London in Austin
WWE wrestlers Paul London and Melina talk life on the road, and how bigger isn't always better
By Richard Whittaker,
3:23PM, Sat. Feb. 2, 2008
Friday night wasn't the warmest night of the year, but that didn't stop more than 2,500 people from standing outside the Fiesta on S. I-35 to get a signed photo of World Wrestling Entertainment wrestlers Paul London, Super Crazy, and Melina. The grapplers were there to promote this week’s upcoming live broadcast of WWE Presents Monday Night Raw from the Erwin Center (some tickets still available). Sitting in the limo afterward, London asked the promoter if the crowd had been expecting a bigger name star. The amiable, sometimes goofy London seemed amazed when he said no, they were there for the three of them.
"How do you explain that?" said London. "It's flattering. It's very surreal, makes you put yourself back in check."
Actually, Austin-native London should be less surprised. He's one of the biggest TV stars to have come from Austin, well, ever. Teaming with Brian Kendrick, he has held the WWE tag-team title six times, and in 2006-'07 they held them for a record 11 months.
Explaining that success, London said, "We were really good friends beforehand, we still are, but as far as chemistry, you either have it or you don't." But the simple fact is that audiences want to see their kinetic, acrobatic, and smooth tag style.
As a classic high-flying cruiserweight, he, luchador superstar Super Crazy and two-time women's champion Melina all break the stereotype of wrestlers as juiced-up behemoths. "We definitely don't fit the mold," London said. "If you looked at women wrestlers back in the day, they definitely didn't look like Melina."
Coming through the WWE's "farm league," Ohio Valley Wrestling, Melina Perez had a reputation as a rising wrestling talent. When she got called up to the main roster, it was as a valet, the eye candy accompanying wrestlers to the ring. "I learned wrestling, and then I had to pretend that I couldn't wrestle," she explained. When she was finally allowed back in the ring, she still had to go soft for a while, but that let the audience get to know Melina the wrestler as separate from Melina the valet. "I let people learn with me as I 'learned' how to wrestle."
London came as a fully-rounded talent, a star of the independent circuit whose series of matches with Michael Shane (cousin to multiple WWE champion Shawn Michaels) in Pennsylvania-based Ring of Honor are a matter of legend. "It takes a really unique mixture of an individual to succeed,” he said. “And when I say succeed, I don't mean in the sense of winning championships, but surviving for a month. We all have people we miss that we leave on a weekly basis, but you've got to keep trucking."
But that's not what he attributes his success to. That’s his ability to connect to an audience who see someone in the ring built like them and doing something amazing. When he takes to the air with a top-rope 450 splash, the audience flies with him. “I take pride in looking like an everyday person but still being able to do the things we do," he said, but agreed his look has one distinct upside. "No one would turn if they saw us in the mall, because we don't look like monsters. We're athletes."
"It's a compliment when people see me and say, oh are you a dancer?" added Melina. "Every time I say I'm a wrestler, everyone says oh, I thought you'd be bigger."
With a home event for London, Monday should be a big night, but a plantar fascia injury has sidelined him since September. "It's aggravating, because that's where all my pressure goes." Will he be there Monday? All he would say is that he does have a doctor's appointment in the morning, meaning he might be medically cleared for the ring. But that's beyond his control. "I don't call the shots," he added, grinning. "I don't even call myself. I don't do anything except eat Red Hots."