‘We were big into wrestling. We even made our own belts’
(Jamie Murray – 2007 Mixed Doubles Wimbledon Champion).
‘My brother only ever let me win the Women’s belt’
(Andy Murray – 2013 Men’s Singles Wimbledon Champion).
Something pretty momentous happened in the world on British sport this weekend. Andy Murray, from Dunblane in Scotland, won the Wimbledon Championship. The first British man to win the title for seventy-seven years. It was a huge sporting achievement that almost 18 million people in the UK alone watched on Sunday afternoon. He had been fighting for the championship as an individual for thirteen years although, let’s be honest, he will have dreamt of it since his childhood. He is now champion of perhaps the premiere tournament in world tennis.
In the UK, the BBC has screened a documentary about Murray called Andy Murray: The Man Behind the Racquet. I won’t go into details. If you can see it wherever you are, I recommend it. A personal portrait of a sportsman trying to deal with “Triumph and Disaster and treating those two impostors just the same”. Amongst other elements of his life though, it details how Murray dealt with his crushing defeat by Roger Federer at the 2012 Wimbledon Final before bouncing back only a few weeks later to beat the same man, on the same court for Olympic Gold before taking the US Open title and now his most recent achievement. He has become an icon in the past year. He couldn’t control his emotions when interviewed on court after the 2012 loss. He cried. Something that shocked the British crowd. He was the cool, composed player who rarely showed emotion. To begin his fight back he realised something. He then wanted, needed, to play for Great Britain at the Olympics (putting to bed all the anti-English bias rumours). He then beat The Beast Novak Djokovic in five sets (after initially taking the first two) at Flushing Meadows. He has dealt with each loss. He has grown with each win. To this point. The point where ‘the man makes the title, not the title makes the man’. He has achieved his childhood dreams.
This sporting journey can be seen in American Football, in Formula One, in MMA. It can be seen across the spectrum. It is also intrinsic to wrestling. The dreams of the child who practices moves and ‘wrestles’ with their friends in the summer holidays. The dream of one day being champion. Edge and Christian did this. They dared to dream that one day they would become heroes to children and a champion, a face, of the company. However, there are the ups and downs the individual must take and how they deal with them. Does any wrestler not aspire to be champion? Do any of them really start their careers wanting to be lower mid-card feeders? Sometimes, the men and women of the various promotions take a huge knock, either in their careers or in their personal lives, so how do they deal with it? How do they channel it into their work? Into their careers? When they have the title, if they’re lucky enough to reach the top of the mountain, do they make the title their own?
I don’t discuss Impact Wrestling very often in my columns but I do watch it. I feel Bully Ray is having the sort of run where he is the man with the title. His promos are excellent, his matches are always good and when he gets poor developments thrown in his path, usually in the shape of a 6ft 3in geriatric with a handlebar moustache, he still reacts positively. This is the man who would never be the singles competitor. He is the man who would always be considered a good tag-team wrestler but nothing more. He went from stuttering hillbilly in ECW to extreme monster in the same promotion and then in the WWE. His move to TNA initially held the same tone until he was given the chance of a singles push. He lost weight, he upped his game, he aimed for the title. Mark LoMonaco has always been a good worker but now he is holding the company up at a pivotal time. As both storyline wrestler and as a man, he has to fight off the power struggle for the spotlight found in men such as Hogan, Sting and Bischoff. If the company is to move on, and succeed, he needs to do this. Since becoming champion at Lockdown, he has been the primary pivot of every episode. His promos remain excellent, the backstage segments are good and his matches remain at a high standard. He waited years for the opportunity and, during some very trying times for the company, he can hold his head up high.
So, being champion is more than just holding the gold. It’s about how you hold yourself too. To be the best ‘on that microphone, in that ring, and even on commentary’. You bring your ‘A’ game to work. We’re all in jobs where we need to do that to progress. To progress in life, you have to work hard. To be noticed. The man who gave me the quote, CM Punk, did that. He worked hard at every opportunity he was given. From backyard grappler, to his independent days, through Ring of Honour, to (WWE) ECW to the big brands. He first earned the title with a ‘Money in the Bank’ cash-in on June 30 2008. He was World Heavyweight Champion but the company didn’t believe in him. They saw some greasy punk who didn’t fit the ‘type’ they wanted. Punk knew he was ready but they beat him down. They kept on crushing him to the point at Unforgiven where company man Randy Orton punted him in the head and he didn’t even compete to lose the title. It was humiliating. As viewers, we could all see what was happening. Something was in Punk though. The childhood dream to prove that he was the best. In a way, his run with the ‘second’ title was a loss. Like Andy Murray at Wimbledon 2012, Punk had to deal with it a move on. Cancel and continue. He went through so many ups and downs (two-time Money in the Bank winner down to leader of the Nexus). Whatever he was given though, he ran with it. Something wasn’t right though. The company still didn’t believe like he believed. So he told them in that game-changing speech on June 27th. It changed because he forced the WWE to believe in him. He told them to believe in him. Although his initial run with the WWE Championship was sidelined by Triple H and Kevin Nash (how CM Punk must look at Bully Ray now and sigh and shake his head) when he had his record breaking championship run of 434 days, he held the company up. He was the face of the WWE and whether he was face or heel he brought it every night. Like Bully Ray now, he doesn’t have ‘off nights’. He can’t afford to. He knows that to be champion, you have to walk like a champion. Every night.
This is the deal. When you become champion, you become the standard-bearer for the sport. Yesterday (Monday) Andy Murray was getting questioned not only about his extraordinary win but also about his role in the future of tennis in the UK. He is a role-model for children. They look up to him, so how can the Lawn Tennis Association productively take a 2013 Wimbledon win and convert it into more and more young tennis players coming through the ranks? It’s the same for any sport. For all the dearth of opponents, the Klitschko brothers know the importance of holding up their sport in trying times. Sebastian Vettel is the face of Formula One now as three-time World Champion. Everything goes through him.
Now, obviously in wrestling, you get heels who take the titles. It’s still about their desire and work that makes you hate them though. As much as we may cheer a Jeff Hardy or a Rey Mysterio, we boo a Triple H or an Alberto Del Rio just as much. For me, John Bradshaw Layfield is a man who, after years of hard work, saw an opportunity and took it. In essence, it’s a similar story to Bully Ray. Talented tag-team wrestler given an opportunity at a singles run before becoming the face of the brand. For me though, JBL worked as hard as anyone to make sure his gimmick and his push worked. I remember a lot of negativity to his Smackdown title run during 2004-2005. This mainly came from the fact that he was beating our heroes. Sometimes his matches weren’t great (JBL is one of those men that needs a suitable opponent to bring the best out in him) but he would always work as hard as he could ‘in that ring, on that microphone’ and, because of this, he is now the fan favourite ‘on commentary’. It is because of whom he was in the ring that we love him now. He was the champion, not just because of the gold, but be because of his stature, his work, his role in the company. He made that title relevant to such as point that it was the making of John Cena when he took it from him at Wrestlemania 21.
For the sportspeople that get title upon title, and Andy Murray must achieve this to become a great, it’s about legacy. It’s about what you mean to the sport beyond the pitch, the track, the ring. For all his detractors, no-one can deny John Cena’s work ethic. His amount of good-to-great matches is constantly increasing with a range of competitors. His promos are sometimes brilliant. Beyond that though, he gets it. His work for the ‘Make a Wish’ foundation, is incredible. His interaction with the fans in commendable. He knows he is the face of his sport (and I include all promotions there). This isn’t the Attitude Era anymore, or the Monday Night Wars. Those viewers and fans might never come back simply because of how the world has changed due to viewing habits, worldwide recessions and competing sports (UFC primarily). Does he stop for one moment though? No. Does he fight the fight as if he’s on the losing end of it? No. When he gets booed out of every arena, does he cancel his next ‘wish granting’? Of course not. Being champion, being the face of your sport, is a challenge and an honour.
When Murray lost the 2012 Wimbledon, and couldn’t control his emotions, and neither could I on that sunny Sunday, he had to bounce back quickly. He had to control himself psychologically and work on a plan to drag himself back to where he was before and then beyond. The fact that he did it so quickly with Olympic Gold and then the US Open win is incredible. You can look at a whole host of wrestling champions and see similar stories (admittedly played out over a longer time). There is Mick Foley who was always cast as the outsider who took the title on December 29th 1998 and turned the Monday Night Wars in WWE’s favour. This was after years of setbacks and downturns though. Eddie Guerrero, who had lost everything, turned it around to such a point that he is a true legend of the sport. Shawn Michaels is another who had to leave the company before returning and re-discovering what it meant, not only to be champion but also to be the face of the company.
When you win that title, it doesn’t matter when you lose it, because you will always be the champion. Your name goes on the list. It’s engraved on the trophy. It’s what you work for. When children run around with a cardboard belt covered in tin-foil it’s because they dream that one day they will stand before the crowd, hold it aloft and they will cheer for them. For Andy Murray, he did this. Both him and his tennis playing brother, Jamie, used to watch the wrestling as children and make tin-foil belts and fight each other for them. Just like Edge and Christian used to do. Jamie, as the older brother would only let Andy win the Women’s Belt though. Well, and I mean this in a nice way To Jamie, what goes around comes around. From Women’s Champion to Wimbledon Champion in twenty years. To stand before the crowd, as he did on Sunday evening and hold aloft the trophy. Incredible. Somewhere, there are children watching various sports, including WWE, and thinking, dreaming, I want to do that. I want to be them. It’s up to the champions of today to make the champions of tomorrow. Andy Murray gets that. John Cena gets that. Any true champion gets that.
‘I didn’t aspire to be a good sport; champion was good enough for me’ (Fred Perry).
Ta ta for now and hopefully see you next week.