Friday, January 25, 2008
Last week’s column received a very positive response, and I want to thank you for taking the time to write with your comments, thoughts and personal stories. To answer the question that many brought up … yes, timekeeper Tim Wilson and referee Kevin Jefferies are alive and doing quite well. And both are glad to be far, far away from the clutches of “Strangler” Steve DiSalvo! For those that have yet to read this particular column, you may do so by clicking here: http://www.thefightnetwork.com/news_detail.php?nid=6009
For now, I’d like to relate an incident that remains just as memorable to me. Again, this occurred while I was employed by Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling in the mid-1980s. Having been an unabashed pro wrestling enthusiast since 1958, to come to work in the industry was about as thrilling as anything I’d ever hoped for. Along with a few other perks, I was afforded the opportunity to meet and get to know some of the most famous professional wrestlers of their day.
For instance, Mike Shaw, AKA Makhan Singh, was an interesting individual. “Mercurial” is how I’d describe him. Away from the ring, the large man with a face full of beard had a pretty fair sense of humor and was usually friendly; an all-around good guy. But on occasion and without much warning, he could be nasty, sarcastic and a little bit of a bully. Fortunately, that was not the case too often. But sometimes, he was hard to figure.
Gama Singh was an excellent wrestler and the leader of the heel faction known as “Karachi Vice.” He was also a gentleman in every way. I liked and respected Gama, who was and remains an intelligent man. His son, Gama Singh, Jr., is a standout performer in the current incarnation of Stampede Wrestling, and I understand dear old dad is bursting with pride over his boy’s accomplishments.
There were others, too many to mention at this time. However, to get down to this week’s harrowing tale of Stampede wackiness, I’d like to relate an incident that took place at Vancouver’s International airport. It involved one of the world’s greatest wrestlers, The Dynamite Kid, and it’s a story that will stay with me forever.
No one could have predicted the rather bizarre outcome when I accepted the call from the Calgary office late in 1985. I’d been doing the advance work and advertising for upcoming wrestling events in southern British Columbia for a few months by then, and everything for the show that night was in good order. So, when I received the request to pick up The Dynamite Kid at the airport prior to that evening’s proceedings, I was only too happy to do so. Excited, even.
Just about anybody that is a wrestling fan is aware of the Kid’s place in the history of the business. Simply put, the Englishman was a unique and amazing athlete. Although small by pro wrestling standards, he captivated the fans by utilizing the dangerous high-flying acrobatic style he had developed and perfected. In his prime, long before he put on too much muscle mass for his (undeniably) successful WWF run, Dynamite was among the most breathtaking wrestlers to ever lace up a pair of boots. It can be said of only a very rare few that they were true innovators. The Dynamite Kid was one of them, and for several years in western Canada the Kid thrilled fans with his impossible aerial energy and original style.
One of the elements that made his performances so outstanding was that he never lost sight of the credibility factor. (His snap suplex, for instance, was executed with such clinical precision that it made both Dynamite and his opponent look like a million bucks). Through the course of his matches, he’d save his one-of-a-kind maneuvers for just the right moment, ensuring that they would have the greatest impact and mean something.
And oh, how The Dynamite Kid could sell! Taking crazy bumps (again, making his adversary look fantastic) was an equally important part of his repertoire. Those fortunate enough to possess pre-1984 Stampede Wrestling tapes will verify just how phenomenal the still-somewhat-skinny Dynamite Kid was in his youth. His series of bouts against Tiger Mask in early 80s Japan provides further proof of his superior wrestling skills and acumen.
Thus, when I got the call requesting that I go to the airport to pick him up some 90 minutes prior to bell-time, what could I do but comply? Absolutely! With pleasure! The very idea of having this wrestling pioneer in my car for 30 minutes as we made the journey from airport to arena appealed to me greatly. To be able to pick his brain would only further my own education in fully understanding the intricacies and nuances of the business.
Heading out to the Vancouver airport that evening, I became embroiled in the usual rush hour traffic, arriving at my destination a little later than intended. After parking, I rushed inside the busy terminal and confirmed that, sure enough, the Kid’s flight had landed right on schedule. It also seemed as if every plane was coming in from every city in the world, and they all had conspired to choose this same hour to land. The result was a massive crush of people in the terminal, hundreds of them bustling about to and fro. Trying to find The Dynamite Kid wasn’t going to be easy.
Having no luck initially, I stood on top of a bench, scouted around and … by God, there he was! I could see the man across the terminal, a good 60 feet or more from where I stood. Even worse, he was walking away from where I was positioned.
I’d like to interrupt the narrative at this point to offer a brief word of advice. Should you ever find yourself in a crowded and congested public venue, wherever it may be, do yourself a large favor and suppress the urge to yell. It will only get you into trouble. Trust me on this one.
Keeping in mind that this whole thing took place some 16 years prior to the horrors of 9/11, there was still no excuse for acting as I did. Fearing that he’d walk further away from where I was standing, I began shouting loudly.
“Dynamite! Hey, Dynaaaamite! DY – NA – MIIIIIIITE!”
This gets back to what I was just saying. To move at a rapid pace while bellowing about explosives in an airport never was and never will be a good idea. Frankly, it’s dumb. The five security guards/policemen that rushed towards me with seriously stern expressions on their faces and guns in their hands made it abundantly clear that they weren’t amused. The outright stupidity of what I was doing suddenly dawned on me, and I brightly decided to shut up right then and there. It was too late, though.
In the name of accuracy, I should correct myself. Only two of the cops had actually drawn their weapons; the other three had their hands on their holsters, for whatever difference it makes. As soon as they got close enough to encircle me, I began babbling that hey, I’m sorry, there’s no problem, really, very sorry, I’m just picking up the guy down at that end of the airport and I don’t know his real name … really and truly, I’m not here to cause any trouble, honest-go-God I’m okay, and by the way I’m REALLY REALLY SORRY!
I couldn’t blame the police for being sore. Nor for frisking me roughly and verifying my identification and asking lots and lots of questions. Meanwhile, a large segment of the airport crowd was watching as the scene played out. They all parted to let us through when I somehow managed to convince the officers that the guy I’d come to pick up would certify that I was in reality just an innocent fool who only had good intentions.
As a small group, they walked me over to Dynamite, who had stopped his wandering ways after becoming aware of the disturbance. Because I didn’t know his legitimate name (which had been the source of the problem to begin with), all I could give the policemen was the appellation by which he was best known: The Dynamite Kid. I silently wished that any one of the officers would out himself as a Stampede Wrestling fan, someone who would instantly recognize the star’s name and want nothing more than the esteemed grappler’s autograph before sending us on our way. Of course, it didn’t work out like that.
When we caught up to the wrestler, the airport officials asked him for his name. The Kid replied, “Tom Billington.” They inquired if he had any other. Inwardly, I found myself fervently praying that he’d play it straight. Although I’d not met “Tom Billington” prior to that moment, I’d heard all the stories about his love for the swerve. This was hardly the time or place to get playful and creative, and I desperately wanted him to play it straight.
He did. He told them that in some circles he was known as Dynamite. When asked, the Kid mentioned that he was a pro wrestler, confirming what I’d already said. They believed us, the cops did, and two of them must have been so impressed with our funny little misadventure that they walked the both of us all the way out to my car. At that time, I received a stern warning not to “screw around in airports,” something that seemed eminently reasonable. I had no problem agreeing to this demand and only wanted to get to the arena and far away from anything with an airplane in it.
Naturally, Tom wanted to know what had just occurred. When I told him, he laughed at the confusion his name had caused. I then told him, “I’m just glad you’re not known as ‘The Bomber.’ They’d have shot me on the spot.” We both chuckled at the thought, although my mirth was heavily laced with relief.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. When you accepted employment in the world of pro wrestling, at least as it was once conducted, it served you well to expect the unexpected. As I continued in that capacity over the next few years, I learned to be prepared as much as possible for situations that someone in a more traditional field of endeavor would never be likely to encounter.
Leastwise, my accountant never mentions them…
Richard Berger is a freelance writer and editor with an extensive background in professional wrestling. His career includes media production for Stampede Wrestling, ring announcing, regular columns for WOW Magazine and IGN.com, and special feature work for other publications. Between June, 2007 and June, 2008, he wrote a weekly column for The Fight Network and Live Audio Wrestling. To discuss Richard’s articles or just about anything else, contact him at: WriterGuy1A@hotmail.com.
The small sampling of his work found here was originally published at The Fight Network and Live Audio Wrestling. The majority will appear in a soon-to-be-released book along with new material. Stay tuned for information as it becomes available!