Friday, April 13, 2007

Imus & A Lesson for Pro Wrestling

Unless you've been living in a cave or have been in a coma, you know that famed radio personality, Don Imus was fired by CBS yesterday for making disparaging, racially charged comments about the Rutgers University Women's Basketball team.

Imus referred to the women on the team as "nappy headed ho's," which sparked an outcry from many quarters, including the Reverend Al Sharpton and the Reverend Jesse Jackson for Imus' dismissal. Major advertisers pulled their sponsorship from Imus's show and finally CBS President, Les Moonves, pulled the plug on Imus, an icon in the world of radio.

I don't believe that Imus was being especially mean or vindictive at heart. This was most likely an irresponsible and ill-considered attempt at humor. I do believe that CBS was right in cancelling Imus' show and removing him from the airwaves.

Many times in our society, humor of the racial kind, while seemingly harmless on the surface, is a softer way of perpetuating stereotypes and limiting people by categorizing them unfairly.

Pro wrestling has openly and blatantly done this for decades. And it's wrong.

I will never forget a car ride I had with a former WWE star who will remain nameless. He maintained that "blacks never draw," ignoring of course, Bobo Brazil, Ernie Ladd and numerous others, up to and including The Rock. The statement came from a man I have a great deal of respect for and who taught me a lot. But on that point, he was absolutely wrong.

I don't know how many old school wrestlers and old school wrestling devotees have told me that women's wrestling sucks and will never draw on its own. "It's just a little T&A break for Dad before the "real matches" come on," said one such individual. Our World Women's Wrestling promotion and Dave Prazak's SHIMMER promotion, are proof that the opposite is true.

I always had a special admiration for women in wrestling, because it's a tough world to enter. Before places like WWW and SHIMMER existed, women's matches were usually less than 10 minutes and presented purely as a special attraction. Seldom in the Northeast did you ever see an angle involving women wrestlers on their own. Elsewhere, it was a rarity.

While WWW and SHIMMER have a long way to go, the fact that women are finally having a forum for good credible matches and seizing the opportunity, is a major step forward for the entire business. It also underscores that talent, when treated as such without regard to gender in this case, or race, will rise to the occasion and deliver.

Unlike the portrayal of women in WWE, not all good wrestlers have to have bikini bodies. And not all male wrestlers have to be jacked up, looking like they stepped out of the pages of Muscle & Fitness.

I think a big reason why WWW has worked so well, and why NECW has also, is that we're more about credible talent that average people can relate to and then become engaged in their stories. Wrestling will always prize the element of the larger-than-life, whether in body type or character, but talent first and image second is what drives good professional wrestling.

Back to Imus. I don't think the public world of broadcasting (or the public world of pro wrestling to a lesser extent) should tolerate the perpetuation of racial discrimination or stereotypes and I applaud Les Moonves for both his decision and his statement denouncing the incident. High social standards are not exactly a hallmark of professional wrestling. But we are a business of the people - ALL the people - and to devalue anyone, in any way, due to their race, gender, sexual preference or nationality is both morally wrong and just bad business.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

WrestleMania 23 and WWE's Effect on The Indy's

I watched WrestleMania 23 at our stomping grounds - Good Time Emporium in Somerville, MA this past Sunday night. One measure of the health of WWE is how many people go to Good Times to see a PPV event. The cover charge is $5 and a lot of area fans who don't want to pay the high cost of getting the PPV at home head to Somerville to catch these events.

Sunday's crowd was the largest I've seen in a very long time. You attribute that to a lot of factors, including this year's Donald Trump angle creating a lot of mainstream publicity.

As for the show itself, overall, I enjoyed it. When WWE puts on a WrestleMania, all the stops are pulled out and everyone has his working boots on. Was it the best Mania in terms of matches? No. But it was worth the time and money and, of course, the biggest wrestling event of the year on the planet is a must-see.

Without dissecting the card match by match, I'll offer a few impressions. First off, I found it interesting and alarming that so much of the card hinged on older talent. Undertaker, Michaels, Benoit are all on the downhill slope of their careers. Austin is done as an active wrestler. The ECW "Originals" are also guys who have more career behind them than in front of them.

Then there is John Cena. Ask me about John Cena and I will tell you he is a gentleman, conducts himself as a pro at all times, comes from a terrific family and works his ass off with as much passion and dedication as you will ever see. Yet, in spite of all that, he is booed unmercifully at times. One sign in the crown at Mania said "Cen-A Nuff." Man, how cold-blooded is that?

To me, what Cena lacks is that certain aura that the big stars have. Michaels made Cena look like a boy at times and I felt so badly for him. Michaels was terrific in the match and it was a hell of battle. Cena was good, but looked like he was intimidated by the skill and charisma of Michaels and the spot itself. It's a lot of pressure to be a top guy in WWE. Cena has the work ethic, but the question is can he develop that presence that the great ones all have in common.

Watching any WrestleMania also makes me think about the state of the business in general, specifically the independent business.

We are in an interesting time. I see PPV buy rates falling, probably due to over saturation and competition from MMA. I see live gates coming around for WWE in smaller venues. I don't see that one breakout guy that every talks about and tries to emulate.

Independents in New England seem to be seeing an upswing in business. In the case of NECW and WWW, I think much has to do with the vast improvement in the quality of the product, the marketing and the dedication of a staff that really wants the company to succeed. I also think that WWE not having that breakout guy makes people more interested in wrestling in general, as opposed to just what they see on TV. Wrestling will always be driven by stars, but right now people are being a lot more open about who and what a star is. Local heroes (and villians) is a far more viable concept now than it was a few years ago. We are getting more and more people who have never been to an independent show before and come away enjoying it and appreciating the experience. We are also getting more families with kids looking for an inexpensive night out.

I see a bright future ahead for our company and the business in general.