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Norman Smiley: A Cult Tribute
Boy do I have a treat for all of you today? As I was engaging in discussion on Twitter with Mazza and his houseboy T.O., I came across a great idea for a Cult Tribute. This will be on a wrestler that, in at least some instances, you’ll know. He’s had a long distinguished career around the world, a cult run in the United States during the 90s, and has now settled into a nice job preparing a lot of the wrestlers many hope to one day be stars. And yet, as per usual, there’s so much more. So, with that sappy intro aside (I’m tired and at the finish line dammit), sit back, relax, hold off on that angry email you’re sending to Coca-Cola because Surge isn’t in your area (DAMMIT ALL), and enjoy. This is a Cult Tribute to the Big Wiggle, Black Magic himself, Lord Norman Smiley.
What You Already Know
You know Norman Smiley from two things. The first is his now near decade stint with WWE as a developmental trainer, beginning with Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW) and now with NXT. He’s been widely acclaimed by many of the trainees in the Performance Center, most notably Sasha Banks, who recently called Smiley the “backbone of WWE Developmental”. Coming from perhaps the best overall performer in WWE right now, that’s huge praise. Like, Mad Max: Fury Road praise.
The other thing you know Norman from is his five year run with WCW from 1997 to 2001 (though he had competed for WCW on one occasion in 1990). Primarily used as a throwaway comic relief character throughout his run, Smiley became popular due to his high charisma, his famous Big Wiggle dance and for his run as “Screamin” Norman Smiley during his run as WCW Hardcore Champion (of which he holds the longest reigns for in company history). In fact, an argument can be made that Smiley was one of the few WCW wrestlers who actually got over as the company imploded during the latter years. So to recap, he’s known for being a bright light during the Russo era of WCW AND for being one of the most important influences on one of the most popular wrestlers in the world today. It might be time to break out the Wayne’s World “we’re not worthy!” scene.
What You Didn’t Know
This may come as a shock to many of you, but Norman Smiley is in fact British. Yes, the Big Wiggle himself was born in Northampton, England, thus making him yet another current WWE Developmental hand to come from the UK (William Regal and Robbie Brookside being the other two of course). The fact that he was British was at one point a huge focal point of his gimmick in WCW when Smiley worked as a heel. Ironically, it only got him more over. Chicks just dig the Brits I guess.
Aside from that, Norman has had a prolific career outside of his WCW run and WWE training days. Though his actual wrestling under a WWE banner has been limited to a one off match or two during his FCW days, Smiley has been pretty much everywhere else you can think. He briefly wrestled for ECW in the mid 90s, teaming with cult hero and future video game star Mikey Whipwreck against Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit. Most notably, he competed for TNA (though to be fair, everyone but Cena has wrestled there at this point), both in their early years and again in 2006, where he teamed with Shark Boy. Not to be mean to poor Norman, but it’s probably a good thing he ended up training wrestlers as opposed to sticking around with TNA; one commenter on the wrestling database site Cagematch described his stint with everyone’s favorite punching bag as hideous. I’m not sure who should be more insulted by that; Shark Boy or TNA. Let’s split the difference and go with both.
Despite being well known for his work in the states though, Smiley’s best run didn’t occur in the US, but instead in Mexico. From 1991-1995, Smiley, under the wonderful name of Black Magic, worked for CMLL, Mexico’s then top promotion and the oldest wrestling company in history. Whereas Smiley was treated as a comedy character much of his time in America, CMLL pushed him as a legit threat, and Smiley quickly got over as a top level star. His greatest accomplishment also occurred for the promotion, when he won the top title, the CMLL World Heavyweight Championship, on November 20th, 1992. Perhaps more impressive was that Smiley won the title by winning a sixteen man tournament for the belt, beating lucha legends Vampiro (a close friend of his outside the ring) and Rayo del Jalisco Jr. to do so. He would go on to hold the title for 219 days, defeating the likes of Vilano IV, Jalisco, Brazo de Plata, King Haku and Chris Jericho before dropping the belt de Plata (who was on his third try against Smiley). To this date, he remains one of only two men to be non Hispanic holders of the CMLL Heavyweight Title (the other, if you wanted to know, is Val Venis. Yes, Val Venis was a lucha libre star), and one of only fourteen men to hold the title. On a scale from one to LUGER WON THE TITLE, this is a solid STYLES DOES IT! Just goes to show that sometimes people just fit certain wrestling styles better than others. Somewhere, Marco Corleone is nodding so hard, his head popped off.
Without question, it’s the CMLL Heavyweight Championship win. Not only is that the biggest title Smiley ever won, not only was it an impressive feat considering who he beat to win the belt, but it’s probably what helped him eventually get hired by WCW to begin with. So there’s little doubt this was the ultimate highlight of Big Wiggle’s career. There’s just one problem; the match is nowhere to be found on YouTube, Dailymotion, or pretty much anywhere other than CMLL’s museum of a video library. Worse yet, the backup option I had to show you, which was Smiley destroying Chavo’s hobby horse Pepe, isn’t online either. That’s right, Norman Smiley destroying Pepe, perhaps one of the funniest moments in wrestling history, is being kept from you and I right now. Because…the internet. Dammit internet. Thus, the best thing I can do is show you the end of Smiley vs. Chavo from Souled Out 99, which shows Smiley throwing Pepe’s “ashes” into Chavo’s eyes in yet another glorious moment. I know, it’s not much, but there’s little I can do. Hey, at least I gave you guys that gem about Val Venis being a lucha star right?
To be perfectly blunt, Norman Smiley is a straight up awesome wrestler. In fact, dare I say he may be one of the more underrated names in wrestling history? His work in the United States (as entertaining as it sometimes was) may not be on the level of some of the greatest names ever, but if you look at his body of work in Mexico, you can tell Norman Smiley was an excellent all around performer. Hell, just listen to Sasha Banks and Chris Jericho rave about him during Jericho’s recent podcast. Listening to them, it becomes really clear that Smiley got it when it came to wrestling. He could captivate a crowd by wrestling a good match, doing a dance or shredding a wooden hobby horse. He’s the man, and it’s just really unfortunate that the only change he got to be the man was in Mexico instead of the States. That said, at least he will be remembered by all as an entertaining dude who was a bright spot during the dying days of WCW, and someone who has done a great job giving back to the business with his work training the WWE stars of tomorrow. And hell, if CMLL has a Hall of Fame, they should probably put Smiley in it. Just a thought.
There you have it kids. Hope you’re appropriately doing the Big Wiggle somewhere right now. I’ll be back tomorrow with my preview of CMLL’s 82nd Anniversary Show, which should be a whole lot of fun. Till then, stand tall, fly straight, and regret nothing. I know I did when I just quoted D2: The Mighty Ducks just a second ago.
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