Stone Cold Steve Austin refers to it as 'withdrawal'.
He speaks of how, when he left the wrestling world, he had to get away from it all. To fish and hunt and hike and seek acting roles (one of the biggest stars in both professional wrestling and 90's pop culture as a whole needed to sleep on Diamond Dallas Page's couch in LA as he tried to kickstart his acting career). Basically do anything he could to take his mind off wrestling. That took about four years. Then he was ready to start living a new life without pining for the road.
Though I wasn't in wrestling for a wet week compared to Austin, I can relate. After five years working the Irish scene and dipping my toe in the UK one (my 'college years', I'll always endearingly think of them as), in 2008 I sought refuge in the world of radio after an opportunity arose on a small local station that had interviewed me for upcoming wrestling shows in the past. I got lucky.
Having trained and worked with people who'd go onto make it big, WWE stars like Sheamus, Drew McIntyre, Wade Barrett and NXT talent like Marcus Louis, I realised that it probably wasn't going to happen for me. Seeing friends of mine from that time struggle, even today, with that same realisation is difficult. It's not easy, damn near impossible once you've been bitten badly enough by the wrestling bug, to get away from it all. Once you've dug that hole in your life, you need to find a way to fill it. For my newfound passion of manipulating a crowd of people I've never met before and taking them on a journey, I turned to live DJ-ing. To fill the void of talking and coming up with bits and storyline/character ideas, radio did the trick.
Listen to Rick's own wrestling podcast, 'Low Blows', while you read.
Well, podcasting moreso. Radio is an industry unto itself and didn't take too well to a kid coming along nicking prospective guests and being outspoken without sitting through a media degree like the rest have. It took a while to realise that the politics of the airwaves coupled with radio's rapidly declining slots for personality-based talk hosts meant that it probably wasn't for me. All the cool kids who had something to say were moving to podcasting anyway.
The world of podcasting felt much more familiar. Like wrestling, it's the badlands. You can perform anywhere and anytime, you lived or died based on the endorsement, not of a closed shop bureaucracy like radio who took forever to engage with what the layman wanted, but of the listener. If they liked you, you could proceed to the next level. Just make good content and the other bullshit took care of itself.
The same realisation may explain the turn of many wrestlers to the world of podcasting. Stone Cold Steve Austin, Roddy Piper, Chris Jericho are just some of the names who've dipped their toe into the field. As of this week, even CM Punk appears to be doing so.
But it all began with Colt.
Unlike the rest, real life best friend of CM Punk, Colt Cabana isn't a retired or part-time wrestler. In fact he's probably a bigger name today than he's ever been since his podcast launched. We recently had a discussion about its success over email.
"About five years ago a real movement in the United States started happening with podcasting outside of the wrestling field," he said, referring to the likes of podcasting king Marc Meron beginning his monstrously successful WTF podcast out of frustration with the direction of his comedy career (to-date, Colt is the only wrestler/podcaster to guest on Meron's show and given an official endorsement from the master). "I became enthralled with it and listened to hundreds of different shows. I couldn't wait for the 'wrestling' version of these great podcasts to come out and was eager to see who would do it. This is when I realised that it might as well be me."
And so it began. The Art of Wrestling wasn't an instant hit, but its steady listenership growth told him he was onto something big. " It was a nice gradual climb. I never got ahead of myself. At first I had a couple thousand listeners and then before you know it I'm getting millions and millions of downloads."
How would he describe the show to someone who had never heard it before?
"It's pro wrestlers sitting in a locker room talking about their struggles and triumphs in order to become successful in their specific industry. The lessons and stories are bigger than wrestling as anyone can relate any of the stories to their own personal lives."
It seems standard now, but the idea of one wrestler sitting down with another and getting secrets and stories out of them in minutes what it'd take broadcasters like myself hours to do hadn't actually been done before Colt. At first it was an intimate guestlist, with Punk being the most recognisable name in the early days as he'd shout interruptions while Colt was recording in his studio...apartment. Nowadays Colt has an all-access pass to the wrestling world and has boasted the likes of Steve Austin, Mick Foley, Dolph Ziggler, William Regal and Scott Hall as guests, among others. But when asked about his favourite guests and people that fans have responded to most, unsurprisingly (given the nature of the show) he opts for some lesser known guys.
"A lot of people tend to really love the shows I did with Domino were he talked about his trip to Nigeria and my friend Luke Gallows. They dug it so much that I made a movie about 'em. Other than that there's a lot of great episodes for different reasons. I think Mason Ryan and I just did a fun show that came out recently. (It) showed another side to him that I don't think many were aware of. That's what I love most about the podcast."
It's Colt's naturally inquisitive mind that sets him apart from the rest when he interviews his guest. Austin, at times, seems more determined to give his own view on a matter (so much so that perhaps another format would suit better), Jericho can often be heard giving a half-hearted laugh that suggests he's not fully engaged or listening (a side effect of doing interviews mostly over the phone), but Colt gets right in there with guys. He's interviewed people like Chris Masters and opened the conversation by talking about how he didn't like Masters during their brief time together in WWE. They talk it out. That's what the show is and why it's so popular: we're eavesdropping into a natural conversation between two wrestlers. He'll often veer away from awkward subjects, like with Jake Roberts he opts out of discussing his demons, and that unconventional approach actually works. Instead of hearing the same interview that everyone else is doing with guys, we get a completely unique conversation.
Still, though, it must be a kicker to see everyone else try and set up their retirement plans with an idea and format that he brought to the party?
"I try not to think about it. A lot of people have told me they started listening to my show because some of the older guys got them into podcasting. I think that's great. I also think we all have different styles and personalities and for me it's not about numbers. It's about quality listeners. If you get me, you'll dig my show and you're the type of person I want listening."
A commendable attitude, given the circumstances. I try a bit of a cheeky question out of my own curiosity: has he ever heard anything on another wrestler's podcast that made him wish he'd done it first? "Nope...I don't enjoy wrestling podcasts," he says. "I listen to a lot of comedy podcasts and storytelling, journalist-driven podcasts."
Go on then, does it bother him that all of these wrestlers are ripping him off?
"No," he replies flatly. Okay then, moving on...
The Art of Wrestling began after Colt's release from WWE. Like many talented stars (most recently Drew McIntyre), for whatever reason WWE couldn't see what their fans did in a talent that had thrived on the independent scene. Their attempt at repackaging him under a 'Matt Classic' moniker was wide of the mark of what made the popular comic talent click with the fans. As listeners to his show will know, at heart Colt is a fan first and foremost. He's spoken before of his excitement at being a WWE developmental talent, despite the shit money and even shittier treatment at times. But how did it feel when he got the call to say it was all over?
"It was a bummer. I was having lunch with Trent Berreta & Tyson Kidd when I got the call. It was awkward for them I think when I told them. I definitely saw it coming as they weren't really using me that well, but the reality of the situation was a total bummer."
Since then, he's been name-checked on WWE television as CM Punk cut possibly the most famous promo of the 21st century, fans bring Colt Cabana signs to TV tapings regularly and some of the most adored legends of wrestling's past have publicly endorsed him. Surely, now, WWE must 'get it'. If so, has he aspirations of returning there one day?
"You woulda thought everyone would've heard of me when Punk said my name in the most famous promo of the past 20 years, but they didn't 'get it'. I'm always open to listening to any deal that's put in front of me."
A smart businessman as well as a nice guy, Colt keeps his cards close to his chest on that matter. You feel, though, that he'd now be okay with not needing to right the wrongs of his WWE past. Being a success in spite of WWE seems to drive him and I'd imagine offers have been put on the table (as was certainly alluded to on his appearance on Steve Austin's podcast) and he seems to be resisting them, not willing to risk his podcast and self-made success having learned from past bad experiences there.
It seems a reasonably safe assumption that, should he never return to WWE, Colt will have his retirement plan covered by continuing on his podcasting mission. The Art of Wrestling is the type of show that doesn't have an expiry date, it's just guys having conversations after all, and that'll never get old. That's why it was shocking to hear him express some reservation on his show's 300th episode extravaganza (a great starting point, by the way, if you've never listened) in continuing long-term. Does he have an end game in mind or does he flicker between both trains of thought on a day-to-day basis?
"It's a lot of pressure to sit down in person with a wrestler each week. The other guys do phone calls for long form interviews and I really dislike that. That's the only problem in where it gets a bit frustrating to do my show for 208 straight weeks. I don't think I'd stop, but I might slow it down to release the pressure."
What does he see himself doing in twenty years then?
"Twenty Years?!?! I dunno man, I don't know what I'm gonna be doing in twenty minutes."
He says that with legitimacy, as Colt currently has his finger dipped in so many fields it must be impossible to keep track. In addition to the Art of Wrestling podcast (which is available on iTunes or all good podcasting apps), and the movie, you can check out his schedule (he's wrestling regularly in the UK over the summer) at ColtCabana.com as well as watching his ever-excellent comedy skits with Marty DeRosa at WorstPromoEver.com.
So that's Colt, without a doubt the first wrestling podcast you need to subscribe to if you haven't already (with Balls.ie's official one, 'Low Blows', hosted by yours truly a close second). But what other wrestlers' efforts are worth looking into if you have more hours to spare in your schedule? I take a look at the best of the rest below...
With 'The Steve Austin Show', Stone Cold Steve Austin blasts through all radio formalities and nuances with the trademark foul-mouthed charisma that made him a star in the late 90's. As he takes a 'swig of beer for the working man' twice a week, Austin opens up a can of audio whup-ass about day-t0-day life living between his Broken Skull Ranch and getting reality TV projects and straight-to-DVD movies off the ground. It's predictably raw and rough around the edges, but after adjusting to Austin cussing his temperamental audio equipment (you haven't earned your podcast stripes until you've suffered some kind of trauma from having a two-hour interview due the following day deleted, or something equally heartbreaking), you wouldn't have it any other way.
Personally, for the most part, I see wrestlers podcasting as a current fad that will fade away almost instantly once the next, easier way to cash-in on their natural creativity and 5-10 healthy years in the public eye comes along. But of the few that could stay the course and still be in the field in years to come, I think Steve is among them. He seems to be smitten by the format and it's filled that giant, 16-by-16 foot hole in his life. On top of that, Austin's place as one of wrestling's Mount Rushmore candidates means he can get admissions from his oft-fawning guests that schlubs like me could only dream of, all experience and interview techniques be damned. Steve demands answers from his guests in his own inimitable fashion and, given his lofty experience in the business, knows the answers before they give them. So nobody gets away unscathed with fobbing him off or giving a bullshit version of events.
'Talk Is Jericho' is another favourite of mine, hosted by former WWE Undisputed Champion-come-Fozzy frontman Chris Jericho. Jericho's natural personality and comfort level on a microphone meant the show got off to a running start and arrived feeling fully-formed. It didn't take Y2J long to get his regular benchmarks down (such as singing Mark Henry's 'Somebody Gonna Get Their Ass Kicked' song with a cowbell for no particular reason) and his interviewing style is also curious but unobtrusive, while still retaining the natural authority among wrestlers that Austin boasts to demand his guests' bullshit switch is switched firmly off.
Having said that, Jericho's efforts seem to be like wrestling fan's marmite as he divides opinion wildly. People either love or can't stand his show to the point of blind rage. It's tough for me to tell if it's just my ear for good production (Jericho could start a live radio gig tomorrow morning and succeed) that sways me toward the former camp, or if many fans are just following a hipster-like common narrative in disliking him; something that fickle wrestling fans are prone to do.
Other efforts can be more hit-and-miss.
At times on Good Ol' JR's 'The Ross Report', it can feel as if he's standing on a soapbox decrying the way things used to be. While regularly berating the people who keep him in the limelight through their continued support is a novel approach to the genre, I'm not sure it's a long-lasting business winner, as Ross regularly takes time at the start of each show to snidely put down the views of those who talk wrestling with him on Twitter. Some of his qualms may be bang on point, but you can't help but feel he could do with a round of sensitivity training from his real life good friend, Steve Austin, who's patience with even the most extreme of fans on-air is downright saintly. Austin is a role model for public figures appreciating where they came from and all who wish to follow his footsteps should take note as he goes to great pains to thank each fan for their support throughout the years, somehow coming across as nicer while jokingly referring to a listener as a "mealy-mouth motherfucker" than Ross does sarcastically answering an honest question from a Twitter follower. His contempt is palpable, so the listener is regularly left asking themselves, "Do I really need this shit?" One wonders if the powers-that-be at PodcastOne are too starstruck to give these wrestling legends an honest appraisal and correct them, as these are mistakes that need to be ironed out to ensure fans don't gradually switch off in their droves.
In addition to this, Ross does also appear to have difficulty restraining himself when tempted with even the most churlish of innuendo while interviewing attractive female guests. One recent instance led to him not being able to bit his tongue as UFC Women's Champion, Ronda Rousey, spoke of eating her chicken wings 'naked', leading to Ross going on a 2-3 minute diatribe to painfully explain that she wasn't referring to her state of dress. Rousey's uncomfortable response would indicate that JR was the only one enjoying the so-called 'flirtatious banter'. It's a disappointing turn for a legendary announcer, as fans would prefer not to remember him as the creepy old guy sending a shiver down the spine of an admirable guest who has enough to worry about cutting weight during a fight week media blitz.
'The Michael Cole and JBL Show' is polished enough to steer clear of such tomfoolery, but instead tends to rely on broad strokes and half-baked views at times in a show that must appeal to a very narrow market. The current WWE commentary team have a great rapport that will keep this show alive as long as they choose to, but I can't help but wonder if there's one person out there who shares their interest in (take a breath): US politics, the stock market, fishing, Bermuda, rugby, football/soccer, the NFL/NBA and pop culture on top of caring enough about wrestling (which is a vast enough hobby to swallow up endless hours of the day as is, even if you only follow WWE's current 24/7 output) that they're not alienating a good chunk of their audience regularly during each show.
Not to mention that, in the pair's efforts to appear jacks of all trades, they're regularly outed as masters of none. While analysing the World Cup, Cole freely admits to not being a soccer fan, leaving one to wonder if JBL's analysis of "the red team kicked the ball better than the blue team" was incisive enough to justify its inclusion. The joy of podcasting is that we can follow experts in each field of our own personal interests. One suspects that JBL & Cole would be better suited to narrowing down the list of topics and playing to their strengths. If they do so, this show could be a real heavyweight in the podcasting world, as both's broadcasting experience shines through when they're switched on.
I've had to quit already on a couple: 'Piper's Pit' never really had me to begin with. As it is, 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper is an uncomfortable real-life reminder of Mickey Rourke's portrayal of 'The Wrestler', and while this podcast could've been a new lease of life for 'Hot Rod', it doesn't take long for you to realise that he's more interesting in living vicariously through his past and settling old scores to really add anything new to an already-full menu of podcasting options.
Bill Goldberg was a surprise addition to the world when he launched 'Who's Next?' though, truth be told, are we really surprised he took any gig that paid enough? Having said that, Goldberg shows more vocal ability on his podcast than he did during his relatively brief tenure in wrestling. You could easily imagine him heading up a 'hot take' sports show on ESPN with his intense, punchy delivery. The problem is that content is king in this world, and he just doesn't have the contact list in the sports world to outmuscle the likes of Bill Simmons or PTI on my subscriptions list, nor does he seem to have the natural curiosity or giving nature to compete for wrestling fans' attention when he eventually does decide to start covering the field that gave him his most acclaim. You may enjoy it if you like 'Bro' culture, though I'm not even sure bros even know what a podcast is.
Rick's WWE Battleground Quick Picks
Fatal 4-Way: WWE Champion, JOHN CENA over ROMAN REIGNS, RANDY ORTON & KANE (SETH ROLLINS to fail to cash-in briefcase afterwards; BROCK LESNAR to appear on-stage)
DEAN AMBROSE over SETH ROLLINS
CHRIS JERICHO over BRAY WYATT by disqualification
RUSEV over JACK SWAGGER
Divas Champion, AJ LEE over PAIGE
Tag-Team Champions, THE USOS over HARPER & ROWAN
BO DALLAS to win Intercontinental Championship Battle Royal
(Kickoff Show): NAOMI over CAMERON
Rick Nash is a former professional wrestler, the co-host of Balls.ie's official WWE podcast, Low Blows, and the founder of WWE Parties Ireland. He is also a DJ and terrible sports gambler, so feel free to share some tips with him on Twitter.