Straight Shooting: The difference between a "smart" fan and an intelligent one.
Fans have driven wrestlers to sacrifice more than ever - and they're paying a heavy price
March 3, 2000
By Fritz Capp

Trying to stay away from the everyday "get all the news I can" syndrome (that so many of us seem to fall into when it relates to wrestling) gives me some time to reflect on the sport in ways that most people do not take the time to think about. Oh it is a different time since I started Before those days I took what was shown on television and basically just had debate after debate with my friends about the different scenarios that could be happening in the upcoming weeks. We would wonder which of us would be right with their predictions and it gave wrestling a certain mystique that of course added to the infatuation with the sport. But no longer. Why? Because wrestling is everywhere and it leaves nothing to the imagination any longer.

Long gone are the days when you would have to catch the local house shows and watch Tuesday Night Titans or Georgia Championship Wrestling to see who had which belt. Also long gone are the days when the business protected itself to keep the allure ongoing.

Today’s wrestling fans are jaded beyond belief. This is due to the fact that every single one of them feels they "know" the business. The reason behind this is a simple one, wrestling took kayfabe and threw it right out of the window and left it to rot on the ground below.

It is nothing today to catch a TV appearance of "The Rock" on "The View" or someone on "Live! With Regis and Kathy Lee." You can see wrestlers in a myriad of commercials, on late night talk shows and you can even hear interviews with them on Howard Stern, someone who has professed many times that he does not like wrestling because it is fake.

Mainstream media coverage is out of control. While the majority of it is still negative and tries its best to point out all of wrestling’s faults, they are jumping on the bandwagon because they know if there is something in their paper on "wrestling" it is a draw. That is a fact that they cannot deny nor want to miss out on.

While many will say that all this is a good thing if you would just step back for one minute and look at it without all the bravado surrounding it you may take a different perspective.

Injuries are up at an alarming rate. In fact it is probably safe to say that more wrestlers are on the "injured" list now than at any other time in pro wrestling history. The shocking thing that no one really wants to look at is the severity of those injuries. Mick Foley in one "Hell In A Cell" match probably sustained more injuries in that one match than the whole WWF locker room did through the whole year of 1980. Back then wrestlers knew how to entertain without killing themselves to do so but then again the grading curve was no where near what it is today.

To see why wrestling is the way it is today one only has to look to the barren streets of Swanson and Ritner in South Philadelphia circa 1993. Here is where a little promotion was born of blood sweat and tears, mostly focusing on blood. Eastern Championship Wrestling was founded as the answer that time period's lackluster wrestling shows. Needless to say it was a hit without it ever getting out of the area at the time.

Now I am not blaming ECW for all of what is happening in wrestling. ECW was the natural selective choice of what had to happen in wrestling. Wrestling was dying even in the eyes of its most loyal followers in the early 90's and somebody had to do something. What ECW did for pro wrestling may never be chronicled in the annuals of wrestling history but there is no way that anyone can deny its impact.

ECW brought in not only extreme wrestling to the squared circle but also some of the most innovative and intriguing story lines to ever have been witnessed by a wrestling fan. Whether or not they want to admit it, they are the true innovators of "sports entertainment". Vince may have coined that term to get himself out of legal problems and to be able to run in New Jersey before ECW was even a thought in the head of then owner Tod Gordon, but it was in fact ECW that showed the wrestling world what "sports entertainment" was all about.

Its promoter at the time and now owner Paul Heyman had a unique feel for what the wrestling fans wanted and gave it to them in doses that they could not deny. It created a frenzy for the product, which fed Heyman’s quest to bring his promotion to the forefront even more. Between the time that ECW first went on air and mid-1995 Heyman’s ECW had captured the wrestling world even though the majority of wrestling fans had only heard the tales of the promotion that called a bingo hall its home.

It wasn’t long before the top dogs in the wrestling world, Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation and Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling, began to sit up and take notice to what was happening. Although both promotions had huge television deals and were making their mark in the pay-per-view arena, the buzz was always about the now renamed Extreme Championship wrestling. Both companies took different approaches to this young upstart with all the publicity.

Eric Bischoff convinced Ted Turner that the best way to deal with ECW was to buy up all of their talent, basically copying the exact formula that Vince McMahon had done in the 80's when he nearly destroyed independent wrestling. The only difference here is that once WCW had the talent they did not know what to do with it. Vince on the other hand went another route. He formed a small partnership with ECW allowing talent trades between the two companies. At one time there was even a rumor going around that Vince had a small monetary stake in ECW, something that to this day still circulates through different people in and out of the business. Whether it is true or not, one can see by tracing back that once that alleged partnership evolved, ECW did have their dream come true; their first pay-per-view.

Now what does this have to do with all of the injuries in wrestling today? Plenty. You see the only reason you are watching the WWF do all of its extreme gimmick wrestling and good story lines is because they had the money and the time to do this instead of ECW. I believe that through his alleged partnership with ECW, Vince saw that Heyman and company were on to something big. But Vince being the wrestling aficionado that he is also knew that he could not just turn the WWF into ECW overnight. It would take time and I am sure a lot of the boys in the back didn’t take to the idea of being "hardcore". Of course today’s WWF roster houses some of the best talent that ECW ever had. Coincidence? I doubt it.

You see, the WWF in the old days was known to be the "lightest" of all promotions as far as stiff work rate is concerned. I have quite a few friends who worked for the WWF back in the late 80's and early 90's and I have heard many stories about them working against the WWF’s talent. The illusion was real back then. Everyone wrestled "old school" (for the most part anyway). This meant that no one was out to injure or hurt their opponent. I have heard that the Barbarian and the Warlord (former Powers of Pain) were without a doubt some of the lightest of them all. Too bad this is not the case today.

You see, back then the fans did not expect their heroes to kill each other. They wanted good matches and there was no need to utterly destroy someone with a steel chair or sledgehammer. For those of you who watched wrestling back then, how many steel chairs did you ever see get smashed over someone’s skull to the point that the chair was mangled and dented from the impact? You didn’t. Even down south in the NWA/WCW they swung chairs "southern style" which means it appeared hard when used on the back of an opponent and always without fail hit the mat and never the opponent when the opponent while lying prone in the ring or on the concrete. I remember when the "Heavenly Bodies" tried that form of chair swinging in ECW. They were booed heavily.

No, today’s wrestling fans demand that there be contact and it needs to be stiff. To hell with the worker who is taking the chair shot. Who cares if he gets a concussion or attains a fracture of some kind? You plunked down your $30.00 bucks and you demand to get you money’s worth. In retrospect though look at what you have received for such high demands :

1 - Mick Foley has retired from the ring. At the age of 34 years old he is too battered and beaten to continue. Sure he’ll have an occasional match in the future, it’s in his blood. But for someone to have to retire at the age of 34 when this sport in the past has allowed people to wrestle into their 50's has to say something. Hogan and Flair are testaments to that.

2 - Bret Hart is sidelined indefinitely with a concussion.

3 - Bill Goldberg in an act of realism severs a tendon in his arm punching out a car window. (Whatever happened to the candy glass they used to use?)

4 - Kevin Nash, Scott Steiner, Shawn Michaels, Al Snow, Rob Van Dam, Undertaker, Steve Austin, Rey Mysterio Jr., Juventud Guerrera, Jerry Lynn, Eddie Guerrero, Davey Boy Smith, Darren Drozdov & Spike Dudley are just some of the names who have fallen victim to the new "hardcore" style of professional wrestling.

5 - Brian Pillman, Bobby Duncum Jr., Louie Spicolli, Eddie Gilbert, Art Barr & Rick Rude are just some of the names of the workers who gave their lives trying to cope with the mental and physical pain that professional wrestling puts on the human anatomy.

6 - Of course we will never forget Owen Hart and his tragic accident at a WWF pay-per-view. While not directly "hardcore" this over the top misguided stunt is directly related to how far professional wrestling feels it needs to go to satisfy the rabid fans of today. What happened to Owen could have easily happened to Shawn Michaels when he entered the ring from the top of the stadium in his match against Bret Hart at Wrestlemania XII.

While it is true that injuries have always happened in wrestling, it has never been as pronounced as it is today. The point I am trying to make here is that "we the fans" can be considered directly responsible for the state of pro wrestling today when it relates to the injuries in the sport. It is "we" who demand the high action product. It is "we" who want to see the over the edge, out of control beatings that are prevalent today. Do you think that they would do it if we wouldn’t watch it? I believe it is time that we shoulder some of the blame instead of always just trying to bask in the glory of our favorite promotion's weekly ratings.

The next time you watch a match and you see someone taking 11 straight chair shots to the head, picture what that must feel like in reality. Ask yourself if you would do the same so someone who really doesn’t care about you has a great story to tell in school the next day. The next time you see someone fall off a cage and go through a table 16-20 feet below him imagine what that is doing to his body. Ask yourself if you would endure the pain so someone on the Internet could say that you "didn’t do it right" and it wasn’t that spectacular. The next time you want to "bash and trash" someone because they "missed" their spot and you feel the need to shout "you f’d up" close your mouth and realize what these guys do each night and realize they are all probably working with some form of injury. It would probably be safe to say that their injury is something that would have you home crying to your wife/girlfriend or mother about how much it hurts but yet these guys are out there giving you the best they have to offer. If you want to act like you're "smart" to the business, it is time you become "smart" to the business and realize what these guys do each and every show and the toll it takes on them and everyone around them. Maybe then you will appreciate a true "wrestling" match that is filled with psychology and not gimmicks.

And with that I am outta here. Remember that wrestling is nothing more than it appears to be.

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