YOU CAN TAKE THE WRESTLER OUT OF THE ARENA, BUT…

12. September, 2013

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I recently made a trip to Ottawa for Big Time Pro Wrestling and Bodyslammers Gym.

I had the pleasure of doing a two hour seminar and participate in what started out as a singles match against Damian Styles but wound up as a tag against Magic Mario Bryant and Michael Von Payton, managed by “Mr. Know it All” Shawn Demers.

I want to send a big thank you to Damian, Wayne Cryderman and Derric Hamilton for their exceptional hospitality.  Check out www.bodyslammerscanada.ca if you’re looking for a credible place to train.  I don’t put my stamp on just any school but these guys know their stuff and have an old school respect for the business.  It was refreshing to see how everyone worked hard together and the passion was undeniable.

I had a blast out there in the ring with dedicated pros like Damian Styles, Mario Bryant, Michael Von Payton and Shawn Demers. The crowd was responsive all night and that made it that much more fun.

The whole crew was respectful and a pleasure to be around.  Hope I get an opportunity to return sooner rather than later…

Thanks guys!

I heard an old timer once say “You can take the wrestler out of the arena, but you can’t take the arena out of the wrestler.”

That was during the days when most of the main eventers and top guys were in their late 30’s and 40’s.  A 20 or 30 year career wasn’t unheard of years ago.  Fred Blassie didn’t become a main eventer until he reached 40 years old.  It was a different place and time for sure!

These days, a five year career is considered pretty good.  Ten years?  Man, you’re doing something right. A guy like The Undertaker with 20 plus years is exceptional.

I had my first pro wrestling match October 20, 1979.  This year will mark 33 years since I first got paid to wrestle.  If you count the years I was writing and taking pictures for domestic and Japanese wrestling magazines, working summers through high school and full time when I graduated in the Houston Wrestling office, then becoming  promoter Paul Boesch’s assistant every Friday night, I have a total of 41 years logged working in or around professional wrestling.

I never thought there would come a day when I wouldn’t be a fan of the business.  I found a new passion when I was given the opportunity to start training new prospects for WWE in 1996.  I realized my time as an active performer was coming to an end and I welcomed a new challenge.

Even during training, I would occasionally go on the road, put on a mask and wrestle the same guys I had been working in the ring with for months.  That meant I was the one getting my head taken off by an overzealous former body builder, or take the big splash from an Olympic power lifter who still didn’t know his own strength.

I even worked a match against a young Dwayne Johnson as “Dr. X” and I have to say even at that stage of his career he had something special.

I remember the job of the NWA world champions in the 1960s, 70s and 80s was to come in a territory and go 60 minutes with the top contender at the time.  That meant going a full hour without getting beat or having a two out of three fall match and barely squeaking by, holding onto the championship.

The goal was to have the champ come in and make the local hero or top guy look like he was capable of beating the world champion and have a great match making the territory that much stronger and profitable.

As I watched Dory Funk Jr, Harley Race and Jack Brisco wrestle a full hour on Friday night in Houston, little did I realize they were more than likely going to do the same thing night after night in Odessa, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Corpus Christi or maybe even catch a flight to St. Louis, Portland, Tulsa, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Kansas City or one of many NWA promotions around the country. All three kept that schedule for years!

Dory was 27 when he won the title.  Harley was 33.  Jack was 32.  All relatively young, experienced pros when they won the NWA Heavyweight championship.  They each went on to have a solid career once they dropped the title.  You couldn’t take them out of the arena…

I believe it was Jack Brisco, while working for WWE was at the airport in the middle of winter with snow on the ground and flights being cancelled left and right, decided he was going to catch the next plane heading south.  Sometimes enough is enough!

Dory continued on as did Harley.  Both have successful schools in Ocala FL and Eldon Mo, respectfully.  It is a grind to run a wrestling school.  You have a lot of responsibility and you have to have students to survive.

When I was coaching WWE Developmental one of the goals and early assignments was to be able to wrestle for one full hour, telling a story and keep everything inside the ring.  If you had enough in your repertoire, relaxed and understood timing was the key, you would be fine.

And that was the purpose; learn how to relax, tell a story, slow down and understand timing is everything…

I’ve had some long matches in my career but don’t ever remember going a solid hour. During practice matches I worked with two guys and told a story in a small warehouse located at 4535 South Dale Mabry in Tampa Florida.  Yes, the former home of Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW aka NXT).

I was in not in ring shape by any means but I understood timing and how to breathe.

The first match was against Heath Slater.  After ten minutes went by I told Heath to back drop me out of the corner.  He didn’t want to, but I politely told him to “BACK DROP ME NOW #&%@*!”

And he did…

I broke my ankle when I landed.  I didn’t know it at the time, so I kept working.  I knew it hurt but I’ll be damned if I was going to stop just ten minutes into a 60 minute match!  Hell, I’m smarter than that!

We kept going and everything was fine until the last 30 seconds when Heath had me in a sleeper hold and I could hear him heaving like he wanted to puke.  I’ll give him credit though, he waited until the bell rung and he let me go and ran to the edge of the ring to hurl! It was all nerves and timing. I knew where I was going and anyone with over five solid years of working every night will tell you they mentally know how much time has gone by and how to pace themselves.   I thought then and still believe Heath Slater is a talented individual. I had to wear a walking boot for six weeks but I would have done it all over again given the chance…

The other guy I went an hour with was Rick Victor.  He made the mistake of calling me an “old man” at practice.  I made that same mistake when I was young when I called John Tolos an “old man” on a promo in Los Angeles.  Tolos got really pissed and beat the hell out of me in the ring that night!  I thought he was just being stiffer than usual because it was a good house but I realized he was making a point when we came back to the dressing room and he said “How was that for an old man kid?” Then he proceeded to tell me how it’s never cool to call a ‘veteran’ an old man on a promo or anywhere else for that matter.  “It’ll just make you look stupid when this ‘old man’ kicks your ass!”

Lesson learned.

But Rick Victor didn’t mean any harm (I think).  He was just caught up in the moment of a practice match.  But when I heard the words “old man” the hair on the back of my neck stood up… I told him next week he and I were going to go one on one for 60 minutes.  We were leading up to everyone getting a chance to do a one hour match but I felt it would be a great idea if I went ahead and took the place of Victor’s opponent.

As soon as the words came out of my mouth I thought “Uh oh…This guy’s in great shape and chances are he’s going to blow me up with no problem.”  I worried for about five minutes and then realized I knew how to breathe, relax and slow down.  It really is all in your head…

We had morning and afternoon classes at the time and both showed up to watch.  I thought it was a pretty fair and competitive match.  I finished with a moonsault off the top rope (he moved) as we got a five second count down.  Rick didn’t puke.  He stayed in the match the entire time.  Why did I do it?  I wish I had a logical, sensible answer.  I wasn’t in the greatest shape but I knew I could last an hour.  I knew inside there was nothing that would make me quit.  A broken ankle, sprained finger, a splinter, NOTHING was going to make me quit in either of those one hour matches….

I’m not Ric Flair.  Ric could (and certainly would) wrestle 60 minutes every night right now!  No matter how much we might say “I really don’t want to get back in the ring and wrestle” there’s always something or someone, somewhere that draws us in.  Like a moth to a flame…

It’s good to hear from people you haven’t heard from in a long time.  I got a call from a longtime acquaintance/friend while I had a layover coming back from Ottawa.  I haven’t heard from this guy in a while and out of the blue he called just to say hello and he wanted to stay in touch because “there aren’t many of us left.”

That’s true.  The herd is thinning and a new wave of athletes and performers are making their mark in professional wrestling/Sports Entertainment.  I’ve heard from a few people I haven’t talked to in years over the last couple months.  Some guys are done wrestling; others are still working wherever they can get booked.  We can still laugh about the same things and talk about the new talent coming up.  For the most part, there’s some tremendous young  talent just waiting for the right time to be called up to the main roster.

WWE is in good hands.  There are some of the most creative and passionate people in the world in the inner circle who will be around for years to come.

Philosophies and styles will come and go.  The good thing is if something’s not working, the powers that be will make changes.  The only constant is change…

Speaking of changes, as I write this word has come that Jim Ross is retiring.  I worked for JR when he was head of talent relations.  It was in 1996 that I became the first head coach of the brand new developmental system under JR’s management.  His accomplishments are well noted and documented.  So I will just say thank you for all you’ve done for me as well as the hundreds of Superstars you helped mentor and guide in the right direction.  Enjoy…

Thanks for reading

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