I know Mickie James and Kat Waters didn’t actually have to pack their suitcases or rent U-Hauls. They didn’t have to get new driver’s licenses or schedule service appointments with DirecTV. But none the less each girl just went through a very big move. Since leaving the WWE in the spring of 2010 both girls have signed deals with Total Nonstop Action wrestling, effectively packing up one stage of their respective careers and moving to totally new surroundings.
Fortunately Mickie and Kat are going to be just fine. Both are working for a high-profile company that will showcase them on television and keep them in the spotlight. The paychecks might not be as big, but money isn’t everything. Each should feel somewhat fortunate because professional wrestling is brutally competitive, with many athletes vying for precious few spots on a roster. At the end of the day wrestlers better love what they do because the odds of hitting the big time are daunting. And if they do get a break, they have to work extremely hard to keep their spot. Mickie and “Winter”, as Kat is now called, are two of the survivors.
I give each girl a tremendous amount of credit. Admittedly I’m not a wrestling insider, but I am familiar with some of the stress and anxiety associated with this type of transition. I’ve seen it first-hand.
As the old saying goes, “If you can fly it or float it…rent it.” (Yes there is a more adult version, but as you know “Hitting the Ropes” is a PG program, so “stand up and support” this column!) By most accounts owning your own boat (or airplane) is a lot of work, so much so that the work outweighs the enjoyment of the recreation. That is why it is better to KNOW someone who owns a boat. That way you can just grab a couple of Miller Lites and head out with your fishing rod. You don’t have to worry about buying gas for the boat, cleaning the boat, or docking the boat. You get to enjoy the benefits without all the stress and expense of ownership. The same goes for the National Football League. I don’t really want to work for the NFL, but I like KNOWING someone who does. Maybe you think that’s crazy. Who wouldn’t want to work for the NFL?! Well, I know the reality.
My college roommate Matt worked for the NFL for 13 years, from 1995 until 2008. He had jobs with Kansas City (twice), St. Louis, and Jacksonville, a winding journey through the league that started as an administrative assistant and ended as a college scout. Matt met some very famous people, saw the inner-workings of a pro franchise, and won a Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams in 1999 (he was a defensive coach). He owns a gorgeous championship ring. So does his wife, she worked for the team’s front office. (Ironically the rings are too expensive to wear so they sit in a safe deposit box somewhere…sigh. Although I guess that’s better than somebody chopping off your finger.)
All of this is great. But Matt also experienced the lows of getting fired, spending countless hours on the road, sleeping many nights in lonely hotels, weeks away from his family, lack of job security, and moving to new cities all over the country. The problem is that once you are at the top, anything less feels like an awful long way to fall.
True, the novelty wears off. At first Matt couldn’t believe he worked for the NFL. He didn’t play football above the high school level and wasn’t really involved with our college program (although in fairness, we were a small Division 3 school, so neither were the parents and coaches…just kidding just kidding). Matt had a tremendous work ethic and a real love of football; he just didn’t have the physical tools to play the sport. But he did have the mind. It turns out the Gettysburg football coach was related to a player in the NFL and put Matt in touch with a few people in the league. Because of his out-going personality and strong desire to succeed, he was hired by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1995 as a team admin, literally fetching coffee and towels for the coaches and players.
He slowly began making connections with the right people and after a few years he was promoted to defensive assistant and then eventually to a team scout (which is what he truly wanted to do all along). Along the way he moved his family four times, and towards the end he viewed professional football like any other industry. The wear and tear of the road had reduced pro football to simply a job.
It wasn’t until that job was taken away that reality really set in. Matt kicked in the door when opportunity knocked, and his 13+ years in the league were amazing, but like with most NFL jobs unless you own a team you will eventually find yourself out of the league. Now Matt works as a high school football coach, which is great because he is still involved with football and he loves helping the kids. But he is always looking for a way to get back to the NFL. Some people are very, very happy coaching high school, but most of them don’t own Super Bowl rings.
Because of our friendship I was able to see the inner workings of the NFL, the nepotism, the “Old Boys” network. The true sense of sacrifice when working for a billion dollar company. You watch the game on TV and all you see are the players and the cheerleaders, the pageantry of the game. You don’t see the sacrifices made by those in the boardrooms, the film rooms, and the locker rooms. For the most part this was all transparent to me. I was able to get cool NFL gear, player autographs, and game tickets, including a great trip to Super Bowl XL. Selfishly I’m pretty bummed out that Matt’s out of the league now. And despite all of the hardships he faced, he certainly is too.
Pro wrestling is strikingly similar. At the show you watch the action in the ring, the passion play between the heels and the faces. You don’t think about the fact this same group of performers will be in a different city every night that week, nursing injuries, missing loved ones, and fighting fatigue to give the fans a “character” performance each night. I admire how difficult it must be for someone like Hulk Hogan to be larger than life every single night, giving outlandish performances time and again. (Although in his case, if you read his autobiography he fills in some of the “missing” details. Thanks Hulkster. I’m going to go train, say my prayers, and eat my vitamins…now where is that prescription anyway?)
As difficult as it must be to play a character in the ring, these characterizations are critical because for pro wrestling to succeed it needs to tap into the current trends and attitudes of society. In a sense life imitates art in the ring. Wrestling really began to flourish when stereotypes, both cultural and political, determined the direction of individual characters. It started with Gorgeous George (flamboyant and effeminate) in the 50’s/60’s and continued through the 70’s (Bruno Sammartino, The Strongbows), the 80’s (Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff), the 90’s (Razor Ramon, Goldust,), and today (Alberto Del Rio, Shaemus). Wrestlers are given gimmicks fans can identify with.
By the way, it still kills me that the Uso’s were introduced as “NOT your average Samoans”. How’s that for playing up a stereotype! And really, what the hell does that mean?? I’m confused. (I’m also confused why Tamina thinks Santino is hot but doesn’t just ask for his phone number…God, I need to stop watching Dr. Phil.)
Stereotypes have impacted entire storylines as well. The NWO and WWE Attitude Era both reflected the public’s growing counter-culture attitude, giving people an outlet for their frustrations with the political establishment. It became fun to cheer for people breaking the rules. But never was this more apparent than when Hulk Hogan wrestled American turncoat (and Iraqi supporter) Sergeant Slaughter in the main event of Wrestlemania 7 at the very same time the USA was at war with Iraq (and judging by the lukewarm reaction to this match, maybe this was a little TOO close to reality).
However what is most fascinating to me is how much more we know about today’s wrestlers and their lives outside the ring. A wealth of books, interviews, and videos exist that shed light on the business side of professional wrestling. In a way all of us can now become “insiders”. Character development. Travel schedules. Road agents. Drug testing. Work rate. Match choreography. Outside interests. Contract situations. Personal relationships. All of these are aspects of the business that people can learn about if they want. You can even follow most of today’s stars on Twitter and Facebook which brings the fan experience to a whole new level.
In some ways I miss the “old days” when we believed in the Wizard of Oz. We couldn’t see behind the curtain and just enjoyed the action in the ring (I’ve said it before but if I would have known in 1987 that the Bulldogs and Harts were relatives in real life I would have spontaneously combusted. At 14 I couldn’t have handled that.) However in time I have come to embrace this new transparency and it would be very, very difficult to return to total kayfabe. I love Beth Phoenix as a wrestler, but I really love following her on Twitter and knowing more about her career, personality, and lifestyle, not just her match results.
Think about how much more we know about today’s Divas, some of which is positive, some of which is negative. Sure some of the news can be trashy and sensational, but the Divas have achieved a certain level of fame that makes them susceptible to the same scrutiny as other stars in entertainment. That’s just the world we live in now, a world obsessed with TMZ and People magazine. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find some of it interesting. However, I really like the recent signings by TNA because this is a wrestling story. Not something for the tabloids. Mickie and Kat have been brought into TNA to strengthen their Knockouts division, a division that can use an infusion of real solid talent. It’s a win-win situation because now both girls get to stay in the big leagues.
We’ve been following these stories since each girl was let go from the WWE, wondering if TNA would reach out and sign them. It was not a huge shock that TNA brought Mickie in; she’s still a draw. However it was a real pleasant surprise when Kat was offered a spot on the roster. Good for her! Then they immediately changed her name. “Winter”?
I wonder if it bothers Kat that Mickie was able to keep her persona while she was given a whole new identity. Maybe it is exciting to play a new character or maybe it feels like a slight to your previous work. (NOTE – I am not sure if there were WWE copyright issues to blame for Kat’s name change). I would imagine Mickie will have an easier transition because she is basically playing her usual character (albeit a more “hardcore” version…oy!), although both girls will have to adjust to a new booking style, new coworkers, new pacing, and a new ring. As a true professional, though, I bet when you are actually wrestling all of these differences disappear because you are doing what you love, you feel at home between those ropes, regardless of the ring size.
I thought about Mickie and Kat last week when I was visiting with my in-laws. They are moving to a new home after 30 years, downsizing to a smaller house that is better suited to their lifestyle. Even though they know this is for the best it has been a difficult transition for them, and in turn it has been tough on the family. Last week my father-in-law started to complain about the move (again) and finally I had heard enough. I told him, “Get over it Jack! A house is just walls. It is what’s INSIDE those walls that is important.” After a few uncomfortable moments he thanked me for being so direct, promising to have a better attitude.
At the end of the day it is what happens INSIDE the ring that is important to wrestling fans, more so than business deals, tweets, and radio appearances. Their fans are excited to see them in action once again, and I’m sure Mickie and Kat are excited for this new opportunity, understanding how difficult it is to remain on top in this industry. Sure there will be challenges but I’m sure it won’t be long until they feel at home in TNA.
As the old saying goes, “Home is where you lace up your boots.”
— Mr. Glamazon
PS – If you get a chance listen to my recent interview on Wrestlespective Radio. Host Jason Mann and I touch on a lot of different topics and I think you will enjoy it.
PPS – Diva Dirt Live has now been on the air almost 5 full months. I want to thank you, the Diva Dirt readers, for all of your support (and for your phone calls) because we love doing the show and it wouldn’t be possible without you. The show gets crazy sometimes and once in a while we have technical difficulties, but you have hung in there with us and for that I applaud you. *clap clap clap*
PPPS – I am working on Glam Slam mailbag #3 and I have room for 1-2 more questions. Send them to [email protected] and let’s get crunk! Or hit me up on Twitter @dlb19338.