Posts Tagged ‘WWF’

There comes a time in every man’s life, when he looks at what he has accomplished and accumulated to this point and what lies beyond, yet to pursue.  I found that when I hit the pivotal age of forty back in 2013, I took stock of my life at large and contemplated the brevity and breadth of it all.

guitar man 4

When you step back and take a look at your life from the outside, you can assess things at face value for what they are and what they have meant. (Photo: Hannu Eskelinen)

Forty is like a half-way marker.  It’s a brutal, unforgiving assessment of what is, for real.  It’s half-way to eighty, and eighty is an age that spells pretty much the end of one’s life here on Planet Earth.

I look back at the greatest, single influence on my pro wrestling career early on, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, the 16-time world heavyweight champion in our grand game of professional wrestling.  I recall the year 1990, when Flair was wrestling against Lex Luger at a WCW (World Championship Wrestling) pay-per-view event called WrestleWar ’90, that it also happened to be on his birthday.  The announcers tried to sell it as if it was Flair’s 40th birthday, when in reality, it was his 41st.  Nonetheless, I remember this detail speaking to me in volume even back then.

Ric Flair

When I started my pro wrestling career, I always asked myself “What would the ‘Naitch do?”

My old friend Chris Jericho currently wrestles for WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) as their US Champion, a belt that he will be defending against fellow Canadian grappler Kevin Owens next weekend on April 2nd at Wrestlemania 33.  Jericho is about three years my senior, now age 46.  He’s still doing well, hanging in there at the top of his game, arguably on one of his last runs with the company.  I applaud him.  He’s done very well, staying in shape and being able to connect with a changing audience and parlay his character across various generations of wrestling fans.  Yet, the end is drawing nigh, even for my old pal Y2J, simply based on age.

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When I started my pro wrestling career in Calgary, Canada in 1994, they used to call me Jericho Jr.  Really, I didn’t mind.  Chris has done incredibly well in the business, and I’m happy for him.

Now, back to my original point: the things left to pursue in one’s chosen career or life path.  Tallinn, Estonia was such a waypoint for me personally this past weekend, the reason being that the event I took part in was a professional boxing card.

For the longest time, since the onset of my personal pro wrestling career, I’ve been fighting to defend the credibility of my fighting art, called professional wrestling.  There have always been detractors and shit-talkers and there always will be.  Still, I have always felt compelled to defend the honor of my business, which many see as a faux sport.  Like one of my early role models, Bret “Hitman” Hart, said in his autobiography some years back, “It seems as though I’ve been defending professional wrestling my entire life.”

Bret Hart vs Ric Flair

Bret Hart and Ric Flair slugging it out back in 1992 in the World Wrestling Federation.

For me, I’ve always prided myself on being legitimate when I step into the ring.  I take my sport seriously.  Regardless of how many people – some contemporaries included – have prostituted and bastardized our trade, for me, I’ve always strived to take the higher road of credibility.  I’ve gone the extra mile and fought tooth and nail to retain integrity in the believability of professional wrestling.  For me, it’s a matter of professional pride.

Being able to parlay my skills and take part in the Warrior Fight Series 1 event this past Saturday night in Tallinn, Estonia on March 25 was a true milestone for me.  It was history in the making.

Photo by Karli Saul 15

Photographer Karli Saul captures my ring entrance in Estonia in dazzling colors.

I was able to step into the ring in front of a virgin audience, engage them and win them over, making believers in the process, as I fought against a true athletic stud in Vladimir Kulakov of Russia.  This was an international match of epic proportions: the time-tested, world-traveled ring veteran against the younger Russian pro wrestling champion and a literal wolverine amongst his peers.  It was action and reaction, just as professional wrestling should be, in front of an audience that was there with an open mind, ready to make their initial assessment of the grappling game that is professional wrestling.  It was an ambitious endeavor to win over a new fan base and build where no one else had built or wandered before.

Photo by Martin Ahven (2)

Photographer Martin Ahven gets a good shot of the intensity of my match with Kulakov.

It is in this – venturing out into new, uncharted territories – that I take personal gratification in at this stage of my pro wrestling career.  I pioneered the business in Finland back in 2003 along with promoter Patrik Pesola, which launched an entire scene in the country.  My hallmark is set in stone as the most successful professional wrestler ever out of the Nordics and the northern sector of Europe.  My track record globally attests to that claim, and my championship reigns worldwide, along with my lengthy list of name opposition all around the world support that argument.  Now, I need a new mountain to climb.  A new challenge to contest.

Tallinn was the beginning of another chapter in my personal pro wrestling career.  I want to thank the promoter of EST Boxing, Mr. Grinkin, for having the faith to present pro wrestling on his card.  I want to also thank the Estonian media at large for covering the match to the degree that it has received media attention, which you can see e.g. from the link below:

http://sport.delfi.ee/news/voitlussport/poks/delfi-video-esmakordselt-eestis-ameerika-wrestlingu-sou-naerutas-tondiraba-publikut?id=77670846

Every one of us has the chance to build our own legacy in whatever our chosen endeavor is.  The true question is, how much heart do you really have to pursue your ambitions and goals, turning your dreams into a reality?

Life is short.  Make yours spectacular.

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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!

Well, I didn’t manage to claim my third Eurostars European wrestling championship this past Sunday night in Holland.  I came oh, so close, but alas, no cigar.  I had Belgium’s Bernard Vandamme on defense for the bulk of the 21:10 of the title match that we wrestled at Dutch Pro Wrestling‘s biggest event of the years, Grand Slam 2014, but in the end, I got caught out with a crossbody dive out of the corner that Vandamme just barely managed to keep me down with for the final three-count.

Telling Vandamme that he's got it coming to him

Telling Vandamme that he’s got it coming to him.

I have an outstanding issue with Vandamme, over the fact that he managed to upset me for the WNC (Wrestling New Classic in Japan) championship back in March this year, and I have not even gotten my rematch for that title.  Vandamme is a double champion right now, holding both the WNC and Eurostars European championships, and as I am a two-time titleholder of the Eurostars title, the Eurostars championship committee decided that I was up for their title this time in Holland, and the WNC title was not part of the picture.

Looking to make Vandamme tap ... he didn't.

Looking to make Vandamme tap … he didn’t.

Vandamme and I have a long and storied history against one another, dating all the way back to the latter half of 2006, when we first grappled.  We’ve fought in many countries and had some classic battles, and somehow, the issue is still there between our parties.  This past Sunday night in Poeldijk, Holland, was another chapter in our rivalry, which will go down in the history books with Vandamme retaining his gold, which brings to mind what former WWF commentator Gorilla Monsoon stated back in the day, “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”

Butterfly double-underhook suplex plants Vandamme for a nearfall.

Butterfly double-underhook suplex plants Vandamme for a nearfall.

Holland was my 19th country in professional wrestling to date over the past 20-years, and I would like to extend a huge thank you to the entire DPW organization, who were all incredible folks and a true pleasure to work with!

20-year anniversary of my wrestling debut.

Today as I opened my Facebook, I was greeted by my old pro wrestling coach Lance Storm, who reminded me that today – January 7 – marks the 20-year anniversary of my very first wrestling match, which was coincidentally against Lance himself.  The bout was held at the Victoria Park Civic Center, next to the legendary Calgary Saddledome, on the premises of which Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling used to run, at the old Corral.

The story behind my debut against Lance Storm is a peculiar one.  Over the course of 1993, Lance and I were training partners at The Gym in Calgary, where we would train together three times a week.  During our weightlifting sessions, Lance one day told me: “I see the passion that you have for pro wrestling.  If you want, I will train you.”

Did I take to his offer like a fish to water?  You bet I did!

Lance had a guy coming in from Australia for wrestling training, and he needed a sparring partner for the guy.  Never did Lance even once ask me to pay him a single penny for coaching me back then.  He did it out of friendship, to help out a poor 20-year-old kid, who had a big dream.  For that, I am forever grateful to him.

My first official promo pic from 1994 (photo by Sam Leppänen)

My first official promo pic from 1994 (photo by Sam Leppänen)

The promoter of Rocky Mountain Pro Wrestling, for whom I worked as a ring announcer at the time, and for whom Lance wrestled, did not like me at all.  His name was Ed Langley, and for anyone who would like to get an understanding of who is in question, I warmly recommend that you read my old buddy Chris Jericho’s stellar life story, A Lion’s Tale.  To make a long story short, Ed Langley hated my guts for whatever reason.  He tried to blackball me already back when Beef Wellington was running the show by dispelling bullshit stories that I was trash-talking the RMPW operation to Smith Hart, older brother of former WWF/WCW champion, Bret “Hitman” Hart.  Ed Langley ousted me for a few months from RMPW when he took over as promoter in 1993, but once my other old wrestling coach Karl Moffat (Jason the Terrible in Stampede Wrestling and for Carlos Colon’s WWC in Puerto Rico) took over as booker, I was brought back into the fold.

I told Lance of Ed Langley’s disdain for my person, concerned that Ed would not allow me to train at the Hart Bros. Wrestling School, which Ed more or less headed up, and for which Lance was a trainer.  Even though the Aussie guy was slated to come in, Lance told me: “If Ed doesn’t want you, then I won’t do it.”

There’s a lot of water under the bridge, but that’s something I won’t ever forget.  I remember where I came from, I recall my roots.  I’ve never gotten a big head over the success that I have enjoyed in professional wrestling, because if it wasn’t for Lance, who even vouched to be my first opponent and set me off properly onto my trek into the wrestling world, maybe I wouldn’t be part of the game today.  Lance gave me a competitive seven-minute match, letting me shine in the process, and in so doing, he was very unselfish.  I should also mention, that Chris Jericho gave me and old pair of his wrestling boots and lent me a pair of his Sudden Impact (his tag team in Canada with Lance) tights to get me started as an active grappler for that match.

Me against Lance Storm in my very first match ever (photo by Rob Haynes)

Me against Lance Storm in my very first match ever (photo by Rob Haynes)

So for the 20th anniversary of my wrestling debut, I would like to dedicate this memory to Lance Storm – a hell of guy and a great wrestling coach to boot!

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For anyone who would like to do a little follow-up reading to this blog about the early stages of my career, Slam! Wrestling’s website out of Canada has an extensive article on me, which can be accessed HERE – it’s worth the read!