FONT & AUDIO
Hubbard native shows talent, potential in WWE
The summer after I was hired at the Woodburn Independent, I had the opportunity to meet former North Marion wrestler Levi Cooper, a two-time state runner-up and a former All-American for the Arizona State Sun Devils.
He had graduated college and was looking for the next step in his athletic career. Cooper wanted to try his hand at professional wrestling and was leaving to join the WWEs training camp in Florida.
It was a lofty goal, to say the least. Of the thousands of men and women who aspire to join the ranks of the World Wrestling Entertainment company, only a handful ever get called up to make a name for themselves among the elite wrestling entertainers.
That was more than two years ago and today, Cooper is wrestling under the moniker of Tucker Knight for NXT, which is the WWE equivalent of the minor leagues. This is where up and coming wrestlers gain exposure and develop experience while the WWE cultivates new personalities to eventually bring up to the big leagues.
I recently found a video of Cooper on NXT wrestling against another developmental talent named Baron Corbin a greasy-haired, tattooed man with a chinstrap beard, leather biker jacket and surly demeanor.
Its a pretty short video, only two and a half minutes and most of it is dedicated to Corbins introduction, complete with theme music, fireworks and the announcing crew fawning over him with nothing but praise and admiration.
They call him the unstoppable force at NXT, one of the announcers says. Maybe one of the prominent cases of one-sided dominance weve seen here at NXT.
Tucker Knight doesnt even get an entrance. Hes waiting in the ring with his own greased back hair and well-trimmed beard, dressed in simple black speedo shorts.
Once the bell rings, the match lasts all of 30 seconds. Its a very one-sided affair, with Corbin delivering a couple of blows to Coopers face, slamming Cooper on the canvas, then delivering his signature finishing move The End of Days before pinning Cooper.
On the surface, its not that great of a match for Cooper. Hes there to get beaten up and make Corbin look like the unrelenting force that the announcers proclaim him to be.
But thats a much harder skill than it looks. Theres a lot going on in those 30 seconds when you break down the video and look behind the scenes a bit.
Heres the thing everyone knows that wrestling is fake. The matches are predetermined, the fights are heavily choreographed and the drama is all staged.
Its a big charade that everyone is in on, from the audience to the announcers to the wrestlers in the ring. But they still have to sell it if the WWE wants to have a marketable product.
The wrestlers have to suspend everyones disbelief for a few minutes to make it at least plausible that these two giant men are actually pummeling each other between pyrotechnic sets and heavy metal music blaring through the loudspeakers.
That sale is what makes the WWE what it is. Without a believable match, all youre left with is two big dudes in tight clothes with frowny faces who are throwing fake punches and pretending to fight each other.
In the video I watched, it is clear that the WWE is trying to make Baron Corbin into a compelling personality.
Hes got the style, the theme music and the signature finishing move that are all integral to creating a persona that can be sold to millions of wrestling fans. And it takes two people to make that magic happen.
Thats where Cooper comes in. Without a quality wrestler for Corbin to compete against, the believability of the whole pretense of this sport falls apart. Cooper sells every punch that Corbin throws.
When Corbin grabs Cooper by the head and lifts him up off the canvas, Cooper has to jump in the air and collapse on the floor in a manner that makes us all think that yes, maybe it is possible to lift a 325-pound man three feet off the ground by his neck without killing him.
Finally, the finishing move necessitates a great deal of acrobatics on both parts. The End of Days requires Corbin to grip Cooper by the shoulders as the two men are facing each other. Corbin leans forward, dipping Cooper toward the ground before pivoting on his hip to reverse momentum, sending Cooper face first into the floor of the ring.
The result is a single graceful move where Cooper is forced to change direction in midair with the help of Corbin while never touching the ground. It requires an incredible amount of strength, timing and athleticism, which Cooper pulls off extremely well.
While the match doesnt allow Cooper to showcase all his skills as a wrestler and a personality, it does allow him to sell himself as a jobber, a wrestling term for someone who can believably lose a performance in a wrestling match.
Being able to take a punch, sell a hit and make your opponent look good is at the heart of every wrestling match.
There may not be much glory or stardom in losing, but its a valuable skill to develop and one that will make Cooper much more attractive to WWE promoters.
Maybe Cooper goes on to be a big star someday. Maybe he doesnt.
But his ability to be a hulking, scary-looking athlete who can successfully sell a match will do a lot toward keeping him gainfully employed within the WWE wrestling circuit for years to come.