TRADITIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING




TRADITIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING: "Redneck and Proud Of It"

By Dr. Abner Mality

The Good Doctor continues his examination of independent wrestling leagues flying under the radar and providing good grunt-and-groan entertainment for the pro wrestling purist. By purist, I mean the teeming throngs who are bored shitless by the corporate "Disney-on-the-mat" shenanigans of WWE and confused by the slipshod booking of Impact Wrestling.

The Southern United States is the last great bastion of pro wrestling as it used to be. Handsome babyfaces who stand for all that is decent, rotten heels who would stab their grannies for a buck...wrestling that is "kayfabe" to the bone, where brawling is an art and basic holds are still employed. There are a ton of these true-blue small promotions running in the South, but lately the hottest has been the aptly named Traditional Championship Wrestling, which is headquartered in Arkansas.

Anybody who loves good ol' suthun-style rasslin' knows that Memphis, Tennessee was the absolute Mecca of this artform for decades. The home of stars such as Jackie Fargo, Jerry "The King" Lawler and Superstar Bill Dundee, Memphis ran weekly shows that were promoted by Saturday morning matches held in the local TV studio. Memphis wrestling didn't need to hold its TV in giant arenas with pyro, lasers and other gimmicks. The Saturday morning shows during their heyday pulled in some of the biggest ratings in the entire country. Long after other regional promotions like the AWA, Florida and Detroit folded, Memphis kept going strong until finally fizzling out in the early 2000's.

Traditional Championship Wrestling, or TCW as it shall henceforth be known, has learned the lession of Memphis very well. This small promotion is not attempting to be the next WWE or even the next TNA...they focus on the folks in smaller markets that those promotions ignore and deliver the same kind of wrestling that's been popular in the South for generations. So far, the strategy has worked and TCW is a growing promotion that has pulled in impressive crowds.

Memphis traditionally revolved around the trials and travails of one major babyface champion, the greatest of which were Jackie Fargo and Jerry Lawler. In TCW, the undoubted star of the show is Matt Riviera. All the major angles and matches circle around this handsome and cocky young wrestler, who is a true babyface in time-honored tradition. This means he would almost certainly be booed mercilessly in "hip" indy promotions on the East and West coast, which are inhabited by "smart marks". But in Arkansas, the concept of the good looking young guy who plays by the rules, salutes the flag and is polite to ladies is not considered out of date.

Like Jerry Lawler in Memphis, Riviera always has friends turning on him so they can get a shot at the title he holds. The latest of these is journeyman wrestler Jeff Jett, who is a fantastic example of a type of wrestler that thrives in small Southern promotions and nowhere else. A pudgy, older guy, Jett definitely doesn't have the "look" that big time promoters like WWE and TNA look for. That's their loss in my opinion, because Jett just has the aura of being a tough, capable son of a bitch who doesn't need a gimmick other than his own meanness to get over. In that way, he is reminiscent of guys like Arn Anderson and Dick Murdoch. Jett's finishing move is a powerful knee lift. Again, anywhere but the South, that move would be considered passe. But Jett's opponents sell it like they've been shot.

A great angle was used to get Jett's kneelift over. Announcer Chris Cruise (yes, the former WCW announcer) and broadcast partner Brian Thompson visited Jett in his backyard. The duo held a hefty sack of seed between them until Jett smashed it with his devastating knee lift, busting the sack open and sending seed flying. This is a good example of the low-budget non-flashy version of how to push a wrestler.

Most Southern promotions live or die on the quality of their heels and TCW has some good ones. "Golden Boy" Greg Anthony is another one. The TCW Junior heavyweight champion, he's a pudgy bearded loudmouth who doesn't look like he'd be a great cruiserweight. But the proof is in the pudding, as they say, and Anthony delivers in the ring. One edition of TCW TV had him in an exciting match with none other than Jay Lethal of TNA/ROH fame. Anthony is mentored by tag team wrestling great Beautiful Bobby Eaton and managed by Brian Thompson. Anthony is so dirty and under-handed that he turned on his own manager, in a role reversal of what is usually seen. Former scalliwag Thompson has now "seen the light" but who knows how long that will last?

The esteemed art of managing is also alive and well in TCW. Thompson was the most notorious before his recent "conversion" but by far the most entertaining and bizarre of the promotions managers is Boyd Bradford. I guarantee you've never seen a guy exactly like this. An idiotically grinning, baby-faced goof looking like an extra from "Guys and Dolls", this annoying character drives people crazy with his braying laugh and constant sneering of "Ya unnerstand?" He is so strange and out of place in today's wrestling world that it's sheer brilliance. In a clever move, Bradford manages the nastiest monster heel in TCW, Killer Nikels. Nikels is a scary looking big guy who could definitely get a look from the big promotions. Between Bradford's shenanigans and his own ruthless tactics, Nikels is almost unbeatable. He's only been pinned once...by super-tough ex-WWE star Fit Finlay. For good measure, Bradford also manages the original Doink the Clown. Now Doinks are a dime a dozen in the indies, but this is the REAL Doink...Matt Borne. Doink was at his best when he was a pure heel and that's what he is here. The trio of Doink, Bradford and Nikels is one of the most entertaining heel units around.

Another TCW manager is Rich Rude...no relation to the Ravishing One. He manages the tag team champions, known as Genetic Perfection, and again plays the role of loud-mouthed businessman to the hilt. Unfortunately, Genetic Perfection...made up of "Mr. Saturday Night"  Michael Berry and "All That" Alan Steel...is the only real tag team of note in the territory. The only other teams I've seen tend to be singles stars thrown together. TCW is notably deficient in the tag team area, especially compared to other indies such as Chikara and NWA Hollywood. Given the old school Southern style of TCW, it would make sense if they put together a young "Rock N Roll Express" type team to offer Genetic Perfection some real competition.

The promotion has a TV show that lasts only a half an hour, but which has good exposure in several Arkansas markets including Little Rock. They've also got a Youtube channel and episodes can be found at the TCW website. For a half hour show, the promotion does a pretty good job of cramming in a lot of action and hype. The camera and sound work is very good for this level of wrestling and TV commentary from Chris Cruise and Brian Thompson is more than acceptable, although Cruise still does the "I thought he had him!" shtick that was tiresome even back in WCW days.

What really makes the TCW shows stand out is the crowd response. Every show I've seen so far has been in front of big, enthusiastic crowds that respond perfectly to the action...booing the heels and cheering the faces. Crowd response is what boosts ANY wrestling show, from the smallest indy to WWE, over the top. The actual wrestling itself tends to be basic, with a lot of "chopping meat" (i.e., kicks and punches), but delivered with fire. Contrary to what smarks in the East Coast promotions believe, amazing gymnastic moves and Japanese strong style brutality are not always necessary to make a good wrestling show. TCW understands its audience and delivers what they want.

The promotion is savvy enough to bring in stars from other promotions to grab fans interests. The likes of Jerry Lynn, Jay Lethal, Fit Finlay and Jerry "The King" Lawler have all appeared in TCW, as well as legends like Harley Race and Jake "The Snake" Roberts. The combination of old and new really works well down South and all the guest stars have been used to maximum effect.

Traditional Championship Wrestling would probably not appeal to those only used to enormous WWE style glitz n glamor or super "workrate" oriented promotions. But as long as people down in Arkie are spoiling to see a good fight and let the bad guys have it long and loud, there will be a place for Traditional Championship Wrestling and similar promotions.

With another half hour added to the show, a couple more established stars and some solid tag teams, these guys could really go places. Check them out here:

www.traditionalwrestling.net