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  April 1, 1999

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Pro wrestling is hitting way below the belt

By JIM TAYLOR -- Calgary Sun
  My favourite wrestling story was the one Gene Kiniski told about the time he thought he was using Chapstik and smeared his lips with Preparation H.

For me, it sort of defined pro wrestling at the time: intriguing, entertaining as long as your own personal body wasn't involved, but not something a thinking person would consider worthy of repetition.

Kiniski could spin tales by the hour about his days in the wrestling game, when he put a zillion miles on his black Cadillac going from town to town, setting up his own bouts and cutting his own deals because "No bleeping bleep was gonna get 10 percent of me."

Not that the wrestling circuit wasn't hokey. Of course it was. But there was a sense of fun to it, a feeling that the people in it were committed to giving the customers value-plus.

Sandor Kovacs, an old-school ex-wrestler and promoter, explained to me once why Don Leo Jonathan injured his back so badly as he lifted Andre the Giant, lost his balance and was bent backward at an impossible angle.

"He could have dropped him," Sandor explained. "But it was the pride, you see. The pride ..."

I was thinking about Don Leo on Tuesday night, watching the rerun of Monday's show in Toronto to see if Bret Hart really quit. Don Leo and Gene and the Fabulous Kangaroos and yes, even Mr. Kleen, the bald, froggy-voiced, cauliflower-eared muscle mass who swore the name was legit and he was Kleen clear through.

I wondered what they'd think of the current Alphabet War of WCW and WWF and assorted pretenders, the TV-spawned Dark Side circus where almost everyone is a bad guy and the crowd roar has a bloodlust to it, where wrestlers make genital-clutching gestures, where promoters are part of the show and think nothing of calling the customers names that would get them slugged in any bar in the country.

I wondered what they'd think of the girlfriend/manager/ sex-symbols who for all I know may be model mothers with Masters degrees but in this venue give the impression that if they were selling door-to-door it wouldn't be Girl Guide cookies.

Showbiz ...

When Gorgeous George curled his hair, dyed it blond and threw hairpins into the crowd, that was showbiz. When the Giant and Haystack Calhoun were around, you could take your kids or your mother and the worst thing you'd hear was some purple-rinsed Grannie at ringside screaming "Trunks! Trunks! He's holding his trunks!"

Now even the signs in the crowd are X-rated, and the first thing your mother would be likely to hear is a ringing assertion that "Goldberg sucks!"

It's never been a question of whether the bouts are real or bogus. Anyone with eyes and the intelligence of plankton has to know that much of the show is pre-arranged. If it weren't, everyone in every bout would be disqualified.

It's like watching Rocky movies: If the fights were real, the ref would have awarded the other guy a TKO in the first round. A suspension of disbelief is required.

That part of it doesn't matter. The show is there to be enjoyed at whatever level the spectator chooses, whether it be the choreography, the spectacle or the strength and agility of men who, for all their hammy posturing, have to be among the finest athletes around.

But it's fun turned grimy, a dip into something it will take a scrub brush to remove. And, despite the claims, it's aimed squarely at the kid market because these days that's where the money is, and this is a smoke-and-dry-ice, shock-rock, Freddy Krueger generation with a seemingly insatiable appetite for ever-wilder grunge.

The TV demographics say the pro circuits are giving the market what it wants. That's scary, and more than a little sad.