order. Invest in a gym membership and an experienced, knowledgeable personal trainer if you don’t have the know-how to build your body up to be muscular and strong. You will need that strength in the ring, I assure you, and the look is your aesthetic sales pitch. It’s the mirage of the product before delivery to your audience, after which it’s up to you to you produce — looking like the Big Mac on the menu board, or like the sorry, flattened burger that very well might get handed to you. People do not want to see jabronies that look just like them. If the guy changing your oil at Jiffy Lube could just as easily be a member of Motley Crue, then you have a perception problem because the star aura is sorely missing. Pro wrestling is meant to be bigger than life. Always has, always will be. That said, this is the exact same epidemic that has flattened out and deflated the aura, mysticism and grandeur of rock music at large, in addition to spoiling beauty pageants where the girls actually have to be a cut above the status quo to qualify, to allowing professional politicians into public office who fail to represent the interests of the public at large in any way and just capitalize on personal gain at your expense.

My old coach, Lance Storm, once so appropriately stated that a wrestler need three things to even have a fighting chance at making it in the pro wrestling business: 1) the look, meaning body and image, 2) the actual ring skills and 3) charisma to make people either love or hate you, but no middle ”they’re okay, I guess” ground.

If you lack in any of the three attributes aforementioned, get busy filling in the blanks, because while you’re daydreaming, someone else is hustling and doing what has to be done. And as they say, the early bird gets the worm (read: bookings).

Lesson #3: Don’t be a Mark

bullshit

Pro wrestling is a bullshitters’ business. Don’t be fooled, everyone is ”working” the next guy, because no one wants to risk losing their spot or moving a peg down. Everyone is looking out for number one. Many would sell their mother down a river to get a foothold over you. Al Snow once aptly said, as we were touring Egypt back in 2009: ”There are no brothers in this business, only business associates”.

Don’t be too gullible for your own good. Take everything with a grain of salt. Believe it only when you have your plane tickets in hand or when you are actually at the said show. Everything up to that point is just talk, and talk is cheap. Truth be told, only after you’ve actually been paid your agreed on wage can you really believe it.

Also, don’t be a mark for yourself. Just because you know how to play the game doesn’t make you King Midas. Don’t think that you are God’s gift to wrestling just because you might look like a million dollars or you can do a reverse 450 Firebird Splash. Don’t think you are indispensable. Don’t think that just because you’ve bought 10 pairs of tights and four pairs of boots that you are somehow better for it than the guy that just has one pair of each.  Never take anything for granted. Stay humble. Be a good sport. Don’t be an egomaniac. Have a strong ego that drives you, but don’t let your ego control you.

Lesson #4: Pro Wrestling is still Territorial

El Ligero

El Ligero of England

You’ve probably heard a million times that the territories died back at the end of the ’80s. Still, the way the wrestling business and promoters operate today is highly territorial. For example, if you live in a place like Finland, at the ass end of the world like myself, and a promoter can get four guys crammed into a car out of Germany to go wrestle in Italy, who do you think they will choose? Hmm. A guy like me, here in the worst possible demographic area on the map, will have to have his shit together and all his sales arguments in line, be relevant and credible and bringing something of salable use to the table, if he hopes to score gigs in the face of this aforementioned, stark reality.

When I say wrestling is still territorial, I’ll break it down for you: a promoter is looking to make as much money as possible and in doing so they look to cut their costs. The promoter will try to take the cheapest route possible, acquire talent from nearby, just like the four-to-a-car model I mentioned, and they will sometimes even try to skimp on offering accommodations if they are able to do so, having you drive back home in the middle of the night. Yes, there are places where the talent gets treated like circus animals, even to this day. Therefore, if a promoter can keep their costs down by taking in talent from right next door, then for you to be considered from several countries away… well, you had better have something that the promoter and their show really needs. You visage on a poster better sell an adequate amount of tickets to cover your costs or you had better have the kinds of skills that make other people (read: local wrestlers of said promotion you wish to work for) look good. Or then you had better be politically important. Or then, you had better have a name in the wrestling business. Unless you are a younger talent with a name like Will Ospreay (read: a well-known internet darling) you can forget the last line I just wrote.

Lesson #5: Pro Wrestling is Ruled by Cliques

The Cliq

If you don’t know the impact of this group, then get busy on Google.

If you don’t belong to a clique, part of somebody’s group of inside faves, your chances of getting booked are slim and rare. I didn’t say slim to none, I said slim to rare. It’s the truth, even if it is a sorry state of affairs. There are shitloads of great guitarists out there who are just as good as Steve Vai or Alexi Laiho who never get anywhere or reach greater acclaim. They simply don’t belong to the right social circle and they aren’t the darlings of a certain clique, so they are shut out of the larger window of opportunity. It’s often not what you know, as valuable as that is, it’s who you know. Age-old wisdom that is, as Yoda would say.

I don’t say this as an exhortation of any sort, that you should start kissing ass and buttering up the nearest influencer, as most of these people can smell you coming a mile away. I would advise you to simply be diligent, hustle, be humble, listen, constantly improve your game and ask for the advice of those ahead of you in the game, carry the veteran’s bags and even get them coffee, and keep putting in the best effort you possibly can each and every time you go out there and step into a ring. It’s called the law of sowing and reaping. It’s the path that I took and I can tell you that it sure as shit ain’t the fast track. It took me a lot longer to get my due and get noticed, because I never kissed asses and never played locker room politics. I invested in making myself the best wrestler I could be. I got the whole package together and honed it down to a proverbial ”T”. I built up my resumé and got my personal piece of business down so solid that it became valuable. Remember: value comes to value, always. My work and ultimately my reputation stood as my calling card. Then, certain circles began letting me in, simply based on the quality of my work and my working ethic, plus the fact that I wasn’t a trouble-maker and I was dependable. I know, the path less taken doesn’t sound very sexy and it doesn’t offer instant gratification.

Still, you can try the asskissing route if you want to try short-cutting your way to the top. No guarantees that it’ll work, however. And I won’t even get into the bookers and promoters who might try implying that you trade sexual favors for bookings. Be forwarned, they are out there. Have the dignity to say NO, even if it comes at the cost of getting booked.

Lesson #6: Every Match is a CV Match

Never ”take the night off”. Never ”just wing it”. Invest yourself in making each and every match as good as you possibly can. Think of what elements you and your opponent bring to the table and tell the best story that you can with those elements in mind.

Remember: you never know who will see your bout. I say this again, because it is pivotally important: think of what elements you will need to apply to best tell the intended story of your altercation. Don’t think that you need to showcase every single move you know, nor ”get all your shit in”. No, you need to tell the story of the match. And not every match needs to be a five-star affair. Maybe that’s not the purpose of your match in the big picture of the overall show. Maybe your position on the card requires something else from you.

Still, you need to come out of it looking like a star, but so does your opponent. Remember, you are only as good as the person that you are in the ring with. If they look like shit, you look like shit. And if you need that last one explained, you need to go back to wrestling school under a better coach.

Lesson #7: Be Adaptable and Always Keep Learning

Adam Flex Maxted

Adam “Flex” Maxted

I’m reminded by a young man I met while on a wrestling tour of Pakistan last year. His name is Adam Maxted from the UK. Adam is very young in the business, but he already has a million dollar body. He’s invested his time in the gym. He’s hungry to learn, constantly taking part in seminars of old warhorses like Marty Jones, always looking to up his game. And voilá… in less than one year since I met him, the kid is already IPW All England champion in the UK and has an upcoming match booked against Rey Mysterio for one of the largest companies there this coming March. Believe me when I tell you: you do not get chosen to be booked against a guy the likes of Rey unless you have all of the various pieces of the puzzle together. Adam deserves all the credit in the world for being a model example of hustling his ass off, being humble, keeping his ears open and being able to learn from constructive criticism. He is on the fast track to becoming a big name in our industry, and he will have earned it by the sweat of his brow, once that inevitable day comes. And once that day does arrive, Adam will have people like Marty Jones to thank, because he has been taught the essentials of what it reads on the marquee: WRESTLING.

The same applies to you. No matter who you are booked against, know your groundwork. Know how to actually wrestle. If your match falls apart, the highspots aren’t going to save you. Garbage wrestling isn’t going to save you, either. The name of the game is still wrestling at the end of the day. Can you pull it off?

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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!