Thursday, October 15, 2009

Oh Captain My Captain

The recent passing of WWE Hall of Famer Captain Lou Albano brought back a rush of nostalgia taking me back to my infancy in the world of pro wrestling (NOT sports entertainment). As a kid growing up in the Northeast all that existed was the WWWF (soon to become the WWF) with it's formulaic and, as far as we were concerned, extremely entertaining version of pro wrestling. Bob Backlund was the champ. Bruno, recently coaxed out of the color postion, was the guy you had to beat to get to Backlund or involved in the grudge matches. Most of the programs revolved around 3 matches in 3 months in all the major arenas (the initial meeting which the heel would win by countout or something to that effect, the rematch with some kind of inconclusive finish, and the blowoff in a steel cage or another gimmick match). The lead heel charges were usually managed by one of 3 men. "Classy" Freddie Blassie who usually had the giants (Big John Studd, Hulk Hogan) and who most of us had no idea he was once a headliner all around the world, The Grand Wizard of Wrestling who typically had more "skilled" heel opponents (Superstar Graham, Stan Stasiak) and who most of us had no idea was once known as Abdullah Farouk in Detroit, and Captain Lou Albano who tended to concentrate on tag teams and "character" wrestlers (The Wild Samoans, The Moondogs). Captain Lou to me was the most entertaining of the 3. His flabby physique flaunted by his open shirts, rubber bands around his beard and through his cheeks and his cliche driven promo's made him my favorite non-wrestling character. Of the "3 wise men of the WWF" he was also most likely to get physically involved usually taking a bump for the baby faces on the rare non-squash T.V. matches of the era. At live events, he was a bleeder of Tommy Rich proportions always selling the ire of the face team

As a young man, he was impossible not to be fascinated with. He never drew the anger with me that TGW did as he was too funny. His wrestlers were always "often imitated, never duplicated", he was always "in the best shape of his life and could suplex from his knees" and he called VKM "Junior" long after he made it known he LOATHED" being called that. His interviews were often done while he was eating, say, a meatball sub which was all over his bare, ample belly. I think, other then his always great interviews, I most remember Lou from the famous Snuka/Albano/Stevens/Rodgers angle and, of course, the whole rock-n-wrestling era which everyone will be writing about. His long, storied career, from the Sicilians to the Samoans, from NRBQ to Cyndi Lauper was one to be in awe of. He was one of the guys who bridged the gap from Sr. to Jr., WWWF to WWF, Bruno to Hogan, and from pro wrestling to sports entertainment.

I know in the most recent Wrestling Observer hall of fame voting he didn't fare well and reading Mr. Meltzers comments on him to me really show the East Coast/West Coast bias in wrestling. I hear about Ray Stevens, Roy Shire and the Cow Palace and I think beer belly, who, and rodeo. I hear Captain Lou, TGW, Classy Freddy Blassie, Landover, MD and the Boston Garden and I think of my favorite time in my life loving pro wrestling. I wasn't "smart", hell I wasn't even a "smark" yet but I looked forward to every Saturday morning at 11:00 A.M. Lou was the single most entertaining character of the era, baby or heel, and, in my humble opinion, a sure fire, non-wrestling hall of famer.

Rest in peace Captain Lou and Kappa Dilly Dilly

Thursday, July 23, 2009

All Hail Undisputed Heel, Brock Lesnar

Love it or hate it, Brock Lesnar is your UFC Heavyweight Champion. Upon winning in dominant fashion over Frank Mir, he then went on a tirade cutting a heel promo far better then anything he did when he was in the WWE. And, man, did it spark a firestorm. MMA purists hated it. Pro wrestling fans loved it. Dana nearly shit his pants when he dogged UFC's #1 sponsor, Bud Light. Me, I loved it. I am both a huge pro wrestling fan and a huge fan of the sport of MMA. I think MMA, UFC in particular, can learn a little from Vincent Kennedy McMahon and even Don King. MMA will remain a popular sport but will likely have growth potential without personalities to draw in the casual fan. Hero's and villains have always drawn in the casual fan. Look at a young Muhammad Ali or later year Mike Tyson. Hell the biggest drawing PPV of all time was people who wanted to see all time baby face Oscar De La Hoya beat all time big mouth Floyd Mayweather. Even in UFC, love him or hate him, Tito Ortiz drew as everyone wanted to see him get his ass kicked. The problem with UFC is other then the countdown specials and The Ultimate Fighter, there is no real forum to get over the fighters personalities, just simply their in ring personalities. I think Brock has gone out of his way in every after fight interview to get himself over as the heel. He doesn't hug or talk all nice nice about his opponent after talking shit about him for weeks (which seems to be an unwritten rule in MMA). He plays a role which is part character, part who he is.

The biggest issue with Brock Lesnar as champ will be his style as it is dominant but boring. It harkens back somewhat to the days of Mark Coleman and the ground and pound. UFC's real problem will be finding realistic opponents for him to fight that the public will pay to see and I don't think there is anyone under contract right now that fits that role. Could it be the hopes of UFC fans to see a dominant, obnoxious champion be defeated lie in the hands of a Russian and most dominant heavyweight ever, Fedor??

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Ultimate Show

So, while I wasn't impressed with this season's T.U.F. I was totally blown away by the Ultimate Finale. The Nick Diaz/Joe Stevenson match was a joy for grappling/submission purists as there was very little stand up. Diaz never ceases to amaze me with his ability to escape even the tightest hold. Lytle/Burns was entertaining in a rock-em-sock-em sort of way. I love how Lytle has taken on the "gimmick" of going for one (or both) of the nightly bonuses every time he fights rather then looking for the win in a boring fight. And Sanchez/Guida? What can I say? I loved every minute of it. Diego looks back at the top of his game and Guida, well, seriously, it doesn't seem to matter if he wins or loses, he'll always have a spot in UFC, at least in free shows. This was the best top to bottom show I've seen in forever. Great job Dana White and company!!

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Ultimate disappointment?

I have been a fan of UFC's The Ultimate Fighter from jump street. I found it fascinating as both a mixed martial arts fan but felt it also offered something unique to fans of reality TV (which I am not). At it's best it has introduced many people "on the fence" to the world of MMA and create several stars some of whom have become mega stars. I think it has become one of, if not the most important marketing tool Zuffa has. So, why am I left feeling flat this season? I guess for me, the early seasons introduced not just fighters but personalities. You loved or hated these guys depending on their personality. You got to see some great and some not so great fighters and when they debuted on a UFC show, everyone knew who they were. Fighters were picked based not just on fighting but on personality, etc. Recently, they have taken the path of better fighters, better fights. Well, I think there's a problem there. First, in this day and age, I think it's getting harder and harder to find that great untapped talent they were able to find several years ago as most "name" guys (think Div I wrestlers etc) are scooped up by some organization right away. Secondly, by the "win and you're in" concept you may (not always, but may) end up with better fighters but you also lose the potential of some real TV stars which is really what they want and need. Anderson Silva, even at his dominant best, can barely draw flies at the top of a card. Yet his fight with Forest Griffin will do huge numbers because Forest is a TV star. It's really just that simple.

Looking at the current season here's what I see; No breakthrough stars at all, Cameron Dollar being the closest thing wit all his anxiety and self doubt. The only strong personality is Demarques and he comes off more as a dick then anything. Jason Pierce is miserable but not entertaining miserable like Mac Danzig, just plain miserable. Dan Henderson comes off like a super nice guy but the show hasn't really made him into any more or less of a star. Maybe the one thing they have done well is make Mike Bisping a tremendous heel in the U.S. to counter his hero status overseas. He comes off as wayyyyyy more unlikable then he did when he was on the show itself. Unfortunately, there has been no underlying heat between him and Hollywood Hendo to create more buys. Then again, with the card they are fighting on, does UFC really need more buys?

In the end it's hard to quantify my feelings. I love MMA for the pure sports aspect. However, as a fan of pro wrestling and boxing, I know personality and promo ability sells fights. I think there's a happy medium somewhere. I am intrigued to see what next season with Kimbo on board will bring

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Golden Greek

I was saddened to hear of the passing of John "The Golden Greek" Tolos. For many of us growing up in the Northeast, I mostly remember an older John Tolos as manager The Coach. In fact, to me, the Golden Greek was Spiros Arion. I do vaguely remember the Tolos Brothers but that's about it from a local remembrance. However, thru the wonderful world of Apter Mags and the likes, I grew fascinated by tales of wrestlers and angles from parts of the country that I had no access to. One of my favorite was reading about the legendary Monsel Powder angle between Tolos and Freddy Blassie. The fact Blassie was known to me only as a heel manager in the WWWF was even more confusing. BUT, man, what an angle that was. In the lingo it was often imitated yet never duplicated. I always enjoyed going out and finding mags from the 60's and 70's and inevitably there were pictures of Tolos wearing the crimson mask. Everything I've read was much like Killer Kowolski, he was a tireless worker and master of the promo. I have decided to haunt Youtube and the like just to get a feel for what kind of a worker he truly was.

R.I.P. John Tolos!

So long Mr. Kennedy...Kennedy

So long, we hardly knew ya. Last week, without much advanced warning, the WWE released Ken "Mr. Kennedy" Anderson after a high profile return on RAW and a horrible match where he almost injured current major domo Randy Orton, potatoed at least one other wrestler and, although reports are conflicting, himself. Reports are Orton, hardly Mr. responsible or mature himself in the not too distant past) verbally dressed him down in front of everyone about protecting fellow workers and how to act when you're in a top position. A lot of pin and denial has since been published and we may never know what really went down. The question is more, what went wrong?

Almost from his debut on the main roster many people earmarked Kennedy as the "next big thing". His gimmick of announcing himself in the ring with the old school, drop down mike got him over as a cool heel to the point you knew a turn was around the corner. However, whenever opportunity arose he was hampered by ring work that while solid, never really improved to that of a lot of the other top guys and, more tellingly, was injury prone. I remember his first opportunity was going to be cashing in the MITB for the championship but an injury leading up to it left Edge in the drivers seat and Kennedy on the sideline. This scenario would continue every time a renewed push happened. It's not fair but some people are just snake bit. Edge had the reputation several years ago of being injury prone and would likely never reach his potential. Well, he proved all the naysayers wrong. Maybe Kennedy will have this same opportunity. I think the WWE felt after the multiple pushes in ring, the ill received attempt to push him mainstream with the Behind Enemy Lines fiasco, and general disappointment it was time to cut ties. Maybe it was best for all involved. Maybe a change of scenery will allow him to blossom. At the end of the day if it's meant to be it's meant to be. If not, well, file "Mr. Kennedy" in the dead letter file next to all the other "next big things"