And Another Thing: Alexander Wept 8.04.02
Posted by Hyatte on 08.04.2002
A look at the business from behind a mask
The following takes place in the not-too-distant future
The sad part was, no one saw this coming.
I’m a ‘rassler--no, really. It’s what I’ve been doing for thirty eight hard years. You wouldn’t know my name, but you would recognize the face. Actually, I take that back, fans are pretty good at grabbing real names, no matter how obscure they may be. And they don’t get more obscure than mine, that’s for sure.
The name on the checks--the kind that bounce and the kind that actually represent real money sitting in a bank account waiting for you (Lord knows I’ve gotten plenty of both)--is the same as what’s on my birth certificate; but to date, no one has ever introduced me under that name. It’s always been under the gimmick. If I told you my gimmicked name, you’d know it, I think. I was never big, never that famous, but historians know me. If you ever leafed through one of the famous “Apter magazines” in the 70’s or 80’s, you would have seen me. If you’re a nut who studies the show for no reason other than self indulgence, you would know me. Jesus, almost forty years in the ring, I hope I would have some sort of legacy. Something... anything that validates the work and the sacrifice.
I know I’m being vague here. I’m opening the door for your imagination to wander. By now, you are probably trying to recall all the guys with the strange, colorful gimmicks from your old school youth who always, but never quite, made it to the big leagues. The guys you saw butchering some poor slob in full color in some territory far away from the WWF (and you kids out there who just discovered the show during the Monday Night Wars, you might as well stop; you will never guess who I am). Let’s just leave it at this: I wear a mask (trademarked the style and the name fourteen years ago), I was semi-successful with the mask, I’m great on the mic, and I have an arsenal of six moves altogether; none which take my feet off the ground.
And no, I am not, nor have I ever been Mr. Wrestling I, II, or even III, so get that out of your head right now.
I called myself a “rassler” instead of a Wrestler, and there’s a very good reason for that. WWE (and previous incarnations) employees are “Wrestlers” (trust me on this, only management calls them “WWE Superstars”, and the boys I’ve met who worked for the company take the title with much good humor. Refreshingly, many seemed downright embarrassed about it. WCW employees were called “Wrestlers”. Luchadors, high flyers, students, legends, and boys whose catchphrases are stolen by whoever is anchoring Sportscenter that week are “Wrestlers”. Your mother knows the Wrestlers. I am a ‘rassler. I work the independent circuit . I’ve never really left the indy circuit, not really. My reputation is golden; I’ve never thrown one potato (Although I have worked shoot matches); I take care of myself and the other guy in there (never hurt anyone badly and, thanks to that six move arsenal of mine, never dealt with any major physical injuries), I never demand payment up front; and I can wring a reaction out of even the most miserable sell in the seats. I’m well liked and well respected. Basically, what I’m saying is that I am pretty popular in all the dressing rooms. It’s out in the house where I get the blank stares from the casual marks and the part time Dads who don’t have any idea what else to do with their kids on those two weekends a month. I’m just a journeyman with a decent gimmick. Another mask. A rassler. See what I mean? I hope so, because we are moving on.
Anyway, my entire biography is a virtual snoozefest, so how’s about we blow it off and jump to the important stuff:
For most of--if not the entire--seventies and a good chunk of the eighties, the National Wrestling Alliance primarily hung it’s hat in Missouri (mostly because it’s two brightest champions, Harley Race and Ric Flair, were wildly over in St. Louis. It didn’t matter who they were fighting, when Race or Flair were on the ticket, St. Louis came and brought lots of money), but it had outposts scattered throughout the country. These outposts, called Territories, were the original Independents--only they operated under the NWA banner. It was a loose association at best which worked out as followed: the little territory would kayfabe their rules under the NWA policies, and kicked back a small percentage of their profits back to the home base. In return, they got the honor and prestige of being under the NWA umbrella, (which, at the time, was a far more lucrative sell to the local public, the audience felt that they were part of something more important) and once every couple of months, the territory got to headline a card with an appearance by the real NWA Champion. Yes, the NWA would ship out it’s champion to this outpost to put on a show for the fans. It gave the audience and the locker room a look at a “Big Leaguer” as it were. It was a good deal for all involved; especially the workers, who always worked a little bit harder whenever the champion was there, because the NWA sent agents with him--agents who would watch the boys go at it and maybe, hopefully, give one of them a tap on the shoulder and ask for a tape to bring back to Missouri with him. Lots of stars were made this way. Plenty of them, in fact. The territories started grooming and focusing on their young hot shots, prospects for a future career in the big leagues.
So, the NWA had it’s little monopoly going and it was, by far, the biggest company of the bunch. Meanwhile, in the Mid-West, up near Chicago and the rest off the Great Lakes regions, Verne Gagne was busy with the AWA and in the Northeast, Vince McMahon Sr. had his WWWF in operations. All three entities lived by the Gentlemen’s code. Don’t run shows in my areas and I won’t run shows in yours. Ambitious workers, looking to amass a reputation, got to try out for wherever they wanted. Everything was good back then, other than the fact that most of the boys really never made much money and were complete slaves to the whims of management; but there was always room to grow out there. Room to make a living doing what you loved. That’s all that mattered in the long run.
As for me? Well, I never worked for the WWWF, the AWA, the NWA, and the only NWA territories I spent any decent amount of time at was Don Owen’s Pacific Northwest; and by the time I got there, it was much too late.
The first twelve years of my career were spent in the WCWA: The West Coast Wrestling Association. It was based in Sacramento. The promoter was a nice guy, named Gordy Homer. Gordy always played fair, paid on time, and treated his boys like actual blood. His deal was simple: give the fans all you’ve got, make them come back next week, and I’ll give you a life; by that he meant a job and a career--no less than a plumber who gets up in the morning goes to work, and comes home to the family at night. Our hours were just different. I fell for the comfort zone aspect of his pitch. I grew up around these parts, I had a wife who was expecting our first child and recently we had bought a small house--mostly thanks to a settlement my wife got after some drunk doctor slammed into her car head on, (but that’s another story altogether)--and I had a couple of rats to call my very own. Besides, Gordy took his time to train me, groom me, and encourage me. Remember, he treated all the boys like blood, and I was no exception--the man was like a Father to me. Better than the old drunk who passed himself off as the real one--by far.
Why the NWA never established a foothold in California is a mystery. Some say it’s because Cali had licensing laws that called for more money than the NWA is accustomed to paying. Others say that California promoters, much like everyone else in that ego-driven state, proved much too unreasonable when they dealt with other promoters. All I know is that whenever someone asked Gordy if there was a chance the WCWA could become part of the umbrella, Gordy always laughed and said, “Sure, if they come, I’ll talk to them.” The thing with Gordy was, he felt that he didn’t need it. He had us working four nights a week in and around Northern Cali, including the occasional shot down in San Jose--a sneeze away from San Francisco. He had a long running deal with a local TV channel to run a studio show every Saturday afternoon. Seats were filled, the boys were local heroes, and Gordy had a two hundred thousand dollar manse right in the mountains. As far as he was concerned, he had the upper hand in dealing with the “Big Leagues”, they needed him much more than he needed them.
Of course, some of the boys wanted more than just a local career. Even as far out as Cali we felt the heat coming from the AWA. Hulk Hogan was fast becoming too hot for Verne Gagne’s to keep down. You all now the story there, all I can say from my perspective is that Verne should have given Bollea whatever he wanted. He should have took all the energy was putting into getting his son over and channeled it into the real star of that crew. Problem is, Verne was old and too set in his ways, even back then. It’s what finally killed him. The lack of vision.
But, don’t pity Verne Gagne; “vision” is something a lot of people in the business don’t have... except for one.
I should also point out that around this time, Vince McMahon Sr. had sold the whole WWWF kit and caboodle to his son, Vince Jr. No one thought much about it at the time. Again, “vision” was a pretty dirty word in the show back then.
Anyway, if some local boy wanted to leave the WCWA, Gordy would let them. Who was he to hold someone back? Besides, Gordy never signed anyone to long term contracts. It was all handshakes with him. So, he couldn’t stop them if he wanted to.
Why I stayed? Well, apart from the reasons I listed above, the truth was I loved it there. I was the WCWA long standing champion: the big star attraction. Essentially, the biggest fish in the pond. Hardly anyone wears a mask these days, but back then, they were all the rage. I think it had something to do with the whole super hero mythos. Bad guys wore sinister masks that locked their faces in a perpetual sneer while good guys wore friendly, shiny masks as they “swung” in to save the day. Back then, it was more about putting on a show rather than individual fame. It was all for the company, and the promoter could sell replicas of the masks and keep 100% of the profits, because of course it was their gimmicks. Didn’t really matter who was under the mask, they were inter-changeable for the most part. Masks were the ultimate gimmick, and the promoter’s dream.
For me, I found wearing the mask liberating. I was the invisible man. I could do or say anything I wanted to the fans. I could piss them off with absolutely no fear of reprisal. I ran with it. My promos were legendary throughout Northern California. My ring time usually lasted a good hour on any given night, because Gordy would let me spend the first ten minutes out there alone with a mic, then when my opponent came out, I’d jump out of the ring and do another ten minutes making fun of him as he stood there, doing the Babyface tried and true routine of holding up his fists and screaming: “Come on, get in here and face me!”. Oh, I was a crack up. Tons of jokes at everyone’s expense. I had the audience rolling in laughter despite themselves. My mission was always to get my opponent to break kayfabe and start laughing. It worked more than a couple of times too. Once in Japan, I had Stan Hansen laughing so hard that he actually threw up right there in the center of the ring. The Japanese fans, who didn’t understand a lick of what I was saying, sat there horrified beyond belief, which just made ol’ Stan laugh that much harder. Of course, he pounded me stiff within an inch of my life that night; but he bought me some saki afterwards. Stan took his yen very seriously.
Anyway, I was good, I was the champ, and I was a star. Did I want more? Certainly, but I bought into Gordy’s belief that the NWA would expand even more, and finally come into California to establish an outpost. I couldn’t wait. I mean, I was the champion, imagine if I got to fight Ric Flair one night? Imagine what kind of twenty minute promo could cut on HIM? I had it all typed out, then re-typed, then re-typed again.
Of course, the NWA never came to California. They never grew. Someone else did.
I remember this as if it happened yesterday. The phone woke me up. It was Saturday morning, ten o’clock.
“Hello,” I mumbled.
“Hey Dan,” it was “Johnny Sizzle” (I know, I know), at the time, a rising WCWA star. Gordy thought he was a few months away from a run with the title--my title. I didn’t care. I’d get it back soon enough. “Turn on channel forty four right now, you won’t believe what’s on.”
So I did.
“You see it?”
I told him I did.
“What do you think? Does Gordy know?”
I told him I didn’t know.
“What do you think he’ll say?”
I thought I had an idea, but I just told Johnny, “No idea.”
We both stayed on the phone and watched WWF Superstars make it’s California debut. The main event featured the Samoans face Bob Backlund and Hulk Hogan in a non-title match. Hogan and Backlund got the win after a big boot to the face and a legdrop. The fans never left their feet, from what I could tell. The announcer screamed: “I can’t hear myself talk as the audience is on their feet! The Hulkster stands proud! Things in the WWF will never be the same again!”
The announcer, Vince McMahon Jr. wasn’t lying either.
And that’s how the eighties started for me; watching that company from the Northeast invade California television and wondering to myself: when did they drop that extra “W”?
The decade ran by so damn fast. Everything happened so damn fast. I think, that’s the main reason why WCWA eventually died and Gordy went bankrupt. Titan Sports sent out it’s machine and steamrolled over everything. That Gentlemen’s Agreement that the Senior McMahon had with the other promoters, well, it didn’t wash with Junior. Junior saw a juggernaught in the company he now owned. He saw money in them thar hills, and he saw a way to take a business that was quite happy at it’s current state and thrust it into the limelight. Honestly, I couldn’t blame him. When you live next to a mountain that has gold in it, you don’t just take what peeks out of the little holes, you buy a drill and you dig out all the gold you can. You gut out the mountain for every last scrap of it’s booty. Even when everyone else who lived next to the mountain seemed content just to dig out what they could with their own hands. It’s just business.
When the WWF got big enough, it started it’s push out. Right around this time, Fritz Von Erich, with his heroically stupid mind, thought to himself: Hell, my boys are just as popular as that Hogan feller, I can do what McMahon’s doing, and promptly ceased all ties with the NWA. World Class Championship Wrestling succeeded from the NWA. Some other promoters, such as Bill Watts’ cult favorite Mid-South followed suit. The NWA tried to stave off the defections and the WWF expansion by doing the complete opposite of what Gordy thought would happen: they shrunk, emaciating themselves back to the Carolinas. After the WWF tried, and ultimately failed, to keep their programming on Ted Turner’s coveted TBS wrestling slot on Saturday evenings, the NWA eventually relocated to Georgia, where it tried it’s best to raid other territories for marketable wrestlers and built it’s strongest defense against the Titan Machine.
Being out in California, we had more time than most to stay alive under this new era. Gordy was confident that his small, successful company could survive. The fans loved us, we packed them in. He was counting on the local spirit to keep them going. It didn’t matter that more and more of the boys left him for greener pastures, (Hell, even I decided to start making trips to Japan and establish myself there). He felt he could stay under the radar. And when the houses started to empty out, he thought he could wait it out. His mantra at the time was “This too, shall pass”, followed by a wink and a smile.
And when the WWF started running house shows in California, beginning in L.A. and moving their way up, even he started to question the wisdom of that philosophy. The WWF charged a good thirty five bucks a throw for the decent house seats, and as much as sixty bucks for the floor. Yeah, the WCWA was much cheaper, but guys like Hulk Hogan, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, Paul Orndorff, and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper were not just “rasslers” like we were--they were stars; shit, they were Superstars. We, the local guys who the fans could run into at the supermarket, just couldn’t compete. It’s as if Broadway sent it’s shows, complete with their New York stars, to your town for a spell. Would you see Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick bring the entire production of The Producers or would you rather go watch your neighbors sing the Best of Gershwin off key at the local Church basement? Exactly. We never had a shot.
It broke my heart when I finally left Gordy. I think it broke his heart too. I had to go and try. My wife had caught me mid-boff with one of my rats. The divorce was reasonably peaceful, yet it completely annihilated my savings. The house was hers, of course--half my assets were hers too (God Bless the California marital laws--may whoever dreamt them up be boiled alive in honey and fed to African fire ants--preferably crotch first), and the alimony was outrageous. On top of that my son, “Little Danny”, had to be supported as well. Gordy understood, he knew I couldn’t afford to stay and watch the checks shrink. He even sold me the copyright to the gimmick--mask and name. I could scarcely afford it, but I had to protect myself, so I bought it. I packed up my things--which amounted to one suitcase and a gym bag, (did I mention how much I loved the people who came up with California marital laws?). Gordy threw me a huge farewell card, complete with a big cake brought to me in the middle of the ring after I jobbed my title to a big Japanese import named Tai Haduka. Gordy told the audience I was off to greener pastures and was treated to a solid standing ovation. I never took off my mask, didn’t want them to see my tears.
The next day, I headed out to Portland to work for Don Owen.
Now, The Pacific Northwest was on it’s last legs with the NWA, like everyone else who still operated under their umbrella which was now almost in tatters, but Don was much respected in the business, and he had enough friends within the NWA so that if he sent them a tape of a wrestler, they would watch it. No, I wouldn’t get a match with Flair working up there, but I had the shot to get some heat going in the business--finally, after a decade in California, I could get some attention.
Also, for some reason, the WWF allowed Roddy Piper to perform for Mr. Owen on occasion. Piper was the WWF’s top heel at the time, and was being groomed as Hulk Hogan’s number one nemesis. Yet, in Portland, he was still beloved. How Piper managed to convince Titan to let him go to Portland once in a while is beyond me, but he did. The only rules that came with him were that Owen couldn’t tell the people at the “Apter mags” about it. See, everyone thought PWI sent Bill Apter and company over to the territories to cover the happenings for the magazines. Nothing could be further from the truth. The promoters sent their own small “press releases” each week to the PWI offices in New York: match results, title changes, pictures, who’s in, who’s out, and current gimmick and booking lines for the writers to work with and create all their wonderful little non-kayfabe breaking stories. It was damned ridiculous, but so very important to the business in terms of getting the word out all over the country. Of course, Gordy never participated, he claimed they were NWA-centric and they never paid attention to anything beyond the “Big Three”. He had a point. In any event, Owen never leaked word to the Apter family that Piper dropped in from time to time; but he came, and he brought a WWF Agent with him. That’s why I went to work up there. In the small territory nestled among the redwoods and the rain, I finally had access to both the NWA and the WWF.
I spent three years in Portland--and worked Japan more than ever too. Don Owen was just as reputable as his legend claimed. In those three years, I managed to consistently stay near the top of the card, and on three occasions, even held the heavyweight title. I fought guys like Ricky Santana, Art Barr, “Bruiser” Bob Sweetan for a time. Billy Jack almost snapped my neck with a full nelson (to sum up Billy Jack--Billy Jack Haynes in the WWF-- in one word, repugnant would be my choice. The man was an arrogant, careless asshole, to say the very least) and had a memorable feud with Bobby Jaggers that tore up Portland for a good six months. I never got to wrestle Roddy Piper, unfortunately. Never even shook his hand. In my three years, he made four appearances there; one of which occurred while I was in Japan. No one in the company knew when he was coming, Owen kept it secret from the fans and workers alike. It would always work like this: A limo pulls up, he and an agent (Tony Garea or Rene Goulet, usually) would run into a special, blocked and locked dressing room, Don would go in, come out, tell the boys what Piper would be doing tonight--usually he’d cut a promo, I never saw him wrestle, actually.)--and then he’d leave. The agent would stay to watch the rest of us. I learned to have a tape at the ready for these occasions.
You know, the agent never asked for it. Neither did the NWA agent, who would be in the seats from time to time. Once, I just walked up to him, handed him the tape, and said, “Here, please give it a look.” I never heard back from them. They never gave me advice, they never seemed interested.
Oh well. I figured I had plety of time.
Things were getting bad in Portland as the eighties wrapped up. I decided that I was too far away from all the action to get noticed. I left Don and started working my way to the east coast, and I got a first hand look at the WWF War Machine in action.
It was a horror show. I tell you, you just can’t get a sense of what it was like on the Independent front during the boom years of the WWF unless you saw it for yourself. No one, and I mean no one went to local shows. All the talent--any who had the right to call themselves by the term, at least--were quickly snatched up by one of the bigger companies. They say the business was never better than in the eighties; well, yeah--for those who had the names and the money; for everyone else, it was a joke.
Understand this: not every territory ran under the NWA umbrella, but these outposts attracted smaller territories--true independents--to orbit a little around them, in hopes that they could get some of their talent into the outpost--and in front of the seeing eyes of the NWA. With all that gone, the territories floundered. During my run through the indy circuit, I learned just how coddled I was under Gordy and Don. I learned how deceitful and all out dimwitted small time promoters could be. Luckily, I had a good rep by then, and was likable enough to be treated a bit better than most unknowns. But did the checks bounce? Like a god damned superball they did. During the tougher times, I was making $500 a week. Now, that may seem good, but factor in gas, food, and essential juices (hey, it’s the business.), now subtract half of that for the ex and another third for Little Danny in California. Yeah, see. So, between indy gigs, I traveled to Japan more and more--and consistently sent out tapes to the NWA and the WWF.
I even started sending Verne Gagne tapes. Even though the AWA was doing so poorly at the time that they were advertising cards featuring Crusher Jerry Blackwell; problem was, ol’ Jerry’s circulation finally flattened out due to his weight. He lost his leg in the late eighties. The joke in the locker rooms was: Hey, Dino Bravo just died, Gagne already signed his corpse to a three year deal!. I’m pretty proud of that one.
How tight were things? Well, my son, little D... his name is Joshua. Joshua died after falling out of a tree and landing on his head. I was working for a company in Oklahoma. The head gasket in my Buick was out, so I was set to stay there a’while. The promoter, a snake named Gerry Luft, had stiffed his workers for three consecutive weeks going, but was quite good with the assurances. I stayed afloat by taking minimum wage security jobs here and there. Just before my match, I called the ex to speak with him, it had been some time since I talked to Josh and missed his voice. I spoke to his grandfather, who told me the news. He said that everyone was sure that Joshua died quickly, with no pain.
I hung up the phone and told Luft that I had to get back to California, right now and that he could front me the plane ticket against what he owed me. He told me to work my match first. I informed him that I was in no condition to work and he...
Um, this takes exact words. What Luft said to me was, “Get out there and do it, then I’ll care about your fucking son.”
I almost beat him to death. I almost took a life. But he had me by the balls. He had the ticket to my son in his hand. I had no choice. I went out there. Cut the best promo of my life, and worked against some kid who threw so many potatoes at me I felt like Foreman after Ali in Africa. Except, I didn’t actually feel any of them.
And for the second and last time in my life, the mask soaked up all my tears.
Luft paid me by check, again. I demanded cash. He refused. The next day, the check bounced. Luft knew it would, so he left town and to this day, no one knows what happened to him. Honest to God. By the time I scrapped together the cash and made it back to Cali, Josh was already in the ground.
I missed my son’s funeral.
In 1992, Don Owen finally gave up the Pacific Northwest company. He was the last promoter from the seventies to give it up--after sixty eight years in the business. Roddy Piper actually wrestled at the final card. They invited me to go at it with Bobby Jagger one last time. I couldn’t; I was in Japan at the time.
After Joshua died, I became a nomad, of sorts. I had no real home in California anymore, so I basically sold off all my belongings and hit the road full time. I have to tell ya, it’s fun, and a lot cheaper than you might think. I only had to come back to California once every couple of years to re-up the registration on my car (Gordy lets me use his address as my residence). Don’t tell anyone, but I haven’t filled out an income tax form in over fourteen years. All my money is paid under the table. I figured, by the time they catch me, I’ll be old enough to retire anyway. I figure, prison is just as good a retirement home as anywhere else. Three hots and a cot. So long as I plead to the judge for minimum security, I think I would have been fine. We’ll never know.
From the independent circuit, I watched the WWF fall from grace. I watched the Federal Government go after Vince McMahon with a vengeance. I watched World Class crumble under the tragedy of the Von Erich family. I watched Gagne cave in. I watched the NWA fold and turn itself into Ted Turner’s WCW. I watched WCW rise. I couldn’t tell you how many hotel rooms I’ve seen the “Monday Night wars” play out. I watched the WWF fight back and rise once more. All from the indy circuit, which is where I stayed, to this very day.
I should point out that I stopped touring Japan in 1996. Japan underwent the change a long time before America did. Stiff, hard nosed brawling had given way to lightening quick, high flying bump-fests. I knew I was done after some young turk with bleached blonde hair named “Lux Karate” (no lie) knocked out half my teeth after a swipe with his foot. I swipe I saw coming but was too damn old to stop. I was too hardened by old school ways to try to change. Japan had passed me by, I’m afraid.
You think “takeover”, you think “monopoly”, and you think the WWE. After they finally bought up the WCW name and franchise, and swallowed up ECW for dessert, everyone threw up their hands and said, “Well, now he has everything!” When it came to American wrestling, it was the WWE and nothing else, right?
You know the funny part? During the mid-nineties, right up until the turn of the new century, the indy circuit was a profitable one indeed, even for old wardogs like me. Unlike the eighties, where everyone was running to see the WWF and nothing else, the modern age wrestling scene was booming on the whole. People were fascinated by all types of wrestling, indy cards were actual sell-outs. Thanks a lot to the Internet, there was heat, merchandising profits, laughter, smiles, and lots of kids. Wrestling became a fun family outing--it became acceptable and mainstream. I made some of my best money during the nineties without once turning up on cable TV. My ex had finally re-married so I didn’t have to pay alimony anymore. I had no rent, no mortgage, and bought my cars used, cheap, and Japanese (anyone ever tell you Toyota and Honda are pieces of shit, spit in their faces. Three hundred thousand miles on my ‘93 Accord and the thing ran like a dream every day right up until I traded it in for a ‘95 Avalon with eighty seven thousand miles on it). I loved my job, and the business loved me. My rep was proven, solid, and the boys looked to me for advice. Plus, my gimmick was old school, but I knew how to cut the contemporary promo. No promoter turned me away because I kept my style bare bones (I actually tried climbing the top ropes for a flying... I don’t know what the hell I was going to drop on the poor kid, and ended up shaking the ropes so much that I just fell off. Many people in the audience told me later, during photo ops, that it was the highlight of the night). No promoter except you know who.
I became so popular that I know the WWE had heard of me. I personally became friends with one agent in particular (who shall remain nameless), and one night, over beers, he gave me the scoop on why I was never considered for at least a try-out:
“Dan,” he said. “We know you, we like you, we think you’re a riot. But you were never special. You would have jerked the curtain on your best day. Too average, baby. I’m sorry. Dime a dozen.”
But what about my promo ability? I could have been a great color guy.
“Danny,” he said, “Who are the color men? They are well known, famous workers. Lawler, Heenan, Ventura, Tazz, even Paul Dangerously back in the day. Color men are colorful without opening their mouths. You’re just a mask, brother. Wrestling’s unknown comic.”
He was right, I couldn’t argue. Hell, even Mongo McMichael was famous before he worked for WCW.
Is the story over? Nope. Now that I’ve got all the establishment out of the way, we can go to the here and now.
Business has taken a downturn, and since the WWE took over everything, they obviously were hit the hardest. On the indy front, we took a hit too. My asking price had to go down as well, but it was still higher than most non-stars at the time. The promoters I know thought they would get through it like they always did, through cheap overhead (running an indy promotion is cheaper than you think, if you have a good business head on your shoulders). The WWE, meanwhile, started their own belt tightening by eliminating their developmental territories one by one, just like the NWA did a few generations earlier (who says the business isn’t cyclical?). All the while, indy workers felt safe and secure. While WWE wrestlers were grumbling over low ended-non guaranteed paychecks stemming from half-filled arenas, we were happily getting our steady paychecks that reflected little to no change. I enjoyed it, being under the radar had it’s advantages.
Then the WWF started offering it’s workers to indy feds.
I thought it was a joke at first. It is, the ultimate joke, and it’s on us.
And no one saw it coming. It was staring us in the face and we never saw it.
The WWE, in hopes of saving money on those downside guarantees, began a program to help “entice and re-energize” the sagging market. For a standard fee, the WWE would send it’s “Superstars” out to all the Indies for a show. The Superstar will bring his own merchandise, sold by him and a WWE Agent after the event, and keep all profits from said merchandise and photo ops. The superstar will work a full main event match and will follow the booked guidelines of the local promoter--so long as he is not asked to do the job and put anyone over. All the promoter has to do is pay for the Superstar’s appearance. The WWE will pay for the Superstar’s hotel room. The Agent will be there to supervise the treatment of said Superstar, and scout for local talent. All this is explained in a glossy, twelve page brochure sent out to all Independent organizations that had lots of pictures. The last page featured the Rock, in full Brahma Bull mode, with the byline: Finally, the Rock has come back... to you?. The Superstars are on the road three hundred dates a year anyway, what’s one little stop-over going to hurt?
Yes, you can get a true WWE Superstar to work for your company, guaranteeing a huge sell-out. All for eight thousand dollars.
Let me tell you, it’s a perfect price. It’s just enough so that most promoters can afford it, and still make a small profit for the night. But the lure is that if they can get the WWE Superstar for an evening, which will get the local fans interested in the company as a whole. In the long run, it adds excitement and drama to the entire company. The local audience feels that they aren’t just watching a rag tag bunch of wannabes play pretend--they felt that their promotion is special, important. They think they are watching a small part of the WWE, right here in there hometown. A real WWE Territory, who knows when the champ will pay a visit to defend his title against the company’s top guy?
The more things change...
So, you must be thinking to yourselves: Hey Dan, why did you spend sixty five thousand boring words telling us this? It’s a great thing what the WWE is doing. What’s your problem? I’ll tell you what my problem is.
Eight thousand dollars means a WWE Superstar for a night. It’s already a huge deal for the indy feds. They snapped it up quick and kept coming back for more every couple of months. Already, a few local kids I know, one in Tampa and another in Milwaukee have already gotten developmental contracts because of it. This offer was put out two years ago and it’s an overwhelming success for all involved. No, the Rock never made it to a show (the WWE sends out a list of available Superstars every month via e-mail to the local feds, complete with dates, all the huge names are usually off, but Triple H and Kurt Angle have actually done a few. Hell, rumor has it Kevin Nash even made one or two appearances.), but it didn’t matter. The idea worked. I heard it was Shane McMahon’s plan.
The problem is, eight grand is nothing to sneeze at. Remember when I told you that the promoters could afford it, so long as they cut back on other stuff. What do you think their first cutback was?
That’s right. Grizzled old masked journeymen who spent their whole lives on the circuit.
Do you know how heartbreaking it is to call up a promoter for work and hear: Sorry, Dan, we’ve got Jackie from Tough Enough booked for the next show, we can’t afford you.
Besides, the promoters now see the opportunity to look good to the WWE. If they consistently churn out more and more developmental prospects for the company to sign, maybe they too can become a personal trainer? Surely, once business improves, the company will start re-building their developmental territories again, right?
Suddenly, the promoters, many of whom were my friends, stopped returning my phone calls. With more interest focused on grooming the young upstarts, and with the local fans beginning to give them some real heat, they don’t need to hire me. I brought down my price as low as my dignity would allow, but even that’s not costly these days. Like it had been in the seventies, the business became a young man’s game. Unlike the seventies, I wasn’t so young anymore. Christ, I’m an old fart.
I still get work, just not as much as I once did. There are other guys in the business who were frozen out thanks to the “WWE Indy Takeover” (as it’s now referred to as). Guys like Buff Bagwell, the Road Dog, Bam Bam Bigelow, the Honky Tonk Man, and Norman Smiley; but at least they have money. A lot of those guys are pretty much set for life. Me, I have a small nest egg to retire on, but it won’t last. And I’m not ready to quit, dammit. I still have some gas left in the tank. I can still cut a promo. I can still make a kid laugh.
I still want to be a rassler. And now the WWE has made it impossible for me to maintain a livelihood. I think it’s intentional on part of Vince McMahon. I wonder if maybe he isn’t doing it just to fuck with veterans who are just trying to get by without him--whether he wanted us or not.
I’m sorry, but I gave my life to the business, and the business crapped on me. Maybe it’s my fault, maybe I should have built a better repertoire, networked myself better. Maybe I should have took off the fucking mask and tried to become a recognizable face. I didn’t. I figured the business wouldn’t change... wouldn’t evolve enough to affect me. Man, I was so short sighted. I should have known. I should have saw it coming.
When Vince McMahon took over WCW and ECW, I recalled a passage I read from Roman history, it’s pretty famous actually:
"When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer."
I guess Vince McMahon hadn’t wept after becoming king of this world. There was one more world he had left to conquer. I wonder if he’s weeping now?
Sitting in a spongy motel room, there’s a old school ‘rassler you might have heard of who’s in his forties and is writing this. He tried his best; but in the end, he was never good enough to be much more than a journeyman. He finally realized just how badly he wasted his life. He also finally understands why Verne Gagne went down. Too narrow minded, too set in his ways, no vision for the future. He has a gun next to him.
My mask isn’t soaking up the tears this time around. The gimmick is packed away. Now it’s time for the rest of me to follow suit.
Been a hell of a ride. Thanks.
This is Hyatte too.
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