By Evan Ginzburg, Columnist
Ryan K. Boman graciously invited me to do this stream of consciousness column for his distinguished The Gorilla Position website. I am honored to work with such historians and passionate supporters of pro wrestling and its rich history as Jim Phillips and crew.
— As it’s Martin Luther King Day, let me start by acknowledging the historic accomplishments of the recently departed Rocky Johnson, who along with Tony Atlas as WWF Tag Team Champions made history and opened doors in this industry. As a Publicist, Agent, etc. for a variety of major wrestling conventions and cards, I had the fortune to meet Mr. Johnson on occasion and can attest to the fact that he was always gracious, kind, fan-friendly, soft-spoken and in his prime had charisma off the charts.
While there were major Black champs of note prior- for example Bearcat Wright who held the WWA World Championship and perennial U.S. Heavyweight title-holder Bobo Brazil, the Johnson-Atlas team meant an awful lot historically due to WWF’s world prominence.
— Upcoming this weekend is the Royal Rumble, and while fanboys will churn endlessly with their predictions, for me it’s just another meaningless WWE PPV of the month, not necessarily any better or worse than the inevitable mixed bag one that precedes or follows it.
— On a far more positive note… I caught the movie Peanut Butter Falcon, starring Shia LaBeouf and Dakota Johnson. Actor Zack Gottsagen has Down Syndrome and is deeply moving in his film debut, playing an avid wrestling fan who escapes a facility and goes on Mark Twain like adventures in his pursuit of freedom, happiness, family, and his first pro wrestling bout.
Mick Foley and Jake Roberts have cameos and Thomas Hayden Church plays an ex-wrestling star who takes Zack under his wing. The film is heart-warming, life-affirming, deeply moving and one of the ten best films of the year. That the wrestling community hasn’t embraced this delightful film shows its obsessive nature. If it’s not a 100% “wrestling movie” or the zillionth shoot interview, it’s just not under their radar.
— While the fans do the “us vs. them” WWE vs. AEW debates like two rival gangs- I personally am enjoying AEW. Pentagon & Fenix are the greatest tag team in the world, with the Young Bucks right behind them and what can I say about the great Kenny Omega? MJF is one of the handful of guys I enjoy on the mike and Cody comes from that tradition of passion and love for the business that exudes in every promo and match he has. By the way, for those who dismiss the tiny Marko Stunt, I sincerely see no difference in let’s say Rey Misterio taking on a monstrous super heavyweight in WWF and Stunt getting in the ring with “normal” sized guys. It’s all about suspension of disbelief. When I watch a guy fly over the top rope with some death-defying move, and a half dozen guys stand there patiently waiting and then scatter like a bowling ball hitting a strike upon impact, that’s not exactly the most credible thing either. Either you want to believe, or you don’t. Go Marko; this old school fan always loves an underdog.
— New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom, once again, was wrestling elevated to Art. And, Okada in a weekend, had two matches in the five-star range, while most WWE stars won’t do that in a year. Which doesn’t mean that an AJ Styles isn’t great as well, it’s just, when you’re asked to perform in a circus like atmosphere, it’s hard to put on the best match possible. Except for their excellent NXT brand, WWE continues to tragically squander one of the greatest talent bases in history.
While on the subject of NJPW, I just wish the old school fans would stop with the narrow-minded “There’s been NO good wrestling since the territories” nonsense. If Okada-Naito or Omega-Okada or even Nakamura-AJ Styles in New Japan doesn’t qualify as “good wrestling” the living in the past thing with permanent blinders on is just depriving yourself of great Art. These guys are doing things a lot of the old school legends couldn’t have dreamed of. And trust me, I’m an old school fan saying this.
— This past week marked the anniversary of Ivan Koloff’s legendary WWWF title win over Bruno Sammartino January 18, 1971 at MSG. Ivan headlined MSG 13 times, was a top 20 all-time heel, main-evented around the world, and was a beloved figure in the industry. That WWE didn’t put him in their hall of fame when they KNEW he was dying is a disgrace and a shame upon them. How disgustingly petty.
— Happy 79th birthday to Pat Patterson, who was one of those rare, few, equally great as face or heel. Patterson vs. Backlund, Slaughter, Mosca, Patera, Koloff and others in WWWF are among my greatest wrestling memories.
And for the young folk who don’t see the Art in what a Rocky Johnson, Ivan Koloff or Pat Patterson did in their day- you know, because it was a slower pace and with far fewer highspots or whatnot – you’re just not seeing the “big picture.”
These guys walked down to the ring in a pair of tights and MAYBE a colorful robe. Some of them had beer bellies instead of a 6 pack of abs. No pryo. No video. No blaring music. Just sheer off the charts charisma and credibility. And they made 22,000 fans and the building itself at MSG shake. Literally shake. One young “genius” said everything before Ric Flair was “boring.”
— Speaking of the good old days, check out our critically acclaimed film #350Days starring Bret Hart, SuperStar Graham, Greg Valentine, Tito Santana, Lanny Poffo, JJ Dillon and three dozen or so of the greatest legends to ever step foot in the ring. It’s available at www.350daysthemovie.com.
You also can watch our Wrestling-Then & Now documentary starring Killer Kowalski, Nikolai Volkoff, Don “Dr. Death” Arnold, Homicide, and many more absolutely free on Amazon Prime.
Also, check out my Evan Ginzburg’s Old School Wrestling Memories page on Facebook.
Yours truly is an in-ring valet of sorts playing the chauffeur for Team Splendid (former ECW tag champ Chris Michaels & Simply Splendid Bobby C) on the NY/NJ area indie circuit. Check us out for that old school vibe you’ve been missing. And my mantra in life is support indy everything- wrestling, film, theater, music, etc.
That’ll about do it for my first Wrestling-Then & Now Column. Hope you enjoyed it and catch you soon. — Evan Ginzburg
Evan Ginzburg is a contributor for the Gorilla Position. He was an Associate Producer on the movies, “The Wrestler” and “350 Days“, starring Bret Hart and Superstar Billy Graham. He is a 30-year film, radio and TV veteran. He can be reached on Twitter @evan_ginzburg or by e-mail at email@example.com.