EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.
Friday, December 29, 2000
Go out and see a show!
Live wrestling shows are not for everyone. But you're here, and you're reading our news here at SLAM! Wrestling, so you're probably more than the most casual fan ever to watch TNT or TNN. And I'm not talking about Raw live or Smackdown! tapings either -- these things aren't real live shows in the way that house shows are. People who go to see Smackdown! tapings get hour after hour of wrestling, but some of it is for the B-shows, and much of it consists of the two-minute matches that insert so well between commercial breaks and backstage segments. To boot, live fans don't even get to see some of those taped segments. Smackdown! is fun to watch live, but I revert to my previous question -- when was the last time you saw an actual live show?
ECW counts, because of the way their product is designed more than anything. They still haven't followed the pattern of crash TV, and even though their show is half the length of the bigger wrestling television shows, their matches are often far longer. At this point, ECW is counting on their live shows more than anything to keep them afloat. WCW and WWF house shows are good, too. It's there that you really get to see which wrestlers are wrestlers and which ones are just entertainers. The wrestlers continue to bust butt at these shows, despite the lack of television cameras. One of the reasons I've always been a staunch defender of The Rock and Steve Austin is that at every live match I've seen of theirs, they've done just that. They entertain their fans, whether they number a few thousand or several million. Fans, in turn, appreciate that.
Still, the WWF and WCW product is very standardized, even at a house show. Rock still wins with that stupid elbow, Austin still chugs his beer, and everything is otherwise as you know it to be. For a new experience, you've got to venture even further away from the mainstream.
I've written about indy wrestling in this column before. We feature many stories about independent wrestling here at SLAM!, too, and that's because this kind of wrestling is important too. The big leagues can't pick their talent out of thin air, and there are only so many Olympic wrestlers with a personality. Some wrestlers have to get their training and practical experience elsewhere. Also, as expansive as the WWF or WCW may be, they can typically be at only one place at any given time. Many hardcore fans enjoy the live performances most of all, and so they need something to satiate them on a regular basis.
That's where the indies come in. They give former WWF and WCW and now especially ECW wrestlers a place to practice their trade when not employed by said organizations, they give hopeful wrestlers a chance to see if they've got what it takes, and they give the fans something to see on a smaller scale and more regular basis.
This Friday, December 29, at Verdun Auditorium in Montreal, Jacques Rougeau Jr. puts on the latest of his increasingly successful Lutte International 2000 promotion. This latest effort by Rougeau follows a string of sold out shows at the smaller Centre Pierre Charbonneau, and then a test run at the larger Verdun Auditorium, which seats more than many ECW shows, and sometimes even WCW shows, would be able to fill. But ticket sales are going well for Rougeau, and this promises to be a packed house and a solid show.
Topping the card is frequent Montreal visitor King Kong Bundy taking on Carl Ouelette, who this year has been on the verge of making the big leagues again. Bundy most people know from his classic Wrestlemania II match against Hulk Hogan, and Ouelette you might remember as one half of recent French Canadian tag teams The Quebecers and The Amazing French Canadians (in both cases, his partner was Jacques Rougeau).
Also on the card, The Prisoners -- two of the largest, strongest men you've never heard of -- will take on Rick May and Mike Lyons. According to the promotion's website, The Prisoners have been practicing high-risk moves. I've seen them cause tremors with bodyslams, so I shudder to see this. In newcomer battles, "The Kid" Kevin Steen will face Eric Mastrocola and Serge "The Gladiator" Demers will fight Gorgeous Mike. And of course, what would an indy card in Quebec be without a midget match? We don't have to worry about that, since Tiger Jackson will take on Little Broken in another grudge match.
Rougeau's shows are always top notch, and are looking less and less like independent shows as far as production values and talent go. He always manages to attract big-time sponsors, some of whom always seem to be toy companies. Needless to say, if previous shows are any indication, there should be plenty of prizes for the kids.
I regret that one of my favourite local talents, NCW wrestler Iceman, will not be on the card, but there's plenty for fans to look forward to.
But Rougeau's got that base covered, as he now runs a training school on 4500 Hochelaga in Montreal. Rougeau's one of the most experienced modern wrestlers in the province, and I look forward to seeing his students in action.
If you haven't seen a live show in awhile, wherever you are, check out and support an indy -- they are, after all, the future of wrestling. If you're in the Montreal area, and there are still tickets left (check out admission.com), then head over to Rougeau's show on Friday, December 29 at Verdun Auditorium, starting at 7:30 PM. Greg Oliver and I will be there, so drop by and say hi.
Here's the mail.
Mark Bednarski writes:
"One of the greatest problems with the current wrestling scene today is lack of it. The #1 reason why people tune in to watch wrestling is to see wrestling. Period. There better places to see theatrics, love triangles or transvestites. When I watch wrestling I want to see great matches and I do not really care about anything else. I have recently stopped watching Raw and Nitro and only occasionally I will tune into to a pay per view review to see what happened. As a kid growing up, I looked forward to great matches. Now I am not as enthused when I watch wrestling since I know that inevitably there will be some twist to a match that will prevent a clean finish and end the match on a proper note. I believe that the key to getting wrestling back on track is to focus on creating great back and forth matches of at least 20 minutes plus in duration."
'The #1 reason why people tune in to watch wrestling is to see wrestling. Period.' That's a very confident statement. If it were true, then you'd be sitting pretty -- but I think at the very least, it's in question.
Check the ratings from the last time that wrestling was really just two men in the ring having a match. Analyze the ratings of the last ten years, and catalogue where they've been highest: not where the wrestling has been most prevalent or even best, but where the stories (nWo invades WCW, Austin defies McMahon) have been most intriguing. You and I and many others may love wrestling, but those ratings are made partly of fanatics and partly of casual viewers.
Even saying that wrestling is what draws people in is too vague. Some people find mat wrestling boring but love lucha libre aerial stuff. Some people dislike high-flying moves and go for psychology. I like the stories that Japanese wrestlers tell in the ring with their psychology and tireless devotion to delivering a logical match, but I also like the stories that Mick Foley tells me over the microphone.
Simplistic answers like this one are one of the big reasons many people have failed at running a wrestling promotion. Finding what appeals to fans is a complex issue, and it takes a certain wisdom to see that.
That's all for this week. Tune in next week -- same time, same place. Thanks for writing in!
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