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Where Are They Now? Norman Smiley
“Norman Smiley was extremely gifted,” Dean Malenko told WWE.com when asked about the subject of this month’s “Where Are They Now?” feature. “He excelled in the art of holds and counter holds — a purist when it comes to wrestling.”
It’s a description that might surprise some sports-entertainment fans who remember Smiley from his days in World Championship Wrestling in the late ’90s. More than a decade before he began shaping the future of WWE, Smiley was best known for two things — shaking his butt in a dance move he dubbed “The Big Wiggle” and screaming for his life during brutal bouts with the likes of Terry Funk and The Barbarian. Neither of which displayed any of the considerable mat skills he had cultivated during his years competing in Japan and Mexico. (PHOTOS)
“He was a very technical wrestler who found out that you’re far better off being an entertainer,” William Regal said. “And Norman was a great entertainer.”
In retrospect, it’s not surprising that Norman Smiley’s career followed the path that it did. Growing up in Northampton, England in the early ’70s, he admired British grapplers like Clive Myers, Steve Grey and Johnny Saint — straightforward shooters who valued substance over style. But when his parents divorced, Norman’s mother brought him to Florida where he discovered the flashy American competitors of Championship Wrestling from Florida.
“Coming here and seeing ‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes and how charismatic he was,” Norman Smiley told WWE.com during a phone interview in October. “He had personality and could talk. That was something totally strange to me.”
A power lifter and amateur wrestler in high school, Smiley was interested in pursuing sports-entertainment, but the physicality intimidated him. It wasn’t until he met a local competitor who put him in touch with the famous Boris Malenko that he gave it a shot. Training with the mat legend and his son, former WWE Superstar Dean Malenko, Smiley learned the basics and soon began competing on the Florida independent scene where he was routinely smacked around by dangerous tough guys like Kevin Sullivan and "Maniac" Mark Lewin.
“I was just a dumb kid who was trying to get his foot in the door and learn this new profession that I was so excited to do,” he said.
After a rough few years, Smiley began to develop as a talent thanks to the help of Karl Gotch. A Holocaust survivor who was considered one of the ring’s toughest men, Gotch taught his young student the bone breaking secrets of submission wrestling, which opened doors for Smiley in Japan. Hired by a company called Union of Wrestling Forces International in 1988, the England native left behind the theatrics of the Florida scene for this hard-hitting, no-nonsense world where the only goal was to make your opponent tap out.
“It was basically a precursor to the UFC,” Smiley revealed. “There were no ring jackets. There were no gimmicks. You went in there and exchanged holds.”
Establishing himself as an international talent, the grappler represented Great Britain alongside Chris Adams in the 1990 Pat O’Connor Tag Team Wrestling Tournament at Starrcade. Here, he met one of Mexico’s biggest stars, Konnan, who invited him to compete for Empresa Mexicana de la Lucha Libre in Mexico City. The former home of WWE Champion Alberto Del Rio and Sin Cara, the promotion gave Smiley the opportunity to unleash all of the brutal strikes and devastating submission holds he’d acquired in Japan on some very unfortunate luchadores.
“It was a special time there,” he said. “I was supposed to go for a month and ended up staying for five years.”
Taking on the name Black Magic, Smiley held the promotion’s World Heavyweight Championship for nearly a year and had memorable rivalries with Mexican standouts like Vampiro and Rayo de Jalisco.
“It was a great experience for me as a performer to grow up in a different culture,” Smiley said. “A lot of the legends that we know today I met there like Chris Jericho and Rey Mysterio.”
In 1997, Smiley transitioned to World Championship Wrestling along with much of Mexico’s top talent through a deal Konnan brokered with WCW President Eric Bischoff. His early years with the company were forgettable as he regularly found himself being stomped by heavy hitters like Scott Norton and Curt Hennig. After a lengthy run at the top in Mexico, the grappler was having trouble standing out on the crowded roster.
“I felt that my wrestling ability was very sound so I just needed something to add to it,” Smiley said. “I would watch NFL games to see if somebody would do something in the end zone that I could use and then I came up with The Big Wiggle.”
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