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Dr. Darin Davis

Minnesota independent pro wrestler discusses past experiences and the current state of pro wrestling

Congratulations to Austin Aries for becoming the TNA Heavyweight Champion after defeating Bobby Roode at the TNA Destination X pay-per-view on July 8th, 2012. Aries chose to end his 298 day reign as TNA X-Division Champion to get a shot at the World title, and it paid off.

Of course, you’ve probably known this for quite awhile before reading it here, so I’ll get to something you may not have known. Aries trained with Eddie Sharkey and Terry Fox (and later with a different wrestling camp) when he made his debut in the Minneapolis,Minnesota area. This was the same camp I was a part of (which I have described in a few previous posts, starting with Wrestling Training).

It was at the same time that Sheik Abdul Bashir (Shawn Daivari) and Bam Neely (Hellraiser Gutz) were being trained. Daivari would later go on to work for the WWE, TNA, and ROH. Neely would work in ECW and the WWE.

I still remember a conversation that occurred when Aries first got into the business. I was talking with some visitor to our wrestling camp – I don’t remember if it was an out-of-town wrestler or a promoter, but it doesn’t matter. It started with a single question.

This guy is really good. How long has he been training?“, the visitor asked.

I pretended to look at a wristwatch I didn’t have and said, “About 45 minutes.

He kind of chuckled and responded with, “No. I don’t mean low long today. I mean how long, in total, has he been in wrestling training.

I looked at him with a straight face and said, “About 45 minutes.

We just looked at each other for a few seconds as if we both knew we were witnessing something special. That this guy, barring injury, would go on to become something great. That he had shown enough talent in less than an hour to convince any promoter that his 5’9″ frame didn’t matter.

Aries has a current tag line of “Austin Aries- The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived“. In the context of professional wrestling, that may turn out to be completely true.

 

I haven’t been watching televised wrestling for quite awhile. As in months. Sure, I peruse some wrestling news stories daily (mostly just the headlines) and my TiVo faithfully records WWE Monday Night Raw, WWE Smackdown, and TNA Impact each week in the hopes that I’ll actually play one of them back some day. But the little guy just ends up disappointed.

So it really was news to me when I read a story about how TNA was going to start “…the most significant evolution in this genre in more than 15 years” last Thursday. I couldn’t find the specifics other than a press release posted on The Wrestling News Page (TWNP). Highlights from the press release are below, with my emphasis in bold:

NASHVILLE, TN (May 30, 2012) – TNA IMPACT WRESTLING announced today that the highly-rated weekly series will be making changes to its programming to include a hybrid of reality and explosive action each Thursday, live on SPIKE TV at 8:00pm/ ET. The reality elements and production technique represent the most significant evolution in this genre in more than 15 years.

“We took a step back to look at our product with fresh eyes,” says TNA IMPACT WRESTLING President Dixie Carter. “People watch TV differently today than before, and the wrestling format itself has become stale. What happens backstage, in the office and on the road is so entertaining that we decided it was time to pull the curtain way back and give viewers a peek at that world as well. Over the next few weeks and months, viewers will continue to see our show evolve as we expose more real aspects of our business that have always been sacred,” she continued…

…Cameras will be everywhere. Meetings will be shot in real time and unscripted as we capture moments; not produced segments. Access to conversations and vantage points that have never been seen before, such as production meetings, talent evaluations and post match critiques, will be revealed…

Given the changes described above, I thought last week’s show would be a good point to take a look and see what’s changed. From what I’ve seen so far, not too much.

In my absence, I do miss seeing guys like fellow wrestling camp graduate Austin Aries have great matches each week, but that’s maybe 10 minutes of two hours of your life you can’t get back (less without the commercials- thanks TiVo). The behind the scenes “exposure”, at least in the first week, was a critique of a match I didn’t see, and in a way that has already been done on the previous WWE Tough Enough programming. The cameras backstage caught some scripted “unscripted” moments from a couple of the wrestlers, but it was far from “pulling back the curtain.” At best the curtain rippled a bit like it would from a gentle breeze.

Looking back at the press release, I see that they called it an “evolution” rather than a “revolution”. I didn’t catch that the first time. Evolutions take around 100,000 years. I think I’ll check in on them in another 6 months and see if they’ve had any mutations.

Wrestling fans are familiar with the epic battles between Randy “Macho Man” Savage and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. Many consider the match between the two at Wrestlemania 3 to be one of the best matches of all time.

But have you heard of Randy “The Dragon” Savage?

Skyrim is a first-person action adventure game that was recently released on multiple gaming platforms, including the PC. The PC version has a very supportive mod community, and they also have a lot of time on their hands. Sometime after creating better textures for the female characters (they have their priorities),  somebody modified the model and textures of a dragon to look like the reincarnation of Randy “Macho Man” Savage.

Check out the video below, and make sure you turn up the sound while you “Snap into a Slim Jim”.

At the start of each year, I put together a post of what I felt were my best articles for the previous year. A lot of things were going on in the past year, many out of my control, that kept me from motivating myself to share some stories that I had been meaning to share. They also kept me from even watching a lot of wrestling in the last half of the year, and from starting a few other projects that I wanted to get to. I will share them eventually, hopefully in 2012.

—–

Below are the my best articles for the year 2011, listed in chronological order. If you didn’t get a chance to see them when they were first posted, you may want to check these out.

Previous articles are always available through the Archives box on the right, the Category selection, or the Search box.

I came across some sad news last week. Al Pabon, Minnesota wrestling personality and former producer of “Slick” Mick’s Bodyslam Review and other pro wrestling video productions, has passed away at the age of 46.

I saw the following on ProWrestling.net:

Twin Cities pro wrestling personality Al Pabon died in his sleep on Friday at age 46. Pabon did production work for “The Bodyslam Revue,” “Pro Wrestling Today,” and the Steel Domain Wrestling television show, among others. He was working for the Civil Air Patrol in Lexington, Ky. at the time of his death.

Pabon’s longtime friend Mick Karch wrote the following regarding Pabon on his Facebook page.

“Al was so vital to local, independent wrestling. He founded ‘Tac2‘ video productions and became very good friends with hundreds of the local wrestlers, fans and promoters.

“His extensive volume of work–those thousands upon thousands of hours of video tape–will last forever. His production capabilities aside, Al was a fantastic human being. He was brilliant, driven and committed to his work with the Civil Air Patrol. He was intense, opinionated, and spirited.”

The article also said “…you can read the full post at Mick Karch’s Facebook page.”, but I was unable to find it [let me know if you have better luck. I’m not on Facebook, so that could have something to do with it].

You can read more about Al from his colleagues in the Civil Air Patrol and other organizations at the links below, but I’d like to close with some of my thoughts.

I knew of Al before I broke into the business. Although I didn’t know how involved he was in the production at the time, he could be seen working the handheld camera at various independent wrestling shows when I was still just a fan.

Shortly after starting training camp, and before I had my first match Terry Fox took a bunch of us to the Northwest Community Television (NWCT) studios in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota to cut a practice promo. Al was there and I believe Mick Karch was there also. After Al gave us a tour of the studio, we all got in a line and each person was supposed to stand on their mark, look directly into the camera, and put yourself over for 30 seconds.

My first interview was, well…, not good. Probably terrible. Until you are standing in the studio and staring into a camera lens you don’t realize how hard it is. I also didn’t have much to say at this point… no upcoming match scheduled, no wrestling opponent to bad-mouth, and just 30 seconds ago I picked the ring name of Darin Davis. Al was an extremely nice guy, but what I really appreciated was that he didn’t pretend like it was good. He said something like, “Ok. Let’s try it again. This time try to be a little less…” “Monotone?“, I asked. “Yes“, he said. “You sound like you’re reading something you’ve memorized. You need to sound like you would if you were talking to me, but looking in the camera“, he said. I did it again like I was talking to Al, but looking in the camera. “Much better“, he said.

It was much better. In fact, it was a lot better. It sounds simple enough, but how many times would I have had to fail before figuring that out on my own?

Since that day he had continued to give good critiques of many of my matches, and to help with future promos in the studio or at the events. Even after we were both out of the business we would run into each other occasionally and he would go out of his way to say hello and shake my hand. He was a talented producer and an all around great guy. He will be missed.

More about Al Pabon:

Civil Air Patrol Site: Pabon, North Central Region PA director, passes

Iowa Wing News: Maj Al Pabon – A Great Friend & Mentor

CAP Talk: USAC Memorial Service for Major Al Pabon

Al Pabon’s Facebook Page

Kayfabe Memories

Tac2 Video Production Site

In a previous post, when I was commenting on liking WWE Tough Enough, I had this to say: “I’m always interested in a program like [Tough Enough] to see how much they reveal about the wrestling business. It turns out not a lot, but enough to hold my interest and give me a little more wiggle room in what I write about on this site (more on that in a later post).” This is the “later post” I was referring to.

When I started wrestling training, I entered into a non-verbal agreement to “protect” the business- meaning to not reveal the inner-workings of the business to anyone that is not part of the club. Friends, family, reporters, etc. (Actually, I can’ t call it a non-verbal agreement since Billy Blaze threatened to break my arm if I ever said anything about it).

For those in the corporate world, you can think of this vow of confidentiality as a Non Disclosure Agreement, or NDA. An NDA is a legal document between two parties that prohibits them from disclosing certain privileged information to another party. They can talk freely between each other without worrying that the information would be revealed to someone else.

However, in an NDA if any of this privileged information becomes publicly known through some other means, then either party can choose to freely talk about it without violating the terms of the agreement.

My take of how this applies to me and pro wrestling is that if some major promotion (WWE, TNA, New Japan, etc.) decides to publicly reveal something about the business, then it is fair game for me to talk about it without feeling that I’m “pulling back the curtain” too much.

So how public is public? Does it have to be on their own programming, web site, or press release, or is it anything that makes it into the public domain, even if it is “leaked”? In my case, the short answer is that “it depends”.

As an example, I rarely if ever make any references to whether the outcomes of the matches are “real” or “predetermined”. It’s probably one of the most asked questions, but I still don’t feel comfortable answering that question in a public forum.

However, Vince McMahon answered this question for me all the way back in 1989 in order to save his company a few bucks. I remember it being national news at the time, and a short account of it can be found in this excerpt of the book Ringside: a history of professional wrestling in America:

Since the establishment of state athletic commissions in the early twentieth century, boxers, wrestlers, and their promoters found themselves required to pay state licensing fees as part of doing business. In 1989, [Vince] McMahon decided that he would move to avoid paying these fees. In a meeting with the New Jersey Athletic Commission, WWF representatives admitted that their matches did not represent legitimate athletic contests because the victors were predetermined. McMahon announced that his product could not be considered a sport, and therefore should not be licensed, because the WWF merely offered “sports entertainment.”

I started professional wrestling in 1997, eight years after this revelation, so you would think that would mean I would be free to talk about it.  But it just doesn’t feel right. It feels like I would somehow be dishonoring the decades of professional wrestlers who came before me and spent their lives making it seem believable.

The right answer for questions like, “Is it real?” is “it doesn’t matter”. Did they make you believe it? If they made you believe it, then the answer to whether it was “real” or not doesn’t matter. To you it was real. If you knew the answer, would it make you enjoy it more? Or would it be a letdown?

I read a blog post from a New York state newspaper the other day where the author said, “…and yes I know that the matches are predetermined 98.3% of the time…“. So here’s a guy that is somewhat of a “smart” fan who knows some amount of information about the inner workings of the wrestling business, and yet even he is convinced that nearly two percent of the wrestling matches he’s seen were not predetermined. Despite what he knows, the wrestlers involved in two percent of the matches were able to convince him that it was real. Why would I tell him that it wasn’t?

Some of the information that fans think they want to know would cause them to be disappointed if they got a definitive  answer. Those things I most likely won’t discuss here. For other things that have already been revealed by someone else (e.g. a major wrestling promotion), I will freely talk about it if it helps the message or story I’m trying to tell without worrying too much about what those in the business might think.

Although I still might get my arm broken.

TruTV, the network that has fully embraced “white trash” reality programs, has a TV series called “All Worked Up” that follows repo men, tow truck drivers, bail bondsmen, and other folks that get yelled at and spit at on a daily basis. I happened to catch part of this show for the first time a  couple of weekends ago and I’m finally getting around to mentioning it. It just happened to be episode 104 that included a segment on a security guard (Zach Yeager) for Ring Of Honor (ROH) wrestling.

A couple of loudmouth fans were a little upset at a guy by the name of Austin Aries (heard of him?). They waited around for him outside of the building, and at the risk of giving away the “punch” line, one of them gets tagged hard enough to hit the pavement. And they’re Canadian, for all you Canada haters out there.

The full episode is currently available at the TruTV website, or you can take a look at the YouTube clip of the Aries segment below.

I kind of hate to link to the YouTube clip because it looks like it was posted by one of the clueless jabronies that was involved in the whole scuffle, but it’s easier than shuttling through the full episode. Plus you can leave some nasty comments for them there if you like.

For all you “Where’s Waldo” fans, see if you can spot Colt Cabana.

TNA changed their name to IMPACT WRESTLING (all caps) so that they could say the word “wrestling” as much as possible. Then they got a bunch of drunk people to comment on why they like wrestling, so that they could air it at various points in the show. Actually, I don’t know that they serve beer at Universal Studios, but I would think you would at least want the guy to act drunk if he’s portraying a wrasslin‘ fan, right?

This is in direct response to the WWE, who I like to call “The Company Formerly Known as World Wrestling Entertainment” (TCFKAWWE), after they made it clear that they do not want to be referred to as a wrestling company (WWE “No Wrestling” Policy).

Impact Wrestling (sorry, I won’t type all caps) is trying to capitalize on negative feelings from wrestling fans about the recent policies of the WWE. Will this cause people to start watching Impact? They aren’t in head-to-head competition, so I don’t see the ratings improving because of this alone, especially once the new viewers experience the end product. If someone gets fed up with the WWE, will they turn on Impact instead, or just play video games or any other activity you could do during those two hours?

Is TNA/Impact being genuine about their passion for wrestling, or is this just a publicity stunt? While I think the passion for “wrestling” is genuine from the workers, the company still does a lot of stupid crap in the booking department that gives wrestling a bad name.

I can say personally that my interest in watching the national promotions goes in cycles. For a few years I was watching all programs of WWE and TNA (and keeping track of them: TV Match Ratings, TV Viewership Stats). For the last 3 months or so, I’ve watched almost nothing.

The one thing that has held my attention is WWE Tough Enough. I’m not a fan of “reality” TV at all, but I’m always interested in a program like this to see how much they reveal about the wrestling business. It turns out not a lot, but enough to hold my interest and give me a little more wiggle room in what I write about on this site (more on that in a later post).

Impact gets a pat on the back from me for standing up and saying that there’s nothing wrong with having a wrestling company that still calls it wrestling. But if they aren’t going to make good use of the talent they have, I will not be a frequent viewer no matter what they call it.

According to the Bleacher Report, the WWE was upset when an article appeared on a TV industry web site, TVweek.com, with a headline that Drew Carey had been inducted into the WWE wrestling Hall of Fame (I can’t link to it, because it’s been taken down… see below).

The reason the publicist was upset was because the article implied that the WWE was a wrestling company, of all things. That sounds like grounds for libel.

The email  the WWE publicist sent to the site said:

We are no longer a wrestling company but rather a global entertainment company with a movie studio, international licensing deals, publisher of three magazines, consumer good distributor and more.

Let’s see… You have a movie studio. They make some B-grade action movies, some direct to video, starring one of your wrestlers Superstars. Your international licensing deals are for wrestling merchandise (and maybe some of these crappy movies). Your three magazines are about wrestling. Your consumer goods are wrestling merchandise. You add that all up and it makes you “no longer a wrestling company”?

And in a later phone conversation from WWE PR:

TVWeek: Your release says that [Drew] Carey is being recognized as being an entrant in the 2001 Royal Rumble. I believe that was a wrestling event.

WWE PR: No, we don’t do wrestling events. They’re entertainments. And we don’t call them wrestlers. They’re Superstars and Divas.

TVWeek: I really don’t have time for this. WWE presents wrestling events. I’m not going to change the headline or anything in the item. If you’d like, I’ll just remove it.

WWE PR: Huh? What?

TVWeek: I don’t have time for this. What do you want me to do?

WWE PR: Remove it.

I can imagine this conversation happening:

Joe: “Hey Bill, do you want to watch the ‘entertainments’?”

Bill: “The what?!?”

Joe: “The entertainments. The Superstars and Divas.”

Bill: “What are they doing?”

Joe: “They’re… entertaining. They are in an arena, and there is a square ring with 3 sets of ropes”

Bill: “Is it boxing?”

Joe: “No. They’re not boxing. There are punches, but it’s not boxing. They are grabbing each other too, and throwing each other around.”

Bill: “Mixed martial arts? Like UFC?”

Joe: “No, it’s not that. It’s… kind of hard to explain.”

Bill: “Would I know anyone that does it?”

Joe: “John Cena, Randy Orton, CM Punk. Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock used to do it.”

Bill: “Oh, pro wrestling. Why didn’t you just say so?”

Joe: “NO! IT’S NOT PRO WRESTLING! It’s entertainments!”

Bill: “This is just stupid.”

Joe: “You’re right, this is stupid”

Bill: “Let’s just watch The Price is Right.”

Joe: “Ok…. Hey, that Drew Carey guy just got… Nevermind.”

 

I don’t know what kind of readership TVWeek gets, but the WWE would rather have no publicity than have someone imply that they are a wrestling company. They still have championship belts, right? Maybe they will start calling them “awards” in a year or two. Maybe you just get a Slammy if you beat the champion.

I think I’m going to start referring to the WWE as “The Company Formerly Known as World Wrestling Entertainment” (TCFKAWWE). Or maybe just as ξ.

photo: massdistraction

“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.