Kayfabe, Lies and Alibis: “Old School with Kevin Sullivan”

Sullivan gives us a wrestling history lesson from the carnival shoot fights up through the modern era!

Presented by Highspots.com

Taped around 2014.

Steve Corino hosts this shoot.

Steve knew since he was 8 that he wanted to be a wrestler.

Sullivan loved wrestling from the moment he saw it on TV. He went into his backyard and imagined booking himself to beat the biggest stars of the day in matches that took place across the country.

The word “mark” bothers Sullivan as Kevin himself still “marks out” for things in wrestling.

Wrestling’s carnival roots are gone over by Sullivan. Fans from the audience would challenge the carnival’s “shooter” for money. If the shooter had issues, the carnies had ways to cheat to make sure the house kept it’s money.

Fans eventually knew that pro wrestling was “fake” but a lot of people, including Sullivan, thought that at least some of the main events were “shoots”. It helped keep the fans coming back.

Some moves such as a standard Irish whip are completely silly when you think about it logically.

Bruno Sammartino had the look and carried himself as a champion. It helped get him to become beloved across so many ethnic fans that took up New York, Boston, etc.

An episode of “Superman” in 1953 revealed that wrestling was fake. People knew beforehand, but this put it out to a national audience.

The Sheik brought such a level of insanity to his matches that fans just had to buy into his gimmick.

Parents still teach their kids about Santa Claus, so what’s wrong with letting people suspend their beliefs and enjoy a wrestling match?

The NWA was formed by the promoters to control the wrestlers and cut out competition. Sullivan thinks this is the only time in the history of any business that the management was in a union, and the labor force was not.

Some areas had referees who were hired by the local commissions and not part of the wrestling con game. This lead to trouble in New York one night when Pepper Gomez shoved a ref during a main event and was disqualified. The match was only a few minutes in and thus the fans got screwed. Gomez was used to Texas refs who were part of the act.

The real world is phony at times as well. A quiz show in the 50’s was rigged so that one contestant continued to win week after week. When the con was exposed, the government stepped in to prevent this from happening again by adding more regulations. This nearly led to pro wrestling being taken off TV because it too was fixed.

Fidel Castro was a baseball player before becoming a dictator. Had he been able to hit a curve ball, the Cuban revolution may never have gone down and Castro might gave been making money in MLB.

Vince McMahon exposing the business as fixed in the 80’s opened the doors for wrestling to be considered “cool” by a wide casual audience.

Goldberg destroying guys had everyone buying into his legit badass persona. Even Steve Corino, who at the time was a jobber, was leery of working with him because he looked like a mauler.

Corino puts over Sullivan’s wild and brutal squash matches. Sullivan gives The Sheik credit for giving him the template for his act. Bruiser Brody, Abby the Butcher, Terry Funk and many others took many of the Sheik’s attributes for their own gimmick.

A job guy in Florida disparaged Sullivan one night so- with Eddie Graham’s blessing- Sullivan tore the kid up in the ring and sent him home with stitches.

Rick Steiner did not know his own strength. He accidentally hurt Sullivan’s neck one night by working so stiff while throwing suplexes.

The guys with political power in WCW badly wanted Goldberg beat. Sullivan, the booker, pointed to the 40,000+ fans in attendance for Goldberg as champion and they argued back that fans will turn on him for being too dominant.

Kevin still can’t believe they managed to blow having a phenom like Goldberg on their roster.

Hulk Hogan was the all-time legend, and Sullivan wanted to book him to lose to Goldberg on PPV a few month after dropping the strap to him on Nitro. This would make him 0-2 against Bill. Sullivan then wanted Hogan to turn crazed from not having his title, basically doing vignettes where he was sitting in a dark room watching his losses to Goldberg while babbling nearly incoherently about his own greatness. This would build to a final match where Hogan would be Ali to Goldberg’s Frazier. Hogan would finally overcome the odds and take the title one last time. The WCW suits vetoed this plan because the n.W.o. brand was still making money and they didn’t want Hogan’s brand to be damaged.

Sullivan would have then moved Hogan into the face role where he would align with Goldberg and face off with Scott Hall, Kevin Nash and the rest of the n.W.o.

WCW toured Germany with Hogan on top. Sullivan compares Hogan’s crowd reaction to that of Hitler’s. This leads us down a wormhole where Kevin touches on all the support Nazis had from other world leaders and people. Madison Square Garden sold out for a Nazi rally. People believed the Nazi way was better than communism.

Justin Liger was booked for the first Nitro because the dirt sheets were shitting on Sullivan’s booking, so Kevin gave them the most respected workrate-oriented talent in the world.

The WWF airing the Huckster and Nacho Man skits helped turn their own fans onto WCW. Those fans then saw the Dean Malenko’s and Eddy Guerrero’s of the world and they were hooked.

Hall and Nash went against Sullivan’s orders a lot during the early stages of the n.W.o. angle. The more they went beyond WCW’s standard and practices wishes, the more money they drew. Sullivan did not mind as he realized that his own past with his quasi-Devil worshipping gimmick pushed the bounds of taste in much the same way.

The “Satanist” angle began with Sullivan ranting to Florida fans about how their hero Dusty Rhodes was rich and lived in a big house. What did the fans have? Struggles and pain. The American Dream is dead. We have wars we don’t win, the best days are behind us, people like ME will be the voice of this generation. This then evolved into wearing face paint and slowly adding darker elements to his act.

Corino went to Alcoholic Anonymous meetings to study people’s dark sides and stories in order to give his ROH character a fresh approach. He had already been a worker for 17 years and wanted to evolve.

Sullivan relates his trip to Thailand where he met with Buddhists. It helped him realize everything is bullshit and people everywhere are just looking for something to offer them contentment. People like to imagine a better life, but there is no perfect world out there.

The Florida fans loved Rhodes and did not see his flaws. Kayfabe still thrived then, and faces like Dusty would be cheered with little question.

In order to play up his gimmick to the hilt, Kevin would wear his robe as he drove from town to town. The fans would see him and buy into his act even more.

Brian Pillman had a fabulous mind for the business. He would have been a booker had he lived. Sullivan relates the story of Pillman wanting to chain himself to a goal post during a Bengal’s game as a publicity stunt.

The worked shoot with Pillman and Sullivan in early 1996 was so convincing that WWF talent later told Kevin that they ordered Superbrawl just to see what was going to happen when the pair squared off.

Pillman played up his gimmick as a psycho even in the locker room. He would just sit and stare at guys. He also spent much of his time alone in order to avoid his co-workers.

The Austin/Pillman gun angle on RAW had everyone talking. Even if it received bad press, it still triggered interest and signaled where the business was heading.

The dirt sheets were even fooled by Sullivan and Pillman’s angle, as the reports came out that no one wanted to work with Pillman, so the tough old booker Sullivan had to step into the spot.

Corino puts over Sullivan as a guy who could stay over and create memorable angles without needing a title to build interest in his programs.

Hogan’s agent and lawyer both tried to convince him to not go through with the heel turn. Sullivan realized Hulk needed a rebirth and this was his chance to renew his fame. The fans would embrace him once again when he turned back a few years later if need be.

The fans would have not accepted Hogan showing up and beating up Hall and Nash. The Outsiders were the hottest thing in the business, and Hulk staying on as a face would have been soundly rejected even more than he already had.

Eric Bischoff wanted to mess with Paul Heyman, so he made it a point to take as much ECW talent as possible. Sullivan was buddies with Heyman, so he called to warn him about the talent that was going to be poached. Kevin insisted all the ECW talent finish out their dates before jumping.

HHH has a lot of compassion. When an old timer died recently, he made it a point to have an agent call Sullivan and check how he was doing mentally since his friend had passed away.

Vince Russo came in and crashed WCW into a mountain. It was already going down, but he sped up the process. Sullivan was placed back in power after Russo was demoted. WCW execs wanted Kevin’s big ideas, and he told them Goldberg is going to be rebuilt into Superman.

Sullivan wanted a large term booking plan laid out. Most times he’d have the main programs laid out a year in advance. Russo booked week to week and was actively altering his scripts while Nitro was on the air.

WCW was such a mess in 2000 that Sullivan just took his salary and went home. He opened up a gym and relaxed.

Kevin knows the wrestling itself is better today, but the presentation and angles leave something to be desired.

Both men agree Rocco Rock was a good talent, but Johnny Grunge was a fat guy with limited skills.

Sabu was supposed to be pushed a lot harder in WCW during his 1995 run. The talents in power made sure to cut his legs off before he could get over. Heyman was able to bolster Sabu’s strengths with his underground wrestling promotion more than WCW’s corporate structure.

Sullivan was involved in a brutal angle with WING Kanemura in SMW. Kanemura insisted he was going to use a surgical blade to slice his arm for maximum effect. Sullivan tried to talk him out of it, but things went down as WING planned.


Final thoughts: The “Old School” shoot concept has proven to be a good concept so far, as having the old timers talk to another worker creates a different dynamic than a simple series of questions tend to. Sullivan is still sharp, and this was a fun listen.





Written by Andrew Lutzke

The grumpy old man of culturecrossfire.com, lover of wrasslin' and true crimes.

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