“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.”
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.
Much ado has been made about a comment from a certain wrestling executive about how wrestling only took place in tiny bars before the WWF came along. Today I decided to share a few programs I have from one of those tiny bars: The Jefferson County Armory, now known as Louisville Gardens.
The first program is from way back in 1952. This tiny bar program saw World Champion Lou Thesz defend his title against Enrique Torres with former champ Ed “Strangler” Lewis in Thesz’s corner. Ray Eckert, Stu Gibson, Ethel Johnson, and Bill Longson were also on the card held in front of a meager 9281 fans in this tiny bar.
A year later, the same bar wrestling promotion, the Allen Athletic Club, presented this card:
Baron Leone was the victor in the main event that night, defeating Gentleman Jim Doby. Other stars included the Great Zorro (pictured), Mae Young, Bill Longson, Stu Gibson, and Gloria Barratini. The bar was really packed that night, with a new record attendance of 9384 reported in the newspaper.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m excited to see some of the changes this innovative WWE executive is already bringing to television. But if we’re really going to go all the way, perhaps we should drop the company line that pro wrestling was irrelevant before WWF at the same time we drop the word Superstar in favor of Wrestler.
When Girl Fight returns home to the Jeffersonville Arena on April 12, they’ll be joined by a WWF legend.
Princess Victoria began wrestling in the Pacific Northwest in 1980. With her training partner Velvet McIntyre, she soon made her way across the country and around the world. She was one of the first two ladies to hold the WWF Women’s Tag Team Championship. In her brief career, she wrestled Moolah, Velvet, Wendi Richter, Leilani Kai, and many, many more.
And boy, does she have some stories to tell.
Fans can meet Princess Victoria at Girl Fight April 12 at The Arena in Jeffersonville. Tickets can be purchased in advance (see flier below) or at the door. Princess Victoria will be available for photo ops and autographs, and she’ll also be selling copies of her book and her hand made dreamcatchers.
It’s been almost 10 years since I started writing about pro wrestling in December 2012. Okay, so that’s eleven months out, but what’s pro wrestling without a little exaggeration?
The book that started it all, Bluegrass Brawlers (2014), is no longer available on Amazon or Kindle. That’s because I’ve gone back to the beginning to create a new edition, a 10th anniversary edition, if you will.
Bluegrass Brawlers is getting a major overhaul. I spent the last several months compiling every wrestling result from 1880 through 1966, when Louisville went dark before the Memphis era. I also conducted more than a dozen new interviews including Jeff Van Camp, Al Snow, Billie Starkz, Bryan Kennison, Charlene McKenzie, Hy Zaya, Cash Flo, Josh Ashcraft, Judi-Rae Hendrix, Maria James, Haley J, Ryan Howe, and Doug Basham. And I still have a few more to go.
The original book covered four distinct eras: The Pioneers (1880-1920), The Allen Athletic Club (1935-1957), the Memphis era (1970-1997), and the OVW era (1996-2014). All four of those sections have been expanded, some by a little, some by a lot. I also expanded on the Dick the Bruiser era (touched only briefly in the 2014 edition), filled in the time gap between 1920-1935, and told the story of Louisville since 2014.
New stories covered in the new edition include:
Steve Callaway, a long forgotten African American wrestling hero from the turn of the 20th century.
Promoter Abe Finberg, who booked wrestling at the Gayety Theater and later created a heavyweight promotion.
C.B. Blake and the Savoy Theater.
The feud between Blake, booker Heywood Allen, and the Kentucky State Board of Athletic Control, the first state institution that attempted to regulate wrestling.
Louisville fan favorite Jack Reynolds.
Gorgeous George comes to Louisville – and to dinner.
Wahoo McDaniel in Louisville in the early 1960s.
Phil Golden’s All Star Wrestling.
New Albany native Jeff Van Camp, better known in the ring as Lord Humongous.
A hilarious fan story about Flex Kavana, aka Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Tales from the first students at OVW including Doug Basham and Nick Dinsmore.
The sale of OVW to Al Snow.
The rise of the Legacy of Brutality.
The growth of the indie scene in Southern Indiana.
Crazy Mary Dobson becomes Sarah Logan in the WWE.
And the rise of women’s wrestling in Louisville and beyond.
The new book includes a lot more photos and 50% (and counting) more written content. Thanks to a more professional layout, it’ll still be around 330 pages.
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.
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.
Michael Ewing has been a friend for several years as well as a collaborator. He’s one of my go-to proofreaders and editors. Recently, he decided to launch a print fanzine called The Seated Senton. Tonight, he and Chad French from Midwest Territory joined Ed Bratz and me on Wrestling Bookmarks to talk about the magazine, classic wrestling, indy wrestling, and Aaron Williams
You can watch the video below. To order a copy of The Seated Senton, click here.
Wrestlers give their time, their money, and their bodies for our entertainment. To this day, the business that profits off their sacrifice has yet to step up and truly care for these people long term. That’s the reason so many independents are always running benefit shows. It’s also the reason the Cauliflower Alley Club exists.
Today, the boys (and the girls, and the fans) also have resources like Go Fund Me that allow people to step up immediately and help ease the financial burdens of medical problems. Right now, it’s Melissa Coates, aka Super Genie, who needs some love.
Most fans know Super Genie as Sabu’s ringside (and real life) companion, but she is also a highly accomplished bodybuilder and professional wrestler in her own right. Like many former wrestlers, who worked as independent contractors without any insurance or 401K plan, she has limited resources, and the COVID-19 forced shut down of the independent wrestling world has kept her and Sabu out of action for months. This is why a Go Fund Me was set up to help her out.
Tracy Smothers never hesitated when asked who was his favorite opponent of all time. “Candido.” He couldn’t sing Chris Candido’s praises enough, and he lit up every time we talked about Chris. It was Tracy who said that Chris Candido should be my next book, and it was Tracy who put me in touch with his good friend Jimmy Shoulders, who in turn put me in touch with Chris’s family.
Jonny Candido and I have been working hard to put together the biography of one of the most beloved wrestlers ever to set foot in a locker room. Some call him a wrestler’s wrestler, and some argue that he was one of the most gifted men ever to set foot in the ring. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who loved the wrestling business more. His story has a tragic ending and plenty of drama, but it’s absolutely inspiring. Chris Candido truly lived and breathed professional wrestling, and I’m very excited to announce his biography will be released in early 2021.
Chris is not the only project now in the works for next year. Hot on the heels of the Elvira Snodgrass biography, I’ve just started working with one of the toughest women ever to set foot in the squared circle. Princess Victoria was poised to be one of the top women’s stars in the WWF before her career-ending accident in 1984. She was one of the first WWF Women’s Tag Team Champions, and she worked incredible matches with Velvet McIntyre, Wendi Richter, Sherri Martel, and more.
But wrestling is only a small part of the story. Vicki Otis was a warrior long before she became a professional wrestler. She endured a horrific childhood and unimaginable abuse. She survived, escaped, and ran off to pursue her dream of becoming a professional wrestler. Vicki’s tale is inspiring in a different way than Candido’s, and it is our hope that people who have endured similar backgrounds will find inspiration in her tale.
Candido’s book is entering the home stretch, and we’re shooting for an early 2021 release. Princess Victoria is just getting under way, but I’m hopeful for an early 2021 release for that book as well.
There’s more on the table for 2021, including a few more historical biographies and a new novel that has nothing to do with wrestling, but suffice to say, we’ll be kicking 2021 off in a big way.