Saturday, September 8, 2012

Art of Wrestling [Weekly Podcast]

The Good
A few years ago, Colt Cabana began concentrating his efforts on developing his brand following his WWE release. For those of us who remember watching him in IWA Mid-South a decade ago, he seems like a completely different character. Cabana took his goofball personality and made it a commodity that people not only enjoy, but will check out and hopefully pay for. Part of his branding process included starting this podcast, which in its first 100 episodes developed a reputation as being one of the most enjoyable and distinct. Cabana not only gets himself over, but provides a forum for a wide variety of pro-wrestling personalities to share their stories, experiences and wisdom. Although he predominantly features his peers on the indy circuit, Colt has managed to interview people that I have never heard interviews with before. As his buddy CM Punk revealed on the 100th episode, the show is very formulaic and after a while that becomes part of the charm. Colt's cadence is distinct and he has a number of phrases that might irritate some, but gives the show a feeling of familiarity that creates a loyal audience. Colt usually shares some funny anecdotes or thoughtful reflections about his current situation and some plugs to open the show and ends the show with some closing thoughts and some more plugs. His song-of-the-week is a nice feature and it provides some more frivolity that is the show's trademark. The meat of the show though is Colt Cabana sitting down and interviewing someone else from the world of pro-wrestling. The variety is a positive, but the best interviews are those with people he has a good rapport with because they're friends. It is cool to hear him chat with Johnny Saint, Kentaro and Alejandro, but it is the interviews with guys like Cliff Compton, Bull Pain and Chris Masters that really stand out as the best. Those that are the most comfortable with him, tend to let their hair down the most and it lets him dig a little deeper. In comparison to interviews with more highly regarded people, Cabana is able to get more out of certain people like Dolph Ziggler, Jimmy Jacobs and Pac. The Art of Wrestling is one of the best pro-wrestling podcasts out there and one that everyone should at least sample a few times.

The Bad
If I was recommending this podcast to other pro-wrestling fans, I would probably suggest that they listen to the interviews with wrestlers they know first. The show's structure is a strength of the show, but it takes some time to internalize that aspect. Colt's personality is another dimension and he may simply be a turn off for a great many people. He admittedly loves fun and that comes across. If you prefer the RF Video's red-eyed marathon shoots, Kayfabe Commentaries' in-depth and well-researched shoots, then you might feel this series is lacking. Colt interjects a lot of humor (or tries to) and typically that enhances the interview, but it is largely a matter of taste. While he provides a great deal of personality and often personal connections to the interviewee, he is not a hard-hitting journalist, well-studied newsletter writer or an enthusiastic super-fan. He does have a sound knowledge base and grew up as a fan and follows the business pretty closely. Colt tries to keep his interviews friendly and sometimes lightly steps into some heavy topics, but generally does not to. That levity is nice, but it can lead to disappointing interviews. Colt's goal is not to present breaking news, but he sometimes stumbles across some without trying.

The Rating: ****1/4

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Ahmed Johnson ["Highspots" Shoot Interview]

The Good
If you take nothing else away from this interview, realize that for all his personal problems, Ahmed Johnson could've been a major player. While his work had its flaws, Ahmed had an unbelievable intensity that very few have. He certainly puts over that strength of his here and rightly so. While that factor did intrigue me during his WWF run, I felt people like Randy Savage, Goldberg, Sid Vicious and especially Chris Benoit were able to kick their careers to a higher level and became bonafide top guys as a result. Ahmed really could have been a top guy and this shoot interview gives perspective on why that did not happen. He does feel he was cooled off, miscast as a heel briefly and undermined by some people (he particularly targets Steve Austin as a racist), although ultimately he left due to his sister's health problems and never recovered from that life-changing situation. The interview does get into some of the dirt about him and he seems to respond with sensible answers to everything - his work being too stiff, him stealing the LOD's shoulder pads, his steroid abuse, his unreliability.

The Bad
Ahmed Johnson's legacy is certainly tarnished and he will probably be remembered favorably by a small number of people. Few of his peers say highly positive things about him, he was a rising star in the WWF when it was at its lowest point and he left before the boom. This shoot interview gives him the opportunity to clarify his place. He put himself over very strongly and leaves the impression that he is not highly regretful of leaving when he did. If he had stayed and kept his head on straight, Ahmed Johnson could have very well been a key component in the Attitude Era. The interview does not really take that corner though. There are also the tales of him dealing drugs, pimping underage girls and his membership in the Bloods (he has repeatedly confirmed the last issue) that go unexplored, but certainly are part of his story. This shoot interview is one that has been put over as great and it simply was not.

The Rating: ***1/4