Dedicated to Derek Stone, James Grizzle, and Dave Marquez, for taking a chance on me.
By Matt Murphy
After four years of diligent work, Tony Willis finally created the perfect barbecue sauce. It was delicious, the perfect blend of ingredients and preparation, and it left an aftertaste you’d hate to waste with a stick of gum after dinner. Tony never felt so confident in his life. His sauce was better than anything on the shelves, so there was no way he was leaving Kansas City without a life-changing victory.
Tony quit his job, emptied his savings account, and bought a classy suit and a briefcase. After his plane landed at Kansas City International, he drove his rented luxury sedan to Kemper Arena, where he entered his creation into the Great American Barbecue contest. He was certain that the grand prize, $100,000 cash and licensing deal with a major condiment company, was waiting for him.
Tony imagined his sauce flying off the shelves in every grocery store in the world and thought about how the $100,000 prize would change his life.
There was no doubt among GAB attendees that Tony’s sauce was the tastiest. Even his competitors were certain that Tony’s sauce would best theirs when the judges announced their decision. When one of the judges stepped up to the podium, Tony straightened his tie.
“The winner of the $100,000 Great American Barbecue contest … Elmer Billings,” the judge announced. Tony went numb. He risked everything he had and didn’t know why his sauce wasn’t chosen. Elmer’s sauce tasted like pancake syrup and mustard. Tony did his best to maintain his composure while Elmer posed with the winning sauce and an oversized $100,000 check for Condiments Illustrated.
Angus Larue, the sauce master for the leading condiment maker in the United States, tapped Tony on the shoulder. “Come with me for a minute,” Angus said.
In a corner of the room, Angus sympathetically handed Tony a beer. “Listen, son,” Angus began, “your sauce was outstanding. If this was a contest to decide whose sauce was the tastiest, you surely would have won, but your sauce didn’t have a name or a slogan. For Chrissake, it was in a Mason jar. How do I sell that?”
“On its flavor!” Tony snapped. “I thought this contest was about quality barbecue sauce, not gimmicks.”
“This contest was about creating a barbecue sauce we can sell,” Angus said. “It’s about marketing. Elmer brought us a barbecue sauce we can market and sell. His label has an American flag and fireworks on it. His slogan, ‘Make Every Day the Fourth of July’, man, that makes people think of barbecues and good times! I can sell that. You’ve gotta draw the customer’s attention, make him buy it in the first place, or he’ll never know how great your sauce is.”
Tony seethed in his rental car on the way to the airport. Damned idiot, he thought of Angus. He doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about.
After a couple of years, Tony gave up his dream of finding riches in the barbecue sauce industry. He sold his great recipe to an upstart burger joint and never made another jar of sauce again. Bitter, he boycotted condiments altogether.
For many professional wrestlers, this story may sound familiar. I’ve heard countless wrestlers tell me how much better they are than most of the guys in WWE today, and a few of them have actually been right. I’ve seen great workers who could do incredible things and had the right physique, but who never got a WWE contract for a variety of reasons. Some had attitude problems, others got married and decided to leave the business, some just never got the exposure to be seen by anybody who could get them signed. In most of those cases, however, the wrestler was seen but did not catch the attention of somebody within WWE who said, “Wow! We could make some money off this guy.”
At a seminar in 2004, I heard WWE’s Tom Pritchard speak to a group of guys about a wrestler named John Walters, an excellent worker best known for his time with Ring of Honor. “He’s very good,” Pritchard said. “I wish we could offer him a contract right now, but there isn’t a spot for him. John’s a great talent, but other than that there’s nothing about him that makes him different from anybody else.”
Too many guys don’t understand that there was only one Dean Malenko for a reason. Malenko was great, but there was only room in this business for one of him. Technically, maybe nobody was his equal, but a major company needs many different flavors to appeal to the masses. How successful would Baskin Robbins be if they only offered one flavor of ice cream?
Does it suck? Probably. Will it change? Not a chance.
Welcome to the age of sports-entertainment.
UP NEXT…CHAPTER 1: WELCOME TO WRESTLING