Everything sounds more exciting when Jim Ross calls the action

I will argue with anybody that the three greatest announcers to ever call a televised professional wrestling match are Gordon Solie, Joey Styles and Jim Ross.  Solie brought intelligence and excitement to the game, Styles brought energy and emotion, and “Good Ol’ J.R.” made every match seem as if it was the greatest battle in the history of the sport.

Trust me.  If you’ve ever heard Jim Ross call the legendary Undertaker-Mankind “Hell in a Cell” match, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Continue reading “Everything sounds more exciting when Jim Ross calls the action”

He came to Schenectady and broke the damn ring.

I’ve received word of an upcoming independent professional wrestling card at the Schenectady Armory on 12887310_10208669855841290_1602225576_oFriday, April 22.  The “Spring Slam Tour,” co-promoted by local pro wrestling federations North East Wrestling and World of Hurt Wrestling, plan to bring several world famous superstars to Schenectady for a night of wrestling action.

This is great.  I definitely want to attend this.  Way back in the day, I used to go to independent wrestling matches and cards like this over at the IUE Hall in Schenectady.  There would be a mixture of local talent and independent grapplers, along with a few national stars who would come in and give the local talent a run for their money.

And with that in mind, I bring you back to one of those early wrestling matches.  It was July of 1997, and the local federation known as New Breed Wrestling had an independent card at the IUE Hall that night.  The card featured local pro wrestlers – I think one of the wrestlers also worked a day job over at the ActionMan comic book and action figures store in Latham Circle Mall – but the big deal that night would be a two-falls-out-of-three match between King Kong Bundy and Primo Carnera III.

Just a few years earlier, King Kong Bundy wrestled Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania 2.  He was a big monster of a wrestler, a guy who could use his 450 pound body as a weapon.  He could throw you into the corner and run into you like a freight train.  And if he pinned you, he demanded a five count from the referee.  That was big time heel dominance.

Bundy’s opponent that night was Primo Carnera III, who was allegedly the grandson of the great professional boxer.  Yeah.  And my last name is Miller, which means I’m descended from the great bandleader Glenn Miller.  Pfft.  Anyways, Carnera III at the time was the New Breed Wrestling heayvweight champion, and he was scheduled to face King Kong Bundy at the IUE Hall that night.  This was going to be epic.

During the match, King Kong Bundy had Primo Carnera III on the mat, and decided to hit him with a jumping kneedrop.

I just typed that sentence.  King Kong Bundy, a man who weighs nearly 500 pounds, is going to jump in the air and bring his knee right on Carnera III’s forehead.  That would have probably knocked him down to Carnera II.

When he landed… there was a big snap.

No, it wasn’t a broken bone or a crushed skull.

The snap came from under the ring; Bundy’s jump actually cracked one of the ring’s crossbeams.

And for the rest of the match, the ring had the consistency of a bed mattress.

Don’t believe me?  Here’s the match.  And the ring lasts till about 1:32:45 of the video, then it breaks.

Well, that certainly made the match interesting.

But there was one more match on the card – a “Battle Royale,” in which all the wrestlers entered the ring at once, and the only way to win the match was to have your opponents all thrown out of the ring.  Well, the fractured wrestling ring would have collapsed under the weight of all those grapplers, so they did the next best thing.

It became a “Battle Royale” outside the ring, and the winner was the first man to get IN the ring.  Which eventually was won by classic wrestling heel Iron Mike Sharpe.  You remember him?  Guy used to wear a black forearm pad due to some kayfabe injury, but he would often hit his opponent with that loaded forearm and it would feel like getting clubbed with a club.

And near the end of the Schenectady get-in-the-ring battle royale, at around 1:41:00 of the clip above … a chair goes flying into the wrestling ring.  Then another.  And another.  Fans are throwing steel chairs into the wrestling ring.  Fans must have thought they walked into an ECW match or something…

Yeah that was fun.  Fun times.

That was nearly twenty years ago.  And I still remember it as being both fun and entertaining.

And although I don’t think we’ll see any broken wrestling rings or flying chairs, I am sure that next April we’ll see some great professional wrestling matches from some of the top grapplers in the business.

Can’t wait.  For more information on purchasing tickets, visit northeastwrestling.com.  Good seats are still available.

The self-destruction of Tammy Sytch

The first time I ever knew Tammy Sytch existed, she and her best friend / lover Chris Candido appeared on WWE (then WWF) wrestling programs, promoting themselves as “The Bodydonnas,” a self-conceited fitness team.  Candido was Skip, and Sytch was Sunny.  Skip did the wrestling, while Sunny acted as the sexy valet and creator of victory-influenced interference.

As pro wrestling gimmicks went, it was okay for its time.  Eventually, though, the spotlight focused on the character of Sunny the Bodydonna – and, thanks to a series of cheesecake photo shoots and sexy-cute wrestling videos, Tammy Sytch’s “Sunny” character became, for a while, the most downloaded image on the Internet.

The sky was high for Sunny – no pun intended – and she appeared in several storylines for the WWE over time, managing everyone from Ron Simmons (as “Farrooq Assad”) to an updated version of the Road Warriors / Legion of Doom (“LOD 2000”).  Her career with the WWE ensured her a place in the WWE’s Hall of Fame, to which she was inducted in 2011.

And then, somehow, it all spiraled out of control – mostly from drug abuse.  She was released from the WWE; she worked for other companies, she came back to the WWE, she was released again, lather, rinse, repeat.  Her best friend and emotional rock, Chris Candido, passed away as a result of wrestling injuries in 2005; and the spiral continued.

There were some uplifting moments for Tammy Sytch – she worked as commissioner for a New Jersey wrestling promotion, NWA:Cyberspace, and she also did some wrestling shows with the Ring of Honor company.  But her self-spiral continued.  Drugs.  Arrests.  More appearances on TMZ than in the squared circle.

On two separate occasions, both as part of wrestling-based articles I wrote as freelance assignments, I met Tammy Sytch in person – both instances were as part of wrestling reunion shows.  I’ll mention the second time first – that took place in Long Island, as I was writing a piece for Toy Collector Magazine on the popularity of wrestling toys, dolls and action figures.  During my interview with her, she was bubbly and chatty, talking about her new wrestling action figure and her plans to return to pro wrestling as soon as she got her body down to “Sunny shape,” as she put it.

That was a far cry from the first time I met her, two years prior, when she was at a Philadelphia wrestling reunion show.  That time, she was under the influence of something – pills, alcohol, I don’t know which – and she was in no condition to be asked anything of substance.  In fact, she was actually thrown out of the event due to her causing problems with other wrestlers at the show.  Two different views of Tammy Sytch over two different events.

Look, I understand that the backstage world of professional wrestling can be extremely complicated and overwhelming.  You’re participating in a sport that can destroy your body with one wrong suplex.  The sport rivals professional football for instances of dead wrestlers suffering from CTE.  The sport takes a physical and emotional toll on anyone.

And just last week, it was announced that not only has Tammy Sytch written an autobiography – a reveal-all tome about her life and career and the like – she also filmed and released an adult video.

No, I’m not going to post a link to it.  You’re so desperate to see cute little “Sunny” from 20 years ago doing things that don’t require ring posts or turnbuckles, go use your Google search engine.  But suffice it to say that the adult video leaves absolutely NOTHING to the imagination.  This wasn’t a “leaked” porn video like the ones that surfaced from Hulk Hogan or Chyna or X-Pac.  This wasn’t some cheesecake companion video to a photo shoot from Rena “Sable” Mero or Candice Michelle or any other WWE Diva that might bare it all just so they can have a staple in their midsection and a crease in their midriff.

And it’s not like Tammy Sytch hasn’t tumbled down this xxx-rated rabbit hole before.  At one point in her career, inbetween wrestling stints, she and another wrestling valet legend, Missy Hyatt, created a website called wrestlingvixxxens.com.  Yep, you paid your money and you got to see – well, if you were looking for that match between Hiroshi Hase and the  Great Muta, you were in the wrong location.

Nope.  This is the big stuff.  Tammy Sytch doing her own Marilyn Chambers impersonation.

And how do I feel about this?

Does my opinion really matter?

It really doesn’t.  But the only thing I can see from a move like this is pain.  Straight-up emotional pain and sadness.  This is Tammy Sytch, twenty years after her greatest and most exciting moments, trying to recapture that magic and excitement from a bygone era.  Trying to capture it by doing the one thing that she thinks the people who watched her back in the day want to see now.

This isn’t a solution.  This is surrender.

You know what the worst thing about all this is?  Before she ever got into professional wrestling, Tammy Sytch wanted to be a doctor.  She went to med school.  Even after her wrestling career ended, she looked at other options in her life – working with an airline, with veterinary science, all of that.

I hate that her self-chosen option was this.

Tammy, if your Google Alerts are showing this blog post, please listing to what I’m about to say now.  I don’t have all the answers.  Trust me, my life is about as screwed up as anybody else’s.  But no matter what, I know that there’s a talented, smart person out there named Tammy Lynn Sytch.  And I know that sometimes we have to make choices that aren’t comfortable.

I only hope that the next time I hear about you, it’s for an amazing achievement in your life.  A success.  A personal growth and accomplishment.

You were always better than this.

And I know you will be better than this in the future.

Lucha Underground restores my love for professional wrestling

Monday nights.  Plop in front of the television.  I would watch WCW Monday Nitro and WWF (now WWE) Monday Night Raw, taping one and watching the other live.  You can get four, five, sometimes six hours of wrestling doing this.

But many things happened after that.  The death of Eddie Guerrero.  The murder-suicide of Chris Benoit and his family.  Storylines that were so bad, I could predict how long it would take for them to appear on the wrestlecrap.com website, an online portal that shows the worst of professional wrestling.

To be totally honest, I gave up on the sport.  And yes, I say it’s a sport.

But suddenly … a few months ago … I was flipping through my television channels on a Wednesday night and stumbled across El Rey Network.  Produced and owned by director Robert Rodriguez, El Rey Network is a new cable channel that features action films, Hong Kong wuxia movies, and an occasional original television series.  I didn’t plan on watching El Rey Network… but that Wednesday night, there was a professional wrestling show on the schedule, a program called Lucha Underground.

When I used to watch professional wrestling on a regular basis, I enjoyed the cruiserweight matches – the masked battles between stars like El Ultimo Dragon, Juventud Guerrera Jr., Super Crazy, Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Psichosis and the like.  Those were fun.

Okay, there’s a couple of wrestlers on the show right now – let’s see… it’s a specialty battle called “Grave Consequences,” in which the loser must be locked into a coffin.  Yeah, been there, done that, Undertaker, Kane, yawn city.  Let’s see what these guys can do.

First man in – Mil Muertes, who I looked up on Wikipedia and discovered that this wrestler was a former wrestling champion in Mexico’s AAA federation.  Okay.  Sounds like this might work.  And he has a valet named Caterina.  Okay, wrestlers with valets always work for me, reminds me of the days of Macho Man Randy Savage and his valet Elizabeth…

Second man in – Fénix, another Mexican professional wrestler.  From what I was able to determine, Fénix and Mil Muertes had a nasty feud over Caterina the valet, to the point where Caterina shifted her allegiance to Fénix.  Yeah, the same classic storyline in professional wrestling.

So here’s the match that I saw.  And I apologize ahead of time for the crowd noises in the video.  The language in the audience is not safe for work.

Oh.

My.

God.

Mil Muertes almost tore Fénix’s mask off.  And the coffin got dented from wrestlers falling on it.  And that’s no cheap coffin.

That was amazing.  I gotta watch more of this.

And a few weeks later, I saw another outstanding match on Lucha Underground.  The backstory for this episode is such – the team of Angélico (a South African professional wrestler with extensive lucha training), Son of Havoc (an American wrestler who lives a “straight edge” lifestyle) and Ivelisse (a former WWE developmental wrestler) had just won the trios championship, essentially a three-person tag team title.  And all of a sudden, Lucha Underground boss Dario Cueto comes out and makes one more match for the weary combatants – against a group of street thugs called The Crew.

Again, please be aware that as the action increases and the danger rises, the crowd gets into this in ways I haven’t seen since the original days of ECW Wrestling.  Watch and be amazed.

Say it with me.  “THIS – IS – AWE-SOME (clap clap clap-clap-clap)!  THIS – IS – AWE-SOME (clap clap clap-clap-clap)!!”

I’m watching the matches and I’m thinking to myself… wow, these are some seriously strong battles going on.  It’s a mixture of Aztec symbolism and lucha libre wrestling and passion and oh man I gotta watch one more match.  One more match…

And this time it’s the reigning Lucha Underground champion, Prince Puma, going up against one of the top challengers in the organization, King Cuerno.  In fact, I think it’s King Cuerno’s mask that stands as the logo for the Lucha Underground TV show.

Once again, please bear with me – the language in the audience is kinda salty, but the action in the ring is totally sweet.

Lucha Underground airs Wednesday nights on El Rey Network, which is available from Time Warner Cable and other providers.   Previous episodes are also available on demand.

All I’m saying is this – if the other professional wrestling federations ever did half of what these guys in Lucha Underground are doing…

I never would have stopped watching.  Not with action like this.

Trust me.

Bruno Sammartino finally gets his due

It’s something that one doesn’t expect to see in their lifetime.  And because of the years of animosity and distrust, of promises broken and connections destroyed, I thought it would never happen.

And last night, I was proven wrong.  Happily proven wrong.

Because last night, one of my favorite professional wrestlers was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame for the company he so proudly represented for nearly 25 years.

That’s right… Bruno Sammartino, the Living Legend of professional wrestling, is being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, along with Bob Backlund, Trish Stratus and Mick Foley.

Right off the bat, this is a Hall of Fame for the ages.  Trish Stratus is one of the few people with no prior pro wrestling experience before joining the WWE, who essentially learned “on the fly” to become one of the company’s greatest female grapplers.  Bob Backlund carried the WWE Heavyweight Champion strap for over five years, and was one of the few wrestlers with a collegiate championship background (North Dakota State) to achieve success in the pro wrestling world.  And Mick Foley, the “Hardcore Legend,” went from brawling grappler to one of the sport’s most beloved and respected competitors.

But if you ask any pro wrestling fan who watched the sport in the 1960’s and 1970’s, they’ll tell you that Bruno Sammartino was the best.  An Italian strongman who could unify every ethnic group in the audience to cheer his name, “Bruno! Bruno! Bruno!”, Bruno Sammartino sold out Madison Square Garden every time he entered the squared circle.  He defeated all the legends of his era – Gorilla Monsoon, Spiros Arion, Stan “The Man” Stasiak, Haystacks Calhoun – all of them.

And in the pre-Wrestlemania days, Bruno could sell out Shea Stadium – and he did – in outdoor supercards against Pedro Morales and against Larry Zbyszko.

He made professional wrestling believable. He didn’t need to wear a cape or a mask; he didn’t need a gimmick or entrance music. You knew that the minute he put that crippling bear hug on you, you either tapped out or you passed out.

But over the years, Bruno Sammartino saw what had happened to the company he represented. He saw the World Wide Wrestling Federation morph into the World Wrestling Federation, and then into the WWE. He saw the drug abuse, the steroid abuse, the degrading storylines, the demeaning treatment afforded to those who gave their bodies and their hearts for the sport. He walked away from the company. He vowed to never come back.

It was only through the intervention of professional wrestler Jean-Paul Levesque, whom you know as HHH, to broker a peace between the WWE and Sammartino. As much as WWE chairman Vince McMahon has been a polarizing figure in the sport – you either hate him or you really hate him – HHH has become an advocate in the company, someone who wants to reconcile the past with the present, and build both into the future.

The fact that Bruno Sammartino, who has been extremely vocal about never getting involved with the WWE, has silently worked with HHH to accept an induction into the WWE Hall of Fame, is nothing short of miraculous.

Bruno was a champion in a different era. There were very few high-flying “off the top rope” maneuvers, you didn’t have missile drop-kicks or Randy Savage-like flying elbows. The men wrestled in a catch-as-catch-can style that ramped up the intensity in the crowd. Bruno Sammartino and Superstar Billy Graham could wrestle a 75-minute match and the audience would be totally into every single move and every single second. That’s how great Sammartino was.

And now for a personal story. It was probably August of 2006, and I was working on a magazine article for the travel publication RoadKing. The article involved professional wrestling reunion shows, where dozens of superstars from the past would get together in a hotel ballroom, recount stories and sign autographs.

I drove to Valley Forge, Pa., the location for the WrestleReunion show, and got ready to do my interviews for the day. My plan was to interview several of the stars who were showing up that day, including Bret “Hitman” Hart, Mick Foley, the Dudley Boyz, Jim Cornette and Joey Styles. And I did get to interview every one of them.

But as I was walking from one end of the hotel to the other, I saw two men exiting the hotel restaurant. I recognized them almost instantly. One of the men was Dominic DeNucci, a very popular wrestler from the 1970’s. The other – was Bruno Sammartino.

And in that very moment that I saw him, I almost froze up. It was like I was seven years old and watching his matches on a Sunday morning on WRGB, just before broadcasts of TV Tournament Time. I asked if I could shake his hand – he shook mine with a firm grip of a proud champion. We talked later on for the interview, and he even posed for a picture with me. That felt so good. So wonderful.

And now, after so many years of refusing to enter the pantheon of greatness in a company that he felt had lost its way, Bruno Sammartino and the WWE have finally agreed to an enshrinement. Bruno, along with Bob Backlund, Mick Foley and Trish Stratus, will be inducted prior to Wrestlemania in a special ceremony at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

How fitting is that. For all the years that Bruno Sammartino sold out the world’s greatest sports arena…

He gets to do it one more time. And once again, those cheers of “Bruno! Bruno! Bruno!” will be heard throughout Manhattan and throughout New York and throughout the professional wrestling world.

Congratulations, Bruno. You are a hall of famer without the WWE’s endorsement – but now the WWE has made it official. And your induction says more about the WWE’s changing future than anything else.

Man, I want tickets to this event. Who’s with me?

The Wisdom of Bobby “The Brain” Heenan

He may not have had the charisma of the Grand Wizard of Wrestling, he might not have been as energetic as Captain Lou Albano, he might not have achieved the vicious “heel” hatred as did Classy Fred Blassie, but Bobby “The Brain” Heenan was indeed a force to be reckoned with in the sport of professional wrestling.  He was a top manager whose champions won many titles, and he later transitioned to a long and successful career as an announcer.

And rather than rely on the same, tired references and insults – come on, if you had a nickel for every time Fred Blassie called someone a pencil-necked geek, you’d be rich today – Bobby Heenan’s insults and commentary were both inventive and stinging.  He could insult anybody’s performance in the ring and get away with it.  It was as if he was the undisputed champion of the pro wrestling edition of the Dozens.

Some years ago, back in the ancient days of USENET newsgroups, a gentleman named Hesham, with the help of several other posters on the rec.sports.pro-wrestling newsgroup, compiled a compilation of Bobby Heenan’s greatest quotations.

Let me share a few of Bobby Heeenan’s most famous bon mots with all of you now; these were culled from the rec.sports.pro-wrestling newsgroup archives.  If these comments bring a chuckle to your heart, then you know what it means to enjoy the rapier wit of one of the most engaging personalities in pro wrestling.

Of course, there’s his most famous quote of all time… “A friend in need is a pest.”

“You don’t have to yell at me!  I’m not blind!”

“The two things that scare me most about wrestling fans is that they’re allowed to vote and allowed to reproduce.”

“It was a legal move, it was a Greco-Roman hair pull.”

“Tito Santana is like a cue-ball; the more you strike him, the more English you get out of him.”

When his commentary partner noted, “When Ric Flair walked by, he held up four fingers. That was the sign of the Four Horsemen,” Heenan replied,  “When Hulk Hogan walked by, I held up one finger.”

“You know they say money can’t buy happiness.  Give me 50 bucks and watch me smile.”

“You know why that woman in the front row’s on the edge of her seat.  She’s got a 300 pound can behind her.”

“Vader is gonna hit Hulk Hogan so hard in the head, he’s gonna grow hair.”

In a match in which a wrestler’s tights got pulled to expose the rear end: “Well, it’s almost 10:00, we should’ve seen the moon by now anyhow.”

In a match involving Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Duggan’s opponent pokes him in the eye.  Heenan: “That’s a difficult move, he’s only got a 50% chance of getting Duggan’s good eye.”

When talking with baseball broadcaster Bob Uecker about Uecker’s chances of getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame: “You received 7,000 votes to get into the Hall Of Fame.  You’d have gotten a lot more, but you ran out of stamps.”

While calling a match in which the Undertaker was applying a chokehold on a ring-enhancement talent, Bobby shouted, “C’mon ref. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5!”  His broadcast partner, Gorilla Monsoon, asked Heenan about the count.  “I’m showing ya. The referee could’ve broke the hold. He’s intimidated by that monster.”  “Why don’t you go down there and referee?” asked Monsoon.  “I’m needed here.” was Heenan’s response.

When describing wrestler Davey Boy Smith, who at the time had his hair in cornrows, Heenan called him, “”Million dollar body, ten cent mind and Whoopi Goldberg’s hairdo.”

When describing AWA tag team champions The Fabulous Ones, Heenan said, “It looks like they fell off a wedding cake in San Francisco.”

When describing the Undertaker, Heenan said, “He’s colder than a pawnbroker’s heart, he’s colder than a mother-in-law’s kiss.”

As Hulk Hogan’s entrance music is played, Heenan remarks, “That’s my second favorite song.”  When asked what was his favorite song, he replied, “All the rest are tied.”

When his commentary partner mentioned that Bob Backlund was a graduate of North Dakota State University, Heenan jibed, “WOW!!!! North Dakota State?!?! What do you have to do there to graduate? Be able to milk a cow with your left hand?”

And in case you want to hear Bobby “The Brain” Heenan in full context… check out this YouTube clip.

And even after he survived throat cancer, he could still put together some ripping shots, as evident from his YouTube clips from his WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Hope that brought a smile to your face this weekend.

¡El Tabador!

Forget the Verizon “can you hear me now” guy.  Don’t worry about dropping a pin for Sprint.  And I’m sorry, pink T-Mobile girl, no matter how hot you are, you’re not the most memorable cell phone salesperson.

That honor would have to go to a Canadian pitchman by the name of El Tabador.

El Tabador is a two-inch-high lucha libre wrestler who shills for a Canadian phone company called Koodo.  And these have to be the goofiest commercials I have ever seen – to the point where I don’t care about the phone itself, I just want to see the latest adventures of this funny little pitchman and how much far he can push the envelope on national television.

Again, I should alert you that these commercials, even though they air on broadcast television in Canada, might be a bit “borderline” for viewing at work.  Hence, that’s why I’m posting them on a Saturday blog post.

For example, here’s El Tabador as he compares getting a Christmas tree (or, as he calls it, a “holiday tree”) to acquiring a workable cell phone plan.

And nothing says holiday spirit like El Tabador’s bare skin on a bearskin rug.

This commercial is pretty funny, it has El Tabador getting a tattoo to celebrate Koodo being the nation’s #1 cell phone provider.

How this specific commercial got past the censors, I’ll never know. But then again, if the other two commercials I posted made it to broadcast television, then this one should also have – ahem – the same kind of buzz.

I’m not sure I would ever hire El Tabador as a babysitter… but someone out there did so.

And I’m not sure how El Tabador would fit on an episode of The Bachelor… but he may someday replace Flavor Flav as an eligible suitor with commercials like this.

And finally, here’s a “mockumentary” about El Tabador’s support of cell phone freedom. Do you recognize the former WWE / WCW champion wrestler who agreed to participate in the mockumentary?

Fun fun stuff. And a great way to garner a good laugh on the weekend!