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Even the Music is Old School at OVW

“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.”

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Big Zo’s Timely Recipes for a Better Life

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.

You can purchase Cooking Up Counseling on Amazon by clicking here. Wrestling fans can get it from Big Zo in person or at the OVW merchandise stand in Davis Arena.

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Ref Charlene a Trailblazer in the Ring

 

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. 

You can follow Charlene on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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Stories Matter at OVW


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.

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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.