AS I SEE IT - 8/04/2003:
"Us against them"... yet another chapter

by: Bob Magee

Recently, the battle over what "is" and "isn't" wrestling heated up, after Jim Cornette's recent letter in replay to a piece on IWA Mid-South Wrestling in the Louisville Eccentric-Observer. To put it mildly, it was written using many of Cornette's unique forms of self-expression.

Here are some excerpts:

"...As a native Louisvillian and a 21-year veteran of professional wrestling, I was disturbed and dismayed to read the June 25 article on Ian Rotten's Independent Wrestling Association. Disturbed, as any sane adult would be, to read of these vulgar displays of violence, and dismayed that your readers who are not familiar with pro wrestling will now paint ALL promotions with the same brush...

The IWA is in Indiana because its types of events are not allowed in Kentucky. Because of the lack of regulation in Indiana, National Guard Armories and many school gyms there have chosen to ban ALL pro wrestling, penalizing reputable promoters to eliminate the trash.

To say that Rotten began his career as a 'pure' wrestler is ludicrous. He has been a fringe performer, at best, with only a brief supporting role with the now-defunct ECW bringing him anything but local exposure. At that level, he is not a blip on the radar screen. His morbid, pathological need to be recognized as 'someone,' even if only by a few hundred people, drives him to mutilate his body in a rundown Clarksville warehouse for little or no financial compensation.

At the same time, he serves as a public relations nightmare for those of us who view pro wrestling as a uniquely American art form and sport that combines athleticism with showmanship, skill with charisma, and, at the highest level, provides lifetime financial security. WWE athletes routinely earn six- to seven-figure incomes annually.

Which brings me to the most disturbing part of the article: the medical bills incurred by IWA "wrestlers" because of barbaric stunts. WWE wrestlers' medical bills and physical therapy expenses are paid by the company, while the athlete continues to receive his minimum contract salary if he is unable to compete. Noncontract wrestlers-in-training ARE responsible for their own medical bills, but OVW does not allow any of the dangerous, 'garbage wrestling' stunts of the IWA.

Wrestling is a contact sport, and there can be serious injuries. The irresponsible use of barbed wire, light tubes, broken glass and the like has no place in it. To call any of this activity 'entertainment' is to tax the very definition of the word.

For every Steve Austin, there are thousands of young men dreaming of wrestling stardom. Most don't have the size, athletic ability, training or mental acumen to make it. Rotten and promoters of his ilk prey on them. This is reprehensible; even if not illegal, it is certainly morally irresponsible.

Rotten said he likes 'to compare wrestling to plays and things like that.' I like to compare outfits such as the IWA to Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in a barn saying, 'Hey kids, let's put on a show!' OVW trains athletes for a career in professional wrestling, not a lifetime of pain and scar tissue. OVW presents a sport, not a freak show. OVW has trained high school and college All-Americans, NFL veterans, NCAA heavyweight wrestling champions, an American Gladiators champion and a former U.S. Olympic wrestler for professional careers. They resent their hard work, dedication and sacrifice being negated by operations, like the IWA, that create the impression that pro wrestling is sideshow trash.

Give the IWA all the publicity you want. Attend its events, if you wish. Just don't call it professional wrestling."

Well... I've known Jim Cornette since 1990, when I met him through a friend who worked for Joel Goodhart's Tri-State Wrestling Alliance. I've gone to SMW Fanweeks, heard stories, and had experiences and great memories that will last... many of which I've written about in past AS I SEE IT columns.

There are other connections. His webmaster is the PWBTS webmaster. We also have an ad for Ohio Valley Wrestling prominently featured on the PWBTS website. Even with all that... I think Jimmy is wrong. Dead wrong.

In a semi-related matter, there was PWBTS's own Maryland writer, Joe Hamilton, who violently objected to the CZW Tournament of Death... largely because of the style in what was... well, a Death Match Tournament. He implied, among other things, that a show such as this "wasn't wrestling".

They certainly aren't the only people who've done this sort of thing. I recall Lou Thesz making reference in his biography "Hooker" to the lucha style as not being wrestling, and being merely "choreographed tumbling". But you at least understood why... since it was being said from the perspective of someone whose career had dated back to the last days of shooting, and certainly to the earliest days of the modern form of professional wrestling. The other two individuals both exist in the modern era, however... and know what's what. I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with both my own PWBTS Maryland writer here and with one of my favorite promoters, for the same reason that I don't agree with anyone who tells me I have to like one particular style of wrestling... or that something "isn't" wrestling because they don't like the style.

The fact is that Jim Cornette and Danny Davis are competitors with IWA within the Louisville area market. It's also known that one of their employees have contacted local officials to, shall we say... act in the role of "a concerned citizen"... if you get my drift ...regarding venues that IWA had run in, and the style IWA employs.

I made reference to these sorts of tactics in the January 9, 2002 AS I SEE IT, in reference to similar battles going on in New Jersey between particular independent promoters:

"There are promoters, who well know who they are...and may be surprised to know that more than a few others know who they are. Their swollen egos seem hell bent on ruling their little fiefdoms of shows run they run once or twice per month; and ruining it for someone else who runs another promotion, perhaps a different style... or is just a competitor.

More importantly, they ruin it for the workers who get a payday (albeit a small one) from these shows. They ruin it for these workers, who lose chances to practice their craft. They ruin it for people like me who simply want to see a show on a weekend.

When will promoters start learning that the name of the game is to make a buck by putting asses in the seats through producing an entertaining wrestling product and doing the work necessary to promote it, whether they run family-oriented or hardcore style products... and not by spending their majority of their time trying to cause problems for their competitors?

Why will they not attempt to find creative ways to promote their product that will draw more to their shows, as opposed to making phone calls to School Board Superintendents, or members of Athletic Commissions?"

I don't like that sort of thing when it's done by anyone.

The best way I can describe my thinking on this is to use the food analogy to apply to this kind of argument: I like sushi... but I also like a good cheesesteak. I like a vegetarian Chinese meal once in a while, but I love good chili. I like Mexican food... as well as a plain old hot dog or slice of pizza. Just because I like one doesn't mean I have to hate the rest. I may prefer one over the other... but I like a taste of each now and then.

If I'm a wrestling fan... I should appreciate hardcore wrestling, as well as a well-worked technical match from ROH. I should appreciate a high-flying lucha style match and a slow-paced Southern style match, such as is usually featured in OVW and other traditional Southern style promotions. To say that something "isn't" wrestling or that those wrestlers "have no respect for the sport of wrestling"...sorry, but that's simply not the truth... and to just dismiss a style out of hand... sorry, that doesn't work for me.

And before I get the predictable e-mails from the predictable people saying that I'm just a shill for hardcore wrestling... hear this next paragraph before you write your e-mail.

In saying what I've said above, I've also said to the people who think that a wrestling match "isn't" a wrestling match without 14 highspots and 2 chair shots in the first 5 minutes of a match... that they're wrong as well. I get just as pissed off at the morons who chant "boring" anytime there is 30 seconds of matwork in a match... as I do at people who say that any other style of wrestling "isn't" wrestling.

Hell, I can't understand someone who can't appreciate a good old school Southern style match. I remember all too well the time ECW employee Darren Ferren came down to the 1994 SMW Fanweek tour for a couple of days and saw The Heavenly Bodies vs. The Rock 'N Roll Express at a show in a small southwest Virginia town working the same match all of us on the trip had seen them do around the horn for a week.

Ferren... the ECW employee who'd been at the Arena seeing Sabu and Cactus Jack in their usual psychotic violence only a week or two earlier... said in an amazed tone "I never saw someone get so much out of so little". Now THAT is a wrestling fan. He could see the best in both styles within the artform... and he could learn to appreciate what he hadn't experienced.

I guess what I'm trying to say, in short... that variety is the spice of life... and is particularly so in wrestling at a time when people view wrestling as lacking in it... primarily because they don't know what alternatives are out there.

At a time when wrestling fans are craving alternatives, fans don't need a regional promotion affiliated with WWE to be battling an independent promotion that, whatever their promoters think of it's style... does give professional wrestlers work.

It's especially sad that this is going on because OVW has logical, episodic storylines (when WWE isn't screwing them up by teaming 2 wrestlers booked against each other in a OVW major storyline) at a time that WWE isn't offering them. OVW also provides fans with a look at what well-written storylines can be, what the right way is to do more in the ring with less, and with a fan-friendly attitude toward its supporters that WWE would do well to re-learn.

Instead of the "us vs. them" mentality that seems to exist in the Louisville market (and that all too many indy fans can substitute names for within their own market), I'd rather see those IWA fans that appreciate wrestling in all its styles feel able to attend a OVW show... and see OVW fans that would like to see something different feel able to attend a IWA show up in Clarksville. Under the current circumstances, that isn't going to happen.

Wrestling fans would all be better served if these and many other independent promoters would do what two notable Philadelphia independent promoters (that likely still aren't on each others Christmas/Hanukkah card lists) learned to do... namely, deal with one another in a way so that both are making money.

Until next time...


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