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March 2015: What Are The Limits of Combat Sports Training?

The recent resignation of Bill DeMott as head trainer of the WWE Performance Center has me thinking a lot not only about my own wrestling school, but how I was trained and how wrestling has traditionally been taught. In today’s world, especially in the overly-corporate framework, that is the global-wrestling monopoly of World Wrestling Entertainment, sometimes it seems that WWE makes rules for itself that it cannot follow.

Once upon a time

If you have your ear close enough to the ground of pro wrestling, you hear stories from the old-timers about how, back in the day, it was nearly impossible to break into the business. It seems that in the old days, let’s say the 80’s and earlier, the typical “getting into wrestling” story went something like this:

Step one: You catch some wrestler after the matches and for the first 10 times he tells you to piss off. Then, if you’re persistent enough, he gives you the address of some old dusty boxing gym somewhere on the wrong side of the tracks.

Step two: You show up and say you’re here for the wrestling training and you pay the full sum of your non-refundable training money up front on the first day.

Step three: You are made to do squats, push-ups, run and do other exercises until you are completely exhausted.

Step four: A “shooter” (someone who is trained in real combat fighting) is sent in the ring to “work out” with you. He proceeds to fight you and put you in punishing holds. He chokes you until you are on the brink of unconsciousness with stars flashing before your eyes, bends your joints in the opposite direction just before they reach the point of snapping and perhaps even breaks a bone.

90% of guys, after that heinous beating, would tuck their tail between their legs and never show up again for day two. They most likely would return to their wives, family and friends with stories of how wrestling is most definitely NOT fake, which would help to keep the mystique of the business alive. If, however, you did return and show up for more, you would most likely gain the respect of your trainers. They would keep on kayfabing you, never letting you know that it’s fixed - sometimes up to, and even including, the point of your first match. That’s right, a lot of guys back then weren’t even “smartened up” to the fact that it was fixed when they stepped into the ring for the first time.

Back in my day

In the year 2000, when I first started my training, things had gotten slightly better, but the same mentality was still present. I clearly remember on my first day that I was taught how to run the ropes and how to take a flat back bump. After I had learned how to hit the ropes properly, I felt like an 80 year old man hunched over with searing back and spinal pain. Then, it was time to learn how to take a bump (fall on your back). After several drills, I was told to hit the ropes more, just to make sure I had got it.

I never once complained, and I think that got the respect of my trainer. The very next day, bright and early the next morning, with a back that felt like it had just been through a car wreck, it was time for round two.

I recall learning how to take a clothesline. Talk about beating it into you, there are two ways to learn - the easy way and the hard way. If you can’t do it correctly the first hundred times, it’s time for the hard way, which in my case was a clothesline from my trainer which he didn’t tell me he was going to do, when I wasn’t paying attention and was looking the other way. A guy who was at least 10 to 15 years older than me and twice my size, hit me as hard as he could and as a result I took a picture-perfect flat back bump off of his clothesline, to which I received a standing ovation. Of course, I also probably suffered a minor (or major) concussion in the process, but, in the end, I learned and was able to replicate that bump on my own.

How the “pussification of America” is warping the wrestling space-time continuum

Triple H, the brains behind The WWE Performance Center, is old school. He was trained by Killer Kowalski, who is just about as old-school as you can get. I’m sure he doesn’t have a problem with a hard-nosed trainer like Bill DeMott who has been accused of, among other things, making talents perform before properly warming up, making talents stay after training to do extra bumps / drills, forcing talents to work / train while injured, using racial and / or homophobic slurs, coercing talents into hiding their injuries at the risk of losing their jobs, and a plethora of other deplorable, despicable, repugnant, revolting and vile acts.

Comedian George Carlin phrased it best during his 1999 HBO special “You Are All Diseased” when he referred to the “pussification of America”, or in other words - people are getting soft. Spanking your kids will get you thrown in jail, kids don’t play outdoors unsupervised anymore and everything is sanitized, homogenized and pre-packaged for your own protection.

Now don’t get me wrong - I’m not condoning homophobic slurs, abusive training methods or stretching anyone, but wrestling is a tough business. The way I see it, for the fourteen-plus years I’ve been in wrestling, I’ve been pushed to my limits both physically and mentally. It’s like boot camp. If you’re not prepared to kill someone, don’t join the army. The next thing you know someone is going to start complaining on Twitter that their drill sergeant is screaming too loudly and asking him to do too many push-ups and the army will be asking Sergeant Peckerwood for his resignation.

If you want to be prepared for a life in one of the toughest, most physically demanding combat sports that there is, you have to be willing to put up with assholes like Bill DeMott, because they are a dime a dozen. I don’t feel bad for this kid who didn’t get the chance to live his dream. If he were smart, he would have found another way to get around Bill and make it to the top. Instead he let Billy-boy get the better of him and he started whining on Twitter about it. He may have succeeded in getting Bill removed from his position at WWE, but did he get the last laugh on Hugh Morris? I doubt it. WWE has rehired people for worse things than that in the past, just ask Pat Patterson.

Take it home

Just to wrap it up here, if these things being said about Bill DeMott are true, it surely is a shame by today’s standards, but compared to how things used to be in the not-so-recent past, they are probably not that bad. However, with WWE’s “Be A Star” anti-bullying campaign, such things cannot be tolerated. Again, it’s another example of how corporate WWE is clashing with wrestling’s traditional roots and coming face to face with the new, modern, rapidly-changing landscape of professional wrestling.

- Daniel Austin (Don Roid) (blog) (podcast)


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