I haven’t been posting stories to this site very much lately. Part of that is just being busy, but another reason for my lack of content is the opportunity Sam! Wrestling has given me.
Greg Oliver at Slam! has long been a big help to me with research on my books, and over the last year, I’ve begun contributing stories to his website. A number of those stories profiled the stars of OVW, a subject near and dear to my heart. So for those who missed them, here’s where you can catch up:
The calendar said Groundhog’s Day, but love was in the air at Ohio Valley Wrestling – at least for a few folks in the stands, who took advantage of OVW’s Valentines ticket packages that night. A packed crowd showed up to see some outstanding action, including two great hourly main events and another show-stealing performance by The Derby City Destroyers and The Outrunners.
In the time I’ve been a regular attendee at OVW, one of the most exciting things to see is the growth in the weekly crowd. Granted, Tough Love was the promotions “special event” for the month of February, but the seats were packed from one side of Davis Arena to the other for what had to be the third largest crowd of the year after the two Nightmare Rumble shows in January.
Last night’s crowd was particularly engaged and vocal. Maybe it’s the local brew or the local food now being served at the concession stand courtesy of Gorilla Bob’s Grub Shack, but last night’s crowd would chant anything – literally. At one point they actually chanted, “We’ll chant anything!”
The OVW roster gave them plenty to cheer about, from a frenetic rematch between Blanco Loco and Hy Zaya to the Rush Division Speed Rumble won by Kat Herro, to the first in what’s sure to be a classic series between Ryan Von Rockit and Star Rider.
The first hour ended with a long-anticipated clash between Hollyhood Haley J and the “fallen” Shawna Reed. Reed, who found herself stranded in the UK earlier this week, showed no sign of jet lag as she and Haley battled in and out of the ring in a no hold barred, no DQ match. With OVW Women’s Champ Shaloncé Royal on guest commentary, the ladies endured some wicked chair shots and suplexes on the outside of the ring, and when Haley took a face full of red mist from Shawna, it appeared to be over. Haley persevered, so Shawna tried again, this time misting referee Charlene in the face.
Desperate to steal a win from her foe, Haley grabbed Shawna and kissed her hard at the center of the ring. Dazed and stunned, Shawna then got a taste of her own medicine as Haley hit her in the face with mist and scored the win.
A pair of tag matches dominated the second hour action, including a two out of three falls contest between The Derby City Destroyers, Big Beef Gnarls Garvin and Biz Zo, and The Outrunners, Truth Magnum and Turbo Floyd. The Florida boys, most recently featured on AEW Dynamite against The Acclaimed (ahem, Tony Khan, just sign them already!) were taken by surprise before the bell even rang, and the referee awarded them a win for the first fall after Big Beef used a steel chair. A badly beaten Truth Magnum couldn’t even get to his feet after the early attack, and the second fall went to The Destroyers.
Honestly, the quick two falls felt like a cheat, but the action in the deciding fall made up for the quickness of the first two. As I mentioned on Twitter last night, I’ve seen OVW do homage to the famous Eddie Guerrero chair spot before, and last night, as before, they did it with a twist. Turbo Floyd shared video of his clever tactics on Twitter last night:
The Outrunners won the deciding fall, and Turbo scored a huge laugh with his ref massage, but it was Big Zo who got the biggest pop of the match. As Zo waited his turn to tag back into the match, the vociferous crowd taunted Zo about a slight wardrobe malfunction: “Fix your wedgie! Fix your wedgie!” Zo must have had his eye on the monitors because as soon as we went to commercial, he grabbed the spandex on his rear cheeks and pulled his trunks even tighter into his crack. The crowd ate it up. Zo didn’t even crack a smile as he adjusted himself in plenty of time for the feed to go live again. Mad respect to the big man.
The main event of the evening pitted Cash Flo against two members of OVW’s newest heel faction led by the infamous Jessie Godderz. Godderz himself took the ring with EC3 to face Cash and a partner of his choosing. Fans were elated when Tony “Don’t Call Him Mudd” Gunn made his long-awaited return to Davis Arena for the match.
Gunn was force to watch for most of the match as Cash took on both men, though not by choice. Godderz and EC3 cut the ring in half and gave the big man a rough go, keeping Gunn in the corner by refusing to allow the tag. With Shannon the Dude at ringside, the heels employed plenty of dirty tricks to keep the odds in their favor, but Cash was eventually able to spring free and give Gunn a chance to throw hands with EC3 and his bitter rival, Jessie Godderz.
Alas, a happy ending was not in the cards for Tough Love. This new faction, which also includes Mahabali Shera, Luke Curtis, and Adam Revolver, is proving to be almost unstoppable. Right after EC3 and Godderz got the win, Godderz took to the mike to run down the crowd and send them home even angrier. Then EC3 got on the mike, taunting the fans, asking where they were going and why they were so sad.
OVW truly stands out for their ability to tell a long term story, and much as the fans HATE this new alliance, they’re not going away any time soon. They already own three belts, and they’ve got their sights set on claiming all the gold. There are tag team titles to be won, along with the Country Boy Brewing Kentucky Championship. The tale of Haley J and Shawna Reed might – and I stress MIGHT – be over, but this new tale of domination from six dirty, cheating heels is just ramping up.
OVW is live every Thursday night at Davis Arena in Louisville and on FITE.
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to see AEW live at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. I’ve lived on the north side of the Ohio River from Louisville for 35 years now, but strangely enough, I’ve only made about a handful visits to Lexington in that time. The most recent was a fall trip to the Lexington ScareFest, which takes place in the same complex as Rupp. It was easy in and out that day as driving around the block to the parking lot and walking across the street into the venue took less than five minutes. But Wednesday night was another story.
In light of the events that took place, I thought it might be fun to present my own “If you go” tips for navigating into downtown Lexington and enjoying a late night of wrestling at Rupp, be it for AEW, WWE, or whomever. I did have a great time at the show, which I recapped for Slam Wrestling. You can read that story by clicking here. But it’s worth sharing some advice on how to get in, how to get out, and just for fun, where to grab a bite.
Let’s start with dinner. Rupp is just a few miles off exit 115 from I-64/I-75 north of the city. Exactly one mile south of the exit is a gas station with a Hothead Burrito. This regional chain wins over Chipotle and Qdoba for my family and me, so I stopped to get a couple burritos: one for me, one to take home to my wife. She recommends the Sweet Habanero sauce with Barbacoa; I prefer the chicken with jalapeño ranch.
Sitting in Hothead, I checked my map app. Although just a few miles from Rupp, the app told me I was twenty minutes to my destination. I found out why as soon as I covered all but half a mile of the distance. Traffic was at an absolute standstill in the right lane wrapping around the Rupp Arena complex, and I sat or twenty minutes before giving up. I cut around the stopped lane and parked less than a block away at the Hilton. The sign out front said event parking was $20, but when I drove out later that evening, I was only charged $15. I was out of the parking garage in less than two minutes, too, another bonus for skipping the main parking lot.
If I had cash, I could have spent $20 and parked in one of a handful of lots off Main Street. If there’s a next time I’ll definitely do that.
It boggles my mind just how bad the traffic was, especially given that only about half the seating in Rupp was open for the show. Seriously, how do they get 20,000 rabid Kentucky basketball fans in and out of there on game nights? It was another moment when I wished I could have called my dad, a civil engineer, to get his take on the poor city planning in downtown Lexington.
Anyway, once I got parked, it was a short walk back over to the building. I had to find the box office to get my ticket, which proved impossible to find on my own, but the Rupp Arena staff was extraordinarily friendly and helpful. Seriously, some of the best event staff I’ve ever encountered.
I stayed overnight at the nearby Tru by Hilton hotel, simply because i had Hilton Honors points for a free room and I didn’t feel like getting on the road at almost midnight. I was hungry again, so I stopped at Sir Pizza, located on Broadway and just about five minutes from Rupp. I spotted Sir Pizza using my map app earlier in the evening and took note they were open til 3 am. I went in with my bag to sit and work on my story for Slam while I waited.
There was only one guy working at Sir Pizza, and just his luck, about a dozen wrestling fans came in around the same time as I did. He took orders verbally and slinging pizzas, knocking our orders out one at a time with incredible grace and service. He clearly wasn’t happy being the only guy working during a late night rush, but he was very nice and we chatted for a bit while I paid my tab.
“Wrestling died for me when I was a kid,” he said. “I used to love watching Jerry Lawler and them guys, but it’s all been down hill since then.”
According to their website, Sir Pizza’s been a Lexington institution for decades. It’s comparable to the Pizza King restaurants we have around Louisville, a type of square cut pizza you either love or hate. Some do it better than others, and I have to say, Sir Pizza hit the spot at 12:30.
For those wanting something other than pizza, I also spotted Cook Out on Broadway with a drive thru open past midnight. Prices have gone up at Cook Out the last few years but you can still get a tray with a sandwich, two sides, and upsized to a milkshake for less than $10. Nobody can beat that deal.
I hope this travelogue helps those of you who might visit Lexington for wrestling (or concerts, or heck even basketball) in the future. This was fun, so I’m planning to do a few of these for OVW and The Arena in Jeffersonville in the near future.
“You need to learn to play Luscious Lawrence’s theme song.”
My son Sam went to OVW last night for the first time. He’s a phenomenal musician who, so far, has picked up keyboard, guitar, bass, trombone, and saxophone. On the way home, his sister Lydia began telling him, not for the first time, that he needed to learn Lawrence’s signature saxophone-driven theme.
This led to a discussion of OVW theme songs in general, and an interesting observation: by an large, the wrestlers of OVW all have great theme songs. To be more specific, they have actual songs that are easily distinguished from one another and tell you a great deal about each character.
Luscious Lawrence has that smooth, almost sleazy saxophone with the lounge keyboard and bass underneath.
Tony Gunn’s theme is driving rock with a screaming vocal that demands fans sing along.
Jack Vaughn sounds like he’s walking out to the theme song from a local 1980’s wrestling television program.
The Outrunners sound like they’re making their entrance to some primo outtakes from the Miami Vice soundtrack.
Words fail me to describe the operatic diva Shalonce Royal’s new theme, other than to say it is quite uniquely her.
I could go on an on.
My dear friend, the late Hurricane JJ Maguire, wrote many of the classic WWF themes from the 1980s with his writing partner Jimmy Hart. They and Jim Johnston set the standard for what a wrestling theme should be.
It needs to be clearly recognizable within the first few notes or sounds.
It needs to tell you a story, specifically, who the wrestler is.
It needs to be as unique and distinct as the wrestlers themselves.
This isn’t a post meant to denigrate any of the big companies who spend way more money on theme songs than independent wrestlers can afford. This is just to share an observation by my kids. OVW wrestlers have great theme songs. They are as distinct as the wrestlers themselves, and they are highly enjoyable. It’s an old school way of doing business, and it still works.
Lydia’s only been a handful of times with me, but on the way to the show, she didn’t just tell her friend and brother who were tagging along what to expect. She sang about it.
“You’re also going to see, Shotgun Tony Guuuuuuuuuuuunnnnnn!”
When it comes to pairing songs with wrestlers, right now, the OVW roster might truly be “The Best There Is.”
Big Zo has a recipe that can give you a better life.
I take that back. Recipe is the wrong word. The truth is there are many recipes for success when it comes to counseling. Every person is in a different “season” in life, and every “season” requires different “ingredients.”
I’m usually pretty sharp when it comes to puns and metaphors, but right now, I have to give the nod to Zo, or more appropriately, to Cowann D. Owens, LCSW. He’s assembled a book in Cooking Up Counseling with the express purpose of demystifying the idea of personal counseling. A long-time professional counselor himself, Owens is a believer that most people could benefit from at least some therapy in their lives, and his book does an excellent job of breaking through the fears around counseling.
Owens began writing the book during a time when mental health issues and especially anxiety were at an all-time high: 2020. Not only was the Covid-19 pandemic putting a strain on men, women, and children around the world, the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were also at the forefront of everyone’s mind. People needed help more than ever, and more than ever, they needed someone to convince them it was okay to seek that help.
Cooking up Counseling addresses the societal stigmas about counseling. Yes, family and faith and other natural supports are beneficial, but sometimes expert guidance is still needed. Owens uses the first third of the book to break down the process of seeking help. He gives the reader a bird’s eye view of mental issues and the types of professionals who can assist. He gives guidance to initiating the process of finding a therapist and encourages the reader to advocate for themselves in finding the right “kitchen” where they can start cooking.
Owens doesn’t just want people who need therapy to give it a try. He arms them with common sense and practical advice for making therapy work. Just like a good recipe in the kitchen, you need to put good ingredients in to have a satisfying result come out. To that end, Owens offers practical ways people can better engage in their own therapy to make it work for them.
Early on, Owens stresses that the book is not a guide to better health in and of itself, but a jumping off point for those who could benefit from therapy. Every person is different. Every diagnosis is different. Cooking with Counseling isn’t intended as a treatment in and of itself but a guide for understanding and getting the most out of therapy when needed. Owens uses humor and his love of food to make readers feel safe about seeking the help they may need.
And while Owens also adds he’s no culinary expert in the kitchen but merely a food enthusiast, he did toss in a few appetizing real-life food recipes, just for good measure.
It’s a sure bet some wrestling fans are going to pick this book up expecting it to be just another wrestling book. While Owens mentions his career in the ring, the focus remains solely on sharing the benefits of therapy. My guess is more than a few of those fans will find themselves opened up to the idea by the book’s end. Owens does a remarkable job explaining the hows, the wheres, the when’s, the whos, and especially the whys of seeking counseling. The man known as Big Zo in the ring has taken on few challenges as big as the he tackles in Cooking up Counseling, and the big man handles it like a champ.
This past weekend began and ended (sort of) with me attending live wrestling. Friday night was at the jeffersonville Arena, where I saw the return of former backyard promotion XCF. Monday night was at the Yum Center: Monday Night Raw.
Friday night’s show was one of the most joyous atmospheres I’ve ever experienced in pro wrestling. XCF, as I noted on this blog last week, began with a bunch of kids putting on shows in their backyards. Many of those kids have become notable stars in the Indies, not the least of which was Friday’s ring leader Shane Mercer. Every single one of the guys who came back to play Friday brought their inner child with them.
Shane Mercer promised there was not a dud on the card, and he delivered. Every match was a treat, and the card read like an Indie fan’s dream come true. Credit promoter Terry Harper for some of that. Terry books matches HE wants to see, and Terry’s tastes are awesome. Gary Jay and Lord Crewe tore it up. So did Aaron Williams and Chance Prophet. So did Atticus Kogar and Jason Kincaid, who I swear is the most creative, surprising, and innovating wrestler working today. So did Matt Naff and Kongo Kong, who was represented at ringside by Rodney Rush.
I may have missed something, but it felt like Rush and King expected to play the heels, but when the fans gave Kong a monster (no pun intended) reception, Naff cut a promo that clearly put him at odds with the crowd and lit a fire in Kongo Kong. Like I said, not a dull match on the card.
Fans were also thrilled by some of the surprises XCF sprang on them. No one present ever expected to see Simon Sezz, a huge local favorite, in a wrestling ring again. Yet there he was in the middle of the battle royal that delivered just as much action, comedy, and fun as any Royal Rumble. Aidan Blackhart garnered a similar pop for his entrance, as did Mercer, who surprised everyone by entering the battle royal last.
This was no vanity show for Mercer, however. He was eliminated before the match got down to its final four, and he took the final pin of the night in the main event against fellow XCF original Satu Jinn.
Speaking of that main event, what a once-in-a-lifetime performance that was. Four tag teams squared off in the finale: Mad Man Pondo and Duke the Nuke; John Wayne Murdoch and Satu Jinn; Iron Beast; and Billie Starkz with Mickie Knuckles. The bout started with a mat wrestling display put on by Mad Man Pondo and Shane Mercer. You read that right. Mat wrestling.
I also saw John Wayne Murdoch actually do wrestling “moves” for the first time. I say this not as a critique of Murdoch but as praise. I’m used to seeing Murdoch and his regular tag partner Reed Bentley brawl rather than rassle. Murdoch showed he can work a “normal” wrestling style as good as anyone Friday, furthering my belief he was simply born in the wrong time and would have been a huge star for Jerry Jarrett or Cowboy Bill Watts.
And dang it, Billie Starkz had me a little emotional Friday night. I remember when thirteen year old Billie made her debut in that building, so it was hard not feeling choked up seeing her go toe to toe with “Dad Man” Pondo, taking a Stop sign to the face, delivering a moonsault to her mentor, and then chokeslamming Duke the Nuke on top of him. She’s headed to Japan for the first time this week. She turns 18 next month. She’s headed for the top of the business sooner rather than later.
Fans in the arena had a chance to meet many of the XCF boys during intermissions and after the event, but many also got a chance to meet some boys from other local promotions. I won’t say their names because I don’t want to get anyone in trouble. They weren’t allowed to work the show because of their ties to other companies, but they came anyway as fans and friends. Their inner children came out as well as they cheered on their pals. Friday was all about the love of wrestling. Pure, unadulterated love.
But you know what I found strange? Monday night, I felt the same vibe.
Yes, this was WWE. This was corporate wrestling. This is a show I don’t keep up with for many reasons, with one of my biggest knocks being there’s just not enough wrestling on their TV shows. A week before I tweeted from a treadmill in Planet Fitness that Raw had been on the air a full twenty minutes, and it had been nothing but talking.
Monday started with talking. No surprise. But the talk ended sooner than the week before. The wrestling began, and it felt very different than any Raw or Smackdown I have attended in the past.
No three minute rushed matches. No quick squashes. Every match was given time to develop and tell a story, many of them lasting through at least one commercial break.
It was clear everyone walking that ramp was having a good time. You couldn’t help but feel the energy from everyone who made an appearance on stage or in the ring. Fin Balor and Seth Rollins delivered a great main event. Austin Theory and Dolph Ziggler stole the show, with Ziggler proving that outside Flair and Ricky Morton, no one in the business sells better than him. Matt Riddle and Chad Gable were terrific as well.
Plus, I got to see Io Shirai wrestle in person. That was a treat.
The WWE filled the breaks with fan-interactive activities like the DX Cam and the Undertaker Cam, encouraging fans to mimic their favorite stars. It was fun not only seeing the kids play along, but watching the camera crew in the arena seemingly do the same double take when the camera fell on former WWE star (and New Albany basketball legend) Rob Conway.
And proving Louisville fans never, ever forget their heroes, Shelton Benjamin was welcomed with an “O-V-Dub” chant for his bout with Dominik Mysterio.
Word has it that the atmosphere backstage at WWE has completely changed not that Triple H is in charge. No one’s walking on egg shells. People no longer fear week to week about being fired. Most of the restraints have been taken off roster members as far as social media and outside money opportunities. That looseness backstage translates to the performances in front of the fans. Everyone seems to be having fun again. They’re enjoying being pro wrestlers, and you can’t help but enjoy watching what they do.
If I had to pick one or the other which one would I choose? Sorry, not gonna go there. I enjoyed both XCF and WWE, and I fully expect to enjoy OVW just as much tomorrow night in their go-home show before Thanksgiving Thunder. If there’s any takeaway for casual fans in this blog, it’s this: yeah, WWE has changed for the better. It’s much more fun than I remember the last time I saw it live. But Do. Not. Sleep. On. The. Indies. Do not miss your chance to see and meet rising stars like Billie Starkz. Don’t underestimate the ability of an indie promotion you’ve never heard of – or a long-running indie like OVW – to suck you in with great matches and great, long term story telling.
I will always say you get more bang for your buck at an indie show. Cheaper tickets, cheaper merchandise, and more opportunities to shake hands and take photos with the wrestlers. But the WWE definitely showed me it’s a different company than it was the last few years. New blood has revitalized the promotion just as it did in Louisville for OVW.
This is a great time to be a fan.
Thanks to Terry Harper and Shane Mercer for letting me bring books to Friday’s show. And thanks to Mad Man Pondo and Ref Daffney (formerly known as Girl Fight Champion Aja Perreira) for Monday’s ticket.
If Terry Harper’s name is attached to a wrestling show, I pay attention. The concert promoter doesn’t put on wrestling shows very often, but he doesn’t mess around when he does. He gave us Kongo Kong vs. Jeff Jarrett. He brought Sandman to The Arena, and he booked MJF hot on the heels of his All In curtain jerker with Matt Cross.
I was a bit thrown when I saw his next show is a revival of wrestling company called XCF. I’ve been following indie wrestling in Southern Indiana and Louisville for close to a decade now, and the name was not familiar to me. Turns out XCF has a history that is truly inspiring.
It all started with a bunch of kids who wanted to be professional wrestlers putting on shows – where else? – in the backyard. One of the founders was also one of the best kept secrets in indie wrestling, The Iron Demon Shane Mercer.
“We originally called the company ECF,” says Mercer. “E from ECW, C from WCW, and F from WWF. We originally started on a ground with a base, moved to a trampoline, and then to an actual ring. We even had a cage set up at one time.”
The ECF guys merged their backyard fed with another started by Aidan Blackhart. The new group changed its name to XCF, and the homegrown shows continued even as many of its founding members began wrestling professionally.
“The style we wrestled is everywhere now, but it was frowned upon at the time,” says Mercer. “We felt the freedom in XCF to do things our way.”
XCF connected with other small companies and produced super shows. They had an annual “Wrestlemania” type event they called Last Rites. They held their own awards banquet at the end of the year, complete with dinner and highlight reels showing the best performances in an XCF ring.
In addition to Mercer and Blackhart, XCF had a number of regulars like Satu Jinn, Alex Zayne, and Maxx Mizery. JC Bailey joined forces with them on several occasions, bringing his own crew up from Bardstown, Kentucky.
“We told ridiculous stories and had bad ass dream matches,” says Mercer. “We had so many styles, from technicians to deathmatch advocates to goofy dumb stuff and more. It brought us all closer, and we kept it going until it finally faded out around 2011-2012.”
The momentum of XCF faded, but not the memories. A place like XCF no longer felt necessary, thanks to the changing styles of indie wrestling, but Shane Mercer couldn’t shake the thought of “What If.”
Shane shared his “what if” thoughts with the right person. Terry Harper came on board, and Shane out the word out. “It blew up like I never thought possible. So many people from the past wanted to jump on board because because that electricity we felt for XCF never died.
A true XCF reunion would be impossible because more than a hundred people wrestled for them at one time or another. Shane assembled the “Originals” and teamed up with Terry to book a card loaded with indie stars: Shane Mercer, Billie Starkz, The Rejects, Team No Respect with Mad Man Pondo and Duke the Nuke, Mickie Knuckles, Aaron Williams, Gary Jay, Kongo Kong, Dan Maff, Jason Kincaid, Lord Crewe, Atticus Cogar, Chance Prophet, KTB, and a host of surprises appearing in an XCF Battle Royal.
“The card is full of bangers and badass matches,” Mercer promises. “No filler ever.”
Will XCF: Resurrection be a one night only reunion or a true rebirth? That’s up to the fans who are buzzing over the show and snapping up tickets. And Shane and Terry of course. The important thing is tickets are still available for what is sure to be one of the biggest nights of wrestling ever at The Arena.
The show takes place Friday night, November 11, at The Arena, 1416 Spring Street in Jeffersonville.
This story has been a long, long time coming. I’ve been friends with Charlene McKenzie for several years now. We’ve crossed paths at dozens of shows, and she’s graciously given me interviews for other stories. Now, finally, I’m happy to be sharing her story.
Most fans in the Kentuckiana area have seen Charlene working for one promotion or another over the last twelve years, from IWA Mid-South to Girl Fight to Terry Harper Presents to Ohio Valley Wrestling, where she currently does most of her work. Few fans know her true origin story: she was born overseas, the daughter of a U.S. Army soldier and a German woman.
“I have dual citizenship,” she told me recently. “German and American. I was born in Germany, but when my dad transferred back to the States, he brought me and my mom back with him.”
The family lived on a few Army bases until Charlene’s parents split. At the age of seven, she moved to Florida with her mom, but by the time she was fifteen, she had moved to Kentucky to be with her dad.
“I was always a daddy’s girl,” she says.
Charlene was a lapsed fan when she came across wrestling on television in 2006. Her father introduced her to pro wrestling early in life, and it became her escape when she moved to a neighborhood in Florida with few kids. She hadn’t watched in several years, but a familiar face made her set down the remote control.
“I saw Edge, and I thought, hey, this guy looks familiar,” she said. “I kept watching that night and every week, and that’s when I fell in love with it again.”
Wrestling took hold of her for good this second time around, so much so that she started looking for a place to train. After moving back to Kentucky, she heard about a school across the river in Indiana where she could give wrestling a try.
“The promotion was called Classic Championship Wrestling,” she says. “It was run by Marcus Snyder, who used to be at Ohio Valley Wrestling. Crybaby Chris Alexander was with them as well. I was only sixteen at the time.”
When CCW went on hiatus, Charlene went back to being, in her words, a normal high school kid. A friend of her started training at OVW, so she started attending their weekly shows. Through her friend, she got to know a number of wrestlers at the school, but it frustrated her that they treated her like a fan.
One day her dad came home from work at University of Louisville Hospital with the name and number of a trainer in Madison, Indiana, about 45 minutes from Louisville. Charlene contacted the guy, and she started training again. She was glad to be back in the ring, but this time around, she realized that being a wrestler was not for her. “I was not athletic enough, and I didn’t want my body to be all beat up.”
Charlene had done enough to impress Biff Wellington, who was booking the Madison promotion at the time. He approached her and asked if she might want to try being a referee. Charlene said yes, and Biff immediately started to use her. Soon she was working for other promoters, starting with Bobo Brazil, Jr., who ran shows in nearby Austin, Indiana.
“I was still in high school. I think I was still seventeen,” she said. “Then after high school, I met Mickie and Pondo. That’s when things really started to take off.”
Fans of Mickie Knuckles and Mad Man Pondo know both deathmatch legends have a reputation for identifying and helping young talent. That goes for referees as well as wrestlers. Mickie and Pondo started calling Charlene any time they went on the road. She shook a lot of hands, set up a lot of chairs, and she learned to always to bring her striped shirt along for the ride.
“Pondo has always been like a wrestling dad to me,” she says. “He’s always looking to be entertained. I got to meet Jesco White from the reality show The Wonderful Whites of West Virginia when Pondo insisted we stop by his place unannounced and uninvited. I sat in his living room.”
Charlene was a regular face at most of the promotions in Southern Indiana when I started writing about pro wrestling back in 2014, but she wanted to work in her hometown. She wanted to get in with OVW. Her initial overtures to the promotion were ignored, in part because of some of the other promotions she had worked, but a match she called for Casey Reeves gave her a foot in the door.
“Something happened in the match, and Casey kind of got lost,” says Charlene. “I knew something was wrong, so I called a new finish on the fly. He was a little pissed at first, but then he thought about what I had done and how I had helped. He knew I was a team player, and he appreciated my quick thinking.”
Casey pointed Charlene in the right direction, and soon she was in contact with Adam Revolver. Adam put Charlene in some dark matches, and when she proved she was ready, she started refereeing on OVW television.
Charlene has seen a lot of changes at OVW since her arrival. Two years into her tenure, Danny Davis sold the company to Al Snow. “Al has been incredible. He’s always available when I have a question, and he’s very hands on and involved with all of us. We’ve all learned so much from him.”
Charlene was the second person in the ring on the night of OVW’s 1000th television episode, broadcast live from Fourth Street Live in Louisville. “That was a special night. It was one of the last live shows my dad saw before he passed away. I remember sitting with him in the crowd for episode 500.”
Even though her wrestling ambitions ended years ago, Charlene is thrilled to see how Al Snow’s arrival brought change to the OVW women’s division. “It’s a 180 degree change. There are more women and more women’s matches. He brought Amazing Maria in to oversee the women’s division, and it’s been incredible.”
Charlene’s day job keeps her extremely busy these days, but she works OVW as often as she can and even trains in the advanced class with Doug Basham. “With the refs, they focus a lot on out positioning in the ring, knowing where the camera is. Also, we work on making sure the wrestlers stay safe. Doug’s a great teacher, and Al’s classes are amazing too.”
It’s a far cry from the typical baptism by fire independent referees usually get. “They’re like, ‘Can you count to three? Cool. Put this shirt on and tuck it in.’” she jokes.
Charlene continues to work with other promotions when she has the time and opportunity, including Mad Man Pondo’s Girl Fight Wrestling and the upcoming XCF show in Jeffersonville promoted by Terry Harper. “I worked my first Pride show last weekend. It was an amazing experience, working with my old friend Jimmy Feltcher and so many others from the LGBTQ community. They had a drag show in between the matches.”
Working at OVW has also given Charlene a chance to work with Impact Wrestling, and she’s appeared on streaming and pay-per-view events for numerous promotions. Yet even if her hard work never leads to a signing with a major company, she’s incredibly grateful for the opportunities she’s had.
“I’ve done way more than I ever expected I could accomplish,” she says. “Learning from Al. Working Jerry Lynn’s second to last match. Working with so many heroes and amazing people. I’m very proud of what I’ve done.”
A big part of that pride comes from being a trailblazer as a woman wearing the stripes. “There weren’t that many female referees when I started, and there were none on TV. Now you see them all over. I’m definitely very proud of that.”
Charlene McKenzie is a true professional,a proven leader in the locker room and in the ring. She’s seen it all and done it all, from playing the blind referee who doesn’t see the misdeeds of the heels to taking the hard bump out to ring side.
“That looked pretty real, when you hit the apron tonight,” I told her one evening.
Nursing her elbow, she shook her head. “Yeah, that wasn’t planned.”
All things considered, she would have been a lot more beat up as a wrestler than she is as a ref.
I never get tired of seeing OVW live. Not these days. I haven’t been able to go every week this fall because of work and just life in general, but every time I go, I see something great.
The Nightmare Cup delivered a few great moments tonight. The gimmick this year is that tag teams are being selected by random draw, which is how Omar Amir came to team up with Adam Revolver while Tony Bizo teamed with Anthony F.N. Catena. The story for this match was played perfectly straight but was absolutely hilarious. The heels wanted to be heels, and their babyface partners just wouldn’t play ball. Amir and Catena repeatedly drew the ire of Revolver and Bizo by refusing to cheat, to do double teams, and to take cheap shots. “That’s not how we do this!” Amir told Revolver at one point.
The second Nightmare Cup brought a little of the same dynamic, at least on one side. “Hustla” Deget Bundlez of Dark Kloudz and “Big Whiskey” Jared Kripke struggled to get on the same page as Kripke refused to play dirty. Their opponents were much more in sync, thanks to a little heel play that took place backstage. When the official in charge of pulling names for partners was distracted, Truth Magnum slipped the name of his tag partner Turbo Floyd into the hopper. And as often happens, The Outrunners delivered one of the best matches of the night.
Speaking of The Outrunners, they were seeing double at ringside because Bryan Kennison and Steven Johnson dressed up as the tag team as part of the night’s Halloween festivities. Turbo and Truth were perplexed at first, but then decided, “We love it!” and high-fived the announcers.
Dressed as Captain Jack Morgan, Josh Ashcraft could only lament, “Am I the only grown up at this table tonight?”
The women’s division had a chance to shine this evening as well. Fans were treated to three matches, with Shalonce Royal defeating Judi Hendrix, Alice Crowley defeating Arie Alexander, and Haley J fighting Freya the Slaya to a no contest, thanks to the antics of Jessie Godderdz and Tony Gunn. It’s worth noting that Alice left Arie looking pretty shaken up in the middle of the ring. You can tell how serious a situation is by how many officials come out of the back, and tonight, all of the officials and Doug Basham rushed to Arie’s aid. Could we be on the verge of a monster push for Big Al?
Kudos also go to Manny Domingo, who continues to win over fans week to week with his blazing speed and aerial acrobatics. Domingo has taken OVW by storm, and fans are definitely keyed up to see him challenge Luke Kurtis for the Rush Championship.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also give props to Superior Tony Evans, who took a beating not once but twice tonight. After cutting a stellar heel promo about how he intended to seize his moment, he poked the bear a little too hard and got laid out by the OVW Heavyweight and National Champion Cash Flo. An hour later he returned to take another whipping in an actual match with the always charismatic Luscious Lawrence.
Not to bury the lead here, but the best part of tonight for me didn’t take place in the ring. Tonight, I took my fourteen year old daughter Lydia to OVW for the first time, and she absolutely loved it. She caught on really quick that booing the heels is even more satisfying than cheering the babyfaces, and she took a special dislike to Tony Evans.
It was delightful looking through her eyes, seeing professional wrestling live for the first time. Well, second time. She’d seen some matches a few years ago at the Indianapolis Public Library, of all places, but this was her first real show. She became completely swept up in the moment. I saw her hands nervously shaking on her knees as the tag match between The Outrunners and Bundlez and Kripke raced to its climax. She howled with laughter every time Jessie Godderdz and Tony Gunn appeared, doing their Road Runner and Coyote act.
The kid was quite observant of things beyond the ring as well. “That guy’s running the whole show,” she said, remarking on the always in motion, always on the spot A.J. McKay at ringside. A.J. truly is one of the unsung heroes who makes the show tick every week, and it was cool to see her recognize that.
I was especially glad she got to see a modern show where the ladies are so well represented. I told her on the way home that what happened tonight rarely if ever happened twenty years ago. Three women’s matches took place in two hours, one of them was the main event. Huge kudos to Amazing Maria, Al Snow, and everyone who has brought the women’s division so far along!
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. This is not the OVW of old. It’s not even the OVW of a few years ago. This is a growing territory with a worldwide viewing audience. It’s a veteran-driven program that keeps fans watching week after week not just for the stars but the stories.
And tonight, much to my wife’s dismay, OVW made a fan out of my kid.
“I’m not gonna have a voice tomorrow,” she said on the way to the car. “Worth it,” she added.