Friday, September 17, 2021

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Mr. Glamazon’s Hitting the Ropes (Issue #24) – Third Time is a Charm

 

“Why now?”

Shantelle Taylor was asking me why now, of all times, I had finally decided to pursue my dream of being a ring announcer.  I thought about it for a minute and then told her, “Because now I have the opportunity.”  But I’m not completely sure that was the entire answer.  Truth is I still don’t know exactly “why now”.  I mean, why didn’t I try this years ago?  I’ve always wanted to get involved in professional wrestling…so what was holding me back?  Really, why now? 

I guess one day I just woke up and realized “Hey, I’m 37, if not now…when?  I’m not getting any younger.  Am I going to let this dream just disappear forever?” 

Then I asked Shantelle a similar question about her own career, “why now?”  Why now was she stepping away from the ring at the tender age of 25?  She admitted she was tired and sore from wrestling all over the world.  Plus she wanted to go back to school to become a fire fighter.  A fire fighter?  I scratched my head.  How could someone who achieved her level of fame and success give that up for relative obscurity (my words, not hers)? 

What Shantelle explained to me was that becoming a fire fighter gave her the lifestyle she really wants…at least for now.  Less travel.  A stable income.  More time for personal relationships.  Professional wrestling is an all-consuming lifestyle, one that Shantelle just needs a break from.  It’s time for her to pursue another dream.  Once she explained this to me it all made perfect sense, and I was slightly ashamed of myself for thinking she was making a mistake.

So here we were, getting ready for her retirement match in San Francisco several weeks ago, each standing on different sides of our pro wrestling careers.  Me, getting ready to walk in.  Shantelle, getting ready to walk out.  

You probably know the full story by now.  I was the guest ring announcer for Shantelle’s retirement match that night against Alissa Flash.  It was one of the most exciting nights of my life and the culmination of a lifelong dream.  I’ve been a wrestling fan since October 1985 and ever since then wrestling has been a big part of my identity.  Even during periods of my life when I wasn’t watching it on TV every week I continued to be influenced by it.  I always kept tabs on what was going on, floating in and out of the TV programming and backstage news.

Growing up I would imagine myself working in the industry, making a career in professional wrestling.  But how in the world would someone like me even get into the business?  I knew I didn’t have the physical skills to be an actual wrestler, and truthfully, that wasn’t what interested me.  It was, and still is, the storytelling.  Getting people to suspend their disbelief for a few hours.  Everyone knows professional wrestling is staged entertainment mixed with great athleticism.  That’s what the true fans appreciate.  I always wanted to book shows that would build on this fantasy. 

But I was never a big risk taker.  I followed the straight and narrow and the years started to pass.  I went to college.  Then I went to graduate school.  I started working.  I got married and we started a family.  Basically I settled into the dynamics of my life, and as the old expression goes “the days go slow but the years go fast”.  As you get older the dreams of your youth are replaced by the realities of your present. 

But then a funny thing happened while I was watching SummerSlam in August 2008.  “The Glamazon” Beth Phoenix pinned Mickie James, won the women’s championship, scooped Santino up onto her shoulders, and carried him all the way to the back…and basically she carried me right along with her.

Everything changed that night.  Beth shook something loose inside of me.    Up to that point I was enjoying WWE programming, casually chatting about it with my friends and watching the weekly TV shows.  But after that SummerSlam I found myself reenergized to learn more, read more, and study more.  To basically immerse myself again in professional wrestling just like I did when I was a kid.  The love was still there, it had just been buried beneath daily responsibilities and pressures.  No longer.

I jumped head-first into the Internet wrestling community.  Eventually I found Diva Dirt and begged to become part of the staff.  I wanted to share my voice so I joined the audio programs and started writing this column.  It was (and still is) energizing to be a part of this dynamic online collaboration.   

But I knew I didn’t want it to end there.  I wanted to find my way into an actual wrestling ring.  But how? 

Around this time I contacted a wrestling promotion in Manassas, VA about working for them.  They were advertising for several openings, one of which was a ring announcer.  Perfect!  In the end, however, I couldn’t commit the time to training, traveling, and working the local shows (and as we all know, in wrestling “local” means within a 500 mile radius).  Strike 1.  Then I got a call about a WWE commercial filming here in Washington DC.  I wrote an entire column about getting booked for the commercial only to have the opportunity yanked away at the last second.  Strike 2. 

Then along came ChickFight.

When Diva Dirt and ChickFight joined forces I became cautiously optimistic that I could somehow get involved in the actual wrestling shows.  When Jason and Melanie asked if I wanted to be the guest ring announcer for Shantelle Taylor’s retirement match I literally jumped at the chance.  I mean, literally.  Up and down about 1000 times!  The match itself was going to be a part of a Pro Wrestling Revolution show in San Francisco, and although it was more than 2 months away I could barely sleep for days.  I was nervous and scared.  Not so much to do the actual ring announcing, but that the match would be canceled and I would’ve gotten my hopes up for nothing…again.  I’m telling you, strike 3 and I was definitely out. 

Thankfully the match went off without a hitch.

The whole event was a lot more fun than I had even anticipated.  On the day of the event I did get nervous the closer we got to the bell (mainly because I was sure I would fall getting into the ring…)  I felt a great responsibility to uphold my end of the bargain because this was a nice moment for Shantelle, one last match for her and a chance for her fans to say “thanks” for all of her sacrifices over the years.   I didn’t want to slip up.  Plus I knew some of my friends would be in attendance and any mistake would live on YouTube forever. 

PS – I will always remember the waitress at the Vegan restaurant where I ate dinner that night…she was so peaceful and friendly it really put me at ease…of course, so did the wine.

When it was time to step into the ring I soaked in every second of the experience.  It really was the fulfillment of my dream.  The girls put together an outstanding match and I even took a bump from Alissa (By the way I am proud of that moment.  I looked like a young Shawn Michaels out there, selling all the way…)  After the match was over Shantelle addressed the crowd and thanked her fans for their support.  As I stood in the corner watching her graciously leave the sport she loves, I once again felt the irony, my first time in the ring, her last.  

Shantelle seems really content with her decision.  I’m sure her fans are disappointed but it is hard not to feel good for her.  She is moving on to pursue another dream – fire fighting.  As I said before, it wouldn’t be my first choice.  But that’s the thing about dreams; they are very personal and come in all shapes and sizes.  Some people dream about money.  Some people dream about fame.  Some people dream about having a family.  Some people dream about traveling the world.  And, yes, some people dream about stepping into a wrestling ring, even for only 1 night.

If you are a wrestling fan it is probable that at some point in your life you dreamed about being an actual wrestler.  Maybe you even attended a wrestling school to see if you could take that next step, to see if you were “tough enough”.  Maybe you even made it so far that you actually became a professional.  If so that’s great, but few people do and that’s why Shantelle said the best advice she can give young aspiring wrestlers is to also get an education, which gives you something to fall back on if wrestling doesn’t work out.  Pretty sound advice.  But it’s not easy to juggle schoolwork and wrestling as our own Mia Yim can attest.  I am really proud of her because despite how crazy her schedule is, or how hard this all gets, she is reaching for her dream and making it happen.  And really, achieving your dreams is supposed to be hard isn’t it?  Those who believe that…and yet keep fighting…have a chance to make it.      

Some people use the word “dream” very carelessly.  I have often said it would be a dream of mine to be a great golfer…but considering I play maybe 2 rounds a year, how committed am I to making that happen?  How important is it…really?  I guess not very.  A few years ago I remember watching a magician perform some awesome card tricks and when he was done I said “oh man, I’d give anything to be able to do those!”  He looked at me and said (with a bit of an edge), “would you practice 8 hours a day for the next 5 years?”  Umm…no.  No I wouldn’t.  I felt silly for not realizing his dream didn’t just “happen”, he made it happen.

It’s interesting that people question, challenge, or judge the actions and dreams of others, especially celebrities.  I have been guilty of this myself.  But it is almost impossible not to feel connected to celebrities because of the onrush of media attention they receive.  Plus social media allows famous people to share parts of their lives with the general public so we begin to feel like we really “know” them, like we should have some sort of say in their lives.  Generally we think we know what is best for them.  When Awesome Kong tweeted she was offered her “dream” job many people in the wrestling community immediately assumed it meant she was going to work for the WWE.  Why?  Because it’s clearly the best promotion to work for?  Because EVERY wrestler dreams of working for the WWE?  Maybe that’s true in general, but it’s interesting we just ASSUME it’s true for her.  (PS – it’s not uncommon to hear ex-WWE employees say “yeah the money was nice BUT…”  By many accounts the WWE is a challenging place to work.  Just look at the travel schedule.  The money and fame aren’t enough for some.)     

Keep in mind the WWE isn’t the NFL or the NBA.  These leagues are the undisputed “best” in the world.  There are some other leagues around the world that feature legitimate talent, but if you are a professional basketball or football player you want to wear Celtics green or Steelers gold.  To be among the true elite.  The WWE might get the most coverage around the world but there are other promotions that are tremendously successful, especially in Japan and Mexico.  Here in America we assume every talent wants to wind up working for Vince.  That’s painting with a very broad brush.

I thought about this recently when news surfaced that Maria Kanellis felt the need to defend herself against critics who questioned her dedication to professional wrestling.  Now, as Jason mentioned on Diva Dirt Live, we don’t know HOW many people really came out and verbally attacked her…maybe it was thousands, or maybe it was just one.  Regardless she felt the need to respond and justify her recent actions and decisions.  

Am I missing something here?  What exactly does Maria owe professional wrestling?  What exactly does she own her fans?

The answer?  Nothing.

Let’s recap…

Maria Louise Kanellis spent 6 years wrestling for the WWE after placing fifth in the “Raw Diva Search” in 2004.  She never did win a championship but she had some fun moments (like her romance with Santino) and a few WrestleMania moments (even planting a kiss on Snoop Dogg).  She was in the ring with John Cena, Edge, and all of the major Divas of her generation.  In 2009 she won the Slammy Award for Diva of the Year.   All in all it was a nice career.  Along the way she also posed for “Playboy”, appeared on a bunch of TV shows, and released her debut album “Sevin Sins”.  Busy girl!

So Maria’s been a successful pro wrestler and now she wants to have a music and television career.  Basically, she wants to do other things.  Why is it so hard for some fans to get their heads around that?  Sounds fun to me!  Let me ask you…raise your hand if you would turn down the chance to be on “Celebrity Apprentice”?  Anyone with their hand up is lying.  Raise your hand if you would turn down the chance to record a music CD.  Again, anyone with their hand up is lying.

Anytime an artist changes course fans complain the person has gone “mainstream”, that the person has “sold out”.  We see this in music all the time.  Of course bands start writing different styles of music if they know record labels will release it.  What’s wrong with getting popular and making lots of money?  As they say in “Fiddler on the Roof”, “it’s no shame to be poor, but it’s no great honor either!”  Most bands would choose financial stability instead of struggling to please a small group of hardcore fans (who unfortunately don’t help pay their bills). 

Among wrestling fans the Rock has certainly been accused of “selling out”.  How could he leave the WWE to wear a goofy tooth fairy costume!?  We don’t care that he makes twice as much money and works half as hard.  Or that he doesn’t have to lace up his boots and punish his body 300 nights a year.  We just want to see him in the ring dammit!  Please.  Raise your hand if you would turn down the chance to make tons of money wearing fake wings and a leotard. 

Plus after a while artists need to find new ways to challenge themselves, to remain creative.  To remain interesting.  Obviously Maria and the Rock see themselves as more than wrestlers.  We should too.     

I understand people being disappointed when their favorite wrestling star leaves the sport to pursue other interests.  But that disappointment should quickly fade to genuine appreciation.  As consumers we are conditioned to “take take take”.  At some point we should give back and just say thanks.  One day my beloved Beth will retire and I’ll be very disappointed (actually, devastated).  But ultimately I will respect her decision.  After years of making demands on her time, talent, and energy, I will be happy she realized her dream of being a WWE superstar and wish her the best of luck as she chases her next dream, whether it is to start a family, play in the WNBA, or, who knows, become a fire fighter.

In the meantime I’m just along for the ride.

So, thank you Shantelle, thank you for the memories of watching you do something you love, and best wishes as you move on to your next adventure.

For me, I’m going to get busy working on my next dream…even if it may never be as good as February 5, 2011 in San Francisco.

— Mr. Glamazon

PS – This month I start work on a film documentary that I hope you’ll really enjoy.  I plan to follow…and record…a local girl’s dream of becoming a pro wrestler.  I hope I do her story justice because it should be fascinating!  Stay tuned!

PPS – Send your mailbag questions and reader essays to [email protected]. The next Reader Redux topic: “How would you define Trish Stratus’s legacy?”

PPPS – Follow me on Twitter @dlb19338 and help me reach my dream of 1 million followers!

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