AS I SEE IT - 4/30/2002:
Sports Entertainment? Give Me Moments Like This Instead...
Sports Entertainment? Twenty minute promos, with faux movie reviews, skits that
have little to do with sports, and all too often aren't particularly entertaining... a
company owner spending time getting himself over at the expense of his own talent... and
four minutes matches in the time that's left?
Screw sports entertainment.
Give me more moments like this past Saturday night instead.
I went to the Ring of Honor show featuring Eddie Guerrero's farwell to independent wrestling I promoted two columns ago. I was reminded, as one other fan put it to me... "moments like this are why I became a fan of wrestling".
I was happy to see many of the old ECW Arena crowd showing up for the one reason a number of first time fans came... to salute Eddie Guerrero.
Ring of Honor's product is largely wrestling as opposed to sports entertainment, with a strong workrate/Japanese-style emphasis. A list of the name talent that has worked their first three shows reads like a list of who's who in quality American independent talent: Low Ki, American Dragon, AJ Styles, Donavan Morgan, SAT, Christian York and Joey Matthews, Tony Mamaluke and James Maritato, just to name a few.
It may not be for everyone. If you're looking for hardcore wrestling, go to Combat Zone Wrestling or IWA Mid-South. If you're looking for clownish skits, turn on your TV Monday nights at 9:00 pm.
Here were some of the show's wrestling highlights:
Jay Briscoe (with Mark Briscoe) defeated Tony Mamaluke by pinfall after a vicious looking double underhook piledriver. If you haven't watched his matches in ECW, NWA-Wildside, Florida independent promotions, you haven't seen how good a technical wrestler Mamaluke has become.
Devine Storm, the team of Chris Devine & Quiet Storm (with Brian XL) went over the established independent tag team of Christian York and Joey Matthews.
Low Ki defeated AJ Styles in an unbelivable match, which absolutely stole the show...with the exception of the emotional Guerrero farewell.
These two put on a clinic of what a wrestling match should look like in this time and place. They traded kicks so stiff that the crowd was cringing... incredible submissions, including one combination Dragon Sleeper/Tarantula by Low Ki that had to be seen to believed, textbook Tiger suplexes... ranging out to skytwister and Phoenix splashes.
But most important of all they did something forgotten all too often by young wrestlers...they told a story with their match.
As I've said in this column, AJ Styles is the best unsigned talent in the United States. The WWF lowballed him with an developmental deal, rather than sign him. Perhaps after a few more of these matches, they'll have little choice but to add him to the regular roster.
Donavan Morgan of Pro Wrestling Noah defeated "Fallen Angel" Christopher Daniels. This match was as solid as two indy workers could do, but less spectacular than the Styles-Low Ki match. But it later set up the storyline for the Ring of Honor Heavyweight Tournament, to begin in June and July. Again, the match served a purpose, told a story and helped set up a storyline; rather than just fill time between 20 minute promos as one sees all too often on Monday and Thursday nights.
A "Heartbreak Gauntlet Series" took place, with students/graduates of the former Shawn Michaels Wrestling Academy with students Paul London, John Hope, Michael Shane, Spanky and American Dragon. Spanky, Paul London, and American Dragon again showed their talent, and American Dragon showed one more time why size has little to do with giving fans a good wrestling match.
The evening concluded with Eddie Guerrero and Red going over Jose and Joel Maximo, which began with a huge, sustained, loud ovation for Guerrero, which began even during Red's introduction.
As the match began, the locker room emptied out into the crowd to watch the match.
Post-match, the fans loudly chanted "Thank You Eddie". The SAT took the mic and told Eddie how they respected them The fans chanted "We Will Miss You" at Eddie, and he said he would miss them.
He said "all characters aside, this was very personal for him". He acknowledged that he has battled a lot of demons in his life, and talked about "losing his family" (the finalization of his divorce, with custody of his children going to his ex-wife).
Guerrero said through his problems, he had re-established his relationship with God. He said that courts aside, his kids will always be his kids. He also said that "he will always have his brothers and sisters, but this was his other family, the wrestlers in the locker rooms and the fans."
Guerrero said that when he first came to the United States, he wrestled in Philadelphia (for ECW), and that Philadelphia would always be home to him. He said the Philadelphia fans were always there for him, and that he was grateful for another opportunity to entertain them.
Guerrero concluded by thanking ROH promoter Rob Feinstein, stating that when he was fired from the WWF, Feinstein helped him get bookings on independent shows.
The show concluded with yet one more loud chant for Guerrero.
ROH Wrestling skips May due to the Memorial Day holiday, and returns to Philadelphia on June 22nd. The ROH Heavyweight Tournament begins at this show with the Philadelphia debut of UK's "Anarchist" Doug Williams, the ROH debut of Jerry Lynn' along with Spanky, Prince Nana, Scoot Andrews, Xavier, JA Briscoe, Low Ki and Christopher Daniels.
Unfortunately, however, this column ends on a sad note...with the news of the death of a man who personified the word "wrestler"...Lou Thesz. Thesz died this past Sunday after triple cardiac bypass surgery and an aortic valve replacement. Thesz had just turned 85 years old.
Thesz will be cremated in Florida, with his ashes to be taken to St. Louis for a simple memorial service (date and time yet to be determined), with his ashes going into the Merrimac River. A wake will be held at a time and date to be determined in Thesz's home of Winter Garden, FL.
Contributions, in lieu of flowers, can be sent to the IWIM/Thesz Memorial Fund at P.O. Box 794 Newton, IA 50208 or you can send a check for IWIM directly to Charlie Thesz at P.O. Box 783783 - Winter Garden, FL - 34778.
Thesz worked from the era of the 1930s where a champion needed to be a shooter as well as a performer...into the era where a champion had to be a performer, period. I met Lou Thesz once and proudly have a autographed copy of "Hooker", his autobiography.
If you haven't purchased a copy, and want to consider yourself a wrestling fan who knows anything about the history of the business you watch and follow, do it... today. You can do so via this link at Amazon.com.
In an era within wrestling where superlatives are thrown around meaninglessly... there is no one at all who would call this man anything but... a legend.
But the number one company in sports entertainment couldn't be bothered to remember him on its show last night. Perhaps that shows the biggest difference between the worlds of wrestling and sports entertainment...respect.
It is disgraceful that the WWF failed to show Lou Thesz any respect Monday night. But it gets worse. There are reports from a source you'd all recognize that the announcing staff was specifically directed not to mention Thesz's death.
Condolences to Lou Thesz's wife, Charlie and to his family.
Until next time...
(If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)