EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.
Friday, October 29, 1999
Learning to love the indies
I know some readers like it, some don't, but I'm going to start this one off with a little honesty. The fine people at SLAM! sometimes try to prod me in the other direction, toward the little guys. You know, to focus on the smaller feds and their athletes. They deserve just as much attention as the big guys, especially given that we're a news site, not Entertainment Tonight online, if there is such a thing. (Don't check.)
I have to admit, I sometimes resist the idea. I'm a wrestling fan, after all. And wrestling, nowadays, is about huge spectacles and high-profile superstars and political controversy, not small spectacles and low-profile guys who work full-time doing something else.
Lately, though, I'm starting to come around. Maybe it's the fact that I've been going to all the International Wrestling 2000 shows, which combine just enough in big names with the new faces to bring in the crowds. Maybe working here is starting to affect my judgement. Regardless, all this means one thing: you get an indy column.
The other day, my friend and I were watching CBC Newsworld, and there was a story about NCW, one of Montreal's several local promotions. What we saw astounded us, and made an otherwise dull and mundane news show something that not only couldn't I turn off, but had me kicking myself for not taping it.
It was a profile about a wrestling organization, but it wasn't about wrestlers - it was about fans. And by that I don't mean that the piece focused on the gymnasium full of people who come to watch NCW shows, but that the wrestlers themselves are fans.
They were, literally, addicted to wrestling. They wrestled each and every week, got paid butkus for it, showcased their talents in front of about sixty people, and even put the ring together themselves. I don't know how much that last part actually means, since the fans also helped put together the ring.
It was refreshing to watch people who actually loved wrestling so much that they'd put on their own little show each week. It was like any other small-time club, where people have no other incentive to perform their craft aside from love.
The documentary started with profiles of the various people involved. From the promoter, Bertrand Hebert, staying up late in his home, booking this week's show, to the wrestlers, who work day jobs at convenience stores and what have you, but still don the tights every week.
One of the most resoundingly memorable parts of the story was the wrestling ring. I'd never thought that of all the pieces of an independent wrestling federation, the ring would be the most difficult to acquire and maintain. In reality, they cost thousands of dollars, and NCW bought theirs cheap, second-hand somewhere.
Even the locker-room mentality was present, and I can only guess how similar or different it was to WWF or WCW locker-room mentalities. From the pre-show get-together and pep talk by Hebert (who, in one particularly humourous piece, warns wrestlers to stop breaking tables and chairs because the gym-owners were becoming upset), to the talk and rumours about who might make the big leagues. The general consensus was that this one guy would probably make it - and I'd repeat his name here if I'd remembered it - because he was the biggest of the bunch, at about six foot four, two hundred and maybe thirty pounds.
The show was strong, and it really opened my eyes as far as indy wrestling goes. I'm tempted to venture off to a show, if nothing else than to fill the void left by the departing WWF, which doesn't come around as much as it used to. And when it does, it runs the "house show" show, where no titles change hands, no angles are advanced, and few really put out as great an effort as they do each Monday.
So wherever you are, the next time you're in the mood for some rasslin', check out your smaller local organizations. You may be surprised at what you find. Or you may not. You may have been to more of these than I have. [Editor's note: For more on NCW, see our NCW page]
That's it for this week's somewhat shortened column. I wanted to leave lots of room for mail, because I received about two and a half tons of it this week. I won't answer it, because I already expressed everything I have to say about it and I don't want to unfairly pick apart anyone's personal sentiments in this forum.
Thanks so very much for all of your letters and thoughts. If there's one thing I drew from reading them all, it's that the Hitman still has a legion of fans, waiting for him should he ever decide to return to the world of heroes. I also believe now, that if he should choose not to, no one will hold it against him.
Here's the mail.
Karen Hollingsworth, from firstname.lastname@example.org, writes:
"I just finished reading your column directed to Bret Hart on SLAM! Wrestling, and it moved me to tears. I, too, am a longtime Hart fan. Reading your column, it was as if I was speaking those words.
There are many wrestling fans that feel differently, and have "given up" on the Hitman. I find it harder and harder to defend Bret in discussions with other fans, especially those discussions resulting from his newspaper columns. I still hold a special place in my heart for Bret, and it is compounded by the fact that my oldest daughter, when introduced to wrestling, immediately was taken with Bret as well.
From the age of 3 she expressed a desire to meet her idol, and it took until this year (age 8) for her dream to come true. I had been lucky enough to meet him twice before that, and he was just as warm and personable as I had hoped. My daughter had the chance to meet him this summer, of course after the loss of Owen. Bret was very different this time, which I suppose is understandable. Still, it was a difficult thing to see.
Each time Bret lets the situation with Vince McMahon get to him, he is effectively getting 'screwed' once again. Perhaps Bret needs to let things go in order to 'let the good guys win'. Bret has always been one of the "good guys". Let's hope he will return to that place, where he rightfully belongs.
Thank you so much for expressing what so many of us are feeling."
DanGTheMan@aol.com, who has no name because he uses AOL, writes:
"Very good column. Having read Hart's columns and various interviews, I've formed the same opinions. It's nice to see someone finally agrees with me."
W. Patrick Curry, from email@example.com, writes:
"Kudos to you on your column on Bret Hart.
Considering that the vast majority of your readership are SERIOUS Hitman marks, it really takes balls to speak your mind like that. Unfortunately, most of the people that read your column will likely choose to ignore the fact that you are a fan of Bret's and will closemindedly just attack you for saying anything about our national hero (more than likely calling you a WWF/Vinnie Mac mark).
Well, I admire your guts and more or less agree with your arguments. The heat is coming, brother, but I, for one, am with you."
Timothy M. Dineen, from firstname.lastname@example.org, writes:
"I read your recent column, "An open letter to Bret Hart" on the CANOE website, and I have a few problems with it.
I'm not sure what columns you were discussing in your column, but I have read and re-read every column that Bret Hart has published on the CANOE website, and I have not found any mention of Bret wanting to 'run over the Bulldog's wife'. Has this been removed from the site, or is it a column from some other source (ie Calgary Sun)?
Also, Bret has mentioned his late brother in several columns. Yes, he is still upset over his treatment by Vince McMahon, but no one should be treated that way after fifteen years of loyal service to a company. He has every right to complain about it.
The Hitman hasn't given up. Yet.
And when he stands in the middle of the ring at the Air Canada Centre, I'll be cheering as loudly as any Hitman fan."
Networkx, from email@example.com, writes:
"I'm sure that you're going to take a lot of heat for this article so I shall keep my comments brief. Thank you for coming out and saying those things that I myself have been wanting say but did not have the venue in which to express. While I too hope that Bret's career turns itself around, I cannot forget his comments or attitude of the last several months.
Bret Hart was one of my key inspirations for wanting to get into the world of professional wrestling myself and his antics over the last several months have made me feel rather empty inside as a person.
There was a time when all that I wanted to be was the "next Bret Hart". Well, I guess I'll just have to be satisfied with being me now."
One quick errata before I go: As some of you pointed out, Bret never did, in fact, threaten the Bulldog's wife via his weekly column here. In fact, Davey Boy Smith said it himself in an article still available on this site.
Thanks again for all the great mail this week. I appreciate everyone's thoughtful comments. Thanks also for reading. Have a great week, everyone!
Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.