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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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Miller’s Motivational Book Packs a Punch

There’s a good reason why Coach Jim Miller now heads the Dan Gable Museum in Waterloo, Iowa. His love for wrestling is infectious, and his passion for life and wrestling come through in his new book, Do It Anyway.

Co-authored by his predecessor at the museum Kyle Klingman, Miller’s book is part autobiography and part motivational speech. He shares lessons learned from his days as a wrestler to his days as a coach and father. He touches on everything from finding motivation on tough days to setting your priorities.

As a college coach, Miller took a Division III college with no history in wrestling to ten NCAA titles. He took that program to the top thanks to his passion and his relentless drive to bring the best out in his wrestlers. He took that program to the top ten times because he put family first, honoring his wife and kids by staying in the community they loved rather than moving on to a larger program.

Do It Anyway is a short read that packs a wallop. Miller’s “do it anyway” philosophy can apply to anyone’s life and circumstances. Don’t feel like writing today? Do it anyway! Don’t feel like exercising? Do it anyway! Don’t feel like running laundry today? Do it anyway!

Whether you feel like it or not is irrelevant. If something needs doing, you do it anyway.

Do It Anyway is not available on Amazon, but it’s worth going out of your way to find and read it. If you can’t make it to the Dan Gable Museum in Waterloo, you can order it from Coach Miller’s website. Click here to order.

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Loretta Kendall Blends Romance and Rasslin’

Loretta Kendall’s story reminds me of my own. She had a desire to write romance novels, but she was looking for something different. “I started out writing sports romance novels, and I noticed that outside of Diana Hart, no one had written about wrestling,” says Kendall. “I thought, wow, there’s really a niche for this!”

Kendall didn’t have to look far for inspiration. She has family in the wrestling business, and she worked with a number of wrestlers behind the scenes, including Bill Dundee, Jimmy Valiant, and the late Brian Christopher. “I know what real life is like for those guys. I wanted to show that side of being a wrestler. I looked to see if anyone else had done wrestling themed romance, and outside of Diana Hart, there wasn’t much.”

In just a few short years Kendall wrote and published a number of novels, and she’s found a strong following. “I have about fifteen books out, and eight or nine are wrestling-themed. My first wrestling series of books has already topped 70,000 reads.”

Kendall is still new to the market and has hopes of getting out to author fairs and wrestling shows to find new fans.  In the mean time readers can learn more about her and her books on her website, www.lorettakendall.com.

Wrestling truly is for everyone, and the same goes for wrestling books. If you enjoy romance and wrestling, I hope you’ll give her a look!

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Deathmatch Wrestling for 10 Year Olds

A conversation from my in-laws’ visit this past weekend.

My 10 year old niece: That’s an interesting shirt Uncle John is wearing.

My wife, not a wrestling fan: That is a crazy shirt.

Niece: It looks like they have blood on them.

Me: Oh, that’s not blood. It’s hot sauce.

Niece: What?

My wife: They were having a hot sauce eating contest.

Me: And they were throwing it on each other to try and distract the others.

Niece, who is no dummy: It says Masters of Pain Tournament.

My wife, again not a fan but brilliant: Have you ever had hot sauce in your eye? It really hurts.

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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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Keep an Eye on Judi-Rae Hendrix

At first Judi-Rae Hendrix never paid much attention to professional wrestling. It was on all the time, thanks to her brothers, but she never paid attention until the day her brother said, “Hey, there’s girls wrestling!”

“What do you mean there’s girls wrestling?” she said.

Even though she was a tomboy, wrestling was too much of a boy thing for her. Then she discovered A.J. Lee. “She was in a tag with Tamina and someone else again Natalya and the Funkadactyls,” Hendrix recalls. “I was like, holy cow! This girl reminded me so much of myself. The way she wrestled, the way she presented herself, she was everything I wanted to be.”

Judi-Rae started looking up more wrestling and specifically, more ladies wrestling. She learned about other ladies who worked the squared circle, and she wanted to see them all. At the age of eleven she had found her thing. She was hooked.

Just a few years later she took an interests test in middle school to help her identify potential career options. “Mine came back as professional athlete/ actor/ stunt person. I thought to myself, professional athlete. Professional wrestler! Oh yeah! I could do it! I’ve had my heart set since that day.”

As enthusiastic as she was, her parents did not accept Judi-Rae’s career choice. “They said, ‘You want to do what now? No, no, no. Go to college and get a real job. Be a doctor or be a teacher. Then if you want you can train.’ I didn’t want to be a doctor because I don’t like being around sick people, and I didn’t want to be a teacher because children talk.” Thankfully, Mom and Dad saw her passion and struck a bargain. If she paid for wrestling school and also agreed to go to college, she could train. “The same week I turned in my high school cheerleading uniform, I started training.”

Judi-Rae has trained relentlessly since that day. She started out with Chris Cannon and Shane Douglas, and she moved on to train with Bobby Blaze and Jillian Hall. She’s also taken seminars with other legends like Ricky Morton, Mr. Hughes, and Jimmy Valiant. When we met, she purchased a copy of Tracy Smothers’ book and told me she had been signed up for a seminar before he passed away. The girl knows and loves her history!

Hendrix is a true student of wrestling. She’s a sponge soaking up every bit of knowledge she can get, from the history of the business to the psychology of building a match. “Shane Douglas didn’t just show us how to do things but why we do them. Bobby and Jillian made my ring psychology even sharper, and in doing so, they helped me clean up my ring work. Working with them made a lot of the lessons I’d learned elsewhere click.”

Hendrix is only a year and a half into her wrestling journey, but she carries herself in the ring with the confidence of a a true professional. She stunned the regular Girl Fight fans back in June by not only working the main event against champion Billie Starkz, but hanging with her the entire time. I spoke with Bobby Blaze after the match about her, and Blaze was thrilled to hear his star pupil had done so well. “I’m looking for her to do good things in her future with the business,” he told me.

Based out of Eastern Kentucky, Hendrix has done most of her work in the West Virginia area but is looking to expand. When I met her in June, she was griping over the application she had to fill out to wrestle in Kentucky. “You want to know why you need to fill that out?” said her Dad. “The reason is right behind you.” He pointed to Girl Fight promoter Mad Man Pondo and laughed. (Read Pondo’s book if you don’t know about Kentucky’s Pondo/ Rotten rules.)

Hendrix has worked a number of matches with West Virginia’s Killjoy Kolbe Max, and she loves working against OVW’s Women’s Champ Hollywood Haley J. Long term she wants to wrestling in Japan and the WWE, but in the immediate future, she’s hoping to have more matches with Haley J and Billie Starkz. She also wants to work with Kenzie Page, and she’s gunning for her trainer Jillian Hall. “It’s gonna happen sooner or later, and I swear I’m gonna beat her!”

Judi-Rae Hendrix is one of the people I love rooting for in the wrestling business. She is bright, engaging, and fun, and her talent is only exceeded by her heart. She’s also driven by something deeper than just a love of wrestling that goes far back into her life story.

“I was an adopted child, and I suffered all kinds of abuse in my early years. My birth mom was special needs and never got to do the things she wanted to do. She’s passed away now, but knowing her story fires me up to live the life my mom didn’t get to.”

Like Bobby Blaze, I want to see Judi-Rae make it big in the business. One you see her in the ring, you’ll feel the same way.

You can follow Judi-Rae on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

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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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Masters of Pain Caps Off Great Weekend at IWA East Coast

It’s been twenty months since I took a road trip to see professional wrestling, and IWA East Coast broke the Covid-enforced moratorium with a bang this past weekend. The promotion hosted three shows from Friday through Saturday, and the entire weekend was a blast.

IWA East Coast hosted their festivities at Skateland, a roller rink set up inside an old elementary school just southeast of downtown Charleston, West Virginia. The decor along the two story walls surrounding the rink included playful graffiti, billiards tables and accessories, and high up in one corner, a life-size replica of Michael Myers, complete with butcher’s knife.

“To me, this building represents all of West Virginia,” said one local on Saturday afternoon. “You have all this fun stuff, and then, a little bit of creepiness.”

Made sense to me. Earlier that day I made the obligatory one hour trek to Point Pleasant to see the Mothman Museum and statue. Yes, it’s absolutely worth the extra time and your $4.50 admission. (You will spend more in the shop. Trust me!)

Back to the wrestling. The action began Friday night when eight men took part in the Zero G Crown Tournament, including Kincaid, Facade, Gary Jay, Aaron Williams, and Jake Crist. The first round match up between Crist and Williams alone made the trip worthwhile for me, but the entire evening was full of great action.

Third generation wrestler Malcolm Monroe III came into the building as an unknown, but by the end of the evening, everyone was chanting “Three! Three! Three!” Host Mad Man Pondo hyped the kid up in his first major event outside his home state of Michigan. Odds are he’s going to be doing a lot more traveling in the near future.

Fans dumped plenty of hate on Jake Crist, who heeled it up all night long as he sailed through the brackets. At one point the crowd split with a “Let’s go Jake Crist / Dave is better chant.” The former Impact star proved he deserves to still be on someone’s roster, and he took home a giant trophy to add to his resume.

Saturday afternoon, the ladies of Girl Fight took center stage. Fans were treated to two great opening matches featuring Girl Fight regulars Charlie Kruel, Mickie Knuckles, Nikki Victory, and Big Mama.  A lesser known competitor named Shayla Hyde put the Girl Fight fans on notice when she hit a 619 on the Black Widow Harley Fairfax. The crowd popped big, and Shayla scored a huge upset.

Another new face who impressed was young Judi-Rae Hendrix from Lexington, Kentucky. I met Judi on Friday night, when she picked up a copy of Tracy Smothers’ book and told me she was training with Bobby Blaze. Having not met her before, I was surprised to see Hendrix in the main event slot with newly crowned Girl Fight champion Billie Starkz. Hendrix quickly showed she belonged, going toe to toe with Starkz and earning a “This is awesome” chant after hitting the champ with a Canadian Destroyer.

Starkz got the win, but fans definitely took note of Hendrix and her tenacity. This is another young lady to watch in the coming years!

Saturday evening was the Masters of Pain deathmatch tournament, featuring eight of the best deathmatch artists in the world: Shlak, Shane Mercer, John Wayne Murdoch, Akira, Jimmy Lloyd, G Raver, Alex Colon, and Nolan Edwards. To be honest I am not a deathmatch guy, but I have endless respect for the men and women who do these types of matches. I also firmly believe that some of the deathmatch specialists are among the very best wrestlers in the world, period.

I’ve often said you could take John Wayne Murdoch, put him in a time machine, and drop him in Memphis or Mid-South during their hey day. A number of the guys competing with him Saturday night would do equally well in that sci-fi scenario.

The show was fun and frenetic from start to finish, but the match that had everyone buzzing in the building and online was the second round clash between Shane Mercer and Akira. Why Mercer is not signed to a major company is beyond me. His combination of power and athleticism are unmatched on the indies. Mercer and Akira dueled it out in a shower of glass shards and fluorescent lights with big flips and power moves throughout. Akira outlasted Mercer, and afterwards, Mercer took a moment on the mic to honor the student who had just bested one of his teachers.

The evening came to a grand finale when Akira and Nolan Edwards entered a ring filled with fan-made weapons to fight for the Masters of Pain trophy. The boys made use of everything from a door covered in barbed wire to a preschool baseball bat covered in glass Christmas ornaments. That said, it was the garbage can full of light tubes that stole the show. The boys began trading head shots, one after another, faster and faster, as if determined not to leave a single bulb unbroken. The flurry of popping glass had the fans on their feet, stomping and screaming for more. The night ultimately belonged to Akira, who bested his close friend and brother Nolan Edwards to win the tournament.

IWA East Coast plans to bring back Masters of Pain next year. If they do it up like these did this year, I highly recommend fans making the trip. The hospitality is warm and friendly. The local flavor is fun. And as I already mentioned, the Mothman is only an hour away… although Mad Man Pondo swears he heard the creature in his hotel room Friday night.

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Pondo Is Jericho!

In case you missed it, Mad Man Pondo was on Talk is Jericho this week.

Pondo , G Raver, and filmmaker Jeff Waldridge appear to discuss deathmatches, deathmatch culture, and Jeff’s documentary on the subject, Hardway. They also take the time to promote the Masters of Pain tournament June 12 in Charleston, West Virginia.

Click here to listen to the episode.

Click here to order the Hardway documentary.

And click here to get a signed copy of Mad Man Pondo’s autobiography!