Posts Tagged ‘wrestler’

Every once in awhile, I try to offer the newer guys and gals coming up in the pro wrestling industry something worthwhile, which would help them orchestrate and navigate their careers.

Myself having been in the pro wrestling trade now for a quarter century, I’ve met many successful contemporaries in my travels, who’ve carved out particular niche’s for themselves in the business.  These pros have learned to navigate in the shark-infested waters that make up professional wrestling, and they have valuable life experience, which can be readily used as learning material for the next generation.

In so saying, I offer up a unique angle for this one-on-one interview that I conducted with former WCW alumni Paul Neu, who wrestled for Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling in the early ’90s as PN News, and shortly thereafter migrated to Europe, where he became known as Cannonball Grizzly.

The man became one of the most successful journeyman big man wrestlers in the past three decades arguably worldwide, and he took some time out to shed some light on how you have to adapt your in-ring style as you get older and the injuries mount up, as well as advice for other big man-style wrestlers now coming up in the business and how to stay healthy to help prolong one’s career.

Listen up and take to heart what Paul has to say.

Cannonball Grizzly

Cannonball Grizzly stands 188cm and weighs 190kg

1. Thanks for taking the time out to do this one-on-one piece. I’d like to dig into the topic of how, as a veteran, and as the years pile up and the injuries accumulate, you have to adapt your in-ring style and working approach. However, first, how are you doing nowadays that you’ve moved back to your native USA after spending, what, the better part of 25 years wrestling in Europe?

Hello, Michael.  First of all, thank you for the opportunity to express myself on your platform. I’ve enjoyed entertaining fans around the world for over 31 years and its great to address not just fans, but future wrestlers as well.  

Wow, you hit me with an amazing question to start. As an athletic big man, it’s been a hard tradition over the years. I always want to produce, show people I’m athletic. I had to stop drop kicking after 25 years. I’ve done moonsaults, sentons, topes, top rope splashes, etc.  

The splash was hard on my knees so I changed to the senton as my finish. From top rope to a second rope senton when my back started hurting. Basically what you learn over time is how to work the crowd with showmanship instead of overwhelming them with the ooh and aah of brute force and majesty of big moves. I got better heat from working smart than working hard. When you do something big it should mean something.

Tradition is transition.  Moving back to the States has been good for me. I’m picking up legend conventions. I’m not really advertising myself at the moment. I’m getting to know family again and settling down. I needed a pause. My body needs healing if it’s even possible.

2. What made you choose coming to Europe back in the day, after your WCW contract ended, in lieu of going somewhere else or taking a different career path? How did the parting with WCW come about, and would you have liked to continue there?

I had a few opportunities to continue in America. Territories were dying. The WWF/WWE was actually trying to do something with me. Unfortunately, they wanted me to wait around. I couldn’t, my daughter was on the way and I need to make money so I chose to come back to Europe. I don’t regret it.  The business in Europe was pretty good at the time. My love for Austria and Germany at the time made my choice easy.

3. You found a good deal of success in Europe, but you also saw the business change drastically over the quarter-century that you spent here. I recall you once saying in a locker room in Germany back in 2013, that the job used to be 30 dates a month, now it’s 30 dates a year. Why do you believe that the business changed so drastically in Europe also, taking into account that this is not Vince’s predominant playground to begin with?

You can watch wrestling on TV everyday. The market is over-saturated and that isn’t a good thing. Wrestlers are stars but when you’re on TV every week, you’re a SUPERSTAR. It’s hard to compete with television.

4. You’ve been a super-heavyweight all of your career. What are the main things you would give as advice, coming from a big man worker, to the newer crop of big men and super-heavyweights coming up today?

There really aren’t any super-heavyweights anymore. The size of your average wrestler is getting smaller. So it’s hard for big guys now. I’d say to be a super-heavyweight today, athleticism is the key. If you’re big and you’ve never done anything athletic, only sat in front of a computer and a TV your whole life, stay on the other side of the barrier.

Cannonball Grizzly vs Alofa

Battle of the super-heavyweights: Cannonball Grizzly vs. Headshriner Alofa

5. What are the main things you would expound in terms of career longevity in pro wrestling? What are the key factors of longevity to be taken into account and practice, from your experience?

Stay in the gym, don’t do overly stupid stuff. Work smart.

6. What do you believe are the essentials to ”making it” in the pro wrestling business, to becoming a viable player, to making money and to having a decent shot at procuring the most amount of work possible?

Again the gym. Being good on the mic. You have to have a bit of an ego and still try to be humble. Take and ask for advice from guys who have been around. Show respect, and when you get your shot give everything you’ve got. Look after your gear. Don’t just put on kickpads over sneakers. Look and act like a wrestler, not a mark.

7. Everyone goes in hurt, as the saying goes in our trade. Where do you draw the line, however?

I never drew the line. I worked with a dislocated shoulder, torn hamstring, severed tendon, a lung infection and a sowing needle that broke off in my foot. There is always someone ready to take your place. Not everyone is that resilient, I know. Nowadays, I see kids not show up because the have a nosebleed. In the end, it’s your own call.

8. As we age, the body tends to stiffen and acute nervous response is compromised, since reaction time is slightly dulled with age. I have often used Keiji Muto as a good example of changing one’s stylistic approach to suit the changes that come with age, limiting the amount of action output and focusing more on body language and character presence. How did you navigate in-ring as you got older? How did you alter your style to suit your age-brought restrictions, as time went by?

That’s all part of working smart. I changed my style at least three time to adapt to my bones screaming at me. I new time was catching up when I had to stop throwing my dropkick. Before that I stopped doing my top rope splash, because I was hurting my knees. I switched to the senton and now my hip is messed up so I don’t even do that much anymore.

9. What are the approaches and ways you kept yourself physically viable and functional as the years rolled by?

The gym, stretching and ibuprofen. I wasn’t into the pain killer scene. Unfortunately time catches up with us all.

PN News

Paul Neu as PN News in WCW (1991), before Cannonball Grizzly

10. If you could turn back time and some things over again, so as to prolong your long-term health, hindsight being 20/20, what would those things be?

The nature of the beast. I would have probably done everything the same way. I’d might have cut the top rope splash out earlier or never done it.

11. What advice would you give to guys in the business today, based on your own experiences and what you’ve seen in our industry, in terms of protecting their long-term health and quality of physical life?

Don’t drink as much as I did. Listen to your bones. If you’re waking up in pain every morning you’ve waited to long.

12. What are the biggest changes you noted on a personal level, passing from your 20s to your 30s, and from your 30s to your 40s in your wrestling career?

In my early 20s, I was green. I hit my stride from about 26-44. That was my prime. In my 30s, I was physically unstoppable. By my mid-40s,  I started waking up everyday in pain.

13. Where do you stand today with the current popularized in-ring style, as promoted largely by WWE, TNA and NJPW, where the action is largely spot-oriented and arguably more indie-influenced than ever before? What do you foresee in terms of longevity for the guys utilizing and working this current, modern spotty style?

I prefer the old-school story-telling aspect of wrestling. We played off peoples’ emotion. We could suspend peoples’ disbelief.  Now, it’s all about the oohs and aahs.

14. Thanks for taking the time out to do this introspective piece.  In closing, there’s a saying in our industry, that you work a certain style to get over, and then you work a modified version of that style to stay over. This, however, didn’t seem to work too favorably for guys like Mick Foley or Daniel Bryan. Perhaps a case of too little too late? What’s your take on getting over … and then staying over?

Your body can only take so much. The best workers have around four things they have to do every time they go out there and work. If you have to abuse your body every time, you’re gonna be on borrowed time long before your time would normally be up.

 

Advertisements

Without further ado, here is the official theatrical trailer for Spandex Sapiens, the movie about Yours Truly that comes out in Finnkino theaters nationwide on June 17 in Finland.

Also, keep your eyes peeled for a huge feature article on the movie and myself, appearing soon in Finland’s largest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, and there will also be a separate video segment with me on their website.

spandex_sapiens_premiere_poster

Be sure to go out and see the movie on the premiere week!  Let’s make history in the Nordics, and from here, spread it to the rest of the world!

Just a week back I wrestled in Russia, which was a huge landmark opportunity for me.  In doing so, I finally capped off 20 countries in pro wrestling.

Looking back on my career, I have been blessed to see the world, visit four continents as a wrestler, become a name and drawing card in several promotions and stake out a legacy in the annals of wrestledom as we know it.

Russia presented a unique opportunity for me to work in the biggest country in the world.  The Independent Wrestling Federation (IWF) booked me to appear in Moscow on February 27 against a wrestler of theirs named “Big Sexy Papa” Ruslan.

Ruslan vs StarBuck Russia IWF

Ruslan put up a good fight, but he was nowhere in the physical condition that I was, and I ended up trouncing him pretty damn good by the time the dust settled.  The Russian fans took to me like a fish in water, which made for a welcome reception to the former Soviet superpower.

Judging from the public response to our match, it seems like there is a rematch brewing in the booking sheets for me to return to Russia and once again tangle another round with Ruslan, who now has a much better picture of what he is up against.  Heck, I even took his girlfriend and carried her out of the venue over my shoulder, like a true caveman, adding insult to injury.  So man up, Ruslan!  What are you going to do differently the next time that you and I meet in Moscow?

Yet for me, conquering Russia was a great way to celebrate my 20th country in the game!

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!

The shit has hit the proverbial fan.  I was diagnosed today with a herniated disc between my C6-C7 vertebrae by top sports physician Tuomo Karila in Helsinki at Dextra Sports Clinic.

Preparing for my MRI scan at Helsinki's Dextra Sports Clinic today

Preparing for my MRI scan at Helsinki’s Dextra Sports Clinic today

The injury itself happened as a freak occurrence on August 3rd, as I was training upcoming Finnish pro wrestling hopefuls at FCF Wrestling’s training center in Kellokoski, Finland.  I suffered whiplash in one of the training exercises, and I felt a sharp pain in my upper trapezius and neck after my sparring partner sent me chest-first into the ring corner buckles.  I continued the training exercise, disregarding what had just happened.  The next day, I continued coaching my class, and the pain intensified in my injured region.  I thought that adequate rest would suffice to heal whatever momentary strain had been incurred, but I could not have been more wrong.  I went on a short vacation with my wife Diana in western Finland near the city of Pori, and during last week, the pain spread to my left arm and ached so bad that it kept me awake at night.  Last Thursday, as we were driving back to Helsinki through Turku, I had to make an emergency stop at Turku’s main hospital, as the agony was unbearable.  On Friday last week, I made plans to see Dr. Karila, as I could no longer cope with my physical condition.  However, I had a match in Rovaniemi, Finland at the 2013 edition of the Simerock Festival last Saturday, where I wrestled in a tag team main event alongside “Wildman” Heimo Ukonselkä against Stark Adder and FCF champion King Kong Karhula.  My injury was further aggrevated during that outing, although I tried my best to play it safe.

This news puts a real damper on my upcoming BWA (British Wrestling Alliance) Catchweight title defense against the USA’s 190kg monster Cannonball Grizzly in Kotka, Finland on August 24 at FCF Wrestling’s Rock & Wrestling Rampage at Route 66.  Dr. Karila told me that I would be risking paralysis if I stepped into the ring to grapple with my neck in this current condition.  Of course, I got scared good and proper, and there is no way that I would be willing to put my health at unnecessary risk.  I am not willing to look at ending up like one of my old wrestling idols, Tom Billington aka The Dynamite Kid, who has already spent the last 20-years in a wheelchair following the end of his wrestling career.

The fact is that right now, I am looking at a herniated disc between my C6 and C7 vertebrae.  I have been unable to sleep for almost two weeks, due to the 24/7 pain that courses through my left arm, numbing my index and middle fingers.  My left shoulder blade and upper trapezius feels like a smoldering fire has set into it, and I really do not wish this anguish on even my worst enemy.  All I can say is, that I hope the Good Lord above has mercy on my predicament.

The MRI scan shows the damage to my neck

The MRI scan shows the damage to my neck

Dr. Karila himself is a former wrestler (albeit not a pro wrestler like myself) and he has acted as the official doctor of the Finnish Olympic wrestling team in the past, so you can guess that he knows his stuff.  When the doctor told me to just sit out for six to ten weeks, I took it pretty hard.  After all, I am an athlete, and a top athlete at that in my chosen sport.  It is not easy for me to turn away bookings and walk away from active competition.  At heart, I am a warrior, and my blood calls me to fight.  That said, right now, my battle is with my physical well-being.

The following video documentation of my injury and MRI was filmed by director Oskari Pastila, who has been filming a documentary entitled Spandex Sapiens, about my wrestling career and persona, over the past four years (the film will be out in early 2014):

I am chagrined to forfeit my title match in Kotka on August 24 with Cannonball Grizzly.  FCF Wrestling will find a suitable replacement main event for Rock & Wrestling Rampage at Route 66, and you can bet that Cannonball Grizzly will have the fight of his life on his hands once FCF officials have deemed his opponent for the event.  Down the road, once I am healthy, I look forward to getting another chance to face the American behemoth Grizzly, whether it is for the title or just for personal honor.

Cannonball Grizzly stands 188cm and weighs 190kg

Cannonball Grizzly stands 188cm and weighs 190kg

Thank you for your support in this trying time.  Your prayers are appreciated.