I had always been under the impression that the key to the respect of a person was not through actions to impress that person. This meant that I would not go out of my way to emphasize myself or cater my actions to their desires in an effort to attract their attention. This typically led to me often be characterized as stubborn, disrespectful, or conceded.
To be clear, I grew up most of my young life disaffected by peer pressures. I think this clearly had an affect on my lack of need to conform and or be accepted by my peers. This is not to say that I was popular by any means with loads of attractive women throwing themselves at me or building bombs in the basement because no one wanted to sit with me during lunch hour. I witnessed many around me that struggled to fit in somewhere and this directly contributed to how they would garner respect while losing identity. Thinking back to my young years, I don’t necessarily remember trying to get the respect of anyone. I can more so remember disappointing people.
I always have said that the professional wrestling scene reminded me much of high school. It was almost as if those around me never left or would forever think their best times were of high school. The childish behaviors and antics are interwoven throughout the professional wrestling business. In the past, I’ve touched on some of the comedic and or destructive happenings that would make you wonder if any of us ever grew up. I would say that for many of us were fueled into wrestling careers based upon childish love of the business. I’m basically saying that many of us are very immature in the most polite way I can think.
Coming back from a way off course beginning, the intertwined respect aspect of the wrestling business was introduced to me very early in my up start. Again, the emphasis of my focus was different on how to go about earning that respect. I was typically surrounded by those trying to out-shining someone while others chose to mimic someone. Those that tried to out-shine more often than not ended up injured and those that mimicked were typically labeled as clones. Being a clone gave you something of a fighting chance of being labeled as a good or bad clone but the injured out-shiners often were labeled as idiots. I can think of five off the top of my head that were as much of idiots as they were labeled.
So all during this time, like the song says, I did do it my way. Many may have not agreed but I definitely did it my way with little compromise or abandonment of who I am as an individual. As far as getting back to the whole point of respect, I often earned it in a much different way than those around me. I would say that this is the reason that I may have been able to stand out amongst of talented crop of workers for a short period of time in the wonderful world of independent wrestling. This was never more evident than the victory of winning over an old-timer by the name of Lance Russell.
Shortly upon bursting onto the rather lack-luster independent wrestling scene in the Memphis territory, I had a chance to meet a wrestling commentating legend and perennial Memphis wrestling announcing staple Lance Russell. I knew enough to know that he had been around almost as long as dirt and there were few in this particular territory that didn’t admire and respect him. He had been involved in wrestling in this capacity for more than 50 years with so many of the wrestlers and fans alike growing up with this man at live events as well as on local, and for a short time national, television.
Because I was from the North East, my only exposure to him was his short television stint as a commentator in World Championship Wrestling. While it wasn’t technically the fleeing days of that promotion, it was definitely in a period of rocky transition to the eventual Turner product and I was not a fan of the Russell commentating style. Honestly, I was still daydreaming about how well David Crockett could sell anything and how much he added to the overall product. I wasn’t much for Tony Schiavone and I could never get into Gordon Solie either. Russell reminded me much of Gordon Solie and their commentating style did not make me a fan the way David Crockett did. Despite all of this, countless fans adored Russell and many wrestlers were desperate for his respect.
The privilege of Lance Russell’s commentary during my matches was made aware to me shortly upon my arrival to Memphis. At the time, I had come from working shows throughout the country in front of audiences ranging in the hundreds to thousands. This period of time was definitely an upswing in the business but it was not reflected in the burnt out territory of Memphis. We were doing television tapings with notable wrestling names in front of 15 to 30 people on a consistent basis. It’s kind of hard to get excited even if you are cashing cool checks that say World Wrestling Federation on them each week at the bank. It made for interesting stares by the cute cashiers behind the counter but they were probably looking at me like that because they thought it was a counterfeit check.
So it was safe to say that Lance Russell had little fluff at all during my matches. He was usually plugging away about the local restaurant or the weather. It would be one thing if he was actually talking about an angle going on with other wrestlers at least but I couldn’t even get that. Commentary during my matches was relegated to local food or weather events in and around Memphis. It was painfully apparent that he thought little enough of me to even watch the matches in progress. This carried over to any backstage interaction with him as well. I would occasionally get a polite response when I offered a hello to him. Where the story begins to twist is when I began a lengthy series with Steve Regal.
It was obvious that Russell and Regal knew each other from their World Championship Wrestling days. They would often talk amongst themselves about the last time either of them saw another from that period. Russell was equally as polite and attentive with commentary to Regal matches as well for good reason. I luckily turned Russell’s eye when the series became during a television taping he was doing the color for. I would say that he emphasized me only because it was a match involving Regal but I don’t think that was the case. His complete attitude towards me changed to the point that he would comment positively on my work and even go out of his way to offer critiques that were openly accepted by me.
While I may have not always been a fan of Lance Russell’s work, I found a new respect for him once he recognized me. I never took anything personal for his lack of interest at all. I actually began to appreciate more the years of wisdom he brought to the business and took a great deal of pride that I was able to catch his eye. I’m sure he probably wouldn’t even recognize me these days if I bumped into him on the street but it felt good to earn his respect my way. The little yankee that did things much different was able to acquire the respect of a man that many desired.