The Old Pro Wrestling

14 04 2010

Leave it to Keith Knight to stir up memories of yesteryear and echo my current thoughts in nine panels. Here are two from this week’s comic:

K Chronicles excerpt

Two panels of truth.

Since I want to focus on the nostalgic aspects of the comic, I’ll say in passing that I agree that today’s political “discourse” in the US is really just theatre. I don’t doubt that there are people that hold strong opinions and beliefs and indeed want to “change the world” in some way, quite sincerely. But as with any performance, one must consider the motive: To entertain, or to entreaty? Dissection, or distraction?

It can be argued that much of today’s (US) political discourse is little more than a soap opera, with much a less attractive or glamorous cast. Pro wrestling, especially during my formative years, was a soap opera played out by musclebound, oily men.

Thinking back to the good old days of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) and in due time, the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), each pro wrestling organization had its heroes and villains, its plots and intrigue, and lots and lots of fighting. The drama was fairly cut and dried, and the players performed their respective roles with a cartoony flair.

Depending on what pro wresting match was on, the action was either incredibly phony (Great Northwest, I’m thinking of you), or incredibly realistic (NWA), as pro wrestling goes. I studied the moved and realized how even the most realistic fighting (wrestling, in quotes) was designed to cause little physical harm.

One move that comes to mind is the “clothesline”. The idea was to bring the opponent down by striking his throat with your forearm. In truth, this would have a high likelihood of crushing someone’s larynx (pronounced “lair-inks”, not “lair-niks”, FYI), and yet it was one of many crushing blows that either wrestler endured through the course of a match. I won’t even get into the stuff that went on outside of the ring, on the cement floor. The WWF showed its seams several times with wrestlers reacting to punches and kicks that never actually landed – to the point that some beer commercial made light of this with the gag that wrestlers have to pour their beer a foot away from the glass to fill it up. The NWA was more clever (and more dangerous) in that actual blows would land – strategically – adding realism to the action. Then again, the Three Stooges really did slap each other a lot. It’s not without precedent, in other words.

The NWA clothesline involved bringing one’s arm across the opponent’s upper body (close to the neck) and slapping his far shoulder with an open palm. The audience would be wowed by the “SLAP” sound of the clothesline move ostensibly striking the neck and bringing the opponent down to the mat. This also aided with the sympathetic leverage needed to aid with the takedown – which is to say, the opponent is in on the act and needs to angle his body correctly to strike the mat just so and prevent injury.

My analysis of pro wrestling led me to decode the various signals the wrestlers (and at times, the “referee”) would use to signal what move was next so all parties could be prepared. There was a side pat signaling the “suplex”, another for the over the shoulder body slam, another for sending someone into the ropes.

Various diversions were used to again simulate actual fighting but minimizing injury. I enjoyed our gymnastics unit in gym class in high school because there was a part of the room that had a spring-loaded floor (for lack of a better explanation) that was great for pretending to stomp on someone’s head pro wrestling style. One of my classmates was into wrestling and enjoyed learning the inside tricks as to how they make it all look “real”. Another was to throw a punch as close to his face as possible but stomping your foot at the same time for the “BOOM”. The audience responds to the loud noise, ignoring the fake punch itself.

Despite picking wrestling apart, I enjoyed it back then. The NWA was a revelation to me, with their amazing ideas about how to stage wanton physical violence. The Road Warriors seemed to always be the beneficiaries of this creative thinking. Enclosed cage matches, tightropes, “anything goes”, it was all happening and often times you had to pay money to see the good stuff.

My Dad pooh-poohed pro wrestling (specifically the WWF) and finally hit his limit when King Kong Bundy repeatedly flopped down on Hulk Hogan on national television and nobody intervened. His assertion was that if this was so heinous (and happened outside of the parameters of the scheduled bout) then the police would have rushed in. Not so. Because hey, it was theatre.

My Dad went with us to see a live WWF event at the former Rosemont Horizon. Despite the usual faults inherent to pro wrestling, it was good theatre, and we and my Dad loved all of it. We couldn’t shut him up after the show about how exciting it was and how cool it was to see the wrestlers live in person, and what a spectacle it is. Sure, wrestling was still cartoony, fake, and ridiculous, but it was fun. Like all faddish things the fun was transient, but the memories are forever.

To Keith Knight’s point about wanting to convince people that pro wrestling was real by demonstrating the moves, I have the opposite story to tell. One of our former neighbors back in those days was a kid named Charlie. He moved to town from some other state – perhaps the Carolinas. Charlie was convinced that pro wrestling was 100%, bona fide real. And one day, amped up on the latest pro wrestling matches on TV, Charlie body-slammed my brother on the ground and fortunately didn’t break anything.

My solution to drive the point home as to why we don’t do these things, dummy, was to pick Charlie up and set him up for the “piledriver”. Over a manhole cover.

For the uninitiated, the piledriver involves bracing someone’s neck between your legs, picking him up by the waist, jumping up and dropping in a sitting position and “driving” his head into the mat. This was usually the “putaway move” in pro wrestling, meaning it was time to go for the pin and win the match, while your opponent lays on the mat twitching and requiring a stretcher to leave the ring.

Charlie screamed the whole time, realizing what I was about to do.

I picked him up by the waist, jumped, aligned his head over the manhole cover, and dropped to the ground.

WHUMP.

My butt hit the ground. His head didn’t.

I stood over his ashen face and said, “if pro wrestling was real, you’d be dead.”

Charlie never tried any more wrestling moves on anyone after that.

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