What a month November started out to be.
November 1 my best friend Brad Armstrong passed away. I’m still trying to come to grips with that. Someone told me it does get better and “don’t be sad because he’s gone, be happy because you had him as a friend for so long.” Maybe so, but I still miss him and it is hard to believe he’s gone.
November 13 will mark the seven year anniversary of Eddie Guerrero’s death. I don’t know that I want to write another blog about the death of a friend right now…
Now this time of year will be marked forever as the passing of Brad as well as Eddie. Along with a move from Tampa to Knoxville, changes are taking place all around. I like the fact that new talent are getting opportunities in WWE. Sometimes just one opportunity and your foot in the door is all it takes.
I wrote something a couple blogs back about Kevin Sullivan wanting to wrestle into his 50’s and even 60’s like the Original Sheik (Ed Farhat) did. Growing up I didn’t realize just how old some of the veterans were that I would watch every week. Johnny Valentine had been a main eventer for years all the way into his 40’s. Fred Blassie didn’t become a main eventer until after he reached his 40’s.
I think the wrestling/sports entertainment business is in a Catch 22 spot right now. The top guys are getting older and the schedule is brutal. As a global company, WWE travels all over the world. But it’s the young leading the young. The days of putting a “seasoned vet” with a younger wrestler so he could get better and experience seems outdated and long gone. There are no more 30-40 year in ring careers any more. The pace has changed. The world has changed.
I recommend reading James J Dillon’s book “Wrestlers are like Seagulls.” He talks about this industry being a talent driven business and without fresh new blood it will die on the vine. People are a lot more educated and can see what is and what isn’t in most cases. Besides covering his career, JJ talks about the changes that took place during his time in WWE as well as his open and honest opinions of those he did business with. I read it through once before but it’s still a great reference book.
It took me back to my childhood even though JJ arrived in the Amarillo territory after I moved to Houston. He would later show up in that territory as well managing The Mongolian Stomper and Moondog Mayne. I was a second the night Moondog knocked himself out taking a bad bump in Houston. JJ talks about how mad Paul Boesch was at HIM after the match! I don’t want to spoil any stories but suffice to say it’s a great read if you are a wrestling fan.
JJ brought back memories of the first time I wrestled in the famed Dallas Sportatorium. I wrestled Skandar Akbar. Akbar was announced as being from Iran at the time due to the Iranian hostage crisis that took place in 1979. (Check out the movie “Argo”…) Ak was actually from Texas and was very kind to me that night. This was a case of an aging veteran helping a young, scared rookie through the match. There were some ‘old timers’ who took great offense to “no-dues payin’ young punks” trying to come into their dressing room, work in their ring and be in their business! Ak was one who would rather help and he understood it was better to see the positive side of developing new talent instead of burying it.
From October 20 through the first of the year I wrestled around the Louisiana-Mississippi-Arkansas-Oklahoma territories to get some experience before heading to Los Angeles. I made some long road trips by myself and occasionally someone I didn’t really know would jump in with me. They were all great trips because while traveling many miles by car you learn how to keep yourself entertained.
I made an early morning TV at the Tulsa, OK fairgrounds where I first met Brian Blair and Jimmy Garvin. I was booked in a spot show somewhere in Oklahoma that night and another new guy by the name of Herb Calvert asked if he could jump in with me. Herb was a big former college football player; just the kind of guy they liked in that neck of the woods…
He seemed like a nice enough guy and it was a good trip. When we got the high school gym that night, business was pretty good. I don’t know if it was sold out and they “were hanging from the rafters” but it was a respectable crowd. I was scheduled to wrestle Skandar Akbar again and the main event was a Over the Top Rope Battle Royal with everyone on the card involved.
As I’m getting dressed, I hear Brian Blair ask Garvin “Is tonight that one boot battle royal?” Jimmy went “Oh yeah!” He then called the referee over and told him to ‘remind’ everybody on the other side about the ‘one boot battle royal.’
I didn’t say a word but I got the feeling something was up. Brian then came over to me and said that tonight was a special match because Oki Shikina had been using a loaded boot and the stipulations were that he would have to remove his right boot and then demanded that the commission force everyone else to do the same. Ummm, OK….
I thought it was a rib and debated on what to do. The referee came to me and said “Look, you need to take your boot off or it’ll be worse when you come back.” So I took my right boot off as the rest of the guys headed to the ring. Brian yelled to them “Guys don’t forget to take your boot off!”
I unlaced my right boot and was the last one out the door. As I hobbled to the ring wearing just my left boot I saw everyone else wearing both of theirs. And then it dawned on me. I know who Oki Shikina is and I now remember, HE WRESTLED BAREFOOT ANYWAY!
I got in the ring and a couple of the guys said “Where’s your boot kid?” They were laughing and chopping me until Akbar came and got me and whispered “Somebody ribbin’ you kid?” I said “I think so” and Ak proceeded to tell me “get outta here” and threw me over the top rope.
I went back to the dressing room, shook everybody’s hand and laughed along with them. Later on the ride back to Tulsa, Herb told me I did the right thing. Ribs were part of the business and it broke up the monotony. There were far more characters and veterans from the real ‘old school’ that just played by a different set of rules. I was fortunate and happy to experience and be a part of it.
It also gave me a story to tell and Brian and Garvin to embellish and add their own twist as well when I would see them through the years. I wouldn’t trade those days for anything.
We tend to romantisize the past at times. But I look back and while it might have been a gypsy life style and a new adventure every night driving and sometimes flying from town to town, the only constant is change. If you stay the same while the world around you changes, you’ll be left behind. When cable TV came on the scene, a few guys forcasted the future. They said one day the business would be controlled by one company or source. It was inevitable.
Are things better or worse? Financially, much better. Creatively, debatable. Either way I hope the young talent of today develop their own style and way of doing things. I have no doubt they will.
But I have to admit, I do miss the ‘good ol’ days’ at times…
Thanks for reading.