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Primus Primer: Hy Zaya

Over the next two weeks, Eat Sleep Wrestle will be spotlighting the competitors for Pro Wrestling Freedom’s upcoming show, The Primus. We begin today with Local fan favorite, Hy Zaya. 

There may not be a more independent wrestler in the country than Hy Zaya. At the end of 2015, Hy Zaya and his travel partner Shane Mercer had build a mini-territory for themselves, with three strong promotions booking them weekly. By the end of January, all three promotions were shut down.

Hy Zaya didn’t quit. He branched out. He made new contacts, connected to new promoters, and committed himself to learning a few new things, not the least of which is television.

Hy Zaya has become a break out star on the newly revamped OVW. He’s working heel in a few places after 18 solid years as a babyface. He’s imparting his own wisdom on the students at OVW, and he is still learning everything he can.

“One of the strangest things was learning not to post about the show after TV tapings,” he said. “I have to wait until Saturday to see how the show airs before I can say anything. The cool thing, though, is that on Saturday mornings, my Ninja Babies can wake up and see me on TV!”

In spite of his success at OVW, Hy Zaya considers himself a true free agent, freer than he’s ever been in the business. With no home promotion to tie him down, he’s able to go and work any place he wants. Everywhere he’s been, he’s left the fans begging for more.

Hy Zaya is one of twelve men vying for the new PWF championship at Pro Wrestling Freedom: Primus on Friday, September 9 in Jeffersonville, Indiana. He’s a strong favorite, given that PWF is in his backyard, but he knows he has his work cut out for him with his first round opponent, Jimmy Rave.

“I’m going to be watching a lot of Jimmy Rave video the next two weeks,” he says.

For event and ticket information, visit the PWF: The Primus page on Facebook.

Hy Zaya’s story can also be found in the book Eat Sleep Wrestle, available in paperback and on Kindle and Smashwords.

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Can One Man Make a Difference to a Promotion?

I’ve never watched TNA.

I’ve never watched a single episode or pay-per-view. Matter of fact, I’m not sure I’ve even watched a full match on TNA. Even on the Internet.

I didn’t watch when Jeff Jarrett was the top guy. I didn’t watch when they got Kurt Angle. I didn’t tune in for A.J. Styles or Samoa Joe.

Even after the recent buzz surrounding Matt Hardy and his Final Deletion (which I would like to see but have yet to watch), I wasn’t interested.

Why am I telling you all this? Because Aron Rex makes me want to watch TNA.

Whether he was Damien Sandow, or Damien Mizdow, or Davy Crockett, he was can’t-miss, must-see every time he showed up on WWE television. He’s a rare force who connects with the audience no matter what stupid gimmick he’s handed. He’s the super-rare performer who can make my wife look up and laugh when he’s on TV.

Aron Rex makes me want to watch TNA. That’s the difference one man – the right man – can make. Let’s hope the famously bad powers that be at TNA don’t botch this one up!

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Why I’m not going to NXT

I am an NXT fan. I have been since the second day I had the Network, the first time I saw the show. I rarely miss NXT. When I do, I watch it the next day, or later that evening. So why am I not going to see them when they come to Louisville?

Let’s do the math.

Floor seats for NXT are $79. “Cheap” seats are $44. “Cheap” seats at the older Broadbent Arena are more expensive for NXT than they were at the Yum! Center for WWE.

NXT is the hot ticket in wrestling these days, and with good reason. But do you know what that $44 will buy me? I do.

Three tickets to IWA Mid-South.

Four tickets to Pro Wrestling Freedom in Indiana.

Five tickets to UWA Throwdown or KDW.

Seven tickets to OVW’s Wednesday TV tapings.

No, it’s not apples to apples, but every one of the promotions I mentioned offers a different spin on the same product you’ll find at NXT. And for the price of one NXT ticket, you can check out all of the above and find a favorite local promotion.

I love NXT and will continue to enjoy NXT, but I also know the stars of NXT came from. Support indy wrestling wherever and whenever you can.

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Fight, Cody, Fight!

I had the pleasure of seeing Cody Runnels in his earliest days at OVW. I probably saw him more than any other WWE prospect during the last years of developmental. The young, aspiring wrestler I saw back then was a far cry from the leave-it-all-in-the-ring performer he has become.

I also saw Cody wrestle Rey Mysterio in person at Wrestlemania XXVII. It was one of the best matches of the night, and Cody brought the fans to their feet with a rare power display, holding Rey overhead in the corner.

I am happy to see Cody striking out on his own. The indy wrestling world is not what it was in his father’s hey day, but more and more of the top stars are making a better living on the indies than some of the mid- to lower card guys in WWE.

I think we can all agree that August 19 is going to be a very exciting day, when the son of the son of a plumber is finally able to start checking names off his list. Go get ’em, Cody!

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A new day for Kentucky wrestling?

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin surprised the wrestling world yesterday when he announced the creation of a new governing body dedicated to expanding fight sports in the Commonwealth. The Kentucky Boxing and Wrestling Authority (KBWA) will oversee boxing, wrestling, MMA, and other full-contact sports. The new website for the KBWA states the group’s purpose as follows:

“Our mission is to encourage the growth of professional boxing and wrestling in the Commonwealth, while protecting participants and spectators of the sports. We strive to improve the sports by thoughtful, reasonable and fair regulation and monitoring.”

Early reaction to the announcement was largely positive. One of the stated goals of the KBWA is to attract major wrestling events – i.e. WWE – back to Kentucky. WWE has not held a Raw taping in Louisville since 2010, and the last WWE pay-per-view held in Louisville was Judgement Day in 2000.

While the possibility of attracting a major WWE show is exciting, many are wondering what impact this new commission will have on independent wrestling. It’s no secret that Kentucky is one of the most restrictive states in the nation when it comes to regulating wrestling. Kentucky is one of the few states that governs wrestling as a legitimate sport, and the red tape involved with promoting and wrestling in Kentucky is staggering.

“The hardest challenge in getting licensed in Kentucky isn’t finding a venue,” says Rick Brady, owner of D1W. “It was putting up a $5000 bond to throw a show. Since I had insurance, I was never sure why was the bond necessary. Second, I had to fill out an application and wait for them to decide to even give me a hearing to get a license. Third, I had to go to the hearing, and even if I posted the $5000 bond, I was still not guaranteed they would approve me for a license.”

The Kentucky Athletic Commission is notoriously stingy about handing out licenses to promoters. Brady contends that the Commission will not allow two promotions to run in the same territory, much like the old days of the NWA, and no one is allowed to move in and compete with the licensed promoters.

Kentucky regulations are equally cumbersome for the wrestlers, and anyone who wants to work in the business. Anyone who steps on the other side of the barrier wall from the fans – wrestlers, managers, valets, ring announcers, time keepers, and more – is required to have a license, and everyone who has a license is required to pass a physical and be subject to random drug testing.

“There’s nothing random about the drug testing,” says Brady. “[The Athletic Commission] intrude in the locker room and disrupt the show by having guys randomly pee tested. There are no restrictions on this. They can test you 2 or 3 times a week, and they are very biased on who they select. One wrestler, who I will not name, refuses to wrestle in Kentucky because of the harassment he was receiving from the Athletic Commission. After being suspended in 2013, he cleaned up his life and was drug free to my knowledge. When he returned to Kentucky in 2015, he went through the application process and was granted a license. Then at every show he wrestled, he was forced to take a drug test. After doing this five weeks in a row, and passing every time, he never returned to Kentucky.”

If you’re curious why WWE, TNA, and other promotions generally give Kentucky a pass, it’s because these regulations and more (including one that states a match must stop immediately if there’s any blood) apply to every wrestling show in Kentucky.

“I think Louisville and Lexington are gonna push for relaxed rules on wrestling to get bigger events,” says PWF’s Jimmy Feltcher. “At the end of the day, money talks, and so will it be in this case.”

The new KBWA will likely cut away some of the red tape in order to incentivize the WWE to bring a major event to Louisville or Lexington, but the question remains: will the independent wrestlers and promoters see any relief? Wrestlers I’ve spoken to are largely optimistic, but the promoters remain skeptical.

“I’m curious to see committee treats the little guys because it seems like a play to bring WWE back to the city,” says UWA’s Eddie Allen. “WWE and TNA both left OVW as a development area. Plus Louisville Gardens becomes instantly attractive to a bigger fish group of people if red tape on events is cleared.”

“If Bevin wants to change it, change it,” says Brady. “Gut the current commission and let the new guys have a fresh opportunity to revitalize wrestling.”

It’s worth noting that the promoters I spoke with all run or have run promotions in Southern Indiana, immediately across the river from Louisville. At the present time, there are more than half a dozen promotions running in the Louisville area north of the river, including PWF, UWA, KDW, and one time Kentucky promotion IWA Mid-South. Odds are one or more of these groups would happily move South into Kentucky. We might even see wrestling return to the Gardens, if the stars align for the right investor and the right promoter.

It all depends on how the KBWA does it’s job. At the very least we may soon see some major WWE events come to town, bringing the money and visitors the governor hopes to attract. At best the KBWA has the opportunity to bring Kentucky into the 21st century, positioning wrestlers in the Commonwealth to join the independent wrestling revolution already sweeping the country.

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Bolin needs a theme song!

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The Breakfast with Bolin event and DVD taping is only 11 days away. We’ve got a camera crew all set to capture the event, but do you know what we’re missing? A theme song!

I’m calling on all Kenny Bolin fans with a lick of musical talent to put that gift to work. We need a theme song to put on this DVD, and we want you to compose it. It doesn’t matter whether you play the guitar, the banjo, the accordion, or the lute; if you come up with the best tune that captures the essence of Kenny Bolin, we will use it.

Submit your entries to johncosper@yahoo.com

The best entry will be used on the DVD, and the winner will receive credit and a the thanks of a grateful Kenny Starmaker Bolin.

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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.

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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.

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Eat Breakfast with Bolin… and Jimmy!

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About a year and a half ago, I had the privilege of eating lunch with Kenny “Starmaker” Bolin and his life long adversary Jim Cornette at Clarksville Seafood. Stories were shared about their childhood, their life together, and their days in the ring. Many of them made their way into Kenny’s book, but some details did not. It was an incredible time listening to two of Kentucky’s biggest wrestling legends banter back and forth, and it was arguably one of the funniest conversations I have ever had in my life.

On May 21 Kenny wants you to join him and Jim for a similar experience at the Golden Corral on Taylorsville Rd in Louisville! Breakfast with Bolin is a once in a lifetime chance to have breakfast AND lunch (yes, you read that right) with the Starmaker and the original Louisville Slugger.

The conversation, complete with questions from you and other fans, will be filmed for future release as a DVD and distribution on the INC Network on Roku.

The date, time and location are now confirmed: May 21 at 10 AM at the Golden Corral on Taylorsville Rd in Louisville. Kenny is now selling tickets direct through his Facebook page. $29 is the price that gets you two meals and a seat for one of the most entertaining days of your life. What’s more, Golden Corral has decided to make this a charity fundraiser, and a portion of the proceeds will go to the sons and daughters of veterans to enable them to go to summer camp.

If you’re a wrestling fan in or near the Louisville area, this is an opportunity not to be missed. Jim has traveled the country doing Q&A’s and giving talks on his career, but Kenny does NOT do this. If you’re one of the many who only download Jim’s podcast when Kenny is on, you will not want to miss this chance.

Please visit Kenny’s Facebook page to get in touch and book your spot before it sells out!

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Last Match at the Columbia Gym

When I shared last night’s post about the Columbia Gym on Facebook, I got a response from Joe Wheeler, long time official at OVW and USWA. It seems the Allen Athletic Club was not the last promotion to run a show in the fabled gymnasium.

The Allen Club’s final show ran on June 25, 1957, shortly after the death of then owner Francis McDonough. Barney “Chest” Bernard defeated Ian Campbell, Nell Stewart defeated Elaine Ellis, New Albany and U of L legend Stu Gibson defeated Lou Plummer, and Bobby Managoff defeated long time Allen Club stalwart “Wild Bill” Longson via disqualification. The Allen Club was sold to former Louisville Colonels baseball player Al LeComte, who moved shows to Freedom Hall because U of L had taken over the gym. Four months later, the Allen Club shut down for good.

Nearly forty years later, Wheeler arranged one final show in the building. “When they did some renovations to the Louisville Gardens back in the 90s, I made arrangements with the Columbia Gym, which was then part of Catherine Spalding College, to move the USWA there for the time they were to be out of the Gardens. The first week there they had a ladies match where the only way to lose was to be stripped down to your bra and panties. The nuns were terribly upset, so the first weeks return to the old Columbia Gym was also the last week.”

Wheeler’s story seems to indicate the nuns didn’t dismantle the old gym as quickly as WHAS stated. What’s more, a search of Pinterest turned up this card promoted by Phil Golden and sponsored by the WWA. The plot thickens.

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This week at OVW: Man of Tomorrow vs. The Chosen One

When was the last time you went to OVW? This week, the promotion that groomed the top WWE stars of the last decade has a must-see main event.

Mitchell Huff is a former OVW student turned trainer featured in the book, Eat Sleep Wrestle. After taking a few years off, he returned a few years ago and took the Midwestern indy scene by storm. He’s become a star at OVW and leads his own training group every Monday at The Arena in Jeffersonville.

His opponent is Daniel Eads, the Man of Tomorrow. Eads not only has the look of a superstar (not to mention Superman), he recently caught the eye of former OVW manager Kenny “Starmaker” Bolin. Kenny is not an easy man to impress, but the Starmaker saw a potential superstar in the young wrestler.

OVW still bills itself as the place to see the Superstars of Tomorrow today, and that’s certainly the case with these two. Whether you’re a regular at Davis Arena or haven’t been there since the WWE banners came down, Mitchell Huff and Daniel Eads is a match up worth seeing.

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OVW is located at 4400 Shepherdsville Road in Louisville. Bell time for the weekly TV taping on Wednesday night is 7:30 PM.