'GLOW' Fight Coordinator Chavo Guerrero Jr. on Getting Wrestling Right
Posted: Jun 25th 2017 By: Kenny Herzog
What wrestling fan wasn't skeptical when Netflix announced plans to air a dramatized series titled GLOW, based on the infamous (yet beloved) mid-1980s women's promotion of the same name? No doubt that creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch (both former Nurse Jackie writers) and Orange is the New Black mastermind Jenji Kohan would frame a worthy time capsule with feminist undertones. But would they get the wrestling right?
Those worries were salved somewhat when it was announced that Chavo Guerrero, Jr., of the storied Guerrero wrestling family (including his late uncle Eddie and recently deceased father Chavo Sr.), was brought on as GLOW's Fight Coordinator. (His uncle, Mondo, was the real-life show's trainer three decades prior.)
For four weeks, the ex-WWE/WCW star and current Lucha Underground performer/producer put stars Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin and the rest of the cast through their paces learning back bumps, arm rolls and other fundamentals. And beyond that, he became a valuable consultant in Flahive and Mensch's ear, and they dubbed the show's fictional gym Chavo's in tribute.
In other words, whatever you think of GLOW (which offers all 10 first-season episodes for streaming this Friday) as bingeable TV, it's catnip for wrestling marks. Rolling Stone talked with Guerrero about breaking the cast in, the development of mutual respect, and keeping cast member and bona fide female grappler Awesome Kong (nee Kia Stevens) on her toes.
I couldn't help but watch the series as a wary wrestling fan first.
And that's great, because the executive producers had an idea, and then I put my idea in, saying, "We have to be true to the rest of the audience. We have a built-in audience, and if we don't do things correctly, we will turn them off and lose a whole bunch of people." So they were all about being true to a regular Netflix fan but also the wrestling fans, for sure.
To what extent did you creatively consult beyond brass-tacks training?
Remember, I'm putting the Guerrero name on this project. I kind of stated that to the producers, that I'm not just gonna come in as, "Here, we're training the girls, OK, see you later." This is my name, and I take pride in my work. They really embraced that. Being hired as a wrestling coordinator morphed into ordering rings and set designs, and they were even giving me the script beforehand, so I would highlight and change wrestling terminology. They were all about it, it was great.
There was no instance where they wouldn't budge?
Not really. I was explaining to them that the wrestling core audience is so loyal, and they’ll love this show as long as you let them love it. There was never a time where they were like, "No, sorry." I'm not saying in the future that there may not be that time, but as for now, I couldn’t ask for better company to work for.
It's odd seeing your name pop up amid all this mainstream TV coverage. Worlds are definitely colliding.
I love it. What happened, leaving wrestling and then going to Lucha Underground and becoming a producer, and then that morphed into some co-starring stuff and stuntman stuff. It’s kind of been one step to the next, but they all tie in together. I couldn't have done any of it without first being a wrestler. What was cool was [for] the little bit I taught the production about wrestling, they taught me huge amount about TV. It was like I went to Harvard for television.
Did this give you appreciation for what went into producing Nitro and RAW?
For sure. It makes me realize a whole more. Being around production in wrestling for so long, people ask, "How do you know that?" I'm like, "I don't know how I know it. I just know it.” Just really paying attention when I was backstage at Raw and then going to Lucha Underground, and that went above and beyond working on GLOW. Now I’m working with directors and editors and writers. It was really a cool experience.
Your learning curve in TV must have given your empathy for the GLOW cast adapting to wrestling.
Oh, yeah. Remember I wasn't trying to teach these girls how to have a WrestleMania match. I was teaching them how to have a scene in a TV show. That said, we trained them as wrestlers. Typically, a wrestler's training, they kind of beat everybody up and pound it into them. I didn’t want that to happen. I knew these were actresses, and I wanted them to fall in love with wrestling. And I think it worked. I get texts all the time saying, "We miss the ring." Alison Brie texts me, "I miss falling and bumping." They're defending it now. It's awesome to see.
Was Kia aka Awesome Kong rolling her eyes occasionally during training?
No, she was great. There were times she’d pull me aside and say [mimics exasperation], "They're talking too much. They need to shut up and learn this." And I’m like, "Yeah, remember, we're not training them to kill each other, we're training them to be safe." And she's like, "Yeah, you're right." There were times I had to [say], "Hey, alright, let's go," but every one of these girls was so professional. They would stop and get right into it. There were times we were in there signing show tunes [laughs], but when it came down to business, everyone was business.
Did you invariably have them watch Guerrero family matches as homework?
There were times when I'd break out my greatest hits and show off a little bit, but for the most part they's come in and say, "I wanna learn this move," and I'd say, "Mmmm, you'll kill yourself, and let me show you why." They’d watch different things, and then I’d have to explain what they watched. Wrestling is an art form, and you cannot learn it in five weeks.
And they probably appreciated how wrestling’s stayed in your family for almost 100 years.
I think so. They saw right away that I knew my wrestling. I remember one time they stopped and were getting teary-eyed a little and were like, "Thank you Chavo, you've taught us so much." And I'm like, "You've taught me." They taught me more than I taught them, being in the ring with these very accomplished actresses. And they're not just actresses. One's a rock star, another's a famous comedian. They're all talented people outside of just this show. Two weeks in, I was like, "Gosh damn, I wish I had more skills than I do."
Are you hopeful this show will inspire more attention toward women’s wrestling in general?
For sure. This show is hitting on all cylinders: with women's empowerment, the Eighties, with wrestling. I can't speak enough about it, and not just because I was on it. This show's amazing.
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