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WRESTLING COLUMNS

Wrestling Gods
July 18, 2006 by Chris Krueger


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I grew up in Louisiana in the late 70's and early 80's. I grew up in poverty surrounded by people trying to do the best with what little they had. And the one thing we all had on Saturday mornings was wrestling. Of course, in the deep South wrestling was 'wrasslin'. 'Wrasslin' in the deep South was more than an hour of entertainment for a lazy Saturday. It gave us hope. It showed us the hero could still overcome hopeless odds to win. It showed us the underdog could still compete. Every Saturday, the schedule was cartoons, Soul Train, and Deep South Wrestling. I remember watching Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Lord Humongous, Ted Dibiase, "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan, "Hacksaw" Butch Reed (long before his character was destroyed by a bottle of peroxide and the name The Natural), and the Rock N' Roll express when they still came out to KISS. I remember the excitement when Kerry Von Erich's music would play, "Modern Day Warrior" by Rush, and the crowd would go nuts knowing that the famous Texan had come by to destroy the competition.

And I remember most of all the pandemonium that ensued when Ric Flair, the Champ, our Champ, would come to our little league to remind everyone why he was the champ. Down south there was no WWE, only the NWA.

The NWA was the Mount Olympus of Wrestling; the pantheon of gods represented in their league was complete... Barry Windham was their Mercury. The Russians were their Cronus and the Titans. The Four Horsemen represented Hades. The Road Warriors were simply monsters. Dusty Rhodes was Prometheus, and Ric Flair was Zeus, who stood above all, unconquerable and indestructible. Back in the day, small leagues recognized the NWA as the central power of wrestling. Leagues throughout the south and the Atlantic Coast were satellites of the NWA, and everyone knew their place. Our wrasslers worked in high school gyms and armories, and occasional 3000 seat arenas. Ric Flair sold out coliseums. Ric Flair was everything he claimed to be: "Jet flying, limousine riding, stylin' and profilin." Then there was Ricky Morton of the Rock N' Roll express: bandanas, mullet, and not the most physically challenging performer anyone had ever seen. He took on the Champ in a bloody and physically exhausting match that the Champ would still walk out of as the Champ, but Morten, our underdog Savior, would walk out to respect and thunderous applause. He was our Odysseus, who dared to challenge the gods and survive. And that was what 'wrasslin' was for the down-trodden people of the deep South.

It was like this for years until one day Deep South Wrestling became Universal Wrestling and new stars had emerged. The Blade Runners- Sting and Rock (the original one before he became the Dingo Warrior, then the Ultimate Warrior, and then just lost), "Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert, and "Dr. Death" Steve Williams. The Rock n' Roll express and Ted DiBiase had been called up from AAA ball to the major leagues. Wrestling was changing, evolving from Mom and Pop operations to conglomerates like Wal-Mart. Soon all of the stars that brightened the small venues of the Deep South had moved on to bigger and brighter leagues and the gyms, armories, and tiny arenas emptied. Ric Flair was still our champion. The NWA became the WCW, or so we thought. 'Wrasslin' became wrestling and it no longer held the same sway over me. I turned the T.V. off and put away all of my wrestling magazines and locked them away as follies of youth. I moved away from the beloved south and away from sports entertainment.

Then one day I was watching the news and heard of the tragic death of Owen Hart. I didn't know much about the WWE, as it's known as now, besides what I had seen on commercials, music videos, cartoons, guest appearances on prime time shows, cereal, and bed sheets. In other words, I was fairly familiar with it. No person in the late eighties could escape it...wrestling fan or not. I saw the wrestlers, most of whom I was unfamiliar with pay tribute to a fallen performer, brother, artist, and icon in the making. It wasn't wrestling. It was insight into the bonds these performers create with every performance, every broken bone, every ounce of blood, every mile of road shared, and with every cheering and booing fan. I tuned in the next week and the week after. The stories were still there, they were no longer played in school gyms, and armories. The stories were carried out in coliseums and broadcast for millions. It was a larger production but it still managed to keep the intimate feeling that drove me to it. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin wasn't wrestling for the twenty-million fans watching, he was wrestling for me and all the people who still needed heroes.

I looked back at my beloved NWA and found out that it was a caterpillar that had morphed into the WCW butterfly. It wasn't only a secret to the people of the South, it was a phenomenon. Not only had it blossomed, it was the prettiest girl at the dance. It had beaten the WWE in several matches, but it never held on to the belt. The WCW folded. It wasn't the NWA, but it what was left of a bygone era. Imagine a restaurant that your family had been going to for years. One day the owner retires and the son takes over. The food is still good, heck maybe he even adds a couple of new and hip entrees, but the friendly service is gone. The son doesn't come to your table and ask if everything is alright. He doesn't know that you like ice in your milk or that you only use grape jelly. This is what happened to the WCW.

Along the way the ECW came and went. If you liked fire, barb wire, tacks, steel chairs, blood, wrestlers long past their prime shining bright again for short spectacular moments, and emerging stars paying their dues with pain, you were in heaven. The ECW was like an ugly brute of a fighter with no finesse. There was not strategy. It was fists flying into the thick of the battle without looking or thinking. Eventually it was out-finessed.

Now I know someone is reading this and saying what about the AWA" I know the AWA had a long illustrious run and was the breeding ground for many future stars but I grew up down south, I didn't really know about the AWA. So for the people of Minnesota, the Dakotas, Nebraska, and anywhere else wheat is grown, I apologize. I also apologize to the fans of Jerry Lawler's Tennessee brand of wrestling and to the Von Erich's World Class Wrestling Texas fans. Neither of these promotions really were competition to the big leagues...entertaining as they were. But in the War of Wrestling Domination, they were all minor battles.

After all the smoke cleared and the money was counted and spent, Vince McMahon stood alone at the top of the battlefield where independent promotions once lived. I'm sure he smiled. His product was triumphant. The WWE would stand alone. It would receive all of the attention, money, and accolades. Long live the WWE! But it became boring.

RAW was the flagship and SmackDown! was the developmental territory. Few new superstars emerged and the stars of the 90's began to move on or simply watch their careers fade away due to injury or lack of character development. The WWE seemed stagnant. The storylines seemed forced or replayed. It was still interesting, but it was lacking something. It was like watching the Indianapolis Colts against the Kansas City Chiefs with a score of 10-7. It didn't have the pizzazz, the electricity; it felt like it was simply going through the motions.

Then all the wrestlers that found themselves without a home became parts of new leagues. It was a slow start but it is beginning to gain momentum. Ring of Honor and all of the tiny promotions. The one true David that has emerged to compete against the WWE's Giant is TNA. TNA is what the NWA used to be... entertaining. A new pantheon of gods has emerged in Florida and is slowly spreading up the coast and towards the Midwest. Christian Cage is Apollo bringing a new light to TNA, A.J. Styles is Hephaestus creating new moves, Sting is Poseidon long thought lost to the depths of wrestling legend, Scott Steiner the Minotaur. Rhino, Abyss, and Monty Brown are creatures from the dark worlds bent upon destruction, and Jeff Jarrett sits at the top of the mountain but not as a god but a monster ruling his little empire and watching it grow by the day. Now I can sit here and sing the praises of TNA like many fans have done but I'll save that for another time. I will say this, TNA has given the WWE something it has lacked and has been unable to do among its own products... a certain degree of competition.

The WWE was at its best when the WCW was at its best. Now if the mood strikes a fan, he or she can join the silver-haired old lady at a high school gym or hang out with the hordes at a major arena. Ric Flair still is the champ to a lot of people, as demonstrated by the crowd response everywhere he goes. He now stands alongside a different pantheon of gods. Gods whom will soon be challenged for supremacy by newer gods... and the fans can't wait.

by Chris Krueger..


Shawn wrote:
I just got around to reading this article. I loved the way you described everyone. It took me back to what I remembered and liked most about wrestling. I sure miss those days. Thanks again for a great article,
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