This appeared on page 8 of the Detours section of the The Knoxville News-Sentinel on Friday, May 22, 1998
SEVIERVILLE - WWF wrestler Marc Canterbury knows he has reached the big time just by going to the toy department at his neighborhood Wal-Mart.
There he is - a 6-inch tall action figure. Or rather, it's a figure of his alter ego - hillbilly rassler Henry O. Godwinn, half of the duo called the Godwinns.
"They tell me we're the biggest-selling tag team (action figure) out there," Canterbury says proudly.
Canterbury's 7-year-old stepson thinks it's cool.
Forget the pay-per-view matches or cables TV exposure. For wrestlers, just like movie stars, becoming a toy means immortality - or at least popularity among the under-10s.
There are the other perks, too. Canterbury, 34, a self-professed hillbilly who got into pro wrestling through the WCW 10 years ago, has traveled the world over for matches and receives fan mail from everywhere he goes. His career has afforded him the kind of lifestyle he probably would not have had as a farmer back in his native West Virginia.
He and his wife, Gina, a nurse at St. Mary's Health Systems, recently built a home in a quiet Sevierville subdivision, a neighborhood where Louise Mandrell has been checking out houses for herself.
But Canterbury - who is 6 foot 4 and weighs 310 pounds - says it's respect he now seeks.
To get it, he says, the Godwinns will have to play the corporate games that drive pro wrestling. The Godwinns aren't taken seriously he says, even in the larger-than-life world of pro wrestling.
Despite being acclaimed by the pro wrestling press, which describes the duo as underappreciated for their skills (they've been the WWF tag-team champs two years running), Canterbury and his cousin, Dennis Knight, who make up the Godwinns, are stuck in mid-card status.
Canterbury says that WWF officials don't think the Godwinns' current image is marketable enough to make them the next Hulk Hogan, though many think either member of the tag-team duo is technically a better athlete.
While, loved by fans, the pair go against the grain of the image a main-event act would have- someone darker, cunning and unpredictable.
The Godwinns are good 'ol boys, hicks with sticks who pour slop on their enemies.
Big business has changed the whole wrestling world, says Canterbury, known as "H.O.G." (Cousin Knight is Phineas I. Godwinn a.k.a. "P.I.G.")
"It's not called rassling anymore," Canterbury says, relaxing on a garden chair on the back porch of his home on a sunny spring morning.
"It's now called sports entertainment," he says. "It's all changed a lot since I got into it. We feel like we aren't getting the respect we should. I mean respect from the fans and from The Office, you know. We are either going to get it or we'll do something else.
"We don't know what we are going to do next. But we are ready to go back into the ring, and we are going to kick a... ."
First up, the Godwinns are getting a makeover. They are shedding their overalls and donning black slacks and jackets. A name change may be forthcoming, too.
"We're going to be more high-tech in the ring, but we are going to keep that hillbilly style," says Canterbury.
In pro wrestling, such changes are not uncommon. Clean-shaven Hulk Hogan has gone from a good guy to a dark-bearded bad guy in recent months, prompting fans to take notice of him for the first time in years.
"It was the smartest thing he could have done," Canterbury says. "If he didn't do it, he would have fizzled out."
When such changes happen, it's to heighten awareness and strengthen fan support for the wrestler. The Godwinns will premiere their new look at Over the Edge, a WWF pay-per-view event to be broadcast from Milwaukee on Sunday, May 31.
Canterbury got into pro wrestling at the very bottom, doing shows on the local circuit. The he did so well that the WCW offered him a two-year contract.
In those days, all wrestling looked for was overbuilt men daring enough to be seen in tights and masks, and to assume flashy names and flashier moves in the ring. Now, crowds are used to more and even demand it. They can get their daily dose of brawling on "The Jerry Springer Show."
"Wrestling has changed, but so have the fans," says Canterbury.
"They want to see more blood. They want to see someone hurt."
Fans have tired of the cartoon antics within the ring. They want punches thrown and teeth flying, Canterbury says. Larger-than-life fights are not impressive anymore. Fans also want their wrestlers to lose the tacky costumes and fancy nicknames, he says.
There's no denying that pro wrestling is big business, complete with monthly pay-per-view events, growing cable TV raitngs and merchandise tie-ins.
On cable TV, pro wrestling is at a peak. Earlier this year, "Wrestlemania," featuring former boxer Mike Tyson, drew its best numbers to date. Two weeks ago, the weekly USA series "Monday Night Raw" garnered a 5.7 rating, its best showing ever.
"Business is good," Canterbury says. "I don't know why now. It seems to come in cycles. We have really broken it open lately."
But Canterbury longs for pro wrestling as it was when he first entered the ring.
"It was exciting at first," he says. "But then you hit a plateau. You know you are better than some of the people out there, but you are still mid-card."
The next step for the Godwinns will be to reappear as allies of D-X, a Generation X-styled group of WWF wrestlers who have caught on with fans.
For good or will, pro wrestling is now an industry booming because of smart marketing, and Canterbury is willing to play the business game.
"Some of the decisions they make bother me," Canterbury says of the corporate side of wrestling. "They try to rush into things too fast without thinking."
"There are people out there now who have not been in wrestling as long as I have, and they have not paid their dues, and they aren't any good at what they do - and they are the main event."
WWF and WCW manufacture their own warriors these days. WCW's Power Plant is a training school for new wrestlers and requirements are stated up front: Applicants must be between the ages of 18 and 30, weigh at least 180 pounds and be 5 foot 9 or taller.
"I had a guy the other day ask me where he could buy wrestling boots," Canterbury says. "That's all some people thinks it takes is some boots. I'll tell you what, it takes more than that to make it in wrestling these days."