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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.

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School’s Out: The Evolution of OVW

In a last minute turn of events, I made my way to Ohio Valley Wrestling tonight for the live broadcast of television episode 1199. I’ve witnessed many TV tapings in Davis Arena since my first visit twenty years ago, and I saw some terrific action tonight. What struck me the most, however, is how different this OVW is from the OVW I used to know.

I still have a program from the first night I ever visited OVW. Kurt Angle was in the main event, and a number of WWE stars like Batista, Shelton Benjamin, Rob Conway, and The Bashams, were on the card. Outside of Angle, however, none of the above were Superstars at the time. They were students, wrestling on a televised program from a wrestling school. Yes, these were the Superstars of Tomorrow Today, but it still had the feel of a wrestling school program.

I don’t get that feeling in Davis Arena these days. OVW continues to evolve under new management, and it no longer feels like you’re watching wrestling in a wrestling school. Everything about OVW screams “territory.”

First of all, there’s the arena itself. From the lighting rigs above to the seating arrangements to the presentation itself, nothing screams “wrestling school.” It looks and feels like any other professional promotion. I take that back; it feels a cut above most wrestling promotions, including some others that are televised. This is Professional wrestling with a capital P.

Second, take a look in the ring. Can you identify the students? Are they the young ones in the ring? Or maybe the newer faces? Perhaps the officials, or maybe the television crew? Every OVW card is stacked with talented men and women including long-time independent stalwarts (Hi, Cash Flo!) and faces you’ve seen not just on wrestling TV but reality TV. (I see you, Jesse Godderdz!)

The matches do not feel like students vs. students. The storylines do not smell of amateur booking. Once again, OVW  presents Professional wrestling with a capital P.

Now truth be told, everyone backstage at OVW, save for one, is a student of OVW. From the wrestlers to the refs to the production team to the announcers, every man and woman has come to sit under the learning tree of Al Snow. Even Doug Basham, who made a cameo during tonight’s pull apart between Amazing Maria and her daughter Haley J, is a student here. Yes, he’s a former WWE Tag Team Champion. Yes, he’s now teaching the advanced class. But he will tell you how much he has learned from resident “Mr. Miyagi.”

Al Snow is a born teacher. His stated goal is that everyone who works for OVW will take what they learn and use it to reach their goals in pro wrestling. The testimony to Al’s genius is how very professional, how very “non-wrestling school” his burgeoning territory looks in person. OVW is run like a territory. The people working OVW are taught to perform as professionals. Every time I attend a show, OVW moves further and further away from their wrestling school roots.

OVW tours like a territory. They’ve been all over the state this summer, putting on house shows in big towns and small. They’re across the river in New Albany tomorrow night (August 5), and they’re back at Davis Arena Saturday (August 6) for a stellar card that includes a casket match, the return to action by Amazing Maria, and a special appearance by Scotty 2 Hotty.

And of course, OVW broadcasts not only locally, but internationally through Fite TV. OVW’s wrestlers and announcers receive fan mail (and email) from around the world. Every week, more and more eyes are on the long-running Louisville promotion, one that marks its 1200th episode in seven days. Tonight’s episode is worth catching on Fite and included some great tag team action with Jesse Godderdz and Tony Gunn, a hard-hitting eight man match at the very end, and some fun video segments with Freya the Slaya and my old pal from the Three Blind Refs video, Aaron Grider.

OVW may not be in the same conversation as AEW, WWE, Impact, or New Japan, but the students of Al Snow have transformed what was once the nation’s top wrestling school into an honest-to-goodness, 21st century territory. Great things continue to happen at Davis Arena, and greater things are on the horizon for the students: in and out of Davis Arena.

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Bluegrass Brawlers Returns

It’s back, and better than ever.

The second edition of Bluegrass Brawlers is now available on Amazon, and for all you signed book lovers, it’s available to pre-order here as well. Revisiting my first wrestling book has been on my agenda for years. There were a few facts that needed to be corrected (like the demise of the Columbia Gym), and there were far too many stories left out of the original. The omissions weren’t intentional; the information just wasn’t as accessible as it is today.

Bluegrass Brawlers now includes almost 50% more text: filling in time gaps, expanding on stories that were all too brief, and covering the many changes that happened since 2014.

Just to give you a preview, here are some of the new stories included:

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 wrestling promotion.

Promoter 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, courtesy of Michael Ewing from The Seated Senton.

Tales of the first class at Ohio Valley Wrestling.

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.

The rise of women’s wrestling in Louisville and beyond.

I also conducted a number of interviews for the new edition, including “Lord Humongous” Jeff Van Camp, Al Snow, Billie Starkz, Bryan Kennison, Charlene McAnally, Hy Zaya, Cash Flo, Josh Ashcraft, Judi-Rae Hendrix, Rebecca Ann Bridget, Maria James, Haley J, Ryan Howe, Sierra, Doug Basham, Flash Flanagan, Sarah (Logan) Rowe, and Rico Costantino.

The book is also jammed with more photos, from Matty Matsuda to Billie Starkz, who you may notice is also on the cover.

Fans who can’t wait to grab a copy can click here to order on Amazon.

And fans who want to get a signed copy can click here to pre-order.

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Coming Soon: Bluegrass Brawlers, 10th Anniversary Edition

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.

Last but not least, the book is getting a brand new cover. Artist Adrian Johnson, who did covers for Tracy Smothers and The Black Panther Jim Mitchell, is working on something really special.

The target release month is March. So far, it’s on schedule. I’ll announce more here and on my social media in the coming months!

This new edition has been a long time coming. It’s going to be special.

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The Derby Eve Rasslin’ Show

Last week, Ohio Valley Wrestling presented their second Run for the Ropes program as part of the Kentucky Derby Fest-a-Ville. The riverfront wrestling program is a welcome addition to the Kentucky Derby tradition. Not only is OVW a proud Louisville institution 20 years running, but wrestling was one of the earliest Derby traditions, going back 102 years.

The_Courier_Journal_Sun__May_2__1915_In 1915 promoter George Beuchel put on the first Derby Eve wrestling program, featuring a title bout between Charley Cutler and Louisville fan favorite Yusiff Hussane. The match lasted three hours and thirty-seven minutes, nearly half an hour longer than an episode of Monday Night Raw. Derby Eve proved to be a very profitable evening for the fights, with sports fans from around the country arriving in town for the horse race, and a new tradition began.

The 1935 edition proved to be a turning point in Louisville’s wrestling history. The Savoy Athletic Club ran a Friday night show at the Jefferson County Armory featuring Jack Reynolds, Lord Patrick Lansdowne, Leroy McGurk, High Nichols, Billy Thom, Cyclone Burns, Billy Love, and Roy Welch. The show grossed $1400, but Club owner C.J. Blake thought the expenses were too high. This led to a split between Blake and his booker, Heywood Allen, Sr., and Allen broke away to form his own promotion, the Allen Athletic Club.

The_Courier_Journal_Sun__Apr_28__1935_

Allen took a number of the Savoy’s signature faces with him, including timekeeper Charley Schullman and the colorful ring announcer Georgie Lewis. The new promotion, based mostly out of the Columbia Gym on 4th Street, would become Louisville’s top wrestling promotion for the next 22 years.

Only a few years after Beuchel started the Derby Eve tradition, the local boxing promoters began jockeying for the Friday night spot. The Kentucky Athletic Commission held final say on who got the Armory and the coveted Friday night slot, based on whomever could present the best card of action, but when Allen took center stage in the wrestling game, he became very vocal about suspected under the table deals between the boxing promotions and Commissioner Johnson S. Mattingly.

In the spring of 1941 Allen became so incensed about losing out the boxers, he cut a promo in the ring at the Columbia Gym one night. Allen railed against Commissioner Mattingly and swore he had proof that the boxers were paying off the Athletic Commission to steal a place he believed was rightfully his. It wasn’t the first time Allen had let his thoughts fly on the matter. Allen and Mattingly had had a similar confrontation in 1938. This time, Mattingly responded to the comments by revoking Allen’s license, and Allen was forced to retract his claims in order to open the doors once more.

Allen and his successor Francis S. McDonough always made the best of Derby season, whether they had the Friday night show or not. In the coming years the Derby show would feature top stars like Lou Thesz, Mildred Burke, Wild Bill Longson, Baron Michele Leone, Johnny Valentine, Freddie Blassie, and Mae Young. The star-studded card below from 1951 featured two world title matches (Burke and Thesz) and a special appearance by a man with a special connection to Louisville, Ed “Strangler” Lewis.

It’s exciting to see OVW carry on the Derby wrestling tradition with a new tradition of their own. Louisville fans have always loved their wrestling, and Danny Davis’s boys are carrying on a heritage now more than a century old.

The_Courier_Journal_Fri__May_4__1951_

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How Did You Tell Your Parents You Want To Be a Wrestler?

esw coverHave you ever wondered how someone who wants to be a professional wrestler breaks the news to their parents? So did I. Here’s chapter one of Eat Sleep Wrestle, a book I wrote about the indy wrestling scene, a chapter that posed that very same question.

From the age of 5, Jamin Olivencia wanted to be a professional wrestler. It was at that tender young age the Buffalo, New York, native discovered wrestling on television, and from that moment on, he could not think of anything else. When he wasn’t watching wrestling on television, he was practicing moves. When he wasn’t doing either, he was daydreaming about being in the ring.

Jamin didn’t just daydream in front of the TV. He daydreamed everywhere, even at school. All those daydreams put him and his parents in an awkward situation at school one day.

“The school called my parents in,” Jamin recalls. “They told them I needed to be in special ed. They said I was unresponsive in class. They wanted to get me tested. It turned out I didn’t have any disabilities or anything. I was unresponsive because I was daydreaming about wrestling all the time!”

Every Mom and Dad has dreams for their child. Parents always hope and pray that their kids will grow up, find a good career, have a family, and do better than they did. So what’s it like to go to your Mom and Dad and inform them that you’ve chosen a life of long drives, low pay offs, and almost chronic pain?

“I don’t recall that conversation specifically,” says Mike Quackenbush, the co-founder of CHIKARA Pro Wrestling. “But I’m sure as soon as it was over, and I left the room, they turned to each other and said something to the effect of, ‘This is just a phase. He’ll grow out of it, right?’”

Mike’s parents weren’t the only ones who didn’t believe in the dream. “I remember at least one conversation with a high school guidance counselor who outright told me, ‘You can’t be that,’ in reference to being a professional wrestler. It was if that idea was the most ludicrous thing she’d heard.”

For most of the men and women profiled in this book, telling their parents wasn’t a very dramatic moment. Most of their parents were not at all surprised by their children’s choices because they saw them coming early on. As Ohio native Ron Mathis put it, “My parents said I came out of the womb watching wrestling.”

Louisville, Kentucky native Austin WGS Bradley discovered wrestling at the age of five when his grandfather let him watch Nitro. Austin saw Chris Jericho versus Eddie Guerrero that night, and he got so into it, his grandfather pulled out a video camera to film his reaction.

“When I was eight, I told my parents I was going to be a wrestler,” says Bradley. “They hoped it was a phase, but when I turned 18, they supported my decision.”

Hy Zaya, a fellow Louisville native, didn’t have to tell his parents. “I think they always knew,” he says. “My father was a wrestler. Amateur, high school. He always had guys over to watch the big pay-per-views. I think the first match I remember seeing on TV was Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant. My dad’s mom loved wrestling too. She was a huge fan of the Moondogs.”

Like many kids growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, Hy Zaya watched USWA wrestling on Wave 3. “I remember watching those guys work and hitting the mat,” he says. “I remember thinking, man, that mat sounds hard!”

Wrestler J B Thunder lived down the street from Hy Zaya and was a favorite of the boys in the neighborhood. Thunder would take kids to the matches with him on occasion, but it was a long time before he gave in to Hy Zaya’s pleas. Finally, one night, Thunder took the boy not to USWA at the Louisville Gardens, but to “The Mecca,” the old Kmart building that once housed Ian Rotten’s IWA Mid-South Wrestling, one of the most famous/infamous promotions of the last twenty years. It was Ian Rotten who first brought talented young stars like Chris Hero, Colt Cabana, and CM Punk to the public eye, but Rotten also enjoys a well-deserved reputation as the King of the Deathmatches.

“We got down there and got in line,” says Hy Zaya. “I looked around, and my first impression was, ‘Why am I standing here around all these white people with weapons?’”

Ian Rotten was also one of those kids who couldn’t get enough wrestling. “To say we were obsessed would be an understatement,” he says, referring to himself and his childhood best friend Mark Wolf. The former ECW talent and IWA Mid-South founder grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, a block up the street from his buddy Mark. “Mark’s family had one of those giant satellite dishes. I’d walk down the block to his house at 8 am Saturday morning and wouldn’t go home until 4 am, when Pacific Palisades Wrestling in Hawaii went off the air.”

On Sundays, Mark would be at Ian’s house by 9 am, playing a card and dice game they ordered out of the back of Pro Wrestling Illustrated. “We weren’t satisfied with the cards that came with the game. Our moms took the cards to work and made copies of the cards so we could make our own. An Eddie Gilbert card became Bobby Fulton, and so on.”

When their parents forced them to go outside, they played home run derby in the street. Rotten has always been an Oriole fan and a Cal Ripken, Jr., fan, but when the boys played baseball, their players were wrestlers. “Jerry Lawler was my go-to guy because he never lost.”

Marc Hauss was one of the few to actually get into wrestling before leaving high school. He started with some backyard groups at the age of fifteen. “I was not allowed to watch it because they did not want me to follow in the footsteps of any wrestler and become one. I only first started watching it when I was 12 and became hooked.”

Marc’s parents weren’t thrilled when he started training for real at the age of seventeen, but they backed off a little when he agreed to finish college, a step strongly recommended by many wrestling legends including Jim Cornette, Mick Foley, and Roddy Piper.

“Over the years they have softened on their stance and come to shows here and there,” says Hauss, “But for the most part it is not their favorite thing that I am doing right now.”

CZW alum and Ring of Honor star Adam Cole was one of those kids so obsessed with wrestling that wrestling T-shirts made up the majority of his wardrobe. He wore his favorite shirts so often, one of his classmates offered him twenty dollars if he would wear a different shirt for one day. “I took her money and used it to buy The Rock’s ‘Just Bring It’ T-shirt with the American flag on it.”

One of Cole’s best friends had the chance to date a girl he really liked, but he had to find a date for the girl’s best friend. He asked Cole to go on a double date, and Adam found himself matched with a very attractive girl. They took the girls to the mall, where Cole bought a WWE DVD, and went back to the house.

Cole put the new DVD on while his friend began making out with his girl. Cole’s date wanted some action too, and during a heated match between Randy Orton and Rey Mysterio, she began kissing his neck to get his attention. Cole ignored her at first but finally turned and told her, “Listen, you’re gonna have to stop until this match is over.”

Cole missed out on the girl, but not his calling. When he was still in high school, he caught up with CZW owner DJ Hyde after a show and told him he planned to train when he turned eighteen.

“Why not now?” Hyde asked him. To Cole’s surprise, Hyde arranged for him to begin training on a limited basis while he was still in high school.

Hyde began watching at the age of five but got into the wrestling business later than most. He was a college graduate earning six figures at a nice bank job, when wrestling reached out to him. Hyde had been following several wrestling promotions up and down the east coast. He was known to a number of wrestlers, who began teaching him how to take bumps. Next thing he knew, he was in the ring filling in for a no-show.

“When I told my parents I was going to be a wrestler, they were like, ‘All right, cool.’ It was when I told them I was leaving the bank to go full-time they said, ‘That’s on you.’”

Montreal native LuFisto decided to give wrestling a try when a new school opened up in town. “I was told by a few that I was too fat, too small and that wrestling was not for girls, especially by my step-father and guys in the class.

“The reputation of wrestlers wasn’t too good, especially for women, as many thought that women wrestling were mainly strippers fighting in bars. My mom was against it. She tried to convince me to give up, but when she saw I wouldn’t, she actually helped me by paying for my classes. She’s been telling me to quit ever since. Must be because she is a nurse!”

Cincinnati native Aaron Williams saw professional wrestling as a chance to combine two of his passions, wrestling and martial arts. When he told his father he was going to be a wrestler, his dad laughed. When his dad saw Aaron was serious, he encouraged his son, saying, “If you’re going to do it, do it big, and do it the best you can.”

“I had a cherry red Mustang convertible back then,” says Williams. “I wasn’t sure how I was going to pay for classes, but just as I was getting ready to sign up, I totaled the car. I collected the insurance money and used it to pay for training. It was a blessing in disguise.”

Toronto native Cherry Bomb proudly credits her father as being her inspiration for becoming a wrestler. Cherry’s parents divorced when she was young, and she lived with her mother, aunt, and cousins in her grandmother’s house. She visited her father on weekends, and that’s where her passion for wrestling began.

“Dad would turn on wrestling and say, ‘This is Hulk Hogan. Watch him,’” she remembers. Her cousins never took to the sport like she did, but Cherry’s father watched wrestling with her and took her to her first live matches. “When Shawn Michaels won the title at WrestleMania XII, I ran to the phone and called my Dad. I was at a friend’s house, and he was watching with his buddies. We were both so excited, and we said we had to watch it again together.”

After Cherry lost her father at the age of twelve, wrestling lost its appeal. She got into music and played in several bands, but it wasn’t until late in her high school career that she began watching wrestling again.

That was when she discovered Trish Stratus. The women Cherry remembered from her childhood were managers like Sherri Martel and Sunny. Trish opened her mind to the possibility that women could wrestle. On career day in Grade 12 at her all girls Catholic high school, Cherry made a bulletin board covered in WWE Divas and told her classmates that they would all see her one day on the WWE.

Cherry wasn’t the only wrestler to announce her intentions at career day. “The Blackanese Assassin” Menace did the same. “I listed two things that I wanted to do. Wrestling was number one on that list along with being a Kindergarten teacher. I remember the look on a lot of people’s faces when I said a pro wrestler.”

Menace began watching at a young age and grew up on Mid-Atlantic, Georgia Championship Wrestling, the WWF, and the NWA. “I always wanted to be a wrestler when I grew up. I don’t think anybody in the family thought about it seriously, but it was always in my mind that, yes, I want to wrestle.”

Fans may be surprised to know that deathmatch legend Mad Man Pondo grew up in a mostly quiet family. Pondo’s grandparents were laid back, religious people, but when pro wrestling came on TV, something came over his grandmother, who would yell and scream and even cuss at the TV.

A man in Pondo’s neighborhood named Roy West, Jr., took an active interest in Pondo and the other nearby kids. West told the kids if they kept their grades up, he would take them to wrestling. “All of a sudden, I became a straight A student,” brags Pondo.

It’s hard to imagine a guy like Mad Man Pondo before wrestling, telling his family that he was going to become a wrestler, but just about everyone went through it. Even Zodiak, another masked deathmatch specialist from Kentucky, had to run his decision by Mom.

“My mom actually took it rather well,” he says. “She hasn’t come to many events, but she has been supportive, yet protective, in that mom way. I had picked up some info about training from a booth at the Flea Market in Richwood, KY. They guy there gave me a number and when I told mom about it she just said, “Well, call them and see what it’s about, but don’t kill yourself.”

Lylah Lodge never planned to become a wrestler. It was her brother and his friends who created a backyard wrestling group and dreamed of going pro. When her brother and his friends decided to sign up for professional training, Delilah tailed along.

“I was very heavy-set,” says Lylah, “Much, much more than I am now. I didn’t look like an athlete, and I certainly didn’t feel athletic. But when we walked into the training school, the owner saw me and immediately wanted to know if I was there to train.”

The owner was wrestling legend “Playboy” Buddy Rose, who didn’t see a “fat chick” but a young woman with real potential. At Buddy’s insistence Lylah began to train with her brothers. She soon found she was more athletic than she realized, and the bumping that comes in professional wrestling came naturally to her. She continued her training with everyone who would teach her, including Davey Richards and Dave Hollenbeck, trying to pick up new things and master the art of ring psychology.

The only wrestler I spoke with whose mother flat out objected to his career choice was Apollo “Showtime” Garvin. Garvin knew darn well his mom would not approve of him entering the squared circle, so when it came time to make his move, he simply didn’t tell her. “When she found out, she just shook her head. She’s still not a fan of what I do, even after twenty years. But honestly, she was more upset about my first tattoo and my brief career as a male stripper than she ever was about wrestling.”

One of the most inspiring stories is that of Michael Hayes. Hayes, who is not to be mistaken for Michael P.S. Hayes of the Freebirds, joined the Army right out of high school. On a tour of duty in Iraq, Hayes was severely wounded when the Humvee he was riding hit an IED. Hayes suffered severe burns over large portions of his body and lost his left leg.

After eighteen months of rehab at Brooke Army Medical Center, Hayes returned to his home town of Louisville, Kentucky. He enrolled in college and got a job, but he also began drinking heavily. He was well on his way to becoming another statistic, another wounded vet who could never put his life together.

That changed one day when Hayes met some students from nearby Ohio Valley Wrestling. The former WWE developmental territory was affiliated with TNA Wrestling at the time. More importantly, the teachers at OVW were not afraid to take on a challenge themselves in helping Michael learn to wrestle.

For many of the wrestlers profiled in these pages, becoming a wrestler was the fulfillment of a dream. For Hayes, it was a second chance, a chance to make something good out of something tragic. He went from wounded vet to becoming one of the top stars in the OVW territory.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I? Telling your family you’re going to be a wrestler is just the first step on the road to glory. Many young men and women break the news to their parents every year. Only a small percentage of those parents actually have to go through the trauma of watching their baby wrestle over the long haul. That’s not because places to train are hard to find. There are more options than ever today, and they’re all glad to take your money. It’s staying the course and sticking it out that separates the fans from the future stars.

Eat Sleep Wrestle is available for Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.com.

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A Life Lesson from the Miz

02Roni Jonah, who is now hosting Eat Sleep Wrestle: The Golden Age on the INC Channel, used to be a wrestler herself. In fact, when she was at Ohio Valley Wrestling in Louisville, she was the Miz’s valet/ girlfriend. Want to know how that happened? She shared the story with me for Bluegrass Brawlers. It’s a fun story involving Miz and Heyman, and whether you like him or not, we can all learn a little something about seizing the day from the Miz.

Roni was in the amateur class at OVW when Paul Heyman arrived, and one of her best friends was Seth Skyfire, a former OVW main eventer whose star had fallen in recent months.

“Seth was no longer getting time on the show because he wasn’t under contract with WWE,” says Jonah. “When Paul came down to OVW, he wanted to showcase those guys and give them a chance.”

Roni wanted to make sure Seth got noticed by the new boss. She sat with her friends dead center in the audience and held signs calling out for Seth. Heyman noticed, and when he put Skyfire back on TV, he was impressed with what he saw. Heyman was equally impressed by the determined young woman in the crowd. “One night, he told Seth to go out to the ring and kiss ‘his girlfriend’ in the audience,” says Jonah. “Seth said, ‘But, she isn’t my girlfriend.’ Paul said, ‘She is now.'”

Seth did as he was told, but the kiss was weaker than Heyman wanted. When Heyman called him out on the weak kiss, Mike “The Miz” Mizanin chimed in: “She can be my girlfriend.”

Shortly after the backstage incident, Roni “left” Seth Skyfire for the Miz on OVW television. The angle elevated the both of them to top heel status in OVW, and the Miz was one step closer to his his WWE dream.

Read more OVW stories and discover over 130 years of wrestling history in Louisville in Bluegrass Brawlers: The Story of Professional Wrestling in Louisville.

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One year later… top ten posts

It’s been a year since I started this blog experiment, and it’s been exciting to see it grow. Here are the top ten posts from the past year:

The Black Panther Jim Mitchell1. The Black Panther Jim Mitchell – Still working on this book, though it’s taking longer than anticipated. Other opportunities and the difficulty of finding solid info on this forgotten trail blazer have made it difficult, but it’s still in the works. Happy to see this was the top post from year one.

2. Help Kenny Bolin Tell His Story – The story is now out and available from Amazon.com, with some help from fans who responded.

3. Everybody Loves Blue Pants – Interview with NXT’s most electric unsigned star. Thanks again to Mad Man Pondo for the hook up.

4. Who is Dean Hill? – Profile on OVW’s legendary announcer.

5. Khloe Belle Turns Hero – “Sista don’t care” in the ring, but outside the ring is another matter.

6. The Outlaw Returns – Profile on wrestler turned actor Ben Wood.

7. Is Shane Goode Enough? – Shane Mercer’s had a tough month, but he got some well deserved attention during the lead up to Tough Enough.

8. Meet the New Owner of HWA – A second life for a beloved promotion in Ohio promotion.

9. A New Hoosier Promotion EMERGEs – Profile on central Indiana’s EMERGE wrestling, available to watch on Roku’s Indie Wrestling Channel.

10. Meet Mary Elizabeth Monroe – She’s now going by Kelly Klein in Ring of Honor, and she’s one to watch in 2016.

Given that independent wrestling dominates the top ten, you can expect more of the same in 2016 from this blog. I also have several book projects in the works in addition to the Black Panther. I’ve been working with the daughter of Lord Leslie Carlton on his biography. I just started a book on women’s wrestling. And research continues on a new Louisville book focused on the Allen Athletic Club of the 1930s-1950s.

Thanks for reading.

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No Excuses

esw coverLast week I turned off Raw twenty minutes in. I know. I missed the brawl between Brock and the Undertaker. I watch the 90 minute replay on Hulu (because I don’t have cable), and the way WWE chose to edit the program last week, the portion I saw was all promos and no wrestling. Just after Steph and HHH’s speech to the backstage troops, I turned it off. I went to my YouTube app on Roku and I watched wrestling.

Time was if you didn’t like what WWE had to offer, you didn’t have a choice. There’s no excuse today. If you have cable, TNA and Ring of Honor are on Destination America (for now), and even if they go away, the far superior Lucha Underground is on the El Rey Network.

Don’t have those stations? Or cable? You have YouTube. You can watch classic matches, if that’s your preference, but I strongly recommend giving one of the new indies a try. IWA Mid-South’s channel is packed with recent classics featuring CM Punk, Chris Hero, and Colt Cabana. It’s also a great place to meet their newer stars like Reed Bentley, Hy Zaya, Shane Mercer, John Wayne Murdoch, and rising star Kongo Kong.

Rockstar Pro in Dayton, Ohio is another option on YouTube with their weekly program Amped. (Yes, they had the name before Jeff Jarrett decided to make use of it!) In fact that’s the show I turned on after turning off Raw. RPW’s locker room is packed with rising stars like Ron Mathis, Aaron Williams, Jake and Dave Crist, and Kyle Maverick to name a few.

And let’s not forget the second longest running weekly wrestling program, Ohio Valley Wrestling. The former WWE developmental territory is still going strong and releases new episodes weekly on the OVW website.

If you have Roku, you need to add the Indy Wrestling Channel. This app includes dozens of promotions from across the country, and they’re all free.

No more settling when the big E doesn’t give you more than a few minutes of wrestling on Monday nights. There’s great wrestling to be had online – not to mention in your own neighborhood.

No more excuses.

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Who is Dean Hill?

“Is it for real? Or is it a work?” That’s the question that’s been on every OVW fan’s mind all week. Ever since it was announced that founder Danny Davis had sold his majority ownership, fans have been speculating on whether this is really the end or just another wrestling storyline.

Any time you can make the fans believe, it’s a good thing, especially in the reality era. Kayfabe or no, this week’s announcement is a great excuse to tell you a little bit about the man they call “The Voice of Louisville Wrestling.”

Dean Hill has been a part of OVW from the very beginning as part of the television announcing team. In fact for many fans, Hill is probably more synonymous with OVW than Davis, who earned the nickname “The Wizard of Oz” for his propensity to remain behind the curtains at Davis Arena.

Dean Hill is one of many Louisville personalities I had the honor to interview and feature in Bluegrass Brawlers. He plays drums for a few local bands including T.J. and the Cheaters, he’s a motorcycle enthusiast, and he is a retired Louisville Police officer. When he started on the force in the early 1970s he learned hand to hand combat from Buck Moore, who wrestled on the Police benefit shows for promoter Francis McDonough in the 1950s.

Hill came into wrestling not as part of any promotion, but a necessary evil. He was part of the detachment assigned to escort the heels to and from the ring for Memphis Wrestling on Tuesdays at Louisville Gardens. He caught the eye and ear of promoter Teeny Jarrett, and one night when the regular ring announcer was a no-show, Hill agreed to fill in. He was surprised when Jarrett paid him at the end of the night, but he was even more surprised when he was asked to take over the job permanently.

Hill moved up from ring announcer to television announcer before Memphis closed shop in the mid 90s. Having spent several years announcing the names of luminaries like Jerry Lawler, Dutch Mantell, Bill Dundee, and even Andre the Giant (he maintains a full list of people he has announced to this day!), he settled back into life without wrestling.

One day Hill spotted Danny Davis scouting a warehouse up for sale. He pulled over to talk to the former Memphis tag star and learned that Davis was looking to open a wrestling school. Davis wanted to do more than just teach wrestling. He intended to teach ever facet of the business, including television. Davis asked Hill to be part of the announce team, and Hill accepted.

Many men have passed through the OVW announcer’s booth over the years, including Kenny Bolin, Jim Cornette, Dutch Mantell, Al Snow, and Gilbert Corsey. Through it all, Hill has been the anchor of OVW television. He was there in the beginning, when local boys like Rob Conway and Nick Dinsmore began making a name for themselves. He called the action for future stars like John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton, and CM Punk. He became a teacher himself, mentoring the young announcers who came through the school as well as the future stars inside the ring. Ask Hill to tell you the story how he taught Lesnar to stop swearing under his breath in the ring.

Hill also took what has been called the worst bump in the history of professional wrestling. It didn’t happen in the ring, but near the backstage area. Sadly only four people were witness to the bump, including Hill himself and the man who fell on top of him, Kenny Bolin. You can read the rest of that story in Kenny’s book.

If Hill is truly the new owner at OVW (and it’s on the Internet so it has to be true, right??), there’s no one who knows OVW better. He was there for the glory days with the WWE, and he knows the challenge that lies ahead filling Danny Davis’s shoes. With Hill at the helm, I’m sure it will be smooth sailing. What could possibly go wrong?

This is professional wrestling. If you want to know the answer to that question, tune in next week!

To read more of Dean’s story and the story of wrestling in Louisville, Kentucky, get your copy of Bluegrass Brawlers on Amazon.com.