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Five Years of Insanity: Sandow, Rickard, and Uncle Ralph Volume 1
By World Wrestling Insanity
Oct 1, 2010 - 3:08 PM
Over the past five years, you've been touched by our Crazy Uncle Ralph. Sorry about that. The foul mouthed boozehound joined the Insanity right at the start...whether we liked it or not. His original spot on the site involved the most mismatched wrestling roundtable ever assembled. It was October 16, 2005 and the world was about to experience the first ever editon of Sandow, Rickard, and Uncle Ralph...
is a lawyer based in Washington, D.C. He has been watching professional wrestling since 1985. He has strong opinions and even stronger ways of presenting them. Mr. Sandow is well known as an articulate and intelligent member of the Insanity Message Boards.
is a lawyer based in New York. He has been watching professional wrestling for most of his life. As the current webmaster of
, Mike spends time studying the history of the industry. His work on Derek Burgan's
Gumgod.com has been described as insightful and entertaining.
Crazy Uncle Ralph
is James Guttman's angry Uncle. When he heard the name of James's upcoming book, he immediately registered the domain name "www.WorldWrestlingInsanity.com" In exchange for the site's name, he demanded that James give him a weekly writing gig. He hasn't watched wrestling since the early '80s and even then he didn't like it much. He's a big drinker and was once arrested for urinating in the Ball Pit of a McDonald's Playland.
1. Do you enjoy the pseudo-sport of wrestling more than you enjoy sports of genuine competition such as football and baseball? If so, why?
I prefer wrestling to genuinely competitive sports mainly because of the creative freedom the worked nature of wrestling provides. In wrestling, you generally know what kind of return you're going to get on your investment, in both time and money. If on paper a ppv reads like last week's No Mercy, it's going to walk and talk like No Mercy, too. I ordered the show, but I knew going in that at best I was in for a mediocre night of wrestling. Conversely, if Kurt Angle is wrestling Shawn Michaels, I'm just about guaranteed a four-star plus encounter, with maybe three and a half stars on the short end. Wrestling is a performing art, and classic matches are artistic masterpieces. The triple threat between A.J. Styles, Samoa Joe, and Christopher Daniels at TNA's Unbreakable last month was breathtakingly beautiful. It's rare to see that in competitive sports. The only thing that comes close in my mind was watching Michael Jordan at his best. That, too, was beauty.
In addition, because wrestlers are working with one another and not against one another, there's no chance that a non-squash match will be a "blow out." If the Yankees are playing the Red Sox, a team can take a six run lead in the opening innings, effectively ending any excitement inherent in the game. That's not going to happen in a wrestling match. Moreover, the Yankees and Red Sox have a legendary rivalry, a clash of personalities based on decades of feuding that breeds fan anticipation for their clashes. This, however, is the exception in competitive sports -- opponents usually do not have the kind of history that causes there to be an almost wrestling-type build to their squaring off against one another. With its creative freedom, wrestling doesn't have this problem.
Boxing matches frequently receive a wrestling type build -- there will be press conferences with the fighters delivering promos and almost getting into altercations. But when the time comes for the fight, more often than not it's a complete let down. Because boxing is usually a genuine competition, there is no way to guarantee that the manufactured hype will pay off. Indeed, you're practically assured that it will not. Perhaps it says something that Mike Tyson biting off Evander Holyfield's ear is one of the most memorable boxing moments in history. I know I'm glad I ordered the fight and watched it as it happened. Don King's wrestling hype had actually lived up to a wrestling finish.
One final reason I prefer wrestling to genuinely competitive sports is because in wrestling, the ride means more than the result. Although I will "root" for a character, I do not have the same emotional investment in them that I have for a person or team I'm pulling for in a competitive sport. Except for its effect on the storyline, winners and losers are irrelevant because wrestling is not a genuine competition. Perhaps you were cheering Kurt Angle at Wretlemania 21; on the other hand, maybe you were cheering Shawn Michaels. It didn't matter when it was over. You had seen a classic. If I'm rooting for the Yankees, though, and they end up losing, even if it's an objectively entertaining nail-biter of a game or series, I end up regretting in one form or another having watched the contest.
Both professional wrestling and professional sports have had their share of excitement and drama. Who can forget the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Winter Olympics, Mick Foley's 16 foot fall from the top of the steel cage in the Hell in a Cell match at 1998 King of the Ring, the Boston Red Sox amazing comeback in the American League Championship Series, Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat's epic series with the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) World Heavyweight Championship on the line, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier's brutal boxing showdown at the Thrilla in Manila, or the Buffalo Bills amazing comeback against the Houston Oilers at the 1992 AFC wildcard game?
Having said that, let me make it clear that I do not consider professional wrestling to be a legitimate sport. Professional wrestlers are athletes, oftentimes tremendous athletes but there is no genuine competition involved in a pro wrestling match. The outcome of a match is predetermined and the activity that wrestlers engage in is not a sport but theatre built around the illusion of a competitive event. Unless you're talking about professional boxing, the outcome of a sporting event isn't determined by the decision of a promoter but by the skill of the players, the coaching staff, teamwork, and sometimes a little luck.
It's really not fair to compare the excitement of pro wrestling to that of legitimate competitive events because wrestling is a controlled environment in which any promoter worth his salt will know how to manipulate to achieve the most dramatic and exciting experience. With sports, there's no guarantee of a good game even with the most heated of rivals playing one another. A game or event can be hyped to try and generate excitement but there is no way to guarantee that a genuine sporting event will be memorable or exciting. One has to look no further than the Super Bowl, the biggest event of the National Football League's season. Despite the hype involved, and the event supposedly pitting the best two teams against each other, the Super Bowl has had many its share of lackluster games.
Of course professional wrestling has had its share of forgettable performances (see WWE Smackdown 2001-2005 for further details) but overall, I've found wrestling to deliver a much more exciting and enjoyable experience than any other sport. It's just the nature of the beast that wrestling is going to be more dramatic and exciting. To me, the best way to compare the two forms of entertainment is that genuine sports are drama while professional wrestling is melodrama
Shut the f*ck up!
2. Is wrestling history really important considering that promoters make sweeping changes to it based on politics?
In the worked environment of wrestling storyline history, accurate history cannot be important because it is changed so often based not only on politics but also for the demands of the situation. For instance, in 1987, while building towards Wrestlemania III, the WWF advertised Hulk Hogan against Andre as the first encounter between the wrestlers. The irresistible force meeting the immovable object. The undefeated Giant against the unbeatable Hogan. The truth was they had wrestled each other as little as seven years earlier, which is acknowledged today by the presence of their 1980 Shea Stadium match on the Hulk Still Rules DVD. Phantom title tournaments (e.g., Pat Patterson's Intercontinental title win in Rio) and phantom title wins are deeply rooted in wrestling history. Because wrestling history is constantly twisted and tweaked, questions such as whether Ric Flair has 16 or 23 title reigns become, for all practical purposes, irrelevant.
That Ric Flair has been world champion, however, is not irrelevant. It's important in understanding Flair's role in the business. That Ric Flair was perennial NWA world champion in the 1980s says that he was the top guy in that company during that era. The multiple reigns (and the exact number isn't important) say that Flair was considered one of the best NWA world champions of all time. Times have changed, and being a multiple-time world champion in this era doesn't necessarily say a thing about your place in wrestling, but wrestling history -- maybe not a precise history in terms of certain statistics -- should be important to anyone who wants to understand the wrestling business as it has evolved over time.
Wrestling is at its heart, fictional. The winners of matches are planned in advance. Wrestlers perform moves which are supposed to hurt their opponent but actually are executed to provide the least amount of pain... Nikita Koloff was from Minnesota, not the USSR and Glenn Jacobs was neither a dentist nor the horribly scarred son of an undertaker. The real question is whether or not there is such a thing as wrestling history. How do you write a history about an entertainment form which for decades has sought to shroud itself in secrecy and deceive its very audience? Can you write a history about a "sport" where titles are created in fictional tournaments which occur only in the mind of a promoter (Pat Patterson's Inter-Continental win Rio de Janeiro), titles are won at house shows only to have no acknowledgement of the switch made on television (Chris Benoit's series with Booker T over the World Championship Wrestling Television Title), and amazing transformations where a wrestler can be billed as a United States Marine in one promotion ("Private" Jim Nelson in Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling) and become a Soviet citizen in another (Nelson shaved his head and began wrestling as Boris Zhukov).
Take for example the fairy tale world of Hollywood. If Tinsel town can have its history told in numerous tomes and E! True Hollywood Stories, why can't professional wrestling chronicle its history? Most (if not all) people recognize the difference between Sylvester Stallone the actor and his characters John Rambo and Rocky Balboa. Sly's history as a writer/director/actor and the history of how Rocky Balboa went from rags to riches (Rocky I and II) and riches to rags (Rocky V). Much the same, there are well detailed records of who won Best Supporting Actor in 1944 and who won Best Screenplay in 2000. Why then can't there be a history of professional wrestling i.e. who won what title, what promotion ran when and where, etc. similar to how Hollywood acknowledges its history?
One has to look no further than the work of Dave Meltzer to see what can be done with wrestling history and what needs to be done with wrestling history. For over twenty years, Meltzer has dug deep into wrestling's history and written detailed accounts of events in wrestling and the men and women who worked in the industry. Granted he's not the first person to do more than anyone, he's help establish a legitimate history for the sport, documenting the events that shaped the sport, confirming what was only speculation, and exposing certain truths as myths.
However Meltzer's work also documents the failings of most wrestling historians. Despite the tremendous output of work on Meltzer's part in newsletters and books, his work would hardly pass scrutiny of any academic body. While I have no doubt that Dave Meltzer has worked hard digging into wrestling's past, there is no way that an independent historian could verify much of Meltzer's work. When a person writes a biography of Ronald Reagan, the author lists books they referenced, interviews they have conducted, and whatever other sources they relied upon to form their account of history. When other historians evaluate the book, they'll look to the works cited and see if the works are suspect. For example if part of the research conducted for the Reagan biography was from the Weekly World News, the book's credibility might be called into question. With the work of Meltzer and other historians, there's rarely any works cited section for a historian to evaluate Meltzer's sources (and before someone says "Meltzer has to keep his insider sources confidential, let me note that there are ways to document interviews without acknowledging the sources). The best example of a well cited wrestling history work is Jim Wilson's book "Chokehold". Hopefully Meltzer is archiving the phenomenal research he has archived for future generations so it can be examined and analyzed, otherwise the majority of his work is hearsay and the equivalent of "The Gospel according to Meltzer".
Any serious discussion of wrestling is dependent on the participants having a sound history of the sport. For example, if two fans are debating the merits of one wrestler over another, it's important for them to know where they worked, their ability to sell tickets, how their work was or is rated by their peers, and the market conditions in which they wrestled. Two fans may be arguing over who the greatest world champion of all time was. It would be easy to fall into the trap of saying Wrestler X is the greatest because he held more titles than Wrestler Y (if that's the criteria the two fans are using). However what were the championships held? Would you consider the Ring of Honor "World" Championship on the same level as the National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Championship of the 1970's? How long was the world title reign? Back in the proverbial day, it was considered heresy for a NWA Title to change hands multiple times in one year as opposed to the 1990's when world titles changed hands twice on an episode of Monday Night Nitro.
So yes, wrestling history is important. As the saying goes, there are three sides to every story, my side, your side, and the truth. Vince McMahon can give his version of why WCW failed as can Eric Bischoff. Somewhere in between though is the reality and it's important that the facts be present for people to make up their minds as to what actually happened.
As for the American Wrestling Association (AWA) (or more importantly, the people who own the name to the AWA), their recent announcement that Hulk Hogan is now recognized as one of their World Champions is another example of why wrestling history is important and that there be documented, citable historical works in wrestling. As ridiculous looks for retroactively acknowledging Hogan's reign, it's not unheard of. After Ric Flair defeated Harley Race for the NWA World Title at Starcade, the two met in New Zealand and traded the title. However the title reign was ignored on television and in most of the wrestling media. Years later, it was acknowledged and Race is for the most part acknowledged as an eight time NWA Champion. Granted, the condition of Hogan's so-called AWA reign is different but it's something that wrestling historians can debate and make a judgment on. Informed fans will know that Hogan was never recognized by the AWA as their world champion and dismiss the so-called title win. Uninformed fans may believe it. The difference is that one statement is based on facts, the other on ignorance and therein lays the rub.
This reminds me of this time back in like '82. I was drinking at this bar by my house and I go outside to take a whiz. Guess who I see? Bruno Sammartino. Yeah. Bruno Sammartino. So I'm like, "What you lookin' at, Bruno Sammartino?" He was given me hard looks and shit like that. So I'm like "That's it, Bruno Sammartino. Bring it on!" I started whaling on him like crazy. Bam! Bam! Bam! Then he's lying all bloody and he's like "Oh my face! My face!" So anyway, the cops come and - long story short - it was a homeless woman. True story. I kicked her ass though.
3. What wrestler (past or present) could have carried a company but was never given the opportunity?
Ted DiBiase. DiBiase had it all and probably was second only to Ric Flair as a performer in the 1980s. Ric Flair was one of exactly three reasons -- the other two being Hulk Hogan and the Honkytonk Man -- DiBiase was never given the opportunity to run with the ball. In the early 1980s, Ted DiBiase was being groomed for the NWA world title. According to Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer, DiBiase at the time had supporters and non-supporters, as did Ric Flair. The deciding factor was that Flair had more supporters and less non-supporters than had DiBiase. Otherwise, DiBiase assuredly would have been given a run with the title and could have had what might have been a remarkably different career. For whatever reason, it was not to be. In hindsight, though, it's hard to argue against the decision to go with Flair.
When Ted DiBiase first entered the WWF in 1987, there seemed little hope for him to be given a chance to carry the company. Sure, it was apparent from the outset that he was going to receive the monster push as Vince McMahon's alter ego, the Million Dollar Man, but with Hulk Hogan -- the second stumbling block in DiBiase's path to a title -- in the driver's seat, it seemed two was always a crowd and that DiBiase would ultimately become just another foil for the Hogan superman cartoon character. But then Vince McMahon had one of his less noted non-genius ideas: putting Hulk Hogan on the big screen, in the film "No Holds Barred." With Hogan filming a movie, WWF needed an interim world champion. McMahon chose DiBiase for the role.
In NBC's early 1988 live prime time Friday night "Main Event," Hulk Hogan lost the WWF title to Andre the Giant in the most watched match in wrestling history. Andre attempted to sell the title to Ted DiBiase on the show, a sale that was later ruled void by WWF figurehead president Jack Tunney. Tunney scheduled a tournament at Wrestlemania to determine a new champion. In the time between Andre's purported sale and Tunney's ruling -- an eight day period -- DiBiase defended the title at WWF house shows. This was a dry run for what was scheduled to be a DiBiase championship reign.
DiBiase couldn't have known it at the time, but, as far as his career was concerned, there was an even more significant match on that prime time special than Hogan vs. Andre. Honkytonk Man also defended the Intercontinental title against Randy Savage on that live Friday night show. Savage was booked to win the I-C title from Honkytonk Man, but Honkytonk refused to drop the belt to him. McMahon decided against taking a path he would follow against Bret Hart a decade later, and Savage beat Honkytonk Man by count out. At some point over the next weeks, McMahon decided to keep the I-C title on Honkytonk Man and to have Savage win the world title in the Wrestlemania IV tournament. Honkytonk Man's refusal to do the job cost DiBiase a WWF title reign, and the trajectory of DiBiase's career was again affected in ways we cannot imagine. Instead of being world champion, DiBiase was left with a Million Dollar belt and unanswerable questions about what might have been.
It's funny because history has shown that you can give a guy the biggest push in the world but if the fans don't react to him, he's not going to get over in the long haul (See Lex Lugar and the WCW Title for more details). When you say company I think of a national promotion but back in the day there were dozens of territories, each with their own style and fans. What made fans buy tickets in droves in Stampede probably would have played to crickets chirping in Memphis (and vice versa). Now, promoters have to think of what will work on a national level in different markets. I think it's a lot harder for promoters to predict what will work and what won't.
A couple guys come to mind from the 1980's and I have little doubt they would have carried a company save for the fact that they were in Hulk Hogan's shadow. Let me qualify this by saying that no one could have done as well as Hulk Hogan did in the AWA and WWF during his peak Hogan had the right look and charisma for the role he played oh so well and Vince McMahon Jr. knew exactly how to use him (as opposed to Verne Gagne who would have killed the proverbial gold-laying goose had Vince Jr. not stolen him from under his nose). That being said, two wrestlers readily come to mind who could have carried the WWF during the 1980's. The first is Sgt. Slaughter. The Sarge was the closest thing to a cartoon character you could get next to Hogan (G.I. Joe ring a bell?) and he was wildly over with the fans and would have played perfectly during the Reagan era. Slaughter could have the same types of brawling style matches as Hogan but was capable of much better matches than Hogan (look no further than his work in Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling). Critics may point to his less than stellar performance in the AWA but Slaughter had total crap to work within the AWA's dying days yet he managed to get over against less than first tier opponents such as Boris Zhukov and Colonel DeBeers.
Another good fit for the WWF would have been the Junkyard Dog. Like Slaughter, the JYD's popularity rivaled that of Hogan during the peak of the Rock-n-Wrestling Era and his style was perfect for the one dimensional wrestling style of the WWF in the 80's. Like Slaughter, the Dog was also capable of putting on very good matches. The Million Dollar Question concerning the JYD would be whether or not he would be able to keep his "personal demons" in check had he been made the #1 guy in the WWF. If the JYD's track record as the #1 guy in Bill Watts' Mid-South promotion was any indication, he would have had trouble carrying the ball for a sustained period.
My next pick will likely cause Eugene's head to explode but I really think the WWE really missed the boat with Rikishi. Fans may recall that Rikishi rode Too Cool's wave of popularity into the singles spotlight during Triple H's first title win. At the time, Stone Cold Steve Austin was ready to undergo neck surgery and would be out for close to a year. A fresh new babyface would have been perfect to carry the company during his absence. Fans may recall his brief series between Rikishi and Triple H when Triple H first won the WWF Title. Rikishi was over big time and had some excellent matches with Triple H before disappearing back into the mid-card. In my opinion, Rikishi could have had a program chasing the title against Triple H, winning the title, and eventually turning heel to battle the returning Austin (the storyline with Rikishi running Austin down could have been tweaked to remove Triple H's involvement).
Me. I'd kick some ass. You hear about what I did to Bruno Sammartino? Damn right ya did. Ah! Oh geez. I shouldn't have eaten them buffalo wings.
4. What's one thing that WWE is doing right with its current product?
Making use of the Internet as a medium for WWE broadcasts. One aspect of the WWE jump to USA that has not received proper attention is WWE's loss of advertising revenue, which now goes entirely to USA. Without advertising as a source of revenue, television ratings in themselves are going to mean less to WWE than they have in over a decade. WWE doesn't care if you watch its program on WWE.com or on USA. Indeed, if WWE begins its fee-based commercial free Raw webcasts, it has every reason in the world to prefer that people watch Raw on the web. (I can't believe USA is happy with web-based competition for Raw. Since WWE is preparing for webcasts, I assume the contract between USA and WWE does not prohibit it).
The decision to move Ross to the web and attempt to hire UFC announcer Mike Goldberg in his place might not be as outrageous as people seem to universally think it is. Mike Goldberg is a great announcer, not at all comparable to Michael Cole or Coach. Goldberg turned down WWE's offer, but the desire to hire him for Raw is not an MOI candidate. It's important today to be telegenic. Jim Ross simply is not. The fans who are loyal to Jim Ross are for the most part hardcore fans who, if push comes to shove, will watch the webcast. The people who say they'll stop watching altogether are mostly addicts who cannot help themselves. They will always come back for another fix. And I'm not ready to dismiss the possibility that Mike Goldberg would attract viewers with his telegenic presence. Not to mention that acquiring Goldberg would have hurt UFC, which might someday provide real competition for WWE. It seems to me there would have been little chance of losing viewers (as opposed to people switching from television to the web) and a realistic possibility that the total number watching on television and the web would grow, providing a greater pool of people to order WWE ppvs, which is WWE's most important goal.
There's plenty of things to criticize with the WWE, the two biggest being inconsistency and illogical storylines. However one thing the WWE has done extraordinarily well is establish the boundaries between SmackDown! and RAW. While there's an argument to be made that they've done it so well that SD is considered second-rate, there's no denying the sense of excitement fans get when SD and RAW superstars interact on the big four PPV's. I really like how the WWE has established that you'll only see interactions between the two show's superstars. Last year's first meeting between Snitsky and Heidenreich sparked a lot of talk as did the confrontation the year before between Goldberg and Lesnar. This year's rumored Survivor Series match-up between RAW and SmackDown! has fans talking in a "can't wait to see it" as opposed to "I can't believe how bad they botched the invasion angle"
You sayin' I'm fat?
5. Will TNA on Spike TV succeed or fail? Why?
This is an impossible question to answer without all the facts. So much is dependent on political power. If Jeff Jarrett is a long-term focus of the promotion, TNA will not succeed. With proper booking of Samoa Joe, A.J. Styles, and Monty Brown, we might not see a return to the Monday Night Wars, but TNA will succeed on some level as a promotion that continues to exist. One excellent sign is that the audience increased 150,000 viewers from the first Saturday night Impact to the second one. That is fantastic news. I'm sure fingers were crossed because the first-week ratings might have been abnormally high due to interest in it being a debut show. Viewers apparently were hooked, or at least are willing to give it something of a chance. So much of TNA's future fortune is dependent on Jeff Jarrett. And not in the way Jeff Jarrett thinks it is.
The fact that TNA has survived this long is amazing. Not only did Jerry Jarrett survive a disastrous start to TNA but he's managed to keep sugar daddy Panda Energy on board despite solid losses. I'm not that familiar with the make-up of Panda Energy but it wouldn't surprise me if they need a tax write-off and TNA's losses are just what their bookkeepers like to see come tax time. In any event, there's no telling how long Panda Energy will continue to throw considerable funds into the money pit that is TNA so financial success should become a priority.
The Spike TV clearance couldn't have come at a better time. Not only has TNA been consistent in putting on good to excellent PPV's (or so I've heard from lots of fellow fans) but they have assembled some of the best workers in the world, including some "Internet" favorites such as Samoa Joe and Christopher Daniels.
One of the things that people seem to overlook is the huge number of fans who stopped watching wrestling after the WWF bought out WCW. After the demise of WCW, the WWF failed to win over WCW fans and they also lost a good chunk of their own audience. Some of this audience may have been casual fans but a lot of them were WCW fans who just never liked the WWF style. I think these fans are just waiting for something to capture their attention.
I'm not the first person to suggest the following formula but I think it's vital to TNA's success. TNA needs a couple of name wrestlers who long-time fans remember (such as Kevin Nash) to grab their attention. Then they need to pull them in with good wrestling. It's that simple. Back when the WWF was floundering against WCW, I didn't recognize most of their wrestlers but the exciting matches and attitude captured my attention to the point where I started tuning out the big names (and familiar names) of WCW.
One thing TNA shouldn't do is try to be WWE. WWE fans are tired of the WWE. Non-WWE fans definitely don't watch to see another WWE show or RAW and SD's ratings would be through the roof. Another thing they shouldn't do is run a two hour show until they've established a style and a set of superstars to fill the two hours.
The only other problem I foresee for TNA is Vince outright raiding their talent pool in order to destroy them before they get started. It's a definite problem and one that Jerry Jarrett needs to make sure that Panda Energy understands can happen if they don't monitor things closely. Talent raiding has proved to be a successful strategy for promoters to eliminate rivals and Vince McMahon has developed talent raiding into an art form.
I only watch porno and Full House reruns, so I don't give a damn either way.
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