By Mike Mooneyham
Jan. 14, 2007
Add one more player to the pro wrestling mix.
Wrestling Society X, a fast-paced, high-energy new breed of wrestling competition, makes its debut at 10:30 p.m. Jan. 30 on MTV.
This isn’t your older brother’s WWE – there’s nothing shiny or polished about it. The show is billed as the greatest, dirtiest and most dangerous competition on TV and, according to a press release, “throws out the glam of wrestling and piles on the grappling action every week from an undisclosed bunker where danger is never far away.”
But, hold on, there’s more.
“The most talented warriors the world has ever known will battle each other and their surroundings, creating an experience that will alter viewers’ lives irrevocably. Featuring an onslaught of death-defying feats, aerobatic maneuvers and truly athletic performances, Wrestling Society X will showcase the unique talents of some of the best in the business.”
This pre-show hype is pretty heady stuff, and it remains to be seen whether this new concept can earn a share of the wrestling pie. But organizers behind the show seem to think they have found a niche and an alternative to today’s WWE product.
Cody Michaels, who is an associate producer, writer and creative team member for the new series, calls the project a groundbreaking endeavor and hopes fans will give it a try.
“It has what I feel has been lacking in the national spotlight for some time. It’s a major national television show focused on young, underexposed, talented wrestlers that are not household names. It’s a show that will focus on their in-ring skills, with a production focus and quality that is in theme with the feel and attitude of the targeted demographic.”
That demo, of course, is a youthful audience that likes high energy in their music and their wrestling. Since there can’t be an MTV show without music, each episode of WSX will open with a live musical performance, after which the musical stars that week will sit in for guest commentary for certain matches. Acts will include Good Charlotte, Three 6 Mafia, New Found Glory, Pitbull, Black Label Society, Jibbs, Sparta, The Clipse, Quietdrive and Styles P.
There’ll be more music and less talk with a campy, underground feel to the show. “It’s not going to be like the current (wrestling) where you have to sit there for 20 minutes while they do the monologue and everybody comes out and passes the microphone back and forth. It’s action,” says Michael, drawing the obvious comparison to WWE. “MTV spent a lot of money to get a real underground feel. It’s kind of like the underground fight club in an old warehouse with concrete pillars half broken down. We purposely got an old, dirty, taped-up ring with concrete broken on the floor. It’s got a real rough, different look to it.”
“It’s great, energy-filled entertainment. It’s not garbage wrestling and it’s not totally gimmick matches,” adds Michaels. “It’s good, young, fresh talent that can wrestle that people will like and want to keep seeing. You’re going to turn it on at 10:30, and within two minutes you’re going to be right into a match and some action. There’ll be three matches with high impact and a lot of wrestling. There’ll be some stipulation matches and lot of pyro. We had an exploding cage, time bomb death match, Hollywood style, with the ring going boom. But I don’t want that to overshadow the match, because the match was excellent. It was great wrestling.”
The show, which is only 30 minutes, joins MTV’s Tuesday night block including “Road Rules” at 9 p.m., “Bam’s Unholy Union” at 9:30 p.m. and “Two-A-Days” at 10 p.m. Michaels says he’d obviously like a longer show, but feels the shorter slot could be an advantage with an MTV audience.
“I’d love to have an hour. But when you look at the MTV demographic and the attention span of the audience, it’s a 20- to 30-minute attention span.”
In that limited time frame, says Michaels, the show’s challenge will be to hook the casual fan.
“You’re going to get your wrestling crowd. It’s that casual fan you’re trying to invest in and get to watch it week in and week out. One way you can do it, and the jury’s still out on whether it will be effective or not, is a half-hour format with shorter, higher-impact matches.
Another challenge will be finding the time to establish characters and storylines. Michaels says the WSX personalities will come in all flavors. “It won’t be all vanilla. We have cartel guys, we’ve got hillbillies, we got Japanese guys. We’ve got a wide variety of personalities.”
Don’t look for a lot of familiar names on this show. With the exception of Sean Waltman (the former X-Pac) and Vampiro (Ian Hodgkinson), the majority of performers will be off the independent circuit. Some, such as aerial artist Jack Evans and third-generation standout Teddy Hart, are stars in the making who will get the opportunity to display their wares on a national stage.
The show’s first episode will feature Evans vs. Matt Sydal, a musical performance by Black Label Society performance, and an over-the-top rope elimination ladder bout, with two contracts for a WSX championship bout suspended above the ring, featuring Waltman, Vampiro, Hart, New Jack, Youth Suicide, Kaos, Puma, Al Katrazz, Justin Credible and Chris Hamrick.
The 42-year-old Michaels is no stranger to the wrestling business. He has worked in the industry since 1986 after being trained by veteran star Domenic DeNucci in Pittsburgh in the same class as Mick Foley, Shane Douglas and the late Brian Hildebrand (referee Mark Curtis). A broken neck suffered in a 1991 match in Dallas sidelined him from competition, but he has remained active in the business in a number of projects.
Michaels is credited with developing and expanding the ECW territory and fan base with the development of several major cities including Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Under the guidance of Michaels and longtime friend and former college roommate Shane Douglas (Troy Martin), ECW ran its most productive PPV in Pittsburgh, November to Remember, which drew a live audience estimated at close to 5,000 and a live gate of $100,000, both records for the promotion at the time. Michaels also was a driving force in the ECW Hardcore Homecoming reunion tour in 2005. The event drew a record crowd in Philadelphia and was a best-seller in the DVD market.
Michaels is guardedly optimistic about the new show, and is quick to clear up what he says are a growing number of rumors spreading through cyberspace.
“It’s looking real good. There’s been a lot of misconceptions as far as what’s out there in the media. For as much as I appreciate wrestling fans, there’s been so much out there on the Internet and the message boards that’s just not true. People have made comparisons to what Vince (McMahon) did on MTV back in the ’80s with the Rock ‘N Wrestling thing. This isn’t the same.”
And then there’s the obvious comparisons to ECW. Admittedly the editing, production and camera angles resemble the “old” ECW, and there’s a little campiness that marked that revolutionary outfit. “People are so quick to compare to ECW, which has this sort of cult status. But I’m really not that worried about ECW,” says Michaels, acknowledging that the new show will go head-to-head with the last 30 minutes of ECW’s weekly show on the Sci Fi channel.
While the action is fierce and amped up several notches, Michaels says it’s not a copy of the old ECW, nor does he want it to be. Wrestling has lost too many of its own to a brutal style that has indirectly led to a number of premature deaths in the business, and Michaels wanted to make sure that this new venture wouldn’t be a contributor.
“If it was something that was going to take a terrible toll on these guys, I didn’t want a part of it. I’m not going to sit here and write every other match with guys taking 40-foot falls. I understand that what’s going to sell is the bang – one or two high spots here and there. But there’ll be a lot of wrestling to go with it.”
What makes him most excited, says Michaels, is the fact that it’s a concept he often thought about while driving from town to town during his days on the road as a wrestler.
“What if a company ever really focused on young talent that no one knew, and they put them in a national spotlight? That’s something we’d always talk about back in those days. This is kind of what we’ve done here. It’s very exciting.”
Michaels says he also is encouraged by the backstage camaraderie.
“This is the break for a lot of these guys. I was amazed at the locker room. Even guys like Shawn Waltman. He’s got his baggage, but he came in and was ready to work. He’s not a focal part of our project. People think we’re putting him over as the No. 1 guy, but that’s not the case.”
It won’t be a show, says Michaels, where parents have to be concerned about their youngsters watching.
“I’m very cautious about what my 11-year-old son watches. I don’t let him watch Vince because you don’t know what’s going to pop up. I put our show on, and he was captivated by it. You don’t have to worry about turning it on and having something inappropriate for a youngster.”
Michaels says the wrestlers contracted to work on the show are free to work for anyone. They just can’t appear on TV.
“They can work house shows. They get 10 paydays when they come in here for two weeks. They’re free to go on and do their house shows and tours.. It’s a very good situation for them.” Kevin Klinerock and Vampiro are the other members of the creative team. Kris Kloss will serve as play-by-play analyst, while stand-up comic Bret Ernst will be color commentator.
The pilot for WSX, which is produced by Big Vision Entertainment in conjunction with MTV, was shot last year, and MTV picked up the series in July. Nine more episodes were shot in November. Michaels says they plan to go back in February and shoot an additional 10 episodes. Editing has been done on the first four or five weeks of shows.
– Old School Championship Wrestling is holding a show at 6 p.m. Jan. 28 at Weekend’s Pub, 428 Red Bank Road, Goose Creek. Main event pits The Barbarian against Josh Magnum. Admission is $5. For more information, call 824-1477.
– The United Wrestling Federation, owned by NASCAR driver and SPEED broadcaster Hermie Sadler, will make its 2007 debut with events Feb. 2 at the Bill Ellis Convention Center in Wilson, N.C., and Feb. 3 at Hanover Hall on the campus of UNC-Wilmington. The Wilmington show will feature a tag-team match pitting Team 3-D against Rick and Scott Steiner.
Tickets start at $15. For more information, visit www.uwfusa.com.
– TNA star Konnan (Charles Ashenoff) is suffering from a variety of health problems and is awaiting a kidney transplant.
Konnan, 43, was scheduled to undergo hip replacement surgery in Mexico, but doctors discovered that his kidneys were badly damaged and that he needed a transplant as soon as possible. He currently is undergoing dialysis to clean out his blood so his kidneys can be strong enough for him to undergo a hip replacement.
The 20-year mat veteran, one of Mexico’s biggest stars over the past decade, has lost 35 pounds battling the life-threatening disease and currently is seeking donations to cover expenses for the transplant. He is looking for a kidney donor (O negative or O positive blood type).
TNA loaned Konnan, who does not have health insurance, the money for his hip replacement surgery, but he must come up with funds for the kidney transplant, which reportedly will cost more than $35,000.
– Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle will battle Samoa Joe in a 30-minute Iron Man match to headline TNA’s Final Resolution pay-per-view tonight.
– WWE performer Sylvain Grenier was pulled over for speeding Tuesday on his way to a Smackdown taping in Peoria, Ill. The wrestler, who reportedly was going 96 in a 55 mph zone, was booked into jail but a co-worker paid the $200 bond to get him out and to the building. He didn’t wrestle on the show, but will have to return to Peoria for a court date.
– WWE is producing a DVD on famous wrestling families as part of its “legends” series. The DVD is expected to be released later this year.
A WWE television production crew recently visited the Funking Wrestling Conservatory in Ocala to film the owner of the wrestling school.
Dory Funk Jr. and brother Terry are the only two brothers ever to hold the NWA world heavyweight title, and their father, Dory Sr., was a legendary promoter and wrestler.
“For me this is a thrill,” Funk, 65, told the Ocala Star-Banner. “That the WWE would come to Ocala for me is really an honor. It’s the kind of recognition that makes it all worthwhile.”