In the history of wrestling, there have been some great final matches that truly portrayed that final ride into the sunset. Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels, Michaels and the Undertaker… these are matches that every fan loved and ones that will stand the test of time, the final the decision made by men who simply could not or did not want to get in the ring anymore.
But what about the other side? Those who cling to their wrestling career, unable to deliver the once quality matches they were capable of, afraid to walk up the ramp and be forgotten? Some of them work behind the scenes in promotions, some do announcing or play-by-play. It just leaves us curious as to why wrestlers may be afraid of “the unknown.”
A perfect example would be Jerry “The King” Lawler. Back in July, when I conducted a series of interviews with some of the legends of WWE, Lawler was among them. I was particularly excited to sit down with him and discuss his long wrestling history, his friendship and on-air feud with Andy Kaufman, and his success as an illustrator on the Headlocked comic series and Mick Foley’s children’s book.
Much to my chagrin, Lawler had no interest in discussing the first two topics. He made it very clear to me before we sat down that he “wanted no conversation about wrestling or anything of that nature–only the animation.” This is like having a conversation with an agoraphobic about what they think of the weather outside.
I proceeded to ask seven or eight questions that unfortunately had very flat answers. I thanked him for his time and asked to take a quick post interview photo with him, which he only allowed if he was by himself. It actually effected more than just the scale of “good interview vs. bad interview”; it affected my outlook on Lawler, as well as the WWE.
On a weekly basis, he sits behind the announcing table for three hours, during which time he gives color commentary, play-by-play and acts very enthusiastically. The man I met was very different. I felt like his love and passion for what he had dedicated a huge part of his life to was gone. He was someone who had a storied career, was well loved by most wrestling fans, but had no interest with having a discussion about wrestling. Granted, many questions have been asked in many different ways during interviews over such a lengthy career, but why refuse questions about wrestling altogether when it’s essentially the source of one’s notoriety?
Why would you attend an event to meet fans who essentially only care about one thing: your wrestling career? Why smile and glad hand fans, sign action figures and pose with your famous crown? My perspective on Lawler has been greatly altered because of these things.
Then take a wrestler like Billy Fives. Billy is considered one of the most popular wrestlers in the Florida indie circuit and the best kept secret that walked a fine line between the indies and major promotions. While he made appearance on WCW and WWF, he primarily wrestled in Combat Zone Wrestling, East Coast Wrestling Alliance and, most recently for his final match, D1PW. I had the pleasure of attending his final match against his protégé, Jonny Vandal. The match itself was phenomenal. They literally went everywhere in the VFW hall. In the end, Vandal pulled out the win for the D1PW title, while Fives exchanged hugs with his mentee and proceeded to take off his wrestling boots, placing them in the center of the ring at Vandal’s feet.
You could tell it was a somber moment for both men, but ultimately all things, good or bad, must come to an end. After the match I spoke with Vandal and Fives about their match.
“This was a perfect match for me to go out there, beat the hell out of Jonny and end it with me taking the boots off,” Fives said about his final match. “I’ve said a thousand times: I’m not taking bookings, I’m not going to wrestle, etcetera. For me to know that I mean it when I say I’m not coming back and do it in this match, with this guy… I couldn’t ask for a better ending to my career.”
Fives also had a level of contempt for the wrestling world.
“No bittersweet feelings on retiring, but on the wrestling business, absolutely. I fucking hate this business. It’s full of scumbags, lowlifes who infiltrated it. As many of my friends say to echo my words, ‘I love wrestling but hate the wrestling business.’”
When I asked about regrets, he talked about one where he would have been on a long tour that would have been prosperous and possibly put him into the next stratosphere, globally. The reason he didn’t do it: his daughter. He said she “didn’t want daddy to be gone anymore.” At this, Fives smiled for a second and said he would have made the same decision 100 out of 100 times.
Whether it is wrestling, football, baseball or any other sport, time is always moving. Some leave too early, some stay too long. The bottom line should be this: When you have soured on something you once loved, maybe you need to look at the person in the mirror and choose to move on with dignity. Some make that decision willfully and some still seem to be afraid of what comes after that last walk up the ramp.
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