Johnny Saint may not be a household name, but he's inspired everyone from Daniel Bryan to Norman Smiley. This week, Saint flew from England to Florida to join the WWE Performance Center as a guest coach.03/24/2016 - 18:45
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Where Are They Now? Norman Smiley, Part Two
A suggestive gyration of the hips that Smiley has compared to riding an imaginary horse, The Big Wiggle showed that the classically trained competitor had a sense of humor and the fans began to take notice. The shimmy might not have been the kind of thing Karl Gotch would have done, but it was bringing Norman a lot of attention. (PHOTOS)
“It’s not always about hip tosses and camel locks,” Smiley said. “It’s about entertainment.”
With his fanbase building, Norman went from getting smashed on WCW Saturday Night to scoring victories on pay-per-view. Soon, he became a champion — although a reluctant one — when he scored a surprise victory over Brian Knobbs in a tournament final to win the first WCW Hardcore Title.
“I was trained by Malenko, spent years in Japan and England. Now all of a sudden, I find myself across the ring from Brian Knobbs throwing garbage cans at me,” he said. “I embraced it and found that even though a lot of people think that it is junk wrestling, the guys who have done that over the years are talented.”
During this time, Smiley added another unique facet to his persona when he began crying out in fear while defending his title in aggressive brawls against the likes of Finlay and Bam Bam Bigelow. Unabashedly chicken, he ran away from Haku and hid in a bathroom stall to escape Terry Funk. He became so outwardly intimidatd by his opponents that he began entering the ring dressed in full hockey gear to protect himself. The act may have been cowardly, but the crowd loved him for it.
“I was at the Target Center in Minneapolis with Haku and The Barbarian,” Smiley said. “Both of them were just beating the crap out of me, but I remember the whole place was chanting ‘Norman! Norman!’”
Smiley’s eccentric behavior continued to bring him a following up until WCW’s demise in 2001. Over the next decade, he competed in smaller promotions across the globe until a call from WWE put him in his current position as a trainer with Florida Championship Wrestling. (PHOTOS)
“It’s funny, a lot of the kids that I train today are amazed that I know the stuff that I know,” Smiley laughed. “They tell me, “Wow, I thought you were just about The Big Wiggle!”
Primarily working with female competitors, Smiley has been tasked with taking many women who have no prior ring experience and molding them into the Divas of tomorrow.
“The new girls that have been here for four or five months want to be good today,” he said. “I have to explain to them that this is like any other sport. It takes years in order to learn and have natural instincts in the ring. One has to have a lot of patience.”
A teacher who has thrived in both the sports and entertainment aspects of sports-entertainment, Smiley helped polish the skills of many of WWE’s newest Divas, including A.J., Aksana and Kaitlyn. He’s also passed on his years of mat knowledge to Superstars like Kofi Kingston and Drew McIntyre.
“The school has been open for four years and we have had close to 100 guys and girls being called up to the main roster,” Smiley said. “So not to toot my own horn, but I believe that we are doing a hell of a job here.”
As for a social life, Smiley admitted that his current profession doesn’t allow him much time to have one. Typically, the trainer might spend 15 hours at the school and then come home, eat dinner and immediately start watching footage of classic matches.
“He never stops learning and trying to better his skills,” William Regal said. “You need to be very adaptable to have a long career. If you’re not taught by somebody who knows different styles you’ll be left by the wayside very quickly.”
This adaptability has allowed Smiley to remain an important part of an industry that changes drastically every few years. Today, he might not be widely remembered for his brutal fights in Japan or his title reign in Mexico, but he’s remembered and that’s what matters.
“Even though I was never considered to be a serious performer as far as somebody who would be a contender for the World Title, I was able to pursue my dream, do what I wanted to do, and travel the world,” Smiley said. “I was more than happy with that.”
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