Thursday, January 15, 2015

I Listen So You Don't Have To: The Ross Report Ep. 48

The Grappler pays a visit to JR's podcast this week
Photo via the Facebook page for Denton's book
If you're new, here's the rundown: I listen to a handful of wrestling podcasts each week. Too many, probably, though certainly not all of them. In the interest of saving you time — in case you have the restraint to skip certain episodes — the plan is to give the bare bones of a given show and let you decide if it’s worth investing the time to hear the whole thing. There are better wrestling podcasts out there, of course, but these are the ones in my regular rotation that I feel best fit the category of hit or miss. If I can save other folks some time, I'm happy to do so.

Show: The Ross Report
Episode: 48 (Jan. 14, 2015)
Run Time: 2:07:53
Guest: Len “The Grappler” Denton (36:16)

Summary: Ross opens with his usual monologue, though this time it’s heavy on his experience working ringside for WrestleKingdom 9. Then he calls Denton, who has written a book about his life and career. The interview progresses through Denton’s career chronologically, starting with his youth as a fan in Houston. They talk about his training and body growth while following the map from Amarillo to Louisiana, Portland, Florida, Charlotte, Germany, Calgary, Memphis and Mid-South. Along the way we learn how Denton transitioned into a masked wrestler and adopted “The Grappler” persona. They also discuss how he created the DDT with Jake Roberts and ran through a bevy of names like Bill Watts, Jim Cornette, Raven, the Ultimate Warrior and Muhammad Ali. At the end, Denton weighs in on the tools a young wrestler needs for success.

Quote of the week: On a 1990 backstage conversation in Houston with the Ultimate Warrior: “He told me ‘I’m the champion. They give me a limousine and they feed me chicken breast, it’s always laid out for me. Everything’s cotton. It’s five-star hotels, everything’s unbelievable.’ And he goes, ‘I’m quitting these assholes.’ And I go, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘Because we just did WrestleMania and they paid Hogan a million-dollar payoff and me $500,000.’ I said, ‘How long did you work?’ He said, ‘I don’t know, 15, 20 minutes?’ I said, ‘Jimmy, look at me. When I was trying to teach you the press slam for two weeks and you beat me all to hell, and I’d get mad and pay you back with chairs and everything — because if I hit you with my fist I’d break it — how much were we getting paid from Fritz every night?’ He goes, ‘$75.’ I go, ‘You’re going to quit over a $500,000 payout?’ He says, ‘You don’t understand, it’s the purpose.’ I go, ‘No, I do understand, cause I did the same thing to Bill Watts like an idiot and it cost me big time because I was a dumbass kid.’ ”

Why you should listen: Denton drops so many names it’ll make your head spin, but he’s not at all bragging — he’s simply worked with a remarkable number of prominent people over his three decades in wrestling. This episode is both a great primer on a lesser-known stalwart as well as a fascinating walk through several well known territories. That should make it attractive to both people with nostalgia for the many names and places highlighted or a curiosity for wrestling history.

Why you should skip it: I’ve not read Denton’s new book, but this undoubtedly is a pale imitation of the ground he covers in print, so it’s likely anyone who has or will read the book won’t glean much from the interview. Ross mostly fights off his instincts to wax poetic about the glory of the territory area and to further sanctify Watts, but it’s wrong to say he fully represses those urges. Also, I felt Ross could have done a lot more to delve into the parts of the interview he hyped, notably the challenges of working as a masked villain at that time. Finally, this may be a petty issue, but the combination of Denton’s accent and phone connection make advanced-speed listening unadviseable.

Final thoughts: Ultimately I feel I left the interview with a cursory knowledge of a figure I’d never heard of (or can’t recall). So on that level it was a success. Yet aside from a story about being Ric Flair’s temporary chauffeur and the origin of the DDT, most of the stories went by so quickly they amounted to little more than a reading of names and cities, many of whom are quite familiar, especially to regular Ross Report listeners. Denton blatantly stumps for another appearance on the show, and I hope Ross takes him up on it, but only if they’re able to do a deep dive on a specific territory or personal relationship. That likely would be compelling audio. But maybe they just want me to buy the book.