Chris Jericho wrestles for literary gold in Undisputed
Left: Chris Jericho’s new rock and wrestling memoir, “Undisputed.” Right: Jericho launches himself off the top rope during a match with The Rock. (Images: Grand Central Publishing.)
Pro wrestler/rocker/game show host Chris Jericho ends his first wrestling memoir, “A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex” (2007, Grand Central Publishing), only moments before his 1999 debut in Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment. After spending the bulk of the 1990s toiling in ramshackle Canadian wrestling schools, Japanese hardcore matches, Mexican lucha-libre, crazed Hillbilly leagues and ineptly run cable TV operations, Jericho finally makes it to the top of sports entertainment. But if you think that getting signed by the WWE puts Y2J on easy street, his inevitable follow-up, “Undisputed: How to Become the World Champion in 1,372 Easy Steps,” has arrived to dispel such foolish notions.
Fortunately for Chris Jericho the best selling author, he’s never more endearing or hilarious than when he has a ladder to climb. “Undisputed” not only has him climbing that ladder, but this time around he’s getting knocked off of it over and over again like a competitor in a Money in the Bank match at WrestleMania. Only days after his pyro-laden intro on “Monday Night RAW,” sympathetic wrestlers tell Jericho that he has “a target on his back” and that he doesn’t know how to work the WWE’s style. When Jericho first signs with the WWE, McMahon says he’ll let him know if he’s doing anything wrong, but such instructions never come, leaving the wrestler to fritter away his newly signed $450,000 contract by bombing on national television. When McMahon finally gives him some feedback, the grappling impresario calls Jericho “the drizzling shits.” Now that’s a performance evaluation.
But verbal drubbings from McMahon and having “scorching heat” in the locker room aren’t enough to keep the Lion Heart down, and Jericho uses his ups and downs with the WWE to forge a compelling page-turner. As committed as he is to living his big time wrestling dreams, he still recognizes the absurdities of working for a company where calling the boss’s daughter a “filthy, dirty, disgusting, brutal, bottom-feeding, trash-bag ho” on national cable TV is a good career move. Reading “Undisputed” quickly becomes like watching an old “Naked Gun” movie with Leslie Nielsen, where if you only laugh at a third of the gags and tales of the just-plain wrong, you still won’t stop chuckling. This makes Jericho the Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker of wrestling memoirists, a cultural reference that I’m sure he’ll appreciate—and Jericho loves cultural references.
In the prose of Jericho and collaborator Peter Thomas Fontinale, the minutiae of Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler comedies and an intimate knowledge of the track list of Dio’s “Holy Diver” album are co-mingled with dense recollections of the early 2000s wrestling scene. The Godfather; the Ho-train; Chyna; X-Pac; Road Dogg; Mr. Ass; D’Lo Brown; Jindrak & O’Haire; Tajiri spewing green mist; Steveweisers; the Peoples’ Elbow; Stephanie McMahon’s breast implants—they all come flooding back along with an entire Ozzfest’s worth of metal references. However, the frequent name-checking of just about everything that Jericho holds dear only helps to maintain his everyman vibe even after he becomes the WWE’s only undisputed champ (hence the book’s title) and holds his own in a very real backroom brawl with Bill Goldberg. Jericho knows his audience and he is us.
Even after his greatest triumphs in the WWE, Jericho never feels that his position is quite secure. Almost as a reaction to his uncertainty, he doubles down on the trash culture crazy train by launching his power metal band Fozzy at the same time that he’s darting around the country in rental cars to make weekly installments of “Smackdown.” With the concurrent careers, not only does he get chewed out by McMahon, but he’s also called a “wanker” by Sharon Osbourne for playing a game of fastball with Ozzy guitarist Zakk Wylde in the parking lot during an Ozzfest show. Jericho also recounts being kissed on the lips by Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, making me ponder what beautiful children they would have had.
Aside from the kind of hair-metal gossip that could’ve kept the website Metal-Sludge.com going for another year, the best aspect of the Fozzy tour diary material is the contrast between wrestling in packed arenas one night and playing to nearly empty dive bars attached to homeless shelters the next. Rock and roll is a hard business, but just like his early years of working makeshift matches in Winnepeg sports bars, Jericho is undeterred. Last year, I saw him put on a rockin’ set with Fozzy in a Tempe, Ariz. strip mall rock club a little more than a day before he was slammed through a table at WrestleMania. When I interviewed him over the phone last May, he was in between a record signing at an FYE in Austin, Tex. and a match with R Truth on “Monday Night Raw.” Like any other musician, Jericho can’t quite quit his day job.
But Jericho does walk away from the squared circle during the last third of this volume, and it’s here that “Undisputed” takes a dark turn. His mother passes away, his longtime friend and former tag team partner Eddie Guerrero also dies, he’s arrested for drunk driving, and then there’s Chris Benoit. Benoit killed his wife and son before hanging himself in his weight room in late June 2007. He was also Jericho’s friend. Jericho could have easily written Benoit out of “Undisputed,” the same way that the WWE no longer references the man who once held their world title (and it’s hard to blame them). But to Jericho’s credit, he stands by the Benoit he once knew if not the murderer he became. “I’ll always love the kind, funny, excitable, supportive, levelheaded, polite and humble man whom I’ve trusted more than anyone I’ve ever met in this business,” Jericho writes, “But I’ll always despise the man who murdered his family and ruined his entire legacy in the last days of his life.”
“Undisputed” only covers Jericho’s initial run with the WWE and the months directly after it where he goes to Hollywood to become a true multimedia star with work in improv comedy and a brief stint on a reality show. Like “A Lion’s Tale” before it, “Undisputed” sets up another follow-up that will likely cover his WWE comeback, the continuing saga of Fozzy, and his short season of hurtling prizes off of a building as the host of a primetime ABC game show. If this future memoir to be written in airports and all-night diners in between band gigs and pay-per-views is anything like the first two, I can hardly wait for it.
Chris Jericho’s “Undisputed: How to Become the World Champion in 1,372 Easy Steps” will be hitting the shelves on Wednesday, February 16th.
Mick Foley: Wrestling with Reasonableness
“Countdown to Lockdown” and its most reasonable author, Mick Foley (Images courtesy of Grand Central Publishing).
Mick Foley is the last person that you’d expect to be honored at something called the Rally to Restore Sanity. In the world of pro wrestling, he’s known for taking sports entertainment to its most masochistic extremes. He’s lost an ear in the ring, and just a little over a week before his appearance at Jon Stewart’s “Million Moderate March,” Foley body slammed a half-naked, 61 year old “Nature Boy” Ric Flair onto a mat covered in very real thumbtacks on Spike TV’s “TNA Impact.” But there is a kindly Dr. Jekyll to Foley’s grappling Mr. Hyde. Outside the ring, he helps build schools in Africa through his giving to Child Fund International and is a passionate supporter of RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), an anti-sexual violence nonprofit that Foley first learned about through his devotion to singer-songwriter Tori Amos. Yes, the man dubbed “the Hardcore Legend” in wrestling circles is one of Amos’ biggest fans, both literally and figuratively.
Equally as extreme in his philanthropy as he is in a steel cage match, Foley donated the entire advance for his fourth memoir, “Countdown to Lockdown” (Grand Central Publishing, 2010), to his charities. Although Foley’s previous three memoirs all hit the “New York Times” bestseller list and he still earns a living through wrestling, forfeiting his advance is no small tithe from a man nearing the end of his ability to sacrifice his body on the altar of sports entertainment. Foley writes about living at the twilight of his career in “Countdown to Lockdown” and intersperses stories of his philanthropy with the red meat of his pay-per-view comeback and his parting with Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment. In a recent phone interview, Foley discusses the Rally to Restore Sanity, how he got talked out of going on “The O’Reilly Factor,” and how democrats can tap into their inner pro wrestler.
BOB CALHOUN: Did you ever think that Mick Foley, the hardcore legend, would get an award for sanity?
MICK FOLEY: I don’t know about sanity. It was officially for “reasonableness,” and I know that because I’m looking at it as it hangs around my neck. No, especially because one can argue that many of my actions in and around the wrestling ring were not all that reasonable so I think it’s appropriate that Jon specified that the award is for being reasonable everywhere else but my day job.
BC: You’re not losing an ear for your charitable work.
MF: No, but I’d be willing to.
BC: But that’s almost reasonable–almost.
MF: You know I think that is completely reasonable. If the stakes were high enough I would lose a body part to end sexual violence.
BC: Being at Stewart and Colbert’s rally, what do you think it accomplished?
MF: I loved Jon’s speech at the end of the rally. I think almost everybody who watched could take the story of the cars passing one by one into a small tunnel only by working together to heart. When it’s phrased that way, and when Jon mentioned that we actually do work together in this country everywhere but in congress and on cable television, it struck a chord with people.
BC: In keeping with Stewart’s criticism of the 24-hour news cycle, in “Countdown to Lockdown” you write that you contemplated going on “The O’Reilly Factor” to address the Chris Benoit tragedy, but were talked out of it. (In June 2007, WWE wrestler Chris Benoit murdered his wife and two children and then committed suicide.)
MF: I was talked out of it by a woman at Child Fund International, formerly the Christian Children’s Fund. I told her that I thought that Bill and I could have a good conversation and her quote was, “Yes, you could, but that’s entirely up to him.” I really thought about the coverage that the Benoit murders had received and I realized so much of it was sound bytes and knee jerk reactions. Despite the fact that the cable news channels ran 24-hours a day, there was almost no deep reflection on what may have happened. More recently, the chaos in Iran following the elections ceased to exist once Michael Jackson died. It seems amazing to me to think that the people in charge of the news don’t think that the American people can concentrate on more than one issue at a time.
BC: How do you feel about the beating that your profession took in the recent Connecticut senate race? Was there a better way for Dick Blumenthal and Democrats to criticize Linda McMahon’s tenure as a CEO of WWE?
MF: As someone who is close to the subject and who has fed his children through the business of professional wrestling for their entire lives (I’ve been in it for 25 years; I’ve had a family for almost 19), although Blumenthal won in Connecticut, I think the idea that people were criticizing a form of entertainment enjoyed by millions of people across the country was very condescending and may have led to the feeling Americans had of democrats being out of touch.
BC: Do you think that the Democrats need to get in touch with their inner pro wrestler?
MF: I think they need to make Jim Webb the senate majority leader and attempt to shift the image of democrats from liberal weenies to tough-talking, straight-shooting Americans. I really respect what Harry Reid has done and I think Nancy Pelosi is a great congressperson, but I do not think that people can connect with them at all. If every liberal in the country was willing to give up lattes for two years, you could put those republicans in the unenviable position of having to talk about those “damned whiskey drinking liberals.”
BC: In your new book you have your own criticisms of WWE like the fake McMahon memorial.
MF: I openly criticized them and I thought that a couple of storylines that (the Blumenthal campaign) trotted out to hurt Mrs. McMahon were indeed terrible storylines, but I don’t think that they’re indicative at all of the type of program WWE is. It reminds me of reading Joe Lieberman’s memoir, “In Praise of Public Life,” (Simon & Schuster, 2000) where he warned that with senators who make thousands of votes over the course of their careers, that one or two votes can serve as fodder for political attack ads. As an American citizen watching the fifth game of the World Series, I was just irate over the sheer number of political attack ads coming from both sides. The only person who serves to gain from that is the guy doing the voice-overs.
BC: There’s another part of “Countdown to Lockdown” where you’re cheered by an entire village in Sierra Leone and this isn’t for running your body into exploding barbed wire.
MF: It was such a surreal feeling. I had been on the flight from the US to the UK, and then from the UK to Freetown. I knew that nobody in the country was really was familiar with wrestling at all. I took a ferry from the airport area to Freetown proper. Out of the six or 700 people on that ferry, not one person knew who I was. They looked at me because I was a large white guy with long, unkempt hair, but that was the only thing remarkable about me. Yet when I got to these small villages, child after child was yelling my name. They even had songs they sang in unison, and it turns out that I am known and very well liked solely because I contributed money to help build schools in the area.
BC: How did that change your outlook on things?
MF: First of all I realized that I did not have to commit so many reckless acts to earn the acceptance of people I’d never met. But I also, on a serious note, I came to identify Africa, at least the part of Africa I was in, as a place of hope and joy and not just despair. I really believe education is a key to bringing this continent out of the situation it’s in.
BC: Has Tori Amos been getting more attention from wrestling fans since your book hit the shelves?
MF: (Laughs) Honestly, I do not know. I have not had contact with her since the book was published. The people I know at RAINN who know her, say she’s still very flattered. I imagine that there’s been a lot of people Googling her or checking out the links to certain songs. If she knew that it’s drawing people to a cause like RAINN that she holds so dear, I can’t imagine her minding.
BC: You’ve written four memoirs. Other memoirists write about cooking Julia Childs recipes, or they don’t use toilet paper for a year, or they write about their tawdry sex lives. Do you worry that the success of your writing is too closely tied to getting choke slammed off of steel cages and would you rather have the tawdry sex?
MF: I do write about my sex life, but because it’s mine, I can’t use the adjective tawdry to describe it. I really enjoy telling stories. This book is not doing as well as the others have, but the people who are reading it are enjoying it. Because 100% of the advance was donated to the causes I care about, it’s always seemed like a labor of love to me.
BC: What’s next for Mick Foley?
MF: I’ve got a lot of things on the horizon. I’ve got a movie based on parts of my life that I’m writing along with director Christopher Scott. It’s a movie being produced by Jeff Katz ("Snakes on a Plane") who’s had great success in the motion picture industry. I may dabble in fiction again. I intend to talk RAINN when the opportunity lends itself and hopefully try to make a difference where I can while simultaneously being a dad who’s home a little bit often.
Break the Walls Down: Chris Jericho Speaks
Chris Jericho earns audience ire by giving them a stern talking to (photo courtesy of World Wrestling Entertainment).
On Thursday May 13, pro wrestling bad guy Chris Jericho played a packed nightclub in Glasgow, Scotland with his power metal band Fozzy in support of their new album “Chasing the Grail.” The following day he fronted a show in Nottingham, England and then did two shows in London the day after that. On Sunday he rested (or likely traveled), but was in Toronto on Monday getting clotheslined out of the ring during the weekly broadcast of the WWE’s flagship program “Monday Night RAW". Only five days later he was at it again, playing a rocker dive in Chesterfield, Michigan followed by a pay-per-view tag team match in Detroit the next afternoon. Just like any other rocker, Jericho can’t quit his day job to pursue his dreams of rock n’ roll glory, but in Jericho’s case, that day job involves body slams, spandex and pyro.
As if Jericho doesn’t have enough on his plate, he’s found himself in the middle of a literary blogosphere controversy, albeit indirectly. In a recent Huffington Post blog titled “Why Men Don’t Read: How Publishing is Alienating Half the Population,” book editor-turned-thriller-writer Jason Pinter details the difficulties in getting his mostly female former higher ups at Grand Central Publishing to take a chance on Jericho’s memoirs despite the wrestler’s obvious media profile. In the end, the fate of Jericho’s book hinged on the opinion of the fifteen-year-old nephew of one of the company’s senior editors. Luckily for all involved, the kid was a Jericho fan. The resulting book, “A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex", cracked the New York Times bestseller list and has spawned a sequel titled “Undisputed: How to Become the World Champion in 1,372 Easy Steps", which is scheduled to hit the shelves in February 2011. Not surprisingly, Jericho has composed much of the new volume while on airplanes.
As Pinter’s assertions of an estrogen-dominated publishing industry sparked off a firestorm of controversy in web outlets both large and small (with Salon’s own Lara Miller weighing in), I had to get Jericho’s take on this whole thing. After a Memorial Day promotional appearance at an FYE in Austin, Texas, Jericho granted me the following interview. Of course we discussed Pinter and the upcoming book, but we also found the time to talk about heavy metal, the psychology of getting wrestling fans to hate you, and Jericho’s hand in coining Tony Stark’s favorite put-down from “Iron Man 2″. In fact there was so much to go over, we didn’t even mention Jericho’s appearance in the summer comedy movie “MacGruber” or his upcoming gig as the host of the ABC reality show “Downfall", which wasn’t announced at the time of our conversation. Jericho did have time for both Monty Python and Woody Allen references, however.
BOB CALHOUN: You’re the first person that I ever heard call someone an ass clown. How did you feel when you heard that in “Iron Man 2″?
CHRIS JERICHO: I was laughing because I thought I should get a royalty for that or something. I came up with that on the spot. We were in Bakersfield, California, just doing dueling insults with Kurt Angle. He was like, “you’re this,” and I’m that. And I’m like, “You’re just an ass… clown.” People kind of laughed at it so I said it on TV a week later, and then the next week after that there were signs in the crowd that said “ass clown.” That’s how you can always see if people like something. If you say something on TV and the next week there’s signs in the crowd with that phrase on it. Right off the bat, I knew that I had stumbled onto something.
BC: That’s the kind of audience feedback that you have in pro wrestling that you don’t get as a rock band or in any other kind theater or performance.
CJ: Because it’s a weekly serial almost like the 1940s, you see the instant gratification of what happened the week before. Playing a show with Fozzy, I’ll get the gratification that night, but it’s not like you’re going back to Glasgow the next week to see if people enjoyed a certain song or whatever. It’s the same thing when you’re acting. You don’t get any gratification for that for six months or eight months afterwards until you go to the theaters or see your work on TV. But with wrestling, because it’s live theater, because it’s televised around the world, because you show up every week to do it, you get the feedback right away.
BC: With your most recent heel incarnation where you’re lecturing the audience on how they need to grow up, were you surprised at the kind of reaction that you got in this post-modern era? The kind of ire and hatred that you got for doing that?
CJ: It’s not the line that you say, it’s how you deliver it, and nobody likes being talked down to. Nobody likes it either if you’re telling them something that’s the truth. If you were walking across the street and you were about to get hit by a bus and I saved you, but every single day I went, “Hey, remember when I saved you from getting hit by a bus. You should’ve looked both ways.” At first, you’d be like, “Well, yeah, you’re right.” After awhile you’d say, “Shut up. I understand. Enough already. I wish you’d let me get fucking hit by the bus.” And that’s kind of how it works with what I’m doing in the WWE with calling people hypocrites. It all stems from something that really happened, and people don’t like being told the same thing over and over and over again. It becomes quite sickening. That’s the reason the character has drawn such ire for such a long time, it’s that I’m a know-it-all who’s basically telling the truth with what’s going on in society, but people don’t like being told that.
BC: If Robert Downey Jr. calls anybody a gelatinous tapeworm in “Iron Man 3″ are you going to challenge him to cage match?
CJ: I’ll jump through the screen like Woody Allen’s “Purple Rose of Cairo” and attack him right then and there.
BC: You could get a good movie out of that.
CJ: You could.
BC: Tell me about Fozzy’s “Chasing the Grail” album. What is the grail, how fast is it moving and why are you chasing it?
CJ: The grail could be anything. I wrote a song called “Grail” and our guitar player Rich (Ward) came up with the idea of “Chasing the Grail” for the record title. You’re not exactly chasing an old cup that Jesus drank wine out of. The grail is something that could be a job, a girl that you’re looking to catch – whatever it may be. So it stands for anything that’s a goal in your life or a dream that you set out to capture. For me, it’s an African Side Flying Swallow and it moves about 36 miles per hour on land and I’m going to catch that son of a bitch one of these days.
BC: Now the lyrics on the record are a mix of The Bible, Stephen King and Viking disembowelment.
CJ: Well yeah, it’s a heavy metal record so those are the three food groups that you go to: Stephen King, Bible and Viking disembowelment. Any metal band worth their weight in rock will hit those subjects over and over again.
BC: You’re a Christian and you’re way into metal. Do you ever feel that you get if from both sides? That you have Christians who don’t understand how you can be into heavy metal, and you have pagan or atheist metalheads who don’t understand your faith?
CJ: Back in the 1980s, you used get that when metal was first coming into prominence. You know the picketing. You’d go to an Iron Maiden concert and there’d be signs. I think now the whole world has calmed down a bit. If you really want to get technical about it, God created everything anyway so God created Iron Maiden believe it or not. Heavy metal’s a release, a great way to work out your aggressions. It was when I was 15 and it is now that I’m 39.
BC: Tell me about Jason Pinter. Were you aware of the hoops that he had to jump through to get “A Lion’s Tale” published?
CJ: No, I wasn’t aware of it at all and it was actually really interesting to hear that story. Especially now that the people at Grand Central (Publishing) signed Bret Hart’s book, they signed Mick Foley’s book, so these other books are signed because of “A Lion’s Tale". And hat’s off to Jason for seeing that. Am I a wrestler? Yes, but it’s so much more than that. I didn’t write “A Lion’s Tale” for wrestling fans. I wrote it for people who might not know anything about wrestlers, (as) more of a follow your dreams type of book than “then I gave him a body slam.” I think that it paid off in spades. I wasn’t aware of the lengths that Jason had to go through to get the book signed so when I read about it, I was kind of laughing because he hadn’t told me that story. Soon after he signed the book, he left the company to go and write on his own. So he started as my editor for about two weeks, but then I never saw him again until hearing this story on his blog.
BC: How would you compare the publishing industry to pro wrestling?
CJ: I don’t know. There’s not a lot of similarities I don’t think except that they’re both entertainment involved businesses. I think writing any kind of a book whether you’re a wrestler, a musician, or an actor; it’s such an art form. It’s such an arduous process. It takes such a long time. I’ve never been the guy that would pawn off my story to somebody else to write. I’ve written every world of both of my books including the one that I’m just going to ship right now. I work with a collaborator to give me some thoughts and advice as I write it myself. I think that that’s one of the reasons why “A Lion’s Tale” was so successful because I was very hands on with it – the same way I’ve been with my wrestling career from the moment I started.
BC: Now you’re writing the new book on planes, at least from reading your Twitter feed.
CJ: Yeah, that’s the way for me to do it: planes, trains and automobiles, man. You do so much traveling that it really makes the time go by faster, especially when you’re writing and you get really into it. Hours go by as if in minutes. It’s funny too because I’m a big fan of watching movies and DVDs and I haven’t watched anything in the last couple of months because all I’ve been doing is writing every single chance that I get. So now that I’m almost done, I have these huge piles of DVDs in my house that I have to start watching because I haven’t had any time to do it. All my spare time, even when I’m not on a plane is devoted to writing this book, rewriting it and editing it. There’s a lot of work to it. I’m up for it, but I couldn’t churn out a book a year like Stephen King. I don’t know how in the hell he does it, but I’m sure he probably wonders how I could wrestle 210 times a year.
BC: I take it the new book is about your experiences in WWE?
CJ: That and Fozzy. It’s as much of a rock and roll book as it is a wrestling book. It’s kind of half and half. Actually, my experiences in LA acting as well – it’s kind of an all encapsulating show business memoir.
BC: Your previous book, “A Lions Tale,” is about promotions that you had worked in in the past and a lot of them aren’t even in existence any more. Is there a different feeling going into writing a book about that includes your current employer and co-workers?
CJ: Not really. I don’t have any reasons to be angry about anything. I’ve had a big career and have done everything anyone can ever do. Obviously there are some stories where there are disagreements or conflict and that’s what makes the stories interesting. At the end of the day, everyone I write about I have the utmost respect for. You have watch what you say in certain points but I watched what I said in the first book too because I wasn’t coming up to settle any scores or be bitter. There’s a couple of villains in the first book and there’s a couple of villains in the second book. There’s some great stories about some of my clashes with Vince (McMahon), but that’s bound to happen when you’ve worked with somebody for almost ten years.
BC: In your experience with your first book, do men read?
CJ: Absolutely. Absolutely. This book was read by every demographic and every segment of society that I could imagine: men, women, hermaphrodites, everybody. Now that I’ve been doing in-store signings for Fozzy and “Chasing the Grail", I sign at least 20 or 30 books at every signing from people that have just bought it. It’s still selling, which to me is amazing.
Raw vs. the Volcano
Tonight, John Cena and the rest of the cast of “Monday Night RAW” ran into a volcano. Despite a near demigod status bestowed on Cena by the son of one my readers, the incredible brawn of the World Wrestling Entertainment champ was no match for the continent-covering clouds of pumice and ash thrust into the air by a raging Mother Earth. Yes, folks, the volcano won, leaving a large chunk of the WWE roster, who had been touring Europe this past week, stranded in Northern Ireland as they waited for trans-Atlantic air travel to resume.
When Triple H (or HHH if you prefer) entered the ring on “RAW” tonight and announced that he was the only one there because he didn’t go on the European tour with the rest of the gang, it was easy to believe that Cena or Orton would pop out from under the ring and prove him wrong. As a wrestling fan, I’m conditioned for this sort of thing. It’s called a swerve in the vernacular of the backrooms and they seem to happen a lot these days. Most other TV shows would have just aired a rerun and called it a day, but pro wrestling is steeped in “the show must go on” ethic of the carnivals, circuses and vaudeville halls from which it sprang. Luckily for Triple H, the stable of “Smackdown” wrestlers made it back from Europe before air traffic was grounded. Triple H and CM Punk played the dozens and traded barbs for an extended take before brawling, indicating that killing time was still of the essence.
After Triple H and Rey Mysterio, Jr. fended off an attack from Punk and his “Straight Edge Society” (a society consisting of one lackey and a curvaceous but bald-headed valet), announcers Jerry Lawler and Michael Cole cut to a taped announcement from a solemn John Cena, who was still stuck in Belfast. “I’ve never seen anything like it in my life,” he said, I guess referring to a squad of wrestlers dying of utter boredom in a three-star UK hotel.
“We’re safe,” he continued before ratcheting up the rhetoric against Dave “The Animal” Bautista, his opponent at the “Extreme Rules” pay-per-view this Sunday. “I’m fully focused,” he said before promising to “swim across the Atlantic Ocean,” if he had to. If there’s anyone who could do it, it’s probably him, but only if he resists the temptation to sample the “Extreme Rules” sponsor: the very controversial KFC Double Down, which combines bacon, mayo and fried chicken into a grease bomb that could even fell the mighty Cena.
When wrestlers weren’t passing their time with lengthy bits of oratory, SNL’s Will Forte was on hand in the guise of his “MacGyver” spoof character MacGruber to hype the upcoming film of the same name. After being called out by the Putin-esque Russian judo expert Vladimir Koslov, McGruber blew-up rapping wrestler R-Truth in one of McGruber’s trademark explosives mishaps. Hopefully, this will prove to be the ruse that all of Triple H’s volcano talk wasn’t. (Truth was seen scurrying off the stage before the massive display of pyro that supposedly wiped him off the face of the Earth.) In another note, “MacGruber” is a film loaded with WWE wrestlers, featuring appearances by Chris Jericho, Mark Henry, The Big Show and the Great Kali.
Just when the show seemed barren of any actual wrestling, The Undertaker, who appears to have suspended a rare vacation for him, emerged to save the show like the trooper that he is with a long match against World Champ Jack Swagger. The WWE has two champions, almost mimicking the alphabet soup of title that run rampant in boxing. The World Champion appears on “Smackdown” while the “WWE Champ” (Cena) rules on “RAW.” Taker’s match with Swagger was a little heavy on the rest holds, showing that the 7′ tall goth might not be fully healed from his already classic match against Shawn Michaels at last month’s WrestleMania. Still, Undertaker and Swagger took some hard spills into the steel steps outside of the ring. Undertaker ended the match by catching Swagger with a choke slam after Swagger had sprung off the ring ropes. As the ref counted the pin, WWE commentator Michael Cole tastefully announced, “Jimmy Hoffa’s not the only body buried in the New Jersey Meadowlands.”
The show closed with a six-man tag match pitting Triple H, Rey Mysterio and Edge against CM Punk, Luke Gallows and Chris Jericho. It was the kind of weird teaming that you’d usually only see at an un-televised tour stop. Pro wrestlers don’t have an off-season. They perform on at least one TV show a week and several Sunday pay-per-views throughout the year. It’s a schedule that would make John Stewart or Conan O’Brien weep and those comedians just get to sit in a chair throughout most of their shows, not get hit with it. No, even what Michael Cole called a “volcanical eruption” could not stop the show.
QUICK ANNOUNCEMENT: I’ll be reading from my punk-wrestling memoir, “Beer, Blood and Cornmeal” at the Cal Student Bookstore at UC Berkeley on Thursday, April 29th at 6pm. The store is located at 108 MLK Jr. Student Union #4504, Berkeley, CA 94720. April is the two-year anniversary of the publication of “Beer, Blood and Cornmeal,” which was released by ECW Press in April 2008. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long, and needless to say, I’m happy that Ali Rappaport and the the folks at Cal Berkeley invited me to do this reading. Hope to see you there.
01:07:35 pm, by bobcalhoun
, 638 words, 13871 views
Antonio Inoki: Wrestling in Antartica
The always dapper Japanese wrestling legend and Ali opponent Antonio Inoki and I at San Francisco International Airport on Friday March 26, 2010.
Legendary Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki and his entourage were sitting in the Max’s Diner concession at San Francisco International Airport on Friday morning. His features looked like they were chiseled out of a solid block of Mount Fuji with special attention paid to his distinctive and pronounced chin. He still looked almost exactly the same as he did when he fought Muhammad Ali in 1976.
At the time, the Ali fight was considered a debacle. Inoki’s only battle plan was to lie on his back and kick at Ali’s legs for several rounds. Originally, the bout was booked as a staged piece of sports entertainment. A day before the fight, however, Ali decided that to put over a faked fight as a real one cut against his Islamic principles and informed Inoki that they’d be fighting for real. Two years earlier in Zaire, Ali had knocked out the hard-punching George Foreman, making Foreman stumble around the ring like a rag doll after a withering combination of punches. In the previous decade, Ali made the equally fearsome Sonny Liston quit on his stool. In 1976, Ali was at the height of his fame and the top of his game. Inoki had no strategy equal to the task of taking on “The Greatest,” but he got in the ring with Ali anyway. It must have taken tremendous courage for him to have done so.
At the airport, I troubled Inoki for a picture with him. He was kind enough to grant one. A female member of his entourage snapped the shot with my girlfriend’s camera. Inoki was wearing a sharp sharkskin suit and his trademark red scarf. My shirt at least had buttons on it but the man made me fell horridly underdressed. Inoki’s hands were huge, maybe twice as thick as mine. Inoki and I were going to be on the same flight. We were flying to Phoenix for WrestleMania. Rosie and I were going as spectators while Inoki was going to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, a kind of Cooperstown for pro wrestling that WWE impresario monopolist Vince McMahon has recently lavished attention on.
Inoki’s fight with Ali has become a curiosity over the years and is seen as an early attempt at mixed martial arts. But Inoki didn’t wait for the beginnings of the Ultimate Fighting Championship in the mid-1990s to trade in on the notoriety from his clash with Ali. In 1989, he established the Sports and Peace Party and was elected to the Japanese Diet (their parliament), where he served until 1995, while still wrestling and running his New Japan pro wrestling company. On the eve of the first Gulf War, Inoki went to Iraq, met with Saddam Hussein and successfully negotiated the return of 39 Japanese nationals who were being used as human shields. In 1995, Inoki organized the “Wrestling Festival for Peace” in Pyongyang, North Korea, where he wrestled “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair in front over 150,000 communists. At the Hall of Fame ceremony, Stan “The Lariat” Hansen, a man who once caused Big Van Vader’s eye to pop out of its socket during a match in Japan, reminded the audience of Inoki’s international accomplishments.
After Hansen’s remarks, Inoki addressed the audience at the Dodge (as in trucks) Theater in Phoenix through a translator. Inoki announced his plans to promote a wrestling card in Antarctica to raise awareness of global warming. The wrestling matches will be held “in front of penguins,” he said. Inoki was totally serious about this too and if anyone can pull such a thing off, it’s definitely him. If he could promote matches in closed Communist dictatorships and get Hussein to release prisoners, then he can likely get Vince McMahon
CM Punk: WrestleMania's (more than) Minor Threat
CM Punk, a straight edge pro wrestler with a messiah complex, revels in the psychodrama (photo courtesy of World Wrestling Entertainment).
CM Punk has that maniacal glint in his eye. He’s gotten really good at the maniacal glint thing lately. He’s taunting the beloved masked luchadore Rey Mysterio, Jr. at the Staples Center in Los Angeles during the taping of the Friday March 19th installment of “WWE Smackdown.” The week before, Punk ruined an in-ring celebration for Mysterio’s daughter Aaliyah’s ninth birthday. In case we missed all the high drama, the WWE showed a tightly edited clip of punk wrecking the festivities on the high def big screen over the ring entrance.
But Punk’s taunts aren’t the usual kind of pro wrestling bluster bordering on histrionics. He’s not yelling, “I’ll assassinate the bum.” No, punk sounds more like someone playing a cult leader in a David Lynch movie. With his Manson-like full beard, he looks the part too. “I could save you if you could just accept me as your savior,” Punk says, urging Mysterio to join his little wrestling cult called the Straight Edge Society. Currently, this society only consists of two members: the thuggish wrestler Luke Gallows and Sirena, a plant from the audience that Punk converted during a previous episode of this macho soap opera. The line between pro wrestling and tent house revivals has always been a thin one, but Punk’s disciples still perform the task of the traditional bad guy wrestler’s entourage by interfering with matches when the ref’s back is turned.
“Straight edge means I’m better than you,” Punk continues, “but there’s hope for you. If you just join my Straight Edge Society you could somehow live up to this super hero myth these people have built up for you.”
“Usted es un monstruo,” Mysterio says in Spanish after telling Punk that he’s not human in English.
The four decks packed with fans at the Staples Center start chanting “You Suck! You Suck!” Their ire at Punk is more intense than usual for pro wrestling’s current wink and a nod “sports entertainment” era. They really hate him and Punk has transformed this one-ring circus into psychodrama.
“If I’m not getting people mad enough to jump over the rail, then I’m not doing my job,” Punk says during a recent phone interview. “When I first started out in indie wrestling, I used to get in fist fights with the crowd. This happened a lot. Of course this is uncool now. There’s plenty of security to deal with this and I just let them handle it. But I’m going out there to push every single button. If I get people throwing trash at me, that’s okay.”
“My job is to piss people off,” he adds.
But the foundation of Punk’s new cult-leader persona isn’t something just dreamed up by the WWE’s writing staff. Punk comes by his anti-drug/anti-booze straight-edge beliefs honestly. He has the words “straight edge” tattooed across his stomach and enters the ring with large Xs drawn across his hand wraps with a sharpie. The Xs drawn on the back of the hands, used by bouncers to identify underage club goers, have been the symbol of the straight-edge punk movement since Minor Threat was tearing up the D.C. hardcore scene in the early 1980s.
“(Straight edge) is the only way I know how to be,” Punk says. “I was born this way.”
“To me, there are lots of people out there who do drugs and are stupid.”
But using his own earnest ideology as a way to make wrestling fans mad enough to leap over the guard rail never gives Punk a moment of pause. “Anything I can do to get the message of straight edge out there is positive,” he explains. “Anyone with half a brain can go online and read what straight edge actually is.”
Any potential inner conflicts aside, Punk’s current feud with Mysterio will be settled during a no-hold-barred street fight match in Glendale, Ariz. this Sunday at WrestleMania, the WWE’s annual big blowout that Punk describes as the “Super Bowl” or “World Cup” of pro wrestling. “Everyone gets new gear, just like the prom,” he jokes.
Although Punk has performed at previous WrestleManias, those matches were “Money in the Bank” ladder matches that involved several wrestlers being in the ring at the same time kind of like an old-school battle royal. This Sunday will be the first time that Punk works a singles match during his sport’s grandest showcase. However, Punk feels that fans and experts alike may be overlooking this bout.
“I think they’re really sleeping on me and my match with Rey Mysterio,” Punk says, brimming with bravado. “Nobody’s talking about this match right now but they will be.”
I’m going to WrestleMania in Phoenix this weekend plus I’ve joined the 21st Century. Follow my learned observations and wise-assed remarks about all the hype and buildup to Vince McMahon’s annual cavalcade of body slams on my newly launched Twitter feed at twitter.com/bob_calhoun
Obama Channels John Cena
President Obama sounded strangely familiar as he wrapped up his State of the Union address. It was that mix of mea culpas and defiance. I had heard this somewhere before. Maybe not verbatim, not word for word, but the flow was similar. And then it dawned on me. My God, Obama sounds just like former and fallen World Wrestling Champ John Cena from Monday Night RAW about a month ago! Cena had just lost the title to the dastardly and hated Sheamus (yes that’s how the spell it). The democrats have just lost Ted Kennedy’s senate seat. Obama has failed to deliver on healthcare and the economy. Both men know they have let their most ardent supporters down. For Cena, whether he regains the title is entirely in the hands of the WWE scriptwriters and management. For Obama, it’s a lot more complicated. Here’s selected text from the two speeches and see the similarities for yourself.
First, here’s the President from the closing moments of the State of the Unions speech:
Our administration has had some political setbacks this year, and some of them were deserved. But I wake up every day knowing that they are nothing compared to the setbacks that families all across this country have faced this year. And what keeps me going – what keeps me fighting – is that despite all these setbacks, that spirit of determination and optimism – that fundamental decency that has always been at the core of the American people – lives on.
‘…We have finished a difficult year. We have come through a difficult decade. But a new year has come. A new decade stretches before us. We don’t quit. I don’t quit. Let’s seize this moment – to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more.
And here’s John Cena:
I wanted to apologize to anybody that I might have let down last night. This is… this is kind of hard to understand, but sometimes you can try so hard at something. Sometimes you can be so prepared, and still fail. And every time you fail, it’s painful, it causes sadness, and especially as I saw last night, it causes disappointment. I’ve often said a man’s character is not judged after he celebrates a victory, but by what he does when his back is against the wall. So no matter how great the setback, how severe the failure, you never give up. You never give up, you pick yourself up, you brush yourself off, you get up and move on and overcome and that is what I believe! So… there are those who were so offended by my actions last night that they might have lost faith in me. I absolutely respect your decision to do so. But I’m not talking to them… I’m talking to those people who still believe! Tonight, I speak to those who still proudly stand in my corner! You have not given up on me, and I will NOT give up on you!
I Sing the Body Ventura
Jesse “The Body” Ventura displays his political acumen.
When Jesse “The Body” Ventura won the Minnesota governorship in 1998, it must have given other high profile bodybuilders a feeling of inadequacy that they likely hadn’t felt since they were skinny runts getting sand kicked in their faces. Less than a month after Ventura’s upset victory, Hulk Hogan announced a bid for the presidency of the United States that barely made it through a couple of talk show appearances. Hogan’s reason for running was that he was “10 times more popular” than Ventura. In 2003, when Ventura decided not to run for reelection, Arnold Schwarzenegger picked up the gubernatorial torch and became “The Governator” of California in the recall election that same year. In order to decisively one-up Ventura (his Predator co-star), Arnold won re-election in 2006 and sunk the California economy in the process. Jesse “The Body” envy can drive an oiled up muscleman to extreme levels of electoral lunacy.
Following last week’s big announcement that Arnold won’t be running for office again, and Hulk Hogan’s signing with TNA, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Ventura is resurfacing. Those guys tend to work like that. Tonight, Ventura is returning to his old stomping grounds to host a three-hour Thanksgiving episode of the WWE’s Monday Night RAW. Like all RAW guest hosts (or all guests on any TV talk show), Jesse’s there to shamelessly plug his latest project, a Tru TV show called Conspiracy Theory that looks like a less funny version of Penn & Teller’s Bullshit!. But as he trades verbal barbs with the current WWE roster, Ventura might be rubbing elbow-drops with the future political leadership of America. After reading the tealeaves, here is my expert analysis of the political prospects of some of Vince McMahon’s top superstars…
WWE Champ John Cena (left) and regular guest on “The View,” MVP (right).
JOHN CENA: The current WWE champ’s freakish ability to lift two wrestlers with a combined weight of over 600 pounds onto his shoulders before slamming them to the mat shows that he could probably even elevate the ailing economy of his native Massachusetts. As a candidate he’d be a dream. He supports our troops, has won an award from the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Hollywood salute that he learned for his action movie turn as The Marine (2006) gives him a touch of the Reaganesque. However, in order to run for elected office he’d have to lose those baggy denim shorts of his. Even Arnie traded in his Terminator leather jacket and shades for a suit when he entered the political arena. Cena could become a political force in ten years when his rabid pre-adolescent fans finally become old enough to vote.
MVP: This former United States champ has been seen currying the favor of Sherri Shepherd on ABC’s The View a lot lately and that could be a smooth political move. Boosting one’s cachet with that daytime TV audience proved crucial to the success of the Schwarzenegger and Obama campaigns and Sarah Palin’s appearance on Oprah has definitely generated a lot of buzz. Although MVP has the charisma and the oratory skills for public life, he also has a conviction for burglary that could keep him from even voting in his home state of Florida let alone getting on the ballot there. While acts of burglary are often committed by our political class, most successful pols save their lawbreaking for when they are safely in office. Whereas MVP served 8 ½ years in an actual prison for crimes he committed when he was 16 years old, felonious elected officials are usually remanded to appear on Sunday morning talk shows, The Apprentice or Dancing with the Stars.
Tag-team titlist Chris Jericho lobbies for the endorsement of one-time democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton.
CHRIS JERICHO: Yes, this co-holder of the unified tag-team belts is Canadian but he was born in New York, so unlike Arnold, he can still run for president. His other potential negative is that he’s a bad guy who regularly refers to wrestling fans as “gelatinous tapeworms.” But remember, Jesse always played the part of the heel too and that didn’t stop him from moving into the governor’s mansion. What makes Jericho interesting in today’s polarized political landscape is that he’s a born again Christian who not only gets irony, but revels in it. Some of this may be due to his growing up in a country that already has a universal healthcare system so his faith isn’t automatically combined with a rabid belief in death panels and birther conspiracies. Jericho’s ability to maintain his Christian beliefs while still being way into to 80s metal makes him the ultimate crossover candidate.
SANTINO MARELLA: Marella provides an ethnic comedy relief that we haven’t seen since the days of Chico Marx but it’s doubtful that his clueless Guido shtick will endear him to Italian-Americans. His donning of a tight skirt and wig to win the “Miss WrestleMania” crown is equally unlikely to win the GLBT or women’s vote for him. If only Marella was really Italian instead of Canadian, he might have a legit shot at the Italy’s Parliament. If the Italians would vote in Cicciolina the porn queen or Moussolini’s granddaughter or, hell, Silvio Burlusconi, what’s to stop them catapulting Marrella into high office? Think about it Santino.
JERRY “THE KING” LAWLER: This Southern wrestling legend and longtime RAW color commentator is best known for giving a vicious piledriver to Andy Kaufman, but he’s also a two-time candidate for mayor of Memphis, Tenn. The first time Lawler ran was in 1999 (the same year that Ventura was sworn in as governor) and the second was in a special election earlier this month. Both times Lawler came up short. Although he garnered only four per cent of the vote this last time around, I wouldn’t be surprised if this river boat gambler tries to make the third time a charm. This still begs the question for Jerry: why would you want to be mayor when you’re already the king?
TRIPLE H aka HUNTER HEARST HELMSLEY: By marrying WWE heiress Stephanie McMahon, Triple H has put himself in the company of recent presidential contenders John McCain and John Kerry. Having what Rush Limbaugh would deem a “sugar daddy wife” (but only if you’re a democrat) on your arm, whether she’s the inheritor of a beer, ketchup or grappling fortune, can almost get you to the top but you still might come up short come election day. I’m sure that Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley’s winning ways with audiences will be just as much of a boon to any Triple H candidacy as Cindy McCain and Teresa Heinz-Kerry were to their husbands’ presidential aspirations. Under normal circumstances, the presidential also-ran who is married to an heiress could look forward to a long career in the senate to salve the wounds of rejection by the electorate, however certain familial circumstances may deny Triple H this booby prize…
LINDA McMAHON: She’s Triple H’s mother-in-law, Vince McMahon’s wife, former WWE CEO and candidate for Chris Dodd’s Connecticut senate seat. Like other successful businesswomen entering Republican primaries such as former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina or former eBay Pres. Meg Whitman, McMahon may be “too liberal” for the rabid tea-bagger wing of today’s GOP. 1970s wrestling king and Goldwater conservative, “Superstar” Billy Graham (a big influence on both Hogan and Ventura), has already chastised McMahon over the WWE’s penchant for “bra and panties matches” and encouraging steroid use. Graham is supporting conservative congressman Rob Simmons in the primary and you can expect Glenn Beck to do the same. On her side, Linda McMahon sports a slight lead over Dodd in recent polls as well as a $50 million war chest. Just don’t expect followers of Beck’s 9/12 Project to consider such things when drumming blue-state republicans out of the party over ideological impurities.
* * *
So tonight, Jesse “The Body” returns to the WWE to once again bask in the limelight generated by the company that put him on the national stage. Just don’t expect him to stick around too long. Jesse’s got his new cable show to think about. Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair may be beating each other bloody in a tour of Australia right now, but Ventura won’t follow his contemporaries back into the squared circle. Jesse’s always known that the hard thing in wrestling isn’t making your big comeback; it’s staying away. The same can certainly be said for politics.
The special 3-hour Thanksgiving episode of RAW with guest host Jesse “The Body” Ventura airs tonight at 8pm on the USA Network.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I’ll be back on December 3 with my review of Steven Seagal’s loony foray into reality television, Lawman. Special thanks to Greg Franklin for coming up with the rad title of this article.
10:40:54 pm, by bobcalhoun
, 1026 words, 10006 views
Hulk Hogan Returns: 80s Nostalgia Goes Off the Deep End
Terry Gene Bollea aka Hulk Hogan was able to navigate the psychotic world of professional wrestling for decades, but three seasons of reality TV destroyed his life more thoroughly than a jack knife power bomb through a stack of tables.
Since Hogan Knows Best first aired in 2005, Hogan’s marriage has been in the crapper. His wife wants half and is dating a 19 year-old from their kids’ high school. His son Nick went to jail for eight months for a 2007 reckless driving incident that left his friend, John Graziano, in need of round-the-clock nursing care for the remainder of his life. While Nick was in the Pinellas County stir, guards caught Hulkster and son plotting to spin the tragedy into yet another reality show. Hogan Knows Best got cancelled proving that even VH1’s Celebreality has its limits but the show’s IMDB and Wikipedia entries seem to leave open the possibility that it can return at any time.
After his show was put on hiatus with the disintegration of his family, Hogan has tried to cling to the reality TV gravy train. Brooke Knows Best, a show focusing on his daughter striking out her own, has made it through two seasons, but Hogan is just back story there. His stab at re-branding, the depressing Hulk Hogan’s Celebrity Championship Wrestling, was mercifully ended by the Country Music Television cable network after only eight episodes in 2008. The re-boot of American Gladiators, which employed Hogan as an announcer, didn’t make it out of 2008. While Hogan is most likely proud that Brooke has been able to let the cameras into her life without him, the Hulkster is one of the most limelight starved individuals ever to be ready for his close-up. With dwindling off-network options, Hogan has retreated to the last place that would have him with his appearance tonight on Spike TV’s NWA Total Nonstop Action (TNA, get it?).
Taped in a TV studio in Orlando, Florida, TNA’s flagship show Impact! is a far cry from the comparative glitz of Vince McMahon’s WWE, which made Hogan an 80s icon. While Impact! maintains the gritty feel of traditional big time wrestling that McMahon’s slick shows lack, and TNA does gives a lot of young talent a chance that might not make it on any of the WWE’s three weekly programs, the promotion’s top tier is beginning to look like a last stop for broken-down pieces of meat before they fade into Randy “The Ram” Robinson oblivion, or worse.
Recently, TNA broadcasts have made extensive use of highlight footage from an August pay-per-view match where the grey-haired Kevin Nash (age 50) and former WWE champ Mick Foley (age 44) beat each other into crimson messes with steel chairs, baseball bats covered with barbed wire and hidden razor blades. The most painful aspect of watching these scenes isn’t the massive bloodletting but it’s the obvious pain that both men have from wrestling on bad knees. Sadder still is the sight of Foley going to such extremes after his initial retirement from the ring in 2000. His three wrestling memoirs have made the New York Times bestseller list and he has written three children’s books and two novels. With publishing and commentary duties, Foley shouldn’t be risking his health and sanity by wrestling hardcore matches, but TNA somehow lured him back into their five-sided ring.
Like Hogan, fellow WWE castoff and recent TNA champ Kurt Angle also has marital problems. In September 2008, Angle’s wife left him and shacked up with Jeff Jarrett, TNA’s co-founder and a wrestler best known for smashing a guitar over peoples’ heads. That can’t make for a supportive working environment. In August 2009, Angle was arrested for violation of a restraining order and possession of performance enhancing drugs in a suburban Pittsburgh, Penn. strip mall. Angle parted ways with the WWE in May 2006 due to concerns over his then growing painkiller addiction. TNA scooped him up just four months later.
TNA president Dixie Carter and Hulk Hogan in the sleep-inducing finale of this week’s installment of TNA Impact!
Hogan’s first TNA appearance itself was beyond lame. He didn’t appear in the ring, didn’t call anyone out, didn’t stare down Angle, Sting, Samoa Joe or any of the promotion’s other better known grapplers. Instead we were treated to footage of a boring press conference held in what appeared to be a concourse of Madison Square Garden. Hogan, clad in a tight, pink t-shirt and a matching pink bandana (maybe to make him look less orange) gushed about how great Spike TV was as the president of the network stood beside him. He also referred to himself as a “game changer”.
Dixie Carter, the businesswoman who serves as president of TNA not the Emmy-nominated actress from Designing Women and Desperate Housewives, referred to Hogan as “the man, the brand” in a yawn of a speech that could have been delivered at any sales convention. She was also sure to let us know that she had joined Twitter. I shit you not. Like, that’s so early-to-mid 2009. At 9:30pm PST on Thursday, the Twitter feed itself contains only two posts, the first of which reads: “Celebrated the Hogan signing at staff meeting this morning with champagne and donuts.” In a nutshell, the fundraising symposium I had to go to last week contained more gripping mat action than Hogan’s TNA debut.
Vince McMahon would have never allowed things to go down this way. If Hogan had signed to the WWE, he would have been on Monday Night RAW staring down “The Viper” Randy Orton before being double-teamed from behind by Legacy. Hogan may have also been put through a table or hit with a folding chair right before the show ended, compelling us to tune in next week. At this rate, the Hulkster is far from making TNA “the number one sports entertainment company in the business,” as he promised from the podium. Instead, he will be another budget-draining mistake for a promotion with limited resources.
Yes, Hulkamania is back folks, but does it still run wild?
12:25:43 am, by bobcalhoun
, 1570 words, 10226 views
Kimbo Slice, Al Sharpton and Post-Racial America
Al Sharpton tries to educate the masses inside and outside the ring on this week’s “Monday Night RAW.”
Capping off a month of rising racial tensions spurred by Glenn Beck and shouting Southern congressmen, this week’s installment of The Ultimate Fighter offers us a bout pitting a muscular black street fighter from Miami against a flabby redneck brawler who goes by the handle of “Big Country.” If that wasn’t enough, earlier in the week, the WWE’s Monday Night RAW was hosted by the Reverend Al Sharpton. While a former president decries racism and the current one denies it, one wonders if the post-racial era has any chance of regaining its pre-healthcare debate momentum after the shellacking it’s taking at the fists of our basic-cable combat sports, both real and staged. Only one thing is certain: the symbolism will be thick enough to cut with a tomahawk chop to the chest.
Al Sharpton is the latest celebrity to host Monday Night RAW since the WWE started this experiment with a June appearance by Donald Trump. While guests ranging from Seth Green to Jeremy Piven to Bob Barker have mostly used the show to hype new books or movies, Sharpton was there to promote his national education tour with Newt Gingrich and Education Secretary Arn Duncan (now that’s a tag team). This made for one of the strangest television hybrids in the process as the USA Network brawl-for-all strayed into the realm of community access programming, only with more body slams.
Sharpton was booed heavily by the audience in Albany, NY as he made his way into the ring to James Brown’s “Living in America” during the show’s opening segment. The surly crowd also booed the mention of the words “education” and “civil rights.” Wow, civil rights and education; what horrible concepts! Remember when wrestling fans used to boo Nazis and Soviets? Full time sourpuss and tag team belt holder Chris Jericho did everything in his power to turn the mob’s ire from Sharpton to him by saying that the people in the arena were “gelatinous tapeworms” who “don’t deserve to be educated.” Sharpton finally earned some cheers by “empowering the people” and making a match between the Caucasian heel team of Jericho and The Big Show and their better-liked rivals MVP (a Barry Bonds/Kobe Bryant takeoff) and the World’s Strongest Man, Mark Henry, both of whom are African American.
Pro wrestling, a phenomenon closely associated with unwashed hillbillies in the public imagination, may seem like an odd venue for Sharpton’s outreach efforts however the WWE in particular is responsible for one of the first post-racial stars with Dwayne Johnson AKA The Rock. Like Barack Obama, the Rock is mixed-race with ties to Hawaii. Early attempts by Vince McMahon’s brain trust at casting then Rocky Maivia as an Islander babyface fizzled quickly. Later, The Rock was the head of a cabal of grappling black militants called The Nation of Domination, but little mention was made of his ethnic heritage by the time he made it to the top-tier of the WWE’s roster. He didn’t have to dance in between clothes lines like his black father, Rocky “Soul Man” Johnson, nor did he wrestle barefoot and wear puka shells like his Hawaiian uncle Peter Maivia. Like Tiger Woods, that other pillar of post-racial America, The Rock was able to become the number one attraction in an athletic field that previously had a mostly white fan base.
Al Sharpton’s classroom of freaks.
After Jericho and The Big Show defeat MVP and Mark Henry (through nefarious means of course), the next time we see Sharpton he is on a soundstage made to look like a schoolroom. We know it’s a schoolroom because there’s an apple on the desk. Any good that the WWE may have done by creating one of America’s first post-racial stars is almost undone as Shaprton’s classroom is overrun by a cavalcade of ethnic stereotypes. There’s an angry Chicano, an Italian with a clueless dago shtick that was collecting dust when Chico Marx was still using it and a grunting dwarf in a leprechaun suit. Sharpton soon waves them away and proclaims that tonight “it’s all about “education.” Yes, I enjoyed this skit, and yes, I feel deeply guilty about this.
As with almost all of RAW’s celebrity guest hosts save for the incomparable Bob Barker, Sharpton participates in some of the worst television imaginable. Luckily, WWE champ John Cena is around to summon a steel cage to descend from the rafters as if by magic, thus restoring our bad TV equilibrium. Still, that large WWE audience was too tempting for Sharpton to pass up and the announcers did mention that you could find Sharpton’s National Action Network on Twitter and Facebook several times when they weren’t plugging this Sunday’s Hell in a Cell pay per view. Sharpton may be all about education, but Vince McMahon is still about the pay-per-view.
Kimbo Slice, the prophet!
If Don King were promoting Wednesday night’s Ultimate Fighter match between Kimbo Slice and Roy “Big Country” Nelson, it would have been billed as a battle between a black ghetto fighter and a white cracker. While the subtext of this match-up amidst the current political backdrop may be undeniable to certain intellectuals writing their blogs, race wasn’t even mentioned during the third installment of this season’s TUF. In fact, much more was made of Nelson’s big stomach than anything else. “He’s got the biggest belly I’ve ever seen,” Coach Quinton “Rampage” Jackson quipped before adding, “I wonder how he aims when he takes a pee.” UFC promoter Dana White, the man who sets the tone, also weighed in on Nelson’s weight by saying that the fighter “looks like he just left every buffet in Vegas.”
Instead of picking the sores of regional or ethnic divides, the producers of TUF let us get to know the fighters as likable guys with human foibles. In the beginning of the episode, Kimbo Slice talked about how he fought anyone and everyone because he felt they were “the enemy” until he had a revelation. “The true you is the enemy,” he said, “the inner me: enemy!” The more time the camera spends with Kimbo, the more you want to get to know him. “A bird that flies high eventually has to come down to get water,” he tells a fellow fighter, dispensing a kind of zen warrior wisdom that would sound cornball if it wasn’t delivered by such an imposing man. In my previous review of the season premiere of TUF, I wrote that this season’s older roster would have deeper back stories, and this episode is paying those dividends.
Nelson, bearded and scruffy, is kind of the John Kruk of mixed martial arts. As a former champion of the now defunct International Fight League, he is also the most experienced fighter on TUF this season. “He has tons of experience,” Coach Rashad Evans observes, “He won’t be intimidated by Kimbo.”
The weigh-in is brought to us by the “superior sludge protection of Castrol GTX.” Kimbo and his massive shoulders weigh an even 230 pounds and Nelson tips the scales at 264 pounds. “You don’t look like you weigh 264,” Kimbo tells Nelson but then Nelson takes off his shirt and reveals his spare tire. There will be two five minute rounds. If the fight ends in a tie, one more “sudden victory” round will be ordered.
The Battle of the Bulge: Slice and Nelson square off during the first round of their Ultimate Fighter bout.
Both fighters are cautious during the first minute of the match. Nelson frustrates Kimbo early on with his jab but Kimbo rushes in and starts throwing the bombs that have sent so many other hard men to the pavement. Nelson ties Slice up and both men’s flesh grinds on the Octagon’s chain link fencing as they vie for position. Nelson finally takes his man down. Kimbo’s head lands at a painful angle on the cage wall. Slice almost bridges out but Nelson maintains the mounted position and starts throwing short punches to the top of Kimbo’s dome. The round ends. “Big Country” has probably won it.
The second round begins. Nelson looks a little tired. Kimbo throws punches with the force of a jackhammer. Nelson looks dazed but takes Slice down again. Both men land hard on the mat. Kimbo, a heavy puncher with little experience in ground fighting is as effective in this position as a fighter jet is on a runway. Nelson lands more short punches to Kimbo’s bald dome. The ref orders Kimbo to fight back or else he’s calling the fight. Kimbo is tied up. He does nothing. The ref stops the bout in the second round. “Big Country” Nelson, the show’s most experience contestant has taken out its best known star.
“None of us could get that big belly the hell off of us,” the ever quotable “Rampage” Jackson muses, “It’s like having the moon sitting on you. How do you get the moon off of you?”
Roy “Big Country” Nelson’s win over Kimbo Slice wasn’t a win of white over black, but a victory for the fat over the fit.
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