Monday, April 2, 2007

SLH: Juice and Business

I had never had a harder time putting down a book than this instance and also wishing I wasn't reading it.
Assael's book really got me because of the way he just hitting me with different problems and scandals that Vince McMahon went through and how he would just tell me straight up that a decision someone made would come back to haunt them. Assael seems to like to do this a bit in the book.
For me, the hardest part to read about was the sex and steroids scandals that the WWF faced in the late 80's and early 90's. It first started going downhill for me when I was reading about the sexual happenings within the company which included Vince's romps and the alleged sexual abuse of ring boys. The accusations and behavior of wrestlers just seemed to make sense but at the same time it just seemed to be one of those things that you wish had not happened. I wonder why Assael did not address Linda's reaction to this situation.
The description of the steroid abuse was also an eye opener. I think we have all read about this before but the first hand accounts given in this book made me cringe sometimes and I would have to read some parts over again, like the description of Hogan's scar tissue from injecting steroids or the comparison that was made of his biceps to a roll of paper. The way Vince was building up his body was disturbing to me simply because he was the promoter. He didn't have to build himself up and it seemed like the height of egotism. Reading this, I started to think that the Mr McMahon character was really Vince McMahon of the 80's.
The book did pick up as the story moved on from the scandals and focused more on the business aspect of the WWF as it entered the Monday Night War. The way Vince ran his business was different from the way Bischoff ran WCW. In the WWF Vince had the power and did not let wrestlers gain much power in the way matches were set and who would be champion. This was most evident when he took the belt from Bret Hart at Survivor Series. This was something Bischoff was not following, partly because creative authority was something he used to entice wrestlers like Nash and Hogan to work for him. It seems to me that this was akin to the downfall of the old territories during the 80's and reflects what JR told our class. Wrestlers do not know how to be in charge of a wrestling company and that seemed to be the case in WCW. Like in the 80's where a wrestler would refuse to lose the belt to another wrestler and even though Hogan and Nash did not own WCW, you could mistake them for people like Verne Gagne or Dusty Rhodes. People who refused to lose or refused to give others a chance. Perhaps Hogan's experience with Gagne led to his power moves in WCW but this kind of internal power struggle, coupled with a reversal of fortunes in the morality department between the WWF and WCW, led to storylines growing stale and being rehashes. Again the lesson had to be learned. Wrestlers should stay in the ring and leave the story and promotion to the promoters.


Sam Ford said...

Luis, thanks for your beginning notes. Assael was greatly aided by Mike Mooneyham's weekly coverage of pro wrestling, which really strengthened the book with a lot of notes and dates. As for Linda's reaction to a lot of the events going on, the key would be how the authors would have access to that sort of information. Obviously, their book was not a WWE-funded project. However, while I wouldn't call the book flattering to Vince, I also wouldn't consider it making Vince the antagonist, either. It's treatment of Vince emphasizes the many ways in which he is such a complicated figure in the modern wrestling world.

There's a wealth of material to cover here, and I look forward to a lot of blogging over the next couple of days as you all come back from spring break with thoughts on Sex, Lies, and Headlocks, and a great discussion starting tonight and especially on Wednesday.

Joshua Shea said...

I read this a few years back, after it came out and thought it was a good read, although it didn't break ground that anybody with a subscription to The Observer at the time didn't know.

But as time has gone by, I've read or heard more people in the business say that SLH is factually incorrect in a lot of areas. One of the dirt sheets even ran a list of known inaccuracies (X did not face Y at Wrestlmania)shortly after it came out.

Eric Bischoff was one of the most outspoken, although he has a clouded view of the past in his own way. I believe it was Honky Tonk Man, or maybe Raven that also trashed the thing on a radio interview.

I guess my point is to take everything you read as probably mostly true, but not gospel. I've read almost every book on Wrestling that isn't cheesy at Borders and I've read very different accounts of the same thing. As somebody who has worked in journalism/publishing for the last 14 years, I've learned whether they know it or not, everyone has an agenda when presenting information.

All that said, I'm glad you're reading the book. Even if half of it is wrong, it shows you how the business really works from behind the curtain, and that's often a far more interesting place than in front of it.

Sam Ford said...

Joshua, you are correct. It was Dave Meltzer who pointed out the factual inaccuracies in the book, but most of them didn't detract from the ways in which the book gets the overall trajectory of WWE-era history correct, and there's not a better product on the market that gets this detail of the history captured in one book. Nevertheless, Dave's points are a reminder that no journalistic account ever gets it completely right.

But you're right, that there's nothing in it that people who subscribed to the Observer over this 15-year period might not know. That's why I hope that tempering this encyclopedia version of wrestling history with keeping up with the Observer for the semester will be a good reminder to everyone involved in the class that wrestling history is not a simple thing.

Peter "The Malcontent" Rauch said...

The WCW sections really did call to mind some of the early mistakes in quite a dramatic way. As I've written before, WCW seems to have been so badly managed as to make any single stupid idea responsible for its downfall, but allowing the wrestlers to control their own narrative arcs just seems like suicide.

And, as you noted, it's not exactly unprecedented (see Rhodes, earlier). Isn't there a general rule about letting the inmates run the asylum to be remembered here?

David O'Hara said...

Luis's comments:

"Wrestlers do not know how to be in charge of a wrestling company and that seemed to be the case in WCW. Like in the 80's where a wrestler would refuse to lose the belt to another wrestler and even though Hogan and Nash did not own WCW, you could mistake them for people like Verne Gagne or Dusty Rhodes. People who refused to lose or refused to give others a chance."

On the surface, this comparison works, but I have a few problems with it. First, I'm not sure if you're generalizing what Ross said, but I would be surprised if he was that flat out in his condemnation of wrestlers running wrestling companies. After all, he got his start working former wrestler Bill Watts' Mid-South/UWF territory, which was very successful for years. Watts' booking of Mid-South is generally regarded as solid and even progressive.

Second, I think a strong argument can be made that the comparison between Hogan/Nash (in WCW) and Verne is off base because Verne really was the best man to hold the AWA Title for many of the years he did. The terrotiry didn't have a wealth of top-top-tier talent they could draw from. WCW during both Hogan's and Nash's tenure with the book had a handful of big names that either man could have put the belt on for extended period of time and gotten behind had they not been so incredibly self-interested and paranoid. The same argument can be made, to a much lesser extent and confined to a few time periods, with Dusty. Basically, my point is that guys like Hogan and Nash pushed themselves so hard out of their own megalomania, whereas Verne (and much less so Dusty, for he is a megalomaniac) did it for lack of better options.

Third and finally, going back to my original point, I think is it too simplistic to say that wrestlers simply cannot run wrestling companies. People like the late Eddie Gilbert, Stu Hart, and Bill Graham, as well as Terry & Dory Funk, Jerry Jarrett, Jerry Lawler, and the aforementioned Bill Watts and Verne Gagne all ran or booked successful wrestling companies for extended periods of time. That said, most of them were unable to keep up with the times and react effectively or soon enough to Vince's national expansion. Perhaps the territorial system would have collapsed notwithstanding the immense success of the WWF in the mid- to late-80s. As I said, it took the expansion for most of the old-school promoters to modifty their approaches and by the mid-80s the strength of the NWA as a cartel-like coalition was waning anyway.

David O'Hara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sam Ford said...

Actually, J.R. did include Bill Watts in his comments, particularly saying that Bill was a bit of a bully to other wrestlers and that a lot of that was from the "alpha male" personalities that most of these wrestlers/owners were. I don't think he really meant that it couldn't work but rather that territories in which the majority owner was not also one of the top performers worked a lot differently. When he first came in, Bill was not only an owner but also the star of the territory.

Your argument about AWA is an interesting one, becuase some might argue that, at least in some cities, The Crusher could be a bigger draw than Verne. The deal, though, is that Verne knew that he would always be a top draw and that he would never leave himself. Also interesting in the AWA model, and many territory models, is that the face held the title much of the time. There were certailny a wealth of great heels who came through the AWA, and in the 60s Verne would give them title reigns--Crusher, Maddog, Bill Miller, Kinkiski, Fritz, etc. By the 70s, though, Verne had a 7-year reign (68 to 75) before he finally found a heel that he was willing to give a long-time title reign to, Nick Bockwinkel, who held the title from 1975 to 1980.

I think J.R.'s ultimate point is that the types of personalities who ran these promotions had obtained them by being bullies, headliners in the territories who ended up getting control of the area because they were the big draw. That very fact caused the territories not to be able to work together in a meaningful way and explained why the crumbled.