Posts Tagged ‘memphis’

Earning Respect

June 20, 2008

I had always been under the impression that the key to the respect of a person was not through actions to impress that person. This meant that I would not go out of my way to emphasize myself or cater my actions to their desires in an effort to attract their attention. This typically led to me often be characterized as stubborn, disrespectful, or conceded.

To be clear, I grew up most of my young life disaffected by peer pressures. I think this clearly had an affect on my lack of need to conform and or be accepted by my peers. This is not to say that I was popular by any means with loads of attractive women throwing themselves at me or building bombs in the basement because no one wanted to sit with me during lunch hour. I witnessed many around me that struggled to fit in somewhere and this directly contributed to how they would garner respect while losing identity. Thinking back to my young years, I don’t necessarily remember trying to get the respect of anyone. I can more so remember disappointing people.

I always have said that the professional wrestling scene reminded me much of high school. It was almost as if those around me never left or would forever think their best times were of high school. The childish behaviors and antics are interwoven throughout the professional wrestling business. In the past, I’ve touched on some of the comedic and or destructive happenings that would make you wonder if any of us ever grew up. I would say that for many of us were fueled into wrestling careers based upon childish love of the business. I’m basically saying that many of us are very immature in the most polite way I can think.

Coming back from a way off course beginning, the intertwined respect aspect of the wrestling business was introduced to me very early in my up start. Again, the emphasis of my focus was different on how to go about earning that respect. I was typically surrounded by those trying to out-shining someone while others chose to mimic someone. Those that tried to out-shine more often than not ended up injured and those that mimicked were typically labeled as clones. Being a clone gave you something of a fighting chance of being labeled as a good or bad clone but the injured out-shiners often were labeled as idiots. I can think of five off the top of my head that were as much of idiots as they were labeled.

So all during this time, like the song says, I did do it my way. Many may have not agreed but I definitely did it my way with little compromise or abandonment of who I am as an individual. As far as getting back to the whole point of respect, I often earned it in a much different way than those around me. I would say that this is the reason that I may have been able to stand out amongst of talented crop of workers for a short period of time in the wonderful world of independent wrestling. This was never more evident than the victory of winning over an old-timer by the name of Lance Russell.

Shortly upon bursting onto the rather lack-luster independent wrestling scene in the Memphis territory, I had a chance to meet a wrestling commentating legend and perennial Memphis wrestling announcing staple Lance Russell. I knew enough to know that he had been around almost as long as dirt and there were few in this particular territory that didn’t admire and respect him. He had been involved in wrestling in this capacity for more than 50 years with so many of the wrestlers and fans alike growing up with this man at live events as well as on local, and for a short time national, television.

Because I was from the North East, my only exposure to him was his short television stint as a commentator in World Championship Wrestling. While it wasn’t technically the fleeing days of that promotion, it was definitely in a period of rocky transition to the eventual Turner product and I was not a fan of the Russell commentating style. Honestly, I was still daydreaming about how well David Crockett could sell anything and how much he added to the overall product. I wasn’t much for Tony Schiavone and I could never get into Gordon Solie either. Russell reminded me much of Gordon Solie and their commentating style did not make me a fan the way David Crockett did. Despite all of this, countless fans adored Russell and many wrestlers were desperate for his respect.

The privilege of Lance Russell’s commentary during my matches was made aware to me shortly upon my arrival to Memphis. At the time, I had come from working shows throughout the country in front of audiences ranging in the hundreds to thousands. This period of time was definitely an upswing in the business but it was not reflected in the burnt out territory of Memphis. We were doing television tapings with notable wrestling names in front of 15 to 30 people on a consistent basis. It’s kind of hard to get excited even if you are cashing cool checks that say World Wrestling Federation on them each week at the bank. It made for interesting stares by the cute cashiers behind the counter but they were probably looking at me like that because they thought it was a counterfeit check.

So it was safe to say that Lance Russell had little fluff at all during my matches. He was usually plugging away about the local restaurant or the weather. It would be one thing if he was actually talking about an angle going on with other wrestlers at least but I couldn’t even get that. Commentary during my matches was relegated to local food or weather events in and around Memphis. It was painfully apparent that he thought little enough of me to even watch the matches in progress. This carried over to any backstage interaction with him as well. I would occasionally get a polite response when I offered a hello to him. Where the story begins to twist is when I began a lengthy series with Steve Regal.

It was obvious that Russell and Regal knew each other from their World Championship Wrestling days. They would often talk amongst themselves about the last time either of them saw another from that period. Russell was equally as polite and attentive with commentary to Regal matches as well for good reason. I luckily turned Russell’s eye when the series became during a television taping he was doing the color for. I would say that he emphasized me only because it was a match involving Regal but I don’t think that was the case. His complete attitude towards me changed to the point that he would comment positively on my work and even go out of his way to offer critiques that were openly accepted by me.

While I may have not always been a fan of Lance Russell’s work, I found a new respect for him once he recognized me. I never took anything personal for his lack of interest at all. I actually began to appreciate more the years of wisdom he brought to the business and took a great deal of pride that I was able to catch his eye. I’m sure he probably wouldn’t even recognize me these days if I bumped into him on the street but it felt good to earn his respect my way. The little yankee that did things much different was able to acquire the respect of a man that many desired.

The Day the Business Died

January 24, 2008

There are many that talk about “the day the business died” in all sorts of terms over the last several years. Some say it died when WCW was closed and the major competition in the industry ended. Others have suggested the collapse began when the focus shifted from realism to entertainment. I have been witness to “ole-timers” talk in locker rooms about how the generation of today destroyed it just because they are the generation of today. I guess it depends on if they personalize it or mean it as a generalization. I know the day the business died for me. It was the day it became a job. 

In the fall of 1999, I was “fortunate” enough to get a developmental contract with the World Wrestling Federation. I say that with a good deal of sarcasm because I never envisioned myself as having much of a chance in the “land of giants” at that time. I can say with certainty that the scope of the wrestlers overall size has changed dramatically since but at that time the only person around my size was Crash Holly and he was continuously destroyed by guys averaging double his weight. I wasn’t getting the “warm and fuzzies” from anyone there and thought that if I would ever get on national TV in the United States it would have been under the WCW banner. 

At the time, D-Lo Brown was working for the company and his influence actually got me to that try-out camp led by Terry Taylor. I had been to the camp on a few prior occasions but my size really led to a lack of overall interest by members of management like Bruce Pritchard. The “word” was that company management felt that there was no real talent on the independent circuit and they were better off developing their own talent with monsters from other industries such as football or body building. They thought of independent wrestlers more as damaged goods because of the lack of proper training and education in the field. Not only did many lack the size that management was looking for but they also had to be re-conditioned from a more intimate independent wrestling style to that of the WWF wrestling style. Don’t ask me what that was because I spent a good year trying to be “educated” on this style that seemed to change from week to week. Thanks for all those traumatic memories Kevin Kelly. I was definitely one of those guys that reflected that intimate style that needed to be re-conditioned at great length. 

I just want to say that I always had the utmost respect for those that actually put on a pair of tights and learned the craft. Whether I may have agreed or not, I would always listen and respect words from guys like Tom Prichard and Terry Taylor while with the WWF. Tom Prichard alone was a small man that survived many years in a big man sport and he was well deserving of all of the respect he had in the business. If he told me something, I listened with the respect like how a son would have for his father. The same could be said with just about wrestler I was surrounded during my tenure there even down to Jim Neidhart. My problem came more with members of management like Bruce Pritchard and Kevin Kelly. 

I found it very difficult to take the ever changing advice especially from those who did little or nothing in the business accept reap the rewards of the work of others. I would regularly be lectured on how I needed to conform to the company style that changed from week to week. One week I would be lectured by either of those two individuals on how I had to work fast and just get spots in. The following week I would be told that I needed to slow down and sell more when I was trying to do what they told me the week prior. I really think it was them just messing with me. Whether it could have been my downfall or not but I was very vocal about my distain even on some cases saying it directly to either of them. I definitely never really conformed to the standard and played the little guy that was just happy I had a job. That’s probably much of the reason that I’m here writing about it and not on TV doing it. I can laugh though because whatever it may have been I definitely did it my way and really have no regrets. I decided not to renew with them and never looked back at it as a bad decision. 

Without getting too far off track on a different subject than how this started, that long year as a developmental talent in their Memphis territory changed my perspective completely. I remember sitting next to Rodney of the Mean Street Posse while was wondering out loud a few weeks prior to his contract expiration if he was going to be renewed. As the days got closer, he talked more about whether he was even going to be resigned. I remember thinking that this is supposed to be Shane McMahon’s friend and he’s worried about a job. A few days before his contract was supposed to expire, he got his renewal papers. He was relieved and revived. It was only one week after he had signed his new contract that he was terminated. 

I loved wrestling but was terrified to become a slave to it as my only option in life. I guess I didn’t love it enough. I respect and admire those that do but I couldn’t wear that cross for me or any family I would plan to have in the future. Something as volatile and unstable as that was far too distracting to me. I knew at that point that I would not be one of the “lucky” that would make my life in the business. Not long after that, I notified the office of my intention to not renew my contract. A few months after I left Memphis, they closed support for that territory and released all but one of the guys remaining there. I’ll never really know what my future may have held with them but I certainly don’t loose sleep at night about it. Some guys are trying to make a dream of being on TV, having an action figure, or appearing in a video game. I was just having fun entertaining a few people along the way. Once it stopped being fun and became my job was the day it died from me.