Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why I’ve Had Problems with the W(W)WF/E for 43 Years

Every once in awhile, someone will ask why I have a tendency to react negatively (and occasionally with volatility) when confronting the initials W(W)WF/E. It’s a legitimate query, and the answer is one that still burns within me. To explain the reason, we need to go back to the year 1966. For that was when this 16-year-old hopelessly addicted pro wrestling fan journeyed from Los Angeles to New York, ostensibly to visit relatives.

I looked forward to spending a month with aunts, uncles and cousins I’d not seen in years. And there was an intriguing aspect beyond that; it was to be the first time I’d ever taken a coast-to-coast trip on my own, and New York was, without question, a very exciting city. So this was pretty heady stuff. But the third reason, which remained unspoken, had been in my mind from the very start. By flying 3,000 miles across the continent, I would finally get a chance to see the wrestlers of the WWWF in action! Probably not live, but their television performances would surely suffice.

We must remember that in the mid-1960s, channels above the standard VHF (2 – 13) were in the early stages of finding their place in the fairly new world of UHF (channels 14 and higher). And since cable television was off in the distant future, we wrestling fans mostly had to content ourselves with watching our local promotions exclusively. We could only read and form our opinions of other territories based on the descriptions in the “rasslin’” magazines.

My two favorite can’t-miss monthly publications were Wrestling World and Wrestling Revue. I’d also buy the others when I found them. But it was the features and the photographs in those two particular periodicals that made me commit to them every month. To raise the money for the $.50 publications, I’d take on household chores, even if it meant resorting to the dreaded chore of vacuuming. That was the one I detested the most, ever since I’d foolishly squeezed a full bag too hard and got a face full of dust, bobbi pins and small thick gooey globs of … something.

But it was the fact that as well as the live weekly two-hour program I faithfully watched (Championship Wrestling from the Olympic Auditorium), the periodicals formed the basis of my early grappling education. Thanks to the dazzling word descriptions, the vivid (and sometime violent) photographs coupled with my own naiveté, the idea of getting a glimpse at the WWWF’s magnificent champion, Bruno Sammartino, grew. Among the names that jumped off the pages and grabbed my attention were other high profile babyfaces, such as Spiros Arion, Bobo Brazil and Dominic DeNucci. The pictures and the accompanying stories created images of men who were strong, heroic and skilled craftsmen at their chosen profession.

The heel side of the fence looked mighty attractive, too. How could you go wrong with names like Killer Kowalski, Dr. Bill Miller and Crazy Luke Graham? From the descriptions I read, their dastardly deeds created havoc for the good guys until the highly anticipated blow-off several months down the road.

By 1966, I’d learned enough about the various territories and their respective styles to think I knew what to expect anywhere in the country. Because of that, nothing I’d read convinced me that the WWWF action was comparable to the thrills that took place in states like Texas and Tennessee. The entire Gulf Coast looked to be as wild as it got. I also figured the northeasterners likely wouldn’t measure up to the realism and excitement that promoter Cowboy Luttrell (and later Eddie Graham) demanded in Florida. But still … the WWWF boys were featured regularly, appearing prominently in something like 50 percent of every magazine every month. To get that kind of press, those guys had to be awfully good, right?

As it turned out, I stayed most of the time in Far Rockaway with my Aunt Tillie (yes, I indeed had an Aunt Tillie, who was just off-center enough to keep me laughing most of the time) and her husband, my Uncle Hamlet (who was somewhat distant but a decent guy. And just a little bit nuts, too). Soon after settling in, I ventured forth and made my pitch. Something like:

“You know I love you both, Aunt Tillie and Uncle Hamlet. And it’s because I know you feel the same way about me, I’d like to ask a big favor. You see, I’m a really big wrestling fan and all I’ve ever been able to see is what comes out of Los Angeles. I’d love to take a look at what goes on here in New York. I’ll bet it’s great … just like everything in New York!” (I had no shame when it came to pandering for my wrestling fix).

My dear Aunt Tillie, who doted on me because we shared the same birthday (different years, of course), said it would be just fine by her. Uncle Hamlet grunted his approval from behind a newspaper and muttered an oath at recently elected New York City Mayor, John Lindsay. All I cared about was that the hurdle had been overcome fairly easily. Now, it was just a case of patience, waiting for the program to take center stage a few nights later.

With each passing day (which rapidly became each passing hour), I found myself counting how much longer it would be until the show’s Friday night 9 p.m. start. My enthusiasm turned into something else: it crossed over into an obsession. Poor Aunt Tillie and Uncle Hamlet listened to stories I related from the magazines, punctuating these tales with moments of high suspense and drama. Tillie typically replied with a non-committal “that’s nice” and Ham would always find it was just about time to head out for his never-ending pinochle game.

Finally … FINALLY … the wait was no more. The night that promised a full hour of WWWF excitement had arrived.

I plopped down on the couch some 15 minutes early and turned on the 18” black-and-white portable television set. To pass the time, I mentally recalled snippets of favorite stories I’d memorized from my beloved magazines. All of them involved the wrestlers of the WWWF. I was pumped to the max and prepared to watch every delicious minute of the upcoming show, including the commercials. I wanted to ravenously devour every last bit of the WWWF sporting experience, so I might gain a sense of what the company “felt like.”

After all, I’d long since adopted the impression that L.A.’s WWA wrestling was generally pretty good and fairly solid, but too constrained for my liking. It was rare when two “enemies” really cut loose on television. Although the southern California style was still somewhat staid at this time, it was undergoing a transformation, gradually loosening up and taking greater risks. A large part of this was due to the introduction of some Mexican luchadors, along with a few tough, brawling good ol’ boys from the southern states.

That said, the WWA was never to reach the heights of wild, unrestrained action and engrossing storylines found in places like Memphis, Amarillo and Baton Rouge. My best guess was that the New Yorkers would offer a hybrid of styles, something between Los Angeles and Texas wrestling. (Geographically speaking, I suppose that would make it either Arizona or New Mexico wrestling).

And then … 9 p.m. arrived! Yes! I was about to wallow in some great WWWF action!

The first indication that this might be something less than expected began with the introduction of the wrestling announcer. It was Zacherly. Now, I’d read a lot about Zacherly in the non-wrestling publications I enjoyed, particularly Famous Monsters of Filmland. Zacherly had become famous as the host of weekend televised horror movies up and down the eastern seaboard. Wearing make-up and face paint (long before wrestlers picked up the habit), he suggested a very cool ghoul; and thus, he was a big hit with kids of all ages.

That was all right with me. But at the same time, I felt that the announcer of a wrestling show needed to be seen as a real person, not a character. Doing so left the impression that this 'oddity,' even if he was very entertaining in another environment, was completely out of place in the world of sports. It irked me.

But the greatest letdown was the wrestling itself. By comparison, learning that Zacherly was the program’s announcer would be a trivial disappointment barely worth mentioning. The 'action,' all of it consisting of TV-studio squash matches out of New Jersey, stunk. L.A. also had a lot of non-competitive bouts, but most of them were more-or-less watchable.

I’d like to interject a personal message to those fans who enjoyed the WWWF presentation a-way back then. Surely you’re disagreeing with my perceptions. I remind you that this is not a “right or wrong” issue; it’s about preferences. To my 16-year-old mind, seeing the WWWF product on TV rather than imagining it based solely on someone’s fanciful yarns was like going to the Empire State Building and finding that it was only two stories high.

All this time, I had been convinced by the magazines that a special high caliber wrestling show was in the offing. It would give the lucky television audience well-paced thrills, including an impressive display of holds and counter-holds. And, thanks to the mags, I’d expected creative booking to be a large part of the mix. To my increasing dismay, what I encountered was the polar opposite.

The first thing I saw was that there was no action, per se. Drawing heat was an unknown concept. By 9:10, the silence from the crowd was so loud that I wondered if there was some sort of city ordinance in place: anyone raising his or her voice would be instantly removed from the premises. Mind you, I never blamed the 100 or so fans that were in attendance. How could I? There really was nothing taking place that might encourage a vocal response.

Around the same time, it became painfully obvious that the wrestlers, the majority of them bearing names I’d never read before, were walking through their matches. I mean this literally. Apathy was the primary emotion most evident from start to finish. I couldn’t believe my eyes when two wrestlers chose to throw caution to the wind and run the ropes. This was executed at half-speed, maybe less. When the inevitable mid-ring collision came, both men slowed up noticeably. As they reached the point of contact, they cautiously bumped into each other, with each man taking an embarrassingly fake fall. Feh!

Incredulous and slack-jawed, I remembered something from earlier in the day. Well, hell! I’d seen a greater impact between several passengers on a subway train as I returned to Far Rockaway from the city that very afternoon!

The crowd in the TV studio seemingly yawned, snored or sat like a group painting, staring blankly at what was taking place in front of them. The one and only time there was anything close to audience participation came when one brave wise-ass directed an insult at a heel. Had the recipient responded in kind, it might have actually generated some honest-to-goodness excitement. No such thing occurred, and the combatants continued on at the same ponderous mind-numbingly slow pace, sleepwalking the rest of the way.

But wait! Suddenly and unexpectedly, there was cause to perk up and pay attention! It was Gorilla Monsoon himself who put in an appearance near the end of the show. Because he was a heel from Manchuria who only growled menacingly (as all Manchurians must), he looked impressive and threatening. Monsoon, whom I’d read about numerous times, was the one bright light that had arrived to save the lackluster affair. Yay, Gorilla!

It was indeed compelling at first. And then, he went and ruined it all by grabbing a wooden chair from ringside and attempting to smack a lower-card babyface over the head with it. The amazingly deliberate swing was so underwhelming and gentle that it looked to be in ultra-slow motion (even before such technology existed). Meanwhile, the recipient of the blow reached up and grabbed the offending chair when it was about a foot above his head.

Okay, maybe he was trying to deflect the object. But it took so long to execute that the guy had enough time to write out his will before contact was made. As a fan for eight years, it was crystal clear that the victim was actually assisting Monsoon in carefully lowering the weapon. When it finally arrived, there was almost no sound to be heard. A tiny 'bink,' perhaps. Then, the guy dropped to the floor, selling it like he’d been shot. His tumble was the quickest anyone had moved in the entire hour … an hour that felt like a week. I was inconsolable.

One week later, I gave the WWWF another chance. Ever the optimist, I hoped that what I’d seen before was a rarity, a bad show that was far from the norm. Well, if it was, they decided to repeat the scenario seven days hence. Most of the program consisted of the same individuals I’d already seen with a few new ones of equal ability turning up. Before the hour was through, I found myself intermittently taking glances while reading a book.

As the second disappointing show headed towards its wind-up, a hard sell pitchman kept insisting we all needed to a local arena one week later to see the hard-hitting contests between all of the big names. By then, I’d become so discouraged that I was crossing the border into a full-blown depression. I decided that the wrestlers were actually training camp recruits, far from ready to be put on public display. I’d seen nothing to convince me the more recognizable wrestlers would be any different. A film clip had aired during that second show, one which included the finish to a recently held main event. It was only marginally better than the TV show had been.

So, that’s why I never enjoyed what the company ever did, no matter what McMahon was in charge. Their entire philosophy, if that’s what it can be called, had nothing to do with creating a credible image of a genuine competition. How is the viewer supposed to suspend disbelief if the product is unrelentingly boring and uninspired?

To be fair, there certainly have been outstanding and memorable W(W)WF/E bouts over the years, with storylines and wrestling displays that generated real interest and excitement. For that, I give them the credit that they earned. But from all appearances, that type of bout had never been the primary goal. And though the style changed occasionally, the mindset remained constant.

Whenever I’ve had occasion to watch a McMahon production, I inevitably find myself shaking my head. From the WWWF plodding display to Hulksterism to the Cartoon Era to Whatever-Came-After-That to the Attitude Era and so on, the basic underlying approach has remained intact. It's never been about firing up the viewer’s imagination by constructing a plausible series of matches. Bouts that made sense and built week-by-week to culminate in a satisfying conclusion was not the goal. With some exceptions, the W(W)WF/E production is all about the moment, rarely with long-term and logical development in mind.

And after 43 years, I still find myself unable to accept that company as evidence of a professional wrestling product.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


In my previous column, (Back in the Saddle Again, August 20th, 2008), I explained how I’d taken a hiatus from my two websites due to a personal situation. One of the lessons I re-learned during that trying period was this: it helped me see things more clearly by taking an occasional time out and stepping away from the problems. As crazy as it may seem to some, I accomplished this by looking at pro wrestling tapes that I hadn’t watched in years.

The end result was that my approach to the more serious matters at hand were affected in a positive way. Not spending much more than an hour or so in one sitting, the precious images from the past caused a surprisingly significant improvement in my outlook. Ultimately, I recognized that this method of short-term escape (which is not the same thing as avoidance) allowed me to inspect the more serious set of circumstances from different angles. The act revitalized my vigor. It really was as simple as that and, at least for me, it worked. Winding up the time machine (AKA a VCR) and indulging in a short trip was all I needed to do.

Anyway, I started the journey with some classic OLD old school matches from the 1950s and ‘60s. From there, I ventured into the future, which is to say the 1980s and ‘90s. All of the bouts were promoted by the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW). As most fans know, the two were the same organization with a name change. Watching, I was quickly reminded of how captivating pro wrestling had been when there was a limited number of absurd characters and outlandish storylines. When presented as a pseudo-sport, the primary focus was to draw the fans in through the building of a credible match.

The tape I watched over a four day period was the first “WCW All-Nighter” from 1994. This “overnight pajama party” was hosted by a slightly annoying Tony Schiavone (allegedly in the basement of his home), Bobby Heenan (at this time in his career, he was a damned fine comic with an excellent sense of timing) and Gene Okerlund (in full shill mode). Eric Bischoff was also there. Most of the between-bout skits ranged from hilarious to embarrassing. (Truth to tell, I must admit that some of the shenanigans made me laugh out loud at the sheer chutzpah on display.

Bobby Heenan stood out as genuinely gifted with his constant quips and childlike behavior. Other members of the broadcasting team dropped by for brief interactions. Chris Cruise (who wore a suit the whole time and refused to talk to anyone in a very creepy fashion) stayed in the background. Gordon Solie, who clearly wanted very little to do with the whole thing, arrived and departed in haste. But make no mistake; Bobby Heenan was the standout star, playing the role of selfish inconsiderate boob to a tee. His choice of pajamas was inspired, the sort of humor that dates back to a Max Sennett two-reeler.

The bouts were among the best taken from periodic NWA/WCW specials, known as Clash of the Champions. Clashes were live Pay-Per-View quality cards meant to entice fans to pony up the bucks for just such an upcoming event. As well, the free Clashes were intended to draw viewers away from a WWE PPV, which often occurred at the same time. (This was a practice originated by Vince McMahon, one that had financially hurt his southern-based competition).

Thus, the matches on this first of two WCW All-Nighters came from any one of a number of Clashes, originally telecast live on WTBS between 1988 and ’93. I found most of the selected matches to be fun and exciting. Who won and who lost a contest was paramount. So, at long last, here is the full card I took in along with the results. Comments from yours truly are found in-between the brackets.

1. Sting (challenger) vs. Ric Flair (champion) for the NWA Heavyweight Championship. March 27, 1988.

James J. Dillon, manager of the infamous Four Horsemen (of which Flair was the penultimate member) had stipulated himself into a small wooden cage that hung high, just off to the side of the ring. The 45-minute time limit in this outstanding encounter runs out without a winner being declared, so Flair retains the title. But thanks to the great ring psychology both combatants display from start to finish, Sting becomes a made man in the world of professional wrestling.

[This was a great match. What a way to start the show! Numerous people have dubbed the event as “the official arrival of Sting as a main eventer,” and I heartily agree. Ric Flair does a superb job selling the youngster to the fans in a way that would assure the Stinger a successful future. I have to admit that as Sting’s career unfolded, I respected him but never became overly enthusiastic. Still, there’s no questioning the fact that at this stage he was inspired and very, very good.

Here, he holds his own with modern wrestling’s Grand Master. Generously, Ric gives Sting plenty of opportunities to beat the hell out of him over and over again. This drove home the point that the young man’s time had arrived. Sting’s work is also to be commended when he’s on the receiving end. One of the best Sting matches ever, in my opinion.]

2. Dustin Rhodes & Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat (challengers) vs. Arn Anderson & Larry Zbyszko (champions) for the WCW Tag Team Championship. November 19, 1991.

This match had been built up as Dustin Rhodes and Barry Windham finally achieving a long-sought-after title shot. However, Windham shows up with his arm in a sling and unable to wrestle that night. (I couldn't tell if the injury was worked or not). Therefore, Ricky Steamboat agrees to take his place, which drives Anderson and Zbyszko insane at the news of his participation. (That’s kind of an insult to Windham, isn’t it?) Anyway, in about 12 minutes, the makeshift team takes possession of the belts.

[Not bad, though I found it too short with a somewhat abrupt finish. It also seemed disjointed, too much so to be truly memorable. I was surprised to find the champions appear in the role of semi-incompetents. I suppose the message was that the unexpected entrance of Steamboat threw them for a loop. Still, the titleholders were fine wrestlers, so this aspect just didn’t add up for me. Despite these faults, the fans got what they wanted and were happy. It also looked like the dethroned champs were heading towards a feud, with each one blaming the other for the loss.

3. Ric Flair (challenger) vs. Lex Luger (champion) for the NWA U.S. championship. September 13, 1990.

This took place at a time when Lex Luger was watchable, at least in this encounter. Then again, this was also at a time when it was said Ric Flair could have a match with a broomstick and make it interesting. It ends in a no contest ruling.

[A pretty good match with Luger doing his best to keep up and Flair guiding him along. It all comes to a sudden conclusion when they take it outside of the ring and brawl on the floor. Inexplicably, Stan Hansen decides to join the festivities, as he impolitely takes Luger apart piece by piece. The match is thrown out at around the 20 minute mark. I liked it well enough, but would have preferred a clean finish rather than the outside interference routine.]

4. The Hollywood Blondes (Brian Pillman & Steve Austin) (challengers) vs. Ricky Steamboat & Shane Douglas (champions) for the Unified Tag Titles. January 13, 1993.

The babyface champions hold the Unified Tag Titles. (Yes, Shane Douglas worked as a clean cut baby in his formative years and was pretty good in the role). I have no idea what the Unified Tag Title is supposed to be, but it’s clearly not given the same regard as the WCW Tag Team belts. Anyway, this was an enjoyable match to watch. Well, until the end, anyway. That’s when Austin uses one of the belts conveniently close at hand to smack Douglas in the face, earning the Blondes a DQ.

[These four worked well together for the most part. Seeing this convinced me that the WCW bosses didn’t have the smarts to leave the Blondes together and allow them to grow. There was absolutely no reason that I’m aware of to suddenly disband the team; the meddling by the higher-ups mucked up a good thing in the making. As a twosome, Pillman and Austin blended their skills smoothly, and what could have been one of the better remembered pairings of the era faded away before they were able to really hit their stride.

I also have the sneaking suspicion that whoever booked the match lost interest somewhere along the way. Instead of devising a hot conclusion, they took the lazy way out. The decision to have the Blondes resort to everyday standard heel tactics did not enhance the match or the duo. What they’d accomplished during the bout was largely negated when Steve and Brian wound up looking like every other run-of-the-mill bad guy collective. Ugh. Still, this is a match well worth watching most of the way through.]

5. Ricky Steamboat (challenger) vs. Ric Flair (champion) for the NWA Heavyweight Title. 2 out of 3 falls. April 2, 1989.

Plain and simple, this is a match that ranks among the very best ever. Flair takes the first fall, Steamboat the second and … Steamboat wins the third to become the new NWA heavyweight champion! Well, not quite. It turns out that Ric had his feet under the ropes as referee Tommy Young made the three count. The title was therefore held up and the next encounter in this classic series took place at the Wrestlewar PPV.

[If I was to describe this match with all of its nuances, it would take a book. Since I’m already working on one, I’ll refrain. But, let it be said that the nearly perfect melding of genuine athleticism and ring psychology between two of the best in the business created a match for the ages. (Make that a series for the ages). The mutual respect Flair and Steamboat had for one another is apparent. Anybody tries telling you that sports entertainment is the same thing as wrestling (at least at this level) simply doesn’t grasp the difference. A must see.]

6. Steve Austin (with manager Colonel Robert Parker) vs. Brian Pillman, Grudge Match. November 10, 1993.

Those paying attention knew this would be a brawl. And it is. Some good high risk attempts from both men, but the match is afflicted with yet another crappy finish. Pillman, now a babyface, has the crowd solidly behind him. Nice exchanges between the two former Hollywood Blondes, each man giving the other the opportunity to show what he can do. The bout goes close to 10 minutes and … what’s this? Another controversial conclusion?

Yep. I guess the bosses didn’t believe in the old maxim of giving one man a clean victory then allowing the vanquished a strong return to get his own moment in the sun. Back-and-forth with winners and losers turns up the heat and tells the fans that either man is capable of coming out on top. It creates the best story, because the final result is always in doubt. That means people will buy tickets to see how it all develops. Instead of anything like that, Colonel Robert Parker rudely trips up Pillman as he’s about to fly off the top turnbuckle, resulting in a tainted victory for Austin. Another ugh finish.

[I have to go back to the same comments I made about Match 4. Why oh why did WCW think they were smart by breaking up and feuding The Hollywood Blondes? The duo had charisma a-plenty with loads of talent to spare. Handled properly as a team, they could have been a cornerstone of the company for a long time to come. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize the decision was a major blunder almost as soon as it was made. Idiots.]

7. Cactus Jack vs. Van Hammer, Falls Count Anywhere. January 9, 1992.

Before extreme wrestling entered the wrestling public’s consciousness, Cactus Jack was already a veteran of the style and preparing to show the way. Mick Foley had spent quite some time in Japan, sacrificing his body to barbed wire, tacks, exploding cages and the like. Compared to the extreme stylings about to develop in North America, this match is mild.

Van Hammer, who wasn’t as awful as some would have it, was basically a middle-tier performer. Anyway, these two whack away at one another, with Cactus Foley taking some sick bumps along the way. It all led to a conclusion outside of the arena (I’ll bet the fans inside weren’t too pleased). Luckily for all concerned, a cattle show and rodeo was to take place just beyond the arena's entrance. Cactus and Van Hammer fought all over, including the insides of cow pens, causing the nervous animals to eye them warily. The duo also take it to the top of bales of hay and directly in front of Missy Hyatt, who shows up as an on-the-scene reporter.

[The finish is even weirder than what preceded it. Suddenly, Abdullah the Butcher in a cowboy hat and shirt (!?) appears out of nowhere. From his efforts to get Cactus Jack, we’re led to believe he’s in the Hammer-man’s corner. ‘Ceptin’ his aim with a shovel ain’t too good. He mistakenly smacks Van Hammer hard across the back. Cactus Jack pins the metal-head, but he’s not through yet.

Cowboy Abdullah is waiting for him, and the duo continues the brawl all around the stockyard. Missy Hyatt, whose contributions include squealing and feigning distress at the scene, creates much merriment among the viewers when she is dunked in a water trough, which just happens to be filled to the brim. (Hah!) The whole thing is so weirdly good and bad that it’s highly entertaining. Unfortunately, this type of gimmick match that should have remained as a one-off, pretty much set the tempo for what wrestling would soon become.]

8. The Samoan SWAT Team (with Paul E. Dangerously) vs. The Road Warriors (with Precious Paul Ellering). September 12, 1989.

Decent for what it was, this match ended in a little over six minutes. That’s when Hawk and Animal combine to hit the team’s finisher, The Doomsday Device, with Hawk pinning the SWATted victim.

[The two power teams run through their strongman repertoire in the first few minutes of the match, so this wound up just before it became a yawner. Well, maybe that’s a little harsh. Both squads earn points by displaying quite a lot of agility along with their usual exhibitions of strength. So that made it better than the usual. Yeah, this was pretty decent.

The finish comes when the SWAT Team’s manager, Paul E. Dangerously, tosses his cell phone to one of his boys, who generously passes it along to the Roadies. Demonstrating their ability to think quickly, one of the SWAT boys is rendered helpless while the other one is conked over the head with the phone. He is then hoisted up on Animal's shoulders and Hawk heads for the top turnbuckle.

After squarely nailing him with the Warrior's patented Doomsday Device maneuver, it's a simple matter of pinning the man for the fall. Paul E. Dangerously scrambles inside the ring to protest, only to be socked in the jaw for his efforts. Precious Paul Ellering completes the SWATting by stomping Dangerously’s phone into tiny bits.]

9. The Great Muta & Terry Funk vs. Sting & Ric Flair. Halloween Havoc PPV match, in the Thunderdome cage. October 28, 1989.

A very exciting match involving four top notch wrestlers. In a special cage, no less. And this entry came from a Pay-Per-View, not a free Clash. A hot back-and-forth confrontation that sees the duo of Flair and Sting triumph, although it’s certainly not easy for them. Funk and Muta as a team are just as good, and this match is well paced from start to finish. There should have been more encounters in the series.

[When they were together in the ring (and on the floor), Terry Funk and Ric Flair resorted to in-your-face brutality of the highest order. But in several other sequences, they introduced a fair amount of psychology and subtlety, the likes of which make the best matches so good. This entire bout should be included in chapter one of the “How to Construct a Pro Wrestling Match” manual. I mean no disrespect to Muta or Sting, because they too were outstanding. But it’s the two veterans that make this match so beautiful to watch. I thoroughly enjoyed it.]

10. The Midnight Express (with Jim Cornette) vs. Ric Flair and Barry Windham with (James J. Dillon). December 6, 1988.

Another fantastic match. The Midnight Express, arguably one of the greatest tag teams ever, is obviously in their element. Ric Flair and Barry Windham, two excellent singles wrestlers, don’t have much experience as an alliance. That said, we all know they are more than capable of pulling off an upset. And they do just that, with Flair pinning Bobby Eaton. A wonderful experience for the wrestling fan, although I have the same complaint as before … the lack of a clean finish. Still, this one’s just too good to let that ruin it.

[I’ve always held The Midnight Express in high regard. Bobby Eaton and Stan Lane developed and expanded the concept of working as a fully functioning unit. The result was a seamless definition of what tag team wrestling should be. Another factor contributing to their appeal comes from the always entertaining work of manager Jim Cornette. Forever walking the tightrope between infuriating the fans with his devious tactics and cracking them up with his verbosity, Cornette was truly one of the all-time greats when fronting for his boys.

Cornette’s amazing gift of gab, coupled with the wide array of underhanded tactics he frequently used was unparalleled in this, his ideal role. With Jim (and his ever-present tennis racket) guiding the fortunes of Bobby Eaton and, during this period, Stan Lane, Midnight Express matches proved to be exceptional expressions of creativity. The trio was really that good. Watching Cornette go berserk during key moments in this match are highlights unto themselves. On the other hand, James J. Dillon’s relatively cool demeanor is in sharp contrast to the histrionics of his counterpart.]

11. Ric Flair vs. Terry Funk (with Gary Hart), I Quit Match. November 15, 1989.

And finally the coup de grace. This is the greatest match in the history of our sport! Okay, maybe not the greatest ever, but right up there with Flair vs. Steamboat. The rapidly developing psychology shown by both Flair and Funk needs to be taught to any prospective wrestler before he is allowed to lace up his boots. Ric wins in about 15 minutes after applying the Figure Four Leglock. Funk is forced to scream, “YES! I QUIT!” and the crowd’s reaction is off the charts.

The next sequence sees Terry insisting that he had agreed to shake Flair’s hand, should he lose, and that’s what he's prepared to do. Funk’s manager, Gary Hart, adamantly refuses to permit such an act of contrition to take place. You can palpably feel the genuine respect between the two wrestlers. Seeing this made me proud to be a fan. The eventual beat-down of the two former combatants, courtesy of Hart’s gang, turns Funk into an instant babyface. Just a fantastic way to end the All-Nighter.

[What distinguished this match, which I believe sets a standard (along with a very few others), is among the greatest of the great. It encompasses everything a contest between two rivals should. First, it kicks off with a logical build-up to explain why feelings ran so high between the two. (However, it cannot be ignored that the angle chosen, which saw Funk try to smother Flair by putting a plastic bag over his head, was ill-conceived and potentially dangerous. Children watched this stuff). But the end result was that it worked, which still doesn't justify that approach. The fact that the angle was never again shown after the original telecast indicates that they received enough complaints to ditch it. Still, by bringing the violent showdown to a head in an I Quit match made fans salivate at the prospects.

And these two veterans, having begun their respective journey in the late 1960s, deliver at a level above what anyone had a right to expect. The give-and-take transitions were flawless and believable. The brutality with which Flair and Funk mauled each other may well have convinced some skeptics that at least a few matches were indeed on the level. It was barbaric and it was poetry.

It was a case of two top professionals at their peak, plying their trade with remarkable panache. In this match, they showed the world that those who think the business is all about glitz and gimmicks don’t have a clue when it comes to presenting a pseudo-sport as reality. This show-stopper was an act of brilliance from all involved, including Gary Hart and his gang of cutthroats. Truly among the very best, bar none.]

There are no more matches to describe. I only wish I had something more to add, but even if you’re not sick of my blathering, I am.

I'll take my leave and invite you to visit this website periodically. I hope to have a surprise or two before long.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Note: It may appear that what you are reading is a duplicate column, found on both of my websites (Perspectives on Wrestling and Richard Berger’s Point of View). Please be aware that the first three paragraphs are indeed identical. After that, they diverge into separate subjects. I view it as a quick and easy way to get the same point across without re-writing. Others may call it proof of laziness.

Hello to my friends everywhere…

I must apologize. I’ve not been updating both of the websites far longer than I ever would have anticipated. I want to thank those folks that took the time to send e-mail inquiring about the status of my health, both physically and mentally. It’s good to be able to say I’m doing reasonably well (okay, the mental aspects have always been questionable), and I sincerely appreciate the concern people have expressed. In general, things are not bad, and the fact is they could be a whole lot worse. So, there are no complaints from me.

Occasionally, situations of the personal variety will crop up unexpectedly. In some cases, they demand virtually all of one’s attention. Such was the case for yours truly. And while the difficulties appear to be resolved, the circumstances demanded most of my time and all of my patience. Trust me; nobody would have wanted to read anything I might have written during that period.

So, unless the loose ends aren’t secured as well as I’d like to believe they are, these sites will be updated more frequently. And yes, to the few that inquired, I’m still working on the book. An announcement will be made as it comes close to publication, hopefully before year’s end. But for now, let’s move forward.

As mentioned above, it’s been a very trying month or so. Along the way and without realizing it initially, I resorted to the one tried and true method that has always helped me cope when confronting a problem. I revived a habit that dates back to childhood. In those days, I took solace by digging up and indulging in some great old school professional wrestling. (Of course, such things as videotapes and DVDs didn’t exist a-way back in the Stone Age, AKA the 1950s; no, in those days, I would read, re-read and sometimes memorize stories from the wrestling magazines).

When it comes to pro wrestling in the 2000s, technology has given us options beyond written words and photographs. We can study actual events sharply and clearly, having the choice between normal or slow speed. In some cases, we have the option of listening to the original announcers or an alternate soundtrack. All the while, we repose on a comfy couch, getting away from our concerns for just a little while, enjoying it all with an unencumbered view on a 40” widescreen HDTV set, replete with surround sound. Whatever fond memories we may have of “life in the good old days,” they cannot begin to compare with today’s digital accomplishments.

So, after rooting around in my oversized and disorganized videotape collection, I chanced upon a couple of gems. The first appealed greatly to the old OLD school wrestling fan in me. Many years ago, some kindly soul sent a tape featuring complete matches from the ‘50s and ‘60s, the majority of which originated with the Fred Kohler promotion out of Chicago. For the most part, the audio/video quality was very good, and the black-and-white footage occasionally sparkled. The matches went like this:

1. (NWA Title) Hans Schmidt vs. Lou Thesz (Champion) - 2 out of 3 falls.
2. (NWA Title) Don Leo Jonathan vs. Lou Thesz (Champion) - 2 out of 3 falls.
3. (NWA Title) Gene Kiniski vs. Lou Thesz (Champion). This is the St. Louis match where Thesz dropped the belt to Kiniski. Highlights only, no audio.
4. Pat O’Connor vs. Bob Orton, Sr.
5. Dick the Bruiser vs. Bob Orton, Sr. (This was lots of fun. Both men were despised heels, and the crowd initially seemed unsure who to back as their favorite, if only for one night. Somewhere near the halfway point, they began cheering for Orton, which is the only time I ever saw him in the role of babyface. Man, they hated the Bruiser!)
6. Dick the Bruiser & Karl Karlson vs. Wilbur Snyder & Verne Gagne – 2 out of 3 falls.
7. The Legend of Bruno Sammartino (I haven’t seen this yet).

I couldn’t help being reminded of two very noticeable differences between wrestling then and now. All of these matches had two elements in common, no matter what decade they came from.

First, there was little in the way of high-flying and acrobatics. Sure, there was the occasional well-executed Flying Head Scissors or Drop Kick, but that was the extent of the aerial stuff.

The second visible difference was that there was nothing to be found that came close to what can only be termed “death-defying stunt work.” No chairs were used (except for sitting purposes) and there wasn’t a cheap shot to be seen. Also missing from the action were the repetitive and boring outside interference and ref bump spots. In other words, the game was an entirely different animal from another, simpler time.

None of the usual trappings found commonly in today’s modern promotions existed back then. At the risk of irritating the sports entertainment fans, I maintain that the industry was far the better for it. Most of what took place was on the mat, and given the route pro wrestling has taken in recent years, it was positively refreshing to watch.

How joyful! What a delight! These men practiced the art of telling stories and communicating to the fans through their actions and behavior instead of taking the easy route via excesses. By today’s standards, the heels would get a massive yawn from the fans for their trivial dastardly deeds. The holds and counter-holds the wrestlers applied appeared to be legitimate, at least by comparison. It was not too hard to believe the performances were those of an actual competition.

Next time around (and I promise it’ll be sooner rather than later), I’ll delve into the second gem I discovered in my search through the ‘Dusty Bin o’ Rasslin’ Vids’. For those keen to guess, here’s a hint: it’s of the recent-enough-to-know-the-wrestlers-involved-but-old-school-in-the-presentation variety.

And by the way … it’s nice to be back.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

OT: You Are Invited

For those who might care to take a look at my new website, it's now available for viewing. It will contain articles, columns and the occasional rant, all of which have nothing to do with pro wrestling. All's you need to do is click here:

Richard Berger's Point of View

Thanks for your attention.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Who's Embarrassed?

Most wrestling fans that have studied their history or followed the business for more than 10 years are familiar with the infamous WCW debut of Fred Ottman as “The Shockmaster.” The unscheduled tumble he took as he crashed through the wall only to fall flat on his face, is considered by many as the quintessential screw-up on live TV; at least, among those that took place outside of the ring.

There isn’t a person over the age of five that hasn’t experienced embarrassment in one form of another. As we get older, we are naturally going to accumulate more events of this type. Upon reflection, they will cause us to wince. Eventually, when we relive these episodes after enough time has passed, we can wind up laughing and shaking our heads … just what the hell were we thinking? In most instances, the “pain” is fleeting and we carry on, hopefully having learned something along the way. What’s the point in making the same foolish mistake again and again?

So, even though that momentary sense of humiliation was definitely unpleasant, it’s just one of life’s many reminders that none of us is perfect. I'll go so far as to proclaim that we actually NEED them occasionally. Why? Because when we take a pratt-fall, we gain something valuable that we should remember and apply when next confronting similar circumstances. Ideally, we’ll be more informed by those lessons we've already experienced.

So, I ask one and all not to ridicule Mr. Ottman but to give the man a break. Unfortunately for the former wrestler, his mortification took place in front of a million or two viewers. Even worse, his brief act of buffoonery has been preserved on tape and can be viewed anytime on YouTube. Still, there comes a point when the humor has passed and cruelty sets in.

The fact that I've just written the above has very little to do with me. Having now picked myself up after dozing off in front of my computer, causing me to come a-crashing down to the floor (the back of the chair banging me on the top of my head during the journey), I’m already starting to accept that I’ve just received a valuable lesson.

Well, I will once the excruciating embarrassment wears off…

Be back soon!

Friday, July 4, 2008

The "Jig," As They Say, Is Up

To paraphrase an old saying, when a relationship runs its course, it's time to take the high road and move along.

My connection with The Fight Network and Live Audio Wrestling has now come to an end. I would like to publicly express my appreciation to John Pollock, Mauro Ranallo and everyone else at the network who had a hand in this venture. Their guidance and cooperation during our one-year partnership was invaluable.

I also want to convey my sincere gratitude to everyone who read my weekly offerings. At this time, I must send along a special acknowledgment to thank those who wrote with kind words of approval and enthusiasm. I include the folks that corrected me whenever I took a misstep, along with the people who disagreed with my positions. Whether or not you concurred with my beliefs and opinions, I am more than thankful that just about everybody who sent a message did so respectfully and with an open mind, for the most part. Can't ask for much more than that!

For now, I'm going to devote my efforts into putting together a soft-cover book. While it's still in the the earliest of early stages, I'm hoping to make it available by the end of 2008 or early in 2009. The format has not yet been finalized, but it will likely include selected (and corrected) RB columns, along with some never-before-published articles, musings, interviews and photographs. More information will be posted on this site as the project continues to develop. Most of the published columns will now be unavailable at this website, possibly temporarily or perhaps permanently.

I'd also like to invite one and all to visit this site periodically, as my plan is to post short pieces, random thoughts and what-not once or twice a week. For now, I'll simply say for the record that the readers who have dropped by from just about every country in every corner of the world have made writing these columns a joy for this old wrestling fan. Having the opportunity to share ideas, as well as receiving your input from various vantage points, has certainly done wonders in furthering my education.

I am gratified for the kindness you have shown. Thank you!

= Richard Berger =

Friday, May 30, 2008


In 1921, Don Albert and his Orchestra released the pop song, “The Sheik of Araby,” using the colloquial reference to all things Arabic. The tune was the very first to be banned from commercial radio, a form of mass communication that had only hit the airwaves one year before. Why was the song suddenly yanked? For the simple reason it contained a repetition of the line “with no pants on,” a playful jab at the type of clothing supposedly worn by Middle Easterners.

Five years after the song’s release, Ed Farhat was born in Lansing, Michigan, one of 10 children who would be raised by parents originally from Lebanon. Although no one could have predicted it at the time, he would begin training to enter the world of professional wrestling in 1949, making his debut as “The Sheik of Araby” in 1950. And just like the song itself, he would face banishment (along with fines and disciplinary action) during the course of his career. Minor setbacks aside, the penalties he incurred worked in his favor, for the controversies served to elevate his status as one of the uncontrollable wild men of the mat. Along with other early hardcore advocates Bull Curry and Abdullah the Butcher, (see Two Wild Men of Wrestling), The Sheik provided a reason to wonder if perhaps the mayhem he spawned was on the level.

Ed Farhat took his career as The Sheik very seriously. (He dropped the “from Araby” attribute after a few years). In looking back, it’s possible to trace a direct link between his behavior, both in the ring and behind the scenes, with the eventual rise of an ultra-violent style of ersatz combat. What made a handful of wrestlers from the 50s through the 70s, like The Sheik, Dick the Bruiser, Abdullah the Butcher and Bull Curry so menacing and frightening to both children and adults, is that they remained in character and were believable at all times. Never did they drop the pretense of their respective gimmicks. By incorporating acts of violence that went far beyond the pale, they scared the living hell out of wrestling fans, including those watching on television from the safety of their homes. Interestingly, the more honest viewers admitted that they got a special thrill out of seeing those “crazy bastards” cross the line without restraint. Reprehensible as their actions were, there was something appealing about men who knew no boundaries and wouldn’t hesitate to go the extra mile to achieve the appearance of all-out warfare.

Of course, when a heel successfully makes a strong visceral impression by taking excessive liberties, attendance will grow as fans anticipate the day when good finally triumphs over evil. There’s an art to successful storytelling, and Ed Farhat recognized that the best way to create interest in The Sheik was to go beyond the standard heel conduct of merely cheating. By brandishing sharp objects secreted in his trunks to carve up the foreheads of hapless opponents, he outraged the paying customer. The majority of Sheik matches were gory affairs; and while some would loudly disapprove of the liberties he would take, the man himself would just as frequently finish his matches every bit as bloody and maimed as his opponents.

When he first entered the business, The Sheik was an instant heel. His actions were that of a bad guy, to be sure, but nothing too far beyond that of other baddies of the day. It’s also worth noting that in the 1920s, the first wrestling sheiks were presented as babyfaces. Then, as now, promoters capitalized on just about anything that was at the forefront of entertainment, regardless of where the source originated. In the case of wrestlers that were portrayed as having arrived from Arabia, Syria, Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries, they originally came into being to exploit the dynamic Rudolph Valentino and his movie “The Sheik.” The silent epic had swept the continent and captivated the movie-going public, especially women. 30 years later, the flipside of the sexy Sheik would emerge.

Another important factor that determined the direction Ed Farhat would take was by virtue of the fact that he knew his wrestling skills were somewhat limited. Never one to challenge the masterful technical manipulations of the elite grapplers, The Sheik resorted to brawling. As he honed his style over the years, Farhat added bits of business that were to push him beyond the typical villain, until he comfortably resided in the “will-do-just-about-anything” category.

Without a doubt, the most hair-raising stunt that shocked the fans was when The Sheik would rub his fingertips together and shoot an honest-to-goodness fireball into an adversary’s face. The story goes that Farhat learned how to perform that “trick” from a professional magician. Again, because he may well have been the very first to utilize that conceit, it was powerful. Seeing the flaming fireball strike his opponent right square in the face horrified and infuriated the fans, especially when the recipient did his job by selling his “injury” for all it was worth.
As The Sheik developed his brand of ferocity through the 50s, he advanced the crazy quotient as he traveled around the country. Before the decade ended, he would add his wife, Joyce, who appeared as Princess Fatima. In some instances, the jabbering Sheik would pace and babble his gibberish before television cameras and, in moments of unbridled insanity, strike her numerous times. Wrestling fans of both genders found themselves choking back their rage at the display of an uncontrollable madman’s cruelty.

As the 60s came into focus, Joyce began appearing less and less. Eventually, Fatima faded out of the picture in favor of a male manager. Initially, it was Ernie Roth who adopted the persona of the excitable Abdullah Farouk. Again, it was a wise move on Farhat’s part, as The Sheik spoke no English (or any known language, for that matter). To make the verbal point, Farouk would issue threats and register complaints on behalf of his charge. It was also not unusual for the manager to get physically involved in a match by distracting a referee or passing a weapon to The Sheik; yet, he would loudly proclaim they were the wronged parties, having been the victims of unfair persecution. (In later years, the same Ernie Roth would be known as The Grand Wizard).

Still, a perceptible buzz would quickly spread around town as word circulated that the Sheik was on his way. Supported by magazine stories and photos that spotlighted his barbaric behavior, and aided by carefully chosen clips from his matches on local TV wrestling shows, box office sales would pick up with the news of his impending arrival. Surely, the fans thought, our top favorites would be able to handle this certifiable lunatic, just as they had other characters that strayed from the straight and narrow.

While that was the usual scenario with an invading heel, The Sheik was an entirely different matter. As time passed, his matches became increasingly wilder, frequently ending with he and his rival counted out of the ring or disqualified, sometimes under near-riot conditions. Only a very small number of Sheik encounters concluded in a clean decision. And again, that made sense from a business standpoint; it kept babyface and heel strong and hot, setting the stage for a rematch. Each successive bout added a new stipulation that upped the ante, stoking great anticipation that this, finally, would be the one to finish off the despised foreigner.

Once Ed Farhat took control of the Detroit office in 1964, he focused on building his own wrestling empire in the Motor City. The opponent that The Sheik faced more often than any other was the iconic Bobo Brazil. The two would come into conflict over and over again, many times with the United States Heavyweight title on the line. Each man won his fair share of matches. As was the case with most of The Sheik’s encounters, a DQ was the typical outcome. And so was the ever-increasing intensity, to the point that new attendance records were set in cities everywhere The Sheik and Brazil were scheduled to meet.

Meanwhile, The Sheik continued to work all around the U.S. and Canada. (Later, in the 1970s, he enjoyed an amazing winning streak in Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens that exceeded 120 matches). Prior to that, he went to Japan. The Japanese fans had never seen anyone so out-of-control, as The Sheik utilized his hardcore style before such a thing had been given a name. While fans in the Land of the Rising Sun had reacted strongly to “Vampire” Freddie Blassie’s assaults on their heroes, The Sheik took their shock and disbelief to a whole new level. By the time he departed, Japanese puroresu would be changed forever.

In 1968, The Sheik had a good run in the WWWF, fighting Bruno Sammartino for the title and, predictably, losing by disqualification. Here, he employed the services of Eddie “The Brain” Creatchman as his manager, who fulfilled the same duties as Abdullah Farouk had before him. It was during this stay that he was banned from the territory for his savage conduct. Taking virtually the same stance as Dick the Bruiser when he was suspended by the New York State Athletic Commission in 1958, The Sheik never contested the decision. Being highly in demand everywhere and with his own company to run, he never believed he needed to break kayfabe to meet with the officials that could reinstate him.

The truth is, this was something he might not have been able to bring himself to do, even if he’d needed New York desperately. Ed Farhat lived his gimmick to the extreme. He WAS the wild man, the crazy Middle Easterner whenever he appeared in public, and even beyond that. Stories handed down through the years (and they may well be more than apocryphal) suggest that when anyone called him at home and asked for “Ed,” he would yammer away in gibberish and hang up. Some have claimed he would speak a pigeon English, intoning, “No Ed here” before slamming down the receiver.

Unfortunately, while Ed Farhat was a good businessman that was at the helm of a healthy territory for nearly two decades, he ultimately ran it into the ground. Because The Sheik would virtually never lose a match except by disqualification, fans became disgruntled with the product and drifted away. Years of frustration had been building; in essence, the faithful got tired of waiting for a babyface victory that never came. And so, in 1980, The Sheik’s Detroit office shut down, although he continued to work anywhere in North America that would meet his price.

In 1994, at the age of 68, he made an appearance for the upstart ECW organization. In an odd sense it was a homecoming for him, as the independent company headquartered in Philadelphia was in the process of adopting hardcore wrestling as its primary style. The use of weaponry, the broadening of violence that included leaps out of the balcony through tables below, barbed wire ring ropes and baseball bats … all of it had a direct lineage to what The Sheik had been doing his entire career. Finally having his last match in Japan at the age of 72, Ed Farhat returned home and officially retired.

But he still wasn’t done. He trained numerous wrestlers-to-be, the most well-known being Rob Van Dam and Farhat’s own nephew, Terry Brunk (Sabu). Both developed a cult following in ECW and beyond, with Sabu especially being an advocate and an innovator of the hardcore style. Even though he himself no longer appeared in the ring, The Sheik took personal pride in what his charges were doing. They had followed in his pioneering footsteps and kept the “crazy wild man” aura alive.

In 2003, Ed Farhat passed away from heart failure. His legacy is assured of continuing for years to come, and it can be seen every time a wrestler uses a table, a chair or any otherwise innocent object for a violent purpose. Whether that wrestler knows it or not, he is paying homage to The Original Sheik.

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, 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:

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!

Friday, April 11, 2008


This week, we’re taking a short break from the world of professional wrestling to cast our eyes in the direction of another worked sport. Once upon a time, Roller Derby and Roller Games rivaled pro wrestling in some areas when it came to drawing a large and passionate following. From the early 60s into the 70s, the two leagues drew healthy attendance figures, ordinarily from 800 to several thousand per show.

Originally conceived during the 1930s Depression Era, Roller Derby came about as an idea from Chicago movie theater owner Leo Seltzer. An offshoot of the dance marathons (which were a sometimes deadly form of endurance-entertainment in and of themselves), Roller Derby first began as a race between couples. Over time, it would become a more stylized form of competition between teams of men and women, with rules and a method of scorekeeping.

In its original incarnation, the first Roller Derby contests saw a man and a woman working together as a twosome. Because so many people were out of work and desperate for money during the Great Depression, Seltzer had little difficulty finding couples willing to enter his competitions. The “Transcontinental Roller Derby” was what he called it, and the concept was not hard to follow. For as many as 12-hours-per-day, the pairs would skate around a large indoor track until one of them became the first to complete the equivalent of a 3,000 mile journey, quite literally from coast-to-coast.

While it was permissible for one member of a team to take a short respite occasionally, both individuals leaving the track at the same time meant disqualification. The first such competition took place in Chicago in 1935, reportedly lasting a full month, with crowds of paying customers and curiosity seekers coughing up the admission fee of $.15 to $.25 each time they came to watch. As word circulated that the finish was approaching, the assembly grew, which assured the venture would be a highly profitable one. The winners of the grueling race received the sum of $2,000 (which was more than the average annual income for 1935 of $1,518.00, according to Arthurdale Heritage, Inc.)

As the end of the decade loomed, such challenging and barbaric exhibitions came to a close. Still convinced that there was money to be made from selling admission to watch people race against one another on skates … after all, it was a known fact that skating was a very popular hobby for all ages … Seltzer went about creating a prescribed contest. Before long, he hit on a formula that made it easy for trackside fans to follow the action. This early version of Roller Derby as a sport, featuring teams of men vs. men and women vs. women for specific time periods, made inroads in cities throughout the country. That came close to ending in 1942. With the U.S.’s entry into World War II, the country’s interest turned to more serious matters. At that point, the game nearly faded away for good.

Still, Leo Seltzer wasn’t going to walk away from his brainchild. In the mid-1940s, with the troops coming home and a robust economy on the horizon, he again began promoting the game in earnest. Just a few years later, in 1948, Seltzer got the break he’d been looking for. With the sport finding a spot on network TV, Roller Derby began developing a larger and more devoted following. It may have been relatively small at first, but with the American public becoming more aware of and excited by the promise of television, the new technology and Roller Derby were a perfect fit. RCA, Zenith, Admiral and other TV set manufacturers wanted programming that showed their product in the best light. The thinking had it that most anything that featured a lot of movement would impress the consumer’s eye and lead to greater sales. From Seltzer’s standpoint, it meant greater publicity for his game, which translated into higher attendance figures.

In 1949, ABC was the newest of the four U.S. television networks. Unable to compete with the shows on NBC, CBS and DuMont, the upstart company was happy to take whatever it could get if it stood a chance of drawing a few curious viewers to their programming schedule. ABC saw that Roller Derby’s initial foray the year before with a weekly game on CBS had potential. Making Seltzer a better offer to move the sport over to their network proved to be so successful so quickly that ABC joyfully began televising games three nights a week.

The focus of attention was placed squarely on the babyface team, the New York Chiefs. Taking on such rivals as the Brooklyn Red Devils, Chicago Westerners, Washington Jets, the Philadelphia Panthers and the Jersey Jolters, viewership grew. While all but the Chiefs worked in heel mode, by future standards they would be considered as rough but far from evil.

After a two year run, Roller Derby was overexposed, and in 1951 ABC cancelled the contract. Moving his base of operations from east to west, Leo Seltzer set up shop in California, where Roller Derby did reasonably well without exactly setting the state on fire. In the late 50s, Leo’s son, Jerry, took over the company with his father’s blessing.

Centering the Roller Derby League around the babyface San Francisco Bay Area Bombers team, Jerry went about rebuilding the business. By the time 1961 rolled around, his father’s creation was once again showing a steady profit. Meanwhile, down the road in Los Angeles, businessman Bill Griffiths, Sr. organized his own league based in southern California. Roller Games, it was to be called, with the Los Angeles Thunderbirds taking on the role as babyfaces.

Those that were already familiar with Roller Derby couldn’t help but notice that there was a substantial dichotomy in the philosophy and approach between Griffiths’ upstart product and that of Seltzer’s. While the rules of the game they both followed were much the same, Griffiths ramped up the showmanship factor on the track. His vision made Roller Games distinctive with its blend of genuine athleticism, never-ending conspiracies against the T-bird team and a higher level of violence.

By comparison, the original Roller Derby adhered to a slower and more languid pace. To be sure, there was excitement to be had, what with the clear demarcation between the babyface San Francisco Bombers and their heelish competition. But the antagonism was, with occasional exception, substantially more restrained than what was taking place in L.A. Compared to what Roller Games was doing down south, the confrontations were milder, the action less frenetic.

While Roller Derby and Roller Games may have mirrored one another on the surface, points were much harder to come by in the Seltzer version. A jammer (scorer) would break out of the pack and skate around until he or she arrived at the back end of the group. From there, every opponent passed would result in a point. In the Derby, a typical “jam” would conclude with anywhere from 1 to 3 points being scored.

Not so in Roller Games. Passing everybody on the opposing team for the full five points was commonplace. Sometimes, two jammers on the same side would successfully lap the other team for a 10 point payoff! It was not unusual for Roller Games to conclude with scores in the lower 100’s; in Roller Derby, the point total was half as many. (In the last few years of Roller Games’ existence, they modified their approach somewhat, and games ended with aggregate scores in the 70s and 80s).

The most obvious difference between the two leagues was in the level of intensity. To draw a pro wrestling analogy, it was as if Roller Derby was WWF and Roller Games was ECW. It wasn’t a question of skill. There’s no arguing that both leagues had some truly outstanding athletes. The San Francisco Bombers had Joan Weston leading the women’s team and Charlie O’Connell at the forefront for the men. She was a highly talented blonde of Amazonian proportions, eventually becoming a local celebrity for her heroic exploits on the banked track. Weston came out on top more often than not against any one of her chief rivals. The fur particularly flew when she faced Ann Calvello, the deeply tanned heel with the multi-colored hair. Ann was as gifted in her role as a “mean and tough old broad” as Joanie was in her babyface portrayal.

For the men, Charlie O’Connell was a fluid skater for the San Francisco team. Any opposing player that foolishly attempted to take liberties with him or any of the Bombers regretted it, as heels Bob Woodbury, Don Rixman and others were to learn time and time again over the years.

When Bill Griffiths, Sr. first organized Roller Games, he wanted something wilder and more off-the-wall than Roller Derby. To that end, the individual and team battles were given a greater emphasis, with one jam after another often concluding in chases and fisticuffs. Storylines were constructed as the babyface L.A. Thunderbirds found themselves forever being brutally attacked by the Texas Outlaws, Detroit Devils, New York Bombers, Chicago Hawks, Hollywood Stars and other evil squads. Having arrived at an agreement with local station KTLA to televise a Game-of-the-Week live from the Olympic Auditorium, Griffiths made certain that the fans had plenty to howl about.

While the rules were indeed identical to that of Roller Derby, the Roller Games style of play was faster and fiercer with a more frenetic pace. The heels were truly bad guys in every sense of the term, not just a little bit shifty as the Derby would have it. Before long, the Olympic Auditorium was drawing larger and larger crowds for the TV contest every Tuesday night, with the untelevised Saturday night game receiving a heavy push. To whet the appetite further, heels, either men or women or both, would often commit a dastardly act. Ultimately, the befouled T-birds would issue a challenge for a Saturday night match race, telling their fans that crowd support at the event was paramount. Many a ticket was sold based on that premise. (As with Roller Games, Roller Derby also conducted match races during a halftime break. But again, while they were also exciting, there was greater restraint when it came to the appearance of uncontrolled mayhem).

With Roller Games, the most enduring and popular figure to skate for the T-birds was “Little” Ralphie Valladares, the 5-foot 4-inch Guatemalan flash. His ability to weave in and out of danger, often causing heel teams to flail about helplessly as he darted by, was thrilling to see, especially when time was expiring. The Roller Games heels were among the best to be found in any worked sport, whether or not it had wheels. Leroy “Bad Boy” Gonzales started countless near riots with his vicious attacks on L.A. men AND women, always staying just a tantalizing step ahead of any T-bird hell-bent on retribution. Terri Lynch was the redheaded captain of the Thunderbird women who had countless clashes and match races against the supremely hated Shirley Hardman (who would one day become a beloved T-bird herself).

All-in-all, for most of its existence, Roller Derby gave its followers a well orchestrated if somewhat placid presentation. The path chosen by Roller Games depended more on high drama and violence. Towards the end of its run in 1973, the Derby attempted to spice things up with more frequent altercations, but it came too late to turn things around. A decline in attendance coupled with an increase in the expense of running the operation caused Jerry Seltzer to pull the plug. In what must have seemed like cruel irony at the time, he sold the Roller Derby rights to Bill Griffiths. Unfortunately, he too began running into the same financial difficulties and wound up shutting down Roller Games within two years of the acquisition.

Since then, there have been numerous attempts at reviving roller sports. Rollerjam! was one, which faltered on and off for several years in northern California. Roller Games was reborn as the one-word RollerGames. Relying upon outrageous gimmicks to attract an audience, such as using a Figure 8 track, a brick wall and an alligator pit (!!), it limped along for just over one season.

Currently, numerous cities throughout North America have seen the birth of all-women roller leagues. While burdened by limited resources, some of them are making a go of it, if on a very small scale. When all is said and done, roller sports by any name has provided fans with an exhibition of great talent and athletic skill in what many have called “wrestling on wheels.” The Fight Network currently airs an abbreviated one-hour version of Roller Games from its final years in Los Angeles. As cheesy as the commentary and the 70s clothes are, one can’t help admiring the high level of athletic dexterity and gamesmanship. Despite its obvious flaws, the performances and expertise on display are certainly worth a look.

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, 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:

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!

Friday, March 7, 2008


Are your TV wrestling nights cold and empty? Are you so unhappy with what passes for pro wrestling nowadays that you’ve considered taking a couple of hungry cats, dressing them up in gaudy outfits, placing a bowl of tuna between them in a small, makeshift ring and then calling the action yourself? Be honest have you gone so far as to give some thought to surprising the two furry combatants with a third cat run-in?

Well, if you are missing your pro wrestling fix to that extent, then save yourself and the fightin felines the aggravation. For fans of old school regional rasslin', "Wrestling Gold (Special Edition)" is a must-have collection of matches from Kit Parker Films and VCI Entertainment. Bouts from many different territories are included throughout, with well known participants to be found in each of them. For those that weren't following the sport prior to the WWF/WWE takeover, these matches will come as an eye-opening revelation.

To discuss everything in depth that the viewer will encounter would take several columns. After all, the collection includes five discs, each of which runs for just over two hours. All told, there's a good 10 hours and 30 minutes of old school wrestling to enjoy, with one delightful remembrance after another along the way. It's a journey that fans who watched in the 70s and 80s will recall with increasing enthusiasm. It's heavy in joyful nostalgia with a small tinge of sadness, for this kind of performance art has given way to another type that is indeed a very different animal.

Disc 1, which concentrates to a large extent on action from San Antonio's Southwest Championship Wrestling of San Antonio, is labeled "Busted Open" for no apparent reason other than the title was direct and dramatic. (There doesn't appear to be any more bloodshed here than on the other four discs). But what it does have is some great memories. Right off the bat, we see Sherri Martel in her first professional match, taking on veteran Judy Martin. That's followed up by a very (make that VERY) young Shawn Michaels. At this early stage in his career, he couldn't have been in the business for more than a few months. Here, he is facing Ken Johnson. For fans of The Heartbreak Kid, this match will be something of a revelation. While his style is steeped in the traditions of a young babyface, Michaels already gives us more than a few hints at the heights he would attain after further seasoning.

There are other remarkable bouts to be found as "Busted Open" continues. For those that never had the chance to experience the charisma of Gino Hernandez, there are several samples included herein. In fact, he and Tully Blanchard were tremendously watchable as teammates and as opponents. (Two matches in particular put their considerable talent on display in both settings). If wild brawling is your preference, Bruiser Brody vs. Abdullah the Butcher is in the spotlight, along with "Dirty" Dick Slater against The Mongolian Stomper. A title match between challenger Bruiser Brody and Nick Bockwinkel closes out the first disc, and it's a honey. (Bockwinkel is managed by the always entertaining Bobby "The Brain" Heenan; no less than Lou Thesz handles the referee chores).

Disc 2 is "The Maim Event," and it floors us with an opening match that shook the wrestling world when it occurred. From Memphis, Tennessee, The Rock 'n' Roll Express (Ricky Morton & Robert Gibson) take on the Poffo Brothers (Randy Savage and Lanny Poffo), with their father Angelo in their corner. It's off the charts, and the fans never stop screaming for their teenybopper heroes. But what makes this match historic is a spot that takes place at the conclusion. On the concrete floor outside of the ring, Randy Savage attempts to set Gibson up for the dreaded Piledriver. Morton makes the save but is waylaid by Angelo, who unceremoniously tosses the mulleted grappler onto the announcer's table.

Savage then accomplishes something that was considered unthinkable at the time. He jumps up on the table and hoists Ricky into the Piledriver position. After a moment's hesitation (you can almost hear the crowd holding its breath), the twosome come crashing down through the table, Morton going head first. The resultant furor has to be seen to be believed, and old school fans denote this occurrence as a landmark in hardcore violence.

Other bouts on Disc 2 also originate in Memphis, along with San Antonio, Indianapolis, Detroit and Toronto, featuring names such as The Sheik, The Crusher, Jerry Lawler, Bruno Sammartino, Dick the Bruiser, Ernie Ladd, Ted DiBiase, Baron von Raschke, Rick Rude and on and on. Without exaggeration, it's a wrestling Who's Who of the day.

We move on to Disc 3, entitled "We Like to Hurt People." Again, there's more tremendous action to be seen, with many of the featured stars from the first two discs as well as some we've not yet encountered. Again, we're witness to crazy antics from Tennessee, and if you ever wanted to see an angry and embarrassed Rick Rude wearing a dress, this is where you'll find it. A definite high point is the "unscheduled" bout between Terry Funk and Mark Lewin that takes place in a Detroit television studio. It's a great confrontation, for it gives the small gathering of fans and the viewers at home a display of wrestling holds, counter-holds and beautifully orchestrated ring psychology, all within the framework of a personal grudge between the two men. After seeing this match, you may find yourself wondering how those living in the area that didn’t run out and purchase tickets for the Cobo Arena blow-off could rightly call themselves true wrestling fans.

Disc 4 is "No More Mr. Nice Guy" and it picks up where Disc 3 leaves off. Again, there are more top flight bouts from the various territories. Perhaps the most interesting from a wrestling standpoint is the title match from Memphis between challenger Jerry Lawler and champion Nick Bockwinkel. These are two pros that understand how to build a match in such a way that the fans can't help but become emotionally involved.

Some may find two of the gimmick matches included here to be of equal appeal. Stand back, PETA members, because Terrible Ted, the Wrestling Bear, can be seen overpowering his trainer (Gene DuBois), a referee and a preliminary boy or two that foolishly don't move out of the way quickly enough. The heyday of bears being used in the business was coming to an end, and this may be the last known bit of evidence, in the context of a full and complete match, that such an attraction ever existed.

Somewhat safer, although probably not by much, is a match from Detroit between Chief Jay Strongbow and Bulldog Don Kent. What makes it unusual is that their battle is held in the middle of the ring … inside of a shark cage. It’s akin to wrestling inside of a phone booth made of wire and steel. About as good as can be expected, given the confines of the cage and the participant's lack of mobility, but it's hard to understand just what the point was. Still, as a one-off, it's different and kind of fun, leading to an interesting conclusion.

The last disc in the collection is "Beat Me If You Can." Like the ones that preceded it, the matches are engrossing. Among the 12 bouts listed, this grouping gives us an intense fight from San Antonio between Chief Wahoo McDaniel and Tully Blanchard, a Toronto mud match between long-time rivals Tiger Jeet Singh and The Sheik, and a Memphis encounter between two legends, veteran Jerry Lawler and a young, brash Eddie Gilbert. This last one is of particular significance, as Jim Cornette informs us that it was the realization of a life-long dream for the up-and-coming grappler. As a child (and the son of wrestler Tommy Gilbert), he'd idolized Lawler. To face "The King" was, to him, confirmation that he had a place in the business. It meant everything to young Eddie, who went on to a stellar career both inside the ring and as a creative force outside of it.

And yes ... you read it right. Jim Cornette is indeed a welcome addition to the set. As if the matches with the original commentary aren't enough, there's an alternate soundtrack that features words of wisdom and humor from the encyclopedic mind and mouth of the former manager, currently a TNA employee. Complimenting Cornette with his own thoughts is none other than The Wrestling Observer's equally knowledgeable Dave Meltzer. Both do an outstanding job of providing insight by describing how matches were once constructed, as well as offering inside information and biographies on the wrestlers and the territories.

When one takes into consideration the age of the source material, the audio/video quality is surprisingly superb. As a collection, this is an absolute must for any serious old school pro wrestling fan. I simply cannot recommend "Wrestling Gold (Special Edition)" highly enough.

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, 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:

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!

Friday, February 1, 2008


For any pro wrestling fan not yet familiar with the highly popular Wrestlecrap website (Wrestlecrap: The Very Worst of Pro Wrestling), a visit is long overdue. Be sure to bring along your sense of humor and a desire to wallow in some of the most enjoyably inane and mind-bendingly hilarious gimmicks and angles ever spawned under the pretense of sport., created several years ago by R.D. Reynolds and Blade Braxton (which really should have been names used in a tag team somewhere in time), is devoted to the frequently funny, sometimes bizarre and all-too-often stupid concepts found in both good and bad wrestling promotions. More power to the two writers. It’s a risky business to spend countless hours constructing such a book without questioning one’s own sanity. From all reports, both Reynolds and Braxton are still reasonably sound of mind and not to be feared any more than usual.

Published by ECW Press, The Wrestlecrap Book of Lists! is a fun-filled read. Similar in design to R.D.’s previous work, Wrestlecrap: The Very Worst in Professional Wrestling, the Book of Lists! is just as engrossing. Someone not accustomed to the vagaries of the sport may have a difficult time believing that a promoter, a man allegedly in business to make money, would give his approval to proceed with the nonsense illustrated in these pages. Those that follow pro wrestling, especially in the sports entertainment era, will recognize the vast majority of examples cited. Depending on an individual’s tolerance for the illogical and the absurd, one may find himself either laughing raucously or shaking his head in disbelief. Either way, the journey is a lively and rewarding one from front-to-back.

The book begins with a short introductory chapter that sets up what is to follow. Pro Wrestling is Dumb, claim the authors, and they make a good case for such a declaration. Proving that they are hopelessly dedicated fans (as are most wrestling historians, analysts and journalists), it is this very admission that gives them their sharp perspective on what qualifies as Wrestlecrap. In describing the insoluble and inexplicable that is found between the pages, they write, “You see, this stupidity opens the door for not only obsessed fans, but more importantly, for some downright bizarre folks in front of the fans and behind the scenes. It leads not only to insanity in the ring, but backstage as well. With so many weirdos competing for such a small spotlight, comedy ensues.”

It surely does. Within each of the nine chapters of the book, there are categories of every size and shape. While they will vary in appeal depending upon the reader, all are presented with a strain of humor that the originators of the gimmick, angle or storyline only wished they’d possessed. For instance, in the chapter Tell Us a Story, Uncle Vince, one discovers the category “The 6 Crimes For Which We’d Hope Kane and Undertaker Would be Arrested if They Lived in Our Hometown.” Number 4 on the list is a cautionary tale that many wrestling fans will recall:

Concreticide: You probably just looked at that word and thought, “Waitaminute … concreticide isn’t in the dictionary!” Heck, even Microsoft Word would agree with that assessment. But you know what? Maybe you can’t use it in Scrabble, but there’s really no other way to describe Undertaker’s actions on June 27, 2004, at the Scope in Norfolk, Virginia. Undertaker’s manager, Paul Bearer, was locked up in a glass case as per a pre-match stipulation. Idling next to said case is a cement truck. The stipulation is that unless Undertaker agrees to take a dive, Bearer will be encased in concrete. Apparently, this type of wagering is legal in the state of Virginia. Although his mentor of over a decade will perish should he prevail, Undertaker fights valiantly and wins the match. He then proceeds to personally pull the lever to bury his pal. Some career advice to aspiring pro wrestling managers: never agree to manage Undertaker.

Moving along to the chapter Those Poor, Poor Promoters, we find the hilarious category entitled “The 3 Worst Tony Schiavone Comments Ever.” Anyone that bore witness to the final few years of the floundering behemoth, AKA World Championship Wrestling, will recall the ridiculous excesses of that company’s lead announcer. Number 1 on the list, and deservedly so, is…

This is the Greatest Night in the History of Our Sport: This is the wrestling equivalent of the riddle of the sphinx; how could one man think that every single Nitro, Thunder or pay-per-view was the greatest one he’d ever seen? We can only assume Tony must’ve been suffering from an undiagnosed case of Anterograde amnesia, a disorder that renders a person unable to remember anything that occurs after his attention is shifted for more than a few seconds. Well, if you’re going to be diseased, we suppose it could be worse. After all, every girl you make out with would feel like the first time. And that Stevie Ray vs. Bunkhouse Buck match on WCW Saturday night? Greatest thing since sliced bread – or at least since WWF Ice Cream Bars. On second thought, diseases are never funny, nor was hearing about how great every single Nitro was … especially when they weren’t.

One more example: in the chapter Wrestling … You Know, Actual Wrestling, the category is “The 8 Most Needlessly Complex – or Just Downright Stupid – Matches in Wrestling History. And Number 2 on the list is …

The Dog Poo Match: We’ve kind of veered off the path of intricate matches to talk about just plain stupid ones. And no list of idiotic bouts could leave out this bout, in which the Rock and Davey Boy Smith attempted to throw each other into dog feces. Do you really need more description than that? We didn’t think so.

The only reservation I have in recommending this book is that occasionally the authors’ own humor descends into unnecessary vulgarity. Hitting the mark far more often than missing, there are at least a few instances of the writers’ attempts at low humor that may cause the more sensitive reader to wince and perhaps even feel slightly embarrassed for them. In those instances, it would have been better to simply let the subject’s crude behavior speak for itself.

Small quibbles aside, I applaud The Wrestlecrap Book of Lists! for the reminder of what did and mostly what didn’t work in pro wrestling. There are hundreds of delightfully ludicrous memories to be relived here, covering most of the major promotions that registered on the grappling landscape, from old school to sports entertainment. Simply stated, the book is entertaining and the source of numerous belly-laughs.

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, 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:

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!

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:

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, 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:

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!