Thursday, July 26, 2007

Catching Up: Notes On Recent Shows, WWW This Sunday & More

It's been busy times here and we've got some catching up to do.

The June 30th NECW show in Quincy was another great house and another great night of action. It was especially good to see Fergal Devitt back in NECW - at least for one night - as he faced West Perth, Australia's Mikey Nichols in a first round NWA World Title Tournament match. This was a great bout with Fergal, the adopted home town hero, getting the "w."

Fergal, who spent a few months with us about a year and a half back, has become a rarity in the business - a foreign wrestling living and working full-time in Japan. "Prince" Fergal Devitt is a top young star with New Japan Pro Wrestling and is a name you will be hearing much more about in the years to come. Mikey Nicholls proved himself to be a great young star as well and another one who is a future superstar. If you were there on June 30th, you saw two of the wrestling world's best kept secrets in action.

The July 20th NECW show in Quincy was a tremendous event as well. The big news coming out of that card was "Straight Edge" Brian Fury finally getting the #1 contender's spot and facing D.C. Dillinger for the Triple Crown at BIRTHDAY BASH 7, Saturday night, August 18th inside a steel cage.

Fury has really come on strong since coming back from when Dillinger injured him in December. He's wrestled some of his best matches since that time as well, including his performance in the IRON 8 and last Friday epic battle with "Die Hard" Eddie Edwards. Does that mean Fury is a lock to defeat Dillinger in the cage? I'm not so sure.

In spite of all of his underhanded tactics and the those of the Dynasty, D.C. Dillinger has become a great wrestler in the past year. In my opinion, Dillinger hasn't had a bad match since becoming champion. The cage is indeed a weapon and with that added factor, it could be the champion with the advantage, though I think this one may be too close to call. One thing is certain. These guys are going to go out and give it 1000% at BIRTHDAY BASH 7, and you'd be wise not to miss it.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Speaking of things you shouldn't miss, World Women's Wrestling returns this coming Sunday, August 12 at Good Time Emporium in Somerville, MA. It's a 7 PM bell time and it should be a wild night of action.

One of the great feuds this year has been Tanya Lee and Lexxus. This should be a barn burner of a bout as these two have really stepped it up in recent battles.

If you haven't seen World Women's Wrestling, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. Simply put, WWW is the most unique pro wrestling promotion in America. Yeah, I know Shimmer gets all the "indy buzz," but WWW is something different. Not a collection of matches, but a real women's pro wrestling promotion.

I hope to see you there.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Later this week, and I'll have a separate post dedicated to it, we will be uploading the 100th episode of NECW TV.

In the TV world, that's quite a milestone. We will have some classic clips on the show, as well as current matches and promos leading up to WWW and BIRTHDAY BASH 7. It will be a must-see episode, so look for it later this week.

Thoughts On Wrestling History, A&E Special & Book Review: National Wrestling Alliance: The Untold Story of the Monopoly That Strangled Pro Wrestling

The history of pro wrestling is a subject that is near and dear to me for a lot of reasons. Pro wrestling was never a business that relished its past as much as it should have. As a result, many important facts, figures, personalities, footage and stories that shaped this uniquely American creation called professional wrestling have vanished into the mists of time.

In 1996, I was contacted by a producer from a company called Actuality Productions. They were working on a TV special for the A&E Network which they described as a 2 hour history of professional wrestling and they were looking for people to assist them on this project. I asked the producer, Bob Ziel and his boss Chris Mortenson, how they viewed the project, what they knew about pro wrestling and what their notions about it were. Ziel said that he had very little knowledge of pro wrestling and had no preconceived ideas about it. Chris Mortenson said that he wanted to do the subject justice and not simply make fun of it. For me, that was the right answer, and I provided them with names, phone numbers, sources of footage, photos and advice. I even convinced a few people that they needed to participate.

After all, here was a TV network that was going to devote two prime time hours to the history of pro wrestling, what better opportunity would the legends have to tell their story.

I was unexpectedly asked by the producers to appear on camera in the role of "wrestling historian" to provide some commentary to fill some gaps in the special.

The end result was a program called "The Unreal Story of Professional Wrestling" and when it first aired it was the highest rated program in the history of the A&E Network. I believe it is their largest selling home video of all time.

While the special was criticized by many for being inaccurate and leaving out many key figures, I thought that it was well produced and a decent thumbnail sketch of how we got from what pro wrestling was to what it is. No one is going to get a history of 100 years of anything 100 percent right in two television hours.

"The Unreal Story" did make an invaluable contribution to the business of pro wrestling. It made millions of people aware that pro wrestling did indeed have a history. It proved that people were just as interested in the past as they were in the present. And an imperfect history often breeds other attempts. "The Unreal Story" spawned the interest in more TV specials and documentaries, books by former greats and the marketing of older footage into videos, DVD's and the creation of WWE's 24/7 Video On Demand service.

A&E still shows 'The Unreal Story of Professional Wrestling" from time to time. I am very proud of that special for what it was, and just as proud for what it inspired.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I just finished reading "National Wrestling Alliance: The Untold Story of the Monopoly That Strangled Pro Wrestling" by Tim Hornbaker, published by ECW Press.

If you are an aficionado of wrestling history or someone who is interested in the subject, this book is an essential volume in your library of wrestling literature.

It tells the story of the National Wrestling Alliance, formed in 1948 by a group of promoters who were being frozen out of booking key talent by the wrestling syndicates and cartels of the day. The NWA sought to be a fair governing organization that not only shared talent with its members and friends, but sanctioned a single set of World Champions and built a positive image for the sport.

By the 1950's, the NWA became the preeminent authority in pro wrestling. It boasted roughly 40 member promoters worldwide at its peak. In becoming the powerhouse conglomerate it turned into, the NWA promoters employed some of the same tactics it was formed to combat, such as blacklisting of wrestlers who took sides against member promoters. It also used questionable tactics to stifle competition against its members.

These practices brought complaints, which eventually brought the attention of the Federal government to the NWA, and a 1956 investigation into anti-trust violations. The case was settled by the promoters signing a "consent decree," which acknowledged past unfair practices and promised not to engage in them past that point.

Tim Hornbaker's book chronicles this period well and the book is a treasure trove of information on the key figures of the era, many of whom would be totally unfamiliar to today's fan.

Just reading about the roles of men like Sam Munchnik, Pinkie George and the true father of pro wrestling, Joseph "Toots" Mondt, make this book a must-read.

The 372 page volume, while generously packed with information, is not without its flaws.

The book suffers, in my opinion, from being too ambitious. While trying to cover every aspect of the NWA from its formation to its decline to it's current incarnation, some of the information is glossed over or not given the proper depth or context.

For example, when discussing the current incarnation of the NWA, Horbaker does not explain the difference between the territories of old, which were full time offices, and the independent promoters who banded under the NWA banner under the late Dennis Coralluzzo, who were all small, part time operators.

Some of the book's subjects cry out for volumes of their own. Toots Mondt and Pinkie George are just two of the figures that I wanted to know more about. Ditto Vince McMahon Sr. This I don't consider a flaw, but the real triumph of Hornbaker's book. It gives you a lot of food for thought, but leaves you wanting more.

In spite of its shortcomings, "National Wrestling Alliance" is an important book I would recommend as being absolutely worth your time.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Steroids On The Indy Scene

Bix replied to my last post and wrote:

"On this level of the business, the monies made don't support a drug-fueled lifestyle."Then explain the physiques of much of the ROH roster, which includes a wrestler whose gimmick is that he is on steroids.There are also plenty of roided up guys in indies much smaller than ROH. It's disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

Bix, I am not suggesting that no one on the indys takes steroids. My point was that the money one makes as an independent wrestler isn't so great that you could support a significant drug habit on it. As long as the national companies put a premium on the bodybuilder physique, and endorse cosmetics over talent, people who want those spots badly enough will turn to whatever aids them in reaching that goal. Are you suggesting that ROH encourages steroid use? I highly doubt that.

I can't say for certain what other promotions do, but I can say what NECW does. We push people based on working ability, not based on physique.

The most important thing that we can do as a wrestling promotion is to continue to operate with that standard and have success with it. Meaningful change comes when you lead by example.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Weekend Notes & Even More Benoit Fallout

I want to thank all the great fans who showed up to support NECW this past Saturday night in Quincy. This was just a great night of action and you should kick yourself if you missed it, because this one was something special. I will address the card in another post.

To be honest with you, I was scared of what Saturday might bring. Our company had put up six straight sell outs in Quincy the months previous to this past weekend's event. We skipped a month due to National Guard activity that made the venue unavailable to us for the month of May. We had a tremendous event on paper going in.

The Benoit tragedy changed everything.

As much as I tried to rationalize the situation as it pertained to NECW, I was still scared. Ours is a business where when scandal hits it's like a truck driving at high speed through a great big puddle of condemnation. It's not about whether or not you will get wet, but how wet you're going to get and how fast you can get dry again. My hope was that after close to 7 years of presenting professional wrestling, our fans would see past the Benoit tragedy and know that we have yet to let them down. Thankfully, my faith in our fans was not misplaced.

The Benoit situation has started an outcry for stricter regulation both from inside and outside the industry. There is a hysteria that has begun to swirl around this issue because a heinous crime was perpetrated in this latest tragedy. Sad to say, if there were no murder and just "another dead wrestler," no one would be talking about this. But in the news business the credo is, "If it bleeds, it leads." And underneath the blood shed in this latest tragedy, there is that long string of fatalities in our business in recent years. It's easy for the press to pick up the steroid flag and fly it high. And while the Benoit situation goes much, much deeper than steroids, the sordid history of death in recent years is now becoming a media battle cry for some greater level of scrutiny in pro wrestling.

Let me say here that "wrestling" is not the villain. There is a drug culture that has grown around WWE's version of wrestling due to the "success" of the bodybuilder look. The demand by WWE for chiseled physiques on a challenging road schedule is what has to change. The view of what a "wrestler" looks like is what has to change.

In NECW, and many dozens of independent companies throughout the country, the prerequisite for getting a spot is talent and ability over cosmetic appeal. We want guys in shape, but not looking like they are ready to explode. Our job has been to build our business to where that mentality and approach becomes a viable business strategy and it is starting to happen.

It is inevitable that our company will be painted with the same stained brush as those who attack what they think "wrestling" is. It isn't fair.

My friend, Zach Arnold, wrote a very interesting piece for CBS Sportsline that you can read by clicking here. I was quoted in the article and am rather upset about it, because I covered a lot more territory that put those quote in greater perspective.

I said that most independent companies would cease to exist if they had to pay for drug testing. On this level of the business, the monies made don't support a drug-fueled lifestyle. I would suggest that in WWE, you could do all the testing you want but you can't test people and regulate how they live their lives.

What it does not say is that our company was specifically meant to present pro wrestling in a way that gets away from the image of impossibly built behemoths. In fact, if anything, wrestling has shrunk since the 80's. Very few big bodybuilder types are signing up at local wrestling schools. Most of the guys who come through the ranks these days are smaller in size.

We cannot and do not test our athletes for steroids or other performance enhancing drugs. Do some of our guys take them? I couldn't tell you. It certainly isn't apparent from the looks of them. On our level, it's not necessary. The shows are drawing because they are well booked with capable athletes telling compelling stories. Wrestling works without that type of "jacked up is better" mindset.

Let's not confuse "wrestling" with WWE. Not all of wrestling is WWE. Not every promoter has the same mindset. In fact, many of our fans, particularly families with children, express to me that they come to our shows specifically because they love wrestling, but don't like the WWE's presentation of it.

If there is any answer to the long string of premature deaths in pro wrestling, it's to create a true alternative to the drug fueled culture that WWE represents. We need companies that can be financially viable by going back to the old school philosophies of doing business. Just because it's not being done on a national stage right now, doesn't mean it couldn't work. That approach, however must start from a local level and be built upward. Few people have the patience to do that. I have spent the past 7 years building my business that way and we are slowly coming to a place where that is happening. We are still years away, but I am more convinced than ever that it will happen.

I am also convinced that pro wrestling will survive and thrive. My hope is that WWE will make significant changes, including philosophical ones, that make this business, and more importantly the perception of this business, a healthier one for those who are in it.