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   September 02, 2014



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Guest column: Were the 'good old days' really better?
By STU LOWRY - For SLAM! Wrestling


Terry Funk, here as the America's champion, is one of the reasons wrestling was better in the past, says Stu Lowry. Photo by Dave Burzynski

You might call me a "seasoned" wrestling fan. Now, that doesn't mean I'm old, and ready for the rocking chair -- not by any means. But I'm comfortably middle-aged, and have watched enough pro wrestling over the decades to at least give me some perspective.

A lot of fans my age have a tendency to look at the past through rose-coloured glasses. We look at today's wrestling and quickly dismiss it as being so removed from any semblance of a "sport" (sports entertainment?? Please spare us that term!) that it barely looks like the beloved pseudo-sport we all knew and loved. We remember a time when wrestling was, more or less, simply about two guys ... maybe with a grudge to add in a little flavour, maybe not ... trying to establish who was the better man in the ring. And, if you were really lucky, there'd be a championship at stake to give the match that much more intensity.

Storylines? It never occurred to me there was any storyline at play when I was watching as a kid, mainly during the 1970s and '80s. The only angles I remember being even remotely cognizant of were the typical revenge stories. For example, Wrestler A viciously cheated to get a win over Wrestler B in a previous match, and now our daring hero Wrestler B was going to get a chance to exact revenge over the dastardly Wrestler A in a return bout.

Those "storylines" -- if you will -- were enough to grip me (and thousands upon thousands of other wrestling fans for that matter) for years. Wrestling was ultimately about settling grudges and proving one was the better competitor. The cycle pretty much went lather, rinse, repeat for decades. Despite what younger fans may have been educated to believe, the system worked quite well. The "sport" did in fact function quite successfully, before the advent of the monolith from the Northeast.

Yet, I don't want to become one of those crusty old-timers, insisting everything was better in the "good old days" of my youth. And that, good reader, is what I'm here to do: Namely, I want to examine my beliefs about the old versus the new, and challenge my theories as to whether or not it truly was better in the days of yore. Hopefully, there will be enough to be of interest to readers of this website, so that we can generate some good discussion on the topic.


I want to start with a look at wrestling styles in North America, then versus now. So, without further ado, let's begin.

WRESTLING IN-RING STYLES (North America), THE PAST AS COMPARED TO THE PRESENT

The differences in ring styles, in how matches were conducted in the past versus today, are, generally speaking, rather stark.

Watch a bout from 1974 -- or any year from the early 1970's for that matter. Usually, the match will be slow paced, at least much slower paced as compared to today. Wrestlers 40 years ago, at least in my opinion, worked a more believable style. The pacing was more akin to what a real athletic contest would consist of, with a good back and forth between the competitors. To be sure, not every match was a masterpiece. And there were good workers and bad, just like today.

Generally speaking, matches 40 years ago built much more slowly, building to logical high-spots, and then coming back down to give the audience a breather, before heading to the finish. Wrestlers seemed to be better craftsmen back then. They understood the concept of working a match, how it should flow, how it should resolve itself. This was mainly because wrestlers were better educated on their craft simply because they had so many different territories in which to hone their craft.

Wrestlers of the past could learn how to work a match well in a variety of territories. And, they could learn how to work slowly, gradually, without the glare of national television exposing their weaknesses, and lack of ring knowledge. When they were ready, and had proven they could work a compelling match and therefore, draw a crowd, they were featured in matches at the top of the card. At that point, and only at that point, were they exposed to a wider audience, featured more on regional television -- when they were ready.

Fast forward to today. In the WWE, which is obviously the major league of the sport in North America, a wrestler with true star potential all too often is rushed. He's not given the opportunity stars of old were given, to truly learn their craft, and become master workers. Many times, we're watching them while they learn right there on national television, for all to see their mistakes and mishaps.

Combine that with the fact that they're given such limited time to work their matches, and what we're left with is a more high-spot oriented style, what a good friend of mine refers to as "flippy-floppy." Too many acrobatics. Too much tumbling at times. Too many kicks and punches.

As a result, the style is generally not as believable today, and leaves me wanting so much more.

The difference is, at least to my eyes, is the matches were in general so much more believable in the 1970s, and certainly so in the decades before that.

Now, to be sure, Terry Funk used to bounce around and take some, at best, unbelievable bumps. Ditto Ray Stevens. For that matter, so did a whole host of wrestlers from back in the good old days. There are always exceptions to any rule.


Bryan Daneilson has Kenny King tied up at a Ring Of Honor show in Detroit in September 2007. Photo by Mike Mastrandrea
And, as I have started watching more and more of today's independent wrestling, I've noticed there are some great practitioners of actual wrestling (i.e., a style that hearkens back to the good old days) still surviving (if not thriving), in the good old U.S.A. Watch Ring of Honor circa 2004-2007, specifically one Bryan Danielson's work, and you'll see exactly what I mean. There's some great mat wrestling on display in other indies, even Chikara, which lends itself to more of a lucha libre style in general.

So, all is certainly not lost with regards to a more believable ring style with today's wrestling. It does exist, and I have hope for some of these wrestlers trying to work an old-school style.

In general, however, independent promotions are still some of the worst in terms of the high-spot dictated style that I see all too often. Too many times a match on the independent scene will consist of one death-defying move after another, which only decreases the impact of each move. Not to mention this lessens the believability of each match. It becomes more an exhibition of tumbling in some cases. I can suspend my disbelief with the best of them, but I'd like what I'm watching to have some foundation in reality.

In the final analysis, the in-ring match styles of the past were, generally speaking, better in my opinion. There are certainly fans of today's independent scene that prefer the fast-paced style they see in the ring. I just happen not to be one of them. So, for the purposes of this column, and in relation to the ring styles of today versus yesterday, I tend to side with yesterday's as being overall, much better.

The bottom line on this analysis is -- score one for the old-timers!

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    A master of marketing and sales from Virginia, Stu Lowry can be emailed at stubucco@yahoo.com.