Writer's Note: 'Sup, Lords of Pain? I am currently in the middle or preparing a series which will run here in the Columns Section of LoP and on the new LoP Radio, which launched a couple of days ago with an Interview with Christopher Daniels. As I am busy putting that all together (no spoilers but it will be a ten part series in the build-up to SummerSlam)I have decided to repost this column I wrote for the UK vs US tournament last year. Unfortunately it wasn't quite enough for me to win my match-up but it remains one of the favourite columns I have written. It is very different to my normal stuff but hopefully you will enjoy.
To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man
There is no phrase more fitting for the journey on which I am about to embark. You see, I am on a mission to be the best damn fighter the world has ever seen. I am not alone in that quest, though. There are people just like me in every corner of the globe. Their goal is simple. They are already viewed, in their region, as the best. Now they strive to become the very best of the best. Their motivations are all very different. Some are in this for the fame, some for the money, and these are the pure ones compared to the guys who are looking for revenge. Some are out just to prove that their style is the greatest. Others do it the name of patriotism. There is nothing more noble than going to battle for your country but, essentially, everybody does it for themselves. I am no different. I could tell you a great back story on my motivation for doing this; there is definitely one there, but frankly it doesn’t matter. The only thing that does is that I am doing this so I can become the man.
And I am definitely ready. I am in tip top condition having completed my training - a training that was intense, both mentally and physically. Many of the opponents I will meet up with will scoff at the fighting style I have mastered but they will underestimate me at their peril. I may not have been taught my art by a grand master or cool sensei who can instill fear despite his age, but I can still go. They say guys like me are just generic and mass produced these days in the hope of catching the eye of one of the big feds in the US but the fact is, we are all born out of catch-as-catch-can and once my mission is complete, it will be impossible to ignore me. You can bet your life that I am going to pick up a lot of things along the way to fuse into my style, but others are going to learn from me too.
My journey is not only going to take me across the globe, it is also going to take me across time. Just as you cannot claim to be the greatest if you only dominate one region, the same can be said for dominating one era. I am a strong believer than you need to fully embrace the history of something to take it forward and that is exactly what I intend to do. I cannot even begin to count the hours and hours of scouting I have done. I need to make sure that I am fighting the right person from the right era in the right regions. Of course I had to start at home, going back to a time when wrestling ruled Saturdays and was massive compared to the empty shell it is today.
January 1980 - London, England
There was only ever going to be one choice of opponent at home. Back in this massive boom period for British wrestling, Joint Promotions ruled the roost and their booker was also the big brother of their biggest star. The only way this was going down was if it was against Big Daddy. I had studied and considered taking on the likes of Mick McManus, Rollerball Rocco and Kendo Nagasaki but even without Max Crabtree’s insistence, the choice would have been a simple one. There is probably more showmanship in British wrestling than there is anywhere else and there was no bigger showman than Shirley “Big Daddy” Crabtree. I was so enthralled by the atmosphere in Wembley Arena that I found myself watching the undercard when I should have been preparing. The star was undoubtedly World Lightweight Champion Johnny Saint and he had me wondering if I had picked the wrong man to fight. Our eyes met briefly as he returned to the lockers and it was clear he felt the same way. There was no time to dwell on it however and I soon found myself in the ring.
I could not believe the amount of heat I was drawing from the crowd that seemed to be predominantly made up of old ladies. Of course it helped that I had notorious “baddie” Giant Haystacks as my second but I think even Mother Fricking Teresa would draw heat if she was up against the Blond Giant. The nerves were really setting in as he came out to the sounds of “We Shall Not Be Moved” and I was just in awe of his sheer size as the announcements were going on. I learned a valuable lesson about remaining focused as I was immediately hit with a couple of bodychecks and a Splashdown. My journey had only just begun when I heard the words of the MC saying that I had been pinned in just 1 minute and 6 seconds of round 1. Luckily for me this match was being fought under the “2 falls, 2 submissions or a knockout” rules but I knew I had to get my head into the game and fast. I quickly learned that that was not an easy thing to do when you are are hurting, your opponent is strutting around the ring and everybody in attendance is chanting “EASY... EASY... EASY...”
Boy did I run the ropes after that. Speed was my key to keep away from the big guy’s offence and I soon saw him begin to tire. There would be more chance of winning the lottery than getting two falls over the someone that size so I knew I had to go for the knockout. This would be no easy feat but fortunately I had a weapon of mass destruction at my disposal. I knew how the business was going to evolve over the next thirty years. It was round five and I told Haystacks to distract the referee. Whilst he was doing this I ducked out of the ring and grabbed the nearest thing, which happened to be a wooden chair. I could see the look of confusion on the face of my opponent as he tried to figure out if I would actually hit him over the head with my weapon. By the time he realised the answer was “yes”, the referee had counted to ten and I had got out of dodge (taking Big Daddy’s awesome sequin Union Flag jacket with me). I got hit by at least 3 handbags running to the back and realised I needed to get out of the building as quickly as possible. I grabbed my stuff and without changing, jumped in a cab home. I had passed my first big test and, after a date against Irish Whip Wrestling’s Sheamus O'Shaunessy in a 2005 version of Dublin, I would soon be flying off for my next major test in the Land of the Rising Sun.
December 1999 - Tokyo, Japan
It felt like a long road to get here today. There was never going to be any chance of accomplishing what I wanted without conquering Japan. There is an amazing history here that I never paid attention to when I was purely a fan. Sure I had heard a lot of big names, and even seen a couple wrestle but I had to make a choice. Where would I go? When would I go? With whom would I go? There were so many things to take into consideration. All Japan or New Japan? King’s Road or Strong? And then there were the names. So many jumped out at me. Rikidōzan, Shohei Baba, Antonio Inoki, Tatsumi Fujinami, Jumbo Tsuruta, Kenta Kobashi and Keiji Mutoh all came to mind but there was one guy that I was always oh so curious about. The man who seemed to have Dave Meltzer constantly ejaculating in his pants. Mitshuharu Misawa.
The first thing you notice about the business here is just how serious it is. It is so far removed from the pantomime atmosphere back home. I have found myself in AJPW at a time where my opponent is actually President of the company following years under co-founder and legend Giant Baba. To be honest things seem unstable and it isn’t particularly clear who is running the show. I would be lying if I said I didn’t choose this moment in time to try and take advantage of any confusion in priorities Misawa might be having. On my way to the ring I noticed just how hot the crowd were, but these weren’t grannies wearing their bingo specials. No, it seemed like a good 83% of them were business men all suited up. I came out to Rule Britannia in Big Daddy’s jacket but they didn’t seem to know how to react to me. I am so used to getting the heat I am trying to draw or massive pops from the people who think it is cool to cheer the bad guy. Here I was getting pretty much a respectful round of applause. I would need turn up the obnoxious to full volume.
The first thing I notice when the match got underway was how average Misawa looked. I saw his long time rival Kenta Kobashi in the locker room before hand and he looked mighty impressive in comparison. That however was the only thing I found average about my opponent as he started to hit me with some of the hardest strikes I have felt in my life. I heard the Japanese were stiff, but damn! Thinking it would be rude not to respond in kind, I tried to go hard too (even using the bicycle kick that O’Shaunessy almost took me out with before I rolled him up for the win). He also liked a submission hold, and that was definitely more up my alley. It gave me a chance to show off some of my mat skills and more importantly try and taunt the crowd with some of Big Daddy’s “Easy” chants. Again, it didn’t have quite the desired effect but at least this time you could tell that they didn’t like it. I was soon getting my arse handed to me again, however, to the point where I was enjoying getting planted on my face, just to get a break from being dropped on the back of my head. Somehow I managed to stay (barely) conscious and make a fight back on nothing but adrenaline and desire. I can’t remember a great deal about how we got to the finish but I know I ended it by coming off the top rope and planting my knee firmly in Misawa’s head. The crowd seemed pretty appreciative of my victory and by that stage I was so out of it and confused to try and convince them otherwise. I just lay there next to an amazing opponent and soaked it all in.
February 2012 - Back home
It’s a month since I defeated Misawa and I can still feel the effects of the match on every part of my body. I have one week to rest before I can move on to the next stage of my journey but it really was a hectic thirty days following my big moment in the Tokyo Dome. I had a much easier time of it in Down Under in 1976 as I defeated World Championship Wrestling’s NWA Austra-Asian Heavyweight Champion, Ron Miller. This is where I met a man who would become my manager for the remainder of my journey. Skandor Akbar was just what I needed to help me in mastering the art of heel. I felt I had failed in that respect in Japan and didn’t want that to happen again. It certainly didn’t in Cape Town as I defeated Shaun Koen of the African Wrestling Alliance in the mid-90s. South Africa actually reminded me a lot of home with all the grannies, and boy did they hate me and Skandor. In between the big fights it was training as usual. Only this time I wasn’t pumping weights. I spend every available minute going over the Misawa fight. There is so much that I can learn from him and so many moves I can incorporate into my style.
July 1958 - Mexico City, Mexico
Just like Japan, there was no shortage of legendary wrestlers to take on in Mexico but, even then, the final choice wasn’t a hard one. Mil Mascaras, Gory Guerrero and Blue Demon would all have made for more than worthy adversaries, as would El Hijo Del Santo but it is his father, El Santo, who is the icon I needed to face, even if it meant going back further than I had ever been before. Whereas Japan was definitely different to what I was used to, what I experienced in the 50s version of Arena Mexico was just a total culture shock. The crowds everywhere I went absolutely loved what they were watching, but here in the Empresa Mexicana de la Lucha Libre they seemed take their fandom a step further. It was as if they lived and breathed everything that their heroes do, and hero seems to be the perfect word here.
Whatever I did on this day, I would have been the heel but still the little things like my flashy jacket had that much more impact in a different era and culture. I debuted a new nickname in the EMLL. “The World Warrior” was absolutely hated by the fans in attendance, even before I walked through the curtain. As much fun as riling them up was, though, I had to be all business in the ring. Whereas Daddy was big and awkward and Misawa was stiffer than Ron Jeremy after a handful of blue pills, Santo was silky smooth and as quick as a cat. I have more stamina than almost everyone I know but he had me breathing heavy from less than a minute in. El Santo wrestled for five decades and I immediately regretted not choosing an older incarnation of this lucha icon. It wasn’t just about the conditioning either. When we weren’t running around the ring, the guy was stretching me seven ways ‘til Sunday. I was not expecting to find myself on the mat more in this lucha battle than I did in a puroresu one but that’s what was happening.
I needed to find an answer to throw Santo off his game and fortunately I had the perfect solution. There is nothing more important for a luchadore than his mask and in typical heel fashion I tried to exploit that. Whenever he was on the offensive, I would grab at it. With every deep arm drag I would get a little more of the infamous silver mask and he soon began adapting his offence to deal with that. By this point I was finding myself becoming more and more comfortable with the high paced quick turnover of moves and I was mixing it up with some of the stiff strikes and kicks that I picked up in Japan. The more I landed, the slower the pace of the match became. Santo knew the tide was turning in my favour and tried to end it, landing another one of his slick arm drags and going for his trademark diving headbutt. I was waiting for it, however, and locked him into his own finisher (it had hurt me so much earlier in the match, I knew it would get the job done), the camel clutch. He tried desperately to get free and hung on in the for way longer that I thought he could have but eventually the submission victory was mine. He gave me a great rub after the match by extending his hand. I would normally have kept true to my heel self and slapped him or something but I decided to accept the handshake with just how hardcore the pro-Santo the crowd looked like they could get. Backstage he told me about how he was breaking into the movie business and how “Santo” would become its own franchise. I feel like in one day with this legend I have learnt so much both in the ring and away from it.
December 1988 - On the Road
Here I sit in a shitty Cadillac that Skandor is driving on the way to my date to destiny. Sure, it’s a shit heap of a yankee vehicle for such an important event but it’s all the hire company had. It’s only been a couple of weeks since my battle with Santo but it already feels like an eternity. From there I went to 1984 San Juan to take on the WWC Universal Heavyweight Champion, Carlos Colon. There was no worry about not getting the heat I needed here. The crowd were as hot for their hero as anywhere I have ever seen (even Mexico) and that just helped me heel it up to the max. When Akbar hit Colon with the ring bell and I followed it up with Global Domination (the Bridging German Suplex pin finisher I had picked up from Misawa) it literally caused a riot. I have never had to leave anywhere in such a hurry in my life. I actually had to wear a disguise to travel to the airport as I flew out for my next match in Canada.
Up in Stampede in 1972, I actually had the pleasure of staying in Stu Hart’s house, sleeping just above the infamous dungeon. What a crazy place that was. The eldest kids were just getting into the business and Bret was an awkward 15-year-old. During my short stay I heard Smith, Bruce, Keith and Bret all screaming during trips downstairs with dad. Out of the dungeon though he seemed like a great father who loved his kids to death, including a very cheeky 7-year-old Owen. I wasn’t in Calgary for the Harts though; it was for a match against Colon’s bitter rival, Abdullah the Butcher. This guy was so evil that I actually got massive face pops in the Stampede Corral. For one night only, The World Warrior was a hero. Only in Canada, right? I actually tried to end the match quickly with the same trick I used on Big Daddy but Abdullah didn’t even flinch as the chair smashed into pieces over his head. I took as bad a beating as I did in the Tokyo Dome but after brawling all over ringside, I managed to sneak back in the ring for the count-out victory. Maybe a little cheap but it sent the crowd home happy and it left a bit in the tank for me as I would head towards the final battle to take on the big boss. With all the obstacles out of the way, I would have my moment to go to battle with my M Bison.
This final match will be what my journey all comes down to. This will be for all the marbles and I will need to use everything I have learnt so far if I want to survive. Big Daddy’s showmanship, Misawa’s move set, Santo’s silky smooth execution and Abdullah’s brawling have all added layers to my game. That still might not be enough though but fortunately I have a trick up my sleeve. Skandor has a little something that he has been teaching me throughout our journey and I plan on using this to end the match tonight. Nobody, least of all my opponent will be expecting a fireball. I am going over the execution over and over again as I fall asleep. Getting that right is all that stands between me and fulfilling legacy. It feels like it is only five minutes later that Skandor wakes me up but it was actually five hours.
We are almost there and as we approach the arena, all I can hear is that one immortal phrase repeating over and over again...