Pick My Brain: Todd Martin

Internet Wrestling Columnist

Contrary to popular belief, we at The Armpit are not all fun and games. Sure, we aim to be as light-hearted as possible, but there’s always room for good, meaty, intelligent, down-to-business wrestling discussion. For such an interview, we picked the perfect brain: Todd Martin’s.

We love interviewing wrestling writers, because they don’t skimp on answers, and the good ones have a very good mind for the biz. Much like we were shocked at Nilton Fernandes’ tender age, we were also dropping our jaws when we read that Todd is even younger. So much knowledge, so little time. Todd is indeed the prototypical student of the business.

Todd spends so much time analyzing and researching the business, that we hope one day he can make money doing it. If U.S. wrestling ever makes it through this slump and thrives again, look for Todd Martin to be one of its best writers for years to come. Check out his articles, and you will not be disappointed.

1. Before we get into anything, please tell all of us where we can read your work, and about any other plugs you’d like to tell our readers about.

Well, I write a weekly column for www.wrestlingobserver.com, so you can check that out every Tuesday if you are so inclined. Also, when I am in the area, I am a part of the Inside the Squared Circle wrestling TV show. It broadcasts on Saturdays in Washington, DC and Sundays in Montgomery County, MD. Check your local listings for that. It actually debuted as a TV show in 1993, within weeks of Raw’s first show, and was around as a radio show since 1989.

2. For my research, I went and read all your columns on the Observer site. I must say, I was blown away. How long have you been following wrestling, and when did you begin writing about it?

Thanks for the compliment. I’m going to bury myself here, but you asked so I’ll go ahead and answer. I’m only 21, and I got my first dose of professional wrestling in 1991. That’s not something I advertise, given the fact I always contextualize the current scene in light of periods I did not live through but instead have reconstructed after the fact through tapes, books, newsletters and discussions. That’s what any historian does, I guess, but there’s a particular suspicion of this within professional wrestling because there are so many people who claim to be “experts” on pro wrestling that don’t have a fundamental understanding of what the business is.

My father works for the state department, so I rotated living in the United States and other parts of the world like Argentina and China. I was living in Singapore in 1991, and WWF wrestling was one of the only American shows that was on at the time. I immediately took to it. I grew to be more of a fan when I moved back to the States later that year, and my interest in wrestling accelerated at an unhealthy pace. I’m the definition of a student of the game. It’s scary how much time I put into studying the business. I think it is absolutely fascinating.

As far as when I started writing about wrestling, you can find just about every piece of writing I have ever done on wrestling by perusing old Observers dating back to 1995 and looking at the archives of the Observer online site. I haven’t really written anything about wrestling outside of that. I have never had much interest in writing on wrestling elsewhere, and I doubt I ever will. The Observer has the most sophisticated base of readers of any wrestling publication by far, and I want to interact and clash with people who know the business, not get praised by people who don’t.

3. Of all your pieces, I enjoyed your Curt Hennig tribute the most. As someone who obviously followed his career closely, what is the most memorable moment you have of Hennig? (Mine is the “my spot” speech, even though Arn did most of the talking).

Two highlights in particular stand out for me. I loved his match with Bret Hart at SummerSlam 1991, as it was a tribute to what a talented performer he was. The announcement of his return as a babyface on Prime Time Wrestling the next year was also very memorable. I can still recite the interaction between Heenan, Savage and Hennig, almost verbatim. I wrote that article very quickly so people could read about his career shortly after his death, but thinking about it now it is so surreal. How can Mr. Perfect not live to see his 50th birthday? It’s a damn shame.

4. I was in 100% agreement with your 10-step plan on what NWA TNA needs to do to take it to the next level. My only feeling is that, even if they did everything right, WWE would just strip them of all their talent and leave them for dead. Do you believe NWA will be in business 1 year from now?

That’s a tough one. My inclination is to say no, but who knows. When TNA was formed, we had a pool with the people who do the aforementioned TV show, and I had TNA lasting 4 weeks. Obviously, it keeps going, and the money marks seem happy to flush money down the toilet. I think one of two things will happen with TNA. Either they go out of business, or they become a relatively successful alternative to WWE. Their current business plan isn’t financially viable. They don’t get enough buys, and they never will. A thousand years of good word of mouth won’t do it. They need to move to a feasible business model.

In that regard, they are actually in pretty good shape. They have built up a large quantity of programming with good production values and some good talent that they can market to TV networks. The costs aren’t very high, and they have performers under contract. They don’t need to take any major steps to get a TV deal except convince a TV company to take them. If they get the right TV deal and start functioning like any other wrestling company, building up big cards, they could have some moderate success. I think wrestling fans will support an alternative if a good one arises. WWE is not satisfying their fans, and there are a lot of hardcore, serious wrestling fans that want to support a wrestling product, but don’t care for WWE much. Unfortunately, I don’t know if anyone wants wrestling programming on TV, and the clock is ticking on TNA in its current format.

5. On paper, it would make sense for NWA to get a sweet TV deal and compete with the majors. However, before that happens, Russo would need to disappear, or else they’d be doomed to failure. Aside from yourself, whom would you personally recommend Panda anoint as their top booker/writer for NWA TNA?

Your first two sentences there sound like an opinion, but it bears emphasizing that they are fact, not opinion. TNA could compete to some degree with WWE, but it isn’t going to happen with Russo around, for too many reasons to mention.

Four names come to mind to use as a top booker/writer. All of them are experiments, so I would not be afraid to pull the plug if it wasn’t working out. The four men I would have as my top choices would be Mike Tenay, Raven, Konnan and Dave Meltzer. I am of the belief that I can listen to someone talk about wrestling for 10 minutes, and I will know whether they truly understand the business. All four of these guys do.

Mike Tenay is a student of the business and understands it very well. He knows different historical periods, and he has seen promotions flourish in Mexico, Japan and the United States. His limitation is that I don’t know how creative or forward thinking he is. You don’t necessarily need to be creative to be a good booker. Look at Sam Muchnick or Giant Baba. But TNA does need to have a unique battle plan to differentiate itself from WWE, and I don’t know if Tenay could come up with it. He is better served as an editor to look at the big picture and determine what would work and what wouldn’t.

Raven has a brilliant mind for the business, and is very creative. He has learned about the business from some great teachers. The question mark with him is his reliability, and if he is burned out. The fact he is getting close with Russo in TNA is a major yellow flag as well. But I think he knows how to put people in seats, and he thinks outside the box, which I like.

If Konnan were Caucasian, he would be booking wrestling somewhere in the United States right now. This guy has an amazing mind for the business. He’s hip, he’s smart, and he gets it. He’s been a major player in the Mexican scene, and you only have to listen to him briefly to tell he could make a major impact from a creative aspect. It’s too bad there is such a stigma against Latinos in the American wrestling scene, because this guy should be a major player. I want him on my team.

And finally, if I ever end up in an executive position in a wrestling promotion, I am going to beg Dave Meltzer to come aboard. I don’t think he would give up the Observer, but I would try to get him anyway. He knows more about the wrestling business than anyone else alive, and he understands what works and what doesn’t work. He doesn’t need to have experience booking; he understands all there is to know about booking already. It would be like the French New Wave of cinema. Intelligent writers who loved movies, watched all the movies they could and carefully studied and critiqued cinematic history were of course well suited to make movies. Same principle applies here. I would tell TNA to interview those four, see what ideas they have, and go from there.

6. The only column I found myself disagreeing with you on was your analysis of John Molinaro’s book of the top 100 wrestlers of all-time. I haven’t read the book yet, but looking at their list, it’s hard to tell what they exactly based their criteria on. Regardless, I totally concur with their top 5 (Flair, Thesz, Rikidozan, Inoki, Hogan). In order, who would be your top 5? If answering that is too difficult, can you tell us whom you’d rank as #1?

That’s one hell of a task, and why I think a lot of people were unfair to them in making the list. That said, I agree that at times it is hard to understand exactly what their criteria were. Some criteria seemed to matter a lot in some places and not at all in others. But it is such a tough task and wrestling’s history is so subjective that it is hard to fault them.

My top five in order would be Rikidozan, El Santo, Hogan, Thesz and Inoki. If I were to make a list like this, my top criterion would be influence on the business, and that would be far and way the top criterion. In-ring work, and drawing power would be secondary concerns to me. With that in mind, Flair doesn’t make the top 5. I actually feel very confident about that top 5, but I’m not sure what the best order is. I would order the top three the way I do because I think those individuals had the most impact on their respective countries’ wrestling histories.

Rikidozan ranks number one because of what an important figure he was in Japan. He was a cultural figure on a totally different level than any other wrestler of all time. His wrestling feuds came to symbolize Japanese society itself fitting into the post World War II world. The ratings for his top matches still stand as some of the highest in Japanese television history. As the most important actor in drawing those ratings, he parallels top Super Bowl heroes, Best Actor/Actress Oscar winners and celebrities of that kind. He played a big role in the careers of Giant Baba and Antonio Inoki, two other wrestlers who belong in the top 10. He’s still a very important figure in Japan so many years later. That makes him a clear number one in my book.

Santo is 2 because he is the wrestler that comes the closest to that sort of status. You can’t study Mexican cinema without looking at an entire genre of films that he created. He was unquestionably Mexico’s biggest wrestling star for most of his career. His mask became a symbol of historical Mexican identity. Earlier this year one of my professors spoke at length about his role in Mexican popular culture at a Latin American Studies Senior Seminar. I can’t imagine Hogan, Inoki or Thesz being taken seriously in such an academic setting. Santo transcended wrestling, but he brought wrestling with him to a place it typically does not occupy.

I’m much less confident about how to rank the bottom three. I give Hogan the edge because I feel he changed American wrestling more than Thesz did and more than Inoki did in Japan. You can clearly trace the business as it stands right now back to Hogan. He played such an important role in the evolution of wrestling the past two decades, and was a phenomenal drawing card all over the world. He is a different sort of cultural icon than the other two, but he is also an extremely important and recognizable figure.

Thesz goes four because he was such an important and revered figure. I would label him the father of modern American wrestling. That’s not to dismiss the contributions of his predecessors like a Lewis, Gotch or Londos. However, under him the business evolved into the basic format it still holds now. I think there is a strong argument that he belongs above Hogan.

Inoki at 5 is such a fascinating figure. Here’s a guy who’s had more ups and downs than just about any wrestler ever. But he always comes up on top in the end. His fingerprints are all over so many important events in Japan of the past 3 decades. His match with Ali is one of the most important matches in the entire history of wrestling. He was a tremendous drawing card and he has had important matches or feuds with so many legends, from Hogan and Flair to Choshu and Fujinami.

7. I’m asking this question one week before WrestleMania takes place. Please give us your thoughts on Kurt Angle’s decision to do this match with Brock, given the risk he’s putting himself at.

I come from a very different perspective than Kurt Angle. I haven’t put my body through the sorts of rigors he has for years and years. So it’s hard to evaluate his decision. I think he would be the best judge. The fact he thinks he will be fine gives me confidence that he will be. He has gone to the limit in the past, and he can avoid doing anything he doesn’t want to do at Mania. He’s also been working with this injury for a little while now, so it isn’t as if he crossed a line into even more dangerous territory. Considering he’s going to make hundreds of thousands of dollars for this show and is going to help the company out in the process, the decision makes sense to me. But obviously that could be proven to be a very, very bad idea, even if the odds are strongly against it.

8. You remarked how much Akira Maeda changed the business in Japan. I’d agree, although how he got his initial fame (unprofessionally potato-ing Riki Choshu) is a major blemish on his legacy. If UFC were to get a major TV deal in the US tomorrow, do you think its effect on the US wrestling scene would be similar to the effect UWF/RINGS had on Japan in the 80s/90s?

That’s a really interesting question. I would say probably not. The American wrestling public right now has a totally different vision of wrestling than the Japanese wrestling public did in the late 80s and early 90s. I think UFC’s potential is to grab the mainstream sports fans. My friends who are sports fans but despise wrestling have loved UFC when I showed it to them. My friends who are wrestling fans by and large don’t like UFC. There’s a lot of resentment towards it in some wrestling circles. “Sports entertainment” has changed the business so much that I don’t know if American fans care about who really is the toughest any more. They don’t care about the worked matches, let alone the theoretical shoot ones. The fantasy isn’t there that existed in Japan.

That said, if UFC presents itself like a wrestling show with real fights, WWE is going to take notice, and probably modify its style to some degree. You see that already with the use of the triangle choke, which is a ridiculous move in the pro wrestling context. You also shouldn’t overlook the impact a transcendent star could have. If a UFC star became a gigantic television figure, there’s no doubt WWE would try to recreate that excitement. In other words, UFC needs a figure comparable to Maeda, or even Takada, that would change pro wrestling’s vision of what a drawing card is. As Dave pointed out to me after the last UFC, if American fans thought like Japanese fans, Phil Baroni might be that figure. But American fans don’t care about warrior spirit. They care about winning and losing. That makes it a lot trickier to create that big star, because fans give up on anyone but the best.

What direction such a change would take the business is also hard to say. It probably wouldn’t be very good though. I think the shoot movement in Japan has done the same sort of damage there that Russo and crash TV did here. Much of the Japanese wrestling industry lost confidence in its core product, which is putting on entertaining and important worked matches. Now it’s about putting pro wrestlers in shoots or shooters in works, and the emphasis on building up programs based on worked matches between talented workers has been lost. The shoot movement has been great for shoot organizations in Japan, but horrible for work organizations. I fear the same would happen in the United States. Look at the way Meng has been used in the past 10 years, against all logic. The same thing could start happening on a larger scale and suddenly Chris Benoit would find himself in the same position of a Yuji Nagata. Well, he is anyway, but that is for a different reason.

9. What sort of feedback have you gotten on your columns, both from fans and Meltzer himself?

The feedback I get from fans has been almost universally positive. I think I’ve gotten less than 5 pieces of negative feedback my entire time doing the column, and most people are really enthusiastic. I appreciate that. It’s actually pretty surprising, because I always figured people who write about wrestling get more negative feedback than positive. I look forward to hearing what people think about my columns, particularly when I get very thoughtful responses to the points I make. I haven’t gotten that much feedback from Dave since I started doing the weekly column in December. Hopefully he is pleased with the work. I know he likes my writing because he has told me that many times in the past and asked me to write more for the site. But I rarely hear much from him about the columns. Oh well, he’s busy as hell and I do intend for each column to stand on its own. As Jake Roberts once said about Ricky Steamboat, it would probably embarrass Dave to know how highly I think of him, so I do wish I heard more from him on my writing, positive or critical.

10. You had a piece published in the actual Observer newsletter, detailing the racial breakdown in wrestling. We all know your thoughts on WWE’s use of racial and ethnic stereotypes, but how well do you feel the following promotions represent/represented a diverse roster?

Diversity isn’t inherently positive. What is more important to me is how those diverse groups are portrayed. You can employ a diverse group of workers, but still show them no respect as human beings. Look at the United States army’s exploitation of African Americans in World War I and II. The army certainly was more diverse than in the past, but black officers were frequently treated worse than enemy prisoners of war. So let me address what I think of their portrayal of different racial and ethnic groups. And another preface, these comments are made off the top of my head. I haven’t gone through these promotions in depth, and it is possible I would come to different conclusions were I to put a lot of time thinking about it like I did in the piece you referred to.

NWA TNA: For a southern wrestling show that has overtly played the race card in the past, I actually think TNA has done a pretty good job in this regard. They have utilized Konnan, Ron Killings and D’Lo Brown well. While their identities as black or “luchador” are acknowledged, they aren’t dwelled on in a manner that troubles me. TNA even gave Killings a chance as champ. Overall, they are doing a fine job.

New Japan: I’ve never been particularly fond of the way New Japan treats foreign wrestlers. Japanese society in my view is very racist, much like our own. But it is a different sort of racism, and more complicated due to Japan’s homogeneity and different cultural norms. While racism frequently manifests itself in overt hostility and violence in the United States, in Japan from my studies it seems to me it manifests itself in a more subtle suspicion of “the other.” This is particularly true of New Japan, which has used menacing monsters from the United States and elsewhere for years. It’s like the reverse of the portrayal of Masa Saito or Mr. Fuji here. Blacks in particular have been characterized in an offensive manner. If UFC were to portray Bob Sapp and Quinton Jackson the way they have been portrayed in Japan, they would be thrown off the air. That characterization of foreigners is a staple of Japanese wrestling, and while it isn’t universal, much like the patriotic flag-waving American nationalist, it does rise up frequently. So I’m not a fan of the way New Japan uses non-Japanese wrestlers, even if they do give them a chance to play a major role.

All Japan: All Japan is to me a more tempered version of what New Japan does. It’s hard to untangle the two promotions since there are few foreigners who haven’t portrayed the same character in one promotion that they also have in the other. Perhaps because Stan Hansen and Bruiser Brody became such popular figures in All Japan, the promotion’s fans have a different perspective on foreigners. Those two were initially treated as oddities and ruffians, but now they are remembered as beloved figures, and that rubs off on the portrayal of other foreigners today. That’s not to say there aren’t horrible characters. I mean they used the Kamala II gimmick for years. There’s a whole lot more to say about the subject of All Japan and New Japan’s treatment of non-Japanese, but that’s the basic gist of it without going into too much depth.

Ring of Honor: ROH is so based on in-ring work that they don’t really need to rely on overt stereotyping to sell their product. I haven’t seen any of their shows for a number of months, and it seems they are moving towards more angles and gimmicks, so perhaps they are getting worse in this regard. But the tapes I have seen of them had little to no racial or ethnic stereotypes.

ECW: I’m not one of ECW’s biggest defenders, or one of the more pro-Heyman observers. That said, I think ECW did an excellent job in this regard. Heyman brought in Misterio Jr., Psicosis, Juventud Guerrera and the luchadors into ECW before they were given a serious chance in either WWF or WCW. It was ECW that proved Mexicans could make an impact in this era of wrestling. That has opened up tremendous opportunities for Latinos in the years that followed. ECW also pushed Super Crazy very strong later despite his lack of English. While the New Jack gimmick certainly was a racial gimmick, it really seems like that is his personality, so it’s hard to blame ECW for using it. Jazz’ race was never an issue and she was pushed strong. Ditto D-Von Dudley. ECW was a small lower-middle class promotion that ran in large, liberal metropolitan areas in the Northeast, and was owned by a Jewish New Yorker. One would hope it would be sensitive to these sorts of issues, and I think it was, by and large.

11. Without a doubt, wrestling has a problem with injuries and painkiller addiction. As a result, many have different theories about what to do about it. In a nutshell, what’s yours?

You could go about combating the problem in a number of ways. The problem is all of them have downsides. Testing for painkillers doesn’t make any sense, because most of them are prescription drugs. They aren’t illegal. The downside guarantee contracts exacerbate the problem, as wrestlers feel they have to get back in the ring before they are ready. However, if you give guaranteed contracts you have less safeguards against financial woes, and you get the WCW problem where guys find ways not to perform, or to not work hard. If you tell the guys to take it easier in the ring, it’s going to take a reeducation process for the fans, and there will likely be some decline in popularity. You could cut down on house shows, but I think that is a bad idea for a variety of reasons. Steroid testing I think would make the situation more safe. This opinion isn’t founded on any medical evidence, but I am of the opinion that the combination of painkillers and steroids is what really gives people health problems. With just the painkillers I don’t think it would be as bad. However, again, there is an issue there of reeducating the public on what wrestling is.

Really, I don’t see any solutions that the wrestling business would be willing to take. The best hope is for the two sides to agree to regular medical testing and doctors that have the authority to disallow wrestlers from competing if they are not healthy. A check needs to be put not only on the promotion, but on the wrestlers themselves. Unless there is someone to tell them they can’t wrestle, wrestlers are going to compete unless they are very seriously injured. The promotion isn’t going to want doctors telling them who can and can’t wrestle, either. It could potentially wreak havoc on their booking. But if you found a way to do mandatory medical tests every 2-4 weeks, wrestlers would be forced to take time to heal, and the promotion couldn’t fault them for it. That wouldn’t eliminate pain killers altogether, but it would reduce them to levels where the risks wouldn’t be nearly as bad.

12. I got a really bad feeling watching that guy from Tough Enough 3 get cut for wanting to nurse his tennis elbow. To me, that exemplified everything wrong with the mentality in wrestling when it comes to pain and injuries. Would you have made that cut, if you were the Tough Enough judge? If you didn’t see that episode, skip this question.

Here’s the predicament. I agree with you that incident exemplified a real problem with the way the wrestling business thinks about pain and injuries. However, Tough Enough is just a reflection of that. Tough Enough tries to get its competitors ready for the WWE. The reality is that if you don’t play through that sort of pain in WWE, you’re not going to make it. So while I may not agree with that mentality, I still have to accept it as a given if I’m trying to find future WWE wrestlers. For an example, let’s assume I’m a Hollywood agent, looking to recruit actresses for major motion pictures. I would love to just hire the most talented actresses, but I know that isn’t all that important to the big studios. I hate the way Hollywood has created this young, skinny, big-breasted archetype that every actress has to be. But as an agent I can’t do anything about it, so I’m going to take the hot looking 22 year old blonde.

Same thing with Tough Enough. I don’t know how common that sort of injury is in wrestling, but given the fact the Tough Enough judges thought most wrestlers would work through that, I’d assume it’s pretty common. If he can’t deal with that sort of pain, he’s not going to make it on the road, so there’s no point keeping him. That sucks, but the way to change the situation is what I talked about in question 12, not the Tough Enough decision making process.

13. What was your favorite year to be a wrestling fan, and why?

Every year is a fun year to be a wrestling fan. Even if the key American promotions aren’t doing as well, there are always plenty of alternatives. You can study a different era, you can look overseas, or you can figure out how to turn around the key American promotions. Wrestling’s always great if you’re genuinely interested in learning as much about it as you can. That said, I do wish the current American scene were more like it was in 1997, when you had three entertaining products and lots of really exciting stuff.

14. Everyone keeps whining about how WWE needs to create new stars. Of course that is true, but in my opinion, no one will be allowed to get over as long as HHH has the power he has. What is your opinion on the power HHH wields in WWE, and how harmful/beneficial he is to the company?

Up until just a couple months ago, I was of the opinion that Triple H played too many politics backstage, but still needed to be kept around and kept strong since he was a solid performer and one of WWE’s biggest stars. I think very frequently the wrestling community is quick to vilify someone, and in doing so they become unobjective in critiquing them. I think Triple H has value to the company as a performer, just like Hogan. But, that doesn’t matter if he acts as much more than just a performer. Recently I have come to the conclusion that Triple H just does too much damage with his backstage politicking.

I now think the WWE would be better off getting rid of him altogether. The optimal situation would be to keep him around but knock out his influence and use him to help get other guys over. However, that isn’t happening. So he needs to go in order to turn around the company. He’s a cancer. He has cut off so many rising stars in the past couple of years that it would be funny were it not so troubling. You can just follow the machinations of backstage politics through the way hot characters are treated. It’s like WCW from 1999. The “A” players are in and out, and the company puts “B” players on top. Just like Nash and Savage were counterproductive as headliners then, HHH and Undertaker are counterproductive as headliners now.

WWE needs to build around fresh headliners, and instead it uses the same recycled guys they have been using for years. That needs to change. What makes matters worse is that Triple H is overtly trying to keep anyone from taking his spot. In doing so, he is making it hard to ever pull the trigger on a new push, because wrestlers are ruined before they get to that point. Overall, HHH does great harm to the WWE’s product, and more importantly, to its future. WWE would be better off without him.

15. Which of the following scenarios do you predict will play out this year concerning Bill Goldberg?

A. He’ll cause a huge resurgence in WWE business for the long haul
B. He’ll be misused, buried without him knowing it, and end up a major disappointment
C. He’ll pop a few good buyrates, but soon fans will catch on to his poor ring work and turn against him, ala Scott Steiner
D. He’ll butt heads with all the politicking backstabbers backstage, and quit halfway into his contract
E. Other (please specify)

B and then D. This week’s Observer talks about how Rock is scheduled to feud with Goldberg over the next month. That is such a horrible idea. Rock is going to cut off all of Goldberg’s momentum just like he did to Austin. Goldberg needs to come in as an avenging face to stop a menacing heel that has serious heat. Rock has no heat at all on him. He’s a comedy figure, and practically a babyface at that. That character is an atrocious matchup for Goldberg, and it will hinder all his future programs. He’ll be buried by the end of the year, and considered a disappointment.

At that point he’ll start getting frustrated with the politics like he was in WCW, and he’ll quit. He couldn’t get along with Russo in WCW. There’s no way he’ll be able to get along with HHH in WWE. He doesn’t need the money, so he’ll likely just leave the American wrestling business, possibly for good. That said, the potential is there for him to have a major impact on business long term. I don’t think he’s a poor worker in the sense that Steiner is, and the fans genuinely like him. If they can put serious heat on a heel, Goldberg is a great top face. He also is just about the only top star in American wrestling that hasn’t been tainted. The only possible danger was his heel turn, and everyone has forgotten about that by now. My pessimism on his return is predicated on the fact WWE has already blown so many big money angles, and this is going to be harder to pull off, not easier. If I were booking his return, I’m confident it would do big business. But WWE couldn’t even make WWF vs. WCW work.

16. Who screwed Bret?

Julie and perhaps Sunny. No seriously, I’m not that adamantly in the “Bret screwed Bret” camp or the “Vince screwed Bret” champ. I’m sympathetic to some degree towards both men, and I feel both men also acted like jerks. For Vince to treat such a loyal employee the way he did was just wrong. But I don’t completely dismiss the argument that Vince was worried about protecting his company and his title. I’ve read the Observer’s analysis saying why Bret wouldn’t take the WWF Title to WCW. However, regardless of any rationality, Vince feared Eric Bischoff and hated Eric Bischoff. Bischoff wasn’t above anything, and Vince was in a very precarious situation at that point in time. Only a creep would treat Bret Hart the way Vince did, but sometimes you’ve got to be a creep to succeed in the way Vince has over the years, particularly when you’re down and out.

As for Bret, I don’t see why he couldn’t have dropped the title in Canada. He didn’t have to lose clean by submission. Losing a hard fought battle to Shawn after interference from Hunter wouldn’t have done any damage to Bret on his way to WCW. Just because he had the right to use the creative control clause doesn’t mean it was morally justified. He should have been willing to put over the company’s choice for champion at the time they wanted, even if Shawn was a prick. So what if Shawn wouldn’t put Bret over? Bret should have proved he was the better man. That’s not to mention the fact that Bret assaulted Vince after the show. In the wrestling context, screwing a performer out of a match seems like a much bigger deal than the sort of violence we see every week on TV. However, a criminal court would see things very differently. Punching people, spitting on them and breaking monitors is not a very mature way to deal with a crummy situation. Bret didn’t exactly handle the situation very maturely in the years that followed either. Then again, Vince really hurt Bret personally, and it’s hard not to sympathize with Bret regardless.

The whole situation is so tragic. I still watch Wrestling with Shadows every once and a while, and it makes me so sad. Bret Hart was one of my two favorite wrestlers when I first became a fan, along with Mr. Perfect. Bret wanted to leave a wonderful legacy, and he was so close. Yet it all fell apart like something out of a Greek tragedy. Vince acted like a monster towards a man he once viewed almost like a son. And over what? The stupid finish to one match. It’s depressing.

17. What is the greatest match you have ever seen? If you can’t narrow it down, name the top contenders.

Oh man. I’ll save you another long answer on this one and just say Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13. It was an exciting match, it told a great story, and an argument can be made that it was the key catalyst in creating the biggest boom period in the history of American wrestling.

18. In my opinion, the biggest hidden, untapped goldmine in wrestling is the huge, extensive collection of old wrestling videos sitting in Titan Towers. He’s got WWWF, 80s/90s WWF, hundreds of PPVs, NWA, WCW, and will eventually have ECW, AWA, and probably UWF. I have so many ideas about how to turn that stuff into millions. How would you capitalize on that video library if you were in Vince’s position?

I was just thinking about that yesterday. The problem is I don’t know how much it costs to transfer an old video on to DVD, or to try to sell it in stores. So I’m at a disadvantage when it comes to the economic realities of the situation. That said, I would get someone who really follows the business, and would be able to tell you which shows are the best from each group. I would make them available in DVD format on the website, and I would advertise it on TV. After a couple of months, I would study which DVDs sold well and which ones didn’t. I would then find DVDs like the ones that sold well and make them available in stores as a special line. I would then put out different lines at later times. For example, a line of NWA tapes from 1986-1989, a line of AWA tapes from 1978-1982, a line of ECW tapes from 1994-1997 and so on. You could have wrestlers do special commentary tracks for their old matches in other promotions, and you could have short mini-documentaries on what made each period tick.

It would encourage hardcore fans to collect all of them before moving to the next group, and you could sell them in boxed sets as well. By choosing just the best tapes, people would know after seeing a few of them that they are all must see. I think the money in this sort of plan is getting a smaller group of fans to pay large amounts of money, as opposed to a larger group of fans paying a smaller amount of money. I don’t think WWE will ever take advantage of that collection, however. Vince doesn’t want to acknowledge WWF’s history, let alone the history of other products. Maybe he’ll burn all the old tapes so in 50 years there will be no evidence that his story of wrestling history isn’t true.

19. Like anyone who has common sense, you’re a Russo detractor. What is the single most disgraceful, damaging thing you’ve ever seen Vince Russo do to the wrestling industry?

I can only choose one? Now there’s a Top 100 List. Just thinking about it makes me angry. I’m objective in my thought process towards every figure in wrestling except that man. I loathe him for what he has done to this business, and I think I might actually physically attack him if I ever met him. My choice has to be when he put the WCW Title on himself and then vacated it. What unbelievable disrespect to the industry, and no conceivable upside.

20. And finally… you’ve just been given a $50 million budget to run your own wrestling promotion, and you’ll have a prime time, weekly TV slot on a visible cable network. Based on all the free agent wrestlers (i.e., non-WWE guys) around, what 5 wrestlers would you build around? And what 3 non-wrestling personalities (i.e. Ventura, Zbysko, Tenay, etc) would you use in on-camera roles?

Oh man, this is another subject I could write pages and pages about. If I had a $50 million budget, I would immediately devote a large portion of it to raid a couple of key WWE figures. They don’t necessarily have to be top guys, but they need to be guys with upward potential. If I couldn’t conceive of them as main eventers, I wouldn’t try to sign them. Both WWF and WCW did too much raiding without an idea of how to use the stolen talent. With a startup company, I wouldn’t have the flexibility to spend $750,000 on a Dustin Runnels or Rick Rude. I would create a long term plan, and sell the WWE guys on it. Benoit, Jericho and others jumped to WWF for less money because they thought they would have more opportunity. I’m convinced they would seriously consider jumping again if convinced the new promotion was on the rise.

Another problem is that the guys I would want to bring in from Mexico and Japan are no more available than the WWE guys. I would try to work out a deal to bring in Bob Sapp from time to time, and book him like Andre the Giant. But I don’t think I would be successful in getting him. TNA hasn’t done a particularly good job of utilizing the guys they have brought in, but I think by and large they have brought in the right guys. Of the United States guys that are not in the WWE, I would push Raven, Low Ki, AJ Styles, Ron Killings and Konnan the strongest. I would be forced by necessity to put together a smaller roster, so the size of these guys wouldn’t matter all that much.

I would make Raven the heel champ, and I would spend the first 6 months of the promotion getting heat on him as champ. I would give him a gang of heels on his side like the Flock/Nest, and have them bail him out of tough situations constantly. I would give him a lot of time to cut promos, and leverage to go in whatever direction he wants. I think he can do promos as well as anyone else in the United States, and I would exploit that.

Without a Bob Sapp to bring in, I would use Low Ki as the most unique figure on the show. I would portray him as a mysterious shooter, like a more realistic version of Taz in ECW. He would come out in a UFC type robe, with a hood covering his head and an entire team ala MMA. Occasionally I would bring in real shooters to second him and give him credibility. I would have him never lose, and win matches with all sorts of different submissions. His opponents would frequently be stretchered out. I would never have him speak, and instead I would utilize his in-ring ability. I would never label him a “cruiserweight” or make any mention of his size. I would generally keep him out of the ring with really large guys. I would also tell him to take it a little easier on his body. He would be a tweener, and I would see how the fans react to him. I suspect he eventually would be a top face, but I would let the crowd dictate his portrayal.

AJ Styles would be one of my top heels. I would use him as a cocky arrogant heel, out of the mold of a Matt Hardy or John Cena mold. He would have a sort of double personality, sometimes acting really cool and uncaring, while at other times becoming really violent and sinister. I would feud him with Konnan as the top undercard feud. I would groom Styles to eventually be my champ, but the crowd needs to be conditioned to view him as that sort of star first.

Ron Killings would be the top face for the group at first. I would give him a lot of interview time, and have him knock the WWE and talk about why my promotion is better. He would be the classic lone wolf character, who would reject help from other babyfaces, and go about his missions on his own. I would try to get a hip-hop star to endorse him as The Truth at a major PPV, but only if a top name were available. I would have Raven and his group frequently get the best of Killings, but Killings would keep coming back for more.

Konnan would be a major face, and I would use him to try to bring in a Hispanic audience. I would have him use both English and Spanish in his promos, and have him constantly switch up his look and lingo to portray him as a really cool character. He would be similar to his role in WCW in 1998, only I would put him over so the fans wouldn’t think of him as a loser. I also would give him a lot of time to talk. You need characters that will get the fans immediately interested in them, and the best way to do that is by cutting awesome promos.

My three non-wrestling personalities would all be in the broadcast team. I would use a three man team, with Mike Tenay, Jesse Ventura and Bas Rutten. Tenay is the no-brainer voice of the promotion, who would bring credibility to the product and sell the main storylines. He has done such a fantastic job in TNA. Ventura would be around in order to gain media coverage. It’s important a new promotion get a buzz going for it, and if you do that through the signing of a wrestler, it’s going to have to be a washed up star who would drag down the promotion. Ventura could bring publicity to the promotion, and it sounds like he is interested in getting back into wrestling if the arrangements are right. Plus, if he kept up with the storylines, I think a genuine heel commentator has been needed in the American scene for years. The hip heel commentator was entertaining for a while, but you need someone in there who tries to really get the crowd fired up about the future matches. Ventura was always very good at that. Bas Rutten is the most entertaining commentator in wrestling or MMA today, and I would give him a chance to parlay that into professional wrestling announcing. He has a great sense of humor, and is really bright, so I think he could really do a good job getting over the product. He also would add legitimacy to the product, which I would treat a lot more seriously than WWE. Less jokes, less humor, and more serious issues.

Whew, did ya get all that? That was a whole Todd Martin column by itself, and that’s a good thing. If you want more, check out the archives at www.wrestlingobserver.com, and you’ll learn a whole lot. Thanks a million to Todd for agreeing to our interview.