Tuesday, March 11, 2014

On Mike Bennett, Beyond Wrestling, and Doing It for Free

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Mike Bennett is not a fan of Beyond Wrestling, but I'm not a fan of his rhetoric
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein

I am careful to utter the phrase "I can't see why anyone wouldn't like ___________" because everyone is different and has a set of tastes that is at least slightly divergent from the norm. With that in mind, Beyond Wrestling sounds like the promotion that is the closest thing to a universally lovable company out there. It offers loads of free content. Its paid shows are critically acclaimed and well-attended. The best wrestlers on the continent, both established and undiscovered, pass through its ranks, and some, including Chris Hero and Michael Elgin, have hosted seminars. The company seems like a dream for fans and wrestlers alike.

Of course, the company has its critics, but none have been more vocal than a certain Mike Bennett in the last week or so. I am not sure what sparked the outburst, but the following list is only a partial compendium of his rant against the promotion, after the jump:

First off, the link that Bennett tweeted out was to Friend of the Blog Joe Roche's article defending Beyond from Bennett's initial claims. Go read that article, because it makes good points. Back to the Twitter rant, that stream of consciousness, albeit broken up over a week, seemed to come from out of nowhere, especially since when I asked Beyond promoter and announcer Denver Colorado (the man, not the place!) what beef he may have had with Bennett in the past, he claimed not to know.

Bennett's rants feel like they come from a place of extreme ideological purity, or "if you don't do it the way I do it, it's wrong and no one should." I don't necessarily think he's wrong to feel that way, but if he hadn't made his feelings public, then he'd still be doing his part not to further the culture, i.e. not showing up to the studio tapings.

Furthermore, Bennett's attitude to me is similar to the one espoused by various writers of articles I see time to time, where they tell aspiring scribes never to write for free. The advice, while idealistically sound, doesn't pass muster in the real world, and the authors of these columns, like the delusional Rick Reilly, oftentimes have tenured positions at their publications, get paid big bucks to disseminate opinion, and rarely if ever do any real work anymore. For Reilly to say writing for free is a fool's errand is easy; the most he's had to worry about financially since 1985 is what the mean ol' government is taking from his salary.

Freelancers and scribes who are on the hairy edge of employment know that any chance to hone writing skills, whether through personal blogs or other ventures, is worthwhile. The only way to get better is to keep doing what you're doing, and sometimes, no matter how unfair the lack of money is comparative to others, doing it for free is the only way to go.

Bennett clearly is not on Reilly's level in many regards, which makes his stance a little curious to me. He's still starting out in the business comparatively speaking, and the fire he has in defending how he's advancing his wrestling career shows that he's at least still hungry. He might seem more selective in how he chooses his meals, but then again, as a rostered member of Ring of Honor and a guy who is in demand for several high-profile promotions around the world, he doesn't necessarily need Beyond for exposure.

Bennett also never claimed wrestling for free was bad, as he's admitted to taking a free gig here and there. He qualified it by saying that he only wrestled people "better than him" and in front of live audiences. First off, "better than" is such a subjective term. Second, Bennett's thoughts on the matter set narrow parameters for improvement that may or may not be universal. One thing I have learned in my relatively short life so far is that predictors for success in a given field can be as wide as the horizon.

Bennett turned out to be a fine pro wrestler from his upbringing, but so have dozens of wrestlers who have gotten their shine primarily through Beyond's system. Which system is better? I don't know, I'm not a wrestler. But I also know that while learning from elders or betters is a great way to learn in any field, wrestlers (or basketball players or whomever) with base amounts of training or a knowledge of how to do basics can grow with each other in the confines of a ring, whether in front of a group of paying customers or "the boys" who are there for a studio taping. Furthermore, most of "the boys" presumably are still fans of wrestling. If you can do something that pops the boys, then you try it in front of a crowd of, say, 50 paying. If they pop for it, you take it to 500 people and keep going until what you're doing doesn't work. Everything in wrestling is trial and error because wrestling is art, not science.

Regardless of any rhetoric on either side, the bottom line is that wrestlers in Beyond are there because they want to be there and they think what Colorado is doing works. Other promoters agree, or else Biff Busick, Drew Gulak, AR Fox, and several others wouldn't be where they are. Kevin Steen, Johnny Gargano, and other established imports seem to agree or else they wouldn't take the paydays at Fete Music. Bennett doesn't think Beyond is worthwhile? His prerogative is valid, but running down a model that has worked and benefits so many wrestlers across the continent seems like a battle that benefits no one and yet everyone at the same time.

I would not be surprised at all if this kerfluffle doesn't turn into a giant angle. I hope it does, actually. Independent wrestling as a scene cannot afford the bickering and feuding that currently plagues it. Gabe Sapolsky and Sinclair Broadcasting continuing to carry on this petty feud at the top levels of the scene is bad enough. Wrestlers who can provide quality work on a show like Bennett feuding with innovative promotions pushing the envelope like Beyond shouldn't be feuding, they should be working together.

This petty ugliness, which has been instigated out of the blue by Bennett, should not exist. If Bennett has a problem with doing it for free in front of the boys, maybe he should just continue to do what he's doing and not run down someone doing different to a degree of great success. Or better yet, he could frame his argument better at the very least. The art grows and evolves not just in the ring, but through discussion as well, but dismissing new ideas or pretending enmity is constructive criticism will hurt everyone in the process.

Additionally, read Colorado's thoughts about the subject. They're enlightening and worth reading.