Life’s a Scream – Interview
Norman Smiley screeches all the way to become a WCW fan favorite
IT MAKES SENSE THAT A PROFESSIONAL wrestler who is expertly trained in submission wrestling, can fly like a luchador, and is technically proficient would be very popular. But pro wrestling also features many performers whose popularity stems from more than just their in-ring skills.
WCW’s Norman Smiley is popular with fans for two reasons: his dance, “the Big Wiggle,” and his perfection of a character who screams in fear whenever he wrestles a hardcore bout.
Yes, the story of Smiley’s rise to popularity is an odd one.
When fans see the 35-year-old “Screamin'” Norman decked out in shoulder pads and a football or hockey jersey, the last thing they think is that he is a guy with an extensive wrestling pedigree. But they couldn’t be further from the truth.
Smiley’s international roots
Originally from England, Smiley moved to Miami when he was 16 years old after his parents divorced. He became a wrestling fan after watching Florida Championship Wrestling. Smiley eventually met Dean Malenko and Malenko’s father, Boris, who agreed to train the neophyte in 1986.
Smiley started out working for independent groups in Florida before heading to Japan. He put the mat techniques he learned from the Malenkos to use by wrestling in the shoot-style Union of Wrestling Force International promotion for a few years before returning to the United States.
Smiley got his first chance to wrestle for a national American promotion on December 16, 1990, when he entered WCW’s tag-team tournament at the Kiel Center in St. Louis. Even though he and tag-team partner Chris Adams lost to Rey Mysterio Jr. and Konnan, Smiley benefited from a friendship that developed with Konnan.
Konnan asked Smiley to show him some of the moves he had used in Japan for the UWFI. Smiley did and Konnan, who was also a talent booker and coordinator for Mexico’s Empresa Mexicana de Lucha Libre promotion, asked Smiley to wrestle for EMLL.
Smiley was apprehensive at first, but Konnan was insistent.
“Would you like to come to Mexico?” Smiley recalls Konnan asking. “At first I was under the impression that there was no money to be made in Mexico. Then, Konnan told me what he was making and I was like, `Hell yeah, I’ll come to Mexico.'”
He was originally scheduled for a one-month tour of the country, but he stayed for six months. After a brief trip home, he went back and wrestled in Mexico from 1991 to 1995. He quickly became a star by winning the Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre heavyweight title in 1992 as Black Magic. Smiley liked the country so much he established a home in Mexico City that he still maintains.
In the mid-’90s, the Mexican economy started to suffer and dragged the wrestling business down with it. Smiley went from working 12 shows a week to only two or three. Homesick and not working full time, Smiley returned to Florida.
“I figured that once I got home, my phone would be ringing off the hook,” Smiley says. “I figured that Vince McMahon would be calling or Eric Bischoff would be calling. I thought that with the amount of time I had spent in Mexico I would have the exposure that I needed to make the next step. That didn’t happen.”
Smiley joins WCW
When neither company called, Smiley resumed working for independent promotions. In 1997, Smiley’s old friend Konnan again came calling.
“He took me back to Mexico for his now-defunct group, Promo Azteca,” Smiley says. “I was working there and I told him, `Listen, my dream is to get back and work in the States. Could you help me get a job in WCW?'”
Konnan arranged for Smiley to meet with WCW booker Terry Taylor. Taylor was impressed with Smiley and offered him a contract in 1998.
But his early time in WCW was frustrating since he was rarely used.
“Nothing was happening at first,” Smiley says. “I was basically working once every three months.”
Since his friends told him he needed a gimmick to differentiate himself from the other wresfiers, he started doing the cabbage patch dance. That didn’t last long, as Scott Hall bluntly told him the dance move wasn’t the answer.
Screaming for the hardcore title
Smiley soon found the answer. He was watching the television show “Martin” starring Martin Lawrence and saw Lawrence do a dance that would end up being the Big Wiggle. Smiley decided to use the dance move, which stresses pelvic gyrations, in WCW.
“I was wrestling Chris Benoit on “Nitro” and I did it,” he says. “It got mixed reactions, like `What the hell is he doing?’ Chris just stared at me for a second before he chopped me.”
Unshaken by Benoit’s reaction, Smiley was curious about what the WCW bookers thought of the move.
“I went through the curtain and Terry Taylor said, `I don’t know what that is you were doing, bu! keep doing it,” Smiley says.
Smiley did, and it worked. Fans started to cheer for him, but it was only the beginning.
In October 1999, writers Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara jumped to WCW from the WWF, and they had a different vision of what Smiley should be doing. When they told him they were going to make him the hardcore champion, Smiley was stunned. When Smiley told them that the hardcore style was completely different from how he wrestled, they said that was exactly why they were doing it.
“The more you scream, the more you’ll get over,” Smiley remembers Russo saying.
The idea was to make him a coward who thought he was a rough guy. A wildly popular “Screamin'” Norman Smiley was born.
Smiley screeched his way to become WCW’s first hardcore champion on November 21, 1999, with a win over Brian Knobs. He not only held the rifle for six weeks, but also became a cult favorite with the fans dancing and screaming all the way.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Century Publishing
COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group