Dedicated to Gordon Solie
January 29, 1929 - July 27, 2000
In this edition we have a classic article from the Canadian Forum, and my own TV Reports and topical rants.
You can get more of the latest news and rumors by listening to this week's Solie's Wrestling Radio report.
By D.M. Fisher
Several years ago Time magazine hinted that the large crowds drawn by wrestling in Toronto reflected the gullibility of the citizens. Now, with the surge of television, wrestling has come to the fore in the States; the top men are national figures, and the critics and publicists are debunking or glorifying the show. This is one matter where Canada has kept pace with America. We have the chance, even in the smaller towns, of seeing wrestling, and the attendance has risen until it probably stands behind only hockey and baseball as an athletic draw. No populated area fails to support the grapplers; Toronto, Montreal, and Hamilton turn out supporters enough to gross nearly a million and a half dollars a year. What does wrestling offer for the husky admission it charges?
The meaning of sport as a fair contest does not apply to wrestling; it is entertainment, generally of high calibre in execution, with features of the circus and the drama added to its athletic elements. The basic parts of an exhibition are two opponents, one referee, and the crowd. Color is supplied by the beautiful robes of the wrestlers, their wonderful or grotesque bodies, and the carnival informality of the show. Four or five matches make up the card, but many variations are common. The winner is usually pre-determined, but it is not a "fix" in the gambling sense. Team tag-fights, two against one, man against alligator, mud-floored rings, or the cockpit effect gained by a chicken-wire enclosure, keep the orthodox from becoming stale. Thought title matches are held, they signify little since each area has its "world champion" and, in Canada, its "British Empire champion." Because they advertise, promoters are given good coverage from local papers (and with a straight face), but there is little inter-city or international publicity on a press-service scale. This frees a man in a main event in Toronto on Thursday for a preliminary match in Buffalo on Friday. (It is disconcerting to find the invincible hero in Toronto being featured as a cad in the Montreal press.)
Despite this lack of geographic integration where rating or morality is concerned, the reciprocity of the different promotional centres is a marvel. There is a reptitive, rise, decline, and fall of wrestlers so geared that the public in each area has an ever-changing troupe to watch. A wrestler will usually draw well in his home town, but long jaunts on circuits, perhaps in Missouri, Texas, or in the Maritimes space out such appearances.
Canada is turning out many of its own entertainers although their names generally lack the phonetic lilt of the importations. Mike Sharpe, Al Korman, Yvon Robert, or Pat Flanagan are Canadian leaders who sound dull beside the Warren Bockwinkles, Suni War Clouds, or Gorgeous Georges from the south.
Instructions about his next match often come to the wrestler by phone and rarely, unless the publicists have been creating a "natural" rivalry, does he know whom he is to fight. Much leeway is left the contestants and the referee whnever the bout is not part of a build-up sequence. They know how much time to allow before the finish and the scope of their play is sensitive to the crowd’s reaction.
That is, inattention comes when too much applying for breaking of holds is presented so, sensing this, something sensational like tossing each other out of the ring is resorted to. Normally, action see-saws to a climax that may rest on the virtue versus evil theme, on a quirk of the referee, or upon an accidental slip or skid. A favorite ending is Prometheanlike: some daring manoeuvre backfires and the fall is lost with explosive suddenness, leaving a "Well! You never know" hush upon the audience.
Most matches pit good against evil and as a rule justice does not triumph. But it will. Rematches go on until the routine becomes jaded; then right prevails. The most entertaining match to the sensitive fan is the first contest between two wrestlers who hitherto have borne the true-blue stamp. Action will be very fast, ostentatiously clean, and may continue so to the end. This is rare. More likely, one man displays a character flaw. Chances for perfidy prove too tempting; then, as his baser nature revealed, the crowd takes up the chant against him. The spectators do not split into two factions behind either fighter. They await the cue of one’s fall from grace. (Of course, there may be the odd agitator perverse enough to applaud roguery.) The character of the contestants fixed, the hero is, of course, justified in using any means to gain his ends, but often he will give the rascal another chance and extend the open hand of forgiveness. If the handshake is accepted, the crowd becomes uneasy, for past performances have indicated that reform is never lasting.
The spectator’s participation is not unlike the chorus in Greek drama, explaining and warning. In combat there are a number of conventions which theoretically must be upheld: when action comes to the ring border where either wrestler touches the ropes, they must break openly, as boxers from a clinch, and begin anew; strangle-holds, eye-gouging, punching, or the use of abrasive materials such as adhesive tape or peanuts, are technically forbidden. However, the referees as a group are typically ineffectual, a failing which the villain does not hesitate to exploit shamelessly. Thus the responsibility devolves upon the crowd, to call the arbiter to his duty, to warn the hero and to shame the villain. There is a quality, not unlike the responses in a prayer-meeting, appealing but dignified, which inhere in the cries of "Rope!", "Peanut!", etc., that rise from the crowd. In most matches, the opportunity arises for the hero to apply a hold whereby every rock of his body stretches the villain in a rack. The measured roar of "Hip. . .Hip. . ." that this occasions is in the spirit of the regatta. This eultant note has a rival in pure feeling when shrill despair settles in after the hero is beaten. The villain crows, defies the crowd, and often beats a coward’s retreat under the fire of fists, fingernails, parasols, or burning cigarettes with which the fans assault him. Then, a hush of respect comes as the hero is solicitously helped away. A curious note about the mob scene around the villain is that the women show far more courage than the men.
Less than half the actual fighting time is spent at grips. A goodly bit passes in appeals to the referee and the crowd, and much to pacing and circling with gestures and grimaces of pain, wrath, or steely determination. The latter is the perquisite of the hero, and the villain’s counter is the skulk or leer of menace. Naturally, there is a great range in ability of expression but a similarity in technique. For example, all good fellows must simulate blindness since, sooner or later, the villain rubs a peanut or a thumb into his eyes. Every Toronto fan knows that their nonpareil, Whipper Billy Watson, is literally blind in one eye. This intensifies the pathos of poor Whipper, staggering around the ring, groping at his face, while the dastard blandly assures the referee he has no peanut hidden in his trunks. The crowd knows better; sympathy and love for justice weld in a mighty current of feeling.
Other heroes can hardly match Watson in this specialty, but many, because of greater purity of feature and physique, are better in limning the role of righteous indignation. At present a new hero, Timothy Geohagen, is rising on the Toronto scene. Tim is young, blond, and handsome. His special characteristic is mighty strength, his special hold the "Irish Sleeper," and his dramatic forte the pure rage of the righteous. When Tim gets his Irish up, when his patience is gone, his clear skin pinks, his arms writhe, and he vibrates from the floor in anger. The crowd approves, the villain shows yellow and hides behind the referee who wags a finger at Tim. Tim brushes this obstacle aside and metes out justice. (It is hard to imagine a clearer show of the cliches of histrionics than those in Tim’s bout, providing he is given a villain of merit.)
Often one finds former boxing "greats" such as Jack Dempsey, Jack Sharkey, or Max Baer headlined as referees. The idea is that they are impartial and able because of the supposed power in their fists to keep the villain in line. This myth is rooted in the "knock-out" punch and it promotes bizarre situations. Once a feud between Watson and a huge Pole, Wladislaw Talun, had grown so bitter that only a strong referee seemed to promise order and a decision. Jack Sharkey was brought in, and early in the bout he had to remonstrate with Talun for underhand tactics. Failing to impress the Pole verbally, Sharkey cocked his fist. Talun’s reaction was swift; he cowered, fawned, and then carried on fairly, long enough for Watson to down him cleanly. The paradox here is the appearance of Talun and Sharkey. The ex-boxer is grey and paunchy, a flabby two-hundred pounder; Talun is at least six-foot-eight, weighs over three hundred and fifty, and ripples with muscle.
To most people, all these wrestlers are big, but the size range is broad-a small man is from two hundred and twenty to two hundred and forty pounds in weight, while the giants range to four hundred pounds plus. The bigger men tend to be the villains. This supports the proverb "the bigger they come the harder they fall." About fifty years ago Bob Fitzsimmons coined this phrase, just before his fight for the heavyweight crown with the giant Jim Jeffries. Fitz was crushed by Jeffries, but his words are the prop for the multitude who resent superior stature; thus the wrestling addict has the vicarious thrill of the human dreadnought’s fall.
One of the two groups of people whom wrestling infuriates are the sport purists who feel it as a satire on genuine competition. The other critics are the calamity howlers or disillusioned do-gooders. A sample of the latter was offered some years ago by Alan Sullivan. Writing in Maclean’s he rued wrestling’s appeal in Toronto: "Is the public appetite of this city so jaded, surfeited, dissipated, so lacking in what one may call ‘tone’ that the sensory receiving apparatus of eight thousand Torontonians demands the floodlit brutalities by mountainous grapplers . . ."
The brutalities are exaggerated. When giants begin somersaulting and leaping at lightning speed, there is a chance they may be hurt, but if it were brutal the men could not sustain their three to five matches a week schedule. An elbow-smash, a kick in the face, or a bite in the leg does seem rugged, but the recipients live to fight next day simply because their simulation is unbelievably good. The crowd’s savor for the rough stuff intrigues the analysts who deal in psychological jargon. Mob hysteria, persecution mania, blood lust, and sexual sublimation have been put forward. The fact that women form a large part of the attendance disturbs many. To those who suggest that they are attracted by the exposition of virile bodies, one could point out that many wrestlers are very ugly and malformed. One entertaining theory is that men readily take their women to contests where gambling is not a factor. Certainly, it’s hard to imagine even the staunchest fan wagering on wrestling. But then, this does not account for the ladies leading the chorus as they do.
Those who see the wrestling of today as another symbol of social decadence, might try attending some bouts in a relaxed state of mind, or if they are blessed with a TV set, watching it in their parlor. If they can’t get delight from listening and watching the people around them, there are always marvels of muscle to admire and acrobatics in a grand manner. Besides, the orgy of disbelief at other people’s tastes can bolster one’s more cultured ego.
Historians place wrestling as the second oldest sport of all. For those who never sw the sport when it was the focal point of people who were sure of its validity as a contest, it is hard to imagine this past. Books tell us that Henry VIII once tried a fall with Francis, King of France, at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Perhaps the pageant of today is a reversion to such a show. If nothing else, it reveals that Canadians, or at least many of them, are not so staid in expressing their emotions as we’ve been led to believe.
by Earl Oliver
SmackDown was taped Tuesday at the New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, Louisiana and opened back in Mr. McMahon's office, where both Booker T and Ric Flair were cooling their heels. Flair mentioned to Booker that he was there to dsicuss Booker's contract and offered to show it to Booker. Booker looked and noticed that it was for a lot of money - which Flair said he didn;t agree with, but McMahon is "the man" and so he was going along with it. Booker asked for a pen and signed the contract right on the spot. Flair took the sign contract and left, chuckling to himself as the scene ended.
Cut to the ring where Kurt Angle made his entrance for a challenge for the Intercontinental Title - which ended when Kurt dragged the referee in front of him to head off a spear. Angle was disqualified, so he shoved the referee down then grabbed an ankle lock and refused to let go. He did considerable damage before he finally released the hold and split.
Out back, Booker was waiting for Vince to pull up in his limo. When he did, Booker hastened over to thank him for the contract. Vince didn't know what he wqas talking about! Flair showed up and explained that Booker was now "the property" of the WWF (a bit un-PC considering that he was referring to a black man...) and, oh by the way, he has to wrestle Steve Austin in a First Blood match tonight.
The Rock cut a promo on Test, with whom he has a match later. It was a take off on the 12 Days of Christmas - using "Rock-centric" wrestling terms like "11 eyebrows raising", etc.
Lance Storm (who is finally officially in the WWF) got to take on Rikishi tonight. He fared no better then he has recently until Test came out and attacked Rikishi, giving the Canadian a win.
The Undertaker defended the Hardcore Title against a spirited attack by Matt Hardey, which started when Matt ran in and attacked the Champ with a kendo stick. He held the advantage by these means for several moments before UT got a knee lift between them and turned the tables. After that is was largely downhill for the suddenly repentent Matt Hardey, who was thoroughly trashed by his larger opponent. UT dragged Matt out to the floor and beat the tar out of him on and around the announce table before throwing back into the ring and finishing him off. Afterward, UT tossed his title belt into the ring before mounting up and riding his bike to the platform. Once there, he parked the bike and returned to the ring, where Hardey was still semi-conscious on the mat. UT tossed him out to the floor, gave him a chairshot, and then a second vicious one to the throat before grabbing his belt and stalking away.
Chris Jericho delivered a long (mostly pointless) rant before Rob Van Dam showed up to dispute the way he lost his title challenge on Monday. They ended up in a brawl from which RVD emerged on top after a frog splash on the Champ.
Willie regal was interviewed at home concerning his messed up nose, which was reconstructed during several hours of surgery. He threatened Edge with violence...
The Rock vs. Test was a knock-down, drag-out, barn-burning slobberknocker - and what ever other superlatives you want to throw at it. test has come a long way in the last year or so. The match was punctuated by Lance Storm running in and trying to interfere on Test's behalf. he succeeded in gioving Test the advantage for a while, but ultimately failed when the Rock put them both down and took the pin on Test.
Jericho burst in on Ric Flair to accuse him of setting him up for a beating by RVD. Flair denied having anything to do with it, then reminded Jericho that he could screw the Champ anytime he wanted to...like for instance, tonight, he was making a World Title match against...the Big Show.
The Big Show wiped the mat with Chris Jericho in a match for the Undisputed Heavyweight Title. But in the end he lost after Jericho snuck in a shot to the head with his title belt on his gargantuan opponent. Poor Show...every time he is touted as being the ultimate "punishment opponent", and every time...he loses.
The main event was Booker T's First Blood match against Stone Cold, and started out with Austin throwing a slew of chairs and ther ring bell into the ring. This match went on for about ten minutes and it took a lonfg time for either of them to show any blood. Suddenly the Big Boss Man ran in with a chair and laid Austin out. Austin was starting to bleed but the referee was out cold. After a while, the referee recovered and declared Booker the winner. The Vince appeared on the big screen, laughing maniacally. Ohhh...kids....scarey...
Raw was taped on Friday at the Miami Arena in Miami, Florida and opened with the promotion of an Egg Nog Match (yes, you heard me...) between Stacy Kiebler and Torrie Wilson, then an immediate appearance by the Rock, who came to the ring wearing his old University of Miami football jersey. Rocky Maivia was back in his home town again. He proceeded to read his own version of the Christmas Poem, related to his main event match against Chris Jericho for the Undisputed World Heavyweight Title later. He gets to the end of his reading, almost, when he is interrupted by Kurt Angle, who has the temerity to call Santa Clause a pervert (for watching people when they are sleeping, apparently...) He goes on to say that there is only one person more powerful then Santa - and that's Vince McMahon - who, angle claims, has given him a World Title shot - by way of a Triple Threat match involving himself and the Rock... The latter finished his poem, telling us how he would kick both of their...etc., etc. Meanwhile, backstage, Vince and Company are starting their Christmas celebration, complete with 8 gorgeous "reindeer" and Bubba Ray as Santa.
Next up, Rikishi came to the ring to take on his current arch-rival, Test. Shortly into the fight, Test got himself disqualified by attacking the referee. Thus distracted, Test was easy picking for Rikishi's bomb. Meanwhile, backstage, Ric Flair is putting on his own Christmas party - with Tajiri as Santa Clause ansd the Big Show doing impressions of Hulk Hogan. Then Debra shows up to spoil the party with her cookies...
Back at the heel's party, Chuck Palumbo and Billy Gunn gave each other matching headbands while "Santa" drew fire from Tazz who claimed that Bubba wasn't representing Santa Clause very well. Bubba told him to get lost. Then Howard Finkel told Vince he had brought a couple of lovely ladies...Moolah and Mae Young to be exact.
The Chuck and Billy show was next - taking on APA in a tag match. This match ended rather abruptly when Billy hit a flying press on Bradshaw. Palumbo grabbed his ankles from the outside and the pin was completed. Backstage, Rob Van Dam was searching for Chris Jericho with a chip on his shoulder. He finally found Lance Storm and insulted him, and ended up booking a match (funny - I wasn't aware that wrestlers could do that...)
Backstage, Arn Anderson had joined Flair's party - then Steve Austin showed up and started handing out gifts. Then he sat down on Tajiri Clause's lap and asked for a number of things as the crowd around him chanted, "What?"
The RVD vs. Lance Storm match was next. Storm dominated the early going with his usual solid grappling, but once Van Dam took to the air, things took on a little more of a see-saw cast. RVD wrapped it up with a Frog Splash. So much for Storm's winning streak.
At Vince's party, Test hit on Terri with no success. Maven looked out of place in this crowd, being interviewed by Sharmell (aka Paisley). Somehow, Maven got on the wrong side of Booker, who called him out for a match later. Meanwhile, Mae Young was chugging the punch.
Stacy and Torrie each came down in "Mrs. Clause" outfits for their Egg Nog match. Torrie tossed out candy canes. Thus disrtracted, Stacy got the drop on her and tossed her into the pool right off the bat. The referee was also thrown in right away. As the "match" progressed, Stacy was all over her opponent, stripping off her costume. But Torrie turned the tables and gave Stacy a spanking then pinned her.
Their was a stripper performing as we returned to the heel party. Chris Jericho confronted Vince with a complaint about the new make up of his title match later...then Stephanie showed up to grovel for her father, offering him a Christmas present - a money clip. Vince asked her what she was up to - then sent her packing.
Christian defended his European Title against the Hurricane (w/Molly) - during which Jim Ross let fly with a homophobic slur concerning Pat Patterson, who had been seen at the backstage party dressed as an elf. Sorry, I won't repeat it... This match was also short, ending in an Unprettier. Christian retained.
Taz joined the babyfaces' Christmas party, complaining about the boozing Santa over on the other side. Somehow this translated into a Santa vs. Santa match for later. Then Austin grabbed his "gui-tar" and sang some Christmas carols. Don't ask...
Booker T was accompaned to the ring by the Big Boss Man for his match against Maven. Needless to say, this match was a train wreck for the rookie. Nick Patrick refereed this one, by the way. I guess, Vince is keeping some of the WCW officials.
Next up, Bubba Clause vs. Tajiri Clause - heaven help us... The match began with Tajiri on the outs because D-Von distracted him. But the Japanese star made a quick come back and Bubba found himself on his can out on the floor. Back in te ring, Bubba reasserted his dominance by dumping his opponent out for D-Von to work on, then dragged him back in and dropped a couple of elbows on him. He stood him in the corner, then took off his black Santa belt and whipped him some. Still, he couldn't get the pin. He tried to bomb him off the second rope, but missed, giving Tajiri a chance at a comeback. But D-Von intereferred again, handing the advantage back to his brother. The Dudleys set up the "Whazzup!" - but Taz ran in and upset D-Von before he could launch his assault. Tajiri sprayed red mist and took the pin.
Back at the heel party, Kurt Angle made a speech, saying he was going to "strip the Rock of his dignity..." Mae Young took that as her clue to do a little stripping of her own... This brought the party to a screeching halt and started clearing out the room. In the midst of this, Steve Austin ran in and finished the job.
Finally, the main event - Chris Jercho, The Rock and Kurt Angle in a Triple Threat match for the Undisputed World Heavyweight Title. Of course, this one started out as a handicap match - Jericho and Angle both against the Rock - but we thought that couldn't last, because Angle had the chance here to win the title by pinning Maivia. At one point, Angle had his ankle lock on Maivia, so Jericho ran in and drop kicked him. They got into a fight and Angle put the hold on Jericho! But the Rock broke that up. Toward the end, Angle brought a chair into the ring only to brain Jericho with it "by accident". Maivia hit him with the Rock Bottom, but Jericho held the ref back, preventing the pinfall. Angle hit Maivia with a DDT onto the chair, but was unable to follow up. Jericho took an easy pin to retaing his title.
This was a pretty poor showing...
At least that's the way I see it...
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