June 30, 2003
Raven still soaring
By BRIAN FRITZ -- SLAM! Wrestling
He is Raven.
During his long career, Raven (Scott Levy) has seen about everything. He is one of the last few who have worked in nearly every territory in North America.
Some remember his in his early days as Johnny Polo, a somewhat geeky manager in the then-known World Wrestling Federation, sporting a bright green suit as he bounced around ringside in support of his wrestlers. Some will remember him as Johnny Flamingo, a young, exuberant cruiserweight wrestler in World Championship Wrestling.
But most wrestling fans remember him from his days with Extreme Championship Wrestling. That is where Raven was born. During his time there, he gained the respect and adulation of fans, forming a cult-like following similar to what his character did in storylines.
Since his days with ECW, he has again worked for both WCW and WWE, both stints coming up short and never reaching the potential that he and fans had hoped for. Now, he has come full circle, making the rounds on the independent circuit, most notably with NWA: Total Nonstop Action, a place where he has found peace with himself and his career. Recently, Raven sat down with SLAM! Wrestling to discuss his unique career and his candid thoughts on the wrestling business.
Before landing in NWA:TNA, Raven was employed by WWE and had a somewhat odd run there. Odd because the company wasn't sure how to use him. One week he would have a prominent role on Raw, the following he would only appear briefly on Sunday Night Heat. His storylines ended abruptly on several occasions, including his last with the company earlier this year. The company released him from his contract, allowing him to work the indies where he is much happier. Raven did not hold back as he described his last run with WWE.
"I spent the past few years in purgatory," he explained. "I have nothing against the company per se, and they're entitled to do whatever they want with whoever they want. When I signed on, I knew that. They can do what they want with me. I thought I was misused. I would say 99% of the world thought I was misused, but apparently Vince and the writers didn't. That's their prerogative but I thought I was in hell."
After leaving ECW for WWE several years ago, he had hoped that his success with the smaller company would carry over. However, that was not the case and it did frustrate him. "You feel like a loser," he said. "You feel like they think you're just worthless. There's nothing worse because you start to believe it. You start thinking maybe I am and I know I'm not. It's so disheartening and it's hard to get sympathy from anyone else because your peers are in the same boat. You can't get sympathy from your peers because they're too busy working on their own careers so you start thinking well, I feel like a loser. They think I'm a loser so I must be one. Your friends aren't as supportive as you think because they're wrapped up in their own problems. I've never seen more unhappy people."
This coming from a person who spent several years with WCW during a time where the company was filled with turmoil. While working with that promotion, Raven did start to catch on with the crowd reactions growing and his popularity expanding. He even had a run as the U.S. Champion there, but he could never get further and gain main-event status. Even as bad as it got there, he thought it was better than his time in WWE. "The cruel irony," he exclaimed. "I left WCW because I was so close to the top but I could never break into the top echelon. I would have given my left (testicle) to go back to that spot I had before."
Everyone has his or her own ideas on why Raven did not get a bigger push with WWE. Some say it was his look, others say it was his character. Raven had his own thoughts on his lack of a push, which he believes began at the top with Vince McMahon.
"I don't think Vince even knew that I was ever in WCW," explained Raven. "I think he saw me as Johnny Polo, manager, and a guy who went to ECW with, in his mind, a little hippy outfit and became the top guy in an indy promotion. So, to him, I wasn't a main-eventer. What compounded matters was that Pat (Patterson) didn't get my gimmick. Nothing against Pat but he's 67. How is he going to understand? It's like what (Gerald) Brisco used to tell me. He would say I don't get your gimmick but my kids like to skateboard and when I go out with them they're all dressed freaky like you. So, I can see that you're on the edge of what's current. I don't get it but I see it."
People did get it when he worked with ECW. He was one of the wrestlers that helped catapult the small-Philadelphia based promotion and bring it national exposure. It was there where he garnered a cult-like following of wrestling fans that exalted their leader with signs and applause.
It was a special time for him knowing that he was at his peak and involved in storylines that were well executed and made sense as they evolved. It is that psychology in the wrestling business which he deeply enjoys but also believes is lacking.
"It's missing completely because people don't understand it," he stated. "It's not just wrestling psychology, it's human nature. If you made somebody sympathetic, we're going to feel sorry for them. But if you make them whine about it, you're not going to feel sorry for them. Human emotions don't change whether you do it in China, Brazil, Guam or anywhere. You have to understand how people react in certain scenarios to be able to write a show that appeals to the audience you're trying to get."
Not only does he believe that psychology and common sense are missing from the wrestling business, but that some of the people involved in the creative process are out of touch with what they are writing. One of his examples is Brian Gerwitz, one of the main writers for WWE's Raw program on Monday nights. He thinks that Gerwitz basically knows nothing about what he is current writing about and isn't shy about giving his thoughts about it.
"Brian Gerwitz is a geek and if he's ever been laid, I'd be surprised," Raven stated. "The thing is, how are you going to write TV for 15-35 year old males that want to see what their accomplishing is done better or want to see what they can never have and you're one of those people who's never had it or been there. He's never been drunk, he's never been in a fight, and he's never had sex. How can you write about these things? The very first thing that any writing class teaches you is write what you know. And all of those writers, none of them have ever been laid, none of them have ever been drunk on a regular basis or at least enough times to write about it. That's the single most important thing about any writing class is write what you know and these guys are geeks."
Now, he is trying to put his days in WWE behind him and move forward. He has found comfort in NWA:TNA where he has gained a top spot on the show and fan appreciation for his hard work. Plus, he is now allowed to help out in the creative process of not only his own character but with the entire show each week.
"Vince (Russo) writes the show, me, Disco (Glenn Gilberti) and Saturn pretty much help format the show," he explained. "Or Vince will write it and we'll throw our impetus in it. We'll come up with something. Then we give it to the Jarretts. It's their vision so what you see on TV is what they want. So, if you like it, that's great. If you don't, that's great. It's a similar situation except the difference is I'm being used the way I want to be used so I don't have a lot of complaints."
This is the second time that Raven has had the opportunity to work with Vince Russo, working with him previously in WCW. While many fans and others working in the wrestling business are not too fond of him, Raven believes that the man has gotten a bad reputation for no good reason.
"I spend 14, 15 hours a week with Russo and he's not the piranha that everybody thinks he is. Let's face it, when McMahon was at his best, Russo was writing the majority of the show. Vince McMahon's biggest intent is the top four guys on the show. Those are his money makers, those are his players, those are his machines and he should be concerned with them. He let the writers deal with everybody else. Ever since Russo left, has anyone in the middle of the card done anything of merit or any interest? Other than when Brian was writing for Edge and Christian as geeks. But he wrote them as geeks really well because he's a geek. It's very simple, write what you know. Then you can say, look at Russo's track record in WCW. Well, that's a different matter. Honestly, because I know the guy, half the decisions he made in WCW weren't his but even when he was in charge, he has to take responsibility for it. So I accept that. But I've spent enough time with the guy that when he throws ideas by me, I'm like 'Wow, why aren't we doing this?' It's just frustrating all the way around."
Now, he is just happy to still be doing something that he has a passion for and always has - professional wrestling. The difference is that now, he is pleased with his role in this new promotion and enjoys being part of the show.
Ultimately, I'm happy to be used as the character I know I can do, the character I know people want to see and the character that I enjoy doing. And I think I'm good at it."
Brian Fritz is the host of the Between The Ropes wrestling radio show out of Orlando, Florida. The show can be heard every Wednesday night from 10pm - 12am Eastern on WQTM Sports Radio 740 AM and live on the Internet at www.betweentheropes.com.