A HEAD of the Business

A Head For The Business Raw magazine/ April '01

  When Al Snow was 16 years old, he knew he wanted to be a professional wrestler. At the time, breaking into the business was very difficult and few people made it to the 'big time'; Snow was no exception. For 13 years, he traveled the independent circuit, hoping to break into the upper echelon of sports-entertainment. Today, it's safe to say that his years of hard work and sacrifice have paid off, but Snow's road to success has not been an easy one. Without his hard work and dedication, Federation fans might never have had the opportunity to marvel at the 'clown prince of sports-entertainment'.The year was 1982. Bob Backlund was World Wrestling Federation Champion. Pedro Morales held the Intercontinental title, and Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney were burning up tha charts with Ebony and Ivory. The term Sports Entertainment was over a decade from being part of the American lexicon. By historical standards, 1982 was not a very memorable year, certainly not on par with 1492 or 1776.

But for a young high school student named Al Snow, it was very sigificant. In May of that year, Al Snow had his first match, taking his first big step toward becoming a professional wrestler."I remember my first match very well. It was on May 22, 1982 in Springfield, Ohio,' Snow says. 'At that time there wasn't a proliferation of wrestling schools like there is now. The wrestling business was a very closed society. It was like the Freemasons of a Masonic Lodge; you had to be sponsored by someone in order to be brought into the business. I had to call around to find someone who would be willing to take responsibility for me and my behavior. At 16, I spent about two years phoning different offices throughout the country to find someone who would train me.

One person I spoke with was Gene Anderson in North Carolina, who told me of a tryout he was having. At the same time, I was contacted by Jim Lancaster, who was in a show being put on by Dick the Bruiser at my high school. I told him I was going down to Carolina to try out; he told me that if it didn't work out there, that he'd be willing to train me. It didn't work out, so I came back to Ohio and began training with him.

He was sort of my sponsor for several years.' In the early 1980's the territorial system was still in place. Once Snow finished high school, he traveled to different territories and wrestled some of the more established stars in whichever territory he was in at the time. This was how aspiring wrestlers learned the trade, paid their dues, and earned the respect of others.But just as he was receiving his indoctrination into the business, the World Wrestling Federation went national and changed the territory system forever. Many places Snow had worked ceased to exist, or were greatly reduced in stature, becoming what's known as independent organizations--they either weren't on television or were on in very localized markets. The Federation not only changed the nature of the business, but changed the direction of Al Snow's career.

'I became the guy who the independents brought in to have a good match with their top guys,'he says. 'I wasn't winning many matches, but I made sure I was good enough that if they ever wanted to bring me back, they could. For the next 13 years or so, I floated in and out of the so-called independent organizations. I was known then as wrestling's best-kept secret.' During that time, Snow crisscrossed the country and traveled the world, wrestling whenever and wherever he got the chance.

In wrestling's inner circle, he was respected as a top wrestler, but few mainstream fans had ever heard of him. As the early '90s approached, though, things began to change. Newsletters and dirt sheets were becoming more popular, and Snow used them as a marketing tool to further his career. 'I had a match with a guy named Sabu,' he says. 'I had just come back from Japan, and at the time, Sabu was the hottest guy on the indy circuit.

We had this great match, and the newsletters wrote some really good stuff about it. Well, a lot of the independent promoters as well as people from the Federation read about it in these newsletters.

So Sabu and I kept wrestling each other, and the newsletters continued raving about our matches. The more we wrestled, the more my name got out, and the more opportunities I received.' Because of the publicity he received from these matches, Snow got booked in Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) by Paul Heyman.

After working there for a while, he received a phone call from Jim Cornette, who was running Smoky Mountain Wrestling--a feeder organization for the Federation. Cornette had seen an interview that Snow had done and liked it. He had an opening for a smart-aleck type and invited Snow to join his group. Snow informed Cornette of his commitment to ECW, and asked if he would allow him to work for both organizations simultaneously.

Cornette was willing to do so, but Heyman wasn't keen on the idea. Eventually, Snow worked only for Smoky Mountain, where he met Jim Ross, who was working as an announcer there. Snow's hard work in Smoky Mountain paid off, and soon, he was brought up to the World Wrestling Federation. Unfortunately, his first stint did not go as well as he had hoped.'My first trip here was certainly less than memorable. I was Avatar for one night. Vince (McMahon) had this idea of trying to recreate the Power Rangers and Mortal Combat in the ring, but it was very difficult to do because on those series, they only had to show the high spots of four or five moves. Unfortunately, that didn't translate very well to the ring.'After failing in his first attempt in the federation, Snow sat home for eight months.

Then, he was put with Marty Janetty in the New Rockers. He enjoyed that, but the concept fell flat and he was back to square one, sitting on the sideline, waiting to do something. During his time off the active roster, the Federation and ECW came to a sharing agreement. Snow called Paul Heyman, telling him that he would love to work for ECW again. Snow then asked the WWF to release him from his contract, but the Federation--noting Snow's potential--decided to renew it instead. His talk with Heyman, however, had planted a seed, and ECW asked Vince McMahon if it could have Snow on loan. McMahon agreed, and Snow went to ECW with the express purpose of getting himself over so that McMahon would want him back, Heyman would want to re-hire him, or some other organization would want him. As Snow tells it, he went down to ECW, worked his butt off, and 'through the Grace of God', got himself over.

When he was called back to the Federation, Snow had a much different character--an insane man with a best friend made of styrofoam.'The whole idea behind HEAD was to bring out my insanity,' Snow says. 'I figured that anybody who had spent that much time and effort at any one thing and had still never broken through would finally lose it and have a nervous breakdown.

I kept trying to find a way to show that visually in the ring by talking to myself, picking at my clothes and doing other 'not normal' things. One night, I happened to walk backstage and saw the styrofoam head and started talking to it as if it were a real person. It took off from there with HEAD, Pierre, Pepper and all the rest.' One might think that after spending all those years working on and perfecting his in-ring skills, he might be a bit perplexed by the fact that he is appreciated more for his out-of-the-ring antics than his performance in the squared circle.

But as a seasoned veteran, he understands the nature of the business and knows that if one wants to make it long-term in sports-entertainment, one better be able to adapt to the times.'I think I've grown with the business. But I marvel at the fact that I used to do all the stuff that you see the Hardys do,' he says. 'In fact, I did a lot of that stuff before they did and didn't get near the reaction that I do just by holding a plastic head in the air. Now, I think people respect me for what I can do in the ring, but they actually enjoy what I do out of the ring a lot more than they do my athletic abilities. People want to be entertained.'One of the things that Snow has enjoyed most since returning to the Federation has been his on-again, off-again 'Head Cheese' partnership with Steve Blackman.

'I'm not bragging, but I think the stuff I did with Steve is some of the best stuff I've ever done outside the ring.' Snow says. 'It was like we had our own show within the show. People were tuning in just to see what we were going to do. I think people really found it interesting, intriguing, and funny. We could have kept going a lot longer. Every now and then we seem to get hooked up with each other. He's kind of like a venereal disease; you just can't get rid of him.' Besides working with Blackman, Snow has also made a name for himself with his never-ending 'competition' with Mick Foley.

The two met in ECW and would run into each other once in a while on the independent circuit. Because they only knew each other casually, they didn't begin picking on each other. But as soon as they became much better aquainted, their little competition started. Today, it has turned a bit one-sided as Snow has come to the conclusion that Foley is a bit disturbed. 'I don't really go after him anymore. It's an obsession with him, though. I try to take the high road. It's just amazing with Mick, though,' he relates. 'He takes pains to plan these 'spontaneous' events where he can take a shot at me. It's actually kind of pathetic. He actually once had a dream about telling a joke about me; that's how obsessive he is. He went to Disneyland with his kids, and he's thinking about getting me. He's obsessed, sick, and he's really not very good at playing practical jokes. Plus, he's got such an ego.

I mean, he even wrote a book about himself. To be honest, I just don't find myself or my private life that interesting. I can't imagine anybody being interested in my life. I'm not that exciting. I don't have closets full of women's clothes.' One 'jokester' who Snow does admire, however, is Marty Janetty. 'Rooming with Marty was like living with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom', recalls Snow. 'He'd do things like take the shower head off and fill it with jelly and cream so that when I took a shower I got it all over me. One time, he took the time to disconnect all the shower-curtain rings so when I pulled the curtain it dropped, and I had to put it up again. You always had to be on your toes with Marty.''The only joke I ever pulled was the night we did the reward poster for Pepper on Sunday Night Heat. I put Val Venis' cell phone number as the number to call; he got one call that night. I did it again the next night on Raw is War, and told the cameraman to get a shot of the phone number. That night, Val literally got like a thousand calls and had to change his number. He took it pretty well, though. He said he would get me back, but to this day, he hasn't.' After 19 years in the business, Snow believes that he still has another five or so good years to give his fans. Physically, he's in better shape than he was years ago.

Mentally, he's still very enthused about performing and entertaining, and he'll be the first to admit that if he didn't feel this way, he'd quit the business. For the kid who always loved the athletics, dramatics, and flair of sports, he's as hooked as ever. So, what would Al Snow say today to a 16-year-old who wants to get into this line of work? 'Seriously? Seek therapy, because this is probably one of the toughest businesses you could ever be involved in. You have to sacrifice so much and really have a passion for this. If you're getting involved in this for the romantic notions of fame and fortune, you're getting into the wrong business,' he says. 'Now, I don't regret doing this for a second. I've been able to go places, see things, and meet people. I've got to do things that I never would have had the opportunity of doing.

And I've learned things that I never would have been able to learn.' "On the other side of the coin, I've had to sacrifice and work my ass off constantly--I work harder now than when I first came into the business--just to keep what I've got,' he continues. 'I've had to drive 15 or 16 hours one-way, work a show for free, and drive right back to go to a regular job--just to stay in the business. When I worked in Smoky Mountain, I was driving from Ohio to Tennessee, running my (wrestling) school, and trying to run a family. It's not as glamorous as it appears.' 'That aside, if it's something you really want to do and really have a passion for it, then you should give it a try, because when you're 65, you don't want to look back and say 'what if'. Even if you don't make it, you will have given it a shot, and you won't have those 'what ifs'. You should be aware of how few make it in this business. It's like if you wanted to be a football player and there was only one pro team.

The odds are astronomical against making it. That's how hard it is to get here and how elite these guys are.'