Friday, 10 June 2011

Holy shit, my mate's a wrestling manager

There were plenty of reasons for me to respect Marcus Dowling. As a music journalist, he constantly impresses me with his coverage of the hip hop and urban scenes stateside - he has the kind of finger on the pulse that expertly checks for signs of new life, and has a scholarly approach to music criticism, which treats music on a social and spritual level, as well as provides the more logical cultural examination. Then, of course, there's the fact that he's the world's journalistic authority on my beloved moombahton - he was there in Washington to cut the umbilical cord and change its shitty nappies during its infancy, and now drops it off at school everyday by providing the content for the scene's official website.

Then I discovered that he's also a fucking wrestling manager.

It's there in plain site on his Twitter profile, but I'd long assumed that was some kind of gag. Nope, he's a wrestling manager, legit. He currently works for the NWA Fusion promotion, fronting their online coverage, and has put in a shift for around 40 companies over a span of 11 years. Plus, he's worked with wrestling legends like Kevin Nash and Tatanka. This impressed the hell out of me. You wanna know my guilty pleasure? It's not listening to Carly Simon (which I do) or watching Yo Gabba Gabba (not so much now), it's wrestling. Granted, I haven't watched it for years, but I can't ever totally shake my sheer admiration for it. At the pivotal time in my youth when I was discovering life outside of the music and film mainstream via John Peel, the NME and The Incredibly Strange Film Show, I was also hypnotised by the WWF and the ridiculous antics of guys Randy Savage, The British Bulldogs and Jesse Ventura. Later on, Mick Foley, Rey Misterio Jr, Mexican luchadors and the original ECW psychos would impress the adult me just as much as that teenaged me. Take the showmanship of Ali, the lack of self-regard of Jackie Chan, the balletic patterns of kung-fu films and the larger-than-life B-movie plotting of Stan Lee and you have it all. I still think it's one of the cultural success stories of the modern age.

With this in mind, I decided to scratch the itch and speak to Marcus about his time in the industry.

I guess the first place to start is by asking how the hell someone becomes a wrestling manager. Doesn't strike me as something a careers advisor would suggest.
Well, I graduated Providence College in 2000, right at the height of the wrestling boom. While in school, I was kind of 'the wrestling guy' around campus during the Attitude and Nitro eras. I'd always been a wrestling fan, and met up with some other wrestling fans back here in DC who were getting trained to wrestle. I went with them one night on a lark, and started cutting promos right there and was training the next night!
Clearly, you've been into this for a long time. What appealed to the young Marcus about this? Can you remember how you got into it?
I loved the larger-than-life characters and the intense connection they inspired in people. My uncles were HUGE wrestling fans, and I would stay with them on Saturday mornings from the age of 4 to 9 while my mother would work overtime at her 9-5 job. I was sitting there and The Junkyard Dog, Ernie Ladd, The Fabulous Freebirds and a ton of others were on TV during a Mid-South wrestling episode. Seeing how excited my uncles were got me hooked immediately. 

Did you grow up with any kind of connection to the managers, people like Jimmy Hart, Jim Cornette, Bobby Heenan? What was the appeal of the role?
I loved managers as a kid, especially the ones who felt logical in their role. Jimmy Hart, Gary Hart, Bobby Heenan and Jim Cornette felt like they legitimately managed the business affairs of the men they wrestled, and their promos felt honest and heartfelt like the wins and losses mattered. Before I became aware of the pre-determined nature of finishes, I always completely understood why a manager interfered. They had big money on the line!  

What are the ACTUAL responsibilities of a manager? Do you have any tie-up with a wrestler outside of the ring or is it just all about being a hype man?
As a manager you serve a number of key roles: on one level, you're hyping up a performer who may be deficient in their ability to discuss their own talents convincingly. In that role, my work is heavily based on in-ring and backstage promos giving the person I'm managing some heat and providing just cause for the fans to respond in a particular manner to his character. On another level, I may provide the necessary lynchpin to the heat for my performer's in ring performance. As in, when I cheat during the match, it's the moment that directly leads to the performer I'm aligned with gaining an offensive advantage or victory. A guy with really top-notch in-ring talents should be cheered for being so technically gifted. However, it's in the fact that I cheat for him because I can, not because he needs me to, that provides the heat that fans the fire of hate. On some rare occasions, me getting physically involved is the necessary additive that a character needs to really connect with a crowd. As a chief antagonizer, if someone is able to put their hands on me and cause me physical harm then in my pain is a connective link that is made between a performer and the crowd that, if significantly developed, can create a new money-making star. 

Can you remember your debut? How did that go?
Oh, it was terrible. 20 people at a YMCA gym in DC, at an outlaw show, meaning the Boxing and Wrestling Commission wasn't aware of the show and the promoter wasn't licensed. I also wasn't completely trained and fully aware of how to manage.  

What sort of learning curve did you have? Have you learned from mistakes?
I never stop learning. There's a particular learning curve to just being a competent wrestler or manager, and also a  learning curve to being successful at every level of the wrestling business. It took me five years to gain competency, as the concept of male managers is not actively or significantly pushed by mainstream companies worldwide, be it WWE, TNA, ROH, Japan, etc. As far as being a top performer in match one or being a main event draw, that's like the advanced level Master's Degree level of understanding the very few ever reach but should be the aspirational desire of every performer.

The greatest managers always seem to be heels. Given that you're a smidge more physically fragile than the wrestlers, does the heat ever leave you feeling worryingly exposed?
Trust is a necessity. I've had my fair share of bumps and bruises which is to be expected from falling on unforgiving surfaces, but I always feel safe in the ring with my fellow brethren. Most important part of the business.  

How would you describe the buzz of a show?
Sheer excitement. There's a nervous unease that comes from knowing what you're about to do, and being able to unleash that unease as an exciting performance. The more you gain in talent and the ability to trust your own abilities to deliver a top notch performance on a consistent basis only raises the exciting buzz of the show atmosphere.  

Given that the adrenaline rush must be fairly stupendous, more so than any clubbing experience, does the comedown of everyday life pose any problem?
Well, for me, it's weird. It's different energies at play. As a music journalist, the excitement is funneled into words which then hit the page hopefully with a certain energy transferred from experiencing the event live. As a wrestling manager, I'm the one controlling the energy through my performance, and expelling the energy by the finish. There's a level of human involvement in performing that allows a level of control that is a really refreshing change. On any level of existence, having a sufficient, healthy outlet for the highs of any area of life is absolutely key. 

It strikes me that this isn't an industry that attracts regular joes. You must have worked with some real characters...
Tons. Wrestlers are a unique breed. At present I work with a group of performers who when not wrestling are a videographer with US government security clearances, a delivery driver, a state tax collector and a youth soccer coach. You have to be either completely straight laced and in desperate need of a creative outlet or wildly unhinged to exist and succeed in professional wrestling. You have to be the kind of person who can engage and disengage fully from a complete fantasy world, or be perfectly comfortable in existing and making a living wage in one. 

You mentioned that you've worked with the likes of Kevin Nash, Axl Rotten and Tatanka. How was it dealing with them at this stage in their career? Did they provide you with some great memories?
Still fun. In the cases of all three, they were far past their huge money-drawing primes, but in all of them being reflective, honest and willing to share have the unique ability to offer performance and life advice that is soaked in truth. Veteran performers from the era where wrestling territories still existed understand how to draw money on a day-to-day basis as opposed to a month-to-month basis. The difference is there's a certain level of presentation, appearance, self-preservation and ingenuity necessary to be able to be counted on as a consistent and top draw every single day.

There's a video of you taking a wicked chairshot to the head from ECW icon Balls Mahony. What's it like taking bumps as a manager? Any sticky moments?
Balls is great. I mean, he's a little wacky, but at the point of his career where he understands that perception is the same as reality. One of my mentors, Steve Corino, took the chairshot to the back by Axl, chairshot to the head by Balls combo for about a year of his life, got busted open and suffered concussions a fair number of times. Almost a decade later, the chair isn't being swung with the murderous intent of two young men trying to get over at the cost of scrambling a young man's brain, so it's certainly safer. I wasn't hurt, but was totally fine, and would easily do it again if the price and time was right. 

The sense that comes across from films like Beyond The Mat, The Wrestler and from coverage in the media is that it's a lot of pain for not a lot of gain. Is there an undercurrent of sadness in the industry?
Yeah. Wrestling's sad if you don't have an outlet for the emotional gravitas of it that is equal to the level of time and energy you put in. It's hard to disconnect for most performers, especially those like in the cases of Beyond the Mat and The Wrestler who are in the midst of pushing to either attain or re-attain a level of notoriety that in unusually high. In an all-risk, possibly no-reward industry, there's a level of sadness possible that is heart-wrenching. 

I guess the elephant in the room is the toll the industry takes - even non-fans are aware of what happened to the likes of Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero etc. Though you're involvement is not at that level of pressure, you must work with guys who aspire to join that world. How do you and the guys handle that issue? And are you comfortable with that?
Yeah. As I stated earlier, wrestling is a reflexive and reflective business. It gives you back as much as you're willing to put in. Benoit and Guerrero were once-in-a-lifetime performers who had the unique gift/curse of being able to bear, if even for the smallest fraction of time, infinitely more than their bodies were composed to handle. To live at 150% of your human output for a lifetime is completely impossible. You can't tell someone the NOT do that, though. When motivated by an industry that constantly lives in the essence of being predetermined and ANYTHING being possible, you have some who are willing to sacrifice to live in that gratifying, if not inexcusably and wrongly perpetuated reality. 

It strikes me that this issue has forged a very tight-knit community. What's it like being in the locker room? Is there a specific kind of camaraderie?
It's family. I'm trusting you with my body. In trusting you with my body, I'm also entrusting you with every hope, dream, fear and aspiration I have. It's powerful and very real. There's a love and kinship there that provides an element of care that many in wrestling have never had in their lives, or mortgage in their lives in joining the profession. 

Guess we should end on a high note! What would you say is your greatest moment?
Wow. So many. I'd say causing a legit race-based riot with actual American adults and children in 2008. To be able to have control of a crowd in that manner is an intoxicating feeling. That entire race angle in Baltimore, MD's Eastern Wrestling Alliance taught me about milking the ebb and flow of human emotions, and how to walk to an edge and not walk off the edge. You have to break a few eggs in order to make a perfect cake. 

Your proudest moment?
Any event for NWA Fusion. We're a promotion out of southern Virginia that uses tried and true concepts from promotions that consistently drew money and created lasting, indelible top stars in an era where people think those methods are outmoded and ready for the rubbish pile. 

And what about your worst moment?
Having my penis escape from my underwear during a May 2010 match in NWA Fusion - and now being called Cocktail Weenie seemingly for life by the crowd there!

And where would you like this journey to lead you?
To peace and happiness within myself. It'd be nice to say to a contract, or to WWE or TNA, but I just want to have consistent performances that allow a promotion to consistently draw money. At the end of the day that's how all of the guys I idolize and emulate defined their career happiness, and after 11 years around the wrestling business at varying levels of the profession, it works for me too. If you know in your heart your performance was good, and you were consistently a credit to the profession, then that's a major achievement.

1 comment:

  1. Great interview! I've always wanted to be a wrestling manager. I think I just want to be in on living like a comic book character, but not have to get the crap beat out of me night after night!