Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wrestling’s Orwellian Cowboys

November 5, 2005 ~ I went to an ROH show. It was just two days after my 19th birthday and I remember Jim Cornette being in the ring. He was apologizing for his heeldom that prior February, and then he announced the entrance of a man I had just read about a day earlier. A surprise guest I didn’t know would be there. A man by the name of “Cowboy” Bill Watts.


Bill seemed shy at first. He didn’t seem to want to shake or slap the hand of any of the fans. I don’t think he expected the crowd to accept him as warmly as they did.


I held my hand out, and he looked at me. A slight tilt of the head and a gleam in his eye led me to believe he saw something in me. Something a little off track perhaps? To this day, I’m not really sure what he thought of me, but he just shook his head and went to the ring.


He cut a small speech, the contents of which I could barely hear as the speakers were too loud that day, then he went back up the ramp.


Again I held out my hand, but the legendary wrestler turned booker again shook his head and said “No”. He didn’t want to go near me.


Now at this point I was confused. This was my fourth wrestling show ever, and by the time this show occurred, I had already had wrestlers talk and/or yell at me. I had been landed on, sweat on, bled on, pushed, climbed over, I had made wrestlers laugh, react, but never had I had a wrestler act the way Bill Watts did. He just wouldn’t go near me.


I’m not sure what he thought of me and I haven’t seen him since. For years the DVD of this event had been in my collection, and many a time I’ve watched that little segment, puzzled. Trying to decipher the odd meeting. But maybe he saw something in me. Something that just hadn’t manifested quite yet. Maybe he knew… ?


I’ve been thinking about Mr. Watts lately. About something he used to do way back when. Something that I’m seeing all over again in the WWE. Read on.


So an event that I have labeled “Slurgate 2011” has been talked about on almost every wrestling site.


Recently, longtime WWE announcer Michael Cole came under fire for calling Josh Mathews a “faggot” a rather insensitive Gay slur, on his TWITTER.


Twitter, is one of several social networking sites, by which people micro-blog and communicate with people. It is usually used by people on their OFF-TIME.


Cole called Josh the insensitive word before he got to the arena for a WWE event. In a sense he was NOT “on the clock” and had thus tweeted on what is classified as his OFF-TIME.


The WWE ~ already under fire for John Cena’s having made Gay jokes on Raw the very same week ~ ordered Cole to remove the offensive tweet and apologize. They also arranged for Cole to go to a GLAAD seminar.


Cole did as he was told.


However…


It’s also known that Cole didn’t want the Twitter account to begin with, and that (in Cole’s own telling) the “suits” told him to open the account and act as heelish as possible on it.


Cole therefore got in trouble, for tweeting something HEELISH on his OWN PERSONAL ACCOUNT on his OFF-TIME, on a PERSONAL account that he had been forced into using.


This is hardly an isolated incident. Keep reading.


Last year, the WWE fired Serena.


Serena’s storyline was that she was a recovering alcoholic who kept falling off the wagon.


To cure herself, (in storyline) she joined C.M. Punk’s Straight Edge Society.


Punk would yell at her every week for falling off the wagon.


Serena was caught ~ on camera ~ and by fans ~ drinking at a bar OFF THE CLOCK.


The WWE fired her for not being straight edge in public, on her OFF-TIME.


They said they wanted Serena to act her storyline both in and out of the ring.


BUT her storyline was that she kept falling off the wagon.


So in firing her for not keeping the straight edge persona outside the ring, they in effect fired her for FOLLOWING HER OWN STORYLINE outside the ring.


These two stories are coupled with other tales I’ve heard over the last year and a half, of wrestlers whose Twitters are monitored, their Facebooks checked, their MySpaces compromised, and the WWE generally expecting the wrestlers to live the same storyline in and out of the ring. They’ve even gone so far as to dictate who the wrestlers can and cannot carpool with, and who they can follow on Twitter. The last time they had Vader, they even usurped control of his website! (When they took back Viscera.)


When you sign that contract with the WWE, you give up more than just the ability to choose your own name or pick your own moves, you essentially give over the reigns of your life to this massive, multi million dollar corporation. Your friends and your contacts are now dictated by the owner of a capitalist conglomerate.


Hang out with a wrestler from McMahon’s top rival, and you could end up being lobbed against the biggest and or baddest man in the locker room. Tweet back a fan that the WWE has already deemed a “risk” and you could end up BELOW the US Title line ~ and nobody has wanted that belt since WCW died. (Don’t be fooled by the story posted on the new wcw.com)


But what the WWE is attempting to do is nothing new. This very same mentality existed all the way back in a little place called the Universal Wrestling Federation.


(NOTE: The UWF on ESPN Classic belonged to Herb Abrams. This is an entirely different UWF.)


Once upon a time, Cowboy Bill Watts was a professional wrestler in the early 1970’s, working for a man named Leroy McGuirk, a blind man who ran NWA-Tri State Wrestling. Bill was a fan favorite, and battled across Louisiana, Oklahoma and Mississippi. But Bill wanted to do more than wrestle. He wanted something he could fall back on, just in case. So in 1979, he bought out Mr. McGuirk, and re-dubbed the promotion “Mid-South Wrestling” (MSW).


Bill Watts cut ties with the NWA, just as Vince McMahon Jr would do 3 years later. But unlike McMahon, Watts kept a loose connection to the NWA, if anything for the belt. Watts knew better than to completely walk away from the 10 pounds of leather and gold that brought a hush to the crowd and awe to the locker room. From there, Watts began adding more and more states to MSW’s schedule. Arkansas and Texas would see Watts’s men battle it out.


And boy did they! Bill Watts was touted as being one hell of a promoter. He believed in a novel concept, known as episodic storylines. Each wrestler had his/her own storyline with an opponent, and each soap opera like story would last a specific number of weeks before ending in a colossal finish at a larger event.


In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a negative thing about the stories that were developed! Crowds as big as 22,000 were not unheard of for the MSW, especially not with such names as The Junkyard Dog, The Fabulous Freebirds and eventually an energetic little rookie by the name of Sting.


By 1985, everyone knew about MSW, including cable mogul Ted Turner. Tired of the repeated clips and sloppy low card matches Vince McMahon’s promotion was offering his network (Think a 1980’s version of Superstars.) Ted gave Bill Watts’s company a good timeslot on “The Superstation” TBS. MSW was becoming national.


But one thing that was talked about more than the stories told in the ring, were the ones told out.


First and foremost, Watts detested “smart marks” ~ arrogant fans who know everything from how a match has already been booked to the real last name of the man under the mask. The magic “K” word was deemed sacred, and anybody who broke it was as good as dead to the Cowboy.


Once, when a snarky newspaper “journalist” leaked that Jake “The Snake” Roberts was to leave Watt’s promotion after jobbing out another wrestler, Watts had the whole thing changed last minute, so that Jake would exit with a solid win.


To combat snarky little fun-killers like that reporter, Watts came up with a plan. A plan originally devised at the start of his promotion, but by this point had become law.


Initially, it is in my opinion that Watts just wanted to throw off smart marks and loudmouth journalists. I would like to think Watts in the beginning had the best interests of the locker room in mind. But the scheme Watts cooked up to protect the integrity of his wrestlers, took a sudden, Orwellian dip.


Watts, just like Vince McMahon today, expected his wrestlers to act their story even off the clock. Legends have been told about wrestlers who paid the price if they were caught disobeying their act. For example, if a heel was caught high-fiving a face, he could very well expect an epic beating followed by a quick and quiet demotion to the low cards. A wrestler wasn’t safe, not even at the supermarket. The locker-room was divided between the Heels and the Faces. Carpools were arranged, even after party events were choreographed to throw off fans deemed “too smart” for their own good.


Now granted, other promotions already had run like this, and this was by no means anything new, but Watts took it to an extreme. If a wrestler copped out in the public eye, EVERYONE would hear about it, and the shame a wrestler would endure would never stop short of firing and even blackballing. And everything he said was watched too. If a wrestler was caught doing or saying something deemed scandalous, it could have been the end of the world for him, or so go the tales.


Can you imagine what would have happened, if the early GeoWorks, DOS and Macintoshes of the day had the ability to grant us access to the social networking sites we have now? What do you suppose could have happened, if a brash loudmouth named Michael Hayes had operated a Twitter back in the 1980’s? OH YEAH, think about that!


Everything a wrestler did in public was being quietly monitored, like a scene straight out of 1984.


MSW was one of the largest wrestling companies in the land, and incredibly well known. They were making a lot of money and were HUGE in the public eye, so the tales of a wrestler’s unhappiness at his monitoring, were greeted with naysayers. “At least you’re getting paaaaaaaiiiid. Just shut up, Dude!” Was the sentiment he might have been greeted with. Fans who sympathized with the wrestlers were less than affectionately greeted with “HEY! He’s making more there than he would on the Indies. You’re just being negative.


But the Big Brother plan ~ was not a fool-proof plan. Eventually there were some wrestlers who left the promotion, and found it much easier to breathe. They still had to deal with the naysayers calling them names and questioning their want to leave a nationally televised juggernaut like MSW, but those wrestlers let it slide off of their backs. They wanted Big Brother to ease up.


But a shrinking roster wasn’t Watt’s only problem. A hidden danger would take the form of a man by the name of Jim Barnett, who made a sudden deal Ted Turner wouldn’t dare dream of refusing.


Barnett brokered a deal between Turner and Jim Crockett Jr. The new deal forced both the WWF and MSW the hell OFF of TBS.


Watts made an attempt to go all out. He re-christened what was left of MSW as Universal Wrestling Federation. Tapes of the old MSW went to Watts’s ex-wife, and Watts did whatever he could to disassociate UWF from it’s Southern heritage.


But one more SNAFU was waiting around the corner. One that would devastate the newly crowned UWF right to the core.


The Economy.


Reaganomics wreaked havoc on America, giving Americans the false belief that life would be prosperous. Instead, the Reagan administration saw to it that only MAJOR corporations and credit companies would reap the benefits, while the middle and low class would struggle and die before ever being able to afford the luxury of paying their utility bills or buying bread and water for their budding offspring. (My Generation.)


One area that took a pummeling in the Fall of 1986 was Oklahoma ~ where UWF’s main base of operations was.


Wrestling fans no longer had the funds needed to afford the ever growing ticket prices of the UWF, and by now the promotion was more storyline based than anything else. The fans wanted more.


Despite a partnership that brought in WCCW talent, and the fact that the UWF tried to merge back into the NWA, The damage had been done, and the Southern Juggernaut that was the UWF, began bleeding money.


In April of 1987, Watts sold the company to Jim Crockett, after losing more than half a million dollars. The roster was split into several directions. Over the course of that year, the remaining roster would be split. Some wrestlers went strictly NWA. Some went to the WWF. Others went to WCCW for a time and the remaining men stayed with Crockett, where the legacy of MSW-UWF was buried on weekly television. But by 1990, Crockett’s promoting was largely forgotten, as his company would be bought out by Ted Turner, the very same man who allowed these people to fight on TBS.


Watts would spend the early 1990’s back on TBS as the president of the WCW. Wrestlers were still intimidated by the Cowboy, who could still whip your ass if he felt like it. He even brought in his son, Erik, though many felt he wasn’t ready for TV yet. Watts also saw to it that his reign would not end without at least one, Black champion, in this instance, Ron Simmons in 1992. But in 1993 Watts was mysteriously off the roster. Whether he was fired or quit has been under hot debate ever since. And in 2001, WCW also folded, with their roster being buried weekly by the WWF in the Invasion storyline.


Fast-Forward. It is now 2011.


Just like the UWF/MSW in the past, the Big Brothers at the WWE monitor it’s wrestlers, and snarky fans dismiss the many YouShoot interviews by disgruntled ex-employees, trying to share their tale as a caution to younger, more naïve wrestlers, venturing into the same Big Top promotion they just left.


They say that history has a nasty habit of repeating itself. And those who do not learn from it, are the first in line to relive it.


McMahon is proving that tale to be correct.


When WWF became WWE, they distanced themselves from their former image. Just as MSW had done when it became UWF.


For MSW ~ It was the Southern image that was dropped.


For WWE? The Wrestling image.


The WWE uses Orwellian tactics on it’s wrestlers.


Just like MSW.


Some of the wrestlers have been looking forward to their releases, despite what money might be there.


Just like MSW.


The ticket and merchandise sales are dropping because of the economy.


Just like MSW.


The turnover rate is astounding.


Just like MSW.


And the naysayers in the crowd still believe that this company is doing just fine, and that you should shut up as long as a guy is getting paid what they think he is.


Just like MSW.


And the ratings are still wavering.


Just like MSW.


And McMahon is starting to bleed money.


Just like…. Uh-oh.

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