Everything I Need to Know I Learned at ROH’s “Final Battle”
The title is not true, of course. Like pro wrestling itself the title is full of hyperbole, a seemingly simple thing that purports to be about so much more.
I was in New York last weekend for a number of reasons – to meet with a potential new agent for my writing (turns out I didn’t need to come to New York, they took me on without the meeting), hang out with one of my best friends, have dinner with old friends, and of course go to Ring of Honor’s “Final Battle” at the Hammerstein Ballroom.
I had never been in the Hammerstein, and I was excited. In my wrestling career, I never worked for ECW or any other promotion that did shows in the Hammerstein, so I could only experience it through television and video. It seemed to be this grand old place where wrestling fans would be hanging from everywhere to project all of their energy onto the wrestling rings and the men fighting within that ring.
I was going to the show for two main reasons – to see Davey Richards, once wrestling student of mine, and get the lay of the ROH land for the possibility of a job – a job writing, booking, or whatever they are calling it nowadays. Since moving away from Atlanta, I have been trying hard for a job with one of the big three wrestling groups.
I texted and called Gary Juster (ROH Vice-President) when my friend Zoe and I arrived at the venue. Gary Juster had come to a Platinum Championship Wrestling show years ago at the Academy Theater and been intrigued enough that he asked to meet me. We’ve been in communication ever since. Mr. Juster’s always been good to me, giving advice freely when asked and giving me opportunities when they would pop up. But I wasn’t having any luck getting a hold of him, so Zoe and I waited in line. When we got inside, I saw why Mr. Juster hadn’t answered – he was working the table, selling tickets and dealing with will call. COO Joe Huff was standing next to him. Gary seemed a little shocked to see me. I attributed this to the fact that I had recently shaved off my beard, cut my hair and has been working out like mad as of late. I was also sporting a “living in Florida” tan. Gary hooked me and Zoe up with bands that would get us access to general admission seating, but no backstage pass or time to talk to me.
I was disappointed, but let’s face it, Gary was busy. And there was a skeleton staff at the Hammerstein. They had security, but no ushers. Surprisingly, this didn’t seem to cause any conflicts as people negotiated where they were supposed to be sitting on their own. The event seemed to be nearly sold out.
“Final Battle” was a pretty good event. I didn’t care for the match between Prince Nana and RD Evans, feeling that two manager-type of gimmicks shouldn’t have an knock-down drag-out wrestling match, complete with one of them kicking out of a superplex. I noted that ROH seemed determined to trump the WWE Pay-Per-View that would occur in Brooklyn later than night by using tables, ladders and chairs in notable matches throughout the night. I thought that was a silly move. I was enjoying the event well enough, when after intermission the match happened between the team of Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly (who I booked frequently at PCW) and the reunited American Wolves (Eddie Edwards and Davey Richards.) Put simply, they stole the show. In spite of an awkwardly booked beginning that came about from the promo segment beforehand, the two teams lit it up. The crowd was clearly pro-Eddie, and chanted for him. They seemed indifferent to Davey at first. The match was a spirited affair that told a great story. There were no tables used or other nonsense. There was only one false finish, which served the great purpose of elevating Kyle (who had taken a hellacious beating at the hands of the Wolves) before Eddie and Davey put the finishing touches to win the match. The crowd erupted, and the match of the night was done.
I texted Davey right away to congratulate him and the boys for a match well done. He texted me back right away thanking me and seemed genuinely happy about my praise.
This actually surprised me a little bit – you see Davey and I didn’t always get along so well. He was a brash, super athletic young wrestler. Someone else had showed him the basics, and he had a few matches under his belt in the Seattle area. He was in Atlanta for more training and to get work. I was the head trainer at WWA4. We ran practices 4 nights a week, and did a show on Thursday nights. Davey was in a tag match in one of those shows that was a spot-filled mess. I yelled at him and the other wrestlers on that card for seemingly forever. I remember being so mad that I almost blew out a knee from stomping up and down in anger. The wrestlers stifled their laughs for fear of furthering my near psychotic rage at the horrible show.
Fast forward to when I left WWA4 and the students scattered to the winds. Davey and I lost contact. He hurt his knee, I had heard that. I saw that he was scheduled to wrestle on one of the first Dragon’s Gate Pay-Per-Views, so I ordered it, hoping, quite honestly, that Davey would do some spot-filled nonsense and I would be able to smugly cross my arms and shake my head. PCW was just getting started again and I was feeling mighty proud of myself and the wrestlers that had come back.
But Davey was great. It was the kind of match that you expect from Ring of Honor or Dragon’s Gate…there was a ton of spots, and a truckload of false finishes. But Davey had worked a great match, that told a logical story, and the crowd ate it up. It wasn’t my style of match, but there was a beating heart in it that made me take notice and eat crow.
Not long after that, Davey and I got a hold of one another. Not 100% sure how. But we talked. PCW was now out of Sam Stone Studio and running shows at the Academy Theater every Friday night. We were set to do our first show at the Masquerade. Masquerade seemed to take the attitude of “let’s see if you can do a show” without promoting it. I needed to make sure that first show was something special. Davey agreed to come in. He wanted to stay at my place. I wasn’t sure about any of it, but in the end he worked a great match with then PCW Champion Shane Marx, Jay Fury and “Do Or Die” Chip Day. Chip learned a ton that match, and seemed in heaven interacting with Davey afterwards. Marx was in the midst of a great title reign that was putting PCW on the wrestling map. Jay was up for the match, pulling off the spot of the match where he attempted to Jaytrix kick Davey, who caught his leg in the air and turned it into an anklelock with a leglace.
That night Davey and I talked. We talked about wrestling in Japan. His career was taking off. I predicted that Ring of Honor would make him champion sooner or later. It was a good time. You could feel whatever tension between him and me fading away. In the morning, my wife made him coffee. He remarked how great it was that Julie and I were now married (we were still just dating when I ran WWA4). My daughter Elena, only about two years old at the time woke up and looked at Davey. She was polite and struck her “wrestler pose” for him (flexing with a scrunched up face). He laughed.
Over the years of PCW, I brought Davey in many times. Often he would be with Tony Kozina or Kyle O’Reilly. Sometimes he’d be with someone they were training. One time King Fale was with them, a big Tongan fellow who was going to work for New Japan. Fale made his U.S. debut for PCW, battling against Geter, wowing the crowd when both huge men went over the top rope. Davey did become ROH champion. And he lost the title to current champ Kevin Steen.
And here he was, stealing the show. I was proud. It was the facial expressions, the storytelling, the selling that put that match over – not just a bunch of aimless false finishes or overly choreographed spots, which to me had become all too frequent in Ring of Honor and wrestling in general. He told me to come to the curtain, and he would get me in backstage. That sounded great, so Zoe and I snuck onto the floor, made our way over, and we were back there.
Before we went back there, though, I had gone downstairs the match before and talked to Gary Juster. It was clear that I wasn’t going to get a Ring of Honor job anytime soon. I have been involved in wrestling since 1993, and rejection in any form never gets any easier. I think it might be one of those reasons that I’ll take and book most everybody and give them a try. I remember each and every time I wasn’t booked…or made to job to inferior talent without rhyme or reason…or just couldn’t get the venue I wanted, or the crowd I needed. I honestly wanted to leave at that point. Even as Zoe and I snuck towards the curtain as the main event was ending I really wasn’t excited. I thought I would see Davey, say hello to Kyle, and get out of there. I didn’t want to go to TLC later that night after all. I had enough wrestling for the day. Gary Juster seemed surprised to see me, as he was next to the production guys. He said that this PPV was Ring of Honor’s best yet, in terms of buy rate and not having technical difficulties. I was glad for them. But as I was congratulating Gary, Davey grabbed me and Zoe and to the back we went.
It was there where I took my turn being surprised, because Davey, with great pride, introduced me seemingly to everyone he could as his trainer. Wrestler after wrestler, from Jerry Lynn, Rhino, to the ROH regulars shook hands with me, and we would quip about Davey wrestling too stiff. We were all in good humor.
I was in good humor. I was overwhelmed by it all. I had resigned myself to being disappointed. After all, it’s hard to face up that I’m not very likely to get a job in one of the big three wrestling promotions anytime soon. But I learned something – I learned something about me. I realized that I was more worried about my legacy, such as it is, than I thought. Its part of the reason I’m so hard on Shane Mackey who has taken over running the PCW shows in Porterdale. It’s the reason that I’ve been jumping through whatever hoops the WWE or TNA have put in front of me, sometimes against my better judgment. It’s the reason I can barely hold my tongue from commenting on the various nonsense that gets talked about on the Georgia wrestling scene. It’s because I care what my impact on wrestling is. Davey, with a simple, polite gesture of introducing me around as his trainer, taught me that my legacy is just fine. Not because I’ll be remembered as “Davey’s trainer,” but because it reminded me that I did well. And I continue to do so.
I don’t know what the future holds for me and wrestling. I book the main event angles at the PCW shows, and I’ve been pleased that Shane Mackey and the crew have brought the crowds back up in Porterdale. I look forward to coming back and doing a PCW show in the future. But beyond that I don’t know…will TNA give me a shot? The WWE? It certainly seems unlikely that ROH will. But in the end, between Davey showing me around and going out of his way, after stealing the show using lessons I had taught him, at least in some small way…between texting back and forth with other wrestlers I had trained about how their evenings with like Shane Marx…I was content, if only for a moment.
Wrestling is fake. But not fake in the way that the general public likes to debate that it is, but fake in the sense that it purports to encourage one thing, but actually fosters something else entirely. Wrestlers and wrestling people, by and large, say that “they love the business” and have insight on how things “should be.” But wrestling fosters the opposite…it fosters envy, indulges the worst behavior, and creates people who are almost completely about the masks they wear and the bullshit they say as opposed to people really working hard and really trying to be better and stronger people.
Whatever happens from here on in, I’m going to do my best to make sure PCW keeps rolling on. Fred Avery seems very determined to run a great school for me, and that makes me happy. Mackey shows all the signs of obsessing and focusing on the wrestling shows that I did when I was there, and that’s good. As for me, I am here in Florida because Julie and I wanted a better life for our kids. And so far, so good. Wrestling is the business that I love. And I hope that I get paid to be part of it. But if it never happens, I can now live with it. That’s not a very sexy conclusion by Hollywood standards. Arriving at a place of understanding isn’t as exciting as winning the big game, but it’s real. And right now, the things that are real have put me in a place where the fake can’t touch me. I wish this for everyone I know, and everyone in wrestling. Because when enough of us arrive at this place, where we can drop pretense and the need to worry about what others think of us, we can start getting to the real, important work of making wrestling better.
I'd like to add a few comments about Gordon Nelson. To the viewer of Championship Wrestling from Florida in the early 80s, Gordon Nelson was a competent jobber. A "good hand" as Les Thatcher might say. He would always lose, but work a solid match. Nelson's opponent would benefit and be elevated as a result. It's hard to explain. Solie would put over Nelson as an exercise wizard with incredible strength. Unlike the announcers today, Solie had credibility. If he said it, you bought it. Beating Nelson seemed noteworthy as a result.
JJ Dillon commented that a good squash match was a lost art. To me, Gordon Nelson typifies this comment.
I look forward to hearing more about Nelson's 60s and 70s career in a future issue of the Observer.
Want to bring something about Smackdown. For some reason I feel like WWE is giving up with this brand and in a sense I understand their rationale: Smackdown on SciFi isn’t precisely money and the chances of they getting a great contract from a big TV station aren’t that strong either. I have the impression that once the contract with SciFi expires they will move Smackdown to the Network (if it ever exist) to have some kind of “brand show” on it and with the extra money they are getting from Main Event, Morning Slam and the third hour of RAW they can somehow cover for the losses of not getting anything from Smackdown. I think it all started last year when they announced the RAW Supershows and with that the end of the Brand Extension Era. I know that long term planning isn't how WWE make business but giving them the benefit of a doubt; Is there any chance of this actually happen or I'm just over thinking?
Thank you and keep up all the good work.
Leonardo II Mendez
San Sebastian, PR
DM: The last thing WWE is doing right now would be to give up the Smackdown TV show. Smackdown draws them more revenue right now than any other show, including Raw, and it is the second best promotional vehicle besides Raw. The other shows are a very distant third when it comes to priorities. In fact, I would expect when the Smackdown contract expires in September that WWE try to get several stations to bid for the fights, hoping to get the kind of increases in rights fees that sports have been getting the past two years.