THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.21-2001
(ED. NOTE – Once again, as so many times in the past, the readers of this WAWLI Paper are indebted to the tireless researches of Steve Yohe, indefatigable Cauliflower Alley Club member from Los Angeles and one of the world’s premier wrestling historians.)
WRESTLING BOOMING IN NEW ENGLAND
(Boston Globe, Tuesday, Nov. 25, 1919)
Wrestling is booming throughout New England and there are big turnouts for any kind of fair attractions at Haverhill, Worcester, Manchester, Nashua and other points, but the best of the smaller towns is Franklin, N.H., where the papermakers have taken hold of the sport and are patronizing it in remarkable style. Worcester with (Waino) Ketonen as the headliner, also draws well, the matchmakers realizing now that it pays to secure strong cards against a man of Ketonen’s ability.
KETONEN SCORES TWO FALLS
(Boston Globe, Wednesday, April 7, 1920)
WORCESTER – Waino Ketonen beat Joe Turner of Washington tonight in a wrestling match in Mechanic’s Hall. Turner won the first fall with a jackknife hold in 11 minutes. Ketonen won the second with a double elbow and toss over the head in 1 hour 22 minutes, and he also won the third with a body scissors hold in 40 seconds.
STRANGLER LEWIS DEFEATS ORLANDO
(Boston Globe, April 9, 1920)
Strangler Ed Lewis found Sampson Orlando, a hard customer, in the feature bout of the catch-as-catch-can wrestling carnival conducted by George Tuohey last night at Mechanic’s Building.
It was a one-fall match and it took an hour and five minutes for Lewis to win, although he had at least 20 pounds advantage over Orlando.
Orlando is a newcomer in this section and he reminded the fans of Joe Stecher. A number of times it looked as if he would win, but Lewis finally downed him with a head lock.
The bout between Jim Londos, the Greek champion, and Taro Miyake of Japan was most spectacular. Catch-as-catch-can and jiu jitsu holds were allowed.
At times it looked as if the men were engaged in a boxing bout. They kicked one another in the shins many times and hit one another in the face with left and right hooks. The Japanese was handicapped to some extent by Londos not wearing a jacket, as is done in his style of wrestling.
He got some of his holds on the Greek, but the latter found a way to break out of them and finally won with a body hold and arm scissors in 49m 45s.
Cyclone Burns made Henry Varnini quit in 21m 30s.
STECHER-LONDOS TITLE BOUT TONIGHT
(Boston Globe, Monday, April 19, 1920)
Joe Stecher and Jimmy Londos, both in the best of shape, will wrestle to a finish for the world’s heavyweight championship in Mechanic’s Building this evening. Every indication is that the contest will be one of the hardest in Boston in years.
Stecher looks none the worse for his terrific battle with Strangler Lewis and says he does not feel any effects from that three-hour grind. He expects a hard match, but is not worrying.
The men will wrestle catch-as-catch-can style, one fall to win, under the rules of the American Wrestling Association. There will be a short preliminary.
(ED. NOTE – Stecher had defeated Lewis in New York three days earlier, Friday night, April 16, in a match which required three hours, four minutes and 15 seconds. The week of that match, Lewis had wrestled Saturday night in Atlantic City, Monday night in Louisville, and Thursday night in Elmira, N.Y. Clearly, the era of modern professional wrestling was dawning – although there weren’t going to be too many three-hour matches in the months and years to come. However slow, by modern standards, the pace of these bouts was, it is worth observing that Stecher went beyond three hours on a Friday night versus Lewis and followed up with a nearly two-hour bout on Monday night against Londos. Contrast that with the twice or thrice-weekly ten-minutes bouts of today’s "world champion," Stone Cold Steve Austin.)
STECHER HARD PUT TO THROW LONDOS
(Boston Globe, April 20, 1920)
After being forced to call upon all his reserve power and cunning, Joe Stecher, the world’s wrestling champion, defeated Jimmy Londos of Greece last night at Mechanic’s Building. The match lasted 1h 58m 45s, the Kansas bearcat applying his famous scissors hold, together with a body leverage.
It was a one-fall, catch-as-catch-can contest, under championship rules. The end came unexpectedly, Londos having lifted Stecher up as the champion’s legs were wound around his body. The Greek started a whirling dervish with Stecher, but when he dropped the latter was on top and applied the hold that obtained the victory.
There was a big crowd present, and the wonderful strength displayed by Londos called for repeated cheers. Several times Stecher wrapped his legs around Londos’ body and held on for dear life, once maintaining his famous hold for eight minutes and another time he had Londos in what looked like a dangerous position for seven minutes.
The two men hustled, and there were several bad tosses. Londos gave a remarkable exhibition. The champion once had a head lock on Londos that looked like a winning hold only for the Greek to wriggle free.
It was an interesting and exciting match and the crowd yelled like mad whenever it appeared as if Stecher was in danger. There was a 15-minute limit preliminary match between Tommy Record and Nick Bozinis, which resulted in no fall.
W. ZBYSZKO PINS LINOW IN HARD BOUT
(Boston Globe, April 27, 1920)
Plenty of action, in which every known hold in wrestling was tried, featured in the all-star program last night in Mechanic’s Building. The crowd of 2,500 was kept in a state of excitement from the very start.
A group of 50 soldiers from the Reconstruction Hospital, and 25 sailors from the Naval Hospital at Chelsea were guests of manager George Tuohey.
Wladek Zbyszko, the Pole, had to work hard to overcome Ivan Linow, "The Russian Lion." It was really the feature bout. Linow had his opponent in many treacherous positions, but lacked the power to pin the Pole’s shoulders to the canvas. After 1 hour 19 minutes and 3 seconds of pulling, hauling and tugging, "Zib," with a flying mare and body hold, drove Linow’s shoulders to the mat. Linow was stunned by the fall, but recovered later.
Cyclone Burns, the best of the local favorites, defeated Henry varnini, who substituted for George Manich. Burns’ all-around cleverness gave him the winning fall in 30 minutes 15 seconds. He used a head scissors and arm lock.
Jimmy Londos, the Greek, found Bob Brown, who is a clever jiu jitsu wrestler, a difficult opponent. Londos and Brown rolled around the ring, but the greater experience of the former gave him the win in 53 minutes.
Cyclone Burns is matched to wrestle Tommy Draak Thursday night at the Grand Opera House.
CYCLONE BURNS THROWS DRAAK
(Boston Globe, Friday, April 30, 1920)
Cyclone Burns defeated Tommy Draak in two out of three falls in their heavyweight catch-as-catch-can wrestling match at the Grand Opera House last night. Draak scored the first fall in 51m 56s, with a body scissors and a head chancery.
Burns took the second fall, Draak quitting after Burns had punished him severely with a hammerlock and head chancery, in 25m 55s.
The third fall went to Burns in 1m 30s, with a three-quarter wrist lock and a bar arm.
The preliminary was won by Jack Norton of Maiden, who threw James Gentwell of Dorchester with a head scissors and wristlock in 28m 30s.
WRESTLING LEGENDS RETURN TO BOUTWELL
(Birmingham News, Friday, June 8, 2001)
By Clyde Bolton
The World Wrestling Federation took wrestling to a new level. Many contend that level is sub-basement, though.
Pornography and profanity are staples of the wildly popular WWF television productions. Its writers create imaginative plots and its TV cameras shoot extra ring scenarios worthy of soap operas.
In the process of becoming symbolic with wrestling itself, the WWF swallowed up the weekly shows that used to play in cities over the country, including Birmingham.
A local woman, Linda Marx Keeble, believes there is a place for non-WWF style wrestling, though. She would like to see weekly wrestling return to Boutwell Auditorium, and she hopes to field a Legends of Wrestling Tour that would feature old favorites.
A wrestling card at Boutwell Auditorium on Saturday night will be a trial run for both endeavors. "This one is just testing the water," she said, "but I think it will do well. There's a lot of interest."
Robert Fuller and Jimmy Golden will meet Bob Armstrong and his son Steve in the main event. Ron Fuller, the Tennessee Stud, will be against his brother as the manager for the Armstrongs.
Other matches will be Tommy "Wildfire" Rich vs. the Dirty White Boy and Girl, the original Lord Humongous vs. Terry Gordy, the exotic Adrian Street and Miss Linda vs. Gemini, Scott Armstrong vs. Robert Fuller Jr., the Great Kaiser and Dr. Johnny Peebles III vs. the Exterminator, and Buddy Landell vs. the Assassin.
Wrestling will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $16 ringside and $14 general admission.
"This will be old-time wrestling, like it used to be," said Keeble, who used to handle publicity for the weekly shows at Boutwell. "It used to be family oriented. It won't be anything like the WWF. We want it to be family fun. You can have fun without doing the things they do."
Keeble said weekly wrestling signed off at Boutwell some 15 years ago. But if Saturday's turnout is promising it could return.
Ron Fuller hopes there's a place for old-time wrestling.
"The sport has changed dramatically," he said. "It's not similar to what it used to be. I think fans from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s are having a difficult time enjoying this WWF style. It's kind of on the edge. A lot of the things they do don't have anything to do with wrestling.
"They allow a lot of wrestlers to do things that are unnecessary. Their language and gestures are more than what they need to do to draw a crowd."
Ron Fuller is the grandson and son of wrestlers. Roy Welch, his grandfather, was a well known promoter of weekly shows.
Ron Fuller wrestled, but he was equally well known as a manager. "As I got older it was easier to run my mouth than to get slammed around," said the former Col. Parker.
Fuller, who hasn't been in wrestling full-time since 1988, said there are no more weekly wrestling shows. "Twenty years ago there were probably 30 different promoters," he said.
Can weekly wrestling cards make a comeback? "I guess we'll get a good idea Saturday night," Fuller answered.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.22-2001
MAT FEATURE TO SAVOLDI; TERROR WINS
(Washington Post, November 4, 1938)
By Lewis F. Atchison
Fists and dressing room furniture were thrown in wild abandon last night at Turner’s Arena as Joe Savoldi, victor byk disqualification in the regularly scheduled feature, and Chief Little Wolf, the loser, staged a fierce, impromptu battle behind closed doors.
For fully five minutes they wrestled, fought and pummelled one another over the sleazy dressing room floor before Joe Turner thrust himself between the pair. Turner almost lost an arm when it collided with a chair wielded by Little Wolf, but managed to pacify the belligerent factions before either could inflict serious damage on the other.
Savoldi, who earned a shot at Bronko Nagurski next week by his victory, won by disqualification, but, thoroughly incensed at this undramatic finish, put the Indian down for a body press for good measure. Referee Benny Bortnick tolled off the count and gave Joe his winning pats on the back from beyond the protective pale of the ropes.
Bortnick, to clarify the situation, had hastily removed his perspiring person from the ring after raising Savoldi’s arm in token of victory. He declared Joe the winner after Wolf slammed Bortnick to the canvas with a Thor-hammer and dug a vicious toe into his ribs as he bounced a second time. Benny decided that it not only wasn’t healthy, but decidedly not cricket.
A stifling gag-hold the Indian clamped on Savoldi’s bulging neck a moment before was the immediate cause of the fracas. Little Wolf, who apparently had Savoldi in distress throughout the 30 minutes of the match with a series of arm locks, suddenly shifted to the windpipe after Joe threatened to "punch his face in." Bortnick broke several holds and repeatedly warned him to desist, but the Indian didn’t hear English very well, and, when Benny warned him the last time, he swatted the arbiter with a right hook that toppled him to the canvas. The kick in the ribs and disqualification followed.
In the dressing room, which was barred during the row, Savoldi later said he didn’t want the match by disqualification, but wanted to prove his superiority in the ring. He felled Little Wolf three times with flying tackles before pinning him, and offered to repeat if the Redskin was willing.
The Golden Terror tossed Tom Mahoneyin 15 ½ minutes in one of the best bouts of the evening, Mahoney nearly unmasking the Terror with a wild grab.
Casey Berger bested Walter Percy in 18 minutes with a back drop, while Hank Metheny and Sam Menacher drew in 30 minutes. The bearded Cardiff Giant required only 5 ½ minutes to win from Joe Pazandak with a body press.
NAGURSKI WINS OVER JOE SAVOLDI
(Washington Post, November 11, 1938)
By Lewis F. Atchison
Coming events did a little shadow-casting before, perhaps, last night in the brightly lighted battlepit at Turner’s Arena where Minnesota tossed Notre Dame for a goal in the feature wrestling bout. What with the Gophers and Irish meeting on the gridiron tomorrow, last night’s finish may have been an omen.
Bronko Nagurski, of the Minnesota eleven of a decade ago, was the victor last night, and his victim was a large portion of the 1930 Notre Dame championship, Joe Savoldi. Nagurski used 33 of the 90 minutes allotted him in pinning the Italian with a flying tackle and body press.
Their match culminated an evening of wild excitement, most of it supplied by the Golden Terror, he of the orange-tinted long drawers and violent temper. Mr. Terror reversed the usual proceedings by inciting the fans to riot before rather than after the match, giving rise to a rumor that he had to catch an early train.
The Terror disposed of Walter Gray, an unidentified, bespectacled gentleman, and Frank Brown, the last –named being his official opponent. He polished off Gray with a wild right to the shoulder, chased the bespectacled gentleman from the hall in a fast sprint and finished Brown in 26 minutes with a body press, after throwing him from the ring three times. A police escort was needed to get the Terror into and out of the ring.
But the enraged fans had their ruffled feelings smoothed somewhat by referee Jules Strongbow, a wrestler himself, who objected to the Terror’s actions at the end of the bout, and promptly felled him twice with right elbows to the jaw. This gave rise to another rumor that Strongbow would be imported at an early date to unmask the Terror.
In the preliminaries, lest they be overlooked, Chief Chewacki threw Sammy Menacher in 19 ½ minutes with a body press; Chief Little Wolf pinned Herbie Freeman with his famed "deathlock" in 21 ½ minutes; and the Cardiff Giant fell on Tom Mahoney for an 8 ½-minute triumph.
Working before a distinguished audience, generously sprinkled with Minnesota and Notre Dame alumni, Nagurski and Savoldi wrestled cleanly and scientifically for 10 minutes before breaking out with the routine stuff. But for a while it appeared that Joe might forget his lines again, as he did in a match with Jim Londos several years ago, and accidentally win, but Nagurski was in rare form and not to be whipped.
The burly Gopher was guilty of a little horse-play at times, jamming his feet up against the ropes, twisting Savoldi’s fingers, and gently strangling him, but Joe survived all the rough work only to lose by an ordinary flying tackle and body press.
They were getting increasingly rougher when Nagurski first served notice of his intentions by backing Savoldi into the ropes and butting him in the mid-riff and out of the ring. He repeated the maneuver, and the second time Savoldi climbed back into the enclosure with fire in his eyes and a litter of peanut shells on his back. He caught Nagurski off guard and felled him with a flying tackle, then pounced on him while referee Strongbow started the count. Strongbow reached two before noticing Nagurski’s legs were out of the ring.
Again Savoldi rammed his opponent with a flying tackle, and again he clamped on a body press. Again it was no go, for Nagurski’s head was under the ropes. As the Italian marshalled his muscle for one final dive, Nagurski suddenly came to life, bowled him over with an old Minnesota line rush, 1929 vintage, and fell on him to win.
WRESTLER PREPARES TO THROW IN THE TOWEL
(Roanoke Times, Friday, June 1, 2001)
By Taylor Loyal
Mike Staples leads a double life.
By day, he's a family man, father of three, and a supervisor at the RADAR transportation service in Roanoke.
By night - or at least on nights when enough people are willing to plunk down $8 or $10 to see him bounce around a wrestling ring -- he's Rolling Thunder, a 402-pound warrior who sends his opponents to the mat with a drop kick or a power slam.
He loves both lives. But each year it gets harder to climb into the ring and wrestle. He's got a fiance. He's got a good job. His mother worries about his health.
Saturday, he says, will be his last match.
Rolling Thunder, 36, will be hanging up his tights on a night when he will be one of the youngest performers on the card.
Starting at 8 p.m. in the Salem Civic Center, the North American Wrestling Association's Legends Tour will offer a showcase of some of the biggest names in professional wrestling -- Doink the Clown, Boris Zhukov (formerly Sgt. Slaughter) (sic) and Ivan Koloff, who all are in their 40s and 50s. Ricky Steamboat and Chief Wahoo McDaniel will make guest appearances, but they won't be wrestling. According to promoter James Wells, Steamboat retired after back surgery and McDaniel, now 61, has been sidelined by diabetes and poor vision.
Wells said Saturday's performers will represent the old days of wrestling, back before it was overrun by alcohol and cursing and scantily clad women who pull each other's hair. Wells said he doesn't go for "all that crazy stuff" that happens nowadays on Monday nights. His wrestlers stick with traditional wrestling moves.
"They're not busting up no tables," he said. "I ain't paying no $75 to $100 for a table. They can use a chair maybe. Or a trash can."
Today's big-time performers generally acknowledge that their wrestling extravaganzas are staged dramas. But the guys on the Legends Tour make no such admission.
"This is no stage act," Rolling Thunder said. "I got scars to show you."
Frank Parker, who will wrestle Saturday as part of the Death and Destruction tag team, agrees.
In 1996, Parker woke up in a pool of his own blood in Georgetown, Ky., after Bulldog Brown bashed him in the head with a metal chair. His trainer, World Wrestling Federation Hall of Famer Jimmy Valiant, stood over him, holding the severed tip of his ear.
Parker was rushed to a hospital a few miles away, got 34 stitches to reattach his ear, and then wanted to return and wrestle again that night. The promoter wouldn't let him.
That was the first of four concussions he's suffered in his career. Some mornings he wakes up so sore he can't make it to his job at Christiansburg Recreation Center, where he works as a trainer.
Parker has leaned on the advice and example of Valiant, who began wrestling before Parker was born.
Valiant, who will wrestle Koloff on Saturday, made a deal with himself a long time ago: He would wrestle every week for 40 years. He started in 1964 and hasn't stopped since, slamming rivals to the mat in Madison Square Garden and going into the ring as many as seven days in a week -- twice on Saturdays and Sundays.
He'll be 59 in August and hasn't missed a week.
To keep his adrenaline flowing, he opened a wrestling school in Shawsville.
"When you go to an old folks' home . . . you're around all old people and you act old," he said. "We're up here at this camp around young kids and we act young. It's gonna keep you groovin' and movin'."
Most of the Legends on the ticket have fond memories of fighting for free just because they loved hearing fans cheer their names. But after years filled with knockouts and knee surgeries, most of them know it's time to throw in the towel.
Rolling Thunder has reached that point.
He's whipped some of the biggest names in the business -- Koloff, Mankind and Abdullah the Butcher. Saturday he will fight Big Vader in the main event. He said he plans on pulling out all his tricks -- the drop kick, the power slam, possibly the sunset flip.
But while Rolling Thunder can talk confidently, Mike Staples shows tiny signs of worry. Staples talks about how Big Vader, who weighs in at 401 pounds, doesn't care if he hurts you. Staples talks about his back and ankle troubles. Staples talks about his wedding plans and his 40-hour work week.
As he sits at his desk and contemplates his retirement from the ring, his head sinks into his massive shoulders.
He goes silent for a few seconds. Then his alter ego returns.
"I might surprise you," Rolling Thunder says. "I might come back in two or three years."
Tickets for the Legends event can be bought from Ticketmaster in advance for $10 or at the door for $12. Ringside is $15 and kids can get in for $6.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.23-2001
MODERN-DAY GLADIATORS MIX BRAVADO AND BLOOD
(Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sunday, June 10, 2001)
WEST ALLIS -- Ian Rotten's forehead is ground meat.
Bruises and scars cover his arms. Blood streams down his face and over his swollen body.
As fans yell for more, the wrestler is hoisted by his nemesis, Hardcore Craig, and dropped into a wooden case topped with glass and filled with barbed wire.
Rotten is literally stuck.
"Get me out of here!" he screams.
By the time he gets out, Hardcore Craig has been declared the winner by Carmine DeSpirito, promoter of Mid American Wrestling.
"I'm not trying to screw you!" DeSpirito yells at a furious Rotten, who disputes the loss.
"The (expletive) you aren't screwing me, you (expletive)!" Rotten yells back.
A few other wrestlers rush to the ring, as Rotten and DeSpirito keep arguing. The two finally settle on the rules of a grudge match.
A few more choice words, and then the show's over.
The wrestlers retreat to back rooms. Fans wander out through a haze of smoke, taking care to avoid stepping on the smashed glass and splattered blood.
Workers dismantle the ring.
This is independent wrestling, where truth and fiction mix with blood and sweat. Scientists, salesmen and teenagers can be gods for an evening. And wrestling fans can pay $15 to pull up a chair and watch men, and occasionally women, act like they're beating the hell out of each other.
A comedy. A drama. In some respects, a tragedy.
And it all happens a couple of times a month in the Knights of Columbus Hall in West Allis.
There are hundreds of independent wrestling operations across the country. Most don't last more than a couple of years, and many are poorly staged -- "a bunch of kids in sneakers," DeSpirito said, puffing on a cigarette.
Last August, a first-time wrestler died after a flip wasn't executed correctly at a small show in Sussex.
Mid American is about as well-established as they come. A secure fan base. Average attendance of about 250. One or two shows a month.
Some operations, such as Great Lakes Championship Wrestling in Grafton, offer traditional pro wrestling - body slams and arm twists and drop kicks. Others, such as Mid American, offer that tamer style as well as "hard-core" matches, a more violent, gory version in which wrestlers cut one another or themselves in the course of a match, often using objects offered by audience members.
Such wrestling organizations are largely unregulated, but depending on the injuries that occur, there can be legal repercussions. Courts in other states have held that people cannot consent to severe injuries, District Attorney E. Michael McCann said. The nature of the injury is key.
"To me, it's barbaric, but it's not necessarily illegal," McCann said about the hard-core wrestling. "But it depends on the gravity of the injuries. At a certain point, public policy intervenes."
The blood is real. So is much of the pain. So are the tacks, staples, barbed wire, wood and whatever else the hard-core wrestlers use to hurt one another.
But, DeSpirito said, these guys are illusionists as well. They don't inflict life-threatening blows; instead of the jugular, they go for the jaw. Afterward, they basically clean themselves off and let the cuts heal. They are essentially independent contractors; DeSpirito has each sign a waiver releasing him from liability for personal injury.
The 31-year-old DeSpirito, who grew up in New Jersey and now lives in West Allis, has spent half his life in some facet of wrestling, although he has never pulled on tights professionally himself. When he began operating in West Allis in 1993 DeSpirito had no fan base, and times were hard.
"I remember my (former wife) and I going through the couch to look for change to buy cigarettes," he said.
But wrestling took a leap in popularity in the mid-1990s, especially after Vince McMahon, head of the World Wrestling Federation, geared his shows more toward adults.
Interest trickled down to the "indies," as the smaller operations are called.
Now, DeSpirito is so confident that people will get hooked on his shows that he barely advertises. The story lines that his wrestlers follow are simple, even a bit humorous. The participants know their roles and know how their matches will end. A few of the more complicated moves are rehearsed, and the rest of what happens in the ring is left to improvisation.
Usually, the majority of the show is traditional wrestling, with one main event, the hard-core match, at the end. There also are occasional hard-core extravaganzas.
The crowd eats it up. It wants to believe. It likes seeing the splattered blood.
"It's a spectacle," DeSpirito said. "I'm a big fan of P.T. Barnum and what he used to call 'humbuggery.' It's the absurd, and people like the absurd."
In a hall known more for wedding receptions than wrestling matches, nothing is sacred. Young women in tight pants and old men in plaid shirts shout obscenities together. Twentysomethings wearing Gothic makeup drink beer alongside aging jocks. Old ladies sell hot dogs and hamburgers in the back; young security guards keep order in the front.
"Faggot! Faggot!" fans yell as two sweaty men in tights roll over one another.
When a woman in the show stands at ringside, flaunting expensive breasts in a black bikini top, men yell: "Puppies! Puppies!" She loves it.
Most of the seats are arranged in two sets of rows between the ring and the main entrance. On one side of the ring, the announcer, along with DeSpirito and a few others, sit at a wooden table with an old bell.
Before and after matches, sometimes even during them, wrestlers use a microphone to incite the crowd, propel a story line or promote a future match. Audience members who are singled out -- called an "ugly rat" for instance -- have reached a new level of notoriety.
There are so many repeat customers that the fans become part of the show in their own right. DeSpirito's ideal fan is someone like Rita Segerson, 22, a cashier who lives in Milwaukee and never misses a Mid American show. She even provides some weapons for the hard-core wrestlers.
At a recent show, she and her friends brought in a bunch of long fluorescent light bulbs strategically tied to some wood. The device and other homemade implements go into a big can; wrestlers can pick one to use if they wish.
"It's fun; it's stress-relieving," Segerson said. "You can scream at the top of your lungs!"
Despite the screaming inside the hall, West Allis police say they've received no complaints about the operation.
Those screams are directed at the likes of "Britney Spears' Boyfriend" Chuckie Smooth or "Love Machine" Matt Longtime.
The names and personas are all part of the show.
Daryck St. Holmes, Esq. is actually Daryck Beyer of Janesville, a quality assurance manager with a microbiology degree. Hardcore Craig is Craig Swan, a plumber from Chicago. Corporal Robinson a.k.a. Steven Robinson is an ex-Marine from Louisville.
Some say they wrestle to keep in shape. Others appreciate the attention of female fans ("But I'm very selective who I have sex with," one volunteered). Still others began as fans and found themselves drawn into the ring.
Most work multiple independent operations, doing whatever is needed for the money. Each has adopted a character - either a "heel" (bad guy) or a "baby face" (good guy).
"I've been spit on; I've had things thrown at me. I've been called everything in the book," said Beyer, 30, a heel who only performs in the traditional wrestling matches.
Frankie "The Thumper" DeFalco, 40, of West Allis, has been wrestling for 22 years, even competing in the WWF. He helped DeSpirito start Mid American. He's a salesman, and has his two boys' names -- Nicolas and Jacob -- tattooed on his arms.
His wife doesn't want her children to wrestle when they grow up, and DeFalco won't let the toddlers come to his shows.
"I just don't want them to see me if I'm getting beat up," DeFalco, also a traditional wrestler, said. "I don't want them crying or freaking out or anything."
But it's common to see teenagers and younger children at the shows, often with their parents. The kids learn the chants quickly, and wear the Mid American T-shirts with pride.
Rotten, a 31-year-old Kentuckian whose real name is John Williams, teaches his craft on the side. Nine of every 10 students who sign up ultimately drop out. Those who stay do so, in part, because they love the spotlight.
"It's the ultimate adrenaline rush," Rotten said. "When you have a crowd in the palm of your hands and they react the exact way you want them to react, it's like being a puppeteer. When you control those emotions like that, that's an incredible feeling."
Still, he's not oblivious to the price he's paying. His body is a scar-filled tribute to the hard-core genre. Strike the flesh on his forehead at the right angle, and the blood will stream out. But he loves the sense of control, the power, each match gives him.
"The guys who are doing hard-core are getting younger," Rotten admits. "I have a loving wife. If I were to become crippled tomorrow, she would love me. . . . If I wasn't a wrestler Monday morning, she would take care of me."
Kurt Krueger is one of those just getting started.
A fan since he was a tyke, Krueger began wrestling with independent operations in December. He adopted the name Dysfunction, and he's a baby face. He also is 17 and not yet out of West Allis Central High School.
Krueger dreams of the WWF, but for now he's in a no-win situation -- literally. The scripts require that rookies lose.
His mother dutifully comes to every match, taking pictures, yelling, "Come on, Kurt!"
She said her stomach churns to see him feigning pain: He admits, sometimes it's real.
But apparently this is what her son loves to do, so she'll support him.
These are optimistic days for independent operations. McMahon recently acquired his main competition, World Championship Wrestling, and also took over the lesser-known Extreme Championship Wrestling. Depending on how much consolidating McMahon does, a number of wrestlers -- especially those who burned bridges with McMahon -- will have to drop down to independent operations.
"Anybody who's stiff and anybody who's got an attitude in the locker room or anybody who's stuck it to Vince in the past, they're going to be in the unemployments," said Jack Koshick, an event consultant for the WWF who lives in Milwaukee.
Jerry "The King" Lawler, a WWF icon who recently quit because McMahon had fired his wife, is a good example.
"When I quit the WWF, literally the phone started ringing off the hook from different independent promoters," Lawler said from his Memphis home. "I got a call from Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom. People will come to see wrestling, and even more will come when there's names they're familiar with."
For operations like Mid American, Rotten is one of the bigger names among the regular performers. Among hard-core aficionados, he's a legend.
But four hours before he's covered in blood and stuck with barbed wire at the hands of Hardcore Craig, he is deep in thought. Cap pulled low, he's mulling over the night's show and reflecting on the business with DeSpirito.
"When I wrestle, I like to think that when people watch my match they've gotten every dime out of my match," Rotten said. "Whether they paid 15 dollars, 20 dollars or whatever, my match alone was worth the price of admission."
Rotten is sitting in the dressing area at the Knights of Columbus; other wrestlers are out in the main hall, practicing jumps and holds -- even screams.
By 7 p.m., the ring area is clear, and the wrestlers have retreated to put on their costumes. The tights come in every color; the boots are prized possessions; the tattoos are plentiful.
A few women, spilling out of their outfits, mix in. They are part of the wrestlers' image - essentially showpieces or props.
As the wrestlers map out their matches, DeSpirito checks to ensure everyone knows the roles.
Fans start filing in. DeSpirito peers out a door and grumbles about the size of the crowd. The wrestlers aren't thrilled either; their take depends on the size of the gate. A typical performer gets about $100 a match. Rotten gets more; Krueger, for now, works for free.
"You have to pay your dues," he said.
As DeSpirito walks away, dragging on an ever-present cigarette, Krueger stops taping his wrists and peeks out the same door. A few friends and family members are taking their seats.
He looks over at the creaky, old ring.
To him, it's a Broadway stage.
He takes a long breath and turns away. His match is first on the card.
"I'm nervous," he said.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.24-2001
PROUD OF FARM AND MAT GAME, SAYS STECHER
(Chicago Tribune, Sunday, July 2, 1916)
By Joe Stecher
I was born on a farm near Dodge, Neb., twenty-two years ago. I am proud of the title farmer. My parents are farming people and, from an early age, I knew what it meant to plow and sow and harrow.
I attribute much of my physical prowess to the fact that out of door life, the virgin soil, developed my strength, made my muscles firm, and my nerves steady. There is nothing, after all, like fresh air, sunshine, and good food to foster perfect health. No one can improve on nature’s handiwork.
I started in the wrestling game when a mere boy, testing my muscles out in the barnyard with my playfellows. Gradually I downed one boy after another and achieved a local reputation as a wrestler.
My ability as a wrestler grew until people came from miles around to see me wrestle with some local celebrity.
There was little attention paid to me until a couple of years ago, when Farmer Burns, considered one of the greatest wrestlers of the decade, and the man who discovered and trained Gotch, brought Yussif Hussane, the Turk, to Dodge. Now Hussane was rightfully considered one of the world’s best wrestlers, and he and his friends figured my defeat would be easily accomplished. My friends wagere a lot of money that I would win.
To make a long story short, I won over Hussane. From that time I was well started to success. All the leading wrestlers challenged me and I accepted all comers. The strange part of it all is that when I gain a victory my opponents always demand another match, for, with their managers, they are almost invariably confident that the second contest will result differently. The history of my ring contests will prove that the return match is invariably decided in my favor more quickly than the first one.
Charlie Cutler, one of America’s best wrestlers, was matched with me for the American championship. We wrestled in Omaha. Cutler’s friends evidently believed the contest would surely end in Cutler’s favor. There was Cutler money almost everywhere. My "farmer" friends had confidence in me, however, and they won between $35,000 and $40,000 on the contest.
The scissors hold, to which many attribute my success, came to me naturally. Gotch specializes in the toe hold. The reason I have been successful with the scissors hold is that when I discovered that I could defeat the other young fellows I developed the muscles in my legs in much the same way a boxer develops his arms. My brother Anton also has aided me materially in my training. Anton knows the game thoroughly and has participated in many wrestling matches.
When one of my wrestling matches is over I want to know when the first train leaves for Dodge. There is both pleasure and profit in farming, and I would advise all boys born and reared on farms to remain there. The farm is the place to gain and retain good health.
Another thing, boys, refrain from the use of liquor and tobacco. I have never used either. I cannot, and succeed in my profession. I am not a crank, but at the same time should I use liquor or tobacco even sparingly, the other fellow not using it, would have something one me.
Safety first is a mighty good slogan. I have tried to observe it with these rules:
No tea or coffee. No tobacco. Eight hours sleep. No liquor. Plenty of fresh air. Plenty of sunshine.
STECHER FAILS TO THROW LEWIS IN FIVE HOURS
(Chicago Tribune, Wednesday, July 5, 1916)
OMAHA, Neb., July 4 – (Special) – Joe Stecher was unable to get his scissors hold on Strangler Lewis today and after five hours of wrestling the match was declared a draw by Referee Smith. The match started at 4 o’clock in a hot, bright sun, and ended at 9 in the dim light of an automobile which was driven close to the ringside with the searchlights from the machine turned on the wrestlers.
At the end of the fourth hour of work, as darkness fell, the referee and promoter Gene Melady proposed that the match be stopped for the night and resumed Wednesday morning and permitted to continue all day unless one or the other of the men went down. To this proposition Stecher agreed, but Lewis and his manager insisted the match be fought out tonight, regardless of the length of time required for a decision.
From beginning to end Stecher was the aggressor. He pushed the fight to Lewis, who contented himself with acting on the defense. Still Stecher was wary, and never fought so hard as to permit Lewis to get behind his own defense.
Lewis made practically no attempt to throw his opponent. Whenever Stecher made a grab for him Lewis backed away. His movements were much more rapid than those of Stecher, and at the close of the match he appeared the fresher of the two.
The famous scissors hold of Stecher never came into evidence during the match. Three times Stecher attempted to operate his scissors, but not once did his legs meet around Lewis’ body. Stecher never did succeed in getting behind Lewis. One time the scissors closed on Lewis’ arm, but the Strangler quickly broke this hold.
Several times Stecher, despairing of closing in on Lewis, went to the center of the mat and got down on his knees, inviting Lewis to mix with him. Lewis accepted the invitation, but only to the point of getting behind Stecher with his arms around the Nebraskan’s body. When Stecher attempted to mix the work with his scissors, Lewis wriggled out of the way.
The 18,000 spectators grew weary of the dilatory tactics and for nearly half an hour showered the mat with cushions, striking both the wrestlers and the referee time after time. The crowd hooted Lewis for not standing up and fighting and hooted Stecher for not being able to corner his man.
A police officer stepped up on the mat and was immediately struck by half a dozen cushions. Police quelled the disturbers and the match proceeded.
Seventy-five thousand dollars for a match between Stecher and Frank Gotch was offered by Gene Melady of Omaha, promoter of today’s bout, the match to be pulled off here. Stecher accepted the offer, but Gotch has not been heard from.
FRANK GOTCH BREAKS LEG
(New York Times, Wednesday, July 19, 1916)
KENOSHA, Wis., July 18 – Frank Gotch, champion wrestler of the world, is out of the game for an indefinite period, having suffered a fractured leg today during an exhibition bout. He was wrestling with Bob Monogoff (the paper actually spelled it "Monograph") of Chicago, a member of the circus with which Gotch was traveling, when he caught his left foot between two mats, and as he hurled himself upon Monogoff for a hip hold he twisted the leg, breaking the bone just above the ankle.
Jess Willard, champion heavyweight pugilist, who was standing by, rushed to the aid of Gotch. With the help of Monogoff and Tom Jones, Willard’s manager, he carried the injured wrestler to an automobile which took them to the Kenosha Hospital.
ED MESKE WINS FROM GARIBALDI
(Washington Post, November 11, 1938)
Ed Meske, tall, blond and bruising mat star, pulled one of the season’s biggest surprises last night at Turner’s Arena where he pinned Gino Garibaldi in 36 ½ minutes to win the feature match.
The audience gasped at the sudden and wholly unexpected finish that found Garibaldi, a top-heavy favorite, limp and prostrate after a brisk exchange of elbows in the final 3 ½ minutes of the match. Until Meske picked up Garibaldi and dumped him on the floor the Italian looked like a certain winner.
Meske employed a brand new neck lock, the pretzel hold, to wear down Gino for the finish. Three times he clamped it on Gino’s bulging neck before the latter struck back with his fists. Meske fought back until both were groggy and was staring defeat squarely in the face when Gino started to lift him over his head for a finishing body slam.
Garibaldi, however, hadn’t strength enough to put Meske’s 200-odd pounds up over his shoulders, and when he relaxed his grip Ed seized him and hurled him to the canvas. He merely had to fall on him to get the decision. Garibaldi, upon being revived, slugged Meske a couple of times and tore off referee Benny Bortnick’s shirt when the latter intervened, but was finally quieted and led to the dressing room.
In the semifinal Abe Coleman drew with Chris Zaharias after 30 minutes of comic and semi-serious struggling. It was the most popular match on the program. Zaharias almost disrobed at one stage of the proceedings while trying to raise Abe over his head.
In the remaining preliminaries Jack League threw Tony Colesano in 19 ½ minutes; Tommy Rae defeated George Kondylis in 18 ¼ minutes, and Bibber McCoy slapped down Ed Newman in 15 ½ minutes.
HARD-CORE WRESTLERS THROWN FROM RING
(Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wednesday, June 13, 2001)
It's fake! It's real!
Barring a miraculous surge of support, Mid American Wrestling is getting tossed out of its longtime home, the Knights of Columbus Hall in West Allis. The head of the group that runs the hall confirmed Tuesday that leaders planned to stop renting the facility to the group.
The move is a response to the many people who complained about the wrestlers after a Journal Sentinel profile of the league on Sunday.
"We have decided that enough's enough," said Jerry Falk, outgoing president of the Columbus Club. "We're concerned about the image that it creates for this group."
The 8-year-old league has traditional wrestling matches, but it was the hard-core matches -- the kind where the wrestlers make one another bleed using tacks, barbed wire and other instruments -- that has really riled people. The league has staged shows at the hall once or twice a month since 1995.
It brings in about $15,000 a year to the hall.
Mid American promoter Carmine DeSpirito said he sees a change of venue as a positive opportunity. The league will not fold, DeSpirito said.
"It's a PR situation that the Knights just don't care to deal with, and that's their prerogative," DeSpirito said. "It's sad in a way, because the fans are used to it. But maybe in a way they've become too used to it. I may need a building that's more exciting."
Since the article ran on Sunday, several people have called the Milwaukee Archdiocese, the hall and the Journal Sentinel to decry the wrestlers and the Knights of Columbus.
Even the archdiocese sent a letter to the fraternal organization chiding it.
"We were simply raising a concern that the message that was sent by the type of wrestling matches that are there seem to be counter to the message that the Knights of Columbus stands for, which is respect for life and humanity," said Barbara Anne Cusack, archdiocesan chancellor.
Money is the main reason the Knights have allowed the wrestlers to use the hall. The club earned dollars from its concession stands and various fees it charged the league.
Mid American has posed few problems for the hall, keeping a fairly low profile. West Allis police have never had any complaints about the activities there. The matches - however gory - are largely improvised but involve preordained endings and trained independent wrestlers.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.25-2001
MESKE WINS MAT EVENT OVER DUSEK
(Washington Post, October 28, 1938)
By Lewis F. Atchison
Ernie Dusek, the gentleman with the inflated biceps, got a toe caught in Ed Meske’s ribs last night in the feature match at the Arena, and forthwith was disqualified. Referee Cyclone Burns, the man with the perfect "figger," declared Meske the victor after 34 minutes of strenuous calesthenics.
An audience of some 1,000 fans howled with unrestrained glee as Burns pulled the puffing Dusek off Meske’s prostrate form, hoisted the latter to his feet and raised his arm ceilingward. They yelled louder when Ernie jumped around him like a 5-year-old on a pogo stick in disgust, claiming he was robbed. Meske evoked more cheers from his supporters by dramatically throwing down his dressing gown and offering to throw Dusek and make the result official.
The result automatically qualified Meske for a shot at handsome Yvon Robert, the Canadian who walloped Bibber McCoy with a haymaker to win the semifinal. It took the raven-haired former champion 18 minutes to achieve the desired result, and there was pell to may when McCoy struggled to his flat feet demanding a recount. But Burns waved him away, refusing to reverse his original decision.
Dusek, getting back to the feature, had booted Meske several times before the finishing punt. He poked fingers in Ed’s bewildered eyes, cracked him with rabbit punches, and twisted his fingers in decidedly unorthodox fashion. He also succeeded in arousing the bald gentry in the second row, who arose en masse and threatened to annihilate him – until Ernie threatened to come down out of the ring.
McCoy, however, was the most successful crowd-baiter of the evening, driving a lady to cover when her biting remarks penetrated too deeply in his hide. The men got pretty mad about that, and asked Walter Gray to do something about it. Walter was just peeling off his coat when McCoy slapped him down with an elbow, and the fuss ended then and there.
Ed Newman wrestled to a 30-minute draw with Tony Colesano.
Steve Budnas threw Reb Russell in 16 ½ minutes with a kangaroo kick.
Chris Zaharias threw Chick Garibaldi in 21 minutes with a crotch hold and body slam.
RIOT AVERTED AS SAVOLDI PINS TERROR
(Washington Post, Friday, November 25, 1938)
By Lewis F. Atchison
Ham, rather than the customary gobbler, was the holiday offering at Turner’s Arena last night when a 305-pound specimen, the Golden Terror, succumbed to a series of punishing dropkicks authored by swarthy Joe Savoldi.
A riot of major proportions was narrowly averted at the finish – 20 minutes after the start, when the Terror’s man Friday – also wearing a disguise, leaped into the ring and attacked Savoldi. That was the signal for a concerted drive of fans on the ring, and in less time than it takes to write the mat was filled with wildly swinging men.
Hank Metheny, Jules Strongbow, preliminary wrestlers, and Bill Lewis, Richmond promoter, jumped in and each grabbed a man. Walter Gray, the bald gent who leaped to the enclosure’s edge and swung vigorously on the Terror, was knocked prone and semiconscious by a vicious swipe of the Terror’s paw, and other combatants gave way to a police detail. The gendarmes prevented more serious rioting and escorted the Terror to his robing quarters.
Savoldi, pacified to some extent after his erstwhile opponent was led away, suddenly worked himself into another rage upon leaving the scene, and at last reports was headed for the dressing room to take matters in his own hands.
The Terror had exercised all the foul tactics at his command, strangling Savoldi, bouncing him ribwise on the ropes, and hurling him bodily from the ring before the former Notre Dame football star sent his 300-pound frame tumbling to the canvas with a well-directed flying tackle. The Terror came up a bit wobbly and went crashing back to the mat when Savoldi planted a dropkick on his third chin. He stayed down for good when Joe added his second point-after-touchdown.
It was while the referee was counting off the three count over the pair that the Terror’s aide-de-camp leaped into the ring and ignited the fireworks.
Mae Meyer of Minneapolis surprised by pinning Dolly Dalton, of Atlanta, in 11 minutes with a body slam in the ladies match.
Man Mountain Dean, making his first appearance here, pinned Hank Metheny in 8
½ minutes with a backdrop, and Frank Brown and Pete Peterson struggled 30
minutes to a draw. Chief Chewacki also had earned a draw with Jules Strongbow,
until he insisted on patting referee Cyclone Burns on the chin a bit too
enthusiastically – which caused Burns to award Strongbow the decision.
A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
(Decatur, Ala., Daily, April 22, 2001)
By Winford Turner
CULLMAN -- Tom Drake said he has been "wrestling and tumbling around in sports and politics most of my life."
He is about to "wrestle and tumble" into the Cullman County Sports Hall of Fame later this month and into the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in Newton, Iowa, in June. And, if that is not enough, the 70-year-old attorney said he might enter politics again in 2002, possibly as a candidate for governor.
"God has been good to me," Drake said. "I feel he possibly has something else for me to do before I leave this world. The two events coming up soon are honors that I never dreamed I would receive."
He will be inducted into the Cullman County Sports Hall of Fame on April 28.
He and his wife, Chris, will go on June 16 to Newton, where he will be honored for his years as a professional wrestler. There, he will be reunited with a longtime friend, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, who like Drake went from the professional wrestling ring to politics.
"Jesse and I did a lot of wrestling and tumbling in our younger days, and we've proved that we're not through by taking our acts into politics," Drake chuckled. "A lot of people say wrestling is fake, but I would like to see them out there doing what we did. Fake or not, it was hard work and a lot of fun. We even made some money doing it."
Ventura speaks highly of Drake.
"Tom is one of the nicest guys that I've ever met," Ventura said. "The honors that he is about to receive are well-deserved. I know he is a popular person in Alabama, and I would not want to run against him if he does decide to enter the political arena again."
Drake retired from the Legislature in 1998.
He was speaker of the House of Representatives from 1982 until 1987. He was a floor leader for Govs. George Wallace, Lurleen Wallace, Albert Brewer, Guy Hunt and Jim Folsom Jr.
Drake made an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor in 1978. He regained his legislative seat in 1982 and was selected speaker of the House.
He was born in 1930 in Falkville but moved to Cullman County at an early age and has lived there since.
"I still consider Morgan County my second home," Drake said. "I have plenty of relatives and friends there."
He is the nephew of the late Morgan County Circuit Judge Newton Powell.
"Uncle Newt had a lot of influence on my life," he said.
It was obvious from the beginning, he said, "that I was going to be active in sports."
Drake's days as a football, basketball and baseball player at Cullman High School led to him being awarded a scholarship at the University of Chattanooga in 1949.
He was an all-star guard on the football team at Chattanooga and wrestled. He was a Little All-American at Chattanooga for his play on the football field.
The Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League drafted him. He had a short career in the NFL.
"I came from a very poor family and proud of it," Drake said.
"That scholarship at Chattanooga meant a lot to me and my family."
He played in the 1953 Blue-Gray football game in Montgomery and the 1954 Senior Bowl in Mobile. In the Senior Bowl, he met and played for Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant.
Shortly after Drake graduated from college in 1954, he began a professional wrestling career, which lasted until 1978 on either a part- time or a full-time basis.
"Coach Bryant hired me as his wrestling coach in 1959, but I continued my professional wrestling career," Drake said.
"I also served as an assistant football coach during that time.
"Coach Bryant and I had a special relationship," he said.
"There is no doubt in my mind that he was the greatest college coach that ever lived."
Drake traveled the country as a professional wrestler.
"This was a career that I loved very much and sort of became famous for," he said. He used some of the money that he made from professional wrestling to complete law school.
During his last semester at The University of Alabama Law School, he was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives. He remained in the Legislature until 1998.
"Someone once told me that I had gotten mixed up in two dirty businesses, wrestling and politics," Drake said, grinning.
"I've been able to work for the greatest football coach of all time in Paul Bryant, and was a close friend to George Wallace, the greatest governor and politician in the history of Alabama," Drake said.
"Of all of the honors that I've received, I am prouder of being inducted into the Cullman County Sports Hall of Fame. This is local, and it will always be special to me. There is nothing like being honored by your friends at home."
While a professional wrestler, Drake was on the "What's My Line" network television show where the panelists tried to guess his profession.
"Do you do what you do standing or lying down?" Drake recalled being asked by one of the panelists.
"I looked at him and said, 'A little of both.'"
The late state Sen. Finis St. John of Cullman, who served many years in the Legislature with Drake, once said, "Tom has a feel for politics. Somehow he gets in with every governor that we've had. There is not a better person and politician anywhere. He loves politics."
Drake practices law in Cullman with his wife, Chris.
"I know he loves politics and misses it," Mrs. Drake said. "If he decides to enter politics again, he will have the support of his family."
Drake said if he runs in 2002 it will be as a Democrat.
"I believe I can get the support of a lot of Republicans out there," he said. "I feel like right now that I would like to try it again. But that is something that we'll decide not far down the road. If I decide to enter the arena again, it probably will be for something higher than I had in the Legislature."
Drake said he thinks Gov. Don Siegelman has his priorities wrong.
"I don't think constitutional reform is as important as finding proper funding for our schools."
Montgomery lobbyist Milo Dakin said if Drake runs for governor, "don't count him out, (but) raising enough to make a run for governor could be a problem."
Drake and his wife have four children, Mary, Tommy, Whit and Christy.
He is vice chairman of the board of Peoples Bank of North Alabama.
"I've taken a lot of licks playing football, wrestling and in politics," Drake said.
"And I've enjoyed every minute of it."
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.26-2001
(Omaha World-Herald, April 24, 1918)
By Sandy Griswold
HOTEL KNICKERBOCKER, New York, April 23 – To Sandy Griswold, sporting editor of the World-Herald: In support of offer of $50,000 for a championship match between Earl Caddock and winner of Stecher-Lewis match in Madison Square Garden Friday evening, I have this day posted a certified check for $10,000 with John Doyle, whom every newspaper in New York will endorse as positively responsible. The match takes place July 4 or any date agreeable to contestants. – JACK CURLEY.
The above speaks, in plain language, and it sure doesn’t look very good for Omaha’s getting the return match -- if there ever is one, for Lewis is liable to turn some sort of a trick on Peerless Joe, at New York Friday night – between Earl Caddock and Stecher. From the appearance of things it looks very much as if Joe has been hooked, or in other words he is at last in the clutches of the combine.
Hundreds of times he has sworn to me that he would never meet Ed Lewis again anywhere outside of Omaha – that it was here he would have to square himself for the exhibition two years ago, or go without another chance. Joe felt that this match rightfully belonged to Omaha, and being the royal good, the fellow that he is he swore that Omaha should have it. But high ho! Or high lee! Money cuts an awful swathe with the best of us, and the presumption is Joe sees his pile by going over to Jack Curley, who, without one exception is the greatest sporting impressario in the world.
We don’t care much, however, one way or the other – only overwhelmingly disappointed, that’s all.
STECHER-LEWIS BOUT DRAW AFTER TWO HOURS
(Associated Press, April 26, 1918)
NEW YORK – The wrestling match between Ed "Strangler" Lewis and Joe Stecher, held at Madison Square Garden tonight, was declared a draw after two hours.
In the preliminaries to the Lewis-Stecher match, Americus of Baltimore threw Soldier Leavitt, U.S.A., with a body and arm hold, in 6 minutes and 15 seconds. Anton Stecher, brother of Joe, threw Cyclone Ress, with a toe hold, in 10 minutes and 5 seconds, and Yousiff Hussane of the Balkans and Ivan Linow, the Cossack, drew after thirty minutes of rough wrestling.
STECHER BOYS WOULD ENLIST IN NAVY
(Omaha World-Herald, July 30, 1918)
FREMONT, Neb., July 29 – Both Joe and Anton Stecher have asked the Dodge County draft board to release them from selective service so they can enlist for navy service. The board will grant their request when they appear tomorrow. The two wrestlers will leave soon for the Great Lakes training station near Chicago. Both are in the draft but both have deferred classification. Both are married and Anton is the father of twins. In the navy ex-champion Joe says he will not relax his efforts to force Earl Caddock of the army into a wrestling match.
JOE STECHER RELEASED FROM SELECTIVE SERVICE
(Omaha World-Herald, July 31, 1918)
FREMONT, Neb., July 30 – Joe and Anton Stecher accompanied by their wives and the year-old twin sons of Anton came down from Dodge today and appeared before the Dodge County draft board, in an effort to secure the release of the two famous Dodge Count wrestlers from the selective service.
Anton fell down in his effort, due to the refusal of Mrs. Anton to sign his application. The young woman declared that she wanted Anton to help raise their two boys.
Mrs. Joe Stecher signed the waiver for Joe and he received his discharge. He expects to leave for the naval training school on the Great Lakes a week from tomorrow. Louis Stecher, a brother of Joe and Anton, is serving with the United States navy in British waters, with the rank of senior lieutenant. He was graduated from Annapolis a few years ago.
CADDOCK LEAVES FOR OVERSEAS THIS WEEK
(Omaha World-Herald, August 4, 1918)
Word was received here tonight that Earl Caddock will leave soon for overseas with the Eighty-eighth division in the headquarters department. He leaves for the east immediately, and will probably sail the latter part of the week.
The fact that Caddock is laving removes all possible chances of his meeting any world’s champion heavyweight aspirants. Joe Stecher, the strongest contender for the championship, also has entered the service, he having chosen the navy last week.
(Warren OH Tribune Chronicle, Friday, June 15, 2001)
By Joe Gorman
GIRARD -- Professional wrestler Jake "The Snake" Roberts will square off against a drunken driving charge in Girard Municipal Court this morning.
Jake "The Snake," whose real name is Aurelian Smith, 103 Lakeside Lane, Gainesville, Texas, was charged with being involved in a hit-skip accident in the parking lot of Amex Dies Inc., 932 N. State St., around 6 p.m.
According to a Girard police report, the former World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling fan favorite was in the parking lot next to a car driven by Sherri Morgan, 119 E. Broadway, when his Lincoln Town Car backed up and hit Morgan's car on the driver's side.
He then drove away north on North State Street, the report said.
A spokeswoman for the Niles Police Department said he was pulled over and arrested by Girard police with assistance from Niles officers at the intersection of Robbins Road and Rhodes Avenue in Niles just after 6 p.m.
Smith was charged with driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident. His blood-alcohol content was 0.179, a Girard police spokesman said. In the state of Ohio, it is illegal for a driver to have a blood-alcohol content of 0.10 or higher.
Smith was released because the Trumbull County Jail only has room for violent offenders, the police spokesman said. He is due in court at 9 a.m.
In a brief conversation with reporters, Smith said he was dropping off his business manager to do some shopping and that Morgan ran into his car. He did not say why he took off.
Morgan, however, said she pulled into the parking lot to call a friend and was looking for a friend's number on a Post-it note when she felt something hit her car.
"It jumped me and I snapped up," she said from her home.
"He backed into me and took off like a bat out of hell towards Niles. How can I hit a car with my side door, for God's sakes."
Morgan said she called the police on her cellular phone and gave them the license plate number from the Town Car. There was a woman in the car with him, Morgan said.
Smith said he is in town to sign autographs at the Mahoning Valley Rib Burn Off this weekend. He was supposed to sign Thursday with King Kong Bundy, another former WWF superstar, but quipped that he was "busy here."
He said he will be signing autographs for the rest of the weekend at the Burn Off.
Smith said he was not drinking.
Morgan said she has neck pain and numbness in her fingers from the accident. She said she had heard of Jake "The Snake" before but didn't realize who hit her until a reporter told her.
"The Snake" was one of the top draws as both a heel (bad guy) and baby face (good guy) in the WWF and WCW in the 1980s and 1990s. His last major push in the big leagues was when he lost to "Stone Cold" Steve Austin in the 1996 "WWF King of the Ring" pay-per-view show.
"He might be famous, but I think he needs to have some morals," Morgan said. "I hope to God he has insurance."
SNAKE PLEADS INNOCENT TO DUI
(Warren OH Tribune Chronicle, June 16, 2001)
By Christopher Bobby
GIRARD Professional wrestler Jake ''The Snake'' Roberts won't be driving Trumbull County roads anytime soon.
In fact, the one-time big draw who surfaced during the Hulk Hogan era, showed up in Girard Municipal Court Friday with his own limo driver.
Outfitted in blue jeans, sandals and a tropical shirt, the pony-tailed performer also was accompanied by his female manager from England.
The 46-year-old wrestler from Gainesville, Texas, whose real name is Aurelian Smith, was pleading innocent to a drunken driving charge that followed his arrest Thursday evening.
A woman said Smith's vehicle bumped her car in a parking lot and the wrestler drove off. He later was arrested by Niles and Girard police.
Smith was charged with driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident. His blood-alcohol content was 0.179, a Girard police spokesman said. In the state of Ohio, it is illegal for a driver to have a blood-alcohol content of 0.10 or higher.
Smith was released because the Trumbull County Jail had room for violent offenders only.
Newspapers in Dallas have documented past problems with alcohol and drug use to which Smith himself admitted.
Smith signed a $500 personal recognisance bond - a bond that was continued Friday by attorney Anthony Antonucci, who was serving as acting judge for Judge Michael Bernard.
Smith's attorney Robert Shaker told Antonucci his client told him he had no past DUI convictions, and the court hadn't pulled Smith's driving history from Texas. The next appearance in court will be within 90 days, after Shaker and Smith check their schedules and contact the court.
Antonucci remarked he probably had seen the wrestler on TV at one point. Smith also inquired about getting his car back from a lot where it was towed.
Shaker said he was planning a day off until he got a call last night after he was recommended to handle the case. ''I don't know, maybe an officer gave him my name,'' Shaker said.
And Rob Chalfant, who along with Ed Goldner, owns Goldilocks Limosine said he will most likely be carting Smith around this weekend when he is scheduled to make appearances to sign autographs at the Mahoning Valley Rib Burn Off in the parking lot of Eastwood Mall.
When asked by the acting judge, Shaker and Smith said they weren't aware of any injuries from the parking lot crash.
According to a Girard police report, the former World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling fan favorite was in the parking lot next to a car driven by Sherri Morgan, 119 E. Broadway, when his Lincoln Town Car backed up and hit Morgan's car on the driver's side. Morgan said later she experienced neck pain after the crash.
He then drove away north on North State Street, the report said.
A spokeswoman for the Niles Police Department said Smith was pulled over and arrested by Girard police with assistance from Niles officers at the intersection of Robbins Road and Rhodes Avenue in Niles just past 6 p.m.
Smith initially said he was dropping off his business manager to do some shopping and that Morgan ran into his car. He did not say why he left the scene.
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.27-2001
PESEK VERSUS PETERS AT ROURKE PARK
(Omaha World-Herald, Thursday, July 4, 1918)
The above photo gives a good idea of the superb physical condition in which Jack Pesek is this morning.
This afternoon he meets his most formidable adversary thus far in his meteoric career, Charlie Peters, the redoubtable Papillion athlete. They will clash in a finish battle at Rourke Parke, to which all roads are now leading. Of all the events on the day’s menu, this is the biggest and best in a sporting way, and the management has made fine preparations for accomodating a vast crowd.
But John Pesek: scores and scores of good judges are picking him for the next champion of the world. Many give him an even chance with Joe Stecher, and more than even chances with Earl Caddock, who has met him once, and was lucky to escape with a draw after one hour's tremendous struggling.
Pesek is a distinct type of the American athlete – alive and powerful, with a beautiful torso and wonderful legs. He is a combination of vicious speed and savage strength. He stands forth the most interesting and most sensational of all the crowd of gladiators now thronging the public stage. In his rugged system of training he has cultivated mind and spirit and body alike. His coolness under fire is uncanny. His relentless aggressiveness is uncanny, and so is his wild and unsubduable lust for rough tactics.
And yet, when even on the defensive against bigger and more noted men, he is uncanny. But his sportsmanlike instincts are developed to a degree that makes him actually willing to give a handicap to any rival alive. John Pesek fears no wrestler living, and if you miss seeing him against Peters at Rourke Park this afternoon, you will miss the opportunity of a lifetime.
PETERS-PESEK MATCH IS STOPPED BY RAIN
(Omaha World-Herald, July 5, 1918)
Charley Peters, the Papillion carpenter, and John Pesek, the Shelton farmer, who were scheduled to wrestle to a finish, two falls out of three, at Rourke Park yesterday afternoon, were forced to postpone their match, after thirty-nine minutes of stiff work, and will finish the bout in a twilight battle which will be held at the same place Saturday night at 6:45.
When it became apparent that the match would have to be postponed, promoter Jack Lewis, after a hurried consultation with the principals, it was decided that the bout would be finished in the Municipal Auditorium next Saturday. It was afterward discovered that it would be impossible to fit the Auditorium up in time, so it was decided to hold the match at Rourke Park.
Spectators – and there were 2,500 of them yesterday – holding their ticket stubs will be admitted free to the match Saturday. Those who came from out in the state will have their money refunded, if they are unable to attend, Lewis declared.
"I realize that many spectators threw their tickets away after gaining admission," declared Lewis, "and I want to do everything in my power to square the account. If out-of-town spectators will furnish evidence that they bought tickets, I will gladly refund their money, but I cannot pay every boy who picked up a dozen in the grandstand."
The ring will be moved in close to the grandstand for the big match Saturday night. Both wrestlers were more confident than ever last night that they would be returned a winner.
The thirty-nine minutes of wrestling whetted the appetites of the spectators for a hot match considerably. Referee Cy Sherman of Lincoln was forced to call the bout at that time, when the rain began coming down in torrents.
Incidentally the rain hit Jack Lewis, promoter of the match, a severe swat alongside the jaw in the shape of spectators, who undoubtedly would have turned out in far greater number had the rain held off two hours longer.
The match was a hummer as far as it went. No sooner had the principals touched hands then they landed on the rain-soaked canvas with a thud and went at it in real earnest. Pesek chose to work from behind on the Papillion carpenter, who, apparently, was perfectly willing that the match should take that course. Peters easily broke away from some of Pesek’s favorite holds, although after seven minutes of wrestling the Shelton farmer clenched a scissors on Peters which looked like the first fall for a few minutes.
Arrangements made by the management of the match in case of rain went awry at the last minute, and, despite heroic efforts to get the gladiators under canvas, it was of no use. The canvas covering was given up as useless, and the preliminaries began when the rain momentarily slacked.
In the preliminaries Tom Ray of Omaha threw Young Graham of the South Side in twenty-one minutes with a toe hold. This preliminary was hot and fast, Ray being dazed at one time when throw into a pole by the South Sider.
Young Remington and Young Gotch, Omaha boys, went thirty minutes without a fall.
AUDITORIUM ALL SET FOR BATTLE TONIGHT
(Omaha World-Herald, Saturday, July 6, 1918)
Everything is ready for the resumption of the big wrestling match over at the Auditorium tonight, when Charley Peters, the Papillion carpenter, and John Pesek, the Shelton farmer, will grapple for their finish match, which was postponed on Independence day because of the heavy rain.
The match is going to be at the Municipal Auditorium, and will start no later than 9 o’clock. Everybody who bought a ticket for the clash at Rourke Park last Thursday afternoon will be given a seat free of charge on the main floor next to the ring, and the spacious gallery will be sold at the door for one buck per seat, affording the mat fans of Omaha who were unable to be on hand last Thursday a good opportunity to witness the scramble, which promises to be a hummer.
Peters and Pesek have been undergoing light training to loosen up their muscles following the impromptu shower bath they were given on the Fourth. Indications point to an overflow crowd at the Auditorium tonight.
Promoter Jack Lewis was the busiest man in Omaha yesterday attempting to find a suitable place to pull off the finish fight. Shortly after it was officially announced that the bout would be held at ?Rourke Park word came that the Auditorium could be utilized for the purpose, and, having had one disastrous experience with the weather, Lewis promptly snapped up the opportunity to get the wrestlers inside.
Referee Cy Sharman of Lincoln will again be on hand to handle the fight."From what I saw of those two boys Thursday afternoon we are going to have a real hot time tonight," declared sherman. "Pesek was boring in for fair when I had to stop the bout because of the rain. I noticed that Peters was watching the situation carefully and perhaps was on the verge of taking the offensive himself."
"Pesek will never pin my shoulders to the mat tonight," declared the Papillion carpenter. "I know all about him now and I’m going to make it short and snappy, believe me."
The doors at the Auditorium will open at 7:30 o’clock and first come will be first severed with the best gallery seats, which ordinarily draw the highest prices. In making his decision to sell these seats for one iron man Lewis was guided by the fact that many spectators lost their ticket stubs and he wanted to split the difference.
PESEK GETS DECISION OVER CHARLEY PETERS
(Omaha World-Herald, Sunday, July 7, 1918)
The best wrestling match, in so far as wild, fierce, uncontrollable action was concerned, ever witnessed in Omaha, was the opening bout between Jack Pesek, the Shelton wild man, and good, reliable old Charlie Peters of Papillion, Pesek winning in forty-one minutes with a head scissors and wristlock.
The crowd, and there was several thousand of them, were in a frenzy of excitement from start to finish, Pesek being the aggressor all through the round, the very incarnation of savage and resistless force, while Peters, who looked the beaten man, showed wonderful defensive work, and spurts of offense of the most thrilling and wondrous character. The Shelton farmer, however, would not be denied, and kept tearing in with a reckless abandon that fairly dazed Peters and at the expiration of forty-one minutes the end came with terrific suddenness and the crowd bellowed in wildest enthusiasm.
But the second bout, which was promptly on after the expiration of the regulation twenty minutes, was another affair. Peters came back apparently the stronger of the two, for Pesek took the defensive from the very jump off. It quickly developed into a veritable riot, the men roughing each other in defiance of all sportsmanship or regard for the rules of the game. Pesek was the chief offender, and no less than four times picked Peters up bodily and slammed him through the ropes, Peters suffering some severe contusions each time and after the fourth repetition of the offense, refused to continue the battle and referee Sherman had only one recourse and that was to award the match to Pesek.
The second time Pesek threw his man from the ring, Peters in his fall took the west posts, ropes and all, along with him but he came back gamely for more, and continued the uneven struggle until forbearance ceased to be a virtue and he refused to continue.
While Pesek made a host of friends by his wonderful work in the initial bout he lost the bulk of them by his unreasonable and reprehensible action in the second bout.
Whether Peters’ remarkable recuperation in the second session threw a scare in the soul of Pesek, or just what was the matter with him, it would be hard to say. However, in all justice to the farmer, it must be said that Peters wasn’t any too gentle himself on the resumption of hostilities, and he gave Jack a proper roughing whenever the opportunity occurred, but he felt that he was only giving his antagonist a dose of his own medicine, and he had the crowd with him. The time of the last bout was twelve minutes.
To sum the whole affair up in a nutshell it would be only fair to say that had the match gone on to a legitimate conclusion it would have taken a wise man, indeed, to have named the eventual winner. Pesek is undoubtedly a great wrestler, but has a lot yet to learn, and one thing is to control his cave man proclivities when engaged with as clean and fair and square an opponent as he had last night.
STRANGLER LEWIS IN THE ARMY NOW
(Omaha World-Herald, July 27, 1918)
By Sandy Griswold
"Strangler" Lewis is another if the country’s most notable athletes to don the khaki. He is one of the new recruits at Camp Grant at Rockford, Ill., and has been made captain of the cantonment’s wrestling team. This team is scheduled to meet the Camp Dodge team of Des Moines, Ia., at the White Sox ballpark, Chicago, as part of the Salvation Army benefit, on Friday, August 9.
When the agreement for the match was originally drawn up Lewis had not yet entered the service, and the Dodge officials declared that they would permit any three wrestlers on the Camp Grant team to tackle Earl Caddock, the recognized champion. Captain E.J. Eddy, of this cantonment, now refuses any such handicap, declaring that he has a man in Lewis who can take care of Caddock with little or no trouble, and for one, among the thousands, I think Captain Eddy is eminently correct, notwithstanding that little old decision handed to Caddock over Lewis in their two-hour-and-a-half exhibition at Des Moines a few weeks ago.
Now if Joe Stecher was only in the uniform, which he will be ere many weeks elapse, what a chance he would have to prove to the world that he is still the boss of them all. It strikes me that Joe would now be only too anxious to enlist if for no other purpose than to get his long promised return match with Caddock, and I think he will. He certainly knows there isn’t a chance to escape the draft, so why not seize the bovine boss by the horns and settle the whole thing before he starts for Berlin?
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.28-2001
DAN LOVRANSKI, LARRY ZBYSZKO ON THE LAW
(The following interview, heard on The LAW,
March 25, 2001, was transcribed by Jeff Pollock. If anyone wants a capsule
history of the wrestling business, from the Bruno Sammartino era of the late
1960s, to the current era of The Rock and Stone Cold, Zbyszko provides it in a
confident, concise fashion. This interview is a good one, as are many done by
Lovranski. The LAW can be heard Saturday's from 5-6:30pm ET and Sundays from
11pm-1 ET on Talk 640 in the Toronto area, at LiveAudioWrestling.Com, or at
Dan Lovranski: Joining me at this time is the 'Living Legend' Larry Zbyszko who is a man that has worked in the AWA, the WWF, and the WCW. He is a veteran wrestler and has held many championship belts and is a charismatic character -- that is for sure. It is my pleasure to welcome Larry Zbyszko to the show. Larry, how're you doing tonight?
Larry Zbyszko: Well, not bad for a charismatic character.
Dan Lovranski: [Laughing] You can't deny it Larry.
Larry Zbyszko: I guess. I don't even know what it is sometimes I do.
Dan Lovranski: Like all wrestlers, I think it's just an extension of your personality.
Larry Zbyszko: It could be, yeah. I'm definitely not normal -- that was my big fear growing up. I couldn’t be a normal guy 9-5 sitting in a cubical who’s staring at a computer all day -- I'd just kill myself.
Dan Lovranski: Right. Let's go right back to the beginning. How did you get involved in wrestling? Were you a fan or an amateur wrestler?
Larry Zbyszko: It's something that makes me believe in destiny. I was a young kid -- 10 or 11 years old and had just moved to Pittsburgh. I turn on TV and there's studio wrestling. Bruno was there, George Steele, Tanaka, and different names at the time would come in and out. For some reason (and I still don't know why… I should have been a golfer), I knew right then and there that I was going to be a professional wrestler. Pennsylvania had a real young wrestling program at the time and it was probably one of the only states that did at the time in the mid ‘60s. I started wrestling in seventh grade, wrestled in eighth grade, wrestled in high school, and I just loved it. For some reason, I knew that that was my calling. I remember my guidance counselor in ninth grade... You'd sit in there with the guidance counselor and they say "What would you like to be?" and I told him like that, "I'm going to be a professional wrestler." The guy had no comeback -- he had no idea. Here's a little pimply-faced kid [who is] 135 pounds sitting there saying, "I'm going to be a professional wrestler. It was the weirdest thing. It was easy for me growing up because I did a lot of wrestling and I took martial arts. Everything I did in my life I geared towards being a professional wrestler. Some other friends would go through school and do this major and that major. I just took basket weaving because I didn't care -- I was going to be a professional wrestler.
Dan Lovranski: [Laughing] Right. How did you actually get involved and start training for it than?
Larry Zbyszko: I did real good with the amateurs. I was kind of a rebellious kid. I was a good State Champion in high school [for] two years and then I bumped into Bruno. Bruno was sitting in his backyard and me and my friend were driving around his house trying to see him. Sure enough, there's Bruno one day sitting in his backyard. I got out of the car, crawled through his hedges, and I walked up to him and introduced myself. To make a long story short, this happened once every couple of months where I'd see him in his backyard and walk in. He took me under his wing and introduced me to other pro's at that time. I was going to Penn State and I was wrestling there and then I punched the Assistant Dean and was suspended for a year and a half.
Dan Lovranski: [Laughing]
Larry Zbyszko: I was never good with authority. I knew what I wanted to be, now leave me alone. Anyway, to make a long story short, Bruno helped me out and took me from the amateur wrestling to the submission-type wrestling, which in those days was more mandatory. I had a pretty good upbringing in it and was taught the psychology and a lot of things by the old-timers at the time that knew the business. I was one of the fortunate few of the last generation that knows this stuff.
Dan Lovranski: I read today that you were actually trained a little bit by Geto Mongol.
Larry Zbyszko: Geto was in Pittsburgh at the time and I believe Geto bought the Pittsburgh territory and for a while [he] had a farm in Pennsylvania. Me and another guy named Ron, who was a schoolteacher, and a guy named Bill Eadie used to meet at Geto's farm and workout with each other. Me, Bill, and Ron used to work out a lot at Geto's farm because he had a ring set up. It was basically just the few of us and Geto would be there sometimes and we would ride around his property shooting things.
Dan Lovranski: [Laughing]
Larry Zbyszko: [Laughing] Ron's wife wouldn't let him go on the road and be a wrestler. Bill did and was very successful. It's interesting because even though me and Bill both worked out together and started back in Pittsburgh back in Geto's barn, I never really worked a territory with him -- once in a blue moon briefly I think a couple times. I haven't really seen Bill since Geto's farm.
Dan Lovranski: Were your first matches in Pittsburgh?
Larry Zbyszko: Yeah, I was still going to school and I would drive down from State College to around Pittsburgh and in those days they did live wrestling at 6:00pm on Saturday and then they'd drive to some high school. I'd drive here and there on the weekends and was basically starting out. It was wild then -- I remember my first match in a high school at some place and I was supposed to go on first against some guy from Canada. I think Geto was running the show that day and said "Ok, you're on first, go get 'em" and I said "I can't go. I'm going second -- I can't go out there first." I'm really nervous as hell with the dry mouth. I could bench 465 at the time and I couldn't even walk up a step [because] I was so nervous. The first match goes and the second match comes on and this is it, the beginning of destiny. I walk out into this arena. Well, it wasn't an arena, it was a high school but the place is packed -- there was probably 1500 people but they're hanging off the rafters. I walk out and every eye in the place is starring at me and they're all dressed and here I come with there little tights walking out. It was the first time I realized "I'm naked! I'm walking out naked in front of all these people." It was the weirdest thing and I had a dry mouth. As soon as the bell rung, I think I nailed this guy and then I won my first match in like 18 seconds. [I then] ran back, [said] "Thank you very much", collected my $50, and went home.
Dan Lovranski: [Laughing] That's hilarious.
Larry Zbyszko: I'll never forget that. After awhile, you get used to it and you're running around with no clothes on -- who cares? The very first time was like the nightmare where you're naked in the middle on an office and you don't know why.
Dan Lovranski: Exactly. I was just going to bring up the exact same thing.
Everybody's had that dream.
Larry Zbyszko: I don't know what that dream means but it's a very weird feeling. Maybe some people just can't get over it so they get stage fright. Mine lasted one night.
Dan Lovranski: How did you eventually end up in the WWF? Did Bruno bring you in?
Larry Zbyszko: Back then it was the WWWF. Yeah, basically it was Bruno's influence that got me started. He'd go to Vince McMahon Sr. and say, "Hey, I've got this kid and he wrestled here and there and he's very good. Bring him in." It's definitely Bruno's influence that brought me in and the way business is, it was my ability that kept me in. In those days, if you walked out and bombed, there was this big hook and you and you were never seen again. There was pressure but after a few years I realized that I do much better under pressure -- it motivates you.
Dan Lovranski: What was Vince Sr. like as a promoter?
Larry Zbyszko: Vince Sr. was a very aristocratic and classy kind of guy. If you were to make a movie about the promoters of yesterday, Vince McMahon Sr. would be perfect. He was a tall, slender figure, had gray wavy hair, always wore expensive clothes and always kept four or five quarters in his hands at all times. He'd be walking down the halls with these quarters. Very classy guy [and a very] nice guy. In those days when there was no insurance or workman’s compensation, it was a different story. If you broke your knee, you just went to the next town and wrestled. You wouldn't go around with a note for six months because no one was going to pay you. He was one of the few that took care of you and made sure you had some money. He was a unique character -- one day he would promote this and the next he would be out at the racetrack. When I started, the law of the road was to keep your mouth shut and learn. I did and I learned from Bruno to Vince and the list goes on and on.
Dan Lovranski: Did you ever have any run-ins back at that time with Vince Jr.?
Larry Zbyszko: No, Vince Jr. was doing the broadcasting. Nothing really that should be talked about.
Dan Lovranski: I was just wondering if he had the big aspirations even back then.
Larry Zbyszko: Oh Vince?
Dan Lovranski: Yeah.
Larry Zbyszko: I don't know. It was such a different time. The business back when Vince's dad was running it was one step out of a carnival. When Vince started it, it was barely starting cable. I tell you what, it's amazing because I know what Capital Wrestling was like. The WWWF had an office in a hotel in New York City in one of the rooms there and it was Capital Wrestling but it said 'apital Wrestling' because one of the letters fell off.
Dan Lovranski: [Laughing]
Larry Zbyszko: It was really a small thing at the time. If you look at what Vince McMahon did today from what he started with . . . He didn't start with millions and millions of dollars. In fact, Capital Wrestling basically operated from Garden to Garden with the money going out from the Garden for Vince and everything else with the boys. He didn't start out with a lot of money or a big butt office. Vince McMahon -- to take it to Titan Towers from what he started with, you've got to say the guy's the greatest promoter that ever lived -- the guy is a genius.
Dan Lovranski: I don't think there's any arguing of that whether you like him or not. He's definitely been the best promoter of this century.
Larry Zbyszko: The guy has got to be a human dynamo and I haven't talked to him in twenty years. Between what he's done with the WWF and the XFL, I hope I have half his energy in a few more years. You can't take it away from the guy. The guy is the greatest promoter. Few people have anything over Vince McMahon.
Dan Lovranski: Let's talk a little bit about your big feud with Bruno in the WWF. Can you explain to the younger fans what got the angle going?
Larry Zbyszko: It was a kind of complicated thing because it was a personal issue and a personal drama for me. I started young -- I was probably 20 when I started part-time as I was finishing up school. Six or seven years down the road, Bruno was such a big name -- he was like God. As good as I was, I was always being labeled Bruno's protégé. Being someone's protégé doesn't take you from fulfilling you destiny into becoming a star. Bruno and I came to a crossroad and it really wasn't his fault. I was the young, aggressive guy trying to get my name into the business. It came to the point where I thought "The only way to get out of Bruno's shadow is to prove to everyone that I'm as good if not better than Bruno" just like they do today. The new athletes are better than the old athletes and that type of stuff. It got out of hand because Bruno didn't want to wrestle me and I got upset about it and I'm sure he didn't want to because it was emotional for him too -- he kind of looked as me as a son. It just got out of hand and I started shooting my mouth about it and the public got into it so much that McMahon had no choice but to promote it because it was the biggest thing at the time.
Dan Lovranski: Well, sure. You had that big cage match at Shea Stadium and there wasn't even a title involved.
Larry Zbyszko: No title involved. It was even something that Vince McMahon Sr. didn't think it would be as big as it was back then. It was just one of those things that because it was so emotional and so legitimate, people just had to be there. Back in 1980, when wrestling was only on channel 9 at midnight and you couldn't get into the Garden if you were under 13, you have a completely different demographic audience and whole bit. To say Madison Square Garden was too small for a wrestling event was unheard of. We had to go to a stadium because for that, it was such a monumental occasion. If you look at the milestones in wrestling, it's a milestone because after that Shea Stadium event, wrestling changed forever.
Dan Lovranski: I was thinking about it today and it's actually an early predecessor of Starrcade and Wrestlemania.
Larry Zbyszko: Yeah, it was. Wrestlemania started a year or so after. In the early ‘80s, Mr. McMahon passed away and that's when Vince took over. Like I said, Vince didn't start with millions of dollars and what he did was amazing.
(LAW’s interview with Larry Zbyszko will continue in The New WAWLI Papers 29-2001.)
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.29-2001
(LAW’s interview with Larry Zbyszko is
continued from The New WAWLI Papers 28-2001.)
DAN LOVRANSKI, LARRY ZBYSZKO ON THE LAW (cont.)
Dan Lovranski: Eventually, you left the WWWF and headed to the AWA. Why the move? You just felt it was time to move on?
Larry Zbyszko: Back in those days and even today, it was still mostly territories and we went to the same cities once a month over and over. After six, seven, or eight years, it gets to the point when you become stale. The people in Boston are going to say, "There's Larry Zbyszko. We've been seeing him for ten years." In those days, promoters would take talent and trade them back and forth to do business and it was a good opportunity for the wrestlers. Because of all the publicity I had with Shea Stadium and New York, it opened a lot of doors from the territories. I went to this one and tried that and this one offered me more so I went there and tried that. Everywhere I went, to all the fans from the AWA and the midwest, I was something new, I was something different, something they had to see. Guys like Heenan and Jesse that went from Minneapolis to New York made that business good because people would say, "Hey, here's a new guy! I've heard of these guys!" It's just something different for the audience. The audience will get sick of it after awhile. How many times can you watch this boxer box this guy? After the tenth time it's like "Click, click."
Dan Lovranski: I think that's one of the problems that the WWF will have (certain now especially with WCW being history) because how many times can we see The Rock and Steve Austin fight each other?
Larry Zbyszko: I really haven't seen a lot of the WWF. I've been watching it a lot lately but when I was involved in the Nitro, I didn't really have a chance to see it because we were on at the same time. Someone told me that this is like the thirteenth time that Austin's wrestled the Rock.
Dan Lovranski: Well, they headlined at Wrestlemania two years ago.
Larry Zbyszko: I'll tell you what. Believe me, Vince McMahon will change it because there will be some good wrestlers available.
Dan Lovranski: That's very true.
Larry Zbyszko: He's going to be floored up to fit the cream of the crop.
Dan Lovranski: That's very true. Let's talk about your time in the AWA as well. Me being in my late ‘30s, that's probably where I first saw you. Let's talk about Verne Gagne -- what was he like as a promoter?
Larry Zbyszko: Verne Gagne was the last of the old-school promoters. They were pretty much what you would label as the old-school character. One of the good things about me in the AWA was that they were more into wrestling because Verne was an Olympic wrestler. They promoted smaller guys that could wrestle. In the early ‘80s, Vince was going a different way -- he was promoting the Hogans, the Zeus', Earthquakes, and the big gigantic men. It was a good time for me to go because I wasn't a big, gigantic guy but I could wrestle up a storm. Guys like Verne Gagne wanted me there because they were promoting something different than what the WWF was promoting. It was a good thing for me because I enjoyed doing more wrestling.
Dan Lovranski: Let's talk about some of the guys you worked with over there like Curt Hennig. What are your thoughts on Curt Hennig?
Larry Zbyszko: Curt Hennig's a character and a true wrestler. It was in his blood from his father -- his father was a wrestler. Curt started real young and fit right into the business. Even though you have acquaintances and you get a kick out of watching certain guys because some guys are a pain in the butt and some guys are very funny. There are some guys that we used to take in the car and not charge him a dime just because we laughed the whole trip – Heenan's one of them. [We’d say] "Come on Bobby, ride with us. Please!" Because by the time you got there, you'd laughed for two hours. Curt was a fun guy [and] a practical jokester. Curt was one of the guys where if someone fell asleep on the airplane, you'd wake up with your eyebrows shaved. There was a lot of that stuff on the road. If you fell asleep in the dressing room, Mr. Fuji would light your foot on fire.
Dan Lovranski: [Laughing]
Larry Zbyszko: You'd wake up and your foot would be on fire. He'd hang tape on your boot and light it on fire. You'd wake up with a giant hot foot and you're screaming all over the dressing room. It was just that kind of weird stuff. One guy would put his pants on and the legs would be cut out…
Dan Lovranski: I think it's just the nature of the business with all you guys travelling together all the time. It's bound that a few practical jokes be pulled.
Larry Zbyszko: It was fun. Practical jokes would keep people happier and the wrong guy would get the practical joke and there would be a big fight and somebody would get their ear bit off. It went back and forth and it had to be kind of smooth. Thank God I was never a drinker -- I don't drink. I used to hang out sometimes and there would be that witching hour and as soon as I saw certain guys [such as] the big Samoans getting looped, I disappeared right before chairs start flying. Had to get up from my tee time.
Dan Lovranski: There you go. Let's talk a little bit about Nick Bockwinkel because I always thought he was an amazing wrestler in the AWA.
Larry Zbyszko: He was a very smooth guy, good wrestler. He was one of the last of the Gagne timing of old-school guys. Very smart guy, very intellectual man, he did great interviews, had that face you wanted to slap with that wavy hair. He took care of himself; looked really good [and] especially when he got older he looked really great. I can't say enough nice things about Bockwinkel. He was a character, too. He probably pretended he was more uppity-up and intelligent than he really was. I remember one time we were out at dinner and I'm there, Heenan’s there, Bockwinkel's there, and some other people are there and there were these glasses of white wine. Nick, who's saying he's an expert on everything, looks away because I distracted him and Bobby switches the white wine with water. So, we're talking and Nick grabs his glass, swishes it around in his mouth and all of a sudden you hear him say, "Well, not bad. A little mild" and we're like "You idiot! It's water!" He was that kind of character. Nice guy. He was one of the guys that was nice to travel with and caused no trouble. On the other hand, there would be guys that you wouldn't want to be in the same building as them.
Dan Lovranski: The other thing I liked about Nick Bockwinkel was that he was such a great seller. He always made things look so convincing in the ring.
Larry Zbyszko: He was very good. You can't take it away. He was much better than a lot of guys in his time were for being a consummate heel.
Dan Lovranski: You go back and watch some of those matches he had with guys like Curt Hennig and they're just amazing matches.
Larry Zbyszko: He had a classic match with Hennig in San Francisco and at this time, Bockwinkel had to be getting close to 50 and I think it went almost an hour.
Dan Lovranski: Yeah, I think it was an hour long.
Larry Zbyszko: Nick was probably close to 50 when he had that match.
Dan Lovranski: I interviewed Nick about a month or so ago and I think he said he was in his early ‘50s when he stopped.
Larry Zbyszko: Yeah, that's about it. A lot of people have a different conception. To me, if you live with the business, it's true no matter what you say. You just don't get good (unless you're a freak of nature or are one in a million) and you don't draw money until you're 35-40 years old.
Dan Lovranski: Yeah, Nick said to me that he felt the first ten years of his career was the learning process.
Larry Zbyszko: Oh, it is. Some guys never learn. It's very weird. I said before about being naked to the world. You can be in the dressing room and talk up a storm, be funny as hell, and be very witty, and you send them out to the ring and they stand there and look like idiots. They just can't deliver to the people. It's either meant to be or not I guess.
Dan Lovranski: Let's also talk about someone you've had lots of dealings with over the past decade but first probably ran into him in the AWA and that's Eric Bischoff.
Larry Zbyszko: Mr. Bischoff.
Dan Lovranski: Did he come in as an announcer while you were there?
Larry Zbyszko: He was basically coming into the office as some kind of a salesman and he was selling merchandising to people, he'd be selling maybe TV time, and he was always at a computer. Every time we were doing interviews and stuff, he was always at a computer. He was basically in the sales type of things [and] he's very good. Then we had an announcer named Larry Nelson. Larry Nelson was doing all the ESPN stuff and all the interviews and he was a real character -- this guy bordered loony.
Dan Lovranski: Yeah, I remember Larry Nelson.
Larry Zbyszko: One day, Larry Nelson doesn't show up for interviews. He left the department, he left his car, and it turns out years down the road that we find out he took off to Key West because he was getting his forth or fifth DUI and Larry was going to jail. Larry just felt warm in the winter in Minnesota. We're sitting there with a bunch of interviews to do and no Larry Nelson. I think Verne got Eric up from the computer or whatever and that's when Eric started doing interviews.
Dan Lovranski: Wow, very interesting.
Larry Zbyszko: In fact, the first interview Eric ever did was with yours truly.
Dan Lovranski: Is that right?
Larry Zbyszko: I'm standing there with him and he's supposed to say something to start the interview and then put the mic in my face. Eric says something, puts the mic in my face, and just by looking at Eric's face because he was so horrified for doing this out of the blue and all I could do was crack up. I cracked up, laughed in the guy’s face on his first interview, and of course he whines to the boss. That's how my luck has been.
Dan Lovranski: [Laughing] That's very, very funny. Since we're talking about interviews, I have to ask you where you came up with the phrase "Larryland"?
Larry Zbyszko: [Laughing] I don't want to give away all my secrets.
Dan Lovranski: That was just a great line. It used to crack me up.
Larry Zbyszko: Larryland . . . I still like to say it. I'll tell you where I got it and I hate to say I steal things but it really comes from something that was stolen anyways. Years ago, I got a kick out of the National Lampoon's Vacation when they go through hell and the idiot is trying to get his family to Wally World and then he jumps up and punches out the moose. I thought that was one of the funniest things back then and I forgot what I was saying or talking to somebody and instead of Wally World, I said "If people want to go on a ride in the wrestling ring, come to Larryland." So I kind of stole it from National Lampoon.
Dan Lovranski: That's great. I just thought it was such a great catch phrase. I would always be waiting for the tag line "Larryland" when you did one of your promos.
Larry Zbyszko: I've got a friend of mine in Detroit and he's involved with some rock 'n roll people and he sent me this CD in the mail a few years ago. He said he knows these guys and they named it after me -- they were going to use something but then they couldn't so they named it after Larryland. I guess it was the ‘Butt hole’ something.
Dan Lovranski: Yeah, ‘Butt hole Surfers.’
Larry Zbyszko: ‘Butt hole Surfers Electric Larry Land’ and that was from my interview.
Dan Lovranski: [Laughing] That is amazing. That’s great. Just to stick with the AWA, you were the final AWA champion, right?
Larry Zbyszko: Yup.
Dan Lovranski: You got to see basically the promotion go down. In your opinion, what happened with the AWA, Larry?
Larry Zbyszko: Well, it wasn't really anything that happened to the AWA specifically. It was kind of the end of time for the territories. The WWF started going nationwide and it was a big time that kind of only left a territory here and there. Verne actually kept the AWA going much longer than he should have. I think Verne and the Crocketts tried to work together against Vince somehow but than two egos just couldn't gel. I didn't see Bob Costas and someone said he made a comment like "Classical wrestling is dead."
Dan Lovranski: Yeah, he did.
Larry Zbyszko: He's right, he's absolutely right. Classical wrestling as we look at it from being the ‘70s and ‘80s is dead. If you were in the ‘70s and ‘80s, classical wrestling was dead then only it was dead in the ‘50s. If you were Gorgeous George in the ‘50s, you would say "Classical wrestling is dead" but classical wrestling was dead in the ‘20s. In 1920, you had Ed "Strangler" Lewis laying there for 45 minutes in a headlock and no one can do that today -- you'd kill yourself. In the ‘50s, Gorgeous George looked like Ric Flair -- it was new but then ten years later, there were 50 guys like that and it was old. Basically, there's no classical wrestling. It's what mankind and humanity demand now. A good promoter basically goes with the flow of the world. Guys like Verne and even the Crocketts were kind of lost on this and the Von Erichs didn't recognize that mankind and humanity were changing. They were trying to promote wrestling like it was still classical. Guys like Vince McMahon were smart enough to say "Wait a minute, the world doesn't want to see this with arm drags. They want to see people going through a table." He went with the flow. Ten, fifteen years from now, guys will say, "Going through a table is classical wrestling. You don't see that anymore."
Dan Lovranski: [Laughing] You're absolutely right. That's very funny.
(The LAW interview with Larry Zbyszko will continue in The New WAWLI Papers 30-2001.)
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.30-2001
(The LAW interview with Larry Zbyszko is
continued from The New WAWLI Papers 29-2001.)
DAN LOVRANSKI, LARRY ZBYSZKO ON THE LAW (cont.)
Dan Lovranski: One other question about the AWA: whose idea was it to move the weekly shows to Las Vegas?
Larry Zbyszko: That was another reason I went with the AWA -- ESPN had it on. In those days, it was great exposure. ESPN would play it like twice a day. It was on a lot and it was a very popular show. Verne had some friends out in Vegas that owned buildings and the Showboat must have been one of them. He had a great deal with the Showboat. For shooting television back in those days, the Showboat was a great building, it was super cheap, free rooms for the guys . . . It was such a great deal that he couldn't pass it up. It's a good atmosphere, too -- "Wrestling from Las Vegas" [it] just sounds better than saying "Wrestling from Waukesha, Wisconsin."
Dan Lovranski: [Laughing] Was it hard to get actual wrestling fans? I figure that with Las Vegas being such a tourist-oriented city that all you'd ever get would be tourists.
Larry Zbyszko: I think you've got half and half. I think you got some tourists that would see the signs and some people might have got free tickets with their room. But there are still a lot of people that live and work in Vegas. It was probably a good demographic for people that lived there -- blue collared workers because not everyone in Vegas is rich. It worked out very good. In fact, that was the beginning of the "Larry sucks" chant. I think they invented that chant.
Dan Lovranski: Oh, is that right?
Larry Zbyszko: Yeah. And Larry Nelson would help it along . . . idiot.
Dan Lovranski: [Laughing]
Larry Zbyszko: Nowadays, it's nothing. "Larry sucks," "I'm gonna kick your ass" -- if I had a dollar for everybody that said ass on wrestling now, I'd be richer.
Dan Lovranski: It's totally true. You can't make it through a wrestling show without hearing it at least ten times.
Larry Zbyszko: You don't need that. That's like turning that into classical wrestling because it's overdone. In those days, just from television itself just to hear the word "sucks" and to hear the whole audience chanting, "Larry sucks" was like a step down from saying "ass."
Dan Lovranski: It's quite the compliment to you as a heel too.
Larry Zbyszko: Yeah, I let the natural juices flow out there, baby.
Dan Lovranski: [Laughing] After your tenure with the AWA, you drifted over to the WCW. I guess you wrestled there for about 5 or 6 years before you started doing commentary [right]?
Larry Zbyszko: Yeah. It was an interesting story because in the last days of the AWA and the last days of the Crocketts, which I guess was about the same time, Turner bought the NWA. At that time, a guy named Jim Herd was running it for him. I've been here for nine years and I've had nine different bosses. Jim Herd and Verne were basically trying to work out a thing between me and Sting right before the AWA was going under. They wanted the AWA world champion to come down and wrestle the NWA world champion or maybe it was the WCW world Champion? Might have been WCW -- just started. It would have been really good for Verne, it would have been good for me, and it would have been good for the new WCW. They had the same situation where they had Sting, Flair, Luger, Dusty, Windham -- it was the same guys for 10-15 years. If you watch Nitro now, it's been the same guys for 25 years.
Dan Lovranski: [Laughing] Yeah, that's right. We saw Dusty and Flair on Nitro again.
Larry Zbyszko: That should tell you something right there. It would have been very good but a couple people in the office (I won't say any names) but one of them suggested that that would be a bad idea because Zbyszko would come in, eat Sting up, and make him look really bad. Sting's a nice kid but he can't wrestle his way out of a paper bag.
Dan Lovranski: No, you're right. Sting's never been a good wrestler.
Larry Zbyszko: I was an exceptional wrestler. They were afraid that I was going to come down with the AWA and I would eat him up so we would look good, which was really stupid! It could have been one of the best things that they had down here at the time.
Dan Lovranski: And if you'd all combined your forces too, maybe you would have been able to hold Vince at bay.
Larry Zbyszko: Right, and it's interesting because out of that kind of idea where one territory would come in and go against another territory, the idea of that kind of rivalry was there for a long time. It was actually some of the seeds that gave fruit later to the New World Order idea. A lot of ideas came out of Minnesota with Eric. It was an interesting time. It's amazing how things that could have been so great almost happen and then don't.
Dan Lovranski: Yeah it's amazing how people play off each other and play people against each other.
Larry Zbyszko: It's very interesting.
Dan Lovranski: We'll get into that when we get farther into WCW. I just want to talk about the wrestling you did. One of my favorite teams was you and Arn Anderson -- you guys were quite a good team I thought.
Larry Zbyszko: Arn was a classic. At that time, I was getting ready to phase out. I was talking about doing the broadcasting so I said "I'll team up with Arn" and he didn't say much at the time but I think he was injured here and there back then. I think he's pretty hurt now -- the poor guy. Me and Arn had a good look together. Wrestling goes with the time of mankind and at that time, me and Arn were basically starting to become the new Bockwinkel and Stevens and we were like Crusher and The Bruiser but not that old. Two of a different generation of guys and because he did good and I had a good reputation, the team got a lot of respect. When me and Arn walked out into buildings, the roof blew off the place. Then we wrestled guys like the Steiners and it was great.
Dan Lovranski: I'll never forget when you and Arn were supposed to wrestle Dustin and Windham and Windham couldn't do it so Steamboat came out in his place.
Larry Zbyszko: Yeah, they brought Ricky Steamboat out and I had no idea who the hell it was. He had a stupid mask on.
Dan Lovranski: Yeah, he had the dragon mask on.
Larry Zbyszko: And then he popped it off and the place went nuts. I looked over at Arn and said, "It's little Ricky!"
Dan Lovranski: It was a great match, too. I remember that.
Larry Zbyszko: Yeah it was. It was a great match. I remember that one -- I think that's one I've got on film somewhere in my basement.
Dan Lovranski: Yeah, I've got that one in my vast video collection, too.
Larry Zbyszko: I've got a bunch of videos and none of them are labeled!
Dan Lovranski: [Laughing] There's something for you to do somewhere in your spare time.
Larry Zbyszko: Spare time, what's that?
Dan Lovranski: So how did you get in the commentary spot? Did Eric approach you?
Larry Zbyszko: Eric wasn't in it this time. Eric was there and he was doing some of the announcing. One of the most interesting people that you'd never want to meet was in charge [and] his name was Bill Watts. Me and Bill had a run-in years ago and that's another interesting story . . .
Dan Lovranski: Let's hear it.
Larry Zbyszko: Let me see if I can say it. Let me think about it while I finish this.
Dan Lovranski: Okay.
Larry Zbyszko: For some reason, Bill liked me. I thought he'd hate my guts. Bill's a weird character where if you tell him to go to hell, he respects that more than kissing butt. One of my biggest career problems is I just don't kiss butt. Bill came in and we were having a talk and he was the one who approached me because his plan for WCW at the time was to promote all young guys. Every time they make that decision, they die. The young guy he ended up to promote was his own son, Eric Watts. Of course, that's even worse. Not that Eric's not a nice kid but he just wasn't ready -- you just can't do that. When I saw what was going on, I said "You know what? Good idea" because with the young kids I'm not going to look like an idiot. The broadcasting seemed real good at the time and after I did a little bit, people would come to me and say, "Hey, that was great." At first, I didn't know if I wanted to do it but then I felt comfortable with it and I'd go out there and fans would chant "Larry" and I felt accepted for doing it and I loved doing it. I love the business so it gave me a chance to sit out there with the crowd and watch the new guys, gave me a chance to say how good they were or that they need to work on this -- I just called it like it was. I really enjoyed doing it.
Dan Lovranski: And you didn't have to take that many bumps.
Larry Zbyszko: Yes, I healed. When I started the broadcasting 8 or 9 years ago, it took me a good two or three years after 25 or 26 years of wrestling including all the amateur stuff before I finally felt good. My back was clicking, both my knees were scoped, I had my one elbow scoped to get some chips out and stuff, had some teeth put back in . . . Now, I feel better than I ever did. I work out a lot, I play a lot of golf, I do some personal appearances, heaven knows what I'll be doing next week -- you never know? I've been injury-free for nine years. Even when I was wrestling back in high school, something always hurt. Your body almost gets tense and stays tense because you're always in pain but you can't stop. It's a very brutal thing. I've been very lucky -- I've very flexible, I've got nothing wrong with me, and I've got no injuries. Let me knock on some wood [Larry knocks on wood]. I was lucky for what I did and as long as I did it [but] of course, I didn't fly through some tables. I'm going to sit here in a few years and see if guys like the Dudleys and the Hardys can still walk. They do phenomenal things but it's got to catch up with them. When Mick Foley started Cactus, I was amazed. He was my hero because nobody was crazier than Mick. He really sacrificed his body for the fans and thank God he's got a 10-foot-wide butt that he could land on.
Dan Lovranski: [Laughing]
Larry Zbyszko: I couldn't do that because I would have been out of there when I was 25. He was amazing.
Dan Lovranski: I'll never forget the first time I saw him in WCW and he always used to do that summersault off the apron to the floor and it's like "Good Lord!"
Larry Zbyszko: I was there broadcasting and it was just cement. Sometimes they put a little mat but that didn’t give. He was one of the first kind of guys that mankind wanted to see.
Dan Lovranski: You're right. He was one of the first from what they call hardcore type of guys.
Larry Zbyszko: When I started, we wouldn't even think of that. In fact, if you did that than the promoters would cut you out and wouldn't use you.
Dan Lovranski: And that's now why Mick Foley at the age of 36 is done.
Larry Zbyszko: He should get a medal for being over 36.
Dan Lovranski: Let's talk about that really hot period starting in mid '96 to about '98 when the NWO angle was really hot. Did you think when Eric started the whole thing that it would have the impact that it did at the time?
Larry Zbyszko: You know what, I don't think anyone thought it would have that big of an impact. When it started, there was just so much work. I remember the very first day Scott Hall arrived was the very first day I started broadcasting Nitro. Everything was changed and put in place for the beginning of Eric's idea. Nobody thought it would get so big so fast. We all hoped it would get gigantic but it got really big, really fast. The formula was all right for everything -- I don't know the dealings for everything but the whole illusion of the idea at the time was the whole illusion of what I told you about earlier where the AWA invades WCW and Zbyszko would wrestling Sting -- that never happened. The illusion of Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, when they came in, it gave every fan the illusion that the WWF was busting in. It didn’t say that but that was the illusion that was created. You create something that they just have to see.
Dan Lovranski: What was the one thing in the early days of the NWO that put it over to the fans? Is there one specific incident where everyone went "Oh my God -- this is amazing"?
Larry Zbyszko: I'm thinking...
Dan Lovranski: To me, I can think of a couple.
Larry Zbyszko: I'll tell you -- you're probably looking at it different from how I am. To me, it was the way it was supposed to be. It was basically a gradual build-up [where] this guy came in, this guy came in, Hulk Hogan became a bad guy because everyone kept booing him, and it all got bigger and bigger. I'll tell you what I thought was a magic moment because it kept getting bigger and bigger. I pulled off a hell of a deal with Eric and Scott Hall and that was novel stuff. That helped make it really big. The two pay-per-views I wrestled on helped WCW get the biggest buy rates they ever did. I don't even think Eric realized how much heat he had on him at the time. After that, I think the big moment that everyone freaked out on was when Goldberg came along. When Goldberg came along, they went nuts. They didn't even want to see Goldberg do anything -- they just wanted him to spear a guy and that's it, they went nuts. The one match they had between Hogan and Goldberg in Atlanta when Goldberg beat Hogan for the belt, it broke the Guinness Book Of World Records for the loudest crowd in a building ever. The sound of that crowd popping was louder than the ones put out by the monster truck racing inside the building because you realized you had a new superstar. The NWO was big but it was big because it was made up of a lot of big guys -- there was Macho, Hulk Hogan, Piper was involved, I was involved, Eric was hot . . . It was made up of a lot of big stars. No one really expected this until after awhile but at that moment, we realized we had just given birth to a new superstar. Goldberg was the guy that people wanted for the next century. He was the 21st-century Hogan, Bruno, Gorgeous George, and unfortunately WCW dropped the ball and now our biggest hero is The Rock.
(The LAW interview with Larry Zbyszko will conclude in The New WAWLI Papers 29-2001.)
THE NEW WAWLI (Wrestling As We Liked It) Papers No.31-2001
(The LAW interview with Larry Zbyszko is
continued from The New WAWLI Papers 30-2001. It concludes in this issue.)
DAN LOVRANSKI, LARRY ZBYSZKO ON THE LAW (cont.)
Dan Lovranski: Let's talk a little bit about what happened (with WCW). You were running an amazing wave -- 83 weeks in a row of beating RAW in the ratings. What happened, Larry? How did it all fall apart?
Larry Zbyszko: Wow.
Dan Lovranski: That's a big question, I know.
Larry Zbyszko: That's a big question with a real intricate answer. It really wasn't any one person's fault. There were a lot of people on the wrestling side of the business that knew better but didn't have the authority. Most of the authority was on the north side of the Turner corporate people. WCW was bought because Ted Turner was a wrestling fan and loved it. Wrestling kept him in business when he first started Channel 17-UHF 30 years ago.
Dan Lovranski: That's right, 1972.
Larry Zbyszko: They used to put wrestling matches on at the old Fulton Stadium so that people would watch Ted's new baseball team. I don't think Ted ever forgot that so he was the man that wanted it. But now Turner is bought out by Time-Warner and I think Ted's involvement is getting less and less. Now you've got a hell of lot more public stockholders.
Dan Lovranski: Ted's pretty much a figurehead at this point.
Larry Zbyszko: Yeah, Ted's a figurehead. It's less and less of Ted's money where ten years ago Ted would say, "I like this. Buy this" and they'd buy it. Now Ted says "Jeez . . . We lost 80 million. They're not going to be happy" because he's got a lot more people to answer to. He's got the chairman of the board of Time-Warner and they want to make a deal with AOL, who don't want to lose 80 million.
Dan Lovranski: That was one of the conditions of the sale. The merger wouldn't have gone through unless WCW was put up for sale.
Larry Zbyszko: Right, and then it goes back to your question with WCW [and that it] shouldn't have been losing 80 million dollars. It just got out of control. Eric made a couple of mistakes that he probably shouldn't have that he knows about now. At the same time, it's a lot easier to say that now than back then. At the same time, I'm sure he had a lot of ideas that could have helped us more but wasn't allowed because corporate policy changes because of money. I remember when Ole Anderson was involved and Jim Herd and some other guys . . . Ole used to pull his hair out because these guys would say "Let's give this guy half a million" and Ole would be pulling his hair out saying "Jesus Christ, we can get this guy for 70 grand! What's wrong with you people?" They were really trying to fight and the corporate people would say "Hey, if we don't spend a lot of money, the big shots don't think we're doing anything." So corporate policy at the time dictated guys making big money. After the NWO still was hot, things were happening, there were too many lawsuits, the infrastructure was messed up and [it was] not [messed up] by Eric but by corporate people. But now, they want to trim down and merge with AOL. The corporate policy changes and now the big shots are saying, "Jesus Christ, we can't spend any money or the big shots don't think we're doing anything!" It changes to the opposite. Six or seven years ago it was like they had to spend money and nowadays, they can't spend any money. In WCW, which had real good numbers but then at the wrong time was doing poorly, they said "Well, we've got to get rid of that because that's our new policy." It had nothing to do with the wrestling.
Dan Lovranski: It had to do something with the way the whole NWO angle was booked, doesn't it? After awhile it got so diluted that nobody cared who was in the NWO.
Larry Zbyszko: Yeah, you're right. The New World Order was very hot. They had WCW, which was a chugging along non-entity and then the New World Order came along in what you would call a soap opera toward WCW and everybody had to watch it. Jesus Christ, look what's going on here -- now you've got the NWO and you've made it an entity. I kept telling these people until I was blue in the face and there were arguments that you wouldn't believe. I was telling them "Now that you've got the New World Order entity, they need their own soap opera." What happens now to the New World Order? I gave them a lot of ideas; there was a lot of talent around at the time. What they did was instead of opening another chapter of the New World Order, they went to the very last chapter, which inevitably would have to be the NWO guys fighting amongst themselves. They got really hot and they should have been hot another year but they went to the very last chapter and now they're breaking up. As soon as you had them breaking up, the audience left.
Dan Lovranski: You had NWO black and white and NWO red [and thought] "What's going on here?"
Larry Zbyszko: That shouldn't have happened. That's when things started changing because I remember when Eric was there, we had some meetings and there were a lot of positive plans in that direction. Then Eric made the comment "I'll be right back -- I'm going to go see if I have a job or not" and he was gone. Then Bill Busch was in and he brought some other people in and then Eric was trying to get back in and then Eric was back in for like a month and he was out again. Little did people realize that right after Bill Busch came in, I think the company already knew they were cancelling but they just didn't tell anybody. You had a lot of frustrated wrestling people who were working hard but just extremely limited to the point where they said "We've got to get new people in here because our guys have wrestled each other 50 times. If I see Flair and Sting one more time, I'm going to hang myself."
Dan Lovranski: Or Flair and Hogan.
Larry Zbyszko: Flair and anybody! What I'm saying is that the company is coming back with "We've got a freeze and can't hire anybody" and the creative people are handcuffed. Basically for the last year, you've seen them going through the motions killing time because the whole time, the company knew they were canceling -- they just didn't tell WCW. A lot of rumors and now everybody knows. That's why I left -- my contract was coming up and I knew what was going on and I knew people I shouldn't and so I said "Thank you very much and God Bless ya."
Dan Lovranski: The other thing with the NWO angle was that the fans wanted to see WCW get the win back and that never really happened.
Larry Zbyszko: Got the win back?
Dan Lovranski: Yeah, like got the win over the NWO.
Larry Zbyszko: No that never happened.
Dan Lovranski: And I think that's what frustrated a lot of fans.
Larry Zbyszko: There should have been a whole big storyline of what happened to the NWO -- the NWO just broke apart and they started a year and a half to two years of losing money.
Dan Lovranski: Was there a point where you realized "This is it, we're going down the tubes."
Larry Zbyszko: Oh yeah! To tell you the truth, I realized that before the people in power did. I took rides with certain people and said, "Make me the head of your creative department -- you're losing it" and my answer was "That's okay. I know what I'm doing now." I'll tell you exactly when I knew it . . . [It was] when they moved Eric the first time and then they had a committee (and none of the people on the committee knew what they were doing) and some people on the committee only cared about themselves or they had kids to promote. Then I saw what was happening to Hall and Nash and other guys and I said "That's it, they killed it [and] they don't know they've killed it yet but they've killed it."
Dan Lovranski: It always seemed to me that you'd hear of the politicking with Hogan and Nash and that there were too many cooks in the kitchen and not one person in charge.
Larry Zbyszko: All the inmates were set free. Vince McMahon knows the business and says "I'm going to give you so many dollars for the year but with the pay-per-views and if you draw money, you're going to get more" and by the end of the year you're go to get ten times more than what he guaranteed you but you've earned the money and you've got incentives to go out and work hard for the money and if you're hurt or not, you're going to be there because that's part of your job as a star, to be there. It just got out of hand here where these guys just wouldn't be there. They were given a million bucks and get a million bucks of talent but all they got is some guy with a doctor’s note saying that his elbow hurts and you can't do nothing because it's in his contract. Again, TBS and Time-Warner is a great company and when they look at the business and say "We'll provide health benefits" and if you're on the road, they'll pay you extra money for going on the road and "We'll even pay for your car." I don't think they realized how abused this would be. There was a time when basically some guys were rapping a hell of a company. Vince, is smart not to put himself in that predicament because he knows what he's dealing with -- he's dealing with professional wrestlers. He's not dealing with PhD’s, he's not dealing with professional attorneys or businessmen or CEO's, you're dealing with professional wrestling. They're guys who are basically legally insane -- you have to be to do this. It was just an aspect of where professional wrestling and the corporate business just don't meet. It's a different spectrum where one is the White House and the other is the carnival -- it's far apart.
Dan Lovranski: Let's talk about one of the clowns in the carnival -- Vince Russo. What are your thoughts on Vince Russo?
Larry Zbyszko: Vince Russo. You can't blame a guy for taking a break. The second time when Eric was there and they asked him to leave again (I don't really know what happened -- all I know is that he wasn't there), some people in the office (who I guess are with the WWF or new people) convinced Bill Busch, who did not have a clue, that Russo was McMahon's secret weapon. Again, this is politics from the corporate world because I had talks with Bill and I wish he would have listened to me but the next thing I know is, boom, here comes Vince Russo. Bill, because he didn't have a clue about the wrestling business, left control of it to Vince Russo. Bill didn't last long -- maybe a few weeks or a couple months. He left for the hills. Then a guy named Brad Siegel comes in. Brad Siegel's a corporate guy and there's no doubt in my mind that at that point, Brad Siegel already knew it was getting cancelled. Brad Siegel was the uncle of one of the chicks [in the office]. Robin Shaw was the daughter of another TBS big shot. Right after Brad Siegel comes in, they get transferred to different departments -- they're not part of WCW anymore. Me and Tenay would look at each other and say "There goes the family. They're pulling the plug on this place." There was things happening when Brad Siegel came in and that's why when Vince Russo came in (and he's a very creative guy) but you have to have the creativity for wrestling. When Vince McMahon had him, I'm sure Vince Russo gave Vince a whole bunch of ideas and things but Vince would stand there and say, "This is good, this is bad. We're not doing this with you, we're doing this with him because he's a wrestler and you're a writer." Vince would keep it in control. Over here, when Siegel came in and they said, "We're losing 80 million, we're going to lose another 40 million." [he said] "My God, let's just make plans to sell this" so they just let Russo run it all and I'm sure he worked hard and tried to do creative things but he just didn't know. You've got Goldberg and the people are chanting for Goldberg so why the hell would you have David Arquette as the world champion or why would you have Vince Russo the world champion? I don't even think these people realized it really is a joke and they just didn't know. The corporation under Siegel just didn't care [and he said] "Start firing people, save as much money as you can because AOL don't want it and we're canceling it." I'm pretty sure that's the whole reason that the badness lasted so long. A lot of frustrated people said "I don't know why they don't do anything about this" and the reason they didn't do anything about it because they knew in 6-8 months, it wouldn't even be there. At the time, no one knew and it was very frustrating. I already knew before then. Interesting story.
Dan Lovranski: And now we know [that] the company has folded. There will be no more wrestling on TBS after 30 years.
Larry Zbyszko: It's almost heartbreaking because TBS had wrestling . . .
Dan Lovranski: It was 30 years, Larry, because it debuted in '72 -- so, 29 years ago.
Larry Zbyszko: 30 years . . . It's almost like tradition.
Dan Lovranski: It totally is. Fuscient Media, because there's no TV, they backed out of the deal. Now we've heard the WWF has moved in -- Vince has bought the brand name, he's bought the trademark, and he's bought the entire video library.
Larry Zbyszko: Did he really? You know more than I do.
Dan Lovranski: Ah, it's my job, Larry.
Larry Zbyszko: What was the asking price?
Dan Lovranski: It changed various times.
Larry Zbyszko: 100 million to 2 bucks.
Dan Lovranski: [Laughing] I believe it was 75 million at first, then it went down to like 50 million, and then the last offer I heard was that they wanted 5 million up front and then maybe it was 2 million a year over 20 years.
Larry Zbyszko: To tell you the truth, Vince doesn't need it. Vince can do great things with certain parts of it but without television, you're buying nothing. You can have a library, the WCW banners, but without television, you're buying nothing.
Dan Lovranski: I'm sure that with Vince's deal with Viacom, he can approach them and say "Hey, let's put another wrestling show on UPN or let's put another show on TNN."
Larry Zbyszko: I can't see Vince paying 50 million dollars when he's going to have to pick up any talent he wants.
Dan Lovranski: I'm sure he's not going to have to dish out that kind of money.
Larry Zbyszko: He's not going to dish out nothing that he don't have to.
Dan Lovranski: Larry, you know the business with going from territory to territory to keep things fresh. Now, we're just going to have Vince McMahon and that's it. This can't be good for wrestling.
Larry Zbyszko: Competition is real healthy. I'd like to see two big ones and maybe even three. It would make everyone be on their toes and give the fans everything they want and be damn good about it. It would be good for boys -- more boys would have work. Right now, there's basically one game in town. Vince's wrestling will always be good -- he'll always do good. I'd like to see healthy competition because no matter how good he does, there's only so much room for guys at a time. There's going to be a lot of wrestlers out of work here and there because like you said, guys can't wrestle each other over and over.
Dan Lovranski: As you know, it's not good for anyone to have a monopoly in any form of business.
Larry Zbyszko: No. It would be much better if there was more. I heard some rumour about FOX but then I heard that was nothing.
Dan Lovranski: That fell apart. Fuscient Media and Eric Bischoff met with FOX this week and FOX wouldn't give them any TV so that was the final straw for Fuscient to pull out of the deal.
Larry Zbyszko: Well, one thing about the wrestling business is you never know. Ted Turner may not be as involved in the AOL/Time-Warner thing but you never know. He may say one day "Hey, let's do wrestling again only let's do it a different way." You never know.
Dan Lovranski: Now that Vince McMahon is running the whole show, he might need more announcers for TV. Any chance my might see Larry Zbyszko back on TV?
Larry Zbyszko: I hope so. I would love to do it. I was very frustrated the last year with WCW. Not that I hated them -- I just hated to watch them suffer and see people go out. It was disheartening. I also love the business, I love the fans, I would love to sit out there and hear one more "Larry" chant and blow it away on the broadcasting and make these guys come to life out there. I'm really kind of in the middle of limbo here -- I'm too young to be a senior golfer and I'm a little too old to get back in the mainstream of wrestling even though half of me wants to.
Dan Lovranski: Myself, I think you'd be a great commentator. I always liked your commentating in WCW. You always brought that nice reverence to it. I always loved the chess metaphors -- I always loved that. I thought that was a great way to describe it. You were serious but you could be comical if you wanted to but you were serious if it was needed.
Larry Zbyszko: Well, thank you. That's basically what I like to do. It's easy to make a joke but when these guys are getting killed, you don't want to make a joke.
Dan Lovranski: That's what bugged me with Schiavone and Bobby Heenan to a certain degree. When they're doing hardcore matches and these guys are getting pummelled, they're out there laughing.
Larry Zbyszko: I can't laugh at that.
Dan Lovranski: I never liked that. So you haven't gotten any calls from the WWF since you left WCW?
Larry Zbyszko: No. To be honest with you, they haven't called. I know they've been really busy. The XFL has been keeping them all busy and on the weekends and Monday's it’s wrestling. I don't even think they expected Lawler to walk out a couple weeks ago.
Dan Lovranski: No, definitely not.
Larry Zbyszko: They threw Tazz in there and I guess Paul E -- he was there doing something. Maybe things will change. We'll see what happens.
Dan Lovranski: So how does Larry Zbyszko spend his time nowadays?
Larry Zbyszko: Okay, I'll give you a description of my week.
Dan Lovranski: Cool.
Larry Zbyszko: Let's start with Sunday, I'll wake up (I don't drink so I don't have hangovers) and I'll go to the gym and do a good couple hours and pump up because Sunday morning feels pretty empty. Depending on the weather (my week depends by weather), Mondays I'll go out and play a game of golf. I'll come back home and maybe do some legwork. Tuesday I may play golf or I may go back to the gym. Wednesday, depending on the weather, I may golf or I may do some legwork. Thursday, depending on the weather . . . [Laughing] Getting a little bit redundant for you?
Dan Lovranski: Yeah, I got the pattern.
Larry Zbyszko: All I do. I've been getting a lot of calls with people from independent shows and they want me to wrestle or do stuff and I really don't want to wrestle in the little places here and there. I've been doing some personal appearances where I meet the fans, sign some autographs, take some Polaroids, and maybe do a little interview in the ring. That way they can afford me. Some guys want to charge $500 and when you go to these things, a lot of people are hustling little towns. These young guys are killing themselves with ladder matches -- it's amazing. They can't afford to fly me first class and give me $3500. So, I cut them a break. I've been getting out of the house, doing some of those, working out, and golfing.
Dan Lovranski: That's great. Larry, I really appreciate you sitting down like this and talking like this. Good lord, it's been almost an hour and a half -- it went by so fast.
Larry Zbyszko: Well, you're welcome.
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