WWE | Pro Wrestling

Breaking Kayfabe: Terry Brunk (Sabu) DVD Review

It’s easy to oversell the Breaking Kayfabe series. Unlike the “shoot” type interviews of the past two decades, we’re starting out with a more serious look at professional wrestling: by looking at the person (and not the persona), by looking at the humanity (and not the work), by looking deeply at the talent and not just the talent of telling tales.

With the seemingly 70’s style music (hearkening to a time when distinctions between work and shoot were much more distinct) and the efforts of emcee extraordinaire Sean Oliver weaving his way through potentially hostile answers, this is a completely serious effort and one of the most important projects in the history of this business.

(I mean, if the WWE continues to control 98% of the industry, this sort of reflection about wrestlers with different styles will become moot. If the WWE disintegrates into oblivion, it’s much the same. Either way, some promoter in the year 2050 may want to re-invent the sport. If that’s the case, there’s a lot of reading between the lines of these interviews to figure out how to approach it).

Professional wrestlers are often awesome (if not awfully incapable of self-reflection) at spinning things, playing a role, putting themselves at the center of attention, putting themselves out of the picture, or otherwise playing sleight-of-hand tricks that they learned in the ring to avert the eyes of the viewer from their ability to work every angle.

Yeah, I just read Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, so I’m deep in psychological reflection, and deeper still in the descent into madness that is this industry.

But SABU, more humanly known as Terry Brunk, isn’t a man with that level of problem with reality.

Even when deflecting his battle with depression (in rapid succession his losing his wife to divorce, his mother passing, as well as his dog – and having the cops and paramedics called due to being “somatose” – lends a lot of credence to the contrary) he’s riding an even keel, speaking his mind and there’s a sense of sanity here that few others reach on any of these types of interviews.

One cannot discount Oliver’s participation, though.

So many “Shoot” interviews are filled with crap, lack of focus or any semblance of industry, cultural or historical significance. The shift to the Breaking Kayfabe concept moved Kayfabe Commentaries to a vastly more legitimate format, one that avoids the drugs, sex and vulgarity, plus allowed the talent to “put their working shoes on” since the subject matter called for it.

What I’ve grown to admire from Sean Oliver is his ability to shape the direction with questions about others. This time, he elicits a lot of insight about Sabu by asking questions about the Sheik. We learn more about Sabu as a person by hearing him talk about his biggest influence, and see glimpses of personality, industry approaches, and family from this approach.

Writing about those insights to retell the interview does no one justice (not Sean, not Terry and not this writer) so I’ll leave the emotional, personal and deep details on the screen for the viewer to enjoy. For me as a reviewer, the important parts are what is said about the business, and what I can add to the overall picture, and what makes this edition of Breaking Kayfabe compelling on various levels.

The first aspect of Sabu/Terry Brunk is the love and dedication he had for his mother. It’s fascinating that I’ve written the past few years about Bruno Sammartino on Mother’s day, and bookended this past Sunday watching Sabu speak emotionally about his Mom, and later watched the Bruno Documentary, which was much more of the same. (I of course watched that from my Mom’s house, so there’s another place where I’m making myself part of the story).

That Terry took care of his Mother isn’t just surprising, it’s amazing.

Here’s a guy that was 1) one of the most hardcore of all wrestlers and 2) one of the most well-travelled guys around (especially considering the promotions he worked, across the world, and his lack of staying with any one for any length of time). That he found the time to care for his Mom for all of his adult life is a great accomplishment. While there’s a sense of distance in the details, it’s all matter-of-fact and more real than this industry could suggest.

(Wow, I found out on Mother’s Day that Sabu and Bruno Sammartino are a lot more alike than they are different!)

The opening sentiment (just to jumble things up) is that Sabu is probably the one guy that never got his due. It is pointed out that most of the ECW Moments are of Sabu, even though Rob Van Dam gets the mainstream acclaim as the high-flyer of ECW Fame, Tazz gets the acclaim as the most dangerous, Dreamer (to some) gets the Hardcore Innovator, soul of the promotion vibe.

And then there’s the other Terry, rhymes with Brunk….

Sabu gets crowded out, but Sabu ultimately never “sold out” even if he did appear in every promotion under the sun. By never selling out (in the sense of putting on a happy face and playing along, playing politics, taking the money and sticking with the mindless suggestions and career altering decisions and condescension galore) the man known as Terry Brunk never saw his Hardcore Legacy become a bankroll for his career.

But he’s not exactly whining over walking away from Bischoff or McMahon, and for that he should be cheered.

Yet now he’s hitting an age where the other Terry had his second career, and ECW isn’t around, and nothing on the horizon will come close.

Sabu never really gets his due as a pure professional wrestler, despite his influence, maybe because of his violence and his unique approach to health care, and quite frankly, because the fans who glorified him and the fans of this generation who may think he’s cool have no real conception of the working shoes Sabu earned from The Shiek, nor seem to comprehend the levels to which he … well, worked.

Terry/Sabu tells us that his mother rarely watched him, and when she did, she was concerned that he was hurt. Here’s the sister of The Shiek, watching professional wrestling like it was intended, interacting with one of its leading, under-rated and absolutely glowing examples of selling.

There are many imitators and few who can really understand what he was doing.

Every match Sabu is in had a lot of things, and being driven (internally, by audience pressure and by the undeniable influence of his uncle) to bigger, badder and dangerous things was definitely part of it. But every match ended with Sabu convincing the fans that he put his life on the line for the business, and he did not come out of it unscathed.

Compare that to the ping-pong ball approach of many Indie performers, and the utter disconnect of most mainstream talent with the fans or the complete inability of most professional wrestlers to tell a story in the ring – let along perform like they are a physical creature prone to injury, doing something dangerous and paying a price for their passion.

When you watch Sabu in the ring, you hear the tales of crazy glue, tape and broken bones… you have to wonder how much of that is worked or shoot  but you watch him and you can’t figure out (if you dare think of it that way) if he’s really hurt or really an absolute master of his craft.

That’s the summation of watching this DVD, and why you need to respect Sabu.

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Joe Babinsack

Joe Babinsack can be reached at [email protected] Thanks to Eric for giving me a platform to talk about my passions, and look for reviews (like Vintage Quebec wrestling) coming soon.

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