By Scott Bowden
Scott Bowdens Kentucky Fried Rasslin
2006-03-02 - KFR Mailbag
KFR Mailbag: Travis Scott Bowden answers your questions about the current WWE direction, while dishing up some old Memphis rasslin' stories…
THESE SUICIDE ANGLES ARE KILLING ME
Bowden, I just watched the latest Tim White "suicide” angle on WWE.com. What the hell is creative thinking when they do these skits? What the hell pushed them and Tim White to do something like this?
Bowden: Claywell, I'm with you—I have no idea who in the world this angle is supposed to entertain. For those of you who don't know, as part of its increasing original (cough) online programming, WWE has been running Tim White's attempted "lunchtime suicides"—two words that always go well together.
If anyone reading this finds the failed comedy bits with the apparently distraught WWE ref even remotely interesting, please drop me a line and explain it to me. Again, this might be further proof that WWE Creative is made up of frustrated ex-sitcom writers with no previous knowledge of the business. Only in WWE can having no previous knowledge of the product be considered a plus when applying for a position with the company.
It's almost as if WWE has divided their product marketing. Given the nature of the current product (an endless stream of bad comedy, 5-minute TV matches with zero psychology, endless skits and half-naked women), I'd say WWE's current target is reserved solely for pubescent boys. The DirecTV preview listed Monday's RAW as "PLAYBOY covergirl Candice Michelle challenges Trish Stratus for the WWE Women's Championship." That's it. McMahon used to say he wanted to spark conversation with the water-cooler crowd—nowadays, it must be the Kool-Aid crowd.
Meanwhile, "old-school" fans like me (late '20s-plus with disposable income) have to be content with the Legends-branded DVDs and bios (which the Former Fed does a tremendous job with), WWE 24/7 and occasional appearances by guys like Hacksaw Duggan. Man, I'd never thought I'd sound so bitter about something I love while still so young in my life. I guess it's because I'm mere months away from leaving WWE's "official" target market: the elusive, fickle 18- to-34-year-old crowd.
That said, I don't necessarily blame White for his involvement in these skits. White's a company man a la Hebner who will do what he's asked (or told) to do. Case in point: that wicked bump White took to begin with during Hell in the Cell that left him physically unable to ref again. Besides, as many past performers have alluded to in the past: Once this business gets in your blood, it's hard to get it out of your system—no matter how many times you blade. I imagine White misses the thrill of live performing, and perhaps doing these skits enables him to still be a part of the business. And if you don't think it's a thrill refereeing, you've got another think coming. When you're refereeing a hot finish (which for me in Memphis usually meant recovering from a bump), and the crowd's counting along with you, it's like you're a conductor leading an orchestra. It's quite a rush. One of the best reactions I've ever experienced as a performer (ref, wrestler, or manager) was when I officiated a bout between Koko Ware and Billy Travis as part of the 1994 Memphis Memories show, which drew about 7,500, the biggest crowd at the Mid-South Coliseum for local wrestling since Lawler's AWA title win over Curt Hennig in 1988. I was bumped "unconscious" but recovered just as Travis went for a cover. I crawled over (obviously "knocked senseless," as Channel 5-sportscaster Jack Eaton used to say about Jerry Calhoun) and counted: "Onnnnnne. Twwwwooo…." And then I passed out from the pain. The crowd went crazy. Crazy. Absolute old-school heat at its best. As Travis picked me up by my starched Polo button-down and slapped me around to revive me, Koko pulled "brass knucks" to knock out his foe. After I counted three, giving the heel the victory, I was pelted with beer, corndog sticks, insults and just about everything else you can think of as I stumbled back to the dressing room. Two matches later, I was verbally assaulted by Austin Idol, punched by Terry Funk and piledriven by Tommy Rich in a wild six-man tag—one of my best nights ever in the biz. And my payoff—$120—was just about the highest I'd ever receive.
AN ABOUT-FACE FOR CENA?
Let me start by saying I love your column! It's one of the best "get your reviews and smart news" columns, I think, there is! I too believe they should turn Cena, but you know Vince. He'll ride this horse till it dies.
A loyal reader,
Bowden: I really think McMahon has his head up his ass on this one. (Or maybe that's just Shawn Michaels.) You don't have to go too far back to recall how special some of the WRESTLEMANIA main events have been: Stone Cold vs. HBK w/Tyson as special ref; Hogan vs. Rock; Benoit vs. HBK vs. Triple H; Stone Cold vs. Rock; etc. Remember the anticipation in the months/weeks leading up to those bouts? Remember the heated promos?
Monday's confrontation between Triple H and Cena on RAW will be remembered for one thing only: Triple H's joke about Cena's Reeboks. It's not the "pump-up" comment that made Cena look bad—it's just that the Champ seemed so handcuffed by the script that he failed to respond with a clever retort, even putting Trips over. (You get the feeling watching WWE nowadays that ad-libs are not encouraged or tolerated.) Cena actually admitted he wasn't a great athlete, which was about the only line of his the crowd popped for. More telling than the sneakers comment, Trips attempted to bury his opponent with "You don't happen to be a very good wrestler"—a fact that became painfully obvious to the fans during the Champ's title defenses vs. the likes of Kurt Angle and HBK.
Cena also seemed shaken by the continued boos that seem to dog his every televised appearance, though you would think he'd be getting used to it by now. Thing is, unlike the Rock (who experienced the same unexpected reaction after his "sellout" Hollywood stardom), Cena isn't given the same freedom to go with it and change directions on the fly.
Worst of all: Cena's mugging and giggling like a schoolgirl despite HHH and the fans ripping him. Even when Cena lost the title to Edge, he was smiling and mugging to the fans as his song played the next night on RAW.
None of it makes sense. None. If a heel had made such an insulting "Reeboks" comment about Jerry Lawler in Memphis back in the day, he would have been punched at the punchline. Instead, Cena stands there and takes it. For a street guy, Cena displays incredible sportsmanship and an amazingly calm demeanor/temper.
I think the only way to elevate this bout to true WRESTLEMANIA status is to completely change the roles of both men: Cena turns heel and really goes on the aggressive against Triple H—while taunting and dissin' the crowd. It could work, too, as Trips hasn't been champion in nearly a year, and the fans, I think, are dying to cheer for him again. If anything, the marks are just plain tired of booing him. It took guts to turn the Rock out of nowhere heel years ago. It took guts (though ill-advised) to turn Austin heel. Even Hogan's NWO heel turn took guts. It's time for WWE to rise to the occasion if the company wants to make this bout special with wrestling fans.
Whatever intrigue this match may have had with a babyface champ vs. heel challenger—and there was never much to begin with—ended with Cena dropping the title to Edge in January. Even then, as Trips alluded to in his promo Monday, all the fans know "It's just a matter of…moments…a matter of time…before the belt goes back around the waist of the man who really deserves it." Right now, these two squaring off nose-to-nose simply doesn't excite the wrestling fan in me.
Hey Scott, I've enjoyed your column from the get-go. I'm Howard Baum—I used to shoot for all the mags back in the day, & am a footnote in Memphis history—remember the angle where Rich & Gilbert won tag team of the year but were feuding? I was the geeky kid behind Eddie making faces for the camera—like a young, nauseous Jerry Lewis.
Bowden: Given the way that I drank years ago, I was more like a young, nauseous Dean Martin.
We did alot of WFIA (Wrestling Fans International Association) stuff there, & so many hilarious things happened. I don't know what the King was like to work for, but he couldn't have been cooler to us (probably because we gave him "Wrestler of the Year" 3 years in a row).
Bowden: Ah, I credit you and the WFIA for actually figuring out a way to work Lawler—stroke his ego. That was a pretty good strategy the WFIA forged for themselves: In exchange for cooperation from the local host wrestling territory, WFIA crowned the local stars Wrestler of the Year, Tag Team of the Year, and I believe Manager, Announcer and Rookie of the Year. I recall when I was about 8 years old, THE WRESTLING NEWS reported that Ronnie Garvin had won WFIA's Wrestler of the Year in Knoxville—I couldn't understand what the hell the fans nationwide were thinking by voting this guy I'd never heard of as the year's top grappler. (Garvin had yet to appear locally as part of Angelo Poffo's outlaw promotion, ICW, along with Randy Savage, Bob Orton Jr. and Bob Roop.)
Lawler was rounding people up to come to our WFIA banquet, & Randy Hales whines, "King, do I have to go? That's my day off." Lawler replies, "How about if I fire your ass & you can have every day off?"
Bowden: Now that's the Lawler I know. Man—that sounded so much like the King, I could practically hear him saying it. Maybe that's because I did, when I explained why I couldn't fill in at the last minute for the Dream Machine for a bout in Louisville. "Jerry, I can't. I have to study for an exam. It's my senior year." Lawler's reply: "Well, that's OK because now you'll have plenty of time to study." I was off TV for three weeks until he finally relented and brought me back.
People often wonder why Hales was given the book in Memphis—that's because he was so easily manipulated and loved the business almost to a fault. Hales was really the only one who wanted the job and everything that came with it: long hours on the road and low pay. Please, Howard, tell me you didn't name Hales the Announcer of the Year—that would have tipped off even the densest marks that the WFIA awards were a work.
I saw Lance for the 1st time in 10 years at Wrestlereunion, & he remembered me immediately. He is without a doubt the nicest guy I've ever met in the business.
Take care, --Howard
Bowden: Yeah, guys like Lance were few and far between in the business during my run in the mid-'90s—especially in Memphis. Give Lance my regards.
I really dug your work as a manager in USWA. I moved to Louisville in 1994 to go to law school and didn't know a soul in town.
Bowden: Given the look of the marks in attendance at Louisville Gardens, I'd say you were a lucky man.
That gave me plenty of time to watch you do what you did the week before in Memphis at the Louisville Gardens and get drunk at The Brewery and Phoenix Hill when I should've been briefing cases.
Bowden: Too bad I didn't know you then—I could have used you as the Louisville branch of "my team of lawyers in Germantown."
I thought that most of the "new" USWA managers (like after Jimmy Hart and Paul E.) were real choads like Ronnie P. Gossett who I think didn't do anything except be obscenely fat. I've blocked out several others. Luckily, you proved me wrong.
Bowden: For readers unfamiliar with the slang, a "choad" is a small, fat, stumpy penis—one wider than it is long. Or so I have read.
The mere fact that Bobby Bowden's nephew would be a evil heel wrestling manager was so ludicrous it was hilarious.
Bowden: Story of my life.
I saw a lot of you in the stuff Jeff G. Bailey did with NWA Wildside later, only Bailey was outright filthy where you still could usually keep your shtick within the old staid Memphis boundaries or have what you said fly over Dave Brown's head and Lance Russell's banana nose. Unless you said something really horrible, like "retarded."
Bowden: Something tells me Dave Brown isn't a fan of BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. After Tex Slazenger pulled my pants—and underwear—down on live TV (my dark denim button-down saved me further humiliation), I claimed in subsequent weeks that I'd received fan mail not only from desperate female marks (a bit redundant) but also from "WWF hotties like Sunny…Sherri…and…uh…Goldust." Afterward, Dave passed me in the dressing room: "Nice homosexual reference."
Speaking of the Gardens, if you ever have a chance to share a good Dean Hill story, I'd be much obliged (if I missed one, I apologize). Dude is a nice guy, but I figure anyone with that mustache and crime-fighting hair is good for an anecdote or two. Hope the move to the new site is a good one, and thanks for the memories and entertainment.
Sincerely, --Chad H. Smith
Bowden: Dean, the ring announcer at the Gardens, is exactly as you described. Sadly, though, I remember him only as a true pro who was very gracious to me by the time I made my Gardens debut. An outsider who was never truly accepted by the boys, I suppose I identified with Dean. He wasn't polished by any means, but that almost made Dean perfect for that era.