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Interview with Marty Jannetty

Like many wrestling fans, the first time I saw Marty Jannetty was in the American Wrestling Association, where he was one half of the Midnight Rockers with Shawn Michaels.  At this stage of his career, Jannetty had already been wrestling for a few years in smaller regional promotions and had a successful amateur wrestling background in High School, but I was oblivious to those facts.  What I saw was a tag team that I viewed as a rip off of an existing duo called the Rock and Roll Express, who was a very successful tandem in the National Wrestling Alliance.
Visually, it was easy to make that initial comparison.  Both teams came out to Rock and Roll Music (not common in the late 80’s), both were relatively undersized, both had similar ring attire and both featured one wrestler who had blond hair and a teammate with brown.  As a fourteen year old teenage boy who was in a stage in life where success with the opposite sex was sadly a mystery, identifying with a pair of good looking twenty-somethings who drew the screams of every girl in the audience (seemingly regardless of age) was difficult.

It was not long before I changed my opinion of the Midnight Rockers.  The AWA at that time still had a National television deal, but it was an organization in decline.  Their roster was made up primarily of wrestlers north of 40 and south of 30 and as part of the younger group, Jannetty and Michaels were considerably more athletic than many of their peers.

Unlike the Rock and Roll Express (and really every other tag team), the Midnight Rockers excelled at offensive attacks off the top rope and creating unique double team moves.  Their matches were like snowflakes, no two were alike, and exciting as their innovative wrestling style was, they did so without forsaking the traditional mat based wrestling that made the action palatable to traditional fans.

They would win the AWA Tag Team Championship twice, and would be the highlight of every show they wrestled on there.  It wasn’t long before the larger stage of the then named, World Wrestling Federation called, and the now singular named, “Rockers”, captured the imaginations of fans on the biggest platform of all.

Although the Rockers never became Tag Team Champions in the WWF, their popularity in the organization had few rivals.  For over three years, Jannetty and Michaels dazzled audiences on Pay Per Views, Televised events and house shows.  Like they did in the AWA, the Rockers were often putting on the match of the night, regardless of their position on the card.  However, all good things come to an end.

In early 1992, the popular tandem dissolved their partnership in a manner which set the bar on how tag teams should split up.  The two were guests on Brutus Beefcake’s weekly segment; The Barber Shop.  In the months leading up to the event, their trademark double team maneuvers were off, and they would bicker at each other on camera.  It was all very subtle, but expertly done by the two wrestlers.  Brutus brought them on to his show, and the two seemingly reconciled, only for Michaels to suddenly thrust kick Jannetty, and then throw him head first through a window placed on the set.

It was a brutal scene.  There had been chairs, steel cages and other forms of steel brandished about to cause violent looking images in wrestling, but nothing like this had ever occurred.  Roles were cast; Jannetty would continue on as the fan favorite Rocker, where Michaels suddenly became the conceited, pretty boy heel.  Unfortunately, the feud that WWE fans wanted to see was delayed, as Jannetty had to leave the organization for personal reasons.  The feud did happen, and the two would have stellar matches trading the Intercontinental Championship in 1993, but Shawn would be moved to the World Heavyweight Title Picture, and Marty would be entrenched at a different place in the card.

Shawn Michaels would go on to become a multi time Heavyweight Champion, and though Jannetty’s championship resume would not be as good, he was still delivering high quality matches in singles and tags.  Like many wrestlers, Marty has been the victim of excesses which may have prevented from achieving the level of success that me have, but despite the mistakes he has made, Marty blames nobody but himself and always takes full responsibility for his actions.  Regardless, the accomplishments he does have in the world of Professional Wrestling is still the envy of the vast majority of wrestlers who have ever laced up the boots and it is a career that should be celebrated.

In talking with Marty Jannetty, I had the opportunity to talk to a man who is purely a class act and loves what he does.  If only we could all be so passionate about our choices of careers.

 

I had some questions prepared, but I added a few after spending some time on your official Facebook page.

“Uh oh! (Laughs)   You know, one of the biggest things that wrestlers go through is when you are getting into character is separating it from who you are.  For me, as the “Rocker” it was great, because it was natural for me.  But at the same time, I still have to keep a little bit of a difference from what I put out to the public (on the Facebook page) and who I really am.

That is what Vince McMahon is so good at.  Basically, the best characters are a magnification of what the actual is.  Just turn the volume up on what the personality is, and crank it real high.  For me, there is not much of a difference between the two, and sometimes I forget that! (Laughs).  When I go online I feel like I have to turn the volume up on my actual personality up a bit.  The biggest thing is that when you use your own name it makes it even harder.  Like, if I was “Jammin” Jones or something like that, than it is a lot easier to remember that I am being a character right now.  When you are using your own name, like I do, you feel more self-conscious of it.”

“Jammin” Jones would never be Intercontinental Champion!

“Jammin’ Jones could have been the World Champion! (Laughs).   With the Facebook thing, there is an image I want to present, living the whole Rock and Roll lifestyle.  I always have to remind people in my personal life that not everything you read on there is how it is.”

You have been around a long time; you broke in during the mid-80’s during the kayfabe era and during the height of the Apter Magazines, where pretend interviews were done for you.  Do you find it more comfortable in this era where you and I can have a conversation like this?

“Yes and no.  There are certainly pros and cons to both sides.  Many younger wrestlers today don’t even know what kayfabe means.  What I don’t like is that some of the guys go all out, revealing everything that we do.  Most people already know that we are not out there really beating the hell out of each other.

However take the series, Tough Enough.  That show tells you everything about our business, and I actually thought it was a great.  A lot of people (in our business) didn’t like it; mostly the veterans and other guys my age or older.  They viewed it as an expose.  Yet, at the same time when they did that all of the doctors and lawyers who were too smart to follow wrestling would look at this show and say ‘yeah, it is a show, but look at the beating they are taking’.  It was right to be called Tough Enough, because it showed how tough you had to be to do what we do.  It showed the commitment you have to give to wrestling and the beatings you take before you even get to wrestle on TV.  I think that gave us an audience from people who would look at our business and say ‘that stuff aint real’.  It eliminated that as a reason not to respect what we do.

Now that being said, what I don’t like about it is that now the mystery is gone.  It is like magicians, we know it is a magic trick and we wonder ‘wow, how did pull a rabbit out of his rear end’, but if they tell you how they do it all, it ruins it all.”

It could, but sticking with the magician analogy: Penn & Teller are the most successful magicians now, and they made a career out of showing everyone just how they do the tricks, and it has not hurt the business that much.  People still like to see magicians.

“Yeah, that can be true.  One of the funniest things for us, especially back a few years before we unveiled the curtain, would be when you get someone (a fan) who would argue that ‘you couldn’t do those moves without killing each other’ and after listening this over and over you would say back to the guy ‘yeah, you’re right, it’s just show’.  Every time that fan would than say ‘yeah, but it was real when you did this move!’ (laughs).

I just think, and this is my personal opinion that as much as we peel everything back, wrestling just isn’t going away.  I do think it is a lot more fun for us and for the fans when everything is not revealed.  I like the mystique about it.  We are like magicians, only we use the human body as props.”

Recently, you made a statement on your Facebook page, and I am wondering if I can get you to elaborate more on it.  You were speaking about how the WWE was spending a lot of money on drug related rehab, but not for those who have had degenerative injuries caused by their time there.  I know that this is a topic that inadvertently connected us through the work I am trying to do with Wrestler’s Rescue.

“I will say this; this is the big part of why I agreed to do this interview.  Especially helping out Jimmy Snuka who is a great friend of mine, and who I think is a great person.  He has given his life, mind, body and soul to this business.  He was Hulk Hogan before Hulk Hogan.  He is still out there doing it, and he still loves it.  I am glad that this interview will help him, and you know I am getting banged up myself.

We are very glad to be helping out Wrestler’s Rescue.  I guess it is related to the link you posted on Facebook.

“You are referring to the interview in 2004, where the interviewer was pointing the finger at Vince McMahon, where he asked if he felt that all these deaths are on your hands.  I know that I have lost a lot of my friends.  Understand, that it is a different bond that we have than any other industry.  Whoever you are working with, you are going out there in front of thousands of screaming fans who want to go out there and be entertained.  You have to go out there and make them suspend their disbelief.  For the most part, you are out there giving each other your bodies.  We are throwing each other around, but do are best not to hurt each other because we have to go out and do it again the next night, and the night after that and the night after that.  Especially when we were on the road 300 days a year, and a lot of those were double shot days.  I can’t do that now at 50, but I look back and wonder ‘how the hell did I do that?’

A lot of people want to blame Vince, and a lot of the boys are mad at me for defending Vince on this.  From my standpoint we all chose to do this.  When Shawn and I got in to the WWF, the veterans told us ‘you all need to slow down and to save the good stuff for TV’.  We went all out every night.  Randy Savage told us all the time ‘Brother, save some of that!  I know you’re young and love getting out there, but don’t shorten your career.’  All the veterans told us to pick our spots to do the high flying.  They told us we wouldn’t be able to walk when we turned 40.   When you’re 25, you say you will worry about it then.  Problem is, it came! (laughs)

Now about defending Vince; I don’t know how he treated other people, but I imagine it was close to the same as me.  Understand, I was not one of those role models, because I was not one of those individuals who did everything by the book.  Hell, I was a Rocker!  I had to go out, I had to be crazy!  If Vince saw me or Shawn limping around he would tell us to take some time off.  He told us that us at 70 percent are better than most of the guys at 100, but he said he wanted us at our best.  He would offer that to us.  A lot of guys would say that Vince kept us on the road.  He didn’t make anybody do anything.  Vince even suggested to me to take time off.  But the money was so good and for myself being single?  Hell, I never wanted to be off the road.  Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll?  That was the real deal for me!  I got to party around the country and do my work, which I loved.  I still love it now, even though my ankles are killing me.  I still love performing.  Making those people happy, even for a short time, gives your life meaning.  I am sure a lot of the guys feel that way”

Do you think then that the WWE should be looking to help people in situations like yourself?  I am referring to your ankles that you mentioned, or others who have chronic injuries from their time in a WWE ring.  Should they do this as opposed to helping those who suffered from recreational drug abuse?

“You are talking about recreational drug use?”

Yes.  You look at football players where it has been documented that they have a shorter lifespan than other athletes.  Wrestlers are very much in the same category; only many are taking a bigger pounding for a longer period of time.  So should there be a physical rehab program for wrestlers?

“I think so. It is really hard for me to say, because I am not the person in charge of something like that.  But I think that if someone is working for a company full time, especially with the money that is involved if we are talking straight WWE….I may be getting myself in trouble saying this, but in my opinion; and it is just that one goofy Rock and Rollers opinion; if you pretty much committed your life to working for that company for a period of time than the answer is yes.   You are going to get hurt wrestling.  Every match is at least a bruise.  There are fractures and breaks, and often you work through it.

I had a broken ankle from a show in L.A. from Bam Bam Bigelow.  He rolled across my ankle and it caused it move inwards and snapped it.  It was one of those situations where I didn’t want to miss the following four to five days.  They were major towns, major money and major parties! (laughs)  I chose to wrap the hell out of it and took some pain medication.  Pain medication; that seems to be the big deal.  Not just with us, but with celebrities in general.  It is hard for us to go out and perform at the level expected of you when every step you take, feels like you are stepping on an ice pick.  You have to do something to curb that.  The adrenaline will cover some once you’re out there but once it wears off you wind up feeling way worse.

I’ll tell you what’s confusing to me.  Why does the WWE spend money on those who did stuff recreationally, which was there choice, basically take care of anyone who needs rehab.  I’ll use Scott Hall as an example.  He is a friend, but it is out there, it was on ESPN, so it is no secret.  From what I understand, he has been in and out of rehab ten times.  That was from the partying and choices made that had nothing to do with what was work related.  Using myself as an example, I have asked them (WWE) if there is anything that can be done about my ankles.  I have to take a lot of pain medication for it; way more than what is an average dose.  Really, no more than anyone else who is in full contact sports.  We all (wrestlers) have a very high threshold of pain to begin with and we are in good condition.  We can handle more than most.  Where one person can take a Vicodin and have the pain go away, a highly trained professional athlete has to take four or five times that dosage, and that is where you are getting into a danger zone.  If I’m trying to take care of everybody pain, and walking is something we take for granted and I need pain medication just for that and it is work related than the answer should be yes.

If we are talking about handling people who partied and caught up in the lifestyle and they are taken care of, but when people like myself take it (pain medication) from an actual injury we won’t get help.  I did ask, but I was given an answer that was befuddling to me.  I was told if we take of you than we would have to take care of everyone who has been injured.”

If I could go back in your career a bit, and to put things in context, you mentioned that you are 50.  I am 40, and the first time I saw you compete was with Shawn Michaels in the AWA, and at that time I always wanted to cheer for the bad guys.  I wanted to be Roddy Piper as a kid.

“I can understand that.  That character was easy to want to be.”

But there were always exceptions to that rule.  Ricky Steamboat was one.  You and Shawn as the Midnight Rockers were another.  I remember the first time I saw you both, the first thing I thought was a Rock and Roll Express knock off.

“Which it was.”

Well, Gimmick wise maybe.  But I wouldn’t say that in looking back.  You were both younger (than the Rock and Roll Express), you both looked more like Rock Stars and no disrespect to Robert Gibson, and he didn’t look like he would be let into any band.

“(laughs)  When Shawn and I got into AWA one of the first obstacles we had to overcome was that comparison.  Actually, we had to overcome that more with the boys than with the fans.  Sure some fans said that we were ripping them off.  Also there was the Midnight Express at the time, which had a hell of a feud with the Rock and Roll Express.  So now here comes the Midnight Rockers!  Just took a bit of both their names!  Also we had the Rock and Roll look, like the Rock and Roll Express.

Now if you look at Shawn at the beginning, he didn’t look the part.  For me, when I was thirteen, high school wrestling it was frustrating for me because I couldn’t have long hair when I wrestled.  I hated it, because even back then I already had that Rocker thing going on.  When we first got together and were going to be that Rocker type team, Shawn had some short hair!  I was wearing earrings and was doing that stuff already and Shawn at that time was a white meat, pure, clean cut, babyface.  He was an All American kid!  He got with it, and as you can see he really got with it!  He surpassed my ass! (laughs)”

So did you find many people want to boo you at first?  I know that in my case, I wanted too, but talent wise I couldn’t help but respect you and cheer for you.

“That was what got everyone else looking at us as rip-offs.  I love Ricky and Robert to death, but our styles are very different.  Shawn and I came up with a lot of new stuff too.  I think we knew we made it when we saw ourselves in a magazine article.  You would always grab the magazines, hoping to see your name; especially if you were new.  I’ll never forget when Shawn and I were in a magazine store looking through them (wrestling magazines) and I heard Shawn scream out “Hey, we did it, we did it!”  He was so excited that everyone was looking at him.  It was a whole article about us titled “The Midnight Rockers: From Imitators to Innovators”.  It was great.  It showed how we broke out of the copycat thing.  It was motivation for us to even do more.”

A few years ago there was a feud in the WWE between The Miz and John Morrison, and they did an angle which I thought was really disrespectful to you.

“I know what you are talking about.  I dealt with that from the fans and my family.  I had to tell them often that it was ok.”

I know that as a fan it bothered me.  99.9 percent of wrestlers will never be WWE World Tag Team Champion, WWE Intercontinental Champion, compete on numerous Pay Per Views and compete in the biggest wrestling organization in the world for many years.  For them to make you out to be a punch line in an angle, I thought really disrespected you.

“Right.  I think a lot of the boys who were there at the time would say that a lot of the early success that Shawn had, I had a lot to do with.  The Rockers were considered one of the best teams that have been around and I was a part of that.  The Road Warriors came out and they changed tag teams to big, strong pummeling teams.  Shawn and I made the change to high flying smaller guys.  When we first got to the WWE, the next closest guys in size were twenty pounds heavier.  We were like midgets in there.  Davey Boy Smith used to call us ‘Hey midgets, you’re up next!’  With our high flying, fast pace and high energy, we were able to create something special.  To have been a part of it, and to have been a big part of it and to have become a punch line like you said…yeah it did bother me.  But at the same time you got a choice.  You can let it upset you or find the positive out of it.  The positive I find out of it is, do you know how many tag teams there have been in this industry?  If you are still mentioned in any light twenty years after you break up, you must have done something right.  You had to have made an impact.  I still get booked worldwide.  I just won the German Heavyweight Championship a month ago.”

You are often referred to by other wrestlers as one of the funniest guys in the business.

“I like to cut up.  It’s one of the reasons I stay in this industry.  I get to stay young.  I love having fun, and this industry was made for that.  It makes you feel young forever.  You get to be a kid forever.”

Was there ever then talk about bringing out your sarcasm to your character.  Basically, was there ever talk of turning you full blown heel and really showcasing this side of your personality?  I know you were with the New Rockers.

“Well, the New Rockers was a silly heel team.  It was an experience there, and a real learning experience.  We were supposed to be heels who were stuck in the 80’s.  Silly and goofy won’t make people hate you.”

You might be right because at that point in time, the New Rockers were my favorite tag team.  I always thought that they could have been something more though.  As it was in 1996 (when the New Rockers were in the WWE), five years after the Alternative Music scene wiped out the Hair Metal/Fun Party Rock music from the radio, I thought it would have been a natural backlash from the fans towards the two of you, almost based on the music you indirectly represented.  It almost felt like they (the WWE) didn’t know what to do with you two.

“That was actually what it was.  Al (Snow) is one of the best minds in the business, and he was the perfect guy to do Tough Enough; of course Steve (Austin) does well with it now.  Al is just a great person.  When we teamed, we rode together just like Shawn and I used to do.  We would go over and reevaluate all the matches we had.  We just were completely confused.  Whatever direction we were told to do (by management) we did and we thought we had it just about right, they would say the opposite.  Basically, when we got to a point where the fans were getting it, they would say, ‘no you got to be tougher, got to be meaner, etc’.

Al’s deal in the team was so supposed to be so goofy with it, and I would be like ‘no, that’s not it’, and have to teach him what being a Rocker was.  I would be embarrassed by him, and try to play it down.  It started working, and then we were asked to be more hardcore, so we went that route.  As soon as we did, and thought we got it to the point where it was working, we were told we were going too far with it.  It took six months before Al finally pulled me aside after we were getting the ‘that aint it’ speech.  I forget what reason they gave us this time.  I said to Al “What the hell do they want from us’, and he just looked at me responded ‘Marty, they don’t want this getting over’.  Until he said it, it never really dawned on me.  The moment he said that, it made sense.  They wanted us to be in a certain position, and if we outshined anyone else we would get pushed back.  If you are mid-card, they don’t want you outshining the top of the card; not to say we were doing that, but you know what I’m saying.  They knew what level they wanted us to be at, and if we were to rise above it, they would put us back down.’

I guess I can’t understand why they wouldn’t want everyone to get over.  In theory, two years later during the Attitude Era, virtually the entire roster was over.

“That was like when Shawn and I first got to the WWE.  We were amazed how no matter who it was from opening match on how the people would react as soon as they heard their music.  Then another pop when they stepped through the curtain.  Everybody was a star.”

In terms of the WWE Hall of Fame, we have you ranked as one of the people who should be considered.

“Thanks, I appreciate that.”

It’s well earned.  I can’t speak for everyone else on the site, but I think personally that you are one of the most underrated wrestlers ever, and one of the top guys who ever performed.  Now, they have inducted the Four Horsemen to the WWE Hall of Fame.  Do you think it is possible that you could be inducted as a solo or with Shawn as the Rockers?  Even though, you never won the WWF Tag Team Titles you really didn’t need it.

“That was always a big thing we were told.  A lot of people need the belts to get over, but we were always told we didn’t need it.  Of course we always thought that if we got it, wouldn’t that raise us even higher?”

There is something true to that.  Here we are twenty years later and the Rockers are more iconic and influential than many of the teams that did win the Tag Titles.

“Right.  To answer what you originally asked about the Hall of Fame; I thought that at one point it might happen; actually a few of us did.  With Shawn, we knew he was going to get into the Hall, which he eventually did.  I was out of the picture for so many years.  I came back and did that thing with the Miz, did that think with Kennedy, did that thing with Kurt Angle, and yeah they were all a year apart, but really I was out of the picture.  Anyone of those years, yeah, I think we (The Rockers) could have been considered for the Hall of Fame.  Shawn is one of the best wrestlers ever.  A few of the wrestlers though, including me, figured that when he retired he would go into the Hall of Fame, and then maybe the following year, or shortly after that Shawn and I would be inducted as a team, which would make him the only person as far as I know to be inducted twice.”

Ric Flair just got in with the Four Horsemen.

“Oh yes, that’s true.  Uh Oh!  That should make Shawn mad! (laughs)   Well, Shawn had to go in first, and you never know, maybe it can still happen.  As for myself, yeah I was Intercontinental Champion, but I am more thought of as a tag team wrestler.  I did become Tag Team Champion, but that was with the 1-2-3 Kid.  I teamed with Bob Holly, I teamed with Scott Hall.  At one point all the wrestlers wanted to tag with me, they said my nickname should be ‘springboard’.  All the wrestlers I teamed with sprung up to the top!  Shawn went to the top.  Al Snow went to the top of the Hardcore Division.  X-Pac did with D-X.  Even Bob Holly, was elevated later with ‘Hardcore’.  I have to use that for my wrestling schools!  It was funny, but a little bit of an ‘ouch’ being called Springboard.”

Springboard is better than Stepping Stone!

“Yeah, there you go!”

So what is next on the horizon for Marty Jannetty?  What are you working on now?

“I’ve got a book that is three quarters of the way done.  I hope to have it done by summer, and hopefully it will be out by the end of the year.  I am also working on putting a couple of wrestling schools together.  I am still out there doing the thing in the ring, so to promoters across the country contact me on Facebook and Twitter at 1MartyJannetty.”

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