There have been some classic “best-of-seven” series over the years.
Certainly the 1986 NWA program between Magnum T.A. and Nikita Koloff set the bar high for those that were to follow.
Booker T's series with Chris Benoit in WCW in the spring of 1998 earned rave reviews.
Perhaps the greatest best-of-seven program that most wrestling fans never heard of, though, occurred only last year and featured Colt “Boom Boom” Cabana and Adam “Scrap Iron” Pearce clashing over the NWA world heavyweight title.
The series could have earned even more acclaim had it not been for office politics.
Ironically enough, one of the independent wrestling world's hottest programs, also involving Cabana and Pearce a year earlier, was derailed by political infighting as well.
Both times the NWA appeared on the cusp of getting a much-needed shot in the arm.
Both times, however, the NWA pulled back on opportunities that could have earned the organization widespread recognition.
The anatomy of this classic feud, a throwback to old-school wrestling rivalries, is examined in brilliant detail in the recently released “Seven Levels of Hate,” which Pearce produced and directed.
The documentary, which clocks in at a little over two hours, looks at the relationship between Cabana and Pearce — one that goes back to the two playing on rival high school football teams in Chicago and later training at the same wrestling school.
The film kicks into high hear when the two independent wrestling stars come together again a decade later — this time to devise an old-school wrestling storyline with a new-school approach.
The old-school dynamic featured master storytelling combined with extremely rugged, often bloody, matches that one rarely sees in today's sanitized brand of pro wrestling.
The new-school approach incorporated a major social media push that raised an awareness of the program well beyond the normal boundaries of independent wrestling.
With regional television coverage and an established viewership, the pieces appeared to be in place for a classic wrestling feud.
Pearce and Cabana worked for more than two years plotting out storylines, angles and matches. The character-driven program was built around the simple premise of good vs. evil, with the centerpiece being the NWA world championship belt.
But in the end, Pearce laments, the program came to an unsatisfying conclusion due to bureaucracy. It also doused a creative fire that had inspired some of Cabana's finest work in the business, says Pearce.
“It flipped a switch in Colt that I don't know if he'll ever be willing to work with them (NWA) again simply based on that. It's like being slapped in the face with a fistful of dollars and not realizing it. I don't understand it and don't think I ever will.”
Pearce adds that he feels somewhat responsible.
“I've apologized to him ad nauseam because I was the one who brought him into it. I feel responsible on a lot of levels.”
At one point, the film points out, the NWA had about 500 followers on Twitter. Cabana alone had nearly 500,000. Yet the NWA made the perplexing decision to take the NWA title off Cabana and go in another direction.
“It was as perfect as we could have done it,” says Pearce. “The momentum spoke for itself, the press coverage spoke for itself. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Even though decisions were made that were outside of anything that we had any control over, we tried our best to go back to that. But you can't recreate magic.”
Still, says Pearce, the two were determined to make a go of it. They later came up with the “Seven Levels of Hate” concept in which the two would take their feud across the country in a best-of-seven series that would put the NWA world title back in the spotlight.
A lawsuit, however, resulted in a change in NWA ownership, with the end result being that plans were once again changed. Cabana, who had been promised a one-year run with the title in the aftermath of the feud, was ordered to turn the belt over.
Cabana, who had enjoyed great success in Ring of Honor and had worked briefly in WWE as Scotty Goldman, was a no-brainer when Pearce initially was asked for the name of someone he thought could pull off the long-term angle.
“He was perfect for the spot. I've known him since we were teenagers. You couldn't find anybody who's more amicable and more amenable to doing business. He understands what this is all about. He wants to make money just like everybody else. And he really wanted this opportunity.”
That opportunity, says Pearce, could have been beneficial to all parties involved.
“Colt understood what was in front of us. It was an opportunity to put a spotlight on something that's been in the dark for a while and what that could mean — not just for him and not just for me, but for the brand.”
Pearce, a former five-time NWA world champion whose mission was to restore stature to the title, at least on the independent level, says the two started with a clean slate.
“We had the path right in front of us, and he had the path right in front of him. We had an opportunity to build something very special. But suddenly it was gone.”
And he still doesn't understand why. One possible reason, he heard, was that Cabana might not have been able to cover all his title dates.
“I booked Cabana myself 25 times and never had an issue,” says Pearce. “I think that there's more than meets the eye there and more than people are willing to tell me.”
The fact that the two were friends and shared the same passion added another dynamic to the program.
“Everything was so easy with Colt. You wish you could have that every day,” says Pearce.
“We meshed so well with the good vs. evil dichotomy of the characters that we had. Then you add in the fact that we've been legitimately friends half of our lives, and it makes it so much easier from that standpoint. There was no ego between us. Most of the times we just got in the ring. I know him, he knows me, we didn't have to talk anything out.”
Pearce and Cabana took their red-hot series across the country — and as far away as Australia — as they worked for different promoters while coming up with an intriguing array of stipulation matches.
The seven bouts included a First Blood match, a Boston Street Fight, an I Quit match, best two of three falls, a Dog Collar match, a Texas Death match and, finally, a steel cage match in Melbourne, Australia, nine thousand miles from where the rivalry began.
The critically acclaimed series ended with Pearce losing the match but not the title to Cabana, since the NWA refused to sanction the bout as a world title match. Pearce defiantly broke character at the end, and the title belt was symbolically “thrown down.”
For both, it was the end of an emotional journey that could have been so much more.
Cabana, whose real name is Scott Colton, should be a major player today in a major organization, says Pearce.
And he's not the only one who feels that way.
Longtime best friend and former WWE champ C.M. Punk mentioned Cabana's name during his famous “pipe bomb” promo on Monday Night Raw in 2011.
Punk even sported a Cabana shirt displaying the Star of David symbol, paying homage to Cabana's Jewish heritage. After burying the McMahon family on live TV, Punk issued a shout-out to his friend. “Hey, Colt Cabana, how you doing?”
“He mentioned Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar — two guys Vince (McMahon) knows very well,” recalled Cabana. “He also mentioned a little-known wrestler from Chicago named Colt Cabana. Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar weren't trending on Twitter worldwide, but Colt Cabana was.”
Cabana got his first big break in Ring of Honor where he both feuded and teamed with Punk in high-profile programs. He signed a contract with WWE's developmental program at Ohio Valley Wrestling in 2007. He was brought up to the main roster in August 2008 but released less than six months after his on-air debut.
“I had four squash matches — where I was the squashee — and two battle royals,” he said in a 2011 interview. “I don't know how anyone's going to become a star when they lose their first match in three minutes.”
Pearce still wonders why WWE didn't do more with Cabana when he was in that company's employ.
“That's another question. I don't even want to speculate. To me, for my money, there's isn't a babyface out there who's available and not under contract that you'd want more than Colt. He's such a versatile performer. A lot of people think he's just a comedy guy, but the series he and I had displayed a completely different type of passion. He's complete. That's my opinion.”
Pearce, who made his pro debut 17 years ago, feels their best-of-seven series could have propelled Cabana to even greater heights.
“It's unfortunate. The person I feel most sorry for is Colt Cabana. He was in the perfect position to do so much. And he wanted to. For whatever reason, we just couldn't get them to believe in him the way everybody else does.”
But it hasn't all turned out bad for Cabana, adds Pearce.
“It's enabled him to build his own little empire. He's running his own business now, and what's better than working for yourself? He's making a comfortable living that thousands of independent wrestlers in our world would kill to have. There's something to be said for doing it yourself. At the end of the day, that might be more gratifying for him than that paycheck from Stamford might have been.”
Pearce has been around the wrestling block long enough to realize that the best-laid plans of professional wrestlers often go astray through no fault of their own. He says he still lacks any definitive answers as to why a seemingly money-making angle would have been nixed.
He maintains it was a bad business decision, and one that ultimately cost all parties involved.
“I'm sure there's some justification on their end, and they know what that is. I would love to know. It's sickening to think about what might have been.”
While the film covers many bases, Pearce readily acknowledges that the piece could have benefited from more response from the other side.
“I don't know why they decided not to lend an opinion or lend a perspective. But I felt we had an obligation — at least to the people we were loyal to — to tell our side of the story.”
The film was Pearce's vision. It was, he says, a labor of love.
The fact that he had access to the footage made the piece possible.
“Luckily I had enough friends who were willing to let me use the footage of this whole thing. It was just a compelling and easy way to tell a story. I thought we had channeled enough of that old-school edge. The part that really intrigued me was that all the promoters were on board with it. We had a group of promoters all on the same page who were willing to share things for the common goal. I knew we were on to something. It just made a whole lot of sense. So I just started documenting this stuff.
“Unfortunately for us, being in the position we were in the ring and being the ones trying to tell that story from that creative standpoint, the things outside kind of took over. I think everybody involved who was willing to speak on the film at least acknowledges that they had wished things would have gone in a different direction. But it is what it is.”
Pearce, 35, says he has worked tirelessly to bring prestige to the NWA title.
“I spent almost six years busting my hump trying to bring exposure back to it, and trying to bring it back to some sense of notoriety. As I said in the movie, I really believe that the day that belt — the 10 pounds of gold — means nothing to the wrestling fan, that will be a sad day.”
“I hope they (NWA) can find some footing,” he adds. “I would love to look back at the end of my life and feel like I didn't waste a chunk of that time.”
Pearce says he still has the utmost respect for the NWA.
“I still consider them friends. But something was obviously amiss.”
A number of wrestling figures are interviewed in the film. Among them are wrestling promoter and producer David Marquez, former NWA COO and referee Fred Rubenstein, former NWA board member Bill Behrens, former NWA executive director Bob Trobich, Steel Domain Wrestling promoters Ed Hellier and Mick Karch, referee Rick Knox and historian Bill Apter. The late William Moody (Paul Bearer) makes a cameo appearance.
The two-disc DV set, which includes all of the Pearce-Cabana matches, is available at www.SevenLevelsOfHate.com, and the digital download of the film itself will be available starting Sept. 27 at Highspots.com. It also will be a part of the Rocks Off Pro Wrestling
Filmfest in New York City on Nov. 22 (more information at http://rocksoff.com/shows/2732).
Old School Championship Wrestling returns to the Hanahan Rec Center on Sept. 29.
Former WWE star Al Snow will meet Michael Frehley in one of the featured bouts. Also topping the bill is the return of “The Southern Savior” John Skyler against “The Modern Classic” B.J. Hancock, along with ex-WWE star Gangrel and Dr. Creo defending their OSCW tag-team title against “The Shooter” Vordell Walker and Calie Casanova.
Bell time is 5 p.m. Doors open at 4:30.
For more information, call 743-4800 or visit www.oscwonline.com.
Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.