Sunday, October 21, 2007

Restoring Wrestling's Pride from CNY

2007 has largely been a black eye on the professional wrestling world. Amid steroid controversies, a rash of injuries to superstars like champions John Cena and Edge (Adam Copeland), and even a murder-suicide involving one of the industry's biggest stars. The series of obstacles faced by the sports entertainment business this year has led to declining television ratings. Less than a month after the Chris Benoit incident, World Wrestling Entertainment's flagship show, Monday Night Raw, experienced a 10-percent decrease in viewers. A few months later, World Wrestling Entertainment announced the suspensions of several top stars for violating the company's wellness policy.

From a national perspective, it would seem that little can be done in Central New York to put a more positive spin on professional wrestling. Look harder. A few of the more upstanding characters in professional wrestling today connect to this very region. And if you want to help restore the pride, you can "learn the ropes"; figuratively and literally, in Central New York. It is often overlooked, but Central New York is as much a pipeline for the wrestling industry as anywhere, with the exception of the Carolinas, perhaps.

One Syracuse University alumnus can be heard bringing WWE's Friday Night Smackdown to living rooms each week. Sean Coulthard, known by wrestling aficionados as Michael Cole, graduated from SU in 1988. After spending the early 90's covering presidential elections and the conflict in Sarajevo, among other events, he jumped to the then-World Wreslting Federation in 1997. Since his time in the news industry, Michael Cole has had various roles in wrestling broadcasting, most of it coming alongside color commentator and former wrestler Tazz on Smackdown's broadcast crew. Apparently, Cole has even become a topic on Saturday Night Live (See photo).

Another Syracuse University Alumnus, who actually wrestled "for real" at SU, had a decorated career in the industry, and today is directly responsible for elements of WWE programming. Mike Rotunda, known by fans as Mike Rotundo, IRS, and Mr. Wallstreet among other monikers, is currently a road producer for WWE, as he continues to work in the industry in which he achieved great success in the 1980's and 1990's.

(Photo at Left is Courtesy of Mick Foley's Official MySpace Profile)

Another character- make that group of characters- went to SUNY-Cortland, for a little while at least. Mick Foley, the man behind the characters Mankind, Cactus Jack, and Dude Love, attended Cortland until he failed out of the school. The state of New York acted as somewhat of a launchpad for Foley's blast-off to wrestling stardom; Foley actually hitchhiked to Madison Square Garden to see WWE Hall of Famer Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka wrestle a match that is believed to have inspired Foley's career pursuit. No word yet on whether or not Mr. Socko hails from New York.

Since entertaining Foley, Jimmy Snuka has been slammed to the mat by Zaquary Springate, who is the head trainer at the Institute of Professional Wrestling in Liverpool. Springate teaches all aspects of wrestling, from interviewing to backstage etiquette, giving Central New Yorkers the chance to follow stars like Foley and Cole to the highest level of sports entertainment. Anyone over 18 years of age can find out if they have what it takes to be a wrestler, but there is a fee. The training is connected to the independent wrestling organization known as 2CW, or Squared Circle Wrestling. The brand puts on shows around the region, with shows in Rochester and Binghamton in early November; both of which will feature Springate in matches, as well as former ECW and WWF star Spike Dudley, who now wrestles under the name Matt Hyson. A show in Syracuse is also scheduled for December 29.

At its highest level, the WWE has made Syracuse a frequent stop on the schedule. The Onondaga County War Memorial at OnCenter hosted the first WWF "In Your House" pay-per-view event back in 1995, where stars like Bret Hart, The Undertaker, and the late Bam Bam Bigelow displayed their talents. The stars of WWE's Monday Night Raw are scheduled to bring their abilities back to the War Memorial shortly after the turn of the new year. A house show, which means a show that will not air on television, that was supposed to have happened in late September, will run on January 18. The show was rescheduled after a number of wrestlers were suspended for violating WWE's wellness plan; some top talent was also injured at the time as well, such as "The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels and former ECW World Champion Bobby Lashley.

Not only does modern wrestling have links back to Central New York, but the area is closely tied to wrestling's history books as well. The Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame is not far away in Schenectady, New York. Among the Hall of Famers are a couple early heroes of wrestling with ties to Central New York. Dick "The Destroyer" Beyer is another wrestler who is also a former SU student and SU football player. Len Rositano, who wrestled under "Len Rossi," is a Utica native, and a recipient of the Hall of Fame's New York State Award, which is awarded to wrestlers who have "made significant contributions to the sport of professional wrestling in the PWHF's home state of New York."

Wrestling has taken its bumps in 2007, but expecting the industry to continuously pump out pop-cultural phenomena like Hulk Hogan, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, and The Rock may be a bit too much to ask, even from the WWE. But despite the obstacles, wrestling has shown it can ascend again, and again.

And it can do so in this very region. With connections to current wrestling personalities, a training school, independent professional wrestling, wrestling pioneers, and a shrine commemorating some of the brightest stars in the history of the industry, there are few places with more appreciation for steel cages, ladders, tables, chairs, and the men who put their careers on the line every night to entertain the fans.

Central New York is a great place for the bell to sound.


Tracy Kracker said...

Good job, Doug. I liked the story. It was well written, and you had good transitions from topic to topic. Only suggestion I would make here is to start the paragraph after the video with "Wrestling's highest level, the WWE,...", but that's just a suggestions. Also, at the very beginning. The second sentence isn't a complete sentence. I think you just need to change some punctuation. Also, I read some things and had questions that should have been answered by the links, but they weren't working. I have the list of those not working, or you can just check through them yourself. On some of the other links, I don't know if the link to the alumni list for Mike Cole os really necessary. Maybe a link to his bio would be better. Also, I don't get the link you put on Foley attending Cortland until he failed. I did like the video. That was cool. These are mainly just technical things. Overall, I really enjoyed the story, at least as much as I could.

Sujata Khandelwal said...

Even though I am not at all a wrestling fan, I found the story interesting. After the Chris Benoit incident, it seems like wrestling has been given some more press.

I didn't know there was a wrestling school right here in CNY. I also didn't know that many wrestlers come from the Carolinas.

I enjoyed the links to Hulk Hogan and The Rock. I admit...I actually watched their entrance videos into the ring.