Q & A
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Your Z-questions Anzwered
"I let Callous throw me around for 5 minutes. They wanted me to do the Rocky comeback - y'know, where the babyface makes a final rally to get the crowd behind him. I told Callous - "No comeback! Let's go right into the finish!"
Q. - Were your fights generally choreographed? Did you like them to be thought through before going into the ring?
Z. - It's generally a matter of professional pride NOT to choreograph a match beforehand. Being able to work a match in the ring without preparation is the end-result of a long period of journeyman work.
The only thing that's really worked out in advance is the finish. The booker decides the finish according to who he's pushing and who he's not. What's on the marquee is wrestling, and "to get over, you have to beat people." On the other hand, to bury someone, you book them to get beat. "Getting beat" kills your career - the most recent proof for both sides of this formula is Goldberg.
The booker tells you beforehand the finish and the time you've got in the ring. If he wants to get both men over, he gives them plenty of time to work the match and sell each other's moves. The most valuable thing on TV is TIME - time to get your character over with the audience and that means lots of interview time also. Every minute is precious on TBS and whether you get TV time or not depends on the booker.
If the booker wants to bury someone, he gives them just a few minutes in the ring. A good example is when Ole [Anderson] booked me to put Vader over>. He gave 5 minutes for the match - and then signalled to 'go home' after just 2 minutes - too little time to do anything except sell Vader's spots. The point of the match was to put the 'hot heel' over - so the high spots had to be all Vader's. And my job was to sell them.
A good match should include a series of high spots - great moves or bumps. People can only pay attention for so long, so you need action and shock value, like Howard Stern. If you're one of the booker's chosen favorites he'll put you on when the crowd is still fresh. Some of the TV tapings we did at Gainesville involved 30 or 35 matches at a time. The bookers try and get their buddies out the door in the first few hours. But if the booker wants to kill your heat, he'll put you on at the very end - when the crowd is worn out. The TV fans won't know. They'll think you're lousy and can't draw heat. In return, when Pillman and I worked together we'd do what we could to wear the crowd out so that people like Flair and Sting couldn't follow. That really got to Flair who always liked to steal the show.
Traditionally it's the job of the guy playing heel to lead the match - and determine the pace and the flow, etc. So if you see a bad match, blame the heel as well as the booker. If a match isn't going over well, if the heel isn't leading well, then the opponent or the referee may suggest speeding it up or adding high spots, or the ref can become involved himself. In Japan the referee often calls the high spots. As a general rule there should be at least 3 high spots per match.
In the ring, the wrestlers and the ref communicate with each other using 'carney' - that's where you insert 'iza' and 'weza' etc into words to form a sort of Pig Latin. So you can make suggestions to improve the match without the audience understanding.
Generally you're booked with an opponent for a 'program' - a series of matches developing an angle or feud or leading to a PPV. That gives you a bit of time to get familiar with your opponent's style and perfect your high spots together - but always on the night, not with any formal rehearsal. I worked a six month program with Austin preparing him for Dustin. Dusty had his son booked to take the belt from Flair and this was to be Flair's ultimate humiliation. Austin and I basically did the same thing every night with a little gimmick, now and then, to add interest.
With skilled workers like Harley Race, Bobby Eaton or The Dynamite Kid (Tom Billington), if they're playing heel, it's a matter of following them and selling their work and adding your own inputs, like reversals and comebacks. Guys like Race are such smooth ring workers that you need to keep a close eye on them to see what's coming next and then sell it for all it's worth - or reverse it, if you think that'll help the rhythm of the match. One time I was working to get Scott Norton over as a monster heel after he'd just arrived in WCW. I told him to give me a sort of beale throw - and then launched my body from one side of the ring to the other. The audience is left thinking "what a strong guy Norton must be" to throw a 240 pound wrestler around like a rag doll.
My professional training is to put over ANYONE. But, whenever I was being jobbed out gratuitously or as punishment by the bookers, I'd resist by not working out beforehand, or refusing to make a comeback in the ring or by ending the match early. One time they asked me to put "Mean" Mark Callous [later 'The Undertaker'] over - there was 10 minutes for the match. I didn't respect the booker, I think it was Ole. I told him "Are you sure you really need that much time in there tonight? You could have them beat me quicker if you like." I let Callous throw me around for 5 minutes. They wanted me to do the Rocky comeback - y'know, where the babyface makes a final rally to get the crowd behind him. I told Callous - "No comeback! Let's go right into the finish!" Bob Roop [the road agent] was mad about it - "What the hell was that. In all my 25 years in the business, I've never seen a babyface NOT make a comeback." I denied them the comeback - and then I denied them the chance to comeback at me by pretending I was real excited about the match - "Was that good - did I get him over strong enough?" Pillman came in with his hand over his mouth laughing. We felt they were trying to kill our attitude. They wanted us to react like prima donnas. But I was facetious instead of complaining, I reckoned that way I was pushing their buttons rather than the other way round. I'm afraid I was never very couth about kissing butt.
Selling for Sid - an upwards leap to sell Sid's choke slam.
It was the same with Page Falkenburg [DDP] - a rollerblader not a wrestler - I could never respect Page. When I worked with him, he hadn't paid his dues. He owed his push entirely to a payoff from Bischoff. Ugly unfit guys try to boost themselves by beating credible wrestlers, preferably good looking built guys. I was never going to play along with that. When I was booked to put them over, I deliberately looked bad - I mean why should I workout to make them look good? As I said before, my professional instinct is to put over ANYONE but not the boss's son nor the boss's pimp. In these cases, I reasoned, these guys are messing with my career - if they want to kick a piece of crap, then I'll give them a piece of crap.
In my opinion, the most difficult wrestlers to work with are the ones who plan the entire match before-hand, move by move and then rehearse it. Some even go so far as to ask their opponent to fax their moves well in advance of the night. In my opinion, that's about as far away from pro-wrestling as you can get. It's incredibly difficult to work like that. I mean, there they are with their scripted match prepared hours, days, even weeks before-hand and there you are trying to take your cues from the crowd to build an exciting match. You don't let the crowd decide the pace or get rattled by them - but you take what they give you, go with the flow and build on it. So with someone who's already choreographed the match, you're doing two different dances and stepping on each other's toes. Harder still when they're playing heel and supposed to be leading and they're paying no attention to the crowd.........
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