“Too Sweet” of an Opportunity to Pass Up: Obsession, Compulsion, Simulation, and Mike Awesome

ONE OF MY many compulsions–and believe me, the list is long and strange enough to necessitate professional help–has to do with “simming” my interests. It’s a compulsion that goes all the way back to childhood.

I remember my dad taking me to see Raiders of the Lost Ark when I was five years old, and afterwards I insisted on staying up as late as possible to reenact the film with my action figures. Apparently I told my parents I needed to “let it out.”

Well, 31 years have passed and not a damn thing’s changed. I still have an unshakable need to recreate simulations of the things that interest me.

For example, back when I was particularly football obsessed I got deep into the Madden video game franchise, but unlike most people my interest in the game had nothing to do with controlling the players. It was instead based on setting the league’s rosters and depth charts to their real world state (this predated the ability to download updates), then simulating through a season and adjusting the teams through free agency, the draft, etc. once the season was over. I didn’t actually control any of the individual games, I just watched and observed how things shook up following my team/league management.

However, while Madden served my simming compulsion for several years, it’s long since fallen by the wayside, replaced by a similar hobby involving wrestling video games.

Nowadays I’ll take a game like WWE 12, update all the pre-existing wrestlers to their current status, download user-created versions of the wrestlers who aren’t in the game, adjust all of those created characters’ stats, make matches based on the game’s rankings, and then begin simulating through the months, taking notes and adjusting rivalries, alliances, and title reigns as they unfold.

WWE 12 (or whatever happens to be the latest THQ WWE game) is the easiest platform with which to achieve this kind of simulation, mainly due to the availability of user created content, but once every few years I find myself dusting off a game that’s much more charming: Fire Pro Wrestling Returns for the Playstation 2. Fire Pro Wrestling Returns is a game/cultural institution that probably deserves an entry all to itself, but for now I’ll have to live with referencing it as a segue.

Over the last couple months I’ve yet again turned away from WWE 12 and back to FPWR, and as usual Fire Pro’s stylishly primitive sprites and uber-Japanese menus and soundtrack haven’t failed to “bring me home” in a comfort food sort of way.

Unfortunately, without owning something called a “max drive” (a peripheral that now seems hard to come by) there isn’t a method for downloading user created content, and being far too lazy to create wrestlers on my own, I’m “stuck” using the huge roster that comes out of the box with Fire Pro.

As such, when I sim Fire Pro match-ups I tend to throw them together rather than try to base them on anything happening in real-time. However during this latest go-around I decided to up the compulsive ante. While I can’t set the rosters to be a pitch perfect replica of their current state in the world, I CAN adjust all of the wrestlers represented in Fire Pro to be associated with their respective real-world organizations.

So, for instance, if a guy is linked to NOAH in the game’s default settings but is now wrestling for New Japan, I can transfer him from one promotion to another. Or if a guy is dead or retired I can move him to the Legends section. And this is exactly what I’ve been working on now for several weeks, often while listening to Wrestling Observer podcasts in the background. Again, please refer to the need for professional help mentioned above.

And speaking of mentioning, this entire Gino Vegan intro has now spiraled 650 words out of control when all I really meant to do was give a context for mentioning the late professional wrestler, Mike Awesome.

The other night I was working on my Fire Pro rosters, and I had to move Mike Awesome (known in FPWR as “The Gladiator,” the name he worked under in Japan) from an active member of the NOAH roster to…somewhere. Somewhere in the “Legends” category, but I wasn’t sure if I should put him with my NOAH legends as The Gladiator or change him to Mike Awesome and lump him in with the Legends from the USA.

Off hand I can’t remember which roster I ended up moving him to, but the point is Mike Awesome occurred to me for the first time in a long time. Then, as these things tend to go (encouraging my paranoiac notion that there’s a sinisterly anti-Occam, conspiratorial connection between all happenings in the universe), a Facebook friend referenced Mike Awesome in a post the following day, further pushing Mike Awesome to the front of my mind.

Mike Awesome is probably best known and remembered for his work in ECW and his epic feud with Masato Tanaka (a feud that began in Japan’s Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling). His ECW run was from, I believe, 1998 until 2000 when he left ECW to sign with WCW.

I was familiar with Awesome prior to him making this jump, but at the time I was still piecing together my ECW viewership here and there, watching events that had occurred a few years earlier alongside newly-airing episodes of WCW Nitro, so when Awesome debuted on April 10th, 2000 it was my first time seeing him in action as it happened.

For background, during the “Monday Night Wars” of the 1990s I followed both WCW and WWF, but while WWF was consistently superior to WCW in a lot of ways, I was always a WCW fan at heart.

WWF was the wrestling promotion responsible for bringing me into the world of professional wrestling fandom through their 1980’s “Rock ‘N Wrestling” era, but WCW was the outfit that  captured my imagination with it’s more “realistic” sports-like presentation. After seeing the likes of Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, Ricky Steamboat, Tully Blanchard, Arn Anderson, Nikita Koloff, Magnum TA, etc., Hulk Hogan and company just seemed stupid.

However, through mismanagement, a bloated corporate structure, ridiculous contracts, and absurd company politics, by the year 2000 (when Mike Awesome debuted), WCW Monday Nitro had fully jumped the shark.

In hindsight this was clear, yet at the time I was still holding out hope for a turnaround, a turnaround that never came, as a year later the company ceased to exist for all intents and purposes, but since I was hopeful I can remember Mike Awesome’s first appearance vividly. I was hungry for a sign of life in the promotion, and for a moment Awesome looked like he might have been such a sign. A faint, barely perceptible one, but a sign nonetheless.

When I look back, while there were lots of other bells and whistles and right-place-in-the-right-time-isms that made pro wrestling’s “Monday Night Wars” so compelling, it really all boiled down to the jumps: those heady Monday evenings in the 1990’s when, on TNT or USA, a familiar wrestler could suddenly walk out onto an unfamiliar live stage.

Whether it was an established WWF wrestler appearing for the first time on WCW Nitro, a Nitro mid-carder escaping the shackles of WCW politics and emerging on Monday Night Raw, or an ECW cult hero appearing on either, it was the “anything can happen” shuffling of talent between two viable talent brokers that fueled much of the Monday night excitement back then.

Of course by the time Mike Awesome made his jump from ECW to WCW such jumps were only exciting due to old, residual memories of jumps that had meant much more, but in the moment it was hard to accept that that era was over.

So on Monday, April 10th, 2000, as I watched “Big Sexy” Kevin Nash–himself one half of the greatest Monday Night Wars jump of all time–cutting a tired promo in the middle of the Nitro ring, only to be laid out suddenly by a sleeveless shirt, stonewashed jeans tucked into boots, gold chain around the neck, and fanny pack wearing Mike Awesome, I found myself agreeing with Awesome’s own proclamation that his addition to the WCW roster was “too sweet of an opportunity to pass up.”

After watching this debut, I had visions in my head of Awesome running rough shod on Nitro, power bombing fools with impunity. And that sort of happened? Kind of?

Yes, it sort of happened, kind of, but these were the dying days of WCW we’re talking about, so it certainly didn’t happen in the mode of Mike Awesome starting some epic Tanaka-esque feuds on Nitro.

Instead, Awesome’s reign of World Championship Wrestling power bombage came through a gimmick that saw him sporting a leisure suit and taking on the alias of “That 70’s Guy,” a bizarre attempt on WCW’s part to be pop-culturally relevant by referencing the then-popular sitcom of a similar name.

This nonsensical gimmick continued for awhile, languishing around the mid-card, until it reached its literal peak on top of a school bus gimmicked to resemble the bus from the Partridge Family. It was from these great heights that Mike Awesome did indeed power bomb with impunity as–“70’s Guy” gimmick in full throat–he slammed Shaggy 2 Dope of Insane Clown Posse fame off the top of the bus.

Indeed, ICP were active wrestlers in WCW at this time. I believe they were the Tag Team Champions of the World (wtf?). I think The Misfits were flitting around then too, though not the real Misfits, the abominable version without Glen Danzig.

So that night, my hopes and dreams regarding Mike Awesome’s future in WCW, as well as the future of the Monday Night era, went up, up, up, and crashing down, never to recover.

I do have to give it up to ICP though. While their music sucks and I don’t understand their gimmick or its appeal, those dudes are 100% authentic and committed pro wrestling fans, so way to live your dreams, guys.

During the coming decade, pro wrestling continued to unravel and deflate from its peak in the 1990s, and, one by one, many of the larger-than-life individuals who dazzled us with their performances–performances that, when executed properly and given their due, stand toe to toe with the ballets, the nohs, the operas, and such the world has given us throughout history–began to meet tragic ends based on the grueling nature of their art form.

Mike Awesome, unfortunately, is among those on that list, as in 2007, at the age of 42, he hung himself in his Florida home.

Even without being allowed to perform to the fullest of his potential during those dark times in WCW, Mike Awesome left an impression that’s still with me today, and I respect him for that. In many ways it’s a thankless task these guys carry out when following the path of professional wrestling, but it’s a path that they somehow feel compelled to walk, and while that compulsion might not be the best choice in the grand scheme of things, I understand how compulsion feels, and I sit in awe of those who are able to focus it in such a dynamically theatrical manner.

So hats off to you, Mike Awesome, and let’s leave this post remembering you on a higher note than ICP and psychedelic buses:

1 comment
  1. “Awesome” read (pun intended). It’s funny you mention you had some strange sudden obsession with Awesome. For some random reason the night before I started posting about him I was laying in bed just replaying some of his matches in my head.

    By the time Awesome made the jump to WCW, me and my brother’s were strictly WWF die-hards (ECW if my dad allowed us to stay up late on Saturday nights). I never caught the final weeks of WCW until recently on Youtube. Although I DO remember switching over to WCW some random night and laughing with my bro claiming That 70’s Guy was just a crappy Disco Inferno ripoff. Still though, after reading about all the poilitics that was going on at the time, I think ANYONE would’ve done what Awesome did. The money he was offered (which was double what WWF was offering?) was insane from someone coming from ECW. I’m sure even Jericho, Tazz and future big heads didn’t even get that amount to switch over. I felt bothered when watching those old ECW vids and hearing Styles, and other wrestler’s rip him a new one when on the mic.

    Still, like you said, Awesome delivered some great memories while in ECW for me. His feud with Masato is in my top fav feuds list. Something about a giant like Awesome power-bombing Masato through tables off the ring was insane. I’d never seen someone his size fly off the ropes into the fans. During that time I don’t even think Undertaker had flown out of the ring between the ropes like he did in every single match for half his career. Mike Awesome is probably the most underrated wrestler that I can think of that really left set the bar high for giants. No idea if anyone did what he did before him, but for me Awesome was one of the best talents ECW ever had.

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