One is a newcomer to it. The other is a grizzled veteran. Two of our editors discuss their interest in wrestling.
News Co-Editor and Copy Editor
So this summer I did a bad thing. A very bad thing. I dipped my feet into wrestling, and ended up getting really into it. With the help of fellow paper editor and wrestling fanatic Scott Saffran, I was guided through the wonderful world of wrestling (or sports entertainment depending on who you are). We decided to co-write an interview style article in order to discuss me getting into wrestling, as well as what makes it so great, hopefully to get other people interested. The interview ran a solid 30 minutes long, but we unfortunately had to omit a lot from the print version of this article. Here is the full uncensored 30 minute interview that we had. We hope it gets you just as interested in this crazy world as us. -Nick
Scott: Alright so you did a bad thing this summer.
Nick: I did.
S: What did you do?
N: Got real into wrestling.
S: How did you get into wrestling.
N: I was bored one day, wanted to watch something and tv shows were just not doing it for me, and I heard a lot about this show Lucha Underground from my favorite podcast. So I watched the first episode, and then I watched five episodes in a row.
S: And you enjoyed it.
N: I loved it. The first episode just drew me in. Especially the last fight, Puma vs Mundo, after that I knew I wanted to watch more. And then I kinda kept watching, and by episode 10 I was in.
S: See Lucha Underground, I think I started watching, not watching but keeping up with, because i didn’t have the means to watch it, but followed it 2 years ago, in about 2015, which would put me close to a decade of really watching and being obsessed with wrestling. I really like it and dig it, and I am glad its a good gateway for people.
N: Oh its a fantastic gateway. It just eases you in, and its just fun enough. The problem I can see with mainstream wrestling is not knowing where to start. Lucha Underground has an episode 1, and feels like a TV show. Every episode introduces something new, a new wrestler, match style, story development. It makes you want to watch what’s next.
S: Oh yeah its very successful in building a world for itself. And from a wrestling perspective lucha libra is very entertaining to watch, and it eases you in better than the slower, more technical pacing, with the more eye-catching, hi-flying style. And even more in general there is much tighter writing than so many other promotions who force themselves into live shows every week and have to subject themselves to people getting hurt. Y’know the writings absolutely all over the place and they change things constantly and nothing makes sense, and you have to be committed to enjoy it.
N: Oh its madness and I love it. I like the way the high flying nature just called me in. Just watching it and being like that was fucking awesome.
S: Yeah when someone does a double flip in the air, like how can you not be.
N: Or like when someone just zero gravities in the air on someone. And just seeing it, it kinda just draws you in. I don’t know how to describe it, but it kinda just pulls you in and makes you excited to watch more. And one thing I really did like was that it makes you invested in the wrestlers. Even watching Lucha Underground, where Prince Puma never talked the entire first season and so far the same through the second season, I’m still 100% behind him, even though he hasn’t said a word. It can non-verbally just get behind a wrestler, and you just want to see them win, and do more.
S: Paul Heyman, who is probably the smartest man to ever engage in professional wrestling had a philosophy that you hide the weaknesses and show the strengths. That sounds like the most obvious thing in the world, but to hundreds of various promoters, writers, and bookers, in pro wrestling over the 75 years it has been present in pop-culture, 95 percent of those people don’t know what to do with that. And whats successful about Lucha Underground is that they tend to adhere to that policy. Ricochet is a great dude, phenomenally talented. He cant talk to save his life. I love him, he’s a great dude, I had the pleasure of meeting him. He’s a really fun person to be around. However if you give him the microphone he just can’t do it. And yknow, when he puts on the mask as Prince Puma, and they establish his character throughout the first two seasons, he has an allure where they show his phenomenal athleticism in the ring, and he has great physique and a great look, and the mask looks cool, and thats all he sorta needs. And thats not the only way Lucha Underground has done it. You got Mil Muertes who’s just a machine. You show how strong he is. He is another strong silent type. He doesn’t have to say a lot. He doesn’t need to.
N: He’s terrifying. And he’s shorter than most wrestlers too, but just how he sells himself, you fool that he is more imposing.
S: Yeah, they’ve done it with Puma. They’ve done it with Cuerno too. You know the guy doesn’t really have that many weaknesses, but you show how incredible a performer he is in the ring, and you show that he has this ability to build a great character.
N: And his bow and arrow
S: Oh my god dude. That guy the best dive to the outside of the ring in wrestling.
N: I do also really like Son of Havoc’s dive.
S: Yeah that thing he does with his shoulders is really good.
N: Yeah, dude just goes limp. Another about it which also helped draw me in, is how outlandish it is. I love its weirdness. It feels like the most accurate comic book/video game to TV show adaption ever, with how outlandish and weird it really is. I saw someone liken it to Mortal Kombat the TV show. One of the wrestlers is legitimately a dragon. Another is a time traveler who comes from space. And then you have gangsters in there too cause why not. And you have a guy who’s whole schtick is that he’ll come back to life. And even in the ring they’ll show it by having him get up right away after being knocked down.
S: Yeah they’ve got phoenixes, bikers, undead, ninja warriors, zombie monsters. It’s great.
N: Mil Muertes and a ghost.
S: Yeah, Catrina who’s just pretty much a fucking ghost. Its great. I mean building to me is the most successful wrestling promotions. First of all they got to adapt so out of the gate you have to adapt to whatever is around. More than that, they build an atmosphere and theme that’s consistent. A style. WCW in 1996 realized that people were not down with goofy WWF shit, it was not what the mid 90’s were about culturally, and they said fuck this. And they did this really edgy reality based theme to there shows, and established it, and people went nuts because thats what felt right for the time. So your sitting at like 2015 United States. Whats the culture like. Well we are obsessed with superheroes, and fan culture, and sci-fi fantasy, so what do you do? You exploit the shit out of it. And Lucha Underground did, and they are fucking killing it. Obviously WWE holds the monopoly over wrestling, but they are really struggling with attendance now because they just can’t grasp what the American zeitgeist is at the moment. They are missing it. Whether this approach may work for WWE, but for a smaller sized independent Lucha Libre based promotion, they got it, they figured it out.
N: So these things were a draw, but they were not really what got me to stay. I am still invested, but for storytelling you have to deliver too, and Lucha always deliver and have moments that feel satisfying. Like my craze over the Vampiro moment towards the end of the first season, I fucking rewatched that scene a hundred times. Or anything with son of Havoc basically, whether it be when he defeats Anqélico for his first victory and dumps Ivelisse at the same time. Or afterwards when they all team up and as the most dysfunctional team still win the title. And even later, with Ivelisse having a broken leg they retain the tile. Its satisfying and you just feel its a good climax to the story, and the next day you can keep watching what happens next.
S: No exactly, and I hate that I have to keep coming back to shit on WWE to make Lucha look good. I’m arguing from opposites here, but its the best way to showcase how good Lucha Underground is, i wouldn’t say the two companies are competitors because Lucha Underground has a long shot from competing with WWE but where the monopoly has consistently failed is the pay off, those moments, that you talked about, WWE has been vocal that they want to have moment-based storytelling. They want crowds to pop at moments, but I don’t get how they don’t get this, but you can’t have a moment if you don’t have the build. A moment can’t happen if you don’t have the build.
N: It has to come organically too. Most of what I saw happened organically. Like Havoc who when he started out was a joke who could never win a victory and was constantly placed against the abnormal wrestlers, and his girlfriend Ivelisse would do all the talking for him. And the first time he talked was when he got an actual victory against a competitor. And it was the first time he spoke, he did his finishing move and got the victory. Before, he would take forever to do his finishing move, and he does it at the end, it just works, the whole crowd gets behind him, I get behind him. And from there, it slowly builds to having those 3 are linked together later on in the trios tournament as a joke, until they win, and it just builds up and builds up.
S: Yeah wrestling stories don’t have to be complex stories. Its usually the simplest stories that work the best. This works for anything, from movies to tv. Batman v. Superman was bad because the story did not make fucking sense. And in wrestling, its identical. Its a narrative. The point of the matches themselves, both in the matches and outside the matches, the build, the story line that connects the matches. It’s all about having a consistent narrative, and Lucha really delivers in that. Many times it can get a little all over the place, but that’s the nature with having so many different threads going on, and yeah its not always stellar. When you sit down and hash things out before just throwing people at each other in the ring, you’re gonna produce better stuff.
N: Theres a great video on Youtube called Wrestling isn’t Wrestling by Max Landis, which kinda goes into what Scott was saying. It explores Triple H and his story and says, hey wrestling is everything but wrestling, and frames Triple H as one of the best characters in any entertainment medium.
S: There are times that those long storylines really do pay off. The saga of Triple H is incredible if you follow it throughout time. However, an unfortunate reality is that sometimes these things take too long or are plagued by too many bumps in the road that you start to lose sight of the larger picture at hand, and sometimes the company will just fuck up in how they portray things, or they will not take hold of an opportunity. Like a lot of those aspects in that video, I didn’t even realize the dedicated and passionate fan I was until it was laid out in front of me. I was like that’s crazy if you think about it. Now I think this is a good point to transition. So, how did you get into the larger world of wrestling?
N: Well I got to a point in Lucha Underground where I wanted to see the other stuff out there, and from you, Reddit, a bunch of podcasts I liked, I kept getting recommended NXT.
S: Your really getting spoiled because your seeing the good shit, but man if you really stepped out of these bounds your gonna be really fucking disappointed.
N: I think I’m gonna stay in this bubble for now.
S: Yeah, NXT is phenomenal and it succeeds very much in the same ways Lucha Underground does where it creates an environment that it stays inside it. Each show is filmed in one building that they stay in, and they don’t really leave it, whereas WWE has to leave and go to all the arenas everywhere, and sometimes the crowd is the fucking worst, and sometimes its awesome.
NXT has its building at Full Sale University, and FSU has a lot of problems, but the crowd is usually always into it, which is great. But yeah, Lucha Underground has its very B movie vibe, while NXT has a very true wrestling vibe where there are very outlandish characters but at the end of the day it feels real and its very wrestling focused. They still have to use that bullshit Sports Entertainment phrase, (a couple years ago WWE switched to using the term Sports Entertainment instead of Wrestling) and they try to present it like a contest which is great, and it feels pretty retro. All of this works very well because there are a lot of fans who like that shit.
N: its interesting because I went back to watch old NXT from a couple years ago, and it looked like it was filmed with a video camera that was much cheaper and older that made it look like the 90s, and the vibe made it seem like it wasn’t a modern video production. It was interesting to watch.
S: Yeah, i don’t know if this is a good comparison but it kinda has those weird old ECW vibes. I’ve always marveled at how you compare ECW from the mid to late 90s to WWE from roughly the same period, it looks like a different world, it’s insane, it looks like its taking place in two very distinct time periods. Little less so with NXT versus WWE now though, camera quality is consistent and people aren’t as willing to dress like they are fucking idiots. So yeah its cool, NXT is fantastic. They have their problems, where they send longtime veterans from the independents there for a couple months and then kick them out, and the main event scene is always a mess.
N: And there’s a weird vibe where you can tell who’s in training and who’s not, and you definitely can tell who’s learning on the mic, whether it is in interviews or in the ring. My favorite thing though, is in the interviews, after the wrestler is done talking, they just leave and the interviewer is just standing there confused and don’t know how to react. It kinda cracks me up.
S: Yeah that can be a technique, and Velveteen Dream does that so well, because he is so fucking weird its awesome. However, to the whole vet versus rookie dynamic, where they have people who are really green, thankfully they don’t show them on TV that much, but its rough and it can be pretty dangerous sometimes. Like Hideo Itami got fucked up right after coming back from injury, he was out for a year, comes back, wrestles with two guys as green as the grass, gets fucked up again, gets hurt, and is out for a couple more months, and its risky but in the same vein its necessary. This is where you have the question of is NXT developmental, or is it a third brand of the main roster. Because you have these dudes who have been wrestling for fifteen years there, but your also trying to figure out how to train the next generation of superstars.
N: Didn’t they start it (NXT) off as a developmental thing, shut it down, and then they rebranded another lower tier thing, FCW.
S: Yeah for years they had OVW in the early to mid 2000s, which had Batista, Randy Orton, John Cena, and Brock Lesnar, and I mean if you wanted to say Shelton Benjamin. Like those are still the most recent biggest starts in WWE to come out of there. But yeah, after OVW went there own way, than came FCW to replace. Around the same time, after ECW was cancelled WWE decided to make their own game show. It was a horrible game show called NXT where rookies from FCW were brought up and they were given a pro. And eventually some of the guys sorta realized how bad it was and staring making a joke out of it, and they were like all right we need to do this for real, so WWE stopped doing it. They took FCW and brought them on full-time, they got Full-Sail, and they started a brand new brand, and Seth was the first champion.
N: Why didn’t they keep calling it FCW.
S: I think WWE wanted to put its own stamp on it. If Vince (Vince McMahon, the Chairman & CEO of WWE) is going to put his own stamp on something, it has to be his, and I think he realized with OVW that it wasn’t his. By taking FCW out of the hands of the guys down there and making it his own thing, and renaming it NXT, a thing he already has, its now his and he will never lose it, and he never will.
N: Does NXT stand for anything or just meant to sound like NEXT.
S: Yeah, its a thinly veiled NEXT.
N: Very thinly veiled.
S: Yeah but wrestling acronyms are very hard to come up with, so I’m not complaining. The first title belt was awesome, with a giant ass X center plate. Would not have worked on the main roster but really fit the vibe down there. Now they got some new great looking title belts.
S: Im glad you’ve been digging NXT.
N: I’ve been really enjoying. I started it with the most recent Takeover, (NXT hosts large event shows they call Takeovers, like Wrestlemania) and then I watched the next four episodes immediately. It was just so entertaining. I’ve never really had any interest in wrestling. Never really saw it as a me thing, but I just decided to give it a chance. Lucha Underground is on Netflix and is really accessible, and if you have any interest at all, I would recommend starting from the first episode and just go from there and see if you enjoy it, because you would be surprised honestly.
S: Yeah, I’ve got a lot of weird interests of my own, but I don’t think enough people give wrestling a shot.
N: For me its just pure fun. Sometimes you just need to watch something like that. It’s one of the only shows where I will consistently just want to watch it because there is always something going on. Every 10 minutes usually there’s another match or there’s another story line to explore. It just feels like a story where something is always happening which makes it much easier to watch and binge.
S: Yeah if you love stories, wrestling has countless, and its beautiful, its probably my greatest love. So yeah, before we end this the next frontier for you is Japanese wrestling.
N: Oh shit New Japan.
S: New Japan baby.
Five Favorite Wrestlers
N: Son of Havoc, Prince Puma, Johnny Gargano, Drago, Anqélico.
S: Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, Aleister Black, Tetsuo Unito, and of course my guy Pentagon Jr from Lucha Underground.