By Michael Sragow
Astonishingly, major newspapers by and large ignored this story."They say, 'Oh it's just business.' But no it's not, guys, there's a civil liberties issue here. It doesn't matter if we have 600 TV stations -- if they are all owned by the same people, there's no freedom of choice. This is the nightmare scenario of synergy and of vertical integration."
As if to prove Blaustein's point, a week after we talked, the lead story on the New York Times' business page was about the "struggle for ownership" at UPN, which is complicated by the pending merger of UPN's co-owner, Viacom, and CBS. The story does not mention "Beyond the Mat," but it does emphasize the weight McMahon carries with Viacom and how valuable McMahon's WWF is to CBS, which reportedly wants Viacom to buy the rest of UPN from Chris-Craft Industries.
"I don't like what Vince is doing," says Blaustein, "but from a promoting standpoint and an entrepreneurial standpoint you have to step back and say, 'He's good at it.' And I have seen a softer side of the guy on occasion. I think he's been playing an SOB in the ring for so long he feels he's got to act that way outside of it all the time. I like to think the best of all people, so I hope Vince knows somewhere that what he's doing is ultimately wrong."
Blaustein says that when he went to the New York Times to rouse interest in his tale, he got turned down: "They say, 'Our readers don't watch wrestling.' Well, you'd be surprised who watches wrestling. The demographics of wrestling are higher than the demographics of Major League Baseball.
"Ironically," Blaustein continues, "The WCW, Ted Turner's outfit, didn't sign a release [to have its own wrestlers appear in 'Beyond the Mat.']. They wanted to have some sort of editorial control, so they're not in the movie. But when the movie had its Academy Award-qualifying run in L.A., a couple of WCW guys were in town and saw it. They called me up -- the person who wouldn't sign the release is no longer there -- and said, 'Boy, you've done something wonderful for the industry, we really regret not being in it.' They're running the ads, even though they have their own movie coming out a month from now! And not only are they running ads for my picture, they're having their guys talk about it on the air! They don't have problems at all."
Blaustein believes that if more mainstream media covered wrestling the way he does in his film -- or the way Meltzer does in his online newsletter and others do on Internet "dirt sheets" that treat wrestling as a business -- more people would be drawn into its strange amalgam of sport and entertainment. "You've got to understand wrestling fans are a lot more knowledgeable about what's going on than non-wrestling fans. They suspend their disbelief -- it's like going to a movie."
Question: "Beyond the Mat" starts with you saying that you can't explain why you like wrestling. But at some point you must have come to grips with it. Is that statement a kind of posture, so that we in the audience know we're going to see wrestlers without a lot of external editorializing? Or is it totally true?
It's totally true. At one time I thought I was going to analyze why I like it. Essentially it came down to, I just do. I knew I loved the theatricality. I knew I loved the in-your-face element. At one time I thought I was going to analyze why I like it. [He laughs derisively.] Is it the repressed homosexuality? Is it because I didn't challenge a kid to a fight in seventh grade? And I realized that after all these years, I just don't know why. At the beginning I wanted to state that this is not "a study of wrestling as a popular social phenomenon and the effect it has on people." It's a view of the wrestling world from the perspective of a guy who likes it. He's embarrassed he likes it, and up until recently he would never tell another human being he likes it. To this day, I'm not proud I like it. But the only thing that makes me wonder why I like it now is that it's become so mainstream and so popular, it's lost that tainted, dirty feeling, which I enjoy so much. Up till now, it's been something you're not supposed to like, which gives you more reason to like it.
Question: You include a clip of Max Von Sydow saying, 'Can you imagine the level of a mind that watches wrestling?'
That's from "Hannah and Her Sisters" -- Woody Allen! It's the first time Woody Allen has lent a clip out to anything. And I was real excited because now I have a framed contract, a release, between me and Woody Allen. But I was more excited because at the end of the movie I was able to put in "Personal thanks to Woody Allen and to Afa the Wild Samoan" one after the other -- a great combination.
Question: Hasn't wrestling changed tremendously since you started watching it 30 years ago?
Yeah, it's changed, but there are more similarities than differences. It's just more hyped. Like movies today -- everything is amped up more. The characters and the violence are more extreme. But the same essential theatricality was always prevalent. I like the outrageousness of it and the political incorrectness of it.
Of course, there are things that make me uncomfortable. I met a lot of midget wrestlers -- I'm not going to say "vertically challenged wrestlers." There are not many of them left; they are almost always older guys. They're always the big comedy act. I never thought I minded it, but I remember even as a kid I thought it was humiliating when a ref picked up a midget wrestler and spanked him. I always thought, "Was that really needed?" And I asked them, "Was this really going too far?" And they said, "No, it was part of the show and we were getting paid good money."
Question: For non-fans like myself, what's shocking about your movie is how much real punishment these guys take. We all grow up thinking it's choreographed and thus harmless.
It is choreographed, but these are huge bodies! When they get hit with a chair, people think, "Oh, it's a fake chair." I don't even know what the concept of a fake chair is. They are getting hit over the head with real metal chairs, and when they land on concrete, they land on concrete. The rings are not that padded and the ropes are really hard -- that was the big shocker to me. And when you see blood, it's real blood -- it's not capsules, it's blood, whether it's self-inflicted or not.
To be continued...
Thunder opens with some video recaps of various goings on from Nitro. Backstage. Jeff Jarrett complains to the Cat that he isn't scheduled on the show - so Miller promises him a match. Thunder was taped Tuesday night in Columbus, Ohio.
Jarrett stalks to the ring for his bi-weekly rant, the usual self promotional crap, during which he throws out a challenge for Hulk Hogan to face him in the ring tonight. This brings the Cat out to set him straight, saying that he is going to put on a karate demonstration and he also schedules a tag team match, the winner of which (in other words the guy who gets the pin) will get a World Title shot at the end of the program. He then starts his music and splits before Jarrett can object.
The announcers mention during their card hype that Johnny the Bull was injured severely enough by Terry Funk on Monday to oput him out of action for 6 weeks! Funk will get the Hardcore Title shot at the Bash. Gosh really..? Switch to a video from earlier today wherein the Tag Team Chumps spent to much time in a tanning booth and got burned. They spent that time there because effects engineer Woody locked them in and then turned the controls to full on!
Backtage, Jarrett is raging and Kanyon is attacking innocent bystanders. This is followed by a tag team match pitting Rey Misterio and the Disco Inferno against Kidman and Lance Storm. Actually it's announced as a four-corners match...but we know better. In fact, Storm arrives ahead of Kidman and gets a little punk job laid on him before his partner shows up. Of course, Kidman and Storm fight against each other on the up and up while the bad guys operate essentially as a tag team. The best move of the match comes about when Rey Rey goes for the bronco buster only to connect soundly in the groin with Storm's upraised boot (ouch!!) I the end, AStorm puts his rolling half crab on Disco and takes the submission win.
Mean Gene interviews Booker and Buff backstage - they will take on Shane Douglas and Kanyon in the tag match for the #1 contender spot.
Backstage after the break, the Tag Team Chumps are burned like lobsters and are informed that it was Woody who locked them in. Back out in the arena, the Cat comes out for his karate demo. He calls out the Jung Dragons and takes them all on at the same time. of course, they pretty much destroy him initially and he bails out to the floor to yell at them. He returns to the ring and suckers them into a ceremonial bow so he can take the advantage. They come back but now he is in control and wipes the mat with them. They bail and then he declares the demo over. Out in the video truck, the Tag Chumps confront Woody and challenge him to a match! He seems unfazed and agrees.
Backstage after the break we see the Cat paying off the Dragons for their performance earlier. In another part of the building the Hardcore Champ thinks his opponent the Demon is in his casket - but he isn't. The match starts with the Demon in control but that changes pretty swiftly and they fight toward the ring. By the time they get their it ia all Big Vito, who uses a trashcan full of plunder to whip his opponent. Demon has his moments here and there but Vito is definitely in control for the bulk of the action. As the match progresses and Demon gains ground, Vampiro puts in an appearance and uses a shovel to turn the tables for the Champ. Vito takes advantage of his unconscious opponent to take the pin. Vamp then returns with a mic and lays a rant on the still motionless Demon.
Backstage, Mean Gene interviews Mike Awesome who claims to hold two wins over Scott Steiner. He splices pieces of tape together to supposedly show Steiner refusing to fight him on Monday (actually Steiner wasn;t even in the building).
The "Killer Tomatoes" as Heenan refers to the Tag Chumps, come out for their match with Woody, who is still unbowed. We find out a moment later when he brings out his partner - Brian Adams! Admas makes mince meat out of Palumbo and Stasiak, who suffer mightily when they are chopped on their sunburned chests. Woody lays in slaps of his own whenever they draw near enough, and then is invited in to take the pin against Stasiak.
In the Tag Team/Title Contender contest it is Booker who takes the pin over Kanyon after a spirited match in which neiother team really operated together since all four were looking to make the pin.
Backstage after the break we see Crowbar arrive with a length of pipe, with murder in his eye, then Daffney appears and seems to be tailing him, then Mike Awesome is shown fooling around with someone's sunglasses. Back out in the arena, the MIA make their way to the ring for a mixed tag match featuring Lt. Loco/Major Guns vs. Juventud Guerrera/Tygress. The men do most of the work since Tygress is decidedly reluctant to face her counterpart in the ring. They eventually do get into a cat fight which features a headbutt on the part of Major Gunsm before Juvie tries to horn in. Guerrero pulls him off and sets him up for a pin but Tygress Guns away to prevent the win. She is injured and distracts Guerrero who is then clocked by Juvey with the Cruiserweight strap, thus losing the match.
Backstage, Rick Steiner puts ion his sunglasses and immediately starts writhing in pain.
Mean Gene interviews Booker T backstage about his scheduled World Title shot which he has just earned by winning his previous match. He is elated and says it will be his pleasure to walk out the World Heavyweight Champion. This is followed by a video recap of the Vampiro/Demon feud. In a taped interview, Jim and Debra Duggan talk about his condition after his run-in with Goldberg last week. He is not discouraged but he did suffer some cracked ribs. He promises to come back as long as the fans want to see him.
Backstage after the break, Crowbar finds David Flair dallying with Miss Hancocks and delivers some punishment. Meanwhile, Rick Steiner is having his eyes examined. Cut back to the arena and now Crowbar is dragging David to the ring where an impromptu match gets started. Crowbar dominates the early going but then David turns the tables and slaps on a figure four. Miss Hancock appears ringside with a lead pipe in hand and uses it to add leverage to David's maneuver. The referee breaks it up and then Daffney shows up and gets into a tug-of-war with Miss H over the pipe. Eventually Daffney let go of the pipe sending Miss H onto her can, then she produces a set of clippers. Now we have one impromptu match going on within the another one! Miss H bails and escapes and David is caught by Crowbar and forced to confess that he clipped Daffney's hair and that he has been messing around with Miss H. Crowbar releases him and threatens him with the pipe - but it is Daffney who slaps his face and sends him tumbling to the floor. Afterward Daffney flounces away - not very happy with either of the guys. Bacstage after the break, trainer Danny Young is checking out Miss H's supposed injured leg. David shows up and is jealous - which is clearly Miss H's intention. He grabs the trainer and starts shaving his head.
Mike Awesome faces Rick Steiner in a revenge match (Rick wanting revenge for his brother's problems with Awesome). Awesome is somewhat at an advantage because Steiner is still having trouble seeing. He compounds the problem moments into the match by spraying more of the mysterious substance into his opponent's eyes. Steiner is blinded and pinned.
The main event is Booker T's World Title shot against Jeff Jarrett. Of course we don't expect him to win the title because Jarrett is set to face Hulk Hogan on Sunday for the strap. We are reminded by Bobby Heenan that Booker T has held every title in WCW - actually not true, because he has never been, nor could he ever be, the Cruiserweight Champ. For the most part Booker out-wrestles and out-fights Jarrett at every turn, until the World Champ starts working on Booker's left knee. He slaps on a figure four and settles in. Booker gets to the ropes to escape. Jarrett hammers blows to the face to retain the advantage then whips his opponent and collides head-to-head and both are down. Booker regains the advantage and applies the ax kick to almost get the pin. The next moment, Jarrett ducked a flying move and sent Booker tumbling to the floor, where Kanyon appeared and put on a Diamond Cutter. That spelled the end for Booker. The Cat then shows up and orders a restart because of Kanyon's intereference! Jarret has already left the ring and is arguing with the Cat when Booker draggs him back to the ring. The fight is all Booker now and he almost wins but Jarrett's foot is on the rope. The next moment the referee is knocked to the floor and Booker again fails to get the pin. The Cat tries to revive the ref but can't so he throws the referee shirt over his head and takes over the officiating. This infuriates Jarrett who wipes Miller out with a guitar shot. Then the original referee revives and declares a DQ against Jarrett just as the program ends.
Backstage after the break, Angle is exuberent in his celebration and starts throwing food off the catering table...and accidently throws some of it on the Undertaker's ride which is parked nearby. Mideon is there and lets him know about his faux pas. Angle splits in a hurry, grabbing a cab out back (despite the fact that he still wears ring attire and likely doesn't have a cent on him to pay the fare.
In the ring, Mick Foley wants either Shane McMahon or Chris Benoit to come out and explain their actions on RAW Monday night. Shane apparently isn't around, so he gets Benoit. Foley proceeds to tell Benoit off for his treatment of Chyna, showing a video of what happened as he tells the tale. He demands an explaination but doesn't get it, so he rants on about Benoits treatment of the Rock later on that night. He again demands, "Why??" and finally gets an answer. Benoit declares that he has no compassion ot remorse and that he is the greatest technical wrestler in the world today and then demands a World Title shot tonight. Foley says he'll ponder some on that idea...then at that moment, Edge and Christian make an entrance, and proceed to tell Benoit that he "reeked or awesomeness" and praise him as a "fellow Canadian". Foley takes this all in and sets up a six-man match for the three of them against Chyna, Eddie G and the Rock. Out in the parking lot, HHH arrives and upbraids his wife after she tells him about her little escapade with Kurt Angle. He stomps off looking for the Commissioner.
The new ad hoc Tag Team of Chaz (one of the former Headbangers, Mosh, I think...) and D-Lo Brown takes on the Dudley Boyz in a match that is notably lacking in heat until Chaz fakes a knee injury to distract the referee so that D-Lo can run a number on Devon. From then on the Dudleys are definitely the good guys and in the crowds embrace. Devon goes outside to set up a table but as he returns to the ring, Steven Richards runs out and takes it away! The missing table causes a distraction for the Dudleys, but not enough of one to make them lose. Devon gets the Dudley Death Drop on Chaz and the pin. Backstage, Richards declares himself the censor of not only sexual overtones, but also of excessive violence.
HHH confronts Commissioner Foley and demands a match with Jericho, which Foley agrees to...but not until the PPV. HHH tries to say that Stephanie will book the match for him but Foley reminds him that he is the power in the WWF these days. HHH threatens Foley with bodily harm to which Foley responds go ahead and I'll fine you $5000 for every punch and then will start booking him in humiliating situations. He then books HHH into a handicap match (against opponents un-named) for the privelege of wrestling Jericho on RAW Monday night. HHH backs off but tells Steph to keep his wallet handy.
Dean Malenko, the new Jeff Jarrett and clearly the one Radical who lost the most by making the jump to the WWF, is in a handicap match against Jaqueline and Ivory. At the critical moment in this bit of silliness, Crash Hardey runs in trips Malenko then holds him while the ladies get the pin.
Rikishi faces Val Venis in a challenge for his Intercontinental Title, with Trish Stratus at ringside of course. From the opening bell, the big guy dominates the action until Val slaps on a DDT - but then he goes to the top and gets caught there. Moments later Rikishi swings Val into the corner and catches the referee there. T&A run in at that moment and Rikishi gets punked before they split. Rikiski manages to kick out. Meanwhile, up on the ramo, Too Cool catch up to the bad guys and drag them away. back in the ring, Val is squashed and would be pinned except that the referee is still down. Suddenly the enigmatic Tazz runs in and whacks the big guy with a camera! Val gets the money shot and the pin - making him the new IC Champ!
Steve Blackman defends his Hardcore Title against former Champ the Big Boss Man and is winning rather handily when Al Snow runs in and clinches the deal by walloping the Boss Man with a boombox.
In a Clash of the Titans, T&A takes on the Undertaker and Kane but can't seem to really get anything happening. All of their offense comes their way through guile...but it isn;t enough to best the Scarey Brothers. Seeing him next to Alber shows us just how huge Kane is as he chokeslams the bruiser for the pin. After the match Kane gragged Trish into the ring by her hair and was ready to trash her when Val Venis ran in and whacked Kane with the IC Title then spirited her away.
HHH comes to the ring for his handicap match and finds himself facing...Kaientai, the Brooklyn Brawler (who must be crapping his pants to be appearing for a second time this week on prime time TV). Somehow this seems like a set-up... About the time that Helmsley is about to take the win, Chris Jericho runs in and wastes him - giving the Brawler the win! HHH goes on a crime spree afterwards, of course. Meanwhile, out back, Jericho commandeers HHH's limo...
The main event was the six man(?) match with the three Canadians against the Rock, Eddie G and Chyna. Edge starts the match against Guerrero by blindsiding him while Benoit provides distraction to give him the advantage, then takes over the fight against his former friend. Eddie is being isolated for the next several minutes. The Rock finally gets in and cleans house - and then accedes to Chyna's desire to get into the fight. She puts the powerbomb on Edge and takes the pin. But then Shane suddenly runs in and attacks the Rock then splits with Maivia in hot pursuit. Thus distracted, Chyna and Guerrero fall prey to a blindside attack by the Tag Champs. As the program fades, the Rock chases Shane back into the ring and chaos reigns.
Next up, Jerry Lynn takes on Tajiri, who has a bone to pick with the former over some of his officiating during a couple of Tajiri's matches of late. The match starts out on the floor where the two trade chops before taking it to the inside of the ring. Then we cut to commercial.
As we return, Tajiri is firmly in control of the match. We notice that Cyrus is hanging about ringside. As usual, it's hard to tell whether JL is actually associated with "the Network" or not. Lynn finally catches his opponent climbing the corner and turns the tables with a superplex off the top rope. Moments later, however, Tajiri conmes right back and hits an inverted DDT off the second rope to regain the advantage. Now the match goes into see saw mode until Cyrus tries to interefere. Tajiri sprays him with the green mist and then applies the tarantula on the hapless network representative. Steve Corino suddenly runs in while the referee is occupied with Cyrus and lays a superkick on Lynn - putting him down hard and giving Tajiri an easy pinfall. So who knows what all this means...
Backstage, Justine Credible delivers one of his breathless rants against his opponent for the evening, the Sandman.
Simon Diamond and Swinger come to the ring for a tag team match, with the Musketeer in tow. Their opponents are Danny Doring and Roadkill, plus Chris Chetti and Nova - a three way tag team elimination dance. Nova and Chetti are clearly the best team of this bunch of misfits and they clear the ring in no time. The match is in full swing when C.W. Anderson runs in and starts whacking everyone - then he splits and the match is back in progress again. Diamond pins Nova rather abruptly and his team are eliminated. At this point Swinger and Diamond appear to be overmatched against Doring and his Amish friend until Chris Chetti runs back in and intereferes to hand the win to the former team.
The main event is a World Title bout featuring the Sandman challenging reigning Champ Justine Credible. Dawn Marie makes her return to ECW and is supposed to be the referee for this match but she takes a cane shot from the Champ even before the challenger can arrive at the ring. Sandman takes his usual rambling, beer swilling walk to the ring. Not surprisingly the fight gets started on the the floor and continues into the crowd for a while where Sabdman uses a loading palett as a weapon then tosses it into the ring for further use. He props it in a corner and flings the Champ into it hard. He then winds up and delivers a bulldog onto the pallet then tosses Credible over the top to the floor. As Justine comes back, Sandman has the pallet propped in the corner again - but this time the Champion turns the tables and Sandman crashes into the pallet. The referee is knocked out in the process of that last move so that when Sandman recovers he is unable to get a pin. Dusty Rhodes runs in and tries to make the count but Francine dive bombs him to break it up. Rhodes is suddenly confronted by Steve Corino and Jack Victory - the three of them brawl right out of the ring. Meanwhile Scotty Anton invades the ring. The referee is recovering when he is squashed in the corner and taken out a second time. Raven makes a brief appearance in the ring for no discernable reason. Somehow this all sorts out to the Sandman and Justine again and Sandman is in control...but of course there is no referee. Rhino runs in and attacks Sandman to finally spell the end of Sandman's challenge. Then Tommy Dreamer and Jazz show up, with barbed wire in hand...I am so confused...Dreamer piledrives Justine on a ball of barbed wire and seems to hurt himself as much as the Champ...and the program fades. I'll be back on Sunday with the Bash at the Beach report. Until then...
At least that's the way I see it...
Editor, Solie's Wrestling Newsletter
This page is a personal tribute andis in no way connected to any of the wrestling promotions mentioned on it. It is dedicated to the Dean of Wrestling announcers, Gordon Solie.
Copyright 2000 - Jump City Productions