Konnan the Creator – Charles Ashenoff discusses Mexican style of wrestling – Interview
Charles Ashenoff wants to be involved both behind the scenes and between the ropes
CHARLES ASHENOFF IS NOT happy being known in the wrestling business merely as Konnan, the character fans have known since his debut in 1989. Instead, he wants to be admired for his work behind the scenes in the storylines and other creative contributions, many of which he says are yet to come.
Although he grew up in Miami and San Diego, many of his family and emotional ties are in Mexico, the country in which he got his first taste of the wrestling business. In Mexico, he became well respected by fans and, more importantly, by the wrestlers and promoters. Wrestling in Mexico carries a sense of pride and flamboyance that he hoped to bring to the United States. He is still working on it.
“I got really close to realizing my hopes of getting the Mexican style to be accepted in the states,” Konnan says. “I helped bring guys like Rey Mysterio Jr. and Juventud Guerrera to WCW. They really grabbed the attention of the audience for about three years, and it was going great until WCW pulled the sacred, traditional masks off the performers in early 1999. They were so well known for the masks. It was like taking the mask off the Lone Ranger. All the mystique died.”
Read on to learn about other aspects of Konnan’s multifaceted career.
WRESTLING DIGEST: Critics say the Mexican style of wrestling [lucha libre] was killed off in WCW when the masks were taken off guys like Rey Mysterio Jr. and Juventud Guerrera. Do you agree that the mystique of the luchadors is dead?
KONNAN: [WCW officials] shouldn’t have done it. They didn’t respect the tradition or they didn’t understand some of it. It was just ignorance, and some of it was just bullying, saying this is the way it has to be. Yeah, people wanted to see their faces, and WCW gave in. Juventud is a good-looking guy and so is Rey, but so what? The masks were part of their personas. That’s what makes Batman, Batman, when he puts on his cape.
WD: Masks are considered sacred in Mexican wrestling culture. Both Guerrera and Mysterio were big stars in Mexico as well as in WCW. What was the reaction in Mexico when the unmaskings happened?
K: Oh, they hated it, especially the way it went down, because they saw, as usual, Federation officials weren’t respecting Mexican culture. They tried to kind of get down on Juvi and Rey, but they understood that they were under contract and they had to do what they had to do. It’s very hard to explain. It’s almost like going to Japan and telling the Japanese they have to eat with a fork instead of chopsticks. The masks are just our culture, and if it had been explained right, the people would accept it, and Rey and Juvi would be under masks. Granted, some masks were funny and some guys didn’t need them, but there could have been a better way of handling it.
WD: Did they get a lack of respect when they went back to Mexico after the masks were removed?
K: Not a lack of respect, but there was a lot of disappointment. They know the type of human beings that Rey and Juvi are and the type of athletes they are. Just disappointment. People thought they sold out for the money. They thought if they would have been in Mexico, they never would have done that. They would have shown more pride in their masks and heritage, because Rey received the mask from his uncle [billed as Rey Mysterio Sr.] and Juventud from Fuerza, his dad, who is a legend in Mexico.
Konnan The Booker
WD: If you were in charge of repackaging the Mexican workers for WCW, what would you do?
K: I’d get them a tutor to teach them English, correct grammar, and annunciation. It’s important that they can speak to the people, but at the same time, WCW should have let them do promos in Spanish for the Latino audience. Over the next few years, Latinos will be the biggest minority group in the United States. So if you could draw a thousand more Latinos every show, that’s revenue. I think I would have let them do some interviews in Spanish and some in English. I would also send the Mexican wrestlers to the WCW PowerPlant. All of them are polished wrestlers, but they have to learn the American style instead of only knowing how to wrestle the Mexican style. When you only know how to wrestle the Mexican style, you only know how to wrestle Mexicans, and that’s why an American guy like Dean Malenko was so valuable to someone like Rey, because he taught Rey how to wrestle his style. Eddy Guerrero and Chris Jericho taught Juventud how to wrestle their styles.
WD: You have been instrumental in the Mexican wrestling scene. How did you become a key figure in advising and bringing Mexican talent to the U.S., and to WCW in particular?
K: I started my career in 1989, and soon I was booking for Mexico’s AAA promotion. I was doing talent booking and coming up with story ideas. Eventually a lot of the guys in the business came to respect my creativity, which stemmed from being a big fan of ECW. I used to see what Paul E. Dangerously [Heyman] did then and it was so different from anything else. It helped me think of various methods to work the talent in AAA and in whatever creative projects I was involved in.
WD: So you credit Paul E. Heyman, owner of ECW, for that?
K: I credit Paul E. for a lot of the creativity. I also remember watching an MTV special in 1989. They said that when they first got people to work for MTV, they wanted people who were fresh–people who had never worked anywhere else–so it could be started from the ground up. That philosophy inspired me. I was always thinking of different ideas that had never been seen in Mexico or the U.S. It really helped me. I became very strong in the business because, as a wrestler, I was the No. 1 draw in Mexico with Vampiro, Perro Aguayo, and El Santo. As a wrestler, everybody knew that I drew crowds; but now as a booker, a lot of my ideas that were really revolutionary were also filling up arenas.
Konnan The Performer
WD: What really inspired you to get into the business?
K: I was a boxer. I was the California middleweight champion in 1982, so my boxing amateur career was from 1977 to 1984. The place where I trained in Mexico was the same place wrestlers trained. I was about 23 years old. I used to see the wrestling guys doing very acrobatic moves while I was hitting the punching bag thinking, “What the hell is this?” I thought they were gymnasts or something. They said, “No, we’re wrestlers. We wear masks, and we wrestle.”
So one day I went to one of the matches and I was just mesmerized. They were like superheros with cool masks and capes. It was almost like watching Superman wrestling right in front of you. Then they were doing all these incredible moves that I had never seen in my life. I just became mesmerized, and then I wanted to do it. In the U.S., at that time, wrestlers were just big guys or fat guys screaming loud, or good-looking guys screaming loud, and you never really had exciting matches. You had good technical matches, like Harley Race and Jack Brisco, but no exciting matches. I worked on my style for a few years, made a name for myself, and came to the states for WCW the first time in 1996, wearing a mask as well.
WD: Did you feel comfortable that first time?
K: No, because it was so different from what I was used to. Here entertainment is first, and wrestling is second. In Mexico, wrestling comes first. It was just a big culture shock. I was used to knowing the audience and having them in my hand, lifting my arm and everyone screaming my name. I got over OK. A few years later without the mask, I joined the Wolfpac with Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, and things really got hot. My character was very over in the Wolfpac, and after that I don’t think I was utilized correctly.
WD: You also worked in the WWF for a short time. When was that and what happened?
K: I worked there in 1990 for about eight months, when I met Vince McMahon, I had an idea for a robot suit. I had just wrestled in Japan, and I saw the animatronics and stuff that they had in Japan, like all these robots that could turn into cars. I told them, imagine if I was almost like a transformer-type thing. So, when I came out, one arm would shoot fire, from another arm there was smoke or confetti, and it was like a really cool space outfit. The WWF invested about $1,300 into it. They would bring me in for TV tapings, and I would wrestle Louie Spicolli and people like that. Then, I asked Vince McMahon to give me a guaranteed contract, because in Mexico I was about to do a soap opera on TV. Since I was so well-known there, I was offered a lead part, and I knew it was going to hit big. I said, “If you can guarantee me something here, I’ll stay.” He said, “The only guy who has a guaranteed contract here is Hulk Hogan.” So I left.
WD: What do you have planned for your Konnan persona?
K: Right before Eric Bischoff left WCW, he knew my character was getting strong, but I had some personal problems. I don’t think I let Eric take me where I could have gone, but I really hope to become the breakout star that I should have been two years ago. Where could you have gone?
K: I know where I would have been. I’d be doing rap albums and movie roles. I had a lot of stuff for my character. I had a built-in audience, and that all got away from me. As far as Mexico, I’d go back, revolutionize wrestling there and do pay-per-views. What I like to do is booking, and I like editing for television.
WD: Is there anything else you’d like Konnan fans to know?
K: I think 2001 will see Konnan prove to be a multifaceted man who will be responsible for making revolutionary ideas happen in the business.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Century Publishing
COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group