Al Snow has earned respect as a trainer on the independent scene, WWE TV show Tough Enough, and in former WWE developmental territory Ohio Valley Wrestling. The chance to learn from one of the best teachers in the business is one that many promoters choose to include when booking Al Snow for shows. This Friday, Snow will host a wrestling seminar in Calgary as part of a Wrestling Supershow weekend.
Even on the phone, speaking with Snow is a wrestling lesson. SLAM! Wrestling spent nearly an hour on the phone with him earlier this year learning what many would consider an “old-school” mentality on the business of wrestling.
“I don’t believe there is such a thing as old school, it is all the same school. A lot of guys like to try and tell you that they reinvented the wheel, but wrestling today is the same as it was back in the 1900s when they first started doing it in the carnivals. It’s still telling a story. Wrestlers and wrestling hasn’t changed, the audience has. Today the audience is far more sophisticated then they were 10 years ago, and that audience was far more sophisticated then they were 20 or 30 years ago. That is the only thing that has changed,” he explained.
“It doesn’t mean you have to do more, work faster or take more bumps, you just have to work smarter. The whole idea of a work is to convince the audience of what you are doing, and what we are ultimately trying to convince them is that we are prize fighters and winning and losing means everything. We just have the ability to pick and choose how and why we do things to elicit an emotional response to transmit that story and get the people at a fever pitch. When the pyro is over and music has ended, and the bell rings, everybody is still trying to do exactly the same thing — tell a story to create an emotional response by using physical moves, actions, facial expressions and body language.”
Snow trained up and coming wrestlers in Ohio Valley Wrestling, and trained many up and comers such as The Miz and John Morrison. Reports came from OVW towards the end of its affiliation that Snow as “too tough” on his students.
“I have to answer that with a couple of answers. One is that the nature of wrestlers, because it is such an insecure egotistical business — and keep in mind I was a wrestler and used to do the same thing — we all bitch. We complain, piss, and moan, no matter how good it is. As far as people complaining about me being too tough? For one thing, some people may have taken it as that. The image that everyone has is that I was physically abusive or worked them physically very hard. Nothing could be further from the truth. I didn’t stick to the normal bump drills. In fact, we went into the ring to train maybe one day a week. We worked six to seven days a week, because we did TV on Wednesday, reviewed TV and dark matches on Thursday and had house shows Friday to Sunday with Monday off. Every other Tuesday we did promos for the office. So the Tuesdays we were in the ring training I had them doing drills where they had to use their brain. Half the time I was in the ring anywhere from two to four hours a day showing them what they could or should do instead of having them in the ring doing it. Physically they didn’t have it that hard, except when they had to drive to the towns.”
Snow also feels that the reputation came from a negative campaign intended to shut down OVW.
“What happened with OVW was probably going to happen sooner or later, and the only resentment I have with what happened is the smear campaign that went on. People were trying to create problems with morale and the talent and trying to create a public image via the internet with rumors and information so they could further their agenda and could go to Vince and say, ‘This is what is happening with OVW; don’t you think we should close it down?’ It had been planned for awhile but because things had been going so well in OVW and being so positive without problems, there were people who were enlisted to create drama and circumstances so that they could go that next step sooner,” he said, adding, “All things must come to an end. I have done some of the stuff I am most proud of with OVW. As frustrating as some of it was I still miss it all. WWE wanted to go in a different direction and own their own developmental system, and I wish them the best with that.”
When asked who he sees as the future of the business, Snow hesitates to name names.
“I don’t want to list a name and then forget a name and have that guy feel offended or upset. I can tell you this, I told all of them at the end of my last night at OVW that in five years the wrestling business will be theirs. They will be the WWE. No disparagement to Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, any of the top stars that are there now, but they aren’t going to be there in five or six years. I was very fortunate and lucky to be involved with the next generation of guys from the top of the card to the bottom of the card,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with being on the bottom of the card. People misunderstand why we shake each other’s hand, that it is out of respect because I have done it longer. You respect me because you can’t do it without me, and vice versa. You can’t be in the main event without the opening match; you can’t be the opening match without a main event. No matter how much heat you have as a heel, you have to have an over babyface. I was lucky in that I got to be in the ring with every single guy and woman that is going to be the wrestling business in the next five years.”
With so much riding on the future of the business, Snow concentrated on preparing the developmental wrestlers for life as a whole.
“I really pushed everybody to be professional and understand we all live and die together and what one person does directly and indirectly affects me and everybody else in the locker room. Everybody thinks they know that protecting the business means not smartening people up. I’ve got news for you, the last time people weren’t smartened up to the business was when the newspapers ran wrestling results like sporting events. Since then everybody has been smartened up. People come to wrestling because they know what it is and don’t want to be smartened up. Projecting the business means not letting just anybody in it. As hard as we all work to build a town or territory so we can make money, feed and clothe our families, all it takes is one dummy to sit there and think he is bigger than the business and can be irresponsible and get a DUI, drug charge or get into a fight in a bar, we are all suffering.”
With that said, Snow then provided a look at the wrestling business from a point of a view that few ever see. It was eye opening to say the least.
“A lot of people only think they understand, so I try to use these things to help people get a clearer understanding of what the business really is. When talent goes to WWE, they are utilized and given an opportunity. I laboured for a very long time under that false pretense that I wasn’t given an opportunity. Brother, every time you go to the ring you are have an opportunity. You have to view going in that ring as a commercial, and you are the product. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, what matters is what business needs to be conducted. I didn’t quite understand it until I got to OVW and then started going, ‘Oh, that is what I was missing.'”
Snow then explained the business side of wrestling.
“There are only three types of business in wrestling. The first is to make somebody. You have to make an audience believe in a person, and if you don’t you won’t be able to get heat on them or get them over. You have to make yourself believable. You have an opportunity to do that whether you win or lose. Secondly, as a heel, you have to put heat on a face and there are a million ways to do that. Let’s say a heel is sent out to the ring and they won’t tell you, wrestling is not a verbal business, but they will say, ‘We will have you work with wrestler A and this is what we want you to do.’ You have got to understand this is your opportunity, they are trying to put heat on you. Not to have the best match on the goddamn card. So if you go out there and try to have the best match instead of getting heat on yourself, are you going to get the chance to do it again? Probably not.”
“I will give you a for instance. We all know Funaki and how he is used and he is very good at it, it is not a disparagement upon him. Let’s say CM Punk is brought in to work Funaki in his first match in the WWE. They are putting Punk in with Funaki to get himself over. To get himself over means that he wants to eventually put himself over to the point where he can eventually wrestle Triple H for the heavyweight title. So Punk goes out there going, ‘I am going to have the best match on the card’ and he does. Problem is, because he had the best match on the card he had to give Funaki a lot of stuff. So does he look like he is on Funaki’s level or Triple H’s level? If Triple H were to go out there and work with Funaki, he’d make Funaki but would he still look like the heavyweight champion? He would, and look like he was on the top of the ladder and Funaki on the bottom. So if CM Punk worked on Funaki’s level in an effort to have the best match on the card, did he truly take advantage of his opportunity? No. Thirty seconds on RAW costs $30,000 so for a six-minute match that was going to paint a picture that this new guy was a threat to Triple H and the heavyweight championship, now Punk went out and painted a picture that Funaki is as good as CM Punk. So at more than $240,000 for six minutes how many more opportunities would Punk get to go out there and show he is on Triple H’s level?”
Once Snow grasped this, he used the knowledge to pass on to students.
“I spent all of that time in OVW trying to get those guys to understand that Vince McMahon truly wants everyone to get over and get as much heat as they possibly can. Believe me, he does and the idea that he doesn’t is ridiculous. The more people that get heat and get over the more successful he looks. You can’t imagine that a businessman would not want to do that it just doesn’t make sense. Considering the costs for a six-minute match, do you think Vince wants you to have the best match of the night, or does he want you to go out and do the right business that will draw more than the $240,000 he had just invested in them? Do you think it is more important to focus on having the best match on the show or the match that sells the most tickets? You were just given the opportunity to be the guy who draws the money, or be the guy who helps to draw the money. If you are one of those two you will get every opportunity to continue to do it. If you can’t or don’t because you continue to focus on the wrong thing how many more opportunities do you think you will continue to get. If you don’t take advantage of the opportunities you are given, and trust me, I blew more opportunities than you can imagine, because I didn’t focus on the right thing. I was like a bunch of other goofs going out to have the best matches on the show, instead of what’s best for the business.”
Snow does speak from experience as his WWE career started in 1995 with stints as Shinobi, Avatar, and Leif Cassidy of the New Rockers before breaking through in ECW with “Head.” In the early days of the Internet, fans complained that they didn’t understand the lack of push for someone of his talent.
“It does give a different perspective on that era of my career. When I focused on getting myself over instead of having the best match things changed. When I went to ECW I knew I had to get myself over or I wouldn’t have a career. I got myself over and became a draw. Unfortunately, I never really understood how or why because I was still focused on having the best match or being the most entertaining and not being the guy who did the right business. They do not go hand in hand.”
People make similar comparisons today in seeing wrestlers they saw on the independent scene working in WWE as a different wrestler. A frequent example, and the one mentioned to Snow, is CM Punk, who wrestled 60-minute draws in Ring of Honor, and prior to winning the world title earlier this year, was working much shorter bouts.
“It brings up a good point. How great was his match in Ring of Honor? I am not talking about Punk in particular but everybody. I said this to CM Punk and everybody in OVW. If the building holds 2,000 people, and 500 people were there and you run the same building a month later and it only draws 382, how great was that match? Ultimately a professional wrestlers job is to do one thing, to sell tickets. It is like if a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound? If you have a great match and nobody is there to see it, how great was it? It was the greatest match in the history of wrestling, Jesus Christ took on Satan, it was two-out-of-three falls, and they went three hours. Nobody was there, but you just have to take my word for it that it was awesome.”
It is this insight that Snow continues to pass on through training seminars offered at shows he works on. It is important to him that his students have grasped these things to continue on his legacy.
“I have the same goals as I did when I started wrestling 26 years ago: to make a living at it, which I have done; that I would be able to have matches that people would remember, which they have; and I would also hope that when you mention the name Al Snow people will know who it is, even years from now. Hopefully my real legacy will be the people I have trained that will help carry this business on. Everyone I have ever trained I did so the same way I was. When I first broke in, it was harder to get into the business than it was to become a made man in the mafia. The guy who trained me did so in such a way that it was understood that everything I did was a reflection on him. He did everything he could to make sure I knew what I was doing so I wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize his way of making a living. I do everything I can to make sure they know not only how to wrestle, because that is the least important, but how to be an asset to the business. That way, ten years from now if someone says, ‘Who trained you, you’re great”‘ they say, ‘Al Snow.’ If they say the same thing while thinking, ‘This guy is horrible’ and they say, ‘Al Snow did,’ what does that make me? I have spent too long and hard building a reputation that I think is fairly well respected to allow anyone I trained to go out and besmirch it. I am going to do everything I can to make sure they have success because the more they succeed, the more I do.”
Jason Clevett learned more in one hour on the phone with Al Snow than most do in years. He is also a big fan of Head, until Head refused to be interviewed for this story.