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IWA Mid-South: A remarkable anniversary

 

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It’s not easy to run an independent promotion in the WWE era. Most promotions only last a few months at best, struggling to draw an audience and attract talent the fans want to see. Very few have been able to sustain any long term success. Louisville, Kentucky is truly unique because not one but two such promotions have thrived and survived since the mid 1990s.

Much has already been written about Ohio Valley Wrestling, the brainchild of Danny Davis that became (for a time) the developmental center for the WWE. But when Danny Davis was opening his doors at the Quadrangle in Jeffersonville, Ian Rotten was already building a cult-like following at IWA Mid-South.

In 1996 former ECW star Ian Rotten brought the hardcore style to Louisville, filling a void left in the hearts of fans when Memphis closed its doors. IWA Mid-South has always been known for violence and bloodshed, but over time, the promotion also developed a reputation for showcasing some of the brightest young stars in the business. The list of talent who worked for Ian reads like a Who’s Who of today’s indy and hardcore scene, as well as the current WWE roster. Even the current champion, Seth Rollins, once worked for IWA Mid-South.

When Ian ran into trouble with the Kentucky Athletic Commission, he had to move across the river to Indiana.  Changing buildings or cities is usually enough to put an end to a wrestling promotion, but the IWA Mid-South fans followed their favorite show across the river. IWA Mid-South has been in at least six different buildings since the printing of Bluegrass Brawlers, and no matter where they go, the fans followed.

I asked a few members of the IWA Mid-South family, what is it that makes IWA Mid-South so special? How in the world is a promotion that has faced so much adversity about to celebrate its 19th anniversary? Here, in their own words, are your answers.

Vic Filpot, Indy Power Rankings: Building a cult like following and having a boss that believes in his product as much as his fans do.

Aidan Blackhart, Wrestler: IWA is going strong in my opinion due to the hard work put out by its talent alongside a family mentality shared both in the locker room and the fans themselves.

Misty Duncan, Ticket Sales: I believe it has been around so long because of the mind of Ian Rotten. His eye for talent and ability to create his own stars is second to none. Over the years he has put together a lot of matches that no one else would ever have the eye to book. Let’s not forget that the revolving door of stars that this company has seen on it’s regular roster is incredible, and the friends Ian has made over the years has allowed him to bring in a lot of names that other Indies, especially in this area, just don’t have the power to do.

Shane Mercer, current IWA Mid-South Heavyweight Champion: Passion. If you come to a IWA show regardless if there is 10 ppl or 500. You always know the talent there puts it all on the line to be the best. One of those vibes that’s different you get than most locker rooms. Makes you wanna push that much harder.

If any word sums up the IWA Mid-South “universe,” it is the word passion. Ian Rotten is a passionate leader with an outstanding eye for talent and an instinct for giving the fans what they want. The fans of IWA Mid-South are passionate about wrestling and rabid about their favorite promotion. It doesn’t matter if it’s indoors, outdoors, down the street or hours away, they will be there to see their favorite show. That passion fuels the wrestlers who put their bodies on the line every night for their leader and their fans. They are all at IWA Mid-South in hopes that they too might one day follow in the footsteps of Seth Rollins, Chris Hero, and CM Punk.

Congratulations to Ian Rotten and the IWA Mid-South faithful as you celebrate 19 years of keeping independent wrestling alive.

Click here for details on the 19th anniversary show.

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Bluegrass Brawlers on tour – September 24

BluegrassBrawlers-coverI’m very happy to announce I’ll be giving my first live presentation based on Bluegrass Brawlers later this month in Owensboro, Kentucky.

The talk will be held at the Daviess County Library in Owensboro, KY on September 24 at 6 PM Eastern. I had the privilege of visiting the same library a year or so ago for a screening of a short film I wrote called The Telemarketer. It’s a gorgeous place, and they’ve got a full calendar with all sorts of special events and speakers. They even had an acclaimed independent horror film made inside that building.

I’ll be sharing stories about Ida Alb, William Muldoon, Ed “Strangler” Lewis, Heywood Allen, Jerry Lawler, Jim Cornette, Kenny Bolin, and John Cena. Over 130 years of wrestling history in Louisville.

The event is free, and I will have copies of the book available to purchase. If you’re a wrestling fan and in the area, I hope to see you there!

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Guess who has the #1 trending wrestling book?

11416754_1440107446310822_276061912_oDaniel Bryan just released a book. He’s arguably the most popular WWE superstar in the last few years after Cena. He’s a phenomenon, and deservedly so.

But he’s not the #1 trending book on Amazon.com.

Sure, he’s probably selling more copies, but the guy getting the most looks right now is Kenny Starmaker Bolin.

If you’re not familiar with Kenny, he’s the man who managed John Cena when he was still at OVW in Louisville. He’s been a life-long friend/ thorn in the side to the legendary Jim Cornette. Kenny’s met everyone, worked with everyone, and has stories on everyone. About 90% is all true, but it’s up to you to decide which part fits in that 10%.

It was my honor to help Kenny put his book together, and I can heartily recommend it to anyone with a love for wrestling. About the only wrestling lover I know who wouldn’t want to read it is Kenny himself. Seriously, it’s his story, and the entire time I was writing it, I don’t think he read a word of it.

Jerry Lawler was right. Someone needs to get a copy and read it to him.

Buy your copy now on Amazon.com. And while you’re at it, grab Bluegrass Brawlers and get the rest of Louisville’s wrestling story too.

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Special offer for Kenny Bolin fans!

BluegrassBrawlers-coverDid you get screwed by Kenny Bolin? Did you pay a king’s ransom to get his new biography signed by Ma Bolin? If so, I have a deal for you.

Now through August 16, just for Kenny’s fans, I have a special deal on my own wrestling books. You can get a signed copy of Bluegrass Brawlers and Eat Sleep Wrestle for only $24, including shipping. That’s more than $20 savings when you figure in shipping from Amazon.com.

Here’s all you have to do:

1. Post a photo of your copy of Kenny’s book on Facebook and tag both me and the King.

2. Send me a message on Facebook. I’ll message you back with my Paypal address to send payment.

3. Send in your Paypal payment and wait for your books to arrive. I’ll email you to let you know when they go out.

Bluegrass Brawlers covers more than 130 years of professional wrestling in Louisville, including Kenny’s reign as the Starmaker. And Eat Sleep Wrestle is the perfect introduction to today’s indy wrestling scene. If you enjoyed Kenny’s book, here’s a chance to get two more by Kenny’s co-author to add to your wrestling library.

UPDATE: If you’d rather have the e-book version of the books, you can get both Bluegrass Brawlers and Eat Sleep Wrestle for only $12, half the price of the paperbacks. Follow the same steps as above but let me know you prefer the electronic versions instead.

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The Outlaw Returns

Outlaw Ben Wood was not a native of Louisville, but like many pro wrestling hopefuls in the last two decades, he relocated to the River City to train at OVW in hopes of being noticed by WWE. Wood came in with Mike “Nova” Bucci and a few other East Coast wrestlers and stayed quite a while. He caught the eye of the WWE and even got a tryout offer, but injuries caught up to the promising talent and he eventually had to hang up the boots.

It was my privilege to meet Ben when he was still wrestling, and as a (f0rmer) aspiring filmmaker, I was one of the first people to cast him in a movie, The Last Temptation of Fluffy. Ben found his second calling with film and has since gone on to appear in numbers features and television programs including Escape Plan, The internship, Hot pursuit, NCIS Nola, The Zoo, and Into the Badlands.

Now living in Louisiana, Wood had the good fortune to cross paths with indy wrestling icon Luke Hawx. Hawx told Wood about Wildkat Sports, a wrestling school with an impressive resume that has already produced several WWE developmental stars. The two got to know each other working in numerous films as actors and stuntmen, and during a recent shoot, the conversation turned to wrestling.

“There was a pro wrestling match on the TV show we were filming,” says Wood. “One thing lead to another and some how fate intervened. I said how I missed it wish I could still be a part of the business. Luke told me he had an opening on commentary, and he offered me a tryout. I went and did the best job I could and shortly after became part of the family.”

Wood is thrilled to be back in the business, and he sees bright things on the horizon for Wildcat. “This is a training school first, but they run the biggest shows around. I honestly believe by 2016 some form of weekly event should be in store. The talent is top notch with a strong fan support and world wide talent base. Top stars and big promotions are working with us. Every show is sold out and worth the price of admission.”

Wood is eager to contribute in any way he can to Wildcat’s growth. “I do anything to help them grow, be that commentary, training advice, promotional work, even writing. I have a passion for it all. I love this industry. It restructured my life, and I would take even the worst moments again if I could still relive the best. 

If you want to give Wildkat Sports a look, you can find them on their website, Facebook page, and Twitter.

Ben Wood can be found online at his website, IMDB page, and Facebook.

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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.

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Underground Wrestling TV

Eddie Allen had a feel for the wrestling business long before he stuck his nose in it. Several years ago he was the lead singer of what he refers to as a “heel” band.

“My lead guitar player would go out during sound checks and play all this classic rock stuff. He’d play one riff and then another to get the crowd excited to hear some real rock and roll. Then I come out and what did we sing? Air Supply. Milli Vanilli. The crowd would boo us, and I loved it.”

As with many heel acts, the crowds slowly developed an appreciation for Allen’s unique band. “It got to the point people knew what to expect and were ready for it. Once the crowd decided to like us, it wasn’t fun any more.”

After walking away from rock and roll, Allen decided to get involved in the wrestling business. The Clarksville, Indiana native ended up down the road in Madison, where he began learning the business from Eric Draven. After helping Draven get his promotion established on Youtube, he made the jump to Ohio Valley Wrestling in Louisville to learn more about producing wrestling for TV.

“It was the most intense training I ever had,” he says. “You learn all about timing matches, working to the camera, how to tell a story. You realize that you can’t just take any independent wrestling show, film it, and put it on TV. Television wrestling is its own unique style, and that’s what I wanted to produce.”

Allen went looking for an indy federation that was willing to work with him and create a product suited for television. After a few false starts, he hooked up with Underground Wrestling Alliance, one of several groups running across the river from Louisville. UWA was filled with young, green talent who were willing to learn anything that might advance their careers. It was a perfect match, but Allen knew he needed something more.

“I went out and recruited some veterans, former OVW guys, others who had worked TV. I needed them to help me teach these kids how to wrestle for television.”

It took some time, but the investment in both time and talent paid off. In September of 2014, UWA went on the air in Louisville. “They put us on right after OVW’s TV show, and our ratings have grown ever since we went on the air.”

Television proved to be a big boost for UWA. The young wrestlers benefited greatly from the veteran leadership and the new direction, and attendance is up at the live events, both taped and untaped. Allen played to the fans early on at TV tapings, knowing that they were key to the show being a success.

“When fans come dressed up, trying to get on camera, I make sure it happens,” he says. “They’re going to go home, tell their friends to tune in and see them on TV, and our ratings are going to go up. And maybe someone who tunes in will see what we do and come to our next show.”

UWA currently airs on Time Warner Cable in Louisville three times a week: 11 PM Mondays (after Monday Night Raw), 10 AM Saturday morning, and 2:30 AM Friday night/ Saturday morning. You can also catch them for free on the Independent Wrestling Channel app available on Roku as well as their Youtube channel. You can learn more about UWA and their upcoming events on their Facebook page.

Allen is currently developing his own Roku channel and plans to use UWA as the flagship for that station. “It’s a whole new way of doing television. I’m really excited about it.”

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The Bolin Bio Is Here!

11416754_1440107446310822_276061912_oOne of the most enjoyable interviews I did for Bluegrass Brawlers was with Kenny Bolin. You may not have heard the name if you’re not familiar with Louisville wrestling, but you have Kenny to thank for launching the careers of many of today’s biggest WWE Superstars. He managed dozens of WWE hopefuls in the decade when the WWE used Ohio Valley Wrestling as its training ground, and all of them went on to get a shot at the WWE – not the least of which was John Cena!

Kenny’s story is one of those wrestling tales that has to be heard to believed, and even after you hear it, you won’t believe it. I can tell you with absolute confidence this book is mostly true, but good luck sorting what’s what. The stories that are 100% true are easily the least believable in the book.

It’s been a pleasure getting to know Kenny as a friend and help him bring his story to life. You’ll hear Kenny’s story in his own words along with the words of Jim Cornette, Dutch Mantell, Jerry Lawler, Jerry Jarrett, JBL, Nova, Mark Henry, Damien Sandow, Dean Hill, and many more who crossed paths with the Louisville legend.

His book is available on Amazon.com, but why buy from them when you can order from the man himself and get it signed? Contact Kenny on his Facebook page to order your copy in one of three collectible covers today.