Tuesday, July 19, 2016

I Listen So You Don't Have To: Art Of Wrestling Eps. 308 and 309

Ethan Page is Cabana's guest on ep. 309
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
If you’re new, here’s the rundown. We 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 many wrestling podcasts out there, of course, but this feature largely hews to the regular rotation we feel best fit the category of hit or miss. If we can save other folks some time, we’re happy to do so.

Show: Art Of Wrestling
Episode: 308 (July 7, 2016)
Run Time: 1:03:42
Guest: Jim Brunzell (12:38)

Summary: Colt Cabana’s guest is mid-1908s WWF mainstay Jim Brunzell. After quick chatter about pushing merchandise and Brunzell’s relationship with Bruce Springsteen, the conversation begins in earnest with Brunzell’s days in the AWA, the influence of Hulk Hogan and choosing to leave for New York. He recalls a notable match against the Iron Sheik, partnering with B. Brian Blair and the hot tag team scene. Cabana asks specifically about the Killer Bees’ famous black high-tops. Brunzell also revisits his solo career, then goes back to his famous training class with future tag team partner Greg Gagne. That leads to memories of earlier matches and working in Japan. On the way out Brunzell plugs his new book.

Quote of the week: “I realized I couldn’t do what, you know — I had my last match on my 50th birthday in 1999 with Jim Neidhart. … I’ll be 67 next month. So I’m working with Jim Neidhart and he was out the night before with Ken Patera. So he grabs a headlock on me and I can feel his heart going … and he was squeezing my head so hard I thought he was gonna pop it off, and I thought, ‘This is it.’ And I never worked again.”

Why you should listen: Because Jim Brunzell has my birthday (plus 30 years) and a spectacular Minnesota accent. Seriously, though, this is a great conversation, which is to be expected when Cabana grabs a C-lister he adored watching on television in the 80s. Brunzell has all sorts of fun stories told with his a folksy demeanor that blends respect for his accomplishment with humility about his place in the mix. It borders on romanticizing the role of journeyman wrestler, but even so, there’s nothing wrong with that if considered in the larger context of Cabana’s online presence.

Why you should skip it: This is the episode that dropped after the Pro Wrestling Tees Twitter kerfuffle, which Cabana glosses over almost entirely, so sorry if you tuned in looking for some sort of atonement. Other than that, I’m struggling with what to report here. This isn’t an incredibly serious or deep conversation, but what did you expect?

Final thoughts: Aside from candid chats with his best friends who also are worldwide wrestling superstars, there’s nothing I like more from Art Of Wrestling than Cabana indulging his fandom with a guy from the WrestleMania 2 battle royal. I haven’t given a second (or first) thought to Jumpin’ Jim in God knows how long, but this was a great little talk peppered with innocent laughs. Stories about the territory days are so much more enjoyable without simultaneously being beaten over the head by a Jim Ross or James E. Cornette blathering about how that was the peak of pro wrestling. Wrestling is supposed to be fun, especially the stuff you enjoyed as a kid, and Cabana hits that note perfectly hear without being juvenile. You learn a bit about Brunzell and his career along the way, and that’s really all you need for it to be worth your time.

• • •

Show: Art Of Wrestling
Episode: 309 (July 14, 2016)
Run Time: 1:04:12
Guest: Ethan Page (11:31)

Summary: Colt Cabana catches up with “All Ego” Ethan Page, who hosts his own podcast and has thoughts about porn. Shifting to wrestling, Page explains why he’s not shy about being a longtime fan, which leads to stories of childhood and how wrestling is the culmination of his many performance interests. He then talks about fan interactions and his background in tae kwon do, how he ended up in wrestling school and the difficulties in contextualizing success in such a competitive business. Cabana asks Page about the challenges of being a promoter, and Page considers his career goals and weighs in on the importance of his contract with EVOLVE.

Quote of the week: “There’s always that one thing, like, I’ll reach a goal and I’ll be like, ‘Oh, that’s awesome.’ And then I’ll look to my left and be like, ‘Yeah, but that guy. I wanna be like him.’ Yeah. Honestly, my ultimate goal is to have enough influence — and you’re gonna laugh at me or think I’m crazy — is to have enough influence in the world to make it a more positive place. And, like, and honestly, that’s my biggest love for the Rock, is his positivity. Dude, he could be hiding people in his basement, I don’t know. Like, he could be the weirdest guy in the world, but what he’s perceived as in the media and on TV is a good-natured human being and he’s always trying to better people’s lives or improve the world. And, like, that’s the proper way to use stardom, I think. In comparison to everyone else that’s being talked about in the media, he’s using it in a positive way, and I’m like, ‘That’s the guy I wanna be.’ ”

Why you should listen: Page is more than willing to explore his own psyche — why he rejected a promising martial arts career just to spite his otherwise supportive father, how he limited himself from pursuing success in wrestling, what it means to see his peers ascend or how he determines self worth and so on — and even (especially?) if you’re not familiar with his in-ring work, these reflections are interesting enough to warrant a listen, perhaps even outside the context of wrestling.

Why you should skip it: You get the sense “All Ego” is more than just a character for Page — probably not a surprise to most, but still worth noting. But the larger problem with this one is common to episodes where Cabana is quite familiar with the guest: too much idle chatter and not enough meat. The host does his best to continually rein in the potential runaway horse, but he’s also complicit in its tendency to stray in the first place.

Final thoughts: Chances are a given listener’s enjoyment of this episode is directly proportional to their pre-existing opinion of Page. My main experience with him is an email interview I conducted for an Atomic Elbow piece a few years back, a fairly positive encounter. In this instance I think he came off as quite level-headed and well spoken, but I suppose there are some who could infer his remarks differently. If you’re entirely unfamiliar with Page, chances are he’ll just seem an interesting guy who has thought a lot about his life and work. I don’t especially have any interest in checking out Page’s podcast, so if that was the intent I suppose it fell flat, but I certainly was entertained without being aggravated, which is the bar I need podcasts to clear to remain in my rotation.