WWE wrestler Chris Jericho was once paid in hot dogs to wrestle inside a barn.
These days the charismatic champion is selling out arenas like Madison Square Garden on a regular basis, but that doesn't mean his traveling soap opera of men in tights doesn't occasionally still do battle in exotic locations. The days of trading hammerlocks for hot dogs might be over, but on a recent trip to Spain, Jericho and crew set up their shop of choreographed violence in Madrid's famed Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas, one of the world's most prominent bullfighting rings.
"We actually wrestled in a rodeo ring two weeks ago," explained Shad Gaspard, one half of the popular tag team known as Cryme Tyme. "There was cow dung on the floor ... I'm from Brooklyn, New York, I don't know about cow dung, but apparently in Texarkana, cow dung is pretty common.
"It doesn't matter where we wrestle at. You can put me in a rodeo ring, a bull ring, we came from developmental in OVW (Ohio Valley Wrestling) wrestling inside a shopping center that was totally ghetto, but we'll do whatever it takes. This is what I love to do."
Shad and his partner in Cryme, JTG, had just arrived in Madrid, but they didn't have much time to sightsee the Museo del Prado or the royal palace. Their match against the tag team champs, Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase (sons of Dusty Rhodes and the Million Dollar Man) was in a few hours, but before taking to the ring for real, they were also scheduled to participate in an eight-player video game tournament at WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 on the PlayStation 3. And to JTG, one of the bigger gamers in the tournament, this became a source of trash talking for the entire week before the tour hit Europe. JTG bragged about how he already had a shelf picked out for his trophy, how he was going to dominate everyone at the game.
"You need to own a house before you can have shelves," joked fellow wrestler Kofi Kingston.
Seems Kofi and Cryme Tyme travel together between shows, driving between cities together to share the cost of rental cars and gas.
"Unfortunately we travel with Kofi," joked Shad. "He rides with us. We allow Kofi Kingston to ride with us. Nobody knows who Kofi Kingston is. When we go to places, we get out of the car and people are like: "Oh my gosh, it's Cryme Tyme ... who is that guy carrying their bags?" That's Kofi Kingston. Worst part is, he never chips in for gas."
"They're my drivers," said Kingston in response. "That's why I'm always sitting in the back seat."
Added JTG: "On the road we always play pranks on each other. We're like brothers on the road. We have a good time."
And that good time includes a constant back and forth about their video game skills, and their characters in the game.
JTG's character in the game actually saw his ratings slip from 08 to 09 and he wasn't happy about it one bit. "I went to an 87 to an 82…preposterous. Me and (The Great) Khali are on the same level."
Shad had his own explanation for his partner's falling stats: "Actually, my ratings went up. Somebody's went down (points at JTG). You were spending too much time playing the game or with your girlfriend and not in the gym." As he says this, Shad flexes muscles so big, they're literally bursting out of his vintage Rowdy Roddy Piper "Hot Rod" t-shirt.
"The ratings are reality based. Kofi Kingston debuts with an 85," added Kingston. "The most important thing for me about the game is that they capture my mannerisms. I do a double chop and they added that as one of my signature moves, then I usually do a little hop back. They got everything down. Capturing those little mannerisms just makes the game that much better and more realistic. I've been buying wrestling games for at least ten years, and the first thing I do is always create myself. This year I won't have to do that. It was one of my goals to be in the game and I'm very excited."
Kofi being in the game opened the door to his participation in the tournament as each wrestler could only play as their own character, putting the trash talking JTG of Cryme Tyme at a significant disadvantage as his rating was significantly lower than his first round opponent, his tag team partner Shad.
Shad overpowered his partner in their match, ousting the self-proclaimed favorite in the first round with a modified Samoan drop. To add insult to the loss, Shad admitted that he doesn't even play video games regularly. "We don't play a lot but we argue about it all the time. I don't play but everyone in my family plays it. My nieces, my nephews, they are all excited to see Uncle Shad in the game. I played my nephew one time and he beat the hell out of me. We've been playing this version (WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2009) for the last two days, but before that, I've only played the games back in high school like WCW vs. nWo."
Shad pounded a Red Bull and waited for Round 2.
Meanwhile former champ CM Punk defeated Santio Marella in the longest game of the night as the two initially battled to a double count out before Punk, shouting encouraging words to his character like "Get up, me!" restarted the game and hit his finisher, the Go to Sleep, for victory.
Fans in Madrid, just like fans in the U.S. are still always asking Punk what the CM stands for in his name, and Punk smirks his way through every answer, actually telling people different things as he keeps the legend of his name growing.
The real answer? Punk actually broke it down to me a couple of years ago before meeting again in Spain: "Originally it stood for Chick Magnet. I got put into a tag team with this other dude on a whim because somebody didn't show up to a show. It was only supposed to be a one-shot deal, I wasn't even ready to wrestle yet, I didn't have gear or anything, they just put me in the ring and beat the crap out of me. I had to come back the next month and the next month and it was something that stuck. I tried to get rid of it, and it wound up getting shortened to the initials. I was always Punk, but Chick Magnet at least got shortened to CM. I tell people it stands for C. Montgomery Burns, as in Mr. Burns from The Simpsons. I tell people they are initials for my real name, Chuck Mosley, which is not true at all. I'll say it stands for Crooked Moonsault, Charles Manson…Cookie Monster is another good one."
Punk's quick quips and sarcastic sense of humor kept the crowd laughing throughout the tournament, until of course, he lost his second round match against Shad, who pounded his second Red Bull of the tournament and stacked the cans on stage as he continued his flexing for the crowd. "I'm here to drink Red Bull and kick ass…and I'm all out of Red Bull," Shad yelled to the fans, channeling Piper's They Live trademark line. Then when Shad credited his fast fingers for his win, Punk shot back "I can text faster than you," followed by "I'm more of a Donkey Kong guy."
Punk added: "There is a lot of skill to these games, which I have none of."
Luckily for Punk, his character in real life has recently found quite a bit more success than his video game doppelganger, even if the straight edge superstar seemed so out of place in the clouded city of smokers known as Madrid. In fact, Punk is quite proud of where he currently stands in his career. "I've achieved pretty much everything I've ever wanted to do in my entire life," said Punk. "I'm one of those guys who if I get bored, if I get complacent, or if I run out of goals, I move on. I was World Heavyweight Champion. That's something nobody can ever take away from me. But once you're there, you really don't have anywhere to go. I was a little bit worried about that, but now that Jericho is the champion and I'm going to be on a Kill Bill-like revenge streak against Randy Orton and his little wannabe's, getting back to the top of the mountain is my new goal."
Meanwhile, Kofi Kingston cruised through his tournament bracket, defeating two divas before finally facing Shad in the finals.
As for Chris Jericho, the champ proclaimed himself the best video game player in the entire world before walking off stage and out of the tournament without ever picking up a controller.
Don't be fooled, though, as Jericho is intrigued by the game, and in fact, provided his own voiceover to the title's Road to Wrestlemania mode as he is one of only a handful of singles performers to be featured in Smackdown's storyline. Thing is, that match at the bullfighting ring was approaching fast and Jericho needed time to prepare for his main event beat down.
Before leaving, however, Jericho did have time to talk about his real life Road to Wrestlemania and why he wanted to change from the fun-loving, almost goofy Y2J, to the more intense, more villainous, more vile champion who is featured on Raw today.
"I turned the tables on everybody. I changed the way I look, changed my attitude, changed the way I am as a character and people didn't want that," explained Jericho. "They were stuck in the past. But I've matured, I've moved on, I've become a new person and a lot of people still want the old funny, wacky Y2J character. He's gone and a lot of people are mad at me for that, and that's basically the idea. I'm a new person. I'm Chris Jericho now, not Y2J, and that's part of the reason why I've been so successful. I took a chance at recreating myself, reinventing myself, and that's what the best performers with the most longevity do. Whether it's music, acting, wrestling, whatever, the Undertaker has done the same thing. You're constantly changing and reinventing yourself much the same way Madonna has done.
"The best characters are extensions of your own personality."
Speaking on his rivalry with Shawn Michaels (a feud many consider the best wrestling storyline of the past decade) and what's in store for the future, Jericho continued his music analogy: "The Shawn angle has been seven months and it has been amazing. Not every angle is going to be like that. That's a once in a career type thing, but that doesn't mean you just pack it up and go home. You start working with the next guy and go on from there. It's like making a new record as a musician. Just because you made Back in Black doesn't mean that you stop making records. You keep making records and some of them are good and some of them aren't as good, but you'll never have that Back in Black again. This could be my Back in Black, but that doesn't mean the rest of the stuff that I do in my career is not worthy. It's all worthy because it's Chris Jericho."
With that, Jericho traded in the virtual ring for the real thing and took off for Las Ventas.
Inside the building, however, there was still one last grudge match to be played as the guys who travel together over 300 days a year, Kofi Kingston and Shad, put all the talking aside and played one match to see who really was the WWE video game champ.
Both of these competitors are part of the swell of younger competitors who are accepting bigger roles in WWE, along with 29-year-old CM Punk who sees the movement as a group of guys who are "equally hungry and equally talented."
In fact, while Kingston recently won gold on Raw, Shad also saw his exposure grow thanks to a pairing of Cryme Tyme with WWE's most marquee attraction, John Cena.
"It's a tradition in wrestling that for a while had been lost where guys at the top help guys lower on the ladder move up," explained Shad prior to his match. "It's not passing the torch. It's more like on the job training and that experience has helped us a lot to where I think now we're a lot better than we were. I think personally, Cena is a very underrated talent and people don't see what he can do out there. All they see is the 'you can't see me' and the flash, but he's actually really, really good.
"The thing about it was, he was more excited about it than us. He came up with the name. CTC, one team, one dream. Hopefully he'll come back stronger than ever and we'll keep learning and doing what we have to do."
Forget one team, one dream, though, as this night it was cyber Shad doing battle against Kofi Kingston, and Shad basically beat him like he owed him something ... gas money."
"Shad shocked the world," Kingston said after losing in the finals, shaking his head in disbelief as cyber Shad actually kicked out of Kofi's finisher before coming back for the win.
Shad ripped off his shirt in celebration and as he walked off the stage to pose with the championship trophy he turned and said: "Hopefully this means Kofi will finally chip in for gas."
Seems that road to Wrestlemania can be quite expensive, even when you're traveling in threes.
As for the real (fake?) thing, Cryme Tyme and Kofi both lost their matches inside the bullring later that night as did Chris Jericho who lost a tag team battle alongside sidekick Lance Cade to rivals Shawn Michaels and CM Punk.
Could be worse. At least they weren't paid in hot dogs.