Monday, July 20, 2009

Coach's Corner "You Say, I Say 2009 Edition" by Brian Tramel

----Let me start this edition of Coach’s Corner by saying first and foremost I am huge mark for Jim Cornette. He always been one of those guys that I looked up to and listened to a few times when I didn’t want to hear what he had to say. LOL Cornette booked a card in Philly, PA in 1990 that I worked on. He was nice enough to tell me, “As a wrestler, you are a good writer.” And believe me – he could have been a lot more critical of my match than that. Cornette recently got his own web site and started posting commentary about wrestling on there. And being the “student of the game” that I pride myself on – I make sure to read everything he posts on there. His current commentary got me to thinking about a lot of the old school guys – and how they don’t really accept wrestling as it is now. I do consider myself old school in many facets, but I have accepted the evolution of the business. So, that brings us to the 2009 version – “You say, I say”, but this time it is only from Corny’s last commentary.

Nothing gives me the sour belches any quicker than when a performer in the wrestling business, whether a wrestler, manager, referee, or anyone else asks any variation on the question, "What would my character say/do?"

First and foremost is the word "character". It's used constantly today, even by veterans, so much so that many who were around back in the day have to think hard to realize it's a recent term that was NEVER heard in wrestling until the late 80's/early 90's. I worked with and for some pretty major stars, and I NEVER heard "Nature Boy" Ric Flair, "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes, "Captain Redneck" Dick Murdoch, Jerry "The King" Lawler, "Handsome" Jimmy Valiant, "Cowboy" Bill Watts, or anyone else ask what their "character" would do. Clearly, by today's definition, they all had one, but back then it was called a "gimmick". If you were from Texas, you wore a Cowboy hat, boots, and used the Bulldog headlock, your "gimmick" was you were a Cowboy. Most wrestlers had a gimmick because it made them different, made them stand out from the pack. Some wrestlers' gimmick was they had no gimmick, they just wrestled. Some were more outlandish than others, and some were downright goofy. Those usually didn't get over or last long. But ALL of them that got over and drew money had one thing in common--legitimacy--that prevented them from being simply a "character".

----This has changed. I started taking photos and going into the dressing rooms in 1986. I consider that my “origin” of my life around the wrestling business. There was no kayfabe when I stepped thru the doors even though I was just a photographer. They knew I knew SOME about the working of the business and let me take photos and such. As a wrestler, BT Express, I did really think about the character – as it was just really a stab at Billy Travis and later became the “Bad Times” Express. For 18 months I stunk up shows all around this area wrestling guys like JD McKay and Jack Diamond. I was able to take a look at my work and agree with Cornette’s advice.

----When I debuted as a manager as Coach BT, I did think more and more of what my character was and what he would do. I remember Christian Jacobs saying that the actual “Coach” of my character never made sense, because of the way I dressed. But, as I explained to him and later to others – Coach BT was a combination of a lot of things. I loved the John Tolos character with Curt Hennig. “South Park” was a huge success during that time and I wanted to create a character that was larger than life. I told people that Coach BT was what a Cartman’s “Coach-gym teacher” would act like. So, even though this might not be the way they use to do it, I think a lot of the guys – even big time workers – take the time to the think out their character. I do agree with Corny, I think maybe the best at playing their characters are guys that just take their own personality and blow it up – Dustin Starr is the perfect example of a guy in this area. Does he really have to think much about his character?? Nah, but laymen like and many others would benefit from sitting down and deciding who they are before they go thru that curtain – I know it would make some of that bad stuff much better if they could explain it.

A related change the outsiders brought into our wrestling world is the use of the word "storyline". Not only was this word never used in wrestling, it would have been offensive, because it obviously implies wrestling is fake, phony, predetermined, or choreographed. Old-timers in wrestling had the good sense not to get in the habit of using words like that, and called these things "angles" or "programs", as in "We did an angle with Dusty in Florida", or "We ran a program with Stevens in California". A "storyline" would be something a scripted TV show or movie would have. By using other terms, it very subconsciously kept everyone thinking more in terms of legitimate shoot than preplanned work.

----I must have picked that up from Dave Meltzer and the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, but storyline has always been in my “inside” vocabulary. The words angles and programs – well I used them also. But, when I was booking or when I refer to booking on this site – I talk about the storyline and where it is going. The wrestling world changed – it evolved. We can sit back and bitch and moan about how in the old days stuff would be offensive, but in reality it is just change – it is hard to take for some people. I remember when Saturday Night Fever came out and everyone was talking about how many times the wold “fuck” was said in the movie – now it seems to just be a word in an R-rated movie. It is not offensive to anyone now, because everyone knows that the matches are predetermined and such.

Such as the use of the word "script". For decades, anyone who wanted to knock wrestling in a newspaper article, magazine story, TV report or whatever would use the word "script" in a snide, derogatory way, as in "the match went exactly according to the script." In actual fact, there really never WAS a script in pro wrestling. Interviews were never written out and studied, they were done off the cuff. Matches were never written out, they were called in the ring with a finishing sequence agreed to beforehand. TV shows were shot off a one or two page format with the list of matches, interviews, and times of segments. Now, obviously, that has changed as well, but it still makes me want to vomit when some crew member asks to see my "script", as anyone with a long background in wrestling will say "format" or "runsheet".

----This is another term that has become accepted by most. I really never used this word until I started booking shows. My first few shows were really scripted to the point of who vs who and why. Mainly to try to get over to the workers what I was doing. I remember my first CCW show and Derrick King was handed a script. He was shocked that I was that organized and shocked that everyone on the show was there. I understand there was never a script for interviews and such. Much like today, not everyone was good on interviews. Guys like Lance Russell and Gordon Solie would actually be the one doing the interview with just the boys following along. Ric Flair, Jim Cornette, Jerry Lawler, Dusty Rhodes and many more – they never needed to be told anything. And good workers in this area – that are good on the mic – all you have to do is say what point you want to get across as the booker and they go with it. I don’t think I ever scripted whole matches either, but would script a finish or start.

Here's another one--"Resthold". This one has gotten so prevalent even veterans use it now, but I guarantee you that if you had told Dick Murdoch you didn't like the "resthold" he grabbed, he would have put one on you that wouldn't have been very restful. Obviously, after a fast-paced high spot or series of moves, you DO grab a hold to catch your breath or regroup, but to call a hold in a wrestling match a "resthold" is to undermine the basic logic behind wrestling. A wrestling match is supposed to consist of two people applying holds to each other until one man triumphs. The holds are supposed to be dangerous, painful and punishing. The term "resthold" sounds like a treatment you'd be given at a day spa, so every time it is used, it diminishes the importance of the holds in a match, and puts more pressure on guys to do more high-impact, higher-injury-risk things to please the crowd. Another change by the outsiders that ends up punishing the wrestlers in the end.

----I have to agree here on what Corny says in that saying “resthold” applies that the holds are not dangerous. But, it is also a term that has been part of my vocabulary since I been around the business. And many of the boys use it. And I can hear Ken Wayne saying right now, “ still doesn’t make it right!” In a way maybe not, but if I am a worker in a match and our communication is well enough to knowing what we are doing, then I think it is fine. I had a long time argument with Wayne about “double down” with him saying it is “double knockout”. I polled a few of the old school guys and two of the guys that came back with “double knockout” were Randy Hales and Beau James. Just out of the respect of these guys and the business, I started calling it DKO, instead of “double down”. Does it really matter? If I am working a guy is he going to know what I am talking about if I say “double down”?? I think he will and I even ask Nick Dinsmore about this one time – he pretty much said both are used and he had no problem with it. Beau James said that when he hears terms like this he thinks the worker is a backyarder, which is not always true. Does this go for that stupid 2-finger handshake also?? LOL

The worst part of this is that seeing the rivals together in public validates the old, tired comment, "They fight in the ring, then go out and have a drink with each other after the show." This would be said by any obnoxious, wise-ass know-it-all who wanted to knock wrestling or act like he was smarter than everyone else, going back to when I was a kid. Of course, it never actually HAPPENED, at least in any territory worth a shit or involving any recognizable talent. I remember many Saturdays sitting in the parking lot of the New Orleans Famous Fried chicken in Memphis, unable to go in because the babyfaces had gotten there first. There were heel and babyface hotels, you couldn't stay in the same one because fans and rats would see you together. There were heel and babyface bars for the same reason. Now, all the work we of the previous eras did is negated by a bunch of immature jackoffs who can't prevent themselves from going out in public together. Even if the promotions don't insist on kayfabing anymore, the boys could do it themselves, as they should realize this affects THEIR money more than a multi-millionaire promoter's, but they don't.

----They had babyface and heel motels, bars and restaurants. I even remember switching cars when we worked at MSWA in Gibson, TN before going to the show. I wrote my friend Tom Robinson that was a mainstay with guys in Philly and he wrote this in response.

You know years are my weakness. My memory is the shits...I could only say late 80's, when Crockett started hitting Philly.

Kayfabe was nowhere near what it was when guys worked territories (even in the same time frame as national as some regional promotions were still around), as whe New York guys would stay ay The old Best Western in Philly, then switched to The Marriott. The Crockett crew was always Marriott. They should have changed the term to Cokefabe or Ratfabe! That was the main concern of a good portion of the boys.

Don't get me wrong, Tully didn't openly do a shot of Jack with Magnum in front of fans, but were clearly in the same bar and could care less.

From the best of my recollection, Curt Hennig always tried to protect the business, but otherwise nobody comes to mind?

----This might have been a part of the downfall to say, but I think wrestlers are looked upon as more like actors now. Is this a bad thing?? Nothing too much secret about the business anymore, so why does it matter??

All I know is this--when wrestling was a closed society, no one publicly admitted it was a work, and the way those inside the sport talked about it reflected that, the country was made up of three groups: people who knew wrestling was a work and didn't like it--people who knew wrestling was a work but still liked it because they didn't know how it was worked, why it was worked or to what extent--and people who believed wrestling was real and would never miss a match. The last group was larger than most people ever knew. Now, we've completely eliminated the last group, and significantly reduced the middle one. When someone gets in the sport today, whether as a wrestler, promoter, "writer" or whatever, they think they already know everything about it because they've studied up on the internet, and approach it like show biz instead of sport. That is what has drained the passion, emotion, and believability out of the performances, and that, in turn, is what keeps the UFC on top of the combat sports world today. It doesn't matter that UFC is real and pro wrestling isn't--it matters that the ticket-purchasing public can tell that the UFC folks are TREATING IT like its real, and the wrestling folks are not. That difference is the difference between paying to see a sporting event, and watching a comedy or variety show for free.

----Maybe Corny is right here. I mean when it was considered a “closed society” it drew more and there were more guys making money. I remember Lawler saying there was over 30 solid places that you could make a living wrestling. There really are only two now. Is this all the fault of people exposing the business? I don’t think so. I really think that in the long run people were going to find out. The internet explosion probably has hurt the wrestling business more than it realizes. I am not saying as in exposing the business, but as a whole. I have 2000 people come to my site every day – reading about results and stories. A local show draws 150 and we consider that good. A person can sit at home and watch all the wrestling they want to watch on and they can also come to this site, WNC, WON and so on to get the news.

----I also think that eventually this is just the way the sport was going to evolve. UFC was/is just a spinoff of wrestling. If anyone studied the way the Japanese business evolved, then we are following the same path. There are still tons of people watching WWE every week, going to the arenas and buying PPVs. Not nearly the total it was in people 20 years ago, but it is just what the business is today. When Star Wars debuted [lower ticket prices, but same can be said about wrestling shows today] in 1977, it grossed 322 million. I remember waiting in a huge line to see the show. Would you accept that movie today with the same special effects?? Nah – we want things like Transformers – Rise of the Fallen, which has already grossed close to 364 million.

Coach's Corner is a bi-weekly feature at RRO by Brian Tramel. Tramel was wrestling manager Coach BT in a former life with Coach's Corner being published on the internet during those days. He has since added it to RRO as his signature column.