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READER ALERT: For all the latest wrestling happenings, check out our News & Rumours section.

SLAM! Wrestling Editorial: The state of veteran affairs
By ALEX RISTIC -- SLAM! Wrestling

Getting older doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to go senile. Aging isn't always a sign of diminished skill or virility. And being in a mid-life crisis doesn't mean you have to have a meltdown of epic proportions either.

It doesn't matter though -- for every life lesson one is taught, there's always an exception that pokes fun at the rule, or people who refuse to accept the world as it is around them. Wrestling, whether it be a your life or a business, is no exception. Some veterans or even legends of the squared circle have gotten better as time has passed, or at least recognised the times and scene changing around them and learned to adapt.

Prime examples of the above are Dean Malenko, who really didn't break it big in the biz until he hit WCW in 1996, at that point, over 35-years in age, and Kevin Nash, who kept trying every gimmick in the book until "Big Daddy Cool" took off sometime in 1994, his first stint in the WWF, at which point he had already entered into his 30s.

Of course, by conventional means these wrestlers and many others aren't exactly old, but with most retiring in their 50s, and not really starting the job or training until their late teens or early 20s, the most you can reasonably expect out of these guys is a 25-year career. So after 10-years in the biz, you're pretty much a grizzled veteran of the ring wars.

Then there's the other side of the tracks, one that is the inspiration for this column -- those who haven't adapted, can't evolve, or who've lost their way. The list is long and the names easily recognizable -- some you still see on TV on a nightly basis.

Recently at the HWF show in London, Ontario, there was a veteran-laden card, rounded out by stars who achieved their greatest notoriety in the WWF boom of the 1980s. These six individuals are Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake, The Iron Sheik and Luke and Butch of the Bushwhackers. For whatever reason, these six are now appearing on independent promotions all across North America, and we can assume it's because they need the money. Wrestling has taken up so much of their lives they probably know no other way of making a living, and because they no longer fit in with today's TV scene they have to work in the smaller grappling promotions.

While some of them are victims of the new "cutting edge" style of wrestling, namely promotional acumen over actual wrestling skill, others in this group can still contribute -- yet none are on a "Big 3" roster. Why is that? Well, it's because of their failure to adapt, evolve or refusing to accept reality.

The Bushwhackers and The Iron Sheik fall into the victims of "cutting edge" department, the Sheik never fully learning the English language being his major set-back, and the Bushwhackers lacking the necessary impact and charisma needed in the new wrestling mentality.

As for the other three, well, their problems are in their control; they just appear not to exercise control over them. The substance abuse problems of Roberts have been well documented, heck, he let them be filmed for the movie Beyond The Mat. His reasons are his own, and varied, yet he has seemingly done nothing to correct his situation. He's gone to rehab in the past, I'm sure, but has never stuck with it, and as a result, like the HWF show where he appeared to be at less than 100%, he needs his vices to get through the day. It's a shame too, as Roberts is one who has the ability to cut a promo no matter what his age. He never relied on catch phrases, but had a camera presence, where he could relate his intensity through his words, much like Arn Anderson. Until he realises his true enemy is himself, he will fail to impart his knowledge and be a contributor to the wrestling world today.

Valentine's problems are an amalgamation of several factors. While there's not been a lot written about any substance problems he may have, in London "The Hammer" appeared hammered, and it showed whenever he spoke, moved or breathed. Second, he too has failed to adapt, never really learning to cut a promo, which is probably why he's not on a big roster. Lastly, it appears that Valentine isn't on the same plain of reality that everyone else is on. Once, he was one of the best bump takers and sellers in the business, with his face-first fall being only second to Ric Flair's. He would have a lot to teach in skills, or even ring psychology sense, but wallows instead.

Lastly, Ed Leslie's (Beefcake) problems aren't anywhere near as tragic, but in a way worse. His narcissistic attitude is what's keeping him away from a big payday, that and diminished skills brought forth through his arrogance. Being best friends with one Terry Bollea (Hulk Hogan), Leslie went wherever he did, getting by on who he knew instead of what. When his affiliations couldn't cover up his lack of skill, did he go back to training, or possibly evolving his style? No, he went on the independent circuit, relying on his most famous persona to get paid. Lazy, and ultimately his downfall, as he's still waiting for Hulk Hogan to give him a job if he ever starts up that promotion with Fox.

The funny thing is, these aren't isolated incidents, uncovered by a roving reporter. You can see much of these problems, as well as others, just watching TV on Monday, Hell, they're even making angles out of some the stuff with WCW's New Blood/Millionaire Club feud.

While it's more of an ego problem than anything else, the sad state of veteran affairs in many organizations runs in parallel with failure to change or accept change. While Mick Foley, now considered a ring veteran and legend to some, was never afraid of putting anyone over, former mega-stars like Hulk Hogan always had to have the high profile feuds and spotlight. He's living in the past, and refusing to accept a new place in the order of things.

While recently he's changed his tune in a program with Billy Kidman, there's no denying his past. Hogan made his name on cutting promos and his in ring presence -- not mat ability or respect from his peers. Many a wrestler has been quoted on how Hogan would quash a match because he didn't want to lie down to certain individuals. While his legacy as a top draw and a person who helped bring wrestling into the mainstream will always be untarnished, his refusal to accept new wrestling climates, and in his in ring ability (he only performs three moves), leave him limited to what he can teach and impart upon to those just breaking into the business.

The list doesn't stop there, but unfortunately bringing up any other names would just be a repeat of what's already been discussed. This problem, however, just won't go away, until the industry itself changes. Although it might suck to fans, maybe if wrestling were treated with more cold calculation things would be different.

In other sports you do what you have to win as a unit. Even if you're a star veteran on a baseball team, if your skills in the field are lacking you get moved to Designated Hitter. You may complain, but you know if you're going to win the pennant it's the best chance. Also, with more cold calculation and a business attitude there wouldn't be backstage politicking, where certain wrestlers actually control all the booking or input into angles. Maybe, if everyone was treated the same from day one, there would be no hierarchy, there would be no politics, and everyone would know their roles -- whether the veterans would like it or not!

In the case of Hogan and others, they've actually been lucky. The business has been good to them, so they've no need to turn to the independents or wallow in their self pity. For those who were less fortunate they have no recourse. Today's Kurt Angle could be tomorrow's Roberts -- just ask Scott Hall. He's well on his way. There isn't even a sure solution, but there are avenues to better the odds. Make yourself indispensable like Foley, learn to adapt like Malenko, and always try new things. Look at Paul Wight/Big Show if you need proof. He may not be the best performer or worker, but since his stay in the WWF he's worn many hats, and all to get over with the crowd.

Being a veteran no longer insures anything. Politics goes a long way, but even that's limited in scope and influence depending on who in your company likes or dislikes you, and as of yet, there's no union in professional wrestling. It's an age old adage, and it's true, but your life is what you make it, and the only people responsible for making the lives of veteran wrestlers miserable is themselves.


Reader Feedback

  • April 27th: Where are the competent journalists?


  • I liked your column this week John, and you bought up some good points on the type of journalism out there in the Internet wrestling world. I too have also believed true objectivity doesn't exist, and anyone who claims to be totally objective is lying. However, no one has to claim that they are objective, like SOME guys out there do, but they do have to be honest. Admit their favorite and work from there (I know everyone out there likes one over the other, even if just a little bit). The best Raw review will probably come from a WCW fan, and vice versa, because as one guy once put it "If Jack's in love, he shouldn't be judging Jill's beauty contest".

    However, like beauty, objectivity is in the eye of its beholder as well. If someone is a WCW fan and sees a string of negative comments about Nitro and a string of positive comments about RAW, he's bound to think someone is biased. Whether that reporter is or not isn't the point, but whether the perception is there depends on one's own biases. Maybe that fan will think the reporter is biased because the fan himself is biased. And objectivity isn't seeing the same review for both products. WCW deserves much of its criticism I believe, because Vince Russo brought it on himself and the company.

    I've never heard McMahon saying he is the reason they are number 1, (or anybody else from WWF) but Vince Russo did. That's what sold him to WCW. You should know that hype brings scrutiny, and Vince Russo gave himself a ton of hype. Whether he likes it or not, that will bring his work more scrutiny than normal. That may be unfair and unobjective, but is the logical end result of calling that amount of attention to yourself. And if you watched Thunder this week, he has plenty of reasons to be criticized That's the way I see it. A wrestling fan who is more leaned toward the WWF. Thanks.

    Donny Phimanesone


    Your recent article "Where are the competent journalists?" was an excellent editorial by one of the best wrestling sites on the Internet today. As a journalism student at Carleton University in Ottawa, I can tell you that objectivity and impartiality are, as you've said, the cornerstones of any good journalist. Professional wrestling 'news reporting' is nothing more than teenage fanatics who wish to pass rumors and gossip across in an attempt to get banner hits for their site.

    If you ask me, a major problem in online pro-wrestling journalism today is the lack of accountability - another key term in a journalist's vocabulary. There are no editors or publishers, and therefore no management to hold reporters accountable for their actions. You cannot lose your job for reporting false information, and to an extent, the public sometimes never discovers what is false and what is true anyways. I wish that somehow a level of accountability could be found so that instead of resorting to lawsuits for liable (which will never happen due to the cost and general ineffective nature of such an action) some sort of ethical code could be adhered to. I know, it sounds far-fetched, but I'm getting sick and tired of BS journalism by grade ten kids who are nothing more than cut-and-paste artists of false information.

    Keep up the good work at Slam! Wrestling, editorials like yours are the reason I keep coming back on a regular basis.

    Rob Shaw


    Mr. Powell,

    I applaude your recent editorial on today's wrestling journalism, or lack of! I spend endless hours listening to my friends cutting down WCW and independent federations because of what they read on wrestling rap sheets on the Internet. I might be old fashioned, but I remember reading Pro Wrestling Illustrated as a teenager and almost every issue had a small article or mention of journalistic integrity and a need to report unbiased facts. That is something that is rarely seen today.

    I can even remember an issue when they "bugged a private meeting of the Four Horseman" in hopes of stopping their out-of-ring ambushes on Sting and Luger in the late 80's. There were entire articles about whether it was breaking journalistic ethics to print the transcript of the meeting in Pro Wrestling Illustrated. Some reporters almost "quit" over it.

    We all know that wrestling is "pre-determined", but even a magazine that deals with suspension of belief tried to bring a matter of journalistic integrity to the forefront.

    It is refreshing to see that someone is asking us to step back and take a look at this sport we all love and how it is reported.

    PC


    Just a quick email to touch on two items. First to tell you how much I enjoy your writing, keep up the good work! Second, I couldn't agree with you more re "Where are the competent journalists?". I post for "Pay Windah.com" and stay away from gossip and "put-down" articles instead concentrating on upcoming events and results, especially for the AWA and NWA as I feel these two organizations don't get enough coverage. Finally, I'm a wrestling fan, and I love ALL wrestling and as you put it yourself, the better they all do, the better it is for the fans. So, add my voice to the ones telling these "journalists" to make their coverage fair.

    Don

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