“I went to a show a few years back and when I arrived, these three little kids had gotten out of a car. They saw me and asked, “Are you a wrestler?” I smiled and said yes. They asked, “Are you going to win tonight?” I said, “Well, I don’t know. I hope so, but my opponent’s pretty tough.” Then they said, “Aw come on, you know if you’re going to win. This is fake!” I looked at them and said, “I’ll tell ya what. Based on my match tonight, and my match alone, I want you to tell me if wrestling’s fake.” I went on to have my match, the kind of match you might expect me to have, and those children found me after the show. They looked at me and said, “We were wrong, Jerry, that was definitely real!” There is no greater thrill in this business when you can make a believer of someone, to suspend their disbelief.”
The indubitable glee in Jerry Lynn’s voice, as he shared that story with twenty young, gasping-for-air independent wrestlers, was comparable to the wistfulness of which your father describes his first motorcycle.
Except instead of those independent wrestlers taking a deep breath, waiting for Dad wrap it up, these prospects hung on every word of Lynn’s story, among others.
“This will be the third show I’ve missed in 24 years,” Lynn told me matter-of-factly that afternoon. Despite working shows for ECW after his gruesome facial injury against Rob Van Dam in 1999, the 49-year-old Lynn seems to have reached the point where his body now out-argues his spirit.
But regardless, Lynn would still work the show in a non-physical role (more on that later). But a hampered hip wouldn’t keep Lynn from his other task du jour: teaching.
Through National Wrestling Alliance affiliate NWA DAWG (Dangerous Adrenaline Wrestling Gladiators), Lynn provided a seminar for relative novices of various looks, sizes, and backgrounds in Franklinville, NJ on Saturday afternoon. Eager performers from various parts of the country, including a handful that drove incredible distances from South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas, sat in light-as-paper folding chairs on the floor of a skating rink that had seen better days.
“I came here to learn, because Jerry Lynn is one of the best,” said T-Jay Sykes, a two and a half year pro out of Baltimore. “One could really learn a lot from him.”
Lynn, with two knee braces and an elbow brace, stood before a group of men that he’d possibly never seen before, and might possibly never see again. Their admission fee for this ‘master class’ had been paid, they no doubt wondered if they’d get their money’s worth in imparted wisdom from the “New F’N Show.”
Just like his matches with Sean Waltman, Rob Van Dam, and AJ Styles, Lynn delivered more than the audience’s money’s worth.
Combine the qualities of a philosopher and a motivational speaker, and diffuse them into one body, and that was Lynn, who reveled in his role as Mr. Miyagi, death metal version. Out of respect to those that had to pay a considerable sum to sit in on Lynn’s friendly lecture, I won’t divulge every detail for free, but I will share a summation.
Lynn preached two things that seemed, at times, to contradict one another, but yet weren’t entirely mutually exclusive. One was having fun. After all, chances are the men and women you see perform got into this business to live a dream, to play a character, and to make money doing it.
It bothers Lynn to see so many unhappy souls in locker rooms he’s changed in. C’mon, he intoned, it’s not supposed to be that way! We’re going out there, and we’re play-fighting in our underwear in front of a crowd that paid to see such a spectacle!
But Lynn admits that the business can be cold at times, and damaging to one’s psyche in its worst form. In an aside to me as the students were getting ready, Jerry related words from Terry Taylor: “Anyone who gets into show business is looking for acceptance.” Luck was on Lynn’s side, as he won the respect of many fans through his runs in ECW, TNA, and ROH, where he was allowed to be his best.
But not everyone gets even a sniff of that windfall.
As the quote from Taylor sunk in, I watched the boys pulling up chairs in their faded tees, gym shorts, and boots, realistically thinking, “How many of them will last long enough to see a retirement tour?”
The other main theme of his oration was ring psychology. As much as Lynn takes a laid-back, egos-aren’t-necessary approach to a business some take overly seriously, Lynn listed off some pet peeves of his when it comes to a lack of reality in the performance.
“Just to let everyone know,” a forthright Lynn intoned, “Everything I criticize, I’m just as guilty of doing.”
Lynn went on to list numerous examples, many of which brought laughter from just his incredulous explanation of what he was seeing. From selling to working the crowd to move sequences, Lynn’s keenly-developed eye from years of mastering his own craft may well have been an unguarded Fort Knox to the youths sitting before me.
Here’s one nibble of the buffet Lynn offered up: During his time in Ring of Honor, where he became the oldest World Champion in company history at age 45 in 2009, Lynn and then-‘ambassador’ Ric Flair both witnessed something scoff-worthy to them. I won’t reveal the performer, but we’ll call him “Mr. X” and just say that he’s held gold in one of the current Big Two since this incident.
During his match, Mr. X hit his opponent with a superkick, which was one of his potential finishing moves. If it’s his finisher, it SHOULD knock the opponent to the canvas at least, right? In this case, Mr. X blasted the opponent with the sole-on-chin strike, but it was to set up another move. So the opponent, instead of being floored, merely staggered stunned for Mr. X to hit the next move.
Flair bristled in Lynn’s presence, “When I got hit with that same move, it ended my career.”
Lynn would work with Mr. X at one point, and Mr. X suggested the same sequence. Lynn went as far as to tell him, “I don’t want to kill your finish.”
It may sound like nit-picking, but to Jerry Lynn, it’s the art he’s worked to perfect.
Oh, and for those wondering, Lynn says you can blame Kevin Sullivan for the name “Mr. JL”
“I suggested names like ‘Phantasm’ and such, but he wanted something that wouldn’t have any ties to other copyrights, so he says, “We’ll just call you Mr. JL!”
Suffice it to say, muttered expletives followed.
Speaking of training, after Lynn took questions from the audience, of which there were many situationals and hypotheticals, it was time to step into the ring. Everyone would partner up and Lynn would ask them in groups of two to perform a typical opening sequence, with the heel cheating to get the edge. Or groups of four would work out a tag team sequence.
“Seminars like this refresh my memory,” Lynn explained. “I’ve done several before for Ring of Honor, and *I* learned a lot. If you think you have nothing more to learn, you may as well just pack your bags and quit.”
“It sharpens you up, refreshes you, because after so many years, you get complacent, and fall into bad habits. I don’t mean to make it sound like laziness, but there’s just so much that goes into this that fans don’t realize. Some think you just run around like chickens with your heads cut off, doing moves for the sake of doing moves, but it’s very complicated. You’d think after so many years, it gets easier, but it doesn’t, because you learn so much and you want to get better. You want to master your craft.”
For the next hour, Lynn intently observed the individuals as they pieced together their routines, and I observed Lynn, who genuinely seemed invested in their efforts. Once Lynn put up the stop sign, the performers would step out of the ring, and Lynn would coach them as the next grouping commenced their act.
I didn’t get too close, not wanting to get in the way, but the pep talks were certainly more than two or three empty sentences.
“I attended a previous seminar in Philadelphia with Jerry, along with Delirious, Jim Cornette, and Kevin Kelly,” said Kevin Douglas, a Jamie Noble-doppelganger and student of Rodney Mack’s, working that night as NWA World Jr. Heavyweight Champion. “It was a great experience, learned a lot. I came here tonight primarily to work, but it’s just a bonus having Jerry here to teach.”
Douglas has expanded his horizons during his thirteen year career, traveling up and down the borderlines of the United States. The Fort Worth, TX native has made his way to the east coast in recent years, which has provided him some of his best learning experiences.
“I’ve been around the indies for a while, but I always look forward to learning, and he just brings a lot of knowledge,” Douglas explained.
Leaving Lynn to his critique session for a spell, I took a little walk outside, where many of the night’s performers, those who didn’t sign up for the class, were milling about.
One of the many traditions of wrestling is that if you have backstage access, and you’re a stranger to the group, you introduce yourself to everyone. Having shaken more hands that day than most politicians do at campaign stops, I also had the task of explaining who I was and why I was there. Once I relayed that I was writing about Jerry Lynn’s march to a nearing retirement, the verbal tributes commenced from his professional peers.
“Jerry is reliable and honest, which are great qualities to have as a person, but terrible if he wanted to be a politician,” said Fred Richards, a charming traditionalist who doubles as both a referee, as well as a member of NWA’s Board of Directors. “Jerry always remembers that the crowd came to see him, and that’s why he gives it his all. The business is losing one of the true greats.”
“I’ve been to several seminars in the past, but the one with Jerry was definitely more insightful,” claimed LJ Cruz, a six-year pro who arrived early for the night’s show, catching the Q&A session of the class. “I like that he’ll take open-ended questions from the workers as to what troubles them in certain situations. He comes off as very helpful; I feel like I could ask him anything. Plus his matches with RVD in ECW were part of what really made me a fan.”
The more I talked to workers, crew members, and others assisting with the show, the more I wondered which Jerry Lynn would be more missed: the hard worker who pleases fans of all walks, or the man in the locker room that’s both a friend and mentor to wrestlers of all walks.
As for the show itself, NWA DAWG put on a fun, family-friendly outing. What the event lacked in star power outside of Lynn (and his surprise replacement in the main event, Marty Jannetty), it made up for with spirited efforts from an eager band of performers, most notably a heat-filled war between Cruz and young Lance Anoa’i (the son of Samu).
Lynn, meanwhile, served as outside enforcer while Jannetty took on NWA DAWG’s champion, Damien Wayne (think a shorter, but still muscular, hybrid of Tomko and Hernandez). Marty landed the fist-drop for old time’s sake, but Wayne still prevailed. Afterward, a few smart aleck remarks to Lynn led to the enforcer pummeling him good to give the kids an ending where the hero stood tall.
Sadly, for many, this may have been the last chance they get to see Lynn work circles around the ring, and an unfortunate injury curtailed it. And, even sadder, from what Lynn says, this won’t be one of those cases of “forever” in wrestling meaning “two weeks” or “six months.”
“I wouldn’t return to the ring; maybe behind the scenes. It’s dangerous what we do, but the bar is being raised more and more all the time. And besides that, after 24 years of putting my body through car-wrecks, it’s telling me it’s had enough. Regardless if I can’t give it up or not, I have to. But pro wrestling’s in my blood, and I would love to help out behind the scenes still.”
After Lynn and Devon Storm tore the house down at Extreme Reunion, considered by those who saw it to be the lone highlight of a disastrous show, aren’t chants of “YOU STILL GOT IT” a lure to him to continue?”
“No, no, because I like to walk!” Lynn offered with a laugh. “It’s not about ego; it’s just a passion for something that’s a lost art form. It took Jake “The Snake” Roberts to make me realize what a passion I had for it. I told him I had problems with this promoter getting me the money. He was stringing me along, month to month. Jake said, “Why do you put up with it?” I said I didn’t know, and he said, “Because you have a passion for this.”
That passion, that energy, has translated to Lynn making an indelible mark on a business he never really thought he’d succeed in. He broke barriers for cruiserweights in North America with Sean Waltman in Minnesota and Texas. He reached the peak of ECW in 2000 as the company’s champion. He pioneered the X Division with AJ Styles and Low Ki. As mentioned, he was Ring of Honor’s Champion in his mid-forties, with barely a soul questioning his right to reign.
Perhaps Harley Race summed it up best. The eight-time World Champion visited a TNA event in which Lynn was helping backstage. Race asked, “Who are you wrestling tonight?” Lynn responded, “I’m not on tonight.” Race muttered in response, “Go figure; they got one of the best workers in the world, and they don’t even use him.”
Praise like that doesn’t come along every day, but Lynn never let it cloud his mind, or inflate his ego.
What referee Fred Richards said is true. The business is losing a great man, but not just in the ring. The day locker rooms are without Jerry Lynn is the day the business loses a piece of its heart.
(For allowing me full access to their roster, backstage sanctuary, and for setting up my chance to talk to Jerry Lynn, I owe it to NWA DAWG for their hospitality, so check them out on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/NWA-DAWG-Dangerous-Adrenaline-Wrestling-Gladiators/139873309419604 and Twitter at https://twitter.com/NWADAWG)
Justin Henry is a freelance writer whose work appears on many websites. He provides wrestling, NFL, and other sports/pop culture columns for CamelClutchBlog.com, as well as several wrestling columns a week for Wrestlechat.net and WrestleCrap.com. Justin can be found here on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/notoriousjrh and Twitter- http://www.twitter.com/cynicjrh.ECW, Jerry Lynn, NWA DAWG, Ring of Honor, Rob Van Dam