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Lady Wrestler Unveils an Unforgettable Tale of Wrestling Pioneers

When the largest wrestling company in the world tried to honor the second African American woman to lace up the boots, they made three mistakes. One, they didn’t not contact her family. Two, they got their facts wrong, claiming she was the first. And three, they used footage of the wrong wrestler in their video packages.

Ouch.

When you rely on one company that held a monopoly on pro wrestling for more than thirty years for your history, you’re not going to get the full story. Fortunately for us, filmmaker Chris Bournea went to the source in creating the documentary Lady Wrestler, a wonderful tribute to the first African American ladies of the wrestling ring.

Ethel Johnson was not only the second lady wrestler to enter the business, she was the second of three sisters to do so! Lady Wrestler centers on the story of Johnson, older sister Babs Wingo, and younger sister Marva Scott. Through interviews with Ethel Brown, Ramona Isabel, family members, and Johnson herself, it tells an uplifting and inspiring tale of three black women who dreamed big.

All in all Lady Wrestler is a much more positive look at women’s wrestling than its predecessor Lipstick and Dynamite. Even its portrayal Billy Wolfe, whose seedy business practices have been well documented, focuses on the good. Wolfe took note of how Jackie Robinson changed professional baseball and opened the door for black women to try pro wrestling. Johnson, Wingo, and Scott were willing to give it a try, drawn in by the public image of the world champion Mildred Burke with her furs and diamonds.

Johnson and Isabel truly shine in the film as the ladies share how professional wrestling allowed them to make a better life for their families. It’s incredible hearing how they devoted themselves not only to traveling the world and working but raising their kids. One of the funniest moments comes when Johnson’s kids tell the stories of how they discovered their mom was “someone,” including coming home from school to find The Incredible Hulk’s Lou Ferrigno in their living room!

Bournea doesn’t shy away from the hardships the ladies faced. Jim Crow laws and systemic racism made life hard for the lady wrestlers in and out of the ring. A particularly heart-breaking story took place in Japan, when the jeers and racial slurs of the Japanese fans caused Marva Scott to have a nervous breakdown.

In the end, the African American ladies got what they wanted from pro wrestling. They made a good living, they provided for their families, and they left an incredible legacy for their children and grandchildren. The descendants of these ring pioneers know beyond a doubt they can be anything they want to be. not only did they see an African American become president, their mom/grandmother/great-grandmother was a professional wrestler!

Lady Wrestler is a must see for lovers of pro wrestling. Ethel Johnson was able to see the completed film before her passing, and it has the full endorsement of the families featured. It’s important to the survivors of these ring pioneers that their beloved mothers and grandmothers are not only remembered but remembered accurately. Lady Wrestler is the kind of tribute such wrestlers truly deserve.

Click here to watch Lady Wrestler on Amazon Prime. 

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Arezzi’s Memoir is an Inspirational Tale of Baseball, Wrestling, and Music

There are no accidents in this world. Or at least very few. Last week I reviewed Coach Miller’s phenomenal book, one of two I bought at the Dan Gable Museum this summer. Today at lunch, I was reminded I have another review to write. I opted for my locally-owned pizza place over the local food truck that’s out every Tuesday. Deal or No Deal was on television, and I suddenly looked up and said what many wrestling fans said when the episode first aired.

“Hey, that’s John Arezzi!”

Mat Memories (co-written by the always busy Greg Oliver) tells the story of a man with many talents, careers, and names. Growing up in a family that had connections to the mob, Arezzi forged his own path in life thanks to his greatest love: the New York Mets. The thankless sales job he took just to be part of their organization prepared him for two future careers that touched on his other great passions: pro wrestling and music.

To wrestling fans he is John Arezzi, a pioneer journalist and promoter. Arezzi strived to take fans behind the curtain with his New York based radio show, unafraid to ask the hard questions even during the infamous steroid trials of the early 90s. Arezzi famously invented the pro wrestling fan fest and more infamously launched the career of one of wrestling’s most polarizing figures, Vince Russo.

To country music folks he is John Alexander, a man known for discovering sensational talent and using every resource at his disposal to help them break out. Working in radio, management, and broadcasting, Alexander championed stars like Patty Loveless and Sarah Darling while navigating the often rough waters of the country music industry.

John Arezzi’s story is a fascinating read as he takes you on a roller coaster ride through his life and careers, but there’s a sub-text to the story that really stuck with me. Having just read Coach Miller’s book, I couldn’t help but draw inspiration from Arezzi, a man who seized every opportunity he was given. Who gets to work their dream job, much less three dream jobs, in a lifetime? Arezzi forged his own path in baseball, wrestling, and music, and in that music realm he did everything in his power to make dreams come true for others.

Arezzi proves that a person with the drive and desire can make their dreams come true, but the tales he shares of those who “might have been” remind us why some never make it. Despite all of the efforts John Alexander put into the careers of some would-be music stars, their careers never took off. A few fell victim to the machinations of the business, but most of the discoveries that came up short did so through their own choices. People can open doors for you and offer you those golden opportunities, but at the end of the day, we must choose to walk through those doors and seize the moment.

Arezzi’s book is a must read for wrestling and country music fans as well as dreamers from all walks of life. You be entertained as he regales you with tales about everyone from Jake “The Snake” Roberts to Phil Donahue to The New Kids on the Block to Taylor Swift. And if you’re a dreamer like me, you’ll also come away inspired.

Click here to order Mat Memories by John “Arezzi” Alexander on Amazon.

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Chris Michaels is Indestructible

Few people have been in as many locker rooms as Chris Michaels. The long time independent wrestler has seen and done it all in the business. He’s been on the cusp of that elusive big time contract multiple times, and in spite of all the disappointment, he continues to endure.

The story of Chris Michaels is a classic tale about professional wrestling. He is the boy who fell in love with the sport watching it on television. He is the man who logged countless miles in search of a dream. He is the survivor who continued to lace up the boots, even as doctors told him he needed to quit.

Indestructible is not a collaboration. This is a passion project from the heart of an indy legend. Chris wrote the book himself by hand, sharing stories of the people he met and the lessons he learned. It’s been a huge hit with the fans, who have snatched them up at indy shows and on Amazon since the book’s release, and it’s a must read not only for indy fans but anyone who loves to hear from those “other guys” in the locker room.

You can order you signed copy of Indestructible by clicking here. Or click here to order from Amazon.

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At the Hall of Fame in Waterloo, Everyone Is Family

Four years ago, I visited the Dan Gable Museum, home of the Tragos/Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame, for the first time. Three years ago I made my second visit, this time during Hall of Fame weekend. I remember it being a fantastic fan experience. Not only does the museum house an incredible collection of memorabilia, the Hall of Fame event brought fans and wrestlers together in a much more personal way than any fan fest. You could sit down in the hotel lobby, a booth at the hotel bar, or any room at the museum next to someone and ask questions. To use a phrase you hear a lot during induction weekend, it felt like family.

I attended my second Hall of Fame induction this past weekend, and it was even more enjoyable than the first. I was thrilled to see attendance had grown from my previous visit, but I was even more delighted to see the open, friendly atmosphere of the event remained intact. From the Impact Pro Wrestling show Friday through the Saturday night banquet, the whole weekend was more of a family reunion than a fan fest.

What really sets this event apart is how much access attendees have to the “Distinguished Guests.” The wrestlers don’t hide out in their hotel suites or private green rooms. They’re in the lobby of the museum, the lobby of the hotel, or one of the many bars and restaurants in the area. They come to see the fans, to take pictures, and to tell stories, and I didn’t see anyone leave disappointed.

Two incidents stand out the most for me. The first came Friday afternoon, when a couple cut through the lobby of the convention center not knowing a wrestling event was taking place. They decided to stick around and joined the line to buy tickets.

That’s when Cowboy Bob Orton, Jr., entered the building.

Imagine a child coming down Christmas Eve at 1 a.m. and catching Santa. Imagine big, wide eyes filled with wonder and a mouth wide open in astonishment. That’s the look I saw on a grown man’s face seeing a legend in person.

The second incident took place a few hours later. I was carting my books back to the hotel when another man not attending the event came along side me. “You here with the wrestling show?”

“Yes, I am,” I said.

“I just bought a beer for Sgt. Slaughter,” he bragged. “How cool is that?”

Waterloo, Iowa may not be on many people’s radar for a summer destination, but if you’re a wrestling fan, I assure you, it will become one of your favorite places in the world. You’ll make friends with fellow wrestling fans from all corners of the nation and all walks of life. You’ll hear stories of days gone by and see some incredible photos and memorabilia in the museum’s collection. And you’ll make memories with wrestling heroes past, present, and (possibly) future in an environment no comic con or fan fest can match.

As master of ceremonies Chad Olsen told all in attendance Saturday night, when you come to the Hall of Fame, you become part of the family. It’s a family worth joining, and a family that will urge you to bring a friend. Mark your calendar for July 21-23, 2022, and keep an eye on the Facebook page for the George Tragos/ Lou Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame. This is one family reunion you will truly enjoy.

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Casting Star Wars with Wrestling Personalities

Today is May the 4th, which has come to be known as Star Wars Day. Those who know me well know that Star Wars has been an obsession of mine longer than pro wrestling. It got me to thinking, how would I re-cast Star Wars with some of the people I have written about in pro wrestling?

Hurricane JJ Maguire as… Max Rebo

Sure, I could have gone with Figrin D’an, but I suspect the Hurricane would have found himself taking the more upscale booking at Jabba’s versus the cantina at Mos Eisley. Plus I want to hear JJ say, “Yes, Miss Snootles, we can take it from the top again.”

Princess Victoria as… Princess Leia

A bit obvious? Yes, and she’ll be disappointed that once again, she’s cast as the babyface. But like Cinderella, the space slipper fits. Nobody tells Princess Leia what to do, just as nobody tells Princess Victoria what to do!

Tracy Smother as… Yoda

A man who poured himself into many young pro wrestlers over the last few decades could easily be cast as Obi Wan, but Obi Wan only had two pupils. Yoda trained countless Jedi, and the Smothers family is now legion across pro wrestling.

Scott Romer as… Han Solo

With that camera strap always over his shoulder, one could draw a direct comparison to Chewbacca, but let’s be honest. Romer was a survivor, a hustler, and a ladies man. Plus think of all the great Romer pics of him posing with Lando, Jabba, and the glitterati of the galaxy.

Mad Man Pondo as… Boba Fett

As we all learned to our great delight in The Mandalorian, Boba survived the ultimate death match against the Sarlacc Pit. Can’t you see Pondo vs. Terry Funk fighting it out on a skiff in a no rope, loser falls in the Sarlaac Pit match? It would be the biggest draw on Tatooine since Anakin vs. Sebulba.

Chris Candido as… Luke Skywalker

Chris Candido was a natural heel, just as Victoria was, but I have to go wth Luke. Why? Well, people said Chris was a little short for a WWF Superstar, and we all know Luke was a little short for a Stormtrooper.

Dr. D David Schultz as… Darth Vader

“Oh you think the Dark Side is fake, do ya?” John Stossel better be glad Dr. D wasn’t a Sith. He’d have never left MSG alive that night in 1984! Chris Candido would have gotten a kick out of being booked opposite one of his heroes, and just think how awesome those Dr. D promos would sound in James Earl Jones’s voice.

Click the photos above to order the books!

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Rock Riddle on Fernwood 2 Night

I’m a big comedy fan, and Fred Willard was always one of my favorite actors. After hearing him discuss the show Fernwood 2 Night on Leonard Maltin’s podcast, I looked it up on YouTube.

I saw an episode labeled “Wrestling,” so naturally, I picked that one first.

Imagine my surprise seeing the one and only Rock Riddle playing “Mr. Wonderful” Rock Mondo.”

If you know me, Rock is one of my favorite people in the wrestling business. He’s a real character, and he has great Hollywood stories as well as wrestling. The first time we met, I asked him about Chuck Barris.

Rock gives a truly wonderful performance here, and the show is a riot beginning to end. Enjoy.

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Princess Victoria: Coming in April

I am very excited about this book.

I just re-read through the wrestling chapters tonight. Vicki has some tremendous stories about Wendi Richter, Velvet McIntyre, Stan Stasiak, Roddy Piper, and more.

This will not be an easy read for some. Her childhood was a living nightmare. It’s a story she wanted to tell in the hopes that other people with similar experiences can get help just as she has.

Available in April.

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The Seated Senton Fanzine

Michael Ewing has been a friend for several years as well as a collaborator. He’s one of my go-to proofreaders and editors. Recently, he decided to launch a print fanzine called The Seated Senton. Tonight, he and Chad French from Midwest Territory joined Ed Bratz and me on Wrestling Bookmarks to talk about the magazine, classic wrestling, indy wrestling, and Aaron Williams

You can watch the video below. To order a copy of The Seated Senton, click here.

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Life Coins: Gifts for First Responders and Vets

I’ve blogged before about the Life Coins that my friend Carol Castle of the Minnesota Wrestling Hall of Fame created. I’ve told the story of how she created a program designed to get as many of these coins into the hands of first responders as a way to honor her son. Carol’s son was a first responder who took his own life, a story that’s all too common in that community. Life Coins carry an 800 phone number for Safe Call, a free, 24 hour crisis intervention center geared towards helping the people who help others when they themselves are feeling suicidal.

Carol has just introduced a new, heavier coin aimed at a new group of special people: our veterans. By using the phone number on these coins, veterans can reach out and get counseling any time day or night, free of charge. There’s no need to wait on the VA. Help is only a phone call away.

You can read more about the Life Coin program if you click here. Veteran coins are not yet available to order through the website, but you can use this link to contact Carol and find out how to order them.

This is a must-have gift for EMTs, firefighters, police, veterans, and yes… even professional wrestlers. She has a coin for them, too.

Click here to learn more about Life Coins.