Last weekend I attended the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame ceremony in Amsterdam, N.Y. It was great hearing such heartfelt speeches from legends of the industry and seeing so many familiar faces in the audience. One such face, Mick Foley, was in the audience enjoying the ceremony like everyone else and didn't even make a speech at the event. He drove four hours from his native Long Island to attend the induction of his trainer, the legendary Domenic DeNucci, then left less than an hour later.
One would never expect a man who commands such respect and admiration in the pro wrestling community as Mick Foley would go to such great lengths and take time out of his busy schedule to say thank you to a man he's thanked likely hundreds of times. But he did.
I have to admit, I'm a sucker for a story like that where the theme is respect. I can't help but appreciate Mick Foley even more simply because of this act. It's simple because, myself and many in attendance drove similar distances, just to surround ourselves and celebrate the industry we love and choose to be entertained by. It's incredible that a man who has accomplished pretty much everything there is to accomplish in pro wrestling (save for the Hall of Fame, which will undoubtedly happen) will still in a way “pay dues” and show respect for his trainer.
Two Saturdays ago I had the pleasure of attending Ring of Honor “Border Wars” in Toronto. My lasting image of that event will be of Kevin Steen, who won the ROH championship that night. But the main memory for me won't be the match (though it was a great contest with Davey Richards). Interestingly enough, the lasting image is what was written on Steen's wrist tape -- “12 F'n years.” The man known as “Wrestling's Worst Nightmare” used it as a reminder to himself, his peers and fans watching the event that he worked long and hard, over a decade to have this moment. Over that 12-year span, you can only imagine the amount of sacrifice and dues he and someone in his position had to pay.
The subject of “paying dues” is an interesting one and comes in different forms across the world. A general definition of “paying dues” would be simply performing acts that those before you did and would thus perceive you to be respectful of the pro wrestling business. Shaking everyone's hand in a locker room, helping to set up and tear down the ring, carrying a veteran's bags or giving up your free firs-class flight upgrade to them. These are examples of “dues.” In Japan, “young boys” often scrub veteran's backs or help them tie and untie their shoes. Respect is a huge theme in the wrestling business, and perhaps more than in any other form of entertainment there are certain tacit rules and parameters that most everyone in the industry follows.
Perhaps the biggest set of “dues” somebody pays is time. Much like Kevin Steen in my earlier example, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan are two examples of current WWE Superstars who combined have roughly 25 years of time invested in pro wrestling. This past Sunday at Over The Limit, they met in the ring. This is not the first time these two have faced off, but it was the first time on a WWE pay-per-view event. CM Punk once said on Twitter that even if WWE success didn't come to him, he'd still be chasing $30 paydays in faraway towns, doing what he loves in the ring.
One recurring picture that popped into my head as this match unfolded was what CM Punk tweeted after the 2011 Survivor Series last year -- two “indy schmucks” (as Punk called he and Bryan) holding both top WWE championship titles. Both men may epitomize what it means for wrestlers to “pay dues.” The reputation that they have garnered for themselves in the pro wrestling community is one of deep respect and appreciation. Each superstar has a past and a story to tell. For me, the story I enjoy the most is the one of the person who grew up a wrestling fan, and wanted it so bad he was willing to do whatever it took to become a superstar, and then finally earns it. Maybe that's why I felt joy watching CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan at Over The Limit. Maybe it was also because it was the match that we thought we'd never see on pay-per-view, let alone for a WWE title.
These are just a few examples and there are so many other success stories that follow the same theme. More generally, the best WWE superstars are those who were also fans (other examples are The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin and John Cena). Beyond that, there are countless aspiring superstars who are pounding the pavement every day, helping to set up rings, put up posters and entertain maybe a crowd of 75 people for a $40 pay day before driving 500 miles to the next town, not knowing whether they will even get an opportunity to audition for an organization that could give them a steady pay check they could live off of. At a seminar at this year's Cauliflower Alley Club Reunion, Jim Ross noted that based on available spots, it's statistically easier to become an NFL Football player than a WWE Superstar.
So, to those who are chasing the dream, paying dues and working hard, I salute you.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun