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Five Reasons to Check Out OVW Now

There’s a core group of fans who attend Ohio Valley Wrestling every week. For the last five weeks, and honestly for the foreseeable future, I’ve become one of them.

It’s been fun over the years dropping in and out to see how the promotion changes and to watch wrestlers come into their own. Having seen the tag team Dark Cloud in one of their first OVW matches versus seeing them now, interacting with the fans, it’s incredible how much they’ve evolved. But you make a much different connection with a promotion when you never miss a show. Wrestlers who may not catch your attention that first week may draw you in the second, third, or fourth time you see them.

After more than a month of live shows, I thought I’d share here a few talents that have really caught my eye. I’m purposely not including friends of mine or long-time OVW standouts. The five (make that six) wrestlers mentioned are people who have grown on me and kept me wanting to go back every week.

Shalonce Royal

Shalonce Royal

Oh how the fans hate Shalonce! They hate her arrogance. They hate her dirty tricks. And they hate – HATE! – her singing. Shalonce sings through every match, her powerful voice belting high note after high note, as she wears her opponents down. She’s fast, she’s powerful, and she’s relentless.

In real life Shalonce is a trained opera singer, and she’s not the first such talent to come along in pro wrestling. Back in the 1950s, a woman named Gloria Barratini made the jump from singing opera to pro wrestling. I don’t know that Gloria sang in the ring to the delight (or dismay) of the fans like Shalonce does, but she did wrestle in Louisville a few times, including a bout against the great Mae Young at The Armory (Louisville Gardens).

Shalonce has a lot of charisma, and she’s a heck of a wrestler. She also had a show-stealing match with Jada Stone (another new-to-me face!) during the September 1 TV taping. And I love watching the fans hate on her almost as much as I enjoy watching her wrestle.

Click here to follow Shalonce Royal on Twitter.

Omar Amir vs. Jack Vaughn

The Veteran Jack Vaughn

Jack made me sit up straight during his match last night when he LEVELED a kid with the hardest clothesline I’ve seen in Davis Arena since the days when the APA were in town. When JBL (then still known as Bradshaw) threw a clothesline in a dark match one night, I could feel it from the second row. I felt Jack’s from the top row last night.

Jack Vaughn’s Twitter says he’s an eighteen year veteran. He’s 6’6″ and looks like he fell through a time warp in Memphis, circa 1983. He’s a no nonsense, hard nosed, old fashioned rassler who often makes mince meat of the younger guys in the ring. He’s also clearly a locker room leader, based on some of his social media posts. The fans may hate him, but they have to respect him!

FYI, Jack only has a handful of followers on Twitter. That’s a crying shame, because young wrestlers could learn a lot from the wisdom he dispenses.

Click here to follow The Veteran Jack Vaughn.

The Outrunners on AEW

The Outrunners

Speaking of guys who look like they fell through a time warp! With their hot pink trunks, their decidedly old school facial hair, and Miami Vice like intro, The Outrunners look like the kind of guys my grandpa would have rooted for on Championship Wrestling from Florida.

Like everyone I’ve mentioned so far, Turbo Floyd and Truth Magnum are unabashed heels, dirty cheaters who look for every angle they can get to seize their advantage over their prettier, often younger opponents. They’re equally adept with zingers and one-liners as they are with putting together some slam-bang action. They get plenty of boos from the ladies and the kids, but there’s a solid block of guys who will cheer Truth and Turbo on against anyone.

Yep, I’m one of those guys.

The Outrunners went 25 minutes during the August 24 TV taping with Level X. No one was fidgeting or watching the clock during either bout. From start to finish, it was as entertaining a match as I’ve ever seen live, ending with a no contest finish that set up their Saturday night double dog collar match on August 27 that you can watch here:

It’s worth noting that the Tornado Tag from August 24 really made me appreciate the boys from Level X. Axton Ray took an absolute beating in that bout and never quit. He and his partner Blanco Loco have a bright future. 

Truth Magnum was once known as Shiloh Jonze, and back in 2014, he was one half of one of my favorite matches ever at the Davis Arena with his former tag partner Raul Espinoza. I’ll have to reprint that story sometime, as it was published in my now out of print book Eat Sleep Wrestle. 

Click here to follow Truth, and click here to follow Turbo. 

Freya the Slaya

Freya the Slaya

Yep, another heel. The biggest, baddest woman in the OVW women’s division, the Queen of the North is pretty universally hated by the OVW fans. That’s due in large part to how well Freya plays the role given her. 

Freya has a lot in common with Jack Vaughn in the way she works. She’s slower, more deliberate, and she makes every move look devastating. She may not be the current OVW Women’s Champion, thanks in part to her “ex-boyfriend” referee Aaron Grider, but until someone knocks her off her pedestal, she is still the most dominant woman in the house. 

And shout out to Aaron Grider, who two years ago appeared in a short film for me during Covid. Aaron got a lot of TV time during Freya’s recent run as champ, and he made the most of it. You hated him for letting himself be led around by the nose, and when Freya let her true feelings be known, your heart broke for him. 

You can follow Freya here, and you can follow Aaron here. 

Jay Malachi

Jay Malachi

Jay stands out on this list for two reasons. One, he’s a babyface, the only one I’ll write about in this column. And two… this kid didn’t exactly grow on me. He grabbed me from the moment he hit the ring. 

Jay is tall, fit, and incredibly athletic. He flies high when he’s on offense, and he flops hard when he’s taking a beating. Every time I see this kid, he’s doing something new in the air or off the ropes. He’s incredibly fast and remarkably creative, and when he takes to the sky, it feels like he’s in the air forever. 

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. He’s also eighteen years old. 

I’ve seen Jay twice at OVW and once at Paradigm Pro Wrestling in Jeffersonville. I sure hope to see a lot more of him in the coming years, and I don’t mean on the local scene. 

You can follow Jay here on Twitter. 

One final note. Al Snow’s stated goal with OVW is that everyone who works at Davis Arena, from the wrestlers and refs to the backstage crew, can use it as a launching pad to the next level in professional wrestling. It’s worth noting that Shalonce Royal, The Outrunners, and Freya the Slaya have all made appearances on AEW Dark. They’re not the only current OVW roster members to do so, and they definitely won’t be the last.

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When Wrestling Was in Tiny Bars – Louisville Edition

Much ado has been made about a comment from a certain wrestling executive about how wrestling only took place in tiny bars before the WWF came along. Today I decided to share a few programs I have from one of those tiny bars: The Jefferson County Armory, now known as Louisville Gardens.

The first program is from way back in 1952. This tiny bar program saw World Champion Lou Thesz defend his title against Enrique Torres with former champ Ed “Strangler” Lewis in Thesz’s corner. Ray Eckert, Stu Gibson, Ethel Johnson, and Bill Longson were also on the card held in front of a meager 9281 fans in this tiny bar.

A year later, the same bar wrestling promotion, the Allen Athletic Club, presented this card:

Baron Leone was the victor in the main event that night, defeating Gentleman Jim Doby. Other stars included the Great Zorro (pictured), Mae Young, Bill Longson, Stu Gibson, and Gloria Barratini. The bar was really packed that night, with a new record attendance of 9384 reported in the newspaper.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m excited to see some of the changes this innovative WWE executive is already bringing to television. But if we’re really going to go all the way, perhaps we should drop the company line that pro wrestling was irrelevant before WWF at the same time we drop the word Superstar in favor of Wrestler.

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School’s Out: The Evolution of OVW

In a last minute turn of events, I made my way to Ohio Valley Wrestling tonight for the live broadcast of television episode 1199. I’ve witnessed many TV tapings in Davis Arena since my first visit twenty years ago, and I saw some terrific action tonight. What struck me the most, however, is how different this OVW is from the OVW I used to know.

I still have a program from the first night I ever visited OVW. Kurt Angle was in the main event, and a number of WWE stars like Batista, Shelton Benjamin, Rob Conway, and The Bashams, were on the card. Outside of Angle, however, none of the above were Superstars at the time. They were students, wrestling on a televised program from a wrestling school. Yes, these were the Superstars of Tomorrow Today, but it still had the feel of a wrestling school program.

I don’t get that feeling in Davis Arena these days. OVW continues to evolve under new management, and it no longer feels like you’re watching wrestling in a wrestling school. Everything about OVW screams “territory.”

First of all, there’s the arena itself. From the lighting rigs above to the seating arrangements to the presentation itself, nothing screams “wrestling school.” It looks and feels like any other professional promotion. I take that back; it feels a cut above most wrestling promotions, including some others that are televised. This is Professional wrestling with a capital P.

Second, take a look in the ring. Can you identify the students? Are they the young ones in the ring? Or maybe the newer faces? Perhaps the officials, or maybe the television crew? Every OVW card is stacked with talented men and women including long-time independent stalwarts (Hi, Cash Flo!) and faces you’ve seen not just on wrestling TV but reality TV. (I see you, Jesse Godderdz!)

The matches do not feel like students vs. students. The storylines do not smell of amateur booking. Once again, OVW  presents Professional wrestling with a capital P.

Now truth be told, everyone backstage at OVW, save for one, is a student of OVW. From the wrestlers to the refs to the production team to the announcers, every man and woman has come to sit under the learning tree of Al Snow. Even Doug Basham, who made a cameo during tonight’s pull apart between Amazing Maria and her daughter Haley J, is a student here. Yes, he’s a former WWE Tag Team Champion. Yes, he’s now teaching the advanced class. But he will tell you how much he has learned from resident “Mr. Miyagi.”

Al Snow is a born teacher. His stated goal is that everyone who works for OVW will take what they learn and use it to reach their goals in pro wrestling. The testimony to Al’s genius is how very professional, how very “non-wrestling school” his burgeoning territory looks in person. OVW is run like a territory. The people working OVW are taught to perform as professionals. Every time I attend a show, OVW moves further and further away from their wrestling school roots.

OVW tours like a territory. They’ve been all over the state this summer, putting on house shows in big towns and small. They’re across the river in New Albany tomorrow night (August 5), and they’re back at Davis Arena Saturday (August 6) for a stellar card that includes a casket match, the return to action by Amazing Maria, and a special appearance by Scotty 2 Hotty.

And of course, OVW broadcasts not only locally, but internationally through Fite TV. OVW’s wrestlers and announcers receive fan mail (and email) from around the world. Every week, more and more eyes are on the long-running Louisville promotion, one that marks its 1200th episode in seven days. Tonight’s episode is worth catching on Fite and included some great tag team action with Jesse Godderdz and Tony Gunn, a hard-hitting eight man match at the very end, and some fun video segments with Freya the Slaya and my old pal from the Three Blind Refs video, Aaron Grider.

OVW may not be in the same conversation as AEW, WWE, Impact, or New Japan, but the students of Al Snow have transformed what was once the nation’s top wrestling school into an honest-to-goodness, 21st century territory. Great things continue to happen at Davis Arena, and greater things are on the horizon for the students: in and out of Davis Arena.

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Bluegrass Brawlers: The Story of Professional Wrestling in Louisville

How long has Louisville been obsessed with professional wrestling? Try 145 years!

Since 1877, fans have flocked to the theaters, the gymnasiums, the arenas, and yes, the Louisville Gardens to get their fix of rasslin’. Louisville, Kentucky has long been a crossroads for the business, and the Bluegrass fans were witness to the rise of major stars throughout the ages. Lou Thesz, Buddy Rodgers, Ed “Strangler” Lewis, The Rock, Mildred Burke, Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Dave Bautista. The list goes on.

Bluegrass Brawlers unveils the past, present, and future of pro wrestling in the River City. It’s a story filled with legendary wrestlers, quirky promoters, historic venues, and local dreamers.

Click here to read more and order your copy now! 

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Bluegrass Brawlers: My Horse for a Wrestling Ticket!

Who would you say is Louisville’s biggest wrestling fan?

I know more than one person who would say it was their grandma. Not grandpa, but grandma. That’s no accident. As far back as the 1940s women were as frequent a site in the stands as men, thanks in part to the efforts of Betty McDonogh in the Allen Athletic Club ticket office. Even in the 80s, many old ladies never missed wrestling at the Louisville Gardens or the chance to tell their least favorite wrestler too kiss their wrinkled butts.

You could also make a case the biggest fan ever was Jim Oetkins. Jim reached out to me after I published Louisville’s Greatest Show and asked if we could meet. He brought along a spiral notebook he kept in the 1950s, recording the results from every week at the Columbia Gym on 4th Street. All those records I pulled off the Internet, he’d kept them in real time as a boy!

And let’s not forget the woman who went into labor one Tuesday night at the Gardens. She was on a gurney, ready to be rushed down the street to give birth, but she refused to leave. Teeny Jarrett pleaded with her, promising to let her know who won the main event, but the woman wanted to see for herself!

And then there’s the man who tried to get a wrestling ticket in exchange for a horse.

The incident took place on March 9, 1933 out in front of the Savoy Theater, now long-vanished from Market Street downtown. In the midst of The Great Depression, the Savoy Theater’s manager C.B. Blake (pictured below) announced that for one night only, the theater would accept “scrip, certified checks, promissory notes, merchandise, or pawn on valuables as par values.” Cash was, of course, still accepted for those who had it.

The Savoy wrestling show was the hot ticket in 1933, and many fans took them up on the offer. According to The Courier-Journal, the box office accepted a variety of items in lieu of money for tickets that night:  oats, sauerkraut, sauerkraut juice, razor blades, a sewing machine, coffee, malt, cheese, socks, canned milk, canned chile, a card table, rings, lavaliers, watches, $3 in Courier-Journal scrip, crackers, flour, soft drinks, tomatoes, peas, corn, IOUs from four barbers, a ham, fifteen dozen eggs, and five chickens. Attendance that night was 1567, and the box office collected $809.75 cash in addition to the $90 worth of merchandise.

There was one offer refused by Blake and company. A man rode up shortly before bell time and asked if he could get a wrestling ticket in exchange for a horse. There’s nothing to indicate if the horse was in fine condition of a swaybacked nag, but the offer was refused.

You can hardly blame the guy for trying. Jack Reynolds was on the card that night, along with former Kentucky Wildcat Billy Love and speed boat racer “Wild Bill” Cantrell. Everyone wanted tickets to the Savoy!

The tale of the Savoy Theater is a fascinating saga that was missed when I first published Bluegrass Brawlers. Blake and his booker would fend off multiple challenges from rival promoters (including Abe Finberg down the street at the Gayety Theater) as well as two different incarnations of the Kentucky State Athletic Commission. They were the top draw in Louisville for many years – until Blake’s booker, Heywood Allen, decided to part company and start his own wrestling promotion.

You can read the story of C.B. Blake and the Savoy Theater in the 10th anniversary edition of Bluegrass Brawlers. Click here to order your signed copy today.

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Bluegrass Brawler: Steve Callaway

The first edition of Bluegrass Brawlers shined a spotlight on The Black Panther Jim Mitchell. An African American born in Louisville, Mitchell became a superstar and main event draw first in the Midwest and then around the world. His feud with Gorgeous George in 1949 led to a riot that sent three fans to the hospital and spawned a few lawsuits. Mitchell blazed a trail for future stars like Bobo Brazil and left an incredible legacy I later chronicled in full in The Original Black Panther.

The newest edition of Bluegrass Brawlers sheds a light on more African American grapplers in Louisville, including a local folk hero whose time came and went before The Black Panther was born.

Steve Callaway resided at 421 Conrad Street, and in the spring of 1904, he developed a reputation as a grappler who could not be beat.For three months, Callaway took on challengers and vanquished every one. By midsummer, there were few men left in the city willing to challenge him.

On July 15, a man named Silas Adams walked into Jones at Williams Saloon at 102 East Green Street. He spotted Callaway, and he observed that the “champ” looked somewhat worn out and haggard. Sensing an opportunity, Adams challenged Callaway to a match. Callaway accepted, and the two men wrestled on the saloon floor until Callaway had once again been proved unbeatable. He was receiving back slaps and congratulations from friends and onlookers when suddenly, Callaway collapsed to the floor.

Callaway passed away within a matter of minutes. After a quick examination, the coroner determined that the champ, Louisville’s first black wrestling hero, had died from “a stroke of apoplexy due to overexertion.”

I wish I could tell you more about Callaway, but the story of his last match is the only time his name even appeared in the Courier-Journal. His rose to prominence took place nearly a decade before wrestling would become a regular attraction at one of the downtown theaters. His bouts were never scheduled, and no tickets were ever sold. He took on all comers, wrestling challengers any time and anywhere while bystanders placed their bets.

Callaway’s story is one of many you’ll read in the new edition of Bluegrass Brawlers. Click here to order your signed copy, and use the coupon code “esw” to save 10%.

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Meet the Artist: James Duncan

James Duncan is a busy guy. I know, because I’m one of the people who keeps him busy. Over the last several years, he’s become my go-to for photo book covers: Chris Candido, Princess Victoria, Charlie Kruel, Ella, Wahoo McDaniel, and most recently, Mars Bennett. Every time I send him a new challenge, he amazes me. The work just keeps getting better.

I really appreciate James and all the work he does, so I wanted to tell you more about him. First off, he doesn’t just do wrestling book covers. He’s done covers for non-wrestling books too. And he’s a wizard at creating wrestling fliers. He works for a number of indy promotions in this regard, and his work stands out.

James is also one of the founding owners of Paradigm Pro Wrestling, a Southern Indiana group featured in the new edition of Bluegrass Brawlers. Paradigm is really building a fan base not just locally but around the world through their live streaming. It was where I first saw a few people who are now working with national companies, including Swerve Scott and Ace Austin. James works on the production side, and he’s responsible for everything from logos and graphics to lighting and sound.

When he’s not designing graphics, or preparing for the next PPW show, he’s probably in the editing room. He edits video for Paradigm Pro and a number of other indies including PWF, IWA Mid South, Girl Fight, New Wave Pro, Big Time Wrestling, and KEPW.

James is a talented artist, great to work with, and on top of everything else… he loves wrestling. If you’re looking for any sort of graphics work in the wrestling space or beyond, I urge you to give him a try.

Here’s where you can find James on social media:

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

And here are the many covers he’s created for me:


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The Saga of the 1941 Derby Eve Show

Derby Eve belonged to the wrestlers. At least it did in the beginning. The first Derby Eve wrestling show at the Armory (now Louisville Gardens) took place more than a hundred years ago. It became a huge attraction for local fans and out-of-towners in for the Derby. Naturally, the success of the event caught the attention of other promoters, and by the 1930s, the Kentucky Athletic Commission made it an annual bidding war between the wrestling promotions and the boxing promotions.

Heywood Allen had fought for the Derby Eve slot many times. He’d won some and lost some, and in 1941, he was sure he had a winner. The Derby Eve show was supposed to go to the promoter who presented the best card, and Allen’s main event was Everett Marshall versus Lou Thesz.

Of course as you’ve probably guessed, he didn’t get it. Mattingly granted the show to novice boxing promoter named Harry Wolffe. Allen was furious. He went around Mattingly to schedule the Armory for Thursday and Friday, May 1 and 2, offering to let the boxers run the show on the 2nd if he could run his wrestling show on the 1st. He nearly got his way, too, but then on April 15, he got on the microphone at the weekly Allen Club wrestling show and cut a promo on Mattingly. The newspapers didn’t record what Allen said, but it was bad enough that Mattingly revoked Allen’s license to promote.

Allen had shot himself in the foot, and after relinquishing the Armory on May 1-2, he was given his license back. Allen would run shows on Tuesday April 29 and a “Derby Dessert” show on Tuesday May 6, both at his home base in the Columbia Gym.

As for Harry Wolff and the boxing show… well, let’s just say he would have been better letting Allen have his way. He only had a week to sell tickets, and sales were so low, he didn’t even make half of the money he had guaranteed to the boxers! Wolff had tried to back out of the show a few days before, but Mattingly pushed him to go ahead. What’s worse, Mattingly assured boxing managers on Friday afternoon, May 2, that Wolff would pay their full guarantees regardless of the box office.

Harry Wolff was in trouble. He told the boxers he couldn’t pay them what he’d promised and they’d have to take a cut or else. The managers said they’d take or else… as in legal action, if he didn’t pay up!

Allen only drew 2000 fans when he brought Thesz and Marshall in on May 22, but it was just a bump in the road for him. He’d continue on as Louisville’s wrestling impresario for another six years, while Mattingly would eventually leave the commissioner’s office and leave Allen alone.

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Save 20% This Weekend Only With Coupon Code “mania”

Whatever your feelings are on this promotion and that, this weekend is Super Bowl weekend for pro wrestling. So hey, let’s celebrate!

Right now, you can get 20% off your entire order using the coupon code “mania” at checkout. And right now the store is loaded down with copies of Wahoo, Princess Victoria, Chris Candido, Tracy Smothers, Mike Rodgers, Chris Michaels, Hurricane JJ Maguire, The Black Panther Jim Mitchell, and more.

Click here to start shopping, and don’t forget the coupon code: mania.

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Coming Soon: Bluegrass Brawlers, 10th Anniversary Edition

It’s been almost 10 years since I started writing about pro wrestling in December 2012. Okay, so that’s eleven months out, but what’s pro wrestling without a little exaggeration?

The book that started it all, Bluegrass Brawlers (2014), is no longer available on Amazon or Kindle. That’s because I’ve gone back to the beginning to create a new edition, a 10th anniversary edition, if you will.

Bluegrass Brawlers is getting a major overhaul. I spent the last several months compiling every wrestling result from 1880 through 1966, when Louisville went dark before the Memphis era. I also conducted more than a dozen new interviews including Jeff Van Camp, Al Snow, Billie Starkz, Bryan Kennison, Charlene McKenzie, Hy Zaya, Cash Flo, Josh Ashcraft, Judi-Rae Hendrix, Maria James, Haley J, Ryan Howe, and Doug Basham. And I still have a few more to go.

The original book covered four distinct eras: The Pioneers (1880-1920), The Allen Athletic Club (1935-1957), the Memphis era (1970-1997), and the OVW era (1996-2014). All four of those sections have been expanded, some by a little, some by a lot. I also expanded on the Dick the Bruiser era (touched only briefly in the 2014 edition), filled in the time gap between 1920-1935, and told the story of Louisville since 2014.

New stories covered in the new edition include:

Steve Callaway, a long forgotten African American wrestling hero from the turn of the 20th century.

Promoter Abe Finberg, who booked wrestling at the Gayety Theater and later created a heavyweight promotion.

C.B. Blake and the Savoy Theater.

The feud between Blake, booker Heywood Allen, and the Kentucky State Board of Athletic Control, the first state institution that attempted to regulate wrestling.

Louisville fan favorite Jack Reynolds.

Gorgeous George comes to Louisville – and to dinner.

Wahoo McDaniel in Louisville in the early 1960s.

Phil Golden’s All Star Wrestling.

New Albany native Jeff Van Camp, better known in the ring as Lord Humongous.

A hilarious fan story about Flex Kavana, aka Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Tales from the first students at OVW including Doug Basham and Nick Dinsmore.

The sale of OVW to Al Snow.

The rise of the Legacy of Brutality.

The growth of the indie scene in Southern Indiana.

Crazy Mary Dobson becomes Sarah Logan in the WWE.

And the rise of women’s wrestling in Louisville and beyond.

The new book includes a lot more photos and 50% (and counting) more written content. Thanks to a more professional layout, it’ll still be around 330 pages.

Last but not least, the book is getting a brand new cover. Artist Adrian Johnson, who did covers for Tracy Smothers and The Black Panther Jim Mitchell, is working on something really special.

The target release month is March. So far, it’s on schedule. I’ll announce more here and on my social media in the coming months!

This new edition has been a long time coming. It’s going to be special.