Tuesday, September 30, 2008

ESPN Does Something Right

Very right, actually. Tune into ESPN Classic at midnight and they're re-running AWA wrestling from the 1980s. It's pretty fantastic. The other night featured a match between a young Jerry Lawler and Kerry Von Erich. In the last week or so I've seen young Eddie Guerero (who was part of the Guerero Brothers), Cactus Jack, the Midnight Express, the Rock'n'Roll Express, and the Midnight Rockers--as a kid I could never keep them straight. There are even semi-famous recurring jobbers, such as Van Van Horn. It's a fabulous cultural artifact sure to rekindle many fond memories of childhood. A few observations:

* The crowds are very, very different than what you see at wrestling today. These audiences were not the state school frat boys, po-mo ironists, and NASCAR fans we see in wrestling arenas today.

* The actual wrestling is much, much better than today's product. Today's wrestlers are more like stunt-men, enduring dangerous accidents. Yesteryear's wrestlers actually mastered the craft of technical professional wrestling. You see lots of drop toe holds, spinning hammerlocks, suplexes, and piledrivers. The simple fact is that this is more fun to watch than what's aired on RAW.

* The commentary is particularly jarring in its difference from today's commentators. The guys calls the matches in the AWA days are sedate and professorial, treating the entire affair as if it's a real sport--they note changes in strategy and point out the amateur athletic backgrounds of the wrestlers; they offer critiques of the action as it unfolds. It's a far cry from the carnival barker schtick the WWE employs now.

* The most stunning aspect of these old broadcasts is how much of a difference it makes not having the governing body acknowledging that the preceedings are fake. When the WWE decided to become open about the fact that they were producing entertainment and not a sport, it created an existential disconnect for the product. I'm not suggesting that, while watching the old AWA stuff, you'll be fooled into thinking that it's real--of course you won't; we weren't even fooled watching contemporaneously as kids.

But it does make a huge difference in terms of entertainment value to not have the wrestlers acknowledging the fakery. In other words, it turns out that the kayfabe is tremendously important.

Anyway, go set your DVR and enjoy.


Anonymous said...

To bad that you missed out on Curt Hennig and Big Schoot Hall taking on Playboy Buddy Rose and Prettyboy Doug Sommers (with, of course, Sensational Sherri).

It was pretty awesome, until Scott Hall was counted out after getting distracted by Col. Debeers.

Hennig was pissed. I sense trouble brewing for that team.

Anonymous said...

Wrestling's fake? Not in my world. The only fake wrestling is that boring bullshit they do in the Olympics.

Anonymous said...

Old school professional wrestling was harder than superman on viagra compared to the crap they peddle today!....Ken Patera Rulz!