“I can tell you been studied ol’ tapes, boy. Wuzzat a damn Swedish Cravat, I saw?” The first of my grapple-coaches, Scotty McKeever asked me with a golden glow of that’s-my-boy pride in his eyes.
I just nodded my head, unable to break it to him that I had not learned that specific headlock/neck-crank (of a national origin I’m still not aware of) from watching the high mileage classics collected in his library/bedroom, but had learned this particular hold by indulging in the fresh off the assembly line Smart Mark Video distributed IWA Mid-South Ted Petty Invitational, featuring the wrestler I was copying; Chris Hero.
It’s interesting to be an independent wrestler, after being an independent wrestling fan, because: when I go back and watch the immaculate-in-my-memory-matches that were the collective wind pushing my sails in the direction of the course that I am on, they’re not as perfect as I remember them.
Tainted by trained-to-be-critical eyes, these matches that made me me, don’t have the same shine as when they were making me. At this point, I have acquired much more knowledge in the science of wrestling than the relatively-rookie-to-me-now, relatively-veteran-to-me-then, wrestlers that inspired me.
Rewatching these matches, I still think they’re very good, but if a young wrestler would send them to me to review, today, I would probably just see a lot of potential, but not necessarily greatness-on-the-verge. Interestingly, though, all my favorite independent guys, from back then, were on the verge of greatness, in one way or another, and ended up on various national television programs.
Somehow I seemed to intuitively know that the tall guy with the Superman-ish logo on his tank top and en-vogue-at-the time baggy pants, was destined to be argued as one of, if not the, best in the World.
I doubt I would have that intuition, now.
So, did I have something, then, that I am lacking, now?
Nah, that’s just the interesting thing about people who are ahead of their time; once time catches up, it’s hard to go back and see what was so special about them, because your looking on them with eyes shifted by their specialness.
Chris Hero is a game changer.
He came into the league and started dunking on motherf___ers who had never seen a dunk before, then those motherf___ers started dunking. Which may make his rookie dunks seem less “oh, sh__t” worthy, but back then his uber-technical, mixed borrowing and blending of rarely seen styles, technique made me “oh, sh__t” myself on many occasions.
Then, once a bunch of players came into the league playing with a Hero inspired style, he switched his up, f__ked around, and changed the damn game, again.
Right around the time when he started calling himself “That Young Knockout Kid”, I noticed a lot of young kids throwing knockout blows. His seamless-smooth, flawlessly timed, meticulously placed smorgasbord of strikes continues to inspire a new wave of rookies.
How amazing: not only had he created another wave in the great lake of independent wrestling, but he had done so by having barnacles big enough to test out a brand new speedboat, when he was already whizzing around in a well-proven-to-float model.
When you add up all his professional influence on myself and my peers, so far, equals up to one of my favorite wrestlers of all time, and he just keeps dropping change in that tip jar. That’s more than enough, but only half the picture.
Not only have I been lucky enough to draw career enriching inspiration from Chris-the-game-changing-athlete, but I have been unquantifiably luckier to have the game changing experience of getting to know Chris-the-inspiring-human being.
When I was just getting established as a “good West Virginia wrestler” (which some might liken to being a good chess player in prison), Chris solidified me as a local star by going out of his way to speak well of me on the microphone.
When I was on tour with him in Canada, I was awed by his patience when offering young wrestlers guidance before, during, and after events and flabbergasted by his natural vibrant energy that made him the life of the mandatory local-sponsor-bar after parties, despite the fact that he doesn’t drink.
When I tried out for EVOLVE, he gave me good advice and put in a good word for me.
When I started wrestling for EVOLVE he treated me like a beloved little brother.
When I read that he was making his return to the WWE, I had tears of happiness swell in my eyes.
When I lightheartedly posted that I had discovered that I had to pay $1,666, due to someone else's f__kuppery, to keep my house, though I had made it a point to point out that the money wasn’t an issue (one of my ongoing #365BestDaysEver statuses), at all, Chris privately messaged me and told me that he would be happy to loan me the full amount, if I needed it.
Well I’m man enough to admit: those happy-tears did more than swell, this time.
Thank you, Chris, so much!