January 6, 2009
An interview with Al Snow
Gary Mehaffy: First off, what are you doing these days out of pro wrestling?
Al: Iím still wrestling quite a bit Ė luckily. Still in demand and still enjoying it. I always loved the wrestling business and after 28 years I still do. I donít have any regrets ever being involved in it. Iíve slowly transitioned out of the wrestling business and more into the acting world. Iím doing more and more acting roles, and more and more movies, getting more opportunities to do that. Over the last year Iíve done quite a bit in that area and Iím starting to slowly segway out of wrestling and into acting, just Ďcause it seems like a natural extension of what Iíve done for the last 28 years. Thereís not that much dramatically different; it is different in some ways, different rules, different expectations, but itís enjoyable and itís a new challenge and like I said it seemed like a natural progression.
Were you a wrestling fan growing up?
Al: Oh yea, certainly. When I was really young (I grew up in Ohio) we had the original Sheikís territory operating there, and then it went out of business and then we were able to get Dick the Bruiserís territory out of Indianapolis and then finally around 1976/77, maybe 78/79, we started getting Georgia Championship Wrestling when TBS went national. That was what hooked me, really hooked me, to where I made the decision that that was what I wanted to do.
You bounced around the independents for a while before getting your first real break in SMW in the mid 90ís. Did you ever think your time would come or were you worried you would never get your break?
Al: Well, when I started there were territories. I started working in the territories and then those kinda started dissolving and going away and whittling themselves down and then I became, for a lot of years, a lot of guys felt that with my reputation I was the best kept secret in professional wrestling, which was a real big compliment for a lot of years. There was a time when I was starting to get really frustrated, disappointed but, you know, I loved doing itÖÖNowadays, a lot of the guys get into wrestling to be celebrities, they get into wrestling to be a WWE Superstar, and at the time I got into wrestling to be a wrestler, to be a professional wrestler, because I just loved doing it any opportunity I had. It didnít matter what scale or level, I just wanted to be a part of it. It was frustrating at times because, you know, I would stay busy and wrestle 3 to 5 times a week but I wasnít making enough money, per se, all the time, to just devote myself to it. That was what I wanted to do, I wanted to do it for a living and nothing elseÖÖ.I did that for quite some time but never really made a whole lot of money until after Smoky Mountain and getting involved with WWF.
How did your association with Dan Severn come about?
Al: At the time in Michigan there were a ton of former amateur wrestlers who were involved one way or another in professional wrestling. Greg Wojciechowski was on the 1980 Olympic team, the one that they boycotted Ė he became involved n professional wrestling. Another guy by the name of Sam Bodie (that was his wrestling name, I forget his real name), very intelligent guy, he was a big amateur wrestler. And then Dennis Kaspewicz, who was my partner in the Fabulous Kangaroos with Al Costello, he was an AAU champion and a player/coach for the Olympic team, was very well versed amateur wrestler. He and Dan Severn were friends, and Dan wanted to become a professional wrestler. At the time I knew that the UWFI was very popular in Japan and I felt that at the very least Dan could go over there and make a name for himself in that world, which he did.
Fastforwarding (slightly) to the WWF; When you arrived at fist we went through Avatar & Shinobi before they settled you in as Leif Cassidy in the New Rockers. How did you feel about being put with Marty & the inevitable comparisons you would get with the original?
Al: At first it was difficult, because Iíd spent at that time about 14 years as a heel and then to come in and be given the Avatar gimmick; you know, which was a tremendous opportunity. A lot of people think that I resent that, and thatís partly my own fault, because at the time I didnít view it as an opportunity and I was focussing on the wrong things instead of focussing on business the way I should have. As a result I missed, or blew, a lot of opportunities even back then. I was too young, too arrogant, too immature and was pointing the finger at everybody else instead of where it should have been, which was me. I was misunderstanding the chance that I was really given and realising that I could have made the most of it and I didnít. It was what it was, which caused a lot of frustration on my part and in turn it created a situation where I asked, at that time, for my release. Iíd been with WWF for 2 years and asked for my release. They rolled it over on me! They had a year rollover on me, and they did, Ďcause Bruce Pritchard wanted to teach me a lesson or whatever Ďcause I had a bad attitude, which I kinda did. Through the grace of God I was put on loan, though I was still under contract, to ECW just to give me a place to go. I knew I had to go there and do everything I could to get over, which thankfully I did.
Because you were on loan there, rather than being released, did Vince or Bruce Pritchard make you any promises about what would happen if you got over, or was it just for you to go and do some stuff?
Al: Yea, it was just to go and do some stuff. They didnít have any plans for me in WWF. I went to Chris Candido, who was a dear friend; he had Paul Eís ear. Everybody didnít know the extent of Paulís relationship with Vince at the time, but it was apparently a lot more significant. You know, ECW was basically a developmental program, more or less, for WWE at the time, without anybody knowing. I went to Chris and Chris went to Paul E. and then Paul E. went to Vince and I was given that chance to go. Paul E. didnít have any real plans or ideas for me, it was up to me. But the thing that Paul E. did was Ė and Vince does too; people donít realise how much Vince does the same thing. He gives you the freedom to do whatever you want. A big misnomer is that he only wants certain guys to get over, but he wants everybody to get over as much as possible, and guys just misunderstand that. And I did too.
Eventually with the addition of ĎHeadí you got over and you were headlining pay-per-views for ECW. Would you have preferred to stay there headlining or were you hoping to get back?
Al: I was very happy there and was planning on staying there. Russo had contacted me several times about sending some kind of a tape or whatever to him to show to Vince but I said no, I donít wanna come back. Iím happy here. I sent another letter in to get my official release from my third year with WWF and had no intentions of going back. I know Paul E. kinda laughs about this, but we were in Florida and I watched the opening of the show. They put people on the openings of shows that they are trying to feature or have some kind of plans for and I wasnít on it. That kinda told me that I didnít have a future, or a strong future, with ECW, so I thought Iíd take him up on it. I sent him (Russo) a tape and he showed it to Vince. Vince called me up, again Ė thatís the second time that Vince directly hired me Ė and hired me back.
Did you when you returned and brought ĎHeadí with you, given how risquť some of the attitude era was, did you think using that gimmick you would get over more in WWE?
Al: I just knew that it worked and that people related to it. A lot of people think that the ďWhat does everybody want?Ē was just a total double entendre. It was a double entendre, but that wasnít the intention. The idea was that I was laying the groundwork to basically work a program with the head at some point. The idea was that after 16 or 17 years of wanting success, I still didnít have it, ĎHeadí did. ďWhat does everybody want?Ē It wasnít me, it was a plastic head. They were all cheering for the head, it wasnít me, so at some point I was gonna get jealous and turn heel on the head and work a program with it, but I never laid that out to Vince, which was my fault. That was one of my biggest mistakes; that I didnít get or maintain a personal relationship with Vince, which I should have and I did not. I was from the old idea that it was very much us against them, that he was the promoter, thereís a fence and you donít bother him. You go and do your business and you donít sit there and try to kiss ass or anything like that. It wasnít a case of that, it was just simply a matter of doing good business which would have had a good relationship with the boss, which I didnít. I didnít have any sort of relationship with Vince.
You were tag team champ with Mick (Foley) and were hardcore champ, as well as European champ. I always felt the European run with the different outfits had a lot of potential. Whose idea was that?
Al: it was kinda both the writer, Brian Gewirtz, and my idea. Brian had the initial idea of, you know, me recording ďWhat does everybody want?Ē in every different countryís language and then always taking something out to represent each country and I just started building on that from there. I literally would bring out tons of stuff Ė a picture of some different celebrity for each country, a food item that represented each country and dress up.
How did you feel about transitioning out of wrestling full time for WWE into being one of the trainers of tough enough?
Al: It was an opportunity to go do something, you know, to do something new. They presented it to me and I was like, sure. They had no distinct plans or anything that I was giving up on in wrestling to go do it, it wasnít like I was sacrificing a spot or a position. I was like, fine, Iíll be glad to go and take advantage of it.
Do you think they should have kept Tough Enough?
Al: Yea, I certainly do. If nothing else, the success of Tough Enough is indicated by the success of Ultimate Fighter and what itís done for UFC. It is an incredible vehicle that first off allows you to access a completely different audience, it allows you to grow and expand your audience to people who would never watch it, and it allows the audience to become connected with and enamoured with different people, their personalities, their characters. Thatís so important, not just in UFC; even more so in UFC but in professional wrestling, because the reason that football, basketball, baseball have such huge audiences is because everybody plays them. The reason soccer and cricket have such huge audiences in Europe is because everybody plays that in Europe; theyíre not successful like that in the United States because no-one plays them, and they donít have that physical relationship to the sport, whereas with wrestling if you have a relationship with the personality of the character and the motivation, then thatís what sells tickets. Tough EnoughÖÖÖUltimate Fighter was just a complete knock off of Tough Enough. Thatís what those shows allow and create, and they create huge crossover celebrities. Due to petty jealousies and insecurities that the wrestlers had, Tough Enough went away, which is sad. It was great, not because I was involved with it, but because it was a great infomercial for the product and the business of professional wrestling.
The last season of it, the Daniel Puder/Mike Mizanin series, obviously there was the Kurt Angle/Daniel Puder situation that I honestly felt could have been played up and turned into a big program.
Al: Certainly. But they completely mishandled it Ė that last season was just a compromise. There were people within the company that wanted that back and there were people that didnít, and as a result they compromised and even still it was the highest rated segment every week on SmackDown. They still chose to ignore it and then they tried to do things with, basically, untrained, unprepared athletes in a worked environment that you donít do because thereís too many chances of things like the Big Show debacle or the Kurt Angle situation Ė too many things can go wrong. I tried to point that out (laughs) but I was told ďHey, you donít know what youíre talking about.Ē Well, youíre right, I donít, ok. As a result, those situations occurred. When you have somebody in there on live TV who doesnít know what theyíre doing and doesnít play along by the same rules that everybody else does, you canít control that. You donít want that to happen on TVÖÖYou could have done a lot of similar things without taking those risks, but that was the worst season of all of them for certain.
Was it because of Tough Enough that you ended up going down to OVW as a trainer?
Al: They didnít have a spot for me as a commentator and then I was offered the opportunity to go down to train in OVW.
Something linked to that, and Iím by no means pushing for a reaction, but have you seen the interview that Nova/Mike Bucci gave to PowerSlam magazine here in the UKÖÖ
Al: (laughs) NoÖ.
There were one or two parts of it, but thereís one where he says the way developmental program is run down in Florida, that when the guys join there, they have such a great facility and think theyíve made it in the business without paying any dues and therefore arenít motivated to try and improve themselves. Do you think that thereís a case for that being right?
Al: Well, you know, I donít know. Thatís speculation, and I donít like to speculate in a public forum. Thatís all it is; itís speculation. I can tell you this; everybody pays their dues one way or another in this business. The paying your dues is absurd anyway. Guys think they know what paying your dues are. They think going to independent shows and wrestling for little or no money is paying your dues, and Iím not downplaying that thatís a way to pay your dues, but paying your dues used to beÖÖthis business used to be protected. What I mean by protected is that not everybody could get in it. It was very tough to get into the wrestling business. It was easier to become a made man in the Mafia than it was to become a professional wrestler. Iím not joking. If you were trained, the guy who trained you was held personally responsible for you for the entire time youÖÖIím 46 years old, ok. The guy that trained me 28 years ago, still to this day people will call him and theyíll go ďI saw your kid doing this, I heard you kid said thatĒ and Iíll get a phone call ďHey, what did you do, what did you say?Ē and I have to explain it to him, because heís held responsible for what I say and do in this business. That was why on Tough Enough I referred to them as my kids. It wasnít because I was their dad; it was because I felt responsible for bringing them into this business. That sense of responsibility and that internship, thatís gone away. But even once you got in the wrestling business, paying your dues was the other wrestlers who didnít paint houses, they didnít put up fences, they didnít work at another job; all they ever did for their entire adult lives was wrestle, and the only way they fed their families was wrestling. All it took was one guy to go our there and screw up what they were doing, so they did everything they could to make sure you werenít that one guy. They would physically torture you, they would mentally torture and they would emotionally torture you to see if they could crack you and send you home, because the last thing they wanted to do was to put a ton of time, money and effort into you and now all of a sudden youíre at a point where you just might help them draw some money and you decide ďAh, I wanna go home!Ē and quit. That was paying your dues. They would do everything they could to break you, twist you up and send you home, and if you didnít then you earned their respect. Paying your dues was not just going to shows and performing for little or no money; that was a given. If by putting your name on a poster they sold, at $10 a ticket, they sold one ticket, you were worth $10. If they sold 5 tickets, you were worth $50. If you didnít sell any tickets because your name was on the poster, then you didnít make any money. Thatís kinda gone away too.
Just a thought about TNA. You appeared last year Final Resolution; was there talk that it would lead to more of a time there with them?
Al: Thatís what Iíd been led to believe, but I guess it just didnít work out. They must have decided to go in another direction or something. I could tell youÖ.. any answer I could give you would be complete and absolute speculation on my part, because they never told me anything. I never expected, necessarily, that it would go on, but I was kinda led to believe that, but as a result it didnít. You know, theyíve contacted me several times since then, but nothingís really came to be. It is what it is. They obviously may have had an idea or a plan that got changed and they decided to go a different way.
Iíve head people mention, that through your friendship with Mick and the storyline he has at the minute with the Hogan/Jeff Jarrett stuff, Iíve heard people say that they think that you would fit in there in the middle of that, given your history with him.
Al: Oh, that would be terrific, but nobodyís ever contacted me about anything, so I have to assume they just wanna go in a different direction.
Would you go back full time to either WWE or TNA if the opportunity arose?
Al: Certainly, yea, itís a business. If they wanted to do something, to give me the opportunity, I certainly would go and take advantage of an opportunity. I believe that I could still be an asset physically in the ring, by all means, and I could certainly be an asset outside of the ring too with all of the good experience Iíve got. And not just the good experience, all the bad experiences too (laughs). When I train guys, I donít teach them based on all the positives and everything I know, itís everything that I didnít know, where I made all the mistakes, and I tell guys to take advantage, to learn from the mistakes I made so that you done make them yourself, especially these days. The business is moving so much faster that you donít have a lot of the same freedom to make the mistakes as much so as what you might have had in the past. Saying that though, I think that the guys are too job scared now. I think that they should go out and take those risks and not be afraid to make those mistakes, Ďcause thatís where theyíre gonna take that chance. If Steve Austin had never taken those chances weíd have never had ĎStone Coldí Steve Austin. You can go down the list of guys that if theyíd never taken the bull by the horns and just went out and taken a shot in the dark weíd have never had those guys that would have turned into real, true stars.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to break into the business today?
Al: The same advice everybody else gave to me, which was donít! (laughs) That being said, get in the business because you wanna be in the business, not just because you wanna be a WWE Superstar. The biggest piece of advice I could tell them is to always remember that number one, ITíS A BUSINESS! Itís not a hobby, itís not a pastime, itís a business. Your job in the wrestling business is to be either the person that sells tickets or be a reason that is selling tickets. And secondly, donít be afraid to make mistakes in your efforts to become the person who is selling tickets. Donít sit back and wait on the office to give you that push, make your own push because when you get in that ring, and Iíve learnt from experience, thereís nothing that anybody can do to get you over and thereís nothing that anybody can do to keep you from getting over or getting your heat as a heel that you canít do yourself. Give them a reason to give you the ball, give them a reason to push you, donít just blame them for not doing it Ė I did that! (laughs)
How do you see yourself as having left a mark on the business, up to this point?
Al: I left a big skid mark! If you asked some people, thatís probably what theyíd say, is that all I did was left a big skid mark. I always say that my biggest legacy will be the guys that Iíve broken in the business and trained. That some way or another theyíve all helped contribute to this business, and still do. Look at John Morrison, Mike ĎThe Mizí Ė there have been numerous other guys. From Dan Severn to Blue Meanie toÖÖ.
To Matt Morgan in TNAÖ.
Al: Matt Morgan, yea, lots of guys, Beth Phoenix Ė lots of people that I either had a hand in or directly broke them into the business and trained them. There have been lots. When I sit down and really start thinking about it, there have been lots of guys. I have been very prolific in the number of people Iíve helped get in the business and have achieved some level of success, if not tons of success, in this business.