Saturday, 9 February 2013

The Wrestling Writer Experience

 The wrestling writer experience.

I must admit I have a dream job in many ways. As a wrestling fan for over 30 years I never for one moment thought I would be in a position where I not only get to see my heroes wrestle, but also get to physically meet them.

During the recent TNA Maximum Impact tour live show in Dublin, Ireland I had the thought that maybe it was about time I shared my back stage and insider experiences with our readers here.

My wrestling writing career started about seven years ago now. A simple email and DVD review were all it took to get my foot in the door. Since then I have many hundreds of articles/reviews and interview pieces for numerous websites/columns and I am extremely proud of them all.

Even before I first put pen to paper, I was one of those young men who spent Saturday afternoons watching the bets of British Wrestling talent on ITV. I also found myself drawn to US promotion WCW, which was broadcast late at night and also on various Sky channels. Of course Sky in the 1980s also offered us the hugely popular WWE (then WWF) and there my story begins.

Maybe it is something underlying in me as a person, but I always seem to root for the underdog and as such, even though I watched the WWF avidly and purchased their Videos (yes I am that old). I did however spend an awful lot of time sourcing WCW/NWA videos and I soon got into rising promotion ECW too.

Over the years I was fortunate enough to see both WCW and WWF shows live in Belfast and Dublin and see such stars as Shawn Michaels, Randy Savage, British Bulldog, Sting, Lex Luger, Diesel, Bret Hart, Catcus Jack and many others in action. I now look back on these times fondly and know that my enthusiasm back then was what drove me to get to the position I am in today.

In those good old days, I was more than happy to maybe get to shake a wrestlers hand or nab a sneaky autograph. I did once get to meet WWE/WWF legend 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper at a record signing as well.

But it was not until I began monitoring the upcoming company TNA in the early 2000's that my life would change forever.

Since the company was small and yet to make its mark many wrestling writers gave it a miss. Which left me an opportunity to grab and it is one that I will never regret.

As TNA grew so did my coverage of it. With each PPV event the promotion gained more respect. Along the way the company mixed some veteran performers with home grown stars and it was a privilege to be able to write about it all as it unfolded.

Backstage wise I have a few stories to tell. There is the infamous one where I personally was barred from interacting with a certain (big name) company's talent in any way at all. This was due to my coverage of their rival. So imagine my glee when that particular company saw their touring roster stranded in my home town for days (due to an ash cloud) and I was able to capitalise on the interview opportunities the situation created. I am now back in that companies favour by the way.

Meeting your heroes can always be a double edged sword. After all we love them the way we see them on stage or screen and don't want to ever think they are any different in real life. Fortunately I have never really found any wrestler to be any different than I expected. Many of them have been so nice and friendly that I felt even closer to them (whether they were face or heel).

My first real backstage experience was during the first TNA tour. I made the trip to Liverpool to join a few key wrestling writers I worked with (and still do). I had no real expectations back then. I knew it was perhaps my coverage of the company that had helped elevate it in fans minds. But I was after all just a simple wrestling from Belfast and I was a very small fish in a big pond.

Well firstly once we (the writers) hooked up and finally met in person. As many will know much writing work is done online and as such you can go years without meeting a colleague. Secondly we headed to a very posh hotel and there we met TNA President Dixie Carter. Dixie is a lovely person and one that every roster member I have spoke to has no bad words to speak of. I also met her husband Serge too.

After exchanging pleasantries and a few ideas about UK talent that TNA may be interested in (at that time it was Nick Aldis and Pac). FYI Nick was signed soon after and is now Magnus. We were then taken to the arena and I got to witness my first backstage experience. In my first few moments I was introduced to a man mountain of a man called Chris. He was very softly spoken and friendly. He also turned out to be the un-masked Abyss. Abyss was a scary character back then and I was amazed that Chris was so nice and respectful to a bunch of journo's.

During our walk around the empty arena we met and chatted to many roster members. I was even fortunate enough to take part in my first wrestling one-on-one interview that day. My interview subject was legendary referee Earl Hebner.

We were of course told to allow the wrestlers a chance to rest, relax, work out and eat prior to the show. Something which you always adhere to folks. The term Kayfabe in wrestling is one of high meaning you know. It means that the fans should never see the wrestlers interact personally and to a degree not see you out of character. I for one did not mind this.

On a trivia note here, this was back when TNA utilised the wonderful six-sided ring and I for one wish they still did use it.

The venue in Liverpool (Playhouse) was an old theatre and was perfect for the TNA product (which today as then is more suited to an intimate venue, in my opinion). I even ended up sitting in one of the raised boxes with Dixie (whilst I reviewed the show).

Since then I have of course interviewed (via phone and in person over 30 wrestlers) and along the way I have learnt one vital thing, that is to not actually prepare for the interview. The reason being as long as you know the current storyline, you can wing it from there.

Over the subsequent years I have been very fortunate to have been able to continually get backstage access to TNA UK tour shows. In Dublin I almost became a wrestling mark, when one of my all time heroes Ric Flair walked out from the 'wrestler only' area and talked to me. This was a dream come true for me. Luckily I do have photographic record of it too. During this live show I met TNA founder Jeff Jarrett, D Lo Brown, Dixie, Mickie James, Tara, Matt Morgan and many others. I was also fortunate enough to be given interview access to (ECW legend) Rob Van Dam and Knockout Madison Rayne.

This was the tour where Flair decided to cause problems for TNA and ended up being left behind in Dublin. I now wish to clarify that, even though I was drinking with the roster in their Dublin hotel that very night I was not responsible for Flair's actions (lol).

What is nice is that my work promoting TNA has seen me gain a level of respect from not only them, but companies they work with. I have been able to review TNA new DVD releases and much more because of my coverage of the company. I have also been able to amass a wonderful study full of signed pictures and other merchandise. All of which I treasure and am amazed at possessing.

So what am I getting at? Well the wrestling world is a weird one, wrestlers can be good or bad. Smart fans know that the guys in the ring beating each other black and blue may be real good friends and yet they still do it. Us fans love it, writers like me savour the industry and some wonderfully talented sports men and women strive to be a part of it.

I guess if you are still reading now I have you for the long haul here. Recent years have seen me being able to interview many of my all-time heroes and gain some level of respect as a wrestling writer.

Now to bring us back full circle I must say this. In 2012 I ventured to Manchester for a TNA live show. My reason was twofold, this year the company decided to miss Ireland off the tour and I also simply had to see Hulk Hogan and Sting both wrestle.

Roll along to 2013 and TNA came back to Ireland. So of course I was right up there with the journo's to maybe get a wee bit of interview time with a TNA wrestler of two. The one thing I have begun to realise is that what I take for granted now is so special to a wrestling fan. So since 2008 I have ensured I take a non-journalist person with me to each wresting show I attend. They are now my eyes and ears (as perhaps the multiple backstage passes I have had may blemish my memories).

January 2013 saw perhaps my best TNA/wrestling back stage experience. Within the first minute I saw two Knockouts chilling out. My interviewing/writing partner (Kate McMichael) and I then saw (heel group Ace's & 8's main man) Devon sitting on his lap top. He was courteous and so nice to speak to. We then walked into the main back stage area, here we saw the majority of the TNA roster all chilling out. Olympic Gold Medalist Kurt Angle was one of the first to rise and shake my hand. I had of course interviewed Kurt when he was hoping to participate in the 2012 Olympic Games. Mr Angle was wonderful here, he also by his kindness allowed 'Cowboy' James Storm to stand up and chat too. This was after all Kate's wrestling hero, so this meeting did indeed so down a 'Storm'.

Along the way we also met and chatted to Rob Van Dam (who I interviewed during the last Irish tour for TNA).

Once in the allocated interview space we were surprised to learn that we would be in the position of chatting to four top TNA grappler's.

Over the next hour we got to talk to Miss Tessmacher, Chavo Guerrero, Bully Ray and Kurt Angle. Three of the four were wonderful, the other was, as we now know from experience out to wind up the interviewer(but funnily enough not the girls). That is not to say that I (well we) did not enjoy our interview time. You our loyal readers will be seeing those interviews here very soon.

What TNA do over their rivals is bring a personal touch to proceedings. If you are ever fortuate enough to be backstage at a TNA show you will be made to feel welcome. This was perfectly highlighted by Kurt Angle, when he took it upon himself to bring James Storm upstairs to meet Kate (something that Kurt had no reason to do if he did not want it) . Storm subsequently arrived and we all had a brief chat and got pictures taken.

This however was not the end of or night, after all the matches had yet to start and I had hoped to catch up with Dixie Carter too.

Upon returning to the arena we were informed that Sting would be replacing World Champion Jeff Hardy on the tour and we also got to meet the lovely Ms Carter again too. I was also stunned to learn that Dixie could set up a short meeting between us and my hero Sting.

This meeting has already been covered here and for once I did become a real fan and fluff some words when talking to Sting. The man was all I expected him to be and so much more. 

I guess the reason for writing this is to give you the reader an insight into the wild and wacky world we wrestling writers live is. It is down to loyal readers such as yourselves that allow us to do it and we are unbelievably thankful.

By Phil Allely

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