I've always told people that I'm from Texas, not of it, which I still think is an important distinction. I've never identified with the weird bravado many native Texans feel for the geography they happened to be born in, the prevailing social and political leanings, or even the way folks speak (I don't drawl, I am an adult). One quintessential Texan thing remains embedded in my DNA that I'm not embarrassed to admit, is my love of professional wrestling.
I am a thirty two year old man who enjoys watching sweaty dudes pretend to punch each other in the face. Not sorry.
Yes, I know wrestling fans come from all backgrounds and locations, but Texas has a special place in the hierarchy of contributors to the art. Territories like World Class Championship Wrestling in Dallas gave us the Von Erich family, launched the career of Bruiser Brody, and the original (and best) version of The Fabulous Freebirds. Stars that have transcended their sport were given their first major exposure there, like , the Ultimate Warrior, and "Stone Cold" . When I was seven, my favorite wrestler, George "The Animal" Steele, scared the s@*t out of me when I asked for his autograph at a house show. Dude jumped up and down and barked at me. It was fantastic.
This formative exposure to wrestling has given me an appreciation for the pageantry and physicality of it. It's not just a bunch of giant dudes playing make-believe in spandex, exposing television audiences to wooden acting, though when that admittedly does occur it's a variety of entertainment all on its own. Professional wrestling today, represented most prominently by 's World Wrestling Entertainment, is a traveling troupe of men and women who perform grand theater on a live stage, 365 days a year, learning the lines that will perpetuate the stories they tell on the microphone and with their bodies, sometimes moments before they arrive in the ring.
These are men and women who not only have to convince venues full of fans and millions of people watching at home that they have a good reason for wanting to kick each other's teeth in, but perform their own stunts when it comes time to make good on their threatening promo. This is my meandering way of getting to a statement that I believe in strongly as it relates to the future of action in cinema. Specifically, from where future prospective action legends need to be recruited.
Professional wrestling should be our next big action stars, and I have three very good reasons why.
1. THEY ALREADY ARE KINDA ARE
When most of us think of the prime example of a professional wrestler crossing over from the world of tights and squared circles, , often better known as "The Rock", comes immediately to mind. Johnson is the prototype for the perfect storm of qualities that made a transition from wrestling to feature films (and back, as he's recently become the WWE Champion again for the first time in a decade), seem like a breeze. He's highly charismatic, a fantastic speaker, and I submit is exactly what most folks see in their head when they think "action star". He made The Rundown more fun than it had any right being, captured the incredible bizarreness of Southland Tales (loved that film, does manic, meandering weirdness better than anyone), and just sort of went with it. He stole scenes in Be Cool as bodyguard Elliot Wilhelm, and he's quickly become a franchise favorite as Luke Hobbs in Fast & Furious franchise.
That noted, Johnson's way was paved by the wrestlers that made the transition, however so slight, before him. While many people recognize , "Tiny" to most, as Deebo from 's Friday franchise, President Lindberg from The Fifth Element, or the Arkham Asylum inmate on the ferry that, in spite of being a giant, scary motherf@*#er, doesn't blow up a bunch of civilians.
I remember Lister as Zeus, a monster heel in what was then the WWF, participating in a feud with , arguably one of the biggest, pop culture-transcending stars in wrestling there ever was. While he made the odd jump from film, to wrestling (1989's No Holds Barred is awesome-bad), then back to film, Lister's career is a major success story.
of the most beloved wrestlers in the history of the sport, and yeah, I'm totally gonna call it that, is Andre the Giant. Andre feuded with Big john Studd, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, and famously put over Hulk Hogan in 1987's Wrestlemania III at the Pontiac Silverdome in front of 108,713 fans, a record for an indoor sporting event that remained until 2010.
Andre also became one of the most recognizable faces in pop culture, and remains so twenty years after his passing, in his role as the friendly giant Fezzik, in 1897's The Princess Bride. He even crossed paths with one of the greatest action stars of all time, , in Conan the Destroyer.
Some folks you might not even realize played huge parts in the formative years of children of the late eighties and early nineties. People may know as Diesel, or Vinnie Vegas (eww), but how many folks knew he was the man behind Super Shredder's mask in '91's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze? How freakin' cool is that? Nash has not only had one of the most decorated careers in wrestling, working with almost every major promotion in the world at some point in his almost twenty five years in the business, but also has become a pretty bankable go-to guy in film. At fifty three, Nash has thirteen big screen credits to his name, 2012's Rock of Ages and Magic Mike most prominent amongst them.
Granted, I loved the guy in DOA: Dead or Alive. Just bad movie-in'.
Certainly, there have been wrestlers whose turn as actors didn't exactly set the world of film on fire, but their contribution to the normalization of wrestlers in film can't be underestimated. "Rowdy" , "Macho Man" Randy Savage, and a chintzy but popular run in '80s family fare for Hogan (though he was amazing as Thunderlips in Rocky III), are just a few noteworthy examples. Predator and The Running Man wouldn't have been the same without Jesse "The Body" Ventura. No Jesse as Blain, or Captain Freedom? Pass. These wresting icons set the foundation for guys like Dwayne Johnson and Steve Austin to step into features.
2. THEY'RE BUILT-IN ACTION STARS ALREADY
From a perspective of pure physicality, you can quite literally do no better than dip into the pool of wrestling stars today. They're designed from the foundation up to be action superstars. Don't believe me? Check out this compilation of some of the most exciting wrestlers today putting stuntmen to shame.
(pardon the goofy music)
Guys like A.J. Styles, Amazing Red, John Hennigan (Morrison), and CM Punk, just to name a few, are well trained in the art of making what are already pretty brutal stunts look that much more painful. Many wrestlers have been trained to perform incredible acrobatics and take a level of punishment that very few actors would be willing, and I would submit there are stuntmen that would shy away from some of the truly painful trials professional wrestlers have put themselves through in the name of entertaining their fans.
Guys like Mick Foley have made careers out of brutalizing their bodies, and though he's a big, doughy goofball who might not be leading man material (love the guy nonetheless), there are plenty of young talents that not only have the look, can safely dole out action flick faux-beatings, but know how to take an incredible bump that makes it look like they've been broken in half.
Some of them have been honing these skills since they were teenagers, wrestling in the indies, developing their skills, and turning into incredible performers. Folks like Dolph Ziggler, Daniel Bryan, Austin Aries, Samoa Joe, and CM Punk can hold crowds in the palm of their hand simply by putting on a fantastic match. These guys are already action stars by default, simply using a slightly different medium. What's better? They're already built for the roles that an action star would be expected to play; they have the look out of the box. Filmmakers that want bankable stars to perform in their action films generally have to spend months waiting for folks that fill these roles to get into the shape of a battle-hardened tough guy. Time is money in the entertainment industry, and sometimes, I imagine that wait has to be pretty extensive.
Not only do wrestlers already have the bodies, but some of them are already ahead of the curve in another vital department...
3. THEY'RE (MOSTLY) AN UNTAPPED SOURCE OF ACTING TALENT
Before I talk details, I want you to watch this video.
I could go into how the above video is a very unique experience within wrestling all by itself, but that's another article entirely. What I will point out, however, is that most of this promo was unscripted television. CM Punk is one of the wrestlers I mentioned in my second point; a guy who is a dying breed of modern performer who climbed the ladder from indies like IWA Mid-South, to Ring of Honor, and managed in spite of not fitting the WWE's big man-centric roster (he's 6'2", small by wrestling standards), to find a foothold on the show. Until recently, he was their long-running WWE Champion, losing to The Rock, coincidentally. When he made the above speech, however, Punk was considering a departure from WWE after years of frustration.
...at least, we think he was legitimately considering it. I have no idea, and that's what's so cool about how well he sold the shoot above. It's a huge debate amongst wrestling fans even today just how much he actually got away with saying, almost two years later. There are legal ramifications for even mentioning different promotions on air, and members of their rosters. Regardless, you want to believe Punk managed to get his hands on a live mic and let the company that held him down for over five years in spite of his wild popularity and skill have it.
The promo certainly wasn't all scripted, it felt totally organic, and well -- it was a beautiful example of an actor plying his trade. Yes, an actor. CM Punk has presence, he can compete as well if not better than his counterparts physically, and he's not the only one amongst the ranks of wrestlers who have the gift of voice that could make them the total package as action stars. Also, remember, the bar has been set rather low. Schwarzenegger isn't exactly known for his stellar ability as a thespian, and while Stallone has put in some very worthy performances, dude still sounds like he's taken too many Ambien.
Developing the next wave of action superstars who can not only kick ass, take their lumps, but also put on an acting clinic is easier than Hollywood may think. I doubt we'll be seeing our next or coming from the world of moonsaults and frankensteiners, but The Zigglers, Mike Mizanins, Kingstons, and Jerichos of the wrestling universe could easily fill the shoes of , , or even their most successful representative thus far, The Rock.
With a little coaching, and a solid script, the wrestlers of today have all the potential in the world to become the guys we not only root for in the ring, but folks we'd happily but tickets to see fight ultra-national terrorists, or punch an alien in its big, dumb face parts.
The talent is there, it's only a matter of the film industry realizing a goldmine has been floating around the country, putting on the most physical, unique, and entertaining theater since the early 20th century.