Training Ground with Danny Cage (FSM 131; April 2016)
What’s the biggest mistake trainee wrestlers make?
Danny Cage: Not listening to their coach or trainer. I always tell people, when you walk in the door, forget everything you thought you knew about pro wrestling because it’s about to change. A lot people walk in thinking they already know what it’s going to be like.
It’s very tough, because with pro football or basketball or baseball, most people start at 10, 11, 12 at high school. With pro wrestling, sometimes people aren’t starting ’til their 20s, but still expect to pick everything up within a year or two. You need to listen to your coach or trainer and try to filter out everyone on the outside that’s going to tell you that they think they know best for you, even though they know nothing about you.
How can wrestlers distinguish between learning things that are objectively right or wrong, and things that are more a trainer’s personal style preference?
I judge things by sustainability and safety. Someone can say, “This is what I always do”, but I say, “Yeah, but it’s unsafe, so no, you shouldn’t be doing it. It may seem safe to you, but I’m the person you’re in the ring with.” There’s some personal styles, like some people like to whip somebody across the ring and put their hand on their back, or not do that. There’s flavours for everything, but the biggest thing is safety: if something looks unsafe and seems unsafe, then it’s likely it’s unsafe and it shouldn’t be happening in the ring.
The most important thing is for the two people to walk into the ring and then walk out the same way they walked in.
How important is it for trainees to learn other aspects of the business besides the in-ring wrestling?
We do that top to bottom. I didn’t have a career in pro wrestling; I ended up getting injured. If I [hadn’t been] always sitting around kind of eavesdropping and picking up on things, I wouldn’t be in the position I am now, able to do what I do. We have everybody learn how to set up the music, learn the editing software, talk about using social media, learn booking, promoting, refereeing. It’s super important: you should know every single aspect of the business because sometimes [WWE] might not need a wrestler right now, or you’re not that big but you can get hired as a referee. Get your foot in the door, and you never know what might happen. Don’t limit your possibilities.
Has training changed as we learn more about the effects of concussions?
Back when I was training, we were training in boxing rings, and it’s probably one of the main reasons my career was so short.
I started this in 2011, and right when I walked in, I made sure to get very good bumping rings. Also, we limit our bumps. A lot of schools will take you and get you in there and take 30 or 40 bumps. We do rolls; you do one bump to get warmed up, and that’s it. We stay away from anything with the head; even to go to the top rope, you have to ask for permission. We’re very limited in what we let you do because we want the basics down.
I remember I got a concussion back in 2005, and it wasn’t [seen as] a big deal, although I was throwing up and couldn’t drive. Now if a kid tells me he thinks he may have one, we make sure they go to the doctor, they don’t come in and wrestle, then they get checked up and cleared. Too many people are going for the macho, “Oh, you just got your bell rung.” Well, if your brain is bruised or bleeding, that’s not as simple as getting your bell rung.
How can young wrestlers find the right balance of being confident and assertive without being arrogant?
I have a very tough time with that. I can read people very well – they call it emotional intelligence. I can see where people are coming from. The first thing we do with anyone who comes in is make them sit and watch training, and we won’t let them know when they are going to get their tryout. It helps weed out people who get angry or upset, and they either wind up leaving or saying something stupid and then we send them on their way.
It used to be when they’d come in we’d be kissing their ass, shaking their hands, saying, “Come on, it’s so great to see you.” But that’s not the way the wrestling business is; 9 times out of 10, it’s you sitting around on your ass waiting for four or five hours to wrestle a 10-minute match. When we have shows, the show time is 7pm, but the call time for our students is 2pm. They sit in the building for five hours, and I do that for no reason other than that’s what happens in wrestling. When Raw is on air at 8pm, you don’t just roll in at 7.30, put your tights on, and go.
But it’s a very tough question because in pro wrestling you almost don’t want to be too nice, because it’s not a nice sport. Then you worry about when they leave the nest, and somebody says something “bad” or “mean” to them – are they going to overreact? We give them a little bit of everything and have numerous trainers – some who play the good cop role, some who play the bad cop role.
What skills does a good trainer need?
Again, emotional intelligence, being able to read people. I can usually tell what’s going on in a wrestler’s head before they wind up telling me about it, whether it be they’re frustrated, or outside people are telling them things and filling their heads.
I’d also say putting the students before you, which I always do. I treat them like they’re students from school. Other people will say, “Let them go, just let them leave”, but I act like a teacher; I doubt there’s many teachers in high school or middle school who’d just let a kid quit and not try to make it so they stick with it. I think putting the students first hasn’t been done enough in wrestling schools in the past.
Your school regularly runs matches at birthday parties for children. What can trainees gain from this experience?
I tell guys that they may think they’re better than doing a birthday party, but do you know how much the WWE does with kids? If you get used to interacting with kids and parents, you’re at an advantage. Plus, sometimes we do five different parties in a weekend, and now you’re working in front of five different crowds, and learn to read which way the crowd is going. It’s like you’re almost in a mini territory, all in one day!
How has wrestling training changed most over the years?
Wrestling training used to be, “Get in the ring, learn some moves, go on and make your way.” I don’t think we’ve ever had a shortage of good professional wrestlers; what we’ve had is a shortage of knowledgeable wrestlers who understand the business side, what to do, what not to do, how to market yourself, how to create a brand. You need to be ready to treat WWE like it’s a mall and you’re a store in it; if that store fails in that mall, it’s not the mall’s fault, it’s your fault because you are your own business.
Would you rather your school produced one WrestleMania main-eventer or 10 guys who simply made a living from wrestling?
I’d rather there be more people doing more. I believe as long as you have people in there making a career from professional wrestling, that’s more important. If we can generate more people feeding their family by living their dream, I’d rather have that.