I stumbled down the steps Christmas morning due to a hangover rather than anticipation.
Much like the Hulkster at WrestleMania 30, my presence is solely by default: to appease my parents’ wishes for a sentimental family moment and cheer on my younger brothers as they battle wrapping paper and tangled X-Box controller wires. I’ll mug for the camera, but that magical glimmer of hope has abandoned my bloodshot eyes.
As my fellow college seniors can attest, what we truly want can’t be found under the tree.
Internship acceptance letters. February’s rent paid. Mila Kunis.
Santa chuckles at the half-bitten cookies left on the table-those crumbs signifying our remnants of youth.
For those of us with one semester until graduation, the desperation swells with each relative’s interrogation of our impending uncertain futures. I resort to self-comparisons in these stubble-scratching times, but neither family nor friends have paved a trail for a long-shot career as a pro wrestling reporter.
So I ventured outside my social circle, outside the Temple community, and even outside the City of Brotherly Love to find a role model.
His name is Joey Styles, and he’s been pretty much adopted by Philly wrasslin’ fans after calling almost every single match in Extreme Championship Wrestling history.
Rooting for rule breakers like Ric Flair and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper as a kid, the Bronx native admits he was “a typical Northeast, jaded wrestling fan.” Although he originally wanted to compete in the ring, Styles compared his stature to legendary underdog, Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger.
“Since I am only 5’7 and at my biggest, 200 pounds, I realized I didn’t have the physical gifts to make a career in pro wrestling,” Styles said. “Rudy was a moron and should have just been happy that he earned a degree from the University of Notre Dame. There was no way I was going to get my brains beat in like him because my brains and big mouth were my best assets.”
While working in the sports information department at Hofstra University, Styles wrote for the school newspaper and dabbled in P.A. announcing for some home games.
“I told my boss that my dream was to announce pro wrestling and he actually knew one of the photographers for London Publishing’s wrestling magazines,” Styles said. “I met Bill Apter and Stu Saks and took an unpaid internship filing photos. Then I passed their writing test which allowed me freedom to write fabricated interviews as long as we kept the wrestling characters’ quotes in character. For example, I could have written Jimmy Snuka’s reaction to Roddy Piper smashing his head with the coconut on Piper’s Pit.”
Styles eventually advanced to a paid internship making “$5 an hour” for penning a column and “occasionally letters to the editor, just in case we needed them.” He credits Apter for helping him make connections in the industry, and owes Paul Heyman for giving him his big break as ECW’s play-by-play commentator.
“Paul came to the newsroom for an Uncle Sam-themed photo shoot,” Styles said. “I made a demo tape of some indy announcing work and showed Paul. He gave me his feedback, implored me to send it to WWE and WCW, and then told me to call him after graduation.”
Encouraging college students to remain ambitious during winter break, Styles said he believes people who are aggressive in their pursuit are the ones who get ahead.
“Call the H.R. department of the company you desire to work at, and tell them what you can do and that you’re willing to work for free,” Styles said. “WWE has unpaid interns every single summer and winter break, and I know at least three who graduated and became employees. It’s definitely about making connections to be where you want to be, but you make your own luck. Don’t wait for your break, make it.”
A few years after ECW shut down, Styles tagged in to WWE, covering “RAW,” pay-per-views, and a revised, yet neutered ECW. Although the extreme announcer only appears on television these days as the host of soon-to-be defunct WWE Classics On Demand’s “History of ECW,” Styles still keeps tabs on the ever-evolving commentary booth.
“You have to know the product backwards and forwards, intern somewhere in the broadcasting profession, and get experience on the air,” Styles said. “Just keep in mind you’re talking about an industry where there is only one company where you can make a living at calling wrestling matches, so you should probably widen your potential employers and fields you want to go in.”
Even in the industry, Styles had to consider other options just to make a living.
“All those years I called ECW matches, I also sold advertising because I didn’t really make money until the last couple years of the company,” he said.
Transitioning from the small screen to the computer screen, Styles currently serves as WWE Vice President of Digital Media Content. His division’s duties include covering every WWE broadcast for WWE.com, publishing match results, video clips and photos as quickly as possible and linking each page to other related content on the website.
“Story-telling is in everything WWE does,” Styles said. “I’m not only copy-editing, I’m making sure certain adjectives are used so readers want to boo the bad guy and cheer the good guy. If a villain
rolls out of the ring, he’s a coward. If a hero rolls out, he’s smart.”
I know many college seniors wishing they could roll out of the ring and retreat to the locker room of yesteryear. I’m ready to stop typing this right now and instead, reminisce about those Christmas mornings diving into presents with eagerness and wonder.
But I can’t.
Joey Styles said we have to be aggressive to achieve our goals. Everybody who has survived this far into higher education and more importantly adulthood knows deep down the post-college despair is only temporary.
Hard work, dedication, and an eagerness to tackle the future will overcome any struggle.
Go back to the table and finish those half-bitten cookies.
Screw Santa, you get the last laugh.
John Corrigan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.