Some Legitimate Athletes Go to the Mat By FRED BIERMAN
e was one of the most successful amateur wrestlers of the 1990's, winning a gold medal for freestyle wrestling in the 1996 Olympics and capturing six United States championships. Yet when Kurt Angle would tell people that he wrestled, they would often bring up professional wrestlers like Hulk Hogan rather than Olympic stars like Dan Gable.
"I'm an Olympic wrestler," Angle would tell them. "Don't degrade me like that."
Eight years after winning an Olympic gold medal, Angle can be seen on television on Thursday nights on World Wrestling Entertainment's "Smackdown," grappling with the likes of Eddie (Latin Heat) Guerrero, the Undertaker and Scotty 2 Hotty.
Angle joined the W.W.E. in 1999, when it was known as the World Wrestling Federation. He is one of a growing number of athletes who have been recruited by the organization and made the switch from competitive sports to what the W.W.E. calls sports entertainment. Wooed by the possibility of big paydays, some athletes are beginning to view pro wrestling as a viable career option.
Angle turned down a multimillion-dollar offer from the W.W.F. after his Olympic victory, but then he became bored with a life of speaking engagements and wrestling camps. So in 1999 he changed his mind.
Wrestlers in the W.W.E. are independent contractors who earn little money initially and must prove themselves in a developmental league like Ohio Valley Wrestling. If they show the necessary athleticism and charisma, they are called up to the W.W.E., where starting salaries are in six figures. Previous athletic achievement can translate to a bigger check.
The W.W.E., whose annual WrestleMania will be March 14 at Madison Square Garden, has had success recruiting amateur wrestlers and college and pro football players. A few examples are the Rock (Dwayne Johnson, a defensive lineman for the University of Miami), Farooq (Ron Simmons, a defensive lineman whose jersey was retired by Florida State) and Brock Lesnar, who won a national championship as a heavyweight wrestler at Minnesota.
"There are two different routes we have traveled," Jim Ross, the executive vice president for talent relations with the W.W.E., said in a telephone interview. "One is the football route and one is the amateur wrestling route."
Ross, who is also a commentator for "Monday Night Raw," W.W.E.'s other weekly television program, feels that his organization can benefit from signing these kinds of athletes.
"What we do is not easy," Ross said. "The travel's not easy. The physicality is not easy, working through injuries is not easy, and what you find is the guys who have already done that through amateur wrestling or football, they know what that's like."
Football players like Bronko Nagurski, Jim Thorpe, Kevin Greene and Reggie White wrestled professionally, and the award for the top amateur wrestler in the nation, the Dan Hodge award, is named for an amateur who went on to have a successful pro wrestling career.
But it is only recently that the W.W.E. has actively recruited these athletes. It has a presence at amateur wrestling events and maintains close contact with college wrestling coaches. Ross and his department also track players who think they may not be drafted by the N.F.L. or who have been recently cut by an N.F.L. team.
"We're just trying to get a structure and a system in place where we can have the opportunity to either interview or try out these prospects," Ross said. "We just want to let those guys know that we're here and we may be an option that they want to explore."
John Layfield, who wrestles under the name Bradshaw, played a season with the Los Angeles Raiders after an all-American career at Abilene Christian University in Texas. After a knee injury ended his football career, Layfield, an offensive lineman, turned to pro wrestling.
Despite being a longtime fan of the sport, he was surprised at what it took to make it.
"I didn't realize the physicality was going to be quite as high as it was," Layfield said. "To me, it's the equivalent of playing pro football, except there's no off-season."
Although the sport is scripted, some of the contact is real. The action can be fast-paced and dangerous. The trust and teamwork among wrestlers is often overlooked and something competitive athletes can relate to.
"You're literally putting your health, and possibly your life, into somebody else's hands," Layfield said. "So you have to have trust in the fact that these people are well trained enough that they're not going to drop you on your head."
Ross said: "It's about entertaining the masses. Some days it calls for you to win; some days it calls for you to lose. Some days it calls for you to be a good guy or a bad guy."
It is the entertainment aspect of the business that can be hardest to define, and that can make scouting talent so difficult. Wrestlers not only have to be athletic, but they also must be able to get on the microphone in the ring and hold the crowd's attention. The scripts and the drama are almost as important as the wrestling itself.
"We always look for athletes that are extroverted and charismatic," Ross said. "This ain't ballet."
My turntables might wobble but they don't fall down.
Originally posted by NY TimesBut it is only recently that the W.W.E. has actively recruited these athletes. It has a presence at amateur wrestling events and maintains close contact with college wrestling coaches. Ross and his department also track players who think they may not be drafted by the N.F.L. or who have been recently cut by an N.F.L. team.
I did not know that! That's pretty cool though, go after these guys first instead of waiting for them to give up on their original plan before giving pro-wrestling a try.
Originally posted by King Of CrapI find it hilarious that of all the Smackdown wrestlers to name in the first paragraph, they came up with Scotty 2 Hotty.
I think the guy just used the most pro-wrestler-sounding names he could come up with, regardless of how popular or unpopular they might be. Especially since the article is geared towards people who probably dont watch wrestling and wouldnt know the difference anyway.
I'll take positive articles like these over Phil Mushnick's drivel any day of the week. Good job by the NY Times!
Edge: So Triple H wants me to come to Raw and fight him for the big gold belt. I've TOTALLY passed you on the card. Jericho: Yeah, but while Triple H is burying you, I get to make out with Trish in front of millions. You tell ME who the winner is here, junior!