Friday, January 13, 2017

I Listen So You Don't Have To: Art Of Wrestling Ep. 333

Cabana talks to Callihan this week
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: 333 (Jan. 12, 2017)
Run Time: 1:12:17
Guest: Sami Callahan (10:21)

Summary: Colt Cabana’s second show of the year also is his second interview with Sami Callahan, who opens by talking about his high school days, including the reason he gravitated to show choir. The show really breaks down into two parts: the first focuses on Callahan’s struggles with anxiety and tobacco addition, and how those issues related to his self image and the challenges of sticking it out for his lengthy time in WWE developmental. The second part looks at how independent wrestlers can reach fans and promoters in the social media era, wrestling’s stature in the modern entertainment media culture and just a little bit about those topics from his relatively new perspective as a promoter.

Quote of the week: “I forgot how to be a star. Because on the indies, I created my own brand. I became — I’m a five-foot-eight white kid that created a brand so big that WWE had to sign me because I had a buzz — and then I went there and quit doing what made me a star. And I forgot how to be Sami Callahan, or I forgot how to be myself. And that, like, killed me. I wish I woulda went in there, kinda with a chip on my shoulder or kind of like, not walking on eggshells and just been like, ‘No, I’m a star.’ And I feel like they like that, and that’s why certain guys succeed and other guys sit in developmental for five years, because they try to be exactly what the cookie cutter mold wants. And you’ve seen it time in and time out, some of the things that work at NXT don’t work on the main roster. And I wish I woulda like saw that in my head and just been like, ‘No, I need to stick to my guns, I need to stick to my gut and do what I know works, and I know works for me and I know makes me a superstar.’ ”

Why you should listen: Cabana is a natural landing spot for former WWE developmental stars willing to explore their time with the company, but Callahan distinguishes himself here by being able to talk frankly about his experience without coming across as especially upset or looking to blame anyone, yet also does not appear sycophantic or overly concerned about keeping bridges from burning. That said, he’s far more interesting when discussing things like his anxiety and addiction issues because they come across in a very real and understandable way without any of the headline-grabbing of a near death experience or seemingly inhuman substance intake figures. The guys make great analogies comparing wrestling companies to the tiers of elite college sports and have an excellent handle on the rapid evolution of the wrestling distribution content models as well as what it means to be successful in wrestling in 2017.

Why you should skip it: Arguably the worst thing to be said is this one does carry on a bit yet somehow does very little to draw attention to Callahan’s current projects. While the bulk of the interview about his past, including pre-WWE, is quite compelling, it unintentionally dwarfs any forward-looking focus. There are a few moments where Cabana’s jokes or plugs interrupt the flow of what otherwise would be a seamless chat — Callahan could have recorded a fine show without a host — but that’s not a reason to skip as much as a thing to be aware might dim some enjoyment.

Final thoughts: I’m nothing close to a Callahan fan — I just don’t know the guy’s work — but did follow his on-camera NXT arc. This interview is borderline essential for anyone who has followed NXT in the Network era and most definitely crucial for those who pay even halfway decent attention to the wrestling world outside WWE. It’s enough to make me wish Callahan had the weekly show instead of Cabana, if only because it’s more interesting to hear a guy figure out his place in the world in real time, whereas Cabana has settled nicely into a routine and very rarely has to do much self exploration, at least in the context if his show. In summary, I definitely suggest giving this one an hour of your time.