“Rock and Roll” Buck Zumhofe has been in some of the local wrestling news lately. It made me think about one of the first times I met him after I was actually in the business.
We used to do shows at a place called The Wave in Waverly, MN in the late 1990’s. It was a small bar in a small town, but they always had a decent crowd. A lot of locals and quite a few that came in from the Minneapolis suburbs.
At that time Buck was providing the ring and also wrestling on the card. The ring had to be set up outside because it was too tall to fit in the bar (the owners would later raise the ceiling). It was placed at one end of a rectangular, fenced-off patio area. There were chairs set up starting about six feet from the ring and extending down the length of the patio, which was basically the entire length of the bar.
Back in the “locker room” before the show started, Buck gave out some seasoned advice. I wish I could remember it word-for-word because it was a beautiful speech– the kind of speech that would be worthy of a big-budget Hollywood sports movie. I can only loosely paraphrase, but I think it went something like this:
Wrestling is about telling a story with your match, not about throwing together a bunch of flashy moves in random order. It’s not about doing a bunch of crazy crap off the top rope. Keep it simple, and have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And by all means, the most important thing is to keep it it the ring. I don’t want to see any of you guys going outside the ring. I’m talkin’ to the older guys too, not just the young guys. I don’t want to see anyone brawling into the crowd or going near the fans. I do not want to see anyone grab a chair or anything else. Just keep it in the ring, concentrate on your mat work, and give the people a good show.
For all the matches on the undercard, everyone kept it in the ring. The rookies and the more experienced wrestlers alike. Nobody went outside the ropes. Nobody went into the crowd. Nobody grabbed any objects. Nobody did any high-risk moves. They stayed in the ring.
Until the main event, that is.
The main event was Buck vs. The Hater. In this match, they were barely even in the ring. After the opening bell (or maybe even before), they were outside the ring. They were brawling in the crowd. There were chairs used. There was beer thrown. And the crowd went crazy with excitement.
I remember looking out of the doorway of the bar into the patio area during the match and seeing them brawling outside the ring. I’m sure I had a confused look on my face. Then it hit me- we’d been “worked”.
What the hell? He had everyone on the undercard tone down their match so that the main event would shine. Welcome to pro wrestling, kid!
At the time I felt kind of betrayed, but I also felt a little bit of admiration. That was a really ballsy move. I wish I could pull something like that off. Like seeing a magician make a woman disappear in front of your eyes, you wonder how good they had to be to do it when your guard was already up.
As I’m writing this now, I kind of see things from a different perspective. Did he give us that advice so that he could save something for the main event? Sure. Was it the right thing to do in that situation? Maybe it was.
Was everything he said true? Yes. You don’t need to have 30 high-spots in a match to get the crowd excited. You do need to tell a story.
Did a lot of the guys on the card get more experienced at ring psychology? Yes.
Did the crowd have a good time? Yes. Did they think the main event was the best match, ending the night on a high note? Yes.
Did they think they got their money’s worth? Yes. Did they come back for the next show? Yes.
While I don’t agree with holding the guys in the undercard down, you can’t argue with years of success. According to Buck, he started wrestling in 1976, and he’s still wrestling nearly every weekend in 2011. To stay in it that long, the guy must be doing something right.
Great story. That Buck, he’s always workin’.
Excellent!!! I didn’t think Buck was that smart or clever. Apparently, he is.