Monday, 13 September 2010 06:01
Of Bosses and Busters
DVDs available at www.smartmarkvideo.com
Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
By conventional wisdom, Independent Professional Wrestling is produced in front of an audience of fans, focused on the benefit of the promotion over the talent, and typically revolves around some prop called a belt, a title or a championship.
It is fascinating to see a product that turns conventional wisdom on its head.
Beyond Wrestling may make many internet heads spin, but I’m getting what they’re selling. The promotion is focused on creating a launching pad for new indy talent, and by the appearances of names like Chris Dickinson, Chase Burnett and Zane Silver at EVOLVE and appearances at a growing number of more established organizations shows that it is succeeding.
The vastly interesting approach of the Beyond Wrestling promotion out of Northern Ohio, (Elyria -- a half-hour west of Cleveland,) is to produce its product in front of the talent, but not in front of fans. The purpose, according to Beyond Wrestling head honcho Drew Cordiero, is to help the wrestlers learn the business by being in front of the action, observing, participating as fans and otherwise not ignoring the action in the ring, as would be expected in most indy promotions.
Learning by watching videotapes is a tried and true approach for guys over the past few decades.
Learning by watching your peers in action seems incredibly Old School, but in an age where selling, interacting with the crowd and playing to the audience only seems relevant during try-outs, and rarely during the bulk of actual wrestling, it is a novel and welcome approach.
From the looks of one DVD, I’m convinced that it will rub off on the crowd.
For now, the promotion is not featuring championships, more of a sense of bragging rights, as they are ‘keeping score’ in a similar vein to EVOLVE, and have kept the standings for more than a year, beginning in May 2009. Cordiero says that the promotion will be playing more into the standings, streaks and competition, and most importantly, with entrance graphsics
Points are the score-keeping system, and it does play well in one of the big stories on Bosses and Busters. Points are awarded for winning a match, and points are removed for losing a match. In Tag Team action, both members gain or lose points depending on the win/loss, regardless of who is involved in the pinfall. In multiple (“Multiman” in Beyond Wrestling lingo), the winner gets the point; losers all lose a point.
Rankings are available at: http://blogs.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendId=443547275&blogId=538291280.
I’ve made a decision to focus on the promotion as a whole, and not the individual matches, more in order to introduce the promotion.
There’s far too much emphasis these days on “stars” and ignoring the talent that struggles to reach a level of stardom. It’s a Catch-22 that Heller wrote so well about in his WWII novel, but the concept has been raised to the nth degree six decades after Yossarian saw that war end, and thankfully the mindlessness that made his every move an expression of insanity.
But the war of star power versus wrestling craft rages on, and in an industry where the mainstream fans, with only one dominant reference, can stand to watch anything that hasn’t smacked of a former WWE headliner. And even then, most don’t seem to bother. As the insanity of the mainstream promotions roll on, blissfully ignoring indy talent if we are lucky, contracting them out and burying them more often (poor, poor Kaval jobbing to that stiff on Friday Night’s SmackDown!) and rarely (CM Punk, anyone?) allowing them to shine or even tap out the Undertaker … but even then, we know the score.
You may not know of Jonny Mangue, Myke Quest, Davey Vega, Zack Novak or Jefferson Saint.
Should you? Well, that’s the interpretation I would provide, but the bigger picture is this: what will the wrestling industry look like in five years, without the efforts of promotions like Beyond Wrestling? And furthermore, what will be the reactions of wrestling fans if the talent base of the industry is comprised of septuagenarians, wheeling themselves out, hitting each other with canes, and blading themselves to no response?
The awesome part of Beyond Wrestling is that the in-ring action isn’t focused on a disaffected audience, but a group of guys learning the ropes both inside and outside the squared circle. The reactions aren’t forced, and seem far more genuine than even the best Ring of Honor crowd. This isn’t about gratuitous chants of “This is awesome!” but instead, a sense of re-orienting the mindset of reactions.
What impressed me was marking out with the reactions, connecting in-ring actions and responses, seeing what worked and what didn’t. DVDs are meant to be sort of ‘best of’ compilations of weekends of tapings, plus assorted vignettes and backstories, so there is a sense of choppiness, but the announce crew of Denver Colorado (yeah… Cleveland rocks….) and Matt Wadsworth of Absolute Intense Wrestling do pull it all together, even though I felt they overdid it with the explanations of the promotion. (yeah, the promotion is all about building up talent, even if they will go with other promotions, but let’s not say that so many times during each match!)
What’s cool is watching the wrestling in the ring, and seeing the responses and realizing what works and what does not. But more than that, with the interactions between peers and between talent in the ring and outside, there’s a heightened sense of pure wrestling – trying things out, playing roles that are more realistic to wrestling history (and not the watered-down, tweener-light, superficially bogus emanations of guys trying to appease creative writers, not the crowd.)
In that sense, I more than just appreciate the efforts of Beyond Wrestling to change things up.
Why put on a show and hope for the best? Why not put on a show, and double up the learning experience of the talent, help to establish that talent for bigger opportunities, and all the while re-learn what wrestling interactions should be about?
It’s hard to fully judge the output of Beyond Wrestling, because there is a mixture of talent and a mixture of output. If you’re a workrate fanatic, watching some of the slow-motion and slips may be trying, but what I appreciated was the angles and the efforts, and more notably, some of the talent on display in the ring.
One guy that stood out was Jefferson Saint, who physically, performance-wise and psychologically reminds me of Tully Blanchard, albeit seemingly a bit taller and a bit softer. Saint plays a heel to the hilt, which is all the more amazing considering the crowd and the concept. But then again, it is the crowd and the concept of having wrestlers outside the ring, who otherwise would be cheering on the efforts and the actions, but how should those guys around the ring respond to someone not just cheating to win, but putting other wrestlers at risk with the cheap shots, foreign objects and flagrant violations of the commonly held rules.
Saint appears to me like a guy who can capture the old school heel role like few others in this era. Just catching a glimpse of someone heeling out like Jefferson Saint would be cool, but multiple matches with the Saint in charge made the DVD.
As Beyond Wrestling progresses, it will be how the concept holds that defines its success.
Can the promotion, the work and the talent maintain that special approach of being a learning place and launching pad for new indy wrestlers? Can they avoid upping the ante on violence and high spots, expanding the interactions of the in-ring/out of ring participants, and maintaining the stated intent of having guys watch the shows instead of staying backstage?
That will be the crux of believability.
For Bosses and Busters, the pared down sense of wrestling was very apparent, and very solid. The storylines were compelling and clever. While the ongoing discord between Davey Vega and Steve West was a bit overblown, I did like the overall story as it played out. It started out a little disappointing, because a team breaking apart taking on a well-oiled machine like Faith In Nothing (Christian Faith and Vincent Nothing) absolutely did not ring true.
But in the end, I loved how it played out, and I’ve not seen anyone do the one-finger pin deal, nor the judicious use of a chair shot, as was played out in Beyond Wrestling.
What I liked was the emphasis on Davey Vega as one of the superstars in the making, with a bad attitude but great talent, and supporting that in the commentary. I’m not so sure that Vega stands out heads and shoulders among a dozen or two other indy stars that I’ve seen, but he can work and was deserving of the spotlight.
Other names of note on the DVD include Chris Dickinson, Zack Novak and Corvis Fear.
Dickinson has shown promise in EVOLVE, as sort of a kick-based, MMA style guy. It’s weird on one level that he’s putting guys over in Beyond Wrestling, but it falls into my long held belief that more talented guys are the ones willing to put people over, and that’s definitely the focus of the promotion. A similar sense comes across with Zack Novak, who plays that underdog role so well.
Is he an up-and-coming high flyer? We’ll see.
Chase Burnett and Zane Silver showed me on this DVD why they got a chance with EVOLVE 3. Both guys are talented and not as fashionably challenged here than on EVOLVE. They put on a strong performance against Faith In Nothing in the concluding match of the DVD.
In the end, it’s a very interesting concept, with some names that have and will be appearing across the indy wrestling scene. I can definitely see a future for the promotion, especially in the role of a gateway promotion willing to work with new talent, giving them a stage to work, and allowing the talent to put themselves over.
Whether or not Beyond Wrestling becomes a force isn’t as important as whether or not the promotion can establish itself as a place where professional wrestlers can learn, grow and expand the craft. I’m always a bit dubious about too many matches featuring the same names, but I know Beyond Wrestling is taping off multiple days, but that may be a weakness that needs addressed.
As always, indy wrestling is never for everyone, and sometimes you need to know what you’re getting. Beyond Wrestling is all about the concept and I appreciate how it plays out, and would invite wrestling fans to give it a try.
As always, my book “Professional Wrestling Intellectual” is available via amazon.com and by emailing me.