Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Freedom in the Age of Independents...

...I have to hand it to myself, that was a really clever title.

How often have you had what you thought, nay, what you knew was a great idea, whether it be at home, work, or somewhere else, and you just couldn't get anyone to listen to you? It's a reality that everyone will face at some point in their lives in some capacity. More often than not, people who outrank others in a company refuse to listen to the inferior peons that are their employees. In the wrestling business, it happens on a near constant basis. Now, this article is not intended to be some sort of worker's union outcry, but I do think most promoters have moments of megalomania that need to be kept in check, especially those promoters that use their position as a launching pad to be "World Champion of Random Backwater Indy Fed."

Seeing as the concept of kayfabe is already long dead (SPOILERS!), I'm going to share some stories I've experienced pertaining to the previous paragraph. For any promoter that happens to be reading this, let me tell you that the greatest thing a wrestler will ever hear from you is: "What do you guys want to do?" Any Rockstar Pro Wrestling fan should be familiar with my recent feud with Jake Omen. It is, without question, the best story I've ever told in my wrestling career. Jake and I told a story that lasted for three months. We didn't have a series of matches, we had one. One. We didn't want to run our story into the ground. Almost every aspect of the story came from Jake and I. The Rockstar Pro Wrestling promoter, Cody Hawk, gave us more freedom than I've ever experienced in the business. When we would bring our ideas to him, he didn't say "No, you're doing this instead." He let us do what we wanted, and he would provide his input in cases where it would be beneficial. We didn't rush anything, that's what was most important. Guys seem to be in such a hurry to get to their big blow-off match that it causes the story to suffer. The original plan was to have our match in January, but we quickly realized to get everything over the way we wanted to, it needed to be pushed back, so we rescheduled it for February. We again realized that we needed more time. The story was what was most important, not the match itself. Eventually the match was set for March 1st, we had spent over three months building a story for one twenty-minute match, and everything in the match went perfectly. Because the build-up was so good, and had ample time to simmer before finally exploding, the Rockstar fans were eager to see Jake and I go at it.

If Jake and I had come up with this idea at a different company, it likely wouldn't have been given the amount of time that it needed, and would have been rushed out to the fans, taking away any possibility of emotional build-up. I was very thankful that Cody gave Jake and I that freedom. My buddy Donnie Tsunami once said to me "We want to know who you want to work with, because if it's your idea, you're going to be more into it, which will result in a better match." That stuck with me because I had never had a promoter say that to me before. Instead of being told what to do, I was being asked what I wanted to do. Unfortunately, I've dealt a lot with promoters who prefer to have everything done their way, even if the story doesn't involve them. Input is fine, I'll take advice anywhere I can get it, but when I come to you with an idea, at least hear me out.

I'm not going to name any names, but at one point I needed to do a character resurrection. My character had gotten stale, and I had some great ideas on how to bring new life to it. Almost all my ideas were dismissed. Shortly after the character revival (which went well, but could have been better), I came up with a storyline that the fans of that company had never seen before, and likely would have gotten me more heat than I'd ever had. It was unique, and I was so pumped to bring this idea to the table. I was immediately met with apprehension. Why? Because someone in the company would have gotten upset. Boo hoo. It's the wrestling business, get over it. Needless to say, my vision never saw the light of day. I think a lot of it had to do with who I am. I'm not buddy-buddy with the promoter, therefore, I'm one of the aforementioned 'peons.' But if I were the promoter's "Goldenboy" my idea would have been terrific, they would have given me a parade and we would have had feasts and danced in the streets (I'm only being slightly hyperbolic). My tenure at that company came to an end soon thereafter.

For a long time, I wrestled at the places I did because they were safe. It was a relief to know that I always had consistent work, and that prevented me from traveling or going to wrestle for different companies. When I finally decided that I wanted to venture out, I was given the boot. Some promoters treat wrestlers like indentured servants, you're there until your contract is up, except in this case, your "contract" is hypothetical and the expiration date doesn't exist. That's another thing that I encourage promoters to give their wrestlers: the freedom to explore. Unless you have a signed contract from that particular wrestler, they are independent. Let's take a look at that word:

in·de·pend·ent [in-di-pen-duhnt]


1. not influenced or controlled by others in matters of opinion, conduct, etc.; thinking or acting for oneself: an independent thinker.

2. not subject to another's authority or jurisdiction; autonomous; free: an independent businessman (or wrestler).

3. not influenced by the thought or action of others: independent research.

4. not dependent; not depending or contingent upon something else for existence, operation, etc.

5. not relying on another or others for aid or support.

Independence. Such a novel concept in this day and age. In addition to everything I've already said, I also feel like I was held back physically by a lot of different promoters. When I first got into wresting, not only was I tall, but I was also pretty thick. Because I was so big, I had to be a "big man." The only problem was that I've always been athletic for my size, and now that I've lost a lot of the weight that I had back then, I'm even more so. Have you ever been reprimanded because "Guys like you don't do things like that."? Well, I just did it, so actually, yes, guys my size do do things like that (ha, doodoo). Why should I be held back by physical limitations that I don't actually have, but were imposed by someone else? I've had more than a handful of promoters over the years give me grief about that sort of thing. I've also found that not being allowed to wrestle a certain way hindered me when I needed it. Like at the TNA Gutcheck, for example. When it came time to do the chain-wrestling part of the tryout, guess who looked like an idiot because he had been told not to chain-wrestle for the previous 8 years?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those guys who thinks you should be doing cool moves just for the sake of doing cool moves. I still want everything to make sense, I'm not going to let someone like Nate Wings give me a powerbomb, but I see no harm in throwing in a good high spot regardless of how big or little you are as long as it makes sense. "You're a big man, you don't need to be bumping around a lot." This is another complaint I've gotten about my work. I understand it, I'm the Goliath of the match, therefore I shouldn't be giving a whole lot. My only problem with that is the fact that wrestling isn't like that anymore. I hate squash matches, especially on an independent stage. I always have this feeling that the boys will resent me for stuff like this because they're doing all the work, and I always want to give them more offense than the promoter wants me to. Call it a curse, I have a givers heart. I just want to entertain, that's what I love to do, and I don't feel like fans are entertained by squash matches.

To wrap things up, without promoters there would be no wrestling business. Without the great minds that know how to hustle and sell a show to people, wrestlers don't get to wrestle. In most cases, the promoter is also the booker, the guy with the final say in the story aspect of the show. I think there are a lot of promoters/bookers out there who use their title as a way to control their workers. Not all, but a lot. Granted, the reason there are a lot is because there are so many joke promotions out there with guys who had a few bucks, bought a ring, rented a building, and suddenly they're a "Big time wrasslin' promoter." If you want to know who does it right, simply look at the companies that are making the biggest splashes and the promotions that have been around the longest, running shows consistently. But I feel like the best shows are the ones where the wrestlers have more input over their characters, not necessarily complete creative control, but freedom to throw out their own ideas and have them be heard. Promoters, do yourselves a favor: Listen to your wrestlers.