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Enter the Grappler

 - Steve Petersen  

In the mid 1980's Portland wrestling seemed to be struggling.  The McMahon steamroller had come forth, paved, destroyed and changed much of the old NWA regional landscapes. As is the case with nasty, urban sprawl, there are some places which resist the incessant need to dot the landscape with strip malls, fast food places and Wal Mart. Portland was one such place but as it resisted, remaining proud, true and stubborn it did feel the slap and sting of change. Portland wrestling was in a slump, there were fits, coughs and short spurts where the promotion would be seeming to heat up, Tom Zenk improved attendance for a while, but as a rule things were not as hot as they had once been. There were several reasons for this. 

The area which used to have a good mix of seasoned pros and guys breaking in, now seemed to be very green. The commission, always a problem in the Northwest, was trying to regulate and industry it did not understand, and the old standbys, like Rip Oliver had seemed to become stale. 

This was the promotion Len Denton walked into, and soon things would change. Denton was definitely fighting a tough battle, crowds were down, interest was low and the promotion was not even running in Seattle to the best of my recollection at this time. Also, the commission outlawed the blade. In my opinion Portland wrestling made good use of blood to set up angles and garner interest, now any blood meant the match must be stopped and if it was done on purpose there was serious repercussions. Matt Borne actually got the promotion shut down for a short time by blading. Now, while this could be looked at as not a big roadblock, after all the WWF of the time was doing quite nicely without getting green from red, but the fans in the NW were used to, and seemed to enjoy their blood feuds. 

To be honest I was not a huge fan of The Grappler as a performer, although he was solid and quite good on the mike, I found his matches to be just okay and often quite redundant. In fact when his 'big grudge match' was promised as being off TV I was usually pleased. However, his ability to tell stories, make stars and book feuds gave the northwest wrestling scene a B12 shot and all of a sudden things seemed interesting and entertaining once again.

In these hard and troubled times for the small wrestling company, Denton went back to basics, to simple storytelling that has been around since the dawn of time. Each story needs to have a protagonist, (face) and an antagonist, (heel) and should be told in three acts. The first act introduces characters and shows us why we should like the good guy, think a run in to save someone or the original Star Wars. The second act sets up the conflict and puts a conflict before the protagonist that must be resolved, and often has the antagonist firmly in charge, think numerous beatdowns of a face or The Empire Strikes Back. The third act protagonist overcomes the conflict, beats evil and good is triumphant, think blowoff matches and Return of the Jedi.

Denton did this so well and he did it with the restrictions of the strictest athletic commission in the United States, which seemed to actually enjoy hindering the shows. If I remember correctly we had the first hell in a cell, (not called that, called a heavy metal match) that I had ever heard of. The cage was actually not around the ring but right by where the fans sat, it was advertised as a way to keep the fans safe. I have been told that the commission would not allow any cage to be set up around the ring for safety, and this was improvised.  More...

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