Wednesday 23 April 2014

Pro Wrestling: Local and Legendary

For college this week, I wrote a sports article on professional wrestling, and I got the chance to interview none other than Kurt Angle. Thank you very much to Winnipeg's own Graeme Keam, AKA Mat Critic, for the amazing opportunity, and for taking the time to sit down and discuss with me this business that I love.

Below is the resulting article. I had soooo much content that I wanted to use, but I had a word limit of 1000, and after revisions, this was the result. I don't know if it's my best article, but it's my favourite, and I'll always look back fondly on it as possibly my last journalism-related assignment. Thanks again to Keam and Angle. I couldn't have done this without your generous input.

Enjoy the read!


Many people are probably familiar with hockey, basketball, and football, and they can appreciate the talented professionals in these sports because they can relate. They have their own experiences scoring goals, shooting baskets, and catching passes—but how many people have hopped into a wrestling ring and jumped off the top rope, or driven somebody through a table, or crashed to the mat following a body slam? Professional wrestling may not be as familiar to Canadians as a sport like hockey, though it can demand just as much effort, skill, and sacrifice.

Back in 1996, Kurt Angle won a gold medal in freestyle wrestling at the Olympics before transitioning into World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE, formally WWF). He quickly became a champion there, too, though it wasn’t easy for him to translate his experiences into professional wrestling.

“There’s just so many aspects of pro wrestling. If there was ever a sport that was the complete opposite, it’s Olympic wrestling,” says Angle. “It’s not just the stunts or the athletic ability. There’s character development. There’s obviously promo skills, acting skills, how to politic the right way, what to do… There’s no sport like it.”

Although professional wrestling matches are more like performances than competitions, that doesn’t mean they aren’t taxing, difficult, or painful. 

“The two most physical, demanding sports are Olympic-style wrestling and football,” says Angle. “I’ve done them both for many, many, many years, and neither one can hold a candle to the physicality of pro wrestling. Not just because you’re landing on plywood, but you’re doing it 300 days a year. By the time you’re 50, 55, you’re going to have arthritis in every part of your body, and for pretty much the rest of your life you’re going to suffer. But is it worth all that pain? I think so.”

Wrestling even infrequently carries a high risk of injury. WWE constantly reminds its viewers, “Don’t try this at home, school, or anywhere.” WWE Superstars undergo years of training to learn how to perform their moves safely, and even local wrestlers go through weeks of intense practice to learn the basics.

Graeme Keam, a promoter and wrestler for Primos Wrestling Canada in Winnipeg, knows the dangers of the sport firsthand. During a hardcore match featuring tables, tacks, and barbwire, Keam was on a table when his opponent landed on his legs; however, the wood didn’t break, and he hyperextended his knee.

“It was the only match I’ve ever done where I was terrified,” says Keam, who wrestles under the name Mat Critic. “With the tacks and the barbwire, it was very nerve-racking. I used to do hardcore matches, but it’s not worth it. Leave that to the younger guys who don’t have anything special to deliver.”

“I like to wrestle; I’m not a hardcore guy,” says Angle. “I see a newcomer doing a hardcore match and I say, ‘See that bastard right there? I will never work with him.’ I want to see somebody that can chain wrestle, who has psychology, that can tell a story and do it safe.”

Much of pro wrestling is physical storytelling using concepts like “spots” and “chain wrestling.” Chain wrestling describes a series of moves, holds, and counters that keep matches fluid and fast-paced, but they’re usually improvised. Conversely, spots are planned moments or attacks that wrestlers know they need to perform during a match, and they help structure a story leading up to who wins or loses.

“Some guys like to put the whole match together backstage,” says Angle. “I don’t like to pre-plan all that much. I like to go out there and improvise, but you always have to have a structure. You can’t just go out there without a structure. You can, but the match won’t be quite as good.”

“It’s got its level of fake, but it has to, or else you wouldn’t be able to guarantee anything,” says Keam. “With something like the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), you can pay 300 dollars for a seat to a main event that lasts 30 seconds. At least with wrestling, you’re getting what you came to see.”

Another aspect of pro wrestling, beyond the physical storytelling, are the characters that get viewers invested. There are heroes and villains that drive audiences to care about the outcomes of matches, which can make talking on a microphone as important as wrestling in the ring.

“You could be the best physical wrestler in the world, but if you don’t have a character that anybody is interested in, nobody cares,” says Keam. “Even at our level, if you can’t sell 10 tickets to 10 friends, you’re not doing it well.”

“My favourite was always the character development,” says Angle, who played a hero and a villain at WWE. “Being a bad guy, there’s a lot more dimension to it. I was such a good bad guy, whether it was being a goofball or just plain arrogant, and when you’re good at it, people start to enjoy it.”

Regarding the future of the business, Angle says he’s excited for professional wrestling, which is why he’s going to stay for about four more years. He now works for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, though he looks back fondly on his years in WWE. 

“My career has been very blessed. There’s nothing else I can add to it except more five star matches. I’ve done it all. I have no regrets about my past or my wrestling.”

And that includes his rather drastic career change.

“In Olympic-style wrestling, one of the only things that’s fun about it is getting your hand raised,” says Angle. “Pro wrestling? I love the whole thing. I love entertaining the fans. So, which one do I respect more? Olympic wrestling, by far. But which one do I love more? Pro wrestling.”

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Good matches have great finishers.

I'm often asked why I like professional wrestling. People wonder what the appeal is, and I usually say it's the live performance aspect. It's like a physical circus where performers sometimes go for over half an hour telling a story with only their actions. And some of the most thrilling moments rely on a Superstar or Diva's finisher.

Inevitably, the match ends with one of these moves -- unless there's a quick roll-up or something, but those aren't usually counted as "real" wins, and there's usually a rematch in order. So, finishers need to be spectacular moves that represent a character's personality.

Above are three examples of good finishers. Below, the reasons why.

1. Barrett's Bullhammer -- This one really depends on the person selling them move, but then Ziggler could sell a brain freeze drinking tea. This is what the Bullhammer should look like: brutal and effective. It also pairs well with Barrett's background of bare-knuckle boxing.

2. Paige's Scorpion Lock -- A unique, painful looking submission, much like AJ's Black Widow. Suitable for her flexible female opponents, plus Paige gets to look dominant (besides dressing like a dominatrix). Cool submissions like this are a great way for women to appear powerful without lifts.

3. Cesaro's Neutralizer -- Perfect for showing off his uncanny strength against huge opponents. It's a simple lift with big impact, especially when he's lifting 400-pound big-boys like Mark Henry, Brodus Clay, and The Great Khali.

Check out to see these glorious finishers over, and over, and over, and...

Until next time, have a nice day, and don't be a jabroni.

Friday 11 April 2014

Paige has arrived!

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about three NXT Divas to watch out for in the future. Well, that future has arrived in the form of Summer Rae, Emma, and Paige, who all now have regular roles on RAW and Smackdown. The most exciting of these three, however, has to be Paige, who fought and defeated AJ Lee to become the NXT and Divas' Champ.

A lot happened during and after WrestleMania, but I want to take a moment to discuss the Divas' division again this week. The end of Taker's streak is huge, and I'll share my thoughts about that at some point, but...

I mean, come on. How sweet was that?

Daniel Bryan winning the WWEWHC was a great moment, although the outcome was somewhat expected, but I never imagined that Paige would debut the very next night on RAW. I mentioned earlier that the Divas' Division is trash right now, with nobody truly worthy of holding that title, and here comes the solution: AJ vs. Paige, a feud with no relation to that stupid reality show. It also helps that AJ can really put Paige over here and give the division the revitalization it's been craving.

Now, that may sound overzealous, and it probably is, but this could be the start of something great. If fans react strongly to this feud, and fans enjoy it enough, we could see more Divas like AJ and Paige in the future: women who grew up loving wrestling. Women who are devoted to and skilled at their craft.

It's fitting that someone like Lita was inducted into the Hall of Fame two days before Paige arrived.

It's a small glint, but the future of the Divas' division is looking brighter.
Until next time, have a nice day, and don't be a jabroni.

(photos from

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Boiler Magazine Launches April 4

This weekend is WrestleMania--but that isn't the only significant upcoming date.

This Friday at Red River College's Exchange District Campus, my classmates and I are putting on the Creative Communications Magazine Fair. As our cover says, Boiler Magazine is Winnipeg's first men's food magazine, and in our first issue, we cover such topics as eating etiquette on first dates and recovering after a weekend of binge eating (and drinking).

We'll be holding a few activities at our booth, including eating contests. At 1 p.m. on April 4, we will adapt Silver Heights Restaurant's Biggins Siwiggins Burger eating challenge (pictured on the cover) for four people. If you want to try to take the big burger down in the time limit, come down to The Roblin Centre on Friday and participate.

The fair starts at noon and runs until 4.

We have a whole busy day planned, plus about a dozen other groups will also show off their finished project. We've all worked hard for this day, so we hope to see you at The Roblin Centre on April 4.

We'll see you on Friday! Until then, have a nice day, and don't be a jabroni.

Friday 28 March 2014

What happened to the singles titles?

At WrestleMania 30, there is exactly one scheduled singles title match.
This is unacceptable.

Since the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships merged a few months ago, I expected the United States and Intercontinental Championships to finally get some love and attention. So far, no luck. You'd think that with one less title for Superstars to feud for, they'd need to make the ones they have as prominent as possible to compensate. So far, no luck.

Right now, Big E's only involvement at 'Mania is in a Royal Rumble-style match (which should be sweet, even if the stakes aren't very high), and the Shield appear to be feuding with Corporate Kane and the Old Age Outlaws, so I doubt Ambrose will defend his belt either.

Come to think of it, I can't remember the last time Ambrose fought for his U.S. title, which begs the question: why does he even have it? Shield are doing well enough for themselves that they don't need the U.S. title attached to one of their three guys. They don't need the push in that way. I could see Reigns defeating Ambrose for it once they split up, and I figured that would be at 'Mania, but... Well, that's not happening.

Big E shouldn't have it either--not because he's a bad performer and doesn't deserve a belt, but recently the Intercontinental title has hurt people more than it's helped them. People win it, and they get a quick burst of popularity, but a couple months later nobody cares. At all. And then the torch gets passed to some new guy, and the previous champion fades away.

The IC title used to have the opposite effect. Guys would earn it, prove they were championship material, then move on to the next belt: either the WWE or the WHC. But now there's only the WWEWHC, and there are increasingly longer title reigns. Yes, I remember the days when JBL and HHH had their respective titles for like a year, but that was when there were other belts that actually meant something. Now, there's just the WWEWHC, and nothing is being done with any of the others.

So, what the hell? Why does only one belt have any prestige today? And what needs to be done to fix this? My suggestion is that they should put the U.S. or IC on main event guys and boost them that way. Imagine if like...Cena, Bryan, and Lesnar held today's singles titles. Suddenly you've got three huge ongoing story lines and three coveted belts.

The U.S. and IC titles have this weird stigma now of being for "up-and-comers" or whatever, like they're so far beneath main event guys, but why does it need to be that way? Why not make all the belts super prestigious, with only a little extra attention given to the WWEWHC? There are only three belts, after all, and there are so many Superstars right now, it'd be a wonderful way to keep more of them engaged in stories audiences care about.

But I want to know what you think they should do with the men's singles titles, so continue the discussion in the comments section. I'll be sure to give my thoughts on your potential solutions.

Until next time, have a nice day, and don't be jabroni.

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Coming Soon: The Total Divas' Division!

Time to take a look at some story lines as we head toward the final episode of Monday Night RAW before WM. Most are making great strides to build (and maintain) hype, though some are decelerating fast on the Road to WrestleMania. Unfortunately, one feud that has been stalling for some time has been Divas' Champion AJ Lee vs. Naomi.

Now, Naomi was injured, so it's no one's fault (except the person who viciously kneed her in the orbital bone), but now she's got a sparkly new eyepatch, and it's looking like she's going to end AJ's streak. So everything's going her way, I guess, but I couldn't care less. AJ has been in a holding pattern since the injury (and for a while before then, actually), and the feud has no fuel except for that stale old "I beat you, so I get a title shot" story line that never manages to be exciting.

AJ hasn't been doing anything with the belt, which isn't her fault either, but that's how these things work. She's had the thing longer than anybody ever, and it's time for a change. Not necessarily a change for the better, but a change nonetheless.

I imagine Tamina and AJ will feud without the belt in the picture, and then the "Total Divas" can battle for it. But again, I don't care. Total Divas is going to commandeer the Divas' division any second now, alienating everyone who doesn't watch that garbage,  as arguments from that show start spilling over onto RAW and SmackDown!, like, "Remember that thing you did during taping? Well, now I want revenge!" And crap like that.

You know it'd gonna happen. Just brace for it. I can hear Cole now, telling us to download the new Total Divas app and follow all the wacky drama on the WWE Network. Yay! Pretty soon the division will be divided between Total Divas and...Partial Divas? Yeah, let's go with that. Which might be okay. Maybe it'll be like the old days, with the Divas' Championship and the Women's Championship. The whole RAW vs. SmackDown! thing has been moot for a while, but it could work, and it wouldn't take much.

But I'm really just thinking of ways they can revitalize the Divas' Division. It seems hopeless at the moment with the "talent" they have available, but there are possibilities beyond this reality show BS. Maybe they'll make the Diva's Championship bout at WrestleMania a Table Match? That happens sometimes, right? Otherwise, I won't be invested. At all.

Next time on the Ramble: Why are there no feuds for the Intercontinental or U.S. Titles at 'Mania?!

Until then, have a nice day, and don't be a jabroni.

Saturday 15 March 2014

Will you PLEASE -- shut -- the hell -- up?!

There's something refreshing about watching wrestling without the constant, grating chatter of inane monkeys. I'm talking of course about Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler, and JBL, the trio of commentators who never, and I mean NEVER, stop bickering and bitching throughout RAW and Smackdown. Most of the time they don't add anything relevant, insightful or engaging, and they actually detract from my enjoyment of the show.

So when I went to a live show on March 7, I was relieved to finally be allowed to watch the Superstars perform without being distracted and annoyed by those three argumentative assclowns. Never once did I think, "You know what this impressive show of physical story telling is missing? A grown man telling his broadcast partner to call a WAAAHmbulance. Again!" I didn't miss them at all, and that got me thinking:

WWE needs to add the option of muting the announcers.

With the WWE Network, it's certainly possible now. Before, they'd have to broadcast two different feeds on multiple channels, or play an announcer-free version later or something, but with the WWE Network, they can do it all digitally. They can simultaneously stream separate shows.

I would pay money -- hell, I would pay EXTRA to be able to watch WWE without announcers. The sound of slamming the guy on the mat, the rowdy chants, the entrance themes -- I want to hear what I would hear live, and nothing more. It's just clutter, and it's gotta stop.

I can't concentrate on the matches. They argue about dance moves sometimes! Even when they call the match, they repeat themselves week after week and state the obvious. They have a stock response for every signature move, taunt, entrance, and expression on a guy's face. I'm sick of their catch phrases, I'm tired of their voices, and I'm fed up with their arguing.

Enough is enough.

It's gotten to the point where I'm actually groaning and commenting out loud on the stupid things they say. Imagine watching every single movie for the first time with the director's commentary on; it'd drive you mental. There's no way you could enjoy it fully. For THREE HOURS every Monday, it's a steady stream of verbal diarrhea with no respite save for the brief moment when I fast forward through the commercials.

"It's a flying goat!" -- "Vintage Orton!" -- "Shut up and call the match!" -- "Hash tag Yes Movement!" -- "Don't forget to the download the WWE App!" -- "The most chilling/thrilling/intimidating/entertaining match/entrance/Superstar/event of ALL TIME!"

I can't take it. Just thinking about them is irritating. I can't dwell on this anymore, so...

Until next time, have a nice day, and don't be a jabroni.