Call me cruel, but I always kind of liked watching a match between two guys who’d planned every move, breath, and eye-blink in advance. If two grown men have the audacity to presume that they can control the hundreds of variables waiting to blow their plans to straight to hell, then God bless ‘em. But like a NASCAR fan expecting to see a spectacular crash, I watch and wait for the carnage. Blown spots, ropes breaking, injuries, and even fan run-ins can derail a planned match.
If you blow a spot in your match, cover it the best you can. If you’re the heel and it’s in the middle of the babyface shine, cut him off and call a simple spot that puts him back on top. I used to practice blowing spots at Harley’s school so I could learn to conceal them. I’d call a spot, have my opponent mess it up on purpose, and I’d have to cover it. Then we’d switch roles. On one hand, it’s a bad idea to plan for failure; on the other hand, I knew that no wrestler is immune to the blown spot and I wanted to be prepared.
If a rope breaks, don’t panic: it happens. Be smart and safely continue your match. If the whole damn ring collapses, do the same unless instructed to do otherwise.
If your opponent gets injured, find out his status (use the referee if you need to) and, if possible, finish the match without risking further injury. If it’s a serious injury or any type of injury to the head, neck, or back, I’d advise you to end things right then. Fans can be demanding, but no reasonable person would expect a wrestler who has just been spiked on his head to get up and finish. There’s no sense in risking permanent injury just to finish a match and there’s not a standing ovation in the world worth permanent injury. Don’t try to play doctor unless you are a doctor and don’t listen to those who do. I once tore my PCL and had a half-dozen different people, including a couple wrestlers’ girlfriends who were nurses, diagnose six different (all inaccurate) injuries.
You never know the motives of a fan who interferes in a match. He may intend only to get some attention from the other fans, but he might also intend to stab out your freaking eye. Any time a fan gets involved outside the ring, get your ass in the ring immediately. Assume that his intentions are to cause you and/or your opponent harm. Don’t send him an invitation, but if the fan comes into the ring, both wrestlers and the referee should kick the absolute shit out of him until security can rescue him. Don’t resume your match until the fan is no longer a threat and you are sure that no other fans are thinking about getting involved. Deal with the consequences later, but you have to protect yourself and let other fans know that getting into the ring is off-limits and carries severe consequences. Some state commissions have specific rules pertaining to fan interference: educate yourself to and follow those rules. A promoter should instruct his security team on how to handle these situations. If a wrestler is thrown out of the ring and a fan kicks him, then the fan should be ejected swiftly and without question. The same should apply if a fan spits on a wrestler, throws contraband into the ring or at a wrestler, or does anything else to disrupt the show or put talent in danger.
NEVER touch a heckler. Under no other circumstances should you make any attempts to beat up hecklers. When some jerk-off in the crowd insults you, he’s insulting your wrestling persona, not you as a human being. There’s nothing more pathetic than the wrestler who gets physically involved with a heckler. If a fan spits on you, who cares? Let security handle him. Of course it’s gross, but if you can deal with another man’s sweat soaking into your pores during a match then you can handle a little saliva on the shoulder. Ladies, I know that it has to be annoying to those of you with any self-esteem to hear an idiot fan yell, “Show your tits.” Learn to ignore it because you’re going to hear it a lot. Always keep your composure when you’re on-stage.
The best defense against the unexpected is readiness. Misfortune doesn’t care if you’re having the match of your life, but misfortune finds well-trained, cautious, and prepared wrestlers far less often.
Chapter 21: The Elephant in the Room
In a business where nothing’s supposed to be real, the one heartbreaking reality is that professional wrestling is the most tragic business in the world. In any given year, more professional wrestlers die “before their time” than all professional athletes, actors, authors, and musicians combined.
It’s been just 20 years since Wrestlemania VI. Here’s a list of those performing that night who died before age 50: referee Joey Marella (died 1994, age 31, car accident), Andre the Giant (died 1993, age 46, heart attack), Mr. Perfect (died 2003, age 44, drug-related), Miss Elizabeth (died 2003, age 42, drug-related), Sherri Martel (died 2007, age 49, drug-related), Dino Bravo (died 1993, age 44, murdered), Big Boss Man (died 2004, age 41, heart attack), Rick Rude (died 1999, age 40, heart failure).
And over in the National Wrestling Alliance for Wrestle War 1990: Buzz Sawyer (died 1992, age 32, drug-related), Road Warrior Hawk (died 2003, age 46, heart attack), Brian Pillman (died 1997, age 35, heart disease), Woman (died 2007, age 43, murdered).
Drugs will always be a problem in wrestling, sports, and entertainment. If you’re a pro baseball player in this era, you know that everybody else is taking steroids, so you have a choice of taking them and keeping your job or riding your moral high-horse all the way to the unemployment line. You use them because the guy trying to push you out of a job is taking them. If you’re a football player, you cram pain-killers down your throat and play through injuries because there is a healthy and hungry third-round draft pick right below you on the depth chart who’d love to take your spot in the starting lineup. If you’re a movie star, you’ve been awake for three days straight because you finished the last day of filming a new movie and you walked off the set directly into a media blitz for another one of your movies that’s hitting theaters next week. You need something to knock you out for the flight from L.A. to New York City and then something to get you up once your plane lands. I’m not condoning any of this, but it’s reality to some of the people who live it. Unfortunately, wrestling combines the evils of sports and entertainment.
It’s not just the drugs and alcohol: there are A-list actors and musicians who are drugged-up at this very moment and who will live to see their great-grandchildren. Life on the road, stress, and weight might be contributing factors. Wrestlers, at least in the era when wrestlers didn’t look like your paperboy, were much larger than the average guy. Heavier people have a shorter life expectancy.
The topic of wrestling unions is a dead horse I’m not going to beat other than to say that there are players’ associations, actors’ guilds, etc., to represent athletes and entertainers and nothing like that exists in wrestling. Things will never change because the talent will never unite. In wrestling and every other business, if you’re not willing to do what’s expected of you, there are hundreds of guys who will.
At its worst, wrestling is a cruel, heartless business that abuses and spits out its performers. Sadly, it seems that a lot of the former wrestlers who are doing well now are those who got in the business, made their money, and got out before they wound up broke and alone. But at its best, wrestling can be a wonderful experience like nothing else.
We’ve suffered great loss in this business and will continue to do so. Even if wrestling cleaned itself up today, many past and current wrestlers have done irreparable damage to their bodies in many different ways and will suffer the consequences. And while it’s tragic to see our heroes die young, I think some of them would tell us that the story of a man punching a time clock at a job he hates — who settled for less than everything he wanted out of life, traded his dream for a cubicle, and lived his life full of regret and sorrow until the day he died of old age — is really the tragic story.
The best we can hope for as fans of professional wrestling is that changes are made and that casualties from this generation and generations that follow are fewer than those we have dealt with from those who preceded us.
Chapter 22: Being Booked for WWE
Congratulations, you’ve just been booked for your first WWE event. This probably occurred either through a promoter or a wrestler upon whom they call regularly to provide enhancement talent (or jobbers, or extras) when they are nearby. Maybe even somebody from Talent Relations liked your promo package and wanted to take a look at you.
You’re almost certainly booked for an event that will be televised; it’s unlikely that they’d ever book you for a house show. You’re not booked to wrestle, just to show up: you get your $250 whether they have a spot somewhere for you or not. That spot, if it exists, may be to wrestle, dress up like a cop, or be a fan in the crowd. You really never know. The first time I did a show for WWE, I got to work a match (as did five others), but they also booked ten extras to sit in a strip club to get beaten up during an APA/Right to Censor brawl. That’s a rough way to make $250, eh? Look at some strippers and take a punch. On second thought, I guess it would depend on who was throwing the punch.
When you get to the show, don’t act like a fan who won a backstage pass. Don’t speak unless spoken to, interrupt a conversation between people to introduce yourself, stare at Mickie James for more than four consecutive seconds — it’s hard not to, but control yourself — or ask for autographs.
I guess things have changed now, but in my day we shared locker rooms with the WWE Superstars. During our first WWE booking, Superstar Steve and I shared a locker room with Triple-H, Kurt Angle, Al Snow, Chris Jericho, William Regal, Chris Benoit, Rikishi, X-Pac, Grandmaster Sexay, and a few others. Now I believe they have an “extras” locker room, where local talent gets dressed.
Backstage, there’s a lot going on. Just stay out of the way. You will be instructed on everything you need to do. Be the first one geared up and ready to go. I was given this advice by Kevin Kelly, a longtime WWE announcer and Talent Relations rep, and surely enough, an injury opened a spot for me (the only enhancement guy geared up) to get squashed by Justin Credible in his first televised WWE match since his Aldo Montoya days.
Understand that you are probably the only person in the building thinking about you getting a contract. Honestly, they probably aren’t even taking much, if any, of a look at you. Trevor Murdoch went there nine times before being signed. He was signed to a developmental deal because Chris Benoit noticed he was doing some stretches learned in Japan and that wrestler asked John Laurinaitis to watch him. Trevor sold his ass off during his enhancement match and they just happened to be looking for a strong-working cowboy-type at the time. The stars aligned just right: he never set foot in a developmental territory and was a World Tag Team Champion three months after doing the enhancement match.
Be ready for a match, but don’t be devastated if it doesn’t happen. Plans change by the second, and at no time during the decision-making process do they worry if your feeling will be hurt. Keep your fingers crossed, though. Who knows? You might catch their eye and the stars might align just right for you as well.
NEXT WEEK: Chapter 23: Connecting With the Audience and Chapter 24: Backyard Wrestling
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