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Saturday May 25, friends and family paid their final respects and said goodbyes to Ronnie West.
Jimmy Powell and Bobby Simmons officiated the service. Bill Dundee gave a heart felt tribute. Brent and Rodney West did a fine job of putting together a video montage of their Dad’s life that played throughout. I believe Ronnie would have been happy and proud of the turnout.
Bobby relayed a story when he questioned Ron about transitioning from wrestling to the circus and his reply was he’s going from “promoting fat men to promoting fat elephants!” I have no doubt Ronnie felt right at home and showed Cole Brothers a better, efficient way of running their show…There was plenty representation from the wrestling and circus world. While it’s nice to see some old friends and acquaintances I wish it could be under different circumstances.
There are 2 Brad Armstrong Memorial shows coming up with the proceeds going to his daughter’s trust fund. I’m looking forward to participating on both events.
The first will be June 8 in Milton FL at the Milton Community Center. Bell time is 8 PM. The second is June 16 in Knoxville TN at Chilhowee Park and will feature over 55 wrestlers coming in from across the country to pay tribute and honor Brad.
Details for both events are listed under the Appearances tab.
Football players in wrestling is nothing new. In the territory days a lot of football players supplemented their income during the off season. Two of my favorites were Wahoo McDaniel and Ernie Ladd.
It’s been a hellova year so far…
Brad Armstrong passed away Nov.1 last year. Paul Bearer died March 5 this year.
May 8 marked 11 years Davey Boy Smith passed away. Two years ago May 20, Randy Savage suffered an apparent heart attack while driving down the road.
14 years ago May 23, Owen Hart fell to his death from the roof of the Kemper Arena in Kansas City. I was there that night and will never forget the shock and sadness everyone felt backstage.
Last Wednesday, May 15 another colleague, friend and member of the wrestling fraternity passed away. His name was Ron West. Ron was a referee and front office manager for all the major promotions from the 1960’s – 1990’s. In recent years he had been with Cole Brothers Circus doing the same thing he used to do in wrestling. Managing all the details from set up to break down, there was no one better than Ron West.
On April 6, join Jordan Coulson and I for a Wrestlemania pre show live from Queens NY @ 1 PM! Check out www.wrestlemaniapreshow.com and @maniapreshow on Twitter. Presented by Vegas Fuel.
Just got off the phone with my good friend and mentor “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes and during the course of our conversation he came up with this gem: “Yesterday’s dead, tommorow’s blind; We live one day at a time…”
Words of wisdom to be sure.
March 20 marks two years that Sir Oliver Humperdink passed away from bladder cancer. Sir Oliver (Red Sutton) grew up a wrestling fan and became one of the greatest managers of all time. He had a look that got instant heat and a passion for the wrestling business. He was a great guy and a lot of fun.
March 22 will mark the one year passing of Joe Blanchard and four years since Steve Doll died. Joe is the father of HOF’er Tully Blanchard as well as being a former wrestler turned promoter in San Antonio. Joe was always good to me when I started out and was well respected throughout the wrestling community.
Steve Doll had success in Portland, Texas and Tennessee before heading to WWE as one half of “Well Dunn” with Rex King.
Over the years we’ve lost some good friends and great people. The recent passing of Paul Bearer is now the cornerstone for an intriguing match at Wrestlemania.
I love this time of year. WWE will put on a tremendous show and set the bar higher each year at Wrestlemania. Truth is stranger than fiction. Putting matches together and letting them evolve organically can cause twists and turns no one could imagine. The best laid plans are never set in stone and even then there’s no telling what will happen…
Many of us were saddened by the death of Paul Bearer. When CM Punk interrupted The Undertaker during RAW and stole the urn at the end of the show, people were outraged at the disrespect and lack of class by WWE. Now the urn and Paul Bearer’s memory will be used to help the build up for Taker VS. Punk at Mania. How could they!
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.
“Leaves are falling all around. It’s time I was on my way.
Thanks to you, I’m much obliged for such a pleasant stay.
But now it’s time for me to go. The autumn moon lights my way.
For now I smell the rain, and with it pain, and it’s headed my way.
Sometimes I grow so tired, but I know I’ve got one thing I got to do….
My wife and I left Tampa late Tuesday night Oct. 30 and drove to a cabin in Pigeon Forge TN to wait for our new home in Knoxville to be ready. She was in one car with two dogs listening to her country music and I was rockin’ out in mine.
I put Zeppelin in and called some friends along the way. I called Brad Armstrong to let him know we were finally leaving Tampa after waiting all day for movers to arrive. I told him we planned on driving straight through. He told me to be safe and he’d talk to me tomorrow. I talked to Brad literally every day or every other day if we were both too busy to get to the phone.
“Ramble On” was fitting for the trip. September through November are the autumn months and the “autumn moon lights my way” to Tennessee. I was moving on and I had a pleasant stay in Tampa but it was time I was on my way to a new adventure.
I didn’t smell the rain or the pain that was headed my way…
But man did it ever. Why…Why take Brad. Why God?
My wife, dogs and I arrived at 7:30 AM to our cabin in the mountains on Halloween. We were exhausted and crashed. Around 10:30 Brad called to make sure we made it and asked what time we got there. In Brad’s “incredulous” tone he said “You’re telling me you drove ALL night and got in at 7:30? What a trip! I’m going trick or treatin’ tonight so call me later.” I told him I would and hung up.
We got up later, showered and grabbed something to eat. By the time we got rolling that day it was about 5:30 PM. Brad’s taking Jillie out trick or treating… I’ll call him tomorrow.
We got some sleep that night. My wife went to our daughter’s apartment to do some work. We had no Internet access. I guess going to a “getaway in the mountains” Internet isn’t a priority. So I take the dogs for a walk and call Brad. No answer.
About five minutes later, Lori called me back on Brad’s phone and told me she had tried to wake Brad up and couldn’t so she called 911 and was following the ambulance now. I was stunned. I knew she had to take care of things but Lori promised to call me back as soon as she knew something.
I immediately called my wife who did her best to calm me down. Now all I can do is wait. A little over an hour later Lori called me back and said “He passed away.”
I lost it. I broke down. I was in shock. Lori was in shock and needed to take care of things and I told her I would call her or she can call me when she knows more. We would talk later that day…. I called my wife with the news. She had things to do and offered to come back but there was nothing she could do. There was nothing anyone could do.
Apparently Brad died in his sleep from a heart attack. I just wrestled him in Pell City, AL in a tag match Oct. 27. It was supposed to be a tag match with Brad reuniting with Tim Horner as the “Lightening Express” against Micah Taylor and me. Tim recently lost his father and along with some health issues he was having was unable to make the show. ‘Mad Dog’ Dan Sawyer filled in as Brad’s partner. I saw the same Brad I’d seen for years. We discussed nothing about the match. We went out and just did it.
After the match we both weren’t sure we “did enough” and joked about “not being able to do what we used to.” After all was said and done, we hugged, told him to be careful and we both said “I love you.” He was headed back to Kennesaw that night and I was going back to Tampa that Sunday and get ready for my move.
Brad was a special guy. I met him during my first run in Atlanta around 1982. We traveled many roads together. We wrestled as partners on a few occasions but Brad has to be my favorite opponent to wrestle against. He was so smooth and natural in the ring. As a ‘good guy’ or ‘babyface’ he was perfect for any ‘bad guy’ or ‘heel’ to work with. If you couldn’t have a good match with Brad you didn’t belong in the ring. Brad always worked for the match and always made his opponent look so much better than he might have been. I know. Brad carried me and I had some of the greatest matches in my career with him.
I really don’t know what to say. I lost my best friend in the world. Brad could do it all in wrestling but he was so much more than that. He was an incredible father and husband.
He lived to take his daughter Jillian to school, go on class field trips, help her study and be there for her. Brad’s family meant more to him than having a full time job with WWE, traveling and never being home. He very well could have and would have been a huge asset and help in training some of the younger talent on the road. But he didn’t want to stray too far from home. He wanted to be there for Jillie and one day walk her down the aisle…
He loved his wife Lori. If we were having a bad day or just going through what everybody goes through, we could call each other and let it out and by the end of the conversation we would be laughing and one or both of us would remind each other how lucky we really are to have the wives and kids we do. Lori has done a great job holding up. But she’s in her “mom zone” as my wife explained. She hasn’t had time to really stop yet. Arrangements need to be made. She needs to be strong for everybody else. She needs to be strong for Jillie. Brad and I really do have amazing wives. I don’t know how she’s done it.
Brad’s wrestling career is pretty well documented. He was known as under rated, smooth as silk and one of the very best to ever step into a ring. It spoke volumes when he defeated Ernie Ladd for the North American Championship in Bill Watt’s Louisiana territory. That place was known as a big man territory for years and for Bill Watts and Ernie Ladd to pick Brad to become the new champion demonstrated the respect, admiration and confidence they had in him to carry the company’s top title.
World champions wanted to wrestle Brad when they would come to Pensacola or Atlanta because they knew they were going to have a tremendous match and he would be on spot for anything. Brad and I talked about when he wrestled Harley Race at 19 years old in Atlanta and Ric Flair when he came through Alabama.
In Pell City we were talking about how much the business has changed. Everybody was going over their matches and we shared war stories. He told me about the time Lou Thesz called him to go on a tour of Australia and he thought somebody was ribbing him. He eventually realized it was Lou Thesz and he said he couldn’t believe he called and actually wanted him on his tour! I could believe it. I then had to tell him about ordering Lou’s book “Hooker” and he sent me a primitive wire bound copy autographed that said “To Tom, I am proud of your progress. Your friend, Lou Thesz 2-20-97.” Because we were moving I had some items that are special to me in a certain place so as soon as I got home I took a picture of it on my phone and sent it to him. We both laughed that 95% of the guys starting out today wouldn’t even know who Lou Thesz was, nor would they care!
I have so many stories about Brad that I could write and talk about all day. But the one thing I can’t stress enough is how much he loved his family. He was a loyal and trusting friend. He was a great man. I wish there was something I could say that hasn’t already been said. I’ve never heard anyone say a negative word about Brad. He was an incredible, humble man who never met a stranger. He was kind and friendly to everyone he came in contact with. He was happiest when he was with his daughter Jillie. He adored her and she loved her dad.
There is a huge void in many people’s lives. I am still in shock and riding an emotional roller coaster. This couldn’t happen…This shouldn’t have happened…but it did.
I feel like Brad and I were brothers from different mothers. I feel as though I’ve been a part of his family and life as he’s been such a huge part of mine. I’ve wrestled every Armstrong except his mom Gail. It was always a pleasure and a ‘night off” any time you stepped in the ring with Brad, Scott, Steve, Brian or Bullet Bob.
My heart is hurting and there is a hole in my soul right now. There is no one like Brad. And there never will be again. I’m trying to wrap my head around the fact that I won’t be able to just pick up the phone and say “I have nothing to say and all day to say it” or just call and hear his voice, tell a joke and laugh to start the day. Any time of day Brad would know how to change the mood from sad to glad. He was one of the most entertaining people backstage anyone has ever known. And if you were his friend, he was there when you needed him.
I wish there was something I could have done. I can wish all day but that won’t change anything.
So let me close by saying goodbye to my best friend Brad. I love you and always will. I will still talk to Brad, just not by phone. I believe he is looking down on all of us and here with me in my heart and spirit. Rest In Peace my brother and friend.
As I write this I am in the process of moving back to Knoxville, TN. Hurricane Sandy is moving up the coast and while the east side of Florida is supposed to get the majority of the rain, Tampa has gotten a lot of wind that last couple days. My wife’s name is Sandi (with an i) but she’s been catching grief from people who like to make analogies. I’m breaking this blog up into different days and will probably publish it Monday. I am actually leaving Tuesday, Oct. 30 and will have limited web access.
Sandy is wreaking havoc on the east coast as I type this final entry while in Tampa, FL. The weather reports I’m getting now out of Knoxville is it will be cold, windy and pretty miserable by the time we arrive. Can’t wait!
There is no fear or loathing going on concerning my move back to Knoxville.
I thought Hunter S. Thompson was a great writer and genius. Well, I don’t know about the genius part, but he did write some good stuff (if you’re into that). The term “Gonzo journalism” is attributed to Mr. Thompson’s style. While “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” was a great book, I really enjoyed the movie with Johnny Depp.
The visuals and dialog was as realistic for me knowing what that experience is like. The first scenes in Jacob’s Ladder told me this was an “acid trip” and the two people I was with were lost. They had a hard time following the movie and plot until the end showed and explained everything. But Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas makes no bones about the fact it’s full of drugs and craziness. Which I certainly could appreciate and relate to at one time. (Those days are long gone, by the way…)
Change is the only constant in life. I should be used to it by now. And I am to an extent. The world is changing as I write this. We have a Presidential election coming up, chaos in almost every corner of the world and the wrestling/sports entertainment business is going through transitions. Introducing new talent, getting them over and getting business back on track. Three hours of RAW, Two hours of Smack Down, One hour on Wednesday nights and an hour on Saturday, plus a monthly PPV equals a LOT of programming not to mention the Tweets, Touts and Facebook that almost every Superstar in WWE has to participate in for visibility!
I fought doing Twitter and FB for the longest time. Now I remember why. The twitter stuff can be informational and useful and that’s why I started it to begin with. But the other side is the ridiculous, stupid crap I see on a daily basis that I’ve got caught up in by sending a smart ass remark back to someone who just doesn’t get it or ever will. Same with Facebook. But I can see the “necessary evil” with social media these days. It’s everywhere and we aren’t going to escape it any time soon.
I sometimes ask rhetorical questions just to get a reaction and then realize I would have been better to just leave it alone. I know wrestling isn’t going back to the way it used to be. The Internet won’t allow that. I don’t know that fans will allow it either! Everyone talks about going back to the old days but truth be told, wrestling has evolved and continues to evolve to keep up with the times. It ain’t yesterday no more (I swear I’m going to write a song with that title!)
But I still think there’s room for good wrestling out there. Telling stories and getting the audience emotionally involved can still happen if performers understand how to make that magic happen. It doesn’t happen overnight but I think there are still some veterans out there that can help teach timing and make perspective talent understand they are selling emotion more than anything else. Only time will tell.
Some of the stars are getting older and beat up. This is the time for new talent to step up and prove it’s their time to shine in the spotlight. I hope the wealth of talent in developmental get their opportunity sooner rather than later. It’s hard to give up your spot and let some “young punk” come in and take over. But change is inevitable. We all get older and can’t move like we used to. Some can retire and walk away. Others don’t know how or when to walk away from the ring. It can be a hard decision when this is all you’ve done your adult life.
I’m rolling the dice returning to Knoxville. What I saw years ago on the independent scene made me vow to never go back to them again. I’ve made it clear how I feel about the “play rasslers” who go out a do their thing in front of 20-30 family members like it’s their weekly softball game. I have some projects I’m looking into and am anxious to see how they play out. Either way, it’s all good.
Tampa was great. I loved it. Still do. But I like Knoxville too. I’m going to miss some people in Florida but I get to reunite with some old friends in Tennessee. I have some great prospects and opportunities but I’m not counting any chickens yet! I know college game days find the city of Knoxville enamored with the color orange and you can’t go anywhere without seeing an orange Tee shirt or loyal Vol fan. Change can be good. It will definitely be different!
I’ve gone through the gamut of emotions the last year. My brother had a heart attack, had a major change take place in my life, got offers from incredible people and places, lost a couple good friends and Mike Graham recently passed away.
While I wasn’t big buddies with Mike, his passing hit me hard. I worked with Mike in the early 1980’s in Amarillo and one other town I can’t remember the name of. We crossed paths through the years, but I got to know him better during my time in Tampa. Mike could be opinionated at times and I always got along with him. While I was shocked, I wasn’t surprised to hear how he died. No one can judge a person’s actions or state of mind unless they’ve been where they’ve been. It’s not easy to say goodbye. Mike will be missed by his many friends and fans who knew him during his wrestling days. He was always upbeat, funny and offered advice to anyone who asked when he came by FCW. R.I.P. Mike.
I plan on spending a couple days in the mountains with no Internet access. I might find someplace with limited access but it might do everybody some good that I’m not connected for a little while. I’ve always enjoyed the Smoky Mountains and cabins away from everything. It’s good to clear your mind and get away from the hustle and bustle of a city atmosphere and chill in a cabin in the mountains. If you ever get the chance, try it. You might like it. Or not…
Like I said at the top of this blog, we are expecting some brutal weather but I’ve survived more than one storm in my life and I’ll survive this one too.
I had a great time at Global Championship Wrestling in Pell City, AL. Oct. 27. I teamed with Micah Taylor against Brad Armstrong and Mad Dog Dan Sawyer. Tim Horner was supposed to re-unite with Brad as The Lightening Express. Unfortunately, Tim’s father passed away earlier in the week and due to an illness on top of that, Tim was unable to attend. Regaurdless how I might feel about Tim Horner professionally, he was close to his dad and while I might have questioned his guts and integrity on Saturday night, I know Tim would have loved nothing more than to be in Pell City knocking my head off with his dreaded right hand KO punch! I’ll put Horner’s punching ability up against Big Show’s anytime!
I will say Mad Dog proved to be a good partner for Brad but it would have done him better to “shut up” and listen instead of trying to go into business for himself. Just my opinion. I don’t mind doing business but sometimes it’s better to listen instead of trying to impress somebody who’s seen and wrestled some of the greatest if not THE greatest wrestlers in the world (and trained a few) before you ‘go into business for yourself.’ I appreciate the professionalism showed by all but it seems the more things change the more they stay the same! Don’t know if I’ll be invited back to GCW but Mad Dog knows where I stand and that’s all I’ll say about that. Micah Taylor is a man who never got a true opportunity when he was in WWE developmental years ago, but he is just as talented as ever and it was a pleasure working with him and manager JJ “Boom Boom” Tanner in our corner.
I received a horror novel in PDF form written by an acquaintance that has me intrigued. But I’ve also been re-reading “Wrestlers are like Seagulls” by James J. Dillon. It’s funny how the more things
change, the more they stay the same. I highly recommend JJ’s book. It gives you an insight from someone who was on the inside and up close and personal for some very intense moments in WWE. I was never in JJ’s pay grade, nor did I have his responsibilities but I did see and hear enough that it was like deja vu…
The horror book hasn’t been published yet and I’m only on page 62, but it has all the ingredients you need for a horror story. I am finding myself in-between reading, writing and trying to pack.
What lies ahead, who knows. That’s the great part about life. You can make anything you want happen if you work hard enough. Next Level Wrestling is one of many projects and ideas that are on the table. It’s an exciting time for professional wrestling/sports entertainment. I’m interested in watching Ryback dominate WWE in the near future. I hope he gets the ball and scores beyond expectations. I had the opportunity to watch this man grow from a developmental talent, hit some highs and run into some huge lows. I admire his work ethic and ability to recover, never take no for an answer and become such a center piece figured in for the WWE title picture. But it still lies on his shoulders to make it happen. I for one hope Ryback gets the ball and scores the winning combination of being the man in WWE! We’ll see.
I know we have a cabin in the Smokies somewhere. Limited to no Internet at best from what I understand. So if you order anything, send an email and I don’t get right back to you, please give me a break. I will make ever effort to respond ASAP. Moving sucks! But I love an adventure…
Next time you hear from me will be from Knox-Vegas!
Thanks for reading.
Cynicism is a pretty common feeling after a while in this business. I haven’t been to a wrestling convention in a long time and I have to admit, with the economy and overall feeling in the country today, I was curious how the turnout would be for The Legends of the Ring Convention in Monroe, NJ this past Saturday.
Friday I was booked in Rahway, NJ for PWS to sign autographs and have a match against a rookie and best friend of Zach Ryder named The Big O. Dave Chudy with Extreme Autographs set me and some others up to be at both events and I have to say Dave and his team did a great job and were professional and a pleasure to work with all weekend.
When I started this blog I didn’t want it to be or become a “this is what I did today” type deal. But this weekend is one of those that warrants almost a ‘journal entry’ if you will….
I got up at 4 AM Friday morning to catch a 6:15 flight from Tampa to Newark. I packed the night before, printed my boarding pass, made sure I had what I needed and all I had to do was shower, dress and go. My wife dropped me off and I planned it just right. I got thru the first TSA check point, took the tram to the terminal, got in line and as I get to the “take everything out of your pockets, make sure you take your lap top and liquids out of your bag” part of my journey, I realized I forgot my phone.
I have all my numbers in my cell and haven’t dialed one in years! How did anybody exist or function without a cell phone?? Very nicely, thank you.
But now I’m panicking because I know there will be a point this weekend that I’m going to need my phone! I got through security, went right to my gate and asked “Does the airport even have pay phones anymore?” The ladies behind the desk didn’t know if they did or didn’t (they do) but they let me use the phone behind the counter to call my wife and bring me my cell.
Now I have to go back to security and explain what happened. The flight will be boarding in about 30 minutes and the line is starting to pile up. I get back on the tram, go down to departing flights and wait for my wife to bring my phone.
She hadn’t had a lot of sleep either and had to be up early but she (being the greatest wife in the world!) brought my phone to me with a smile. She really is the best wife in the world!
Anyway, I went back to the express line and got to the gate as everyone was boarding. Jimmy Hart was on the same flight and even though he had been up since 2 AM, we still talked the majority of the way there and took about a 30 minute “power nap.”
Dave Chudy picked us up along with Armando Estrada and took us to the Crowne Plaza in Monroe, NJ. The show that night was in Rahway for PWS and he was coming back to get us around 4.
Jimmy decided to go help Dave set up while Armando and I went to the restaurant. I hadn’t seen Armando in a long time but we picked up the conversation like we just saw each other last week.
We ordered breakfast and began reminiscing when Shane Helms walked in and joined us. The conversation never stopped or lagged. We seemed to find something to talk about for about an hour and then decided we would get some rest before the show.
I’ve known Jimmy Hart for years. He’s always been upbeat, energetic and has an infectiously positive attitude. I don’t think I’ve heard Jimmy say a bad word about anybody in the business. He will go the extra mile to help promote or set up a show or event. He’s always entertaining and makes every event he’s at something special with his energetic style and charisma.
Last time I saw Paul Bearer was at Wrestlemania in Miami. He flew into Philadelphia and drove to Monroe for the matches Friday and convention Saturday. Dave was on his way to pick us up but I decided to jump in with Paul and go to the show. Again, the conversation picked up like we just got off the phone yesterday.
Of course New Jersey has tolls and traffic that isn’t as prevalent in Mobile Al. and we were following one of PB’s favorite people and agent/manager of the Iron Sheik who kept weaving in and out of traffic, so the conversation was sprinkled with colorful language that would have made Jim Cornette proud! This agent had to stop to pick up the Sheik so we pulled in as well.
The Iron Sheik is the guy who trained me when he was in Texas in the mid 1970’s so he has a special place in my life and my heart. It was good to see him. His agent had him in a wheel chair though and when he saw us and had to walk all the way to our car to say hello, hug and stand in the cold for about 15 minutes!
Traffic at 4 PM on a Friday anywhere is crazy but the northeast takes it to another level! We were supposed to be at the venue at 5. It’s about 4:45 at this point and planning isn’t one of this agent’s strong points. But we eventually got the Sheik loaded up and we were on our way. (I’m leaving this “agent’s” name out to protect the innocent!)
So far I’m feeling pretty good about the way things are going. I’m seeing people I haven’t seen in a long time as well as new, eager wrestlers who are just as excited seeing some of the legends backstage.
DDP gave me a yoga DVD a while back and I just recently started using it. I told him how great I thought it was and I recommend anyone who wants to get more flexibility or just feel better to try it. He helped me stretch before my match.
The show that night was with PWS ran by Pat Buck. Pat is someone with passion and works hard. It was obvious by the turnout he had. You can tell how hard a show is promoted usually by the amount of people in the stands and this was a packed house. I’ll ‘guesstimate’ around 800-1,000 people.
I had a match against Zach Ryder’s best friend, The Big O for the Texas championship. Big O was accompanied to the ring by Becky Bayless and I came out on the losing end. The kid looks great. He’s green and just needs some experience. I met Becky in Florida a couple years ago and have seen her wrestle. She is a class act and very nice lady. The only way to get better is get out there, travel, get yourself booked in different places, make contacts and network where and when you can. The Big O is a powerful guy with a lot of potential. He has passion. I hope he gets the opportunity to learn this craft traveling and making contacts. I also hope I get to work with him again soon.
I got to see some old friends and even some former FCW alumni like Bill Carr (AKA Bobby Dutch) and Curt Hawkins. There were a lot of guys I wanted to visit with but figured I’d see them at the convention Saturday. There were people all over the place!
I thought the convention was a success. I got to see some old friends and people I knew but hadn’t had the opportunity to meet. But for the most part I stayed at the table as we had a steady stream of people so I couldn’t make my way across the room and say hello to some of the guys.
This was the first time in a long time that I went to a show and convention where it was fun, organized (from my perspective) and I enjoyed being around everyone. Jimmy Hart and Paul Bearer are two people that represent this business with class and dignity. Both are quality people who realize how fortunate they are to be able to do what they do and appreciate it. It appeared to me that the majority of the guys there got it and were appreciative that there are people who will still come out to see them, want to talk with them, and reminisce about their “glory days.”
I know I appreciated every person who came to the table even if it was just to look and say hello. There were fans who gave me some old pictures from Alabama, Houston and St. Louis. Some just wanted to ask general wrestling questions. One lady came all the way from Italy. She told me her brother bought my book and she came to the states to pursue a wrestling career. She wanted me to clarify something in the book so we went to the page and I explained it.
There was the young man named Shawn Sixsmith who made me my own “action figure” and I couldn’t thank him enough. He made other action figures of various people there and that to me says a lot about the passion, commitment he has for pro wrestling/sports entertainment. I think the majority of us ‘old timers’ were wrestling fans growing up and I for one, can appreciate when someone takes the time to give one of their favorite performers a picture, ‘action figure’ or just come over and talk about a childhood memory that was special to them.
I grew up a wrestling fan. Not everyone who becomes a wrestler was a fan growing up and there’s nothing wrong with that. I was fortunate to live my dream and do what I wanted to do. We all dream about being the world champion. I was co-holder of the WWF World Tag Team Championship with Chris Candido. While it wasn’t a singles run, at least I can say I was held a “World Championship” with the premier organization on the planet. That and $5 might get you a Starbucks coffee.
But I was and still am a wrestling fan. I know how I was treated as a fan and a rookie when I broke into the business. There were some nice and no-so-nice guys that I crossed paths with. I appreciated the help from veterans and people over the years. I hope I treated people the way I want to be treated. Professional wrestling had a bad rap for years. The fans of pro wrestling get a bad rap at times (some justified, some not). There was nothing like this as far as getting up close and be in such an intimate setting with wrestlers when I was growing up. The closest thing to it was a Fan Club convention called the Wrestling Fans International Association (WFIA). The president at that time (Don Wilson) would get a local territory to host their conventions every year and a few of the wrestlers would show up for a brief time. But it was nothing like it is today, up close and personal!
The majority of wrestlers there this weekend were gracious and enjoyed talking with fans. Being a fan growing up I know how it feels when you meet or stand in front of someone you’ve watched and followed on TV or appear “larger than life.” It can be surreal and a really cool experience. Or it could be a let down and the biggest disappointment in the world.
We tend to forget that just because someone is famous or on TV doesn’t mean they aren’t human and have good and bad days. At a convention like this I think the guys enjoy being remembered and appreciated. No matter what anybody says, it’s nice to have people remember things that they related to as a fan and take the time to come and see that man or woman who impacted their lives or at least gave them some enjoyment watching you perform over the years.
I was a heel most of my career and as a rule back then, heels weren’t supposed to be nice or talk with fans. I preferred not talking to people and of course that made me an even bigger a$$ in my personal life as well but I could live with it. Conventions like this where people have the opportunity to meet and actually spend some time with one of their favorite wrestlers or just someone they might have heard about over the years are great and work out for everybody for the most part. Sure, you might get the “cranky” Superstar or the “over-bearing” fan but as an over all positive experience you can’t beat it!
I look forward to doing more conventions and appearances in the near future.
October 20, I’ll be in Staten Island doing a camp and celebrating my in ring debut 33 years ago. The following week (Oct. 27) I will be in Pell City, Alabama. Check the Appearances section on the right for more information. These days I’m happy there are still some people who remember and even more so care to have me at their events or on the card! I have no illusions about what I did (and didn’t) do in the business. I’m still a fan. I’m more a fan of people who pay their hard earned money to mingle in a room of men and women they got to watch perform over the years, show their appreciation, share memories and leave satisfied at the end of the day.
To any independent wrestler that might read my blogs, you know I can be critical of “play rasslers.” I’m also critical of anybody who doesn’t understand that people who go to watch independent cards are the real passionate ones who not only deserve to be treated to a good show, they should be treated with respect as well. They are paying to see a live wrestling event and you should deliver the best product possible. Don’t dog it because there’s a smaller than anticipated crowd. Those are the people you should appreciate more because they are there supporting your event! Heels be heels. Good guys be good guys. It is different these days. You want people to come back and you want them to tell their friends, get the word out and develop a following.
Treat people the way you want to be treated. Some people can be jerks and it can be hard to bite your tongue. Boy, do I know that feeling! But you can pretty much tell if someone is being sincere or just busting your chops. Either way, you’re supposed to be the “pro” so act like one. Real fans will appreciate that.
Thanks for reading.
As I write this I’m thinking about this weekend. Friday night I will actually be wrestling in Rahway, NJ for Pro Wrestling Syndicate against The Big O. Saturday I’m doing an autograph signing in Monroe, NJ for www.legendsofthering.com.
|The Real “Big O”|
This might come to a shock to some but I remember seeing the original “Big O” AKA Bob Orton Sr. wrestle when I was a kid. Yes, Randy Orton’s grandfather. I understand that the Big O I’m facing is young, in great shape and is close, personal friends with Zach “Woo Woo” Ryder. Impressive credentials to say the least. And of course, that is the least I will say. I am looking forward to it as there will be many former associates and friends there as well. Pat Buck and PWS are a class act and I’m sure this event won’t disappoint. Check out www.bedofnailz.com for more info.
Looking ahead to a lot of changes. Also have to take a look at the past for a moment. October 19 will mark 9 years Mike Hegstrand AKA Hawk of The Road Warriors and Legion of Doom passed away. It almost seems surreal that it’s been 9 years but time keeps marching on. Hawk was a friend and one of the nicest, funniest, caring people in the world. He was lean, big and bad no doubt; but if he was your friend he would do anything in the world for you.
October 20 will mark my 33 year wrestling debut in Bryan, Texas. I started working in the Houston wrestling office for Paul Boesch during the summer of 1975-76 and then full time from the time I graduated high school in 1977. Paul let me go down to the coliseum with the Iron Sheik (who was wrestling as Muhammid Farouk at that time) Friday afternoons before the matches started to work out. Finally in 1979, a local wrestler and his partner (Nick Kozak and Joe Mercer) booked a show in Bryan, Texas with former Pittsburgh Steeler Ernie Holmes in the main event. I had been training at Nick and Joe’s wrecker service after Sheik left the territory and Paul gave me his blessing to do the show.
|With Paul Boesch 1980|
I was in the opening match against the evil, masked “Satanico # 2.” I think Santanico # 1 had to babysit while his wife worked the late shift. Anyway, # 2 was one of Joe’s wrecker drivers and he’s had a few matches ‘here and there’ (always suspicious of that term), and made sure he laid everything in and was stiff as he could be. I knew I was going to take a beating and I gave receipts back. I won my first match! And I got $12! I was on my way! I wouldn’t have traded that experience for anything in the world.
|Ring Announcer Boyd Pierce|
It was the “wild, wild west” back then. I’d been working in the office, Paul Boesch’s assistant at the matches on Friday nights and got to know the wrestlers. I was working out with Mark Lewin and would pick him up to go to the gym at his small apartment on Telephone Road. Once I got that first match under my belt Boyd Pierce helped me get booked in Louisiana,Oklahoma and Arkansas. I would still work at the office and make my shots on the weekends.
Eventually Paul got me booked to go to Portland, Oregon for Don Owen. Gary Hart booked me in Los Angeles at the same time. I went to LA first and eventually made it to Portland in 1984.
It’s been a long road. I made some good calls and some horrible ones as well. I think they call that “life.” Nobody’s perfect.
There was no Internet when I started. No VCRs. Promoters taped over their shows to save money on stock. But there are a few early matches out there that make me cringe. I’ve kept a lot of stuff from my days as a fan. Hell, I’m still a fan! I recently found autographed pictures of Bobby Shane (a good one to look up), Tim Woods, Red Bastien, Harley Race and me together when I was 16 working in the office and that’s just the tip of the pictures, programs, posters and clippings I’ve managed to keep through the years.
One of my most treasured possessions came from Paul. One day as I’m answering phones and selling tickets, Paul walked out of his office and placed something in front of me. I looked at it and saw it was a wrestling license. HIS wrestling license. On the back he wrote “To Tom Prichard. This is my last wrestling license-Save it along with your first.”
Needless to say I did and still have it after all these years. It might not mean much to anybody else but Paul was always trying to discourage me from getting into the business. Maybe because he understood the other side and didn’t want me to experience that. I don’t know. But that day I think he realized I was bound and determined and there was no stopping me from fulfilling my dream. I wouldn’t trade my life for anything in the world.
I got to live my dream. Travel. Wrestle. Have fun. I never envisioned wrestling in the mecca, Madison Square Garden. But I did. Many times. Chris Candido and I defended and also lost the WWF (before the “E”) tag team championship in the Garden. I wonder what would have happened if I REALLY tried!!
Great times lie ahead. I’m not done by a long shot. The day I’m writing this (Oct. 11) is “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes birthday. I got to know The Dream over the last five years and while we haven’t always agreed, I can’t deny my respect for him and all he’s done for this business. He is the definition of “STAR”. Happy birthday Dream and many, many more. I wish I could’ve got that shot in Charlotte with ya!
True legends are extremely rare these days. The American Dream is one of those rarities. A new day and era has been slowly creeping in. Look how things have changed in just two short years. I hope the wrestling/sports entertainment business learns from the past. Both good and bad. I don’t know if one outweighs the other. But I do know that hard work and perseverance pays off. Nobody knows it all. But there’s a few that can definitely help the young men and woman who are the future of this business become better and more prepared at their craft.
It’s going to be a crazy month. Some new adventures and can’t wait to see what is ahead. That old “One door shuts and another one opens” saying is true more times than not.
Don’t believe the hype. Look at the facts. Results. Don’t resign. Get working on something to breathe life back into the patient, AKA the WRESTLING….There’s still a few out there that understand a great story can be told by two masters of psychology and timing. Body language. Emotion. Feeling. Getting an audience to “believe” their really, truly is an American Dream….
Thanks for reading.
First of all, RIP Bobby Jaggers.
I took a road trip this week and learned Tuesday night that Bobby had passed away on Sunday, Sept. 30. This week marks the birthdays of Michael McGillicutty (Joe Hennig) Oct. 1 and Hall of Famer “Bullet” Bob Armstrong Oct. 3. It is also the 15 year anniversary of the death of Brian Pillman Oct. 5 and Gorilla Monsoon passed away 13 years ago Oct. 6.
I knew Bobby from my time in Portland during 1984. He was known as one of the more creative story tellers on the road and in the dressing room. If you did something, he did it bigger and better. Everyone understood that was Bobby and he was a character.
????????I got to commentate with Gorilla Monsoon and Michael Cole during WWE Metal many years ago and he was always a gentleman and classic performer. He was a kind and entertaining guy off camera as well.
I got to know Pillman briefly during his short time in WWE. He was the kind of guy I would have like to hang with but he was with a different crew and stable. No doubt Pillman was a star that burned out too soon.
I watched RAW from a comfortable hotel room and no matter what anybody might think about Good ‘ol JR, it was nice to see the outpouring of genuine love and respect from WWE and its talent. I worked for JR when he was head of Talent Relations and there’s no doubt he loves his job. Many times I would get the impression or hear others say how “grumpy and miserable JR was” or “Man, what’s wrong with JR? He just bit my head off!” I don’t think anybody can judge someone until they walk in their shoes. JR can be stern and adamant in his beliefs. Some say he can be down right stubborn. Wow. Where have I heard THAT before?
|Good ‘ol JR|
But there is no denying the passion, hard work and long hours JR put (and still puts) into WWE. Only those who work the long hours, don’t take breaks or vacations and overall dedicate their life to this business can understand there might be times when your frustration is hard to hide. But you have to keep keeping on. And JR has kept keeping on for many years. It was nice to see the aftermath of Vince making a public declaration that JR has surpassed the great Gordon Solie as the greatest wrestling announcer ever. Recognizing JR as “The Voice of WWE” moved him with genuine emotion and after all the trials and tribulations he’s been through in life it was fitting.
Congratulations JR. No matter what the feelings are between you and I, there was always respect and admiration from my end. You might have ate my ass out or been short and to the point at times but I realized what you had to deal with and who you had to answer to wasn’t always a walk in the park.
I made a 10 hour trip by car on Sunday and forgot how much time you have to think and observe various “activities” on the road. I’m a big talk radio/news talk fan but there were points along the way where my best friends were CDs.
In the old days I might have been “tokin’ on a number and diggin’ on the radio” (Charlie Daniels reference for you ‘kids’ out there. Uneasy Rider..helluva song!), but I found myself with some real ‘gems’ that some people wouldn’t be caught dead admitting they owned. But some David Lee Roth, a few CD’s with various songs and artists, a little Hank Jr., Lynard Skynard, Aerosmith, Zeppelin and classic 70’s music set me right for the ride. No ‘numbers’ these days. Riding down the road with the boys was some of the greatest times ever! Getting to and from the town was part of the journey, fun and experience in this business. Especially if you found some good riding buddies that shared the same tastes in fun and music that you did.
So I had a lot of time to think. Listening to DLR tell his ridiculous but poignant stories through his songs, Hank Jr. telling his stories with that ‘I don’t give a damn attitude’ and Lynard Skynard talkin’ ’bout “That Smell” and “Give me three steps” reminded me of many road trips I took around the Southeast with some of my rowdy friends.
But now I’m driving alone and my mind is wandering. Not wondering. Wandering. I’m re-playing things I’ve done, said and been a part of over the years. And I thought “Ya know, at one time I was a pretty nice guy. I mean, I didn’t think I had a problem with anybody!” Sure I did things my way but for the most part I did my job, lived my dream, was passionate and dedicated. I arrived early and stayed late. Hmmm. In the end, does any of that really matter? I mean, if you’re really good at what you do, it doesn’t really matter what you do…does it??
The answer is no. No, it doesn’t. I did some good stuff over the years. I trained some good people and think I ran a pretty good developmental system. I didn’t do it by myself. But I was the Head Coach so I take the heat no matter where it comes from. Was there anything I could have or should have done differently? I’m sure there is. But I did what I thought was best at the time. DLR’s “Sensible Shoes” rolled on the speakers as the doubts started hitting…
I thought about wrestling always being sports entertainment. The Sept. 27 edition of Rolling Stone has an article about how ‘TV reinvented the NFL.’ All sports are meant to be entertaining! Some of the ideas and camera angles were used in the XFL but now owners and TV executives are understanding it’s not just a game! You must make it an event. And it has to be exciting, interesting and easy to follow! How great was it to have scab referees blow major calls? What press! What attention! Hell, it’s show-biz!!
Thoughts going in and out of my head about the old days. Those days are gone! So what’s left? Whenever JR got fired or released, he called it “an interruption of service.” I like that. That’ll work. I am in the middle of an “interruption of service.”
Ronnie Van Zant just took me into “What was your name?” and I forgot about the present and reverted back to the past. Screw it. What’s done is done. I know what I did. And I know what I’m capable of doing.
I didn’t cause many waves when I was wrestling. I let the pieces fall where they may. I didn’t really take an active role in guiding my career. I was living the drugs, sex and rock and roll life style. Didn’t care if I lived or died. I wasn’t planning on hitting 30. Dammit! But I don’t think I did anything too outrageously wrong. I was wrestling and having a good time.
Then when I started training people in 1996 and had an actual office in Stamford on the 4th floor I started seeing the business from a different side. Now I can understand the pressure or stress JR and others were dealing with a little better. It was a great job and lots of fun but JR handled the executive decisions and made some difficult ones at that. Things aren’t always what they seem. So if JR happened to be in a less than stellar mood that day, I could only imagine what or who he was dealing with.
Rod Stewart’s “Every Picture Tells a Story” took me back to realizing no one, and I mean NO ONE can judge me for what I’ve done, where I’ve been and what I’ve been through. You see something on the outside and make a judgement call. I’ve been just as guilty of being judge, jury and executioner myself. But looking back on the way things went down whether it was my life or career, I did it myself. I brought it on.
I know what I did and I know who I helped. I know WWE people read this. I’ve heard from them. That’s OK. WWE is a great company. But business is business. They…wait. Who are “they”? Well, “they” know who they are and wanted business run differently. The “we’re going in a different direction” is the old stand by line but I get it. Then word was I was “too negative.” Really….
Well I would like to see the guy in charge and did the deed walk in my shoes on a daily basis. Not just opening and closing the school but dealing with everybody else’s problems and issues too. More kids from developmental came to me with personal and professional problems that I did everything I could to help, because they knew if they came to me I would help. It didn’t matter if it was putting gas in their car or hearing about a family member with cancer and they needed some time away.
But again, that’s business. 20 hours (10 up, 10 back) is a long time to ride by yourself and think. I don’t hate anybody. I’m not a negative person. I’ve said before I will do something absurd to demonstrate how absurd looks. I call it “performance art.” Those that got it, got it. Those that didn’t, never will. I accept that. People like to talk about being so honest and real. Some like to talk about being “born again” and how they changed their ways. But when you question them on their values or ask them to explain themselves, they’re not so quick to turn the other cheek or explain their ‘questionable’ actions. I know judge not and ye shall not be judged, right? Well if you’re actions don’t match your words, I have questions. I know people of faith that don’t mind being questioned. I know others who claim faith that become irate and defensive when you ‘dare’ challenge them or their faith.
I’m no angel or saint. Don’t claim to be and never have. And when you’re in an environment with stress and underlying agendas, you tend to pick up on certain things. I’ve been around long enough to smell discomfort and BS. Again, part of this business.
People have asked me a lot of questions. None of the questions or answers matter. I am a wrestler and trainer/coach. I’ve been up and I’ve been down. I would NEVER compare myself to Jim Ross. He’s one of a kind. Period.
But I put my heart and soul into this business and will continue to be what I am. I am a positive, can do and will do person. No matter WHAT it takes. I’ve heard and listened to all the rumors and statements and it’s time to stop. It is what it is. Change is the only constant. This is my time of “interrupted service.”
“Wanted Dead or Alive” followed by “Freebird” brought me back to nothing matters in the end. The King had a heart attack, Bobby Jaggers just died. I started thinking “Who’s next?” It doesn’t matter. We’ll all say what a great guy or ass he was and move on. Life goes on. I had a few hours to go and only want to think about the good times.
Congratulations and best of luck to JR. If anybody deserves recognition, he does. Talk about walking a mile in somebody’s shoes…I don’t think I could even lace his….
Thanks for reading