Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Booking, Wrestling and Respect

In Matysik’s piece, “The War,” he brings up a real issue that had always been a part of wrestling and that is how bookers who also happen to be wrestlers balance making decisions that benefit the business and those that benefit themselves. This is one of those examples that really show what our guest has been writing about. For bookers, wrestling is business and not entertainment. I was astounded to read about the way Harley Race would book matches for himself. I take different conclusions from his actions and those like him. This kind of booking was part of what brought the downfall of the NWA and led to the emergence of the WWF and WCW. Booking the top star in a territory and having him lose only on rare occasions and have losses come by disqualification may make the crowd angry or turn away from a product that did not fulfill their need to see a new champion or title change or to see a new star rise. Old bookers like Verne Gagne and Fritz Von Erich were also wrestlers and bookers at the same time but they did not fall into this self preserving pattern. Sure, Gagne was the champion most of the time but he did put the business before himself and thought about how to move forward and not just keep himself at the top. Similar situations have arisen before. The Cliq, which supposedly had lots of creative control in the WWF in the mid 90’s used their influence to keep themselves from losing matches. Triple H in the WWF and later WWE would seemingly keep himself at the top at the cost of keeping rising stars like Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit down. Though it does seem that having bookers and wrestlers separate kept things fresh and was key to the success of the WWF. New stars could rise but I do think that there will be periods where wrestlers will put themselves before the business and the fans.

I also found the way Matysik writes about Vince McMahon Jr to be really interesting. It seems like he is putting a lot of effort to not show anger or disdain for Vince McMahon. Vince did put him out of business and Matysik did describe different situations where Vince was doing shady things like trying to woo television stations that Matysik had his program in. I think that there is a lot of respect for Vince in this article. It is pointed out many times that the NWA territories were not doing the right things to react to the onslaught of the WWF. They set themselves up to fail by establishing a business model that did not take into account any sort of business. So this respect for Vince could come from the fact that he saw the opportunity to make wrestling bigger than it was, something the territory bookers did not want to do. He also respects Vince for giving him a job that let him be a family man and what Vince did for the business and made it what it is today.


katejames said...

Luis, I also noticed how gently Matysik treats Vince jr. There does seem to be a level of respect, and a sense of understanding about the necessity or even ingenuity of Vince Jr.'s actions. 'Angry as I was, I understood his thinking. In (Ted's) eyes, I was still the young, green kid he first directed on television. Vince, on the other hand, was already romancing TV execs worldwide... I was worried about little ole St. Louis; Vince was going to conquer the world." (186)

Matysik exhibits a good deal of diplomace throughout his text. Though he is most obviously sympathetic to Muchnick, he is incredibly respectful of all the wrestlers and promoters he talks about. Even when there is betrayal, or rupture in alliances due to disagreement or power struggles, Matysik's narrative has a tone of inevitablility and acceptance. Hwen he talks about his own resignation, he says: 'But the end was still inevitable. Looking back, it was the kind of sad divorce where the couple just cannot communicate.'
This has the tone of reason and resolve. I suppose that, just as heels and babyfaces can turn off (most of) their disdain for eachother before and after the match, Matysik can read the dealings of the NWA and WWF with some perspective and larger sense of the wrestling industry, and where it was destined to evolve.

Carolina said...

I thought the piece was classy, and a breath of fresh air to read something that didn't completely trash Vince. While many find what Vince did underhanded, I think he just did what he had to do. It's not all that different from WalMart putting out family businesses, because in the end, it really is about the dollar signs. Vince came in and did what he wanted, what he planned, what he envisioned, and I think Matysik respects that. Maybe he didn't like it - as a matter of fact, I'm sure he didn't - but I got the vibe that he did respect it.

And the bookers who happen to be wrestlers, that's a very interesting point that I picked up on during the reading but forgot to make a point about here, so I'm glad you brought it up. It's amusing to me that the first names that came to mind were Triple H and Chris Jericho, one of my all-time favorite wrestlers, and these are two guys that you immediately brought up. For a long time, I refused to be a Triple H fan because of the way he was holding down not just my favorite guy at the time, Jericho, but because he did the same thing to other guys while still putting forward this look like he would do anything to benefit the business. Hardly seemed like it on my end.

From what we've seen though, as you astutely point out, this didn't seem to be a huge problem in the past. But I think with Vince in the picture, he really put forward and drove home the fact that you have to be ruthless in the business if you want to get ahead. I think with this new mentality, it paved the way for guys to do what Vince did and benefit themselves (like Triple H and Shawn Michaels in the past). Is it all that much different from Lou Thesz picking and choosing who he would lose to? Probably not, but I don't think he was booking, but Michaels used to do the exact same thing.

It's no wonder that Matysik grew tired of dealing with it all. He saw it coming, and I have to give him all the respect in the world for dealing with Vince the way he did. He seemed to understand what Vince was doing. I like what Kate said in that it seemed he knew it was inevitable. I think he did. When he described people trying to convince him not to throw in the towel, that he was winning, he knew that he couldn't compete and didn't try to beat a dead horse when Vince was taking the wrestling world by storm. It was sad to read, but that's business for you.

Sam Ford said...

Some great responses to Larry's piece, and I think one main issue is that the book, like Ole's, comes with some distance from the situation. A lot of time has passed since the St. Louis wrestling days, and Larry has some distance so that he no longer feels the bitterness that he did at one time, plus Vince employed him for many years. It's ironic to listen to Vince's points in The Monday NIght War, since he felt Ted Turner was unfair doing what Vince did to others back to Vince, but I think even Vince's rhetoric has changed a lot between the time that DVD came out and today, just as Bischoff probably would have felt much more bitter at one point but then later worked for WWE.

Larry Matysik, Ole Andreson, and some of these other guys are providing an invaluable account of a time in wrestling history that needs to be captured while those who were there firsthand are still here to write it down, and that's why I thought they were important primary documents for this class. Of course they have their biases, and Larry will mythologize Sam, but he has been an important figure not only in playing directly in the wrestling business but at restoring some of its history as well.