WAWLI REDUX No. 71...

LORD OF THE RING, AND BEYOND

(New York Times, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2001)

By Jeff Leeds

The WWF's Vince McMahon became a billionaire by bucking the system. His XFL hits the air today. 'We have what America wants,' he says.

Emerging from a black stretch limousine in Mobile, Ala., Vince McMahon slips into his trademark character, the power-crazed wrestling promoter.

It's not a hard fit. McMahon, chairman of the World Wrestling Federation, is the nation's most powerful wrestling promoter. But now it's show time.

As the cameras catch him outside the city's sold-out Civic Center, he flies into a screaming rage at his driver and fires him for delivering him late. He strides inside to the roar of nearly 10,000 fans who have come to revel in the WWF's body-bruising circus.

They shout obscenities at McMahon, who is as much a character in this soap opera as any of his masked and tattooed stars.

"I don't appreciate the way you're disrespecting a man of my distinction," he sneers, stoking the crowd.

Respect is beside the point for McMahon. Operating outside television's establishment, doubted by Wall Street, dismissed as a purveyor of sleaze, McMahon has made himself a billionaire by transforming backwater wrestling matches into a national spectacle that draws millions of viewers each week.

On this night, McMahon gets walloped in the head with a metal tray and knocked to the floor by his "son-in-law," a towering 246-pound wrestler known as Triple H. But everyone in the place knows McMahon will rise again. Indeed, he is on the verge of taking his act much farther than anyone ever imagined.

NBC-TV debuts McMahon's XFL football league in prime time tonight, betting an estimated $55 million that wrestling fans will follow the promoter to the gridiron.

McMahon has pledged to microphone dozens of players to capture their taunts. Locker room cameras will broadcast coaches' halftime shrieking. He's loosened the rules for more teeth-rattling collisions. And he's offering heavy air time for scantily clad cheerleaders. In other words, signature McMahon.

"I don't think anybody will ever come close to touching him," said Dean Valentine, president of the UPN television network, which is also carrying weekly XFL games. "I wouldn't want to be the guy betting against him."

The rest of the entertainment industry may be seeking cover from politicians and moral crusaders appalled at the level of sex and violence on television and movie screens. Not McMahon. When Hollywood studios pledged to curtail marketing of R-rated films to children last fall, he asked, "Where's your chutzpah?"

Unlike the studios, McMahon's company wasn't targeted by the Senate Commerce Committee last year when it met to study the marketing of violent entertainment to kids. The committee is chaired by GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

"I was waiting for the phone to ring, for McCain to say, 'Vince, come on down and testify.' I would've loved that," McMahon told the Hollywood Radio & Television Society last fall.

He said he has toned down the explicit violence of "WWF Smackdown!" the WWF's weekly two-hour program on UPN. Politicians and parents' groups who criticize his company for allegedly marketing violence to children "don't have a leg to stand on," he said. WWF officials note that 60% of his wrestling audience is 18 or older. "We have always appealed to a mass audience. . . . I consider it a family show, no question."

But plenty of children are watching, says Dave Meltzer, editor of the Wrestling Observer newsletter, which analyzes the WWF's ratings. Sales of branded merchandise--the action figures, video games and fan magazines primarily aimed at teens and younger children--have increased faster than television advertising and pay-per-view revenues over the last two years.

"Should there be a conscience? Yeah," Meltzer said. "If you're looking for one from a wrestling promoter, you're looking in the wrong place."

Trying to stay ahead of the lawmakers and parents' groups, McMahon has been greasing the political machinery. Wrestling star The Rock took the stage at the GOP convention in Philadelphia last summer. The guest list at last month's nonpartisan "Smackdown Your Vote" inaugural celebration was stocked with Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike.

McMahon also has been not-so-subtly illustrating his willingness to command voters as well as viewers. His registration drive, conducted at WWF events and at the WWF Times Square restaurant in New York, signed up an estimated 135,000 new voters. In September, his wife and company CEO Linda McMahon also made a $5,000 contribution to the Connecticut Republican Campaign Committee, her largest on record, which she said was unrelated to the company's effort.

"You want to fight to keep what you built. That's all we're doing," McMahon said in a recent interview. "You'll fight when you should, instead of rolling over and playing dead."

When McMahon cranked up the mayhem in the ring a few years ago and spiced the story lines with pimps and porn stars, he drew the ire of L. Brent Bozell, a conservative commentator and president of the watchdog group Parents Television Council.

"When you have the kind of ultra-violence that he's depicted and the kind of raw sexual perversion that his wrestlers have performed . . . and then to put it on at the start of a family hour on broadcast television is an absolute outrage," Bozell said.

He pressured advertisers to pull out of McMahon's "Smackdown!" show on UPN. Some, including Coca-Cola and MCI WorldCom, did. McMahon responded in November by suing the Parents Television Council, seeking to recover lost advertising revenue.

When a 13-year-old Florida boy was charged with murdering a 6-year-old neighbor by, among other things, flinging her against a wall, the defense attorney blamed televised wrestling for influencing the youth. A jury last week rejected that argument and convicted the boy of first-degree murder. As part of the lawsuit against the PTC, McMahon claimed he had been defamed by the boy's attorney.

"If you see more reports on the links between WWF programming and injuries and fatalities to children, the pressure on them is going to mount," said Dan Gerstein, spokesman for Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.). Lieberman met with WWF representatives last fall and "did not leave that conversation feeling as though his concerns had been addressed," Gerstein said.

McMahon is not intimidated. "We're very much looking forward to having the highest of profiles," he said. "I'm truculent by nature, I admit to that. But I don't try and start this stuff. Once somebody does, we're going to finish it."

Behind the bravado is a shrewd entrepreneur who has a fortune on the line.
With the XFL, McMahon, 55, has limited his financial risk and greatly increased his chances of success by splitting ownership of the league and start-up costs with broadcasting partner NBC, whose promotional support is critical to the venture.

McMahon has set relatively low ratings guarantees, decreasing the chance of disappointing advertisers. Only 70% of the advertising inventory has been sold, according to NBC, but the league has sold a startling 80,000 season tickets.
Television history, McMahon acknowledges, is littered with failed attempts to launch sports leagues. McMahon himself flopped financially when he tried to start a televised bodybuilding competition a decade ago. And for the WWF, the league represents a different sort of business: Instead of a traveling road show, McMahon must establish an infrastructure with continuing operations in a variety of markets.

Wall Street analysts project the league will realize $80 million in revenues its first season. At that rate, it could become profitable in its third year, they say, based on estimated start-up costs of $110 million.

Investors slammed WWF's stock last February on the day McMahon announced the XFL, slashing 25% off the company's market value. The stock gradually has recovered, and over the last month--amid a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign for the XFL--it has climbed back to $19.20, about $2 over its October 1999 IPO price.

NBC, which also bought $30 million in WWF stock as part of the XFL deal, isn't the only major media player to gamble on McMahon.

Aside from its regular wrestling programs on UPN and cable channel The Nashville Network, the WWF is producing a new wrestling show for MTV, an action-adventure series for UPN and has other wrestling specials in the works.

All of that comes as the company aims to increase wrestling's TV audience internationally and diversify its empire in the U.S. with everything from cookbooks by wrestlers to an in-house record label--prompting some analysts to suggest the company is moving too hastily.

Hairline cracks may be appearing. Ratings for "Raw Is War," McMahon's flagship weekly show on TNN, have declined 13% this season--though it remains the highest-rated program on cable. Unsold merchandise has started to pile up.

Analysts also say some of the WWF's key sources of growth, such as pay-per-view, are maturing. Company documents show that 73% of the increase in live event revenue last year came from higher ticket prices, not attendance.
"The tendency is to stretch yourself thin. That's the danger for Vince," the UPN's Valentine said.

WWF officials scoff. "I bet nobody ever asks [Time Warner Chairman] Gerald Levin, does he think they're spread too thin," Linda McMahon said. "We will grow."

Born in rural North Carolina, Vincent Kennedy McMahon was raised by his mother and a sequence of stepfathers. He met his father, wrestling promoter Vincent James McMahon, when he was 12.

The elder McMahon owned a regional wrestling company that promoted its events from Baltimore to Bangor, Maine. On visits from Fishburne Military School, teenage Vincent watched his father run wrestling matches at New York's Madison Square Garden and fell in love with the family business.

"This business has always been about fun, and when you're around these larger-than-life guys, it's a riot. I naturally gravitated to it," McMahon said.
Back then, promoters divided the nation into "territories," each agreeing not to tread on another's turf.

But the younger McMahon had national ambitions. He convinced his father to sell the business to him and his wife in 1982 for $1 million.

The young couple--former high school sweethearts--made the four quarterly payments of about $250,000 in part by expanding in ways the elder McMahon opposed, such as syndicating matches to TV in other promoters' regions.

By the mid-1980s, McMahon had swept away nearly every competitor, adding pay-per-view events to his lineup and creating a kid-friendly roster of cartoon-like wrestling characters, such as the Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan, who pitched children's breakfast cereal and WWF action figures.

In the early 1990s, however, McMahon stumbled badly. A Pennsylvania urologist was tried and convicted of selling steroids for nonmedical purposes to WWF wrestlers. Among the people he admitted selling steroids to was McMahon, who was charged with conspiracy to distribute the drugs. McMahon said it was "a trumped-up charge" and was acquitted in 1994.

Substance abuse continues to haunt the industry, however. Indiana's state medical board in 1999 suspended the license of physician Joel Hackett after he was accused of illegally prescribing painkillers or steroids to at least 11 professional wrestlers, including some WWF employees. WWF officials said Hackett had been banned from their dressing rooms since 1995. He was charged last week by an Indianapolis prosecutor with 48 counts, including falsifying prescriptions.

But despite the scandals, McMahon said he doesn't require drug tests for his wrestlers. "This is not some sort of Olympic sport. This is entertainment," he said.

The WWF's sole competitor, Ted Turner-created World Championship Wrestling, subjects all wrestlers to random drug tests.

In 1996, the WWF fell behind its rival in the ratings. WCW had begun experimenting with more elaborate story lines, including a behind-the-scenes soap opera that took place between wrestling matches. The rival company, which also hired onetime WWF stars such as Hogan, kept the lead in the ratings for more than 80 weeks. McMahon's company lost $6.5 million for the year in 1997.

McMahon fought back by developing raunchier stories and piling on the attitude. And he put his family in the ring: Daughter Stephanie plays the role of a spoiled daddy's girl; son Shane has been cast as being on a quest to overthrow his father and take over the company.

McMahon also developed a reputation as a fierce enforcer of intellectual property, claiming copyrights to his wrestlers' stage names, appearances and even signature gestures to prevent defectors from aiding Turner.

McMahon's newfound dominance of the WCW--which lost an estimated $80 million last year--played a role in prompting its parent, AOL Time Warner, to sell the business last month to private investors.

Today, McMahon is worth an estimated $1.1 billion. His wrestlers' autobiographies have topped the New York Times' bestseller list. WWF's wrestling-anthem records have pierced Billboard magazine's Top 10 and its action figures outsold the Power Rangers last Christmas.

"We have what America wants," McMahon said.

* * *
Cable Champ

WWF's flagship weekly program, "Raw Is War," has exploded in the last five years. Ratings have dipped slightly since it moved in September from USA Networks to TNN, but it remains the highest-rated regular cable TV program.

2000-2001 season to date: 3.9 rating points

Note: Each rating point equals 1% of 102.2 million U.S. television households

Source: Nielsen data

Stock Comeback

World Wrestling Federation Entertainment went public at $17 per share in October 1999. Investors initially trashed the stock when the XFL football league was announced, but the share price has recovered. Friday: $19.20, down $1.14.


WAWLI REDUX No. 72...

XFL: ROYAL RUMBLE OR A VINCE STUMBLE?

(Boston Herald, Saturday, February 3, 2001)

"Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.'' -- H.L. Mencken.

"If there hadn't been misconceptions about the XFL I'd have had to invent some.'' -- Vince McMahon.


By Michael Gee

The General Electric corporation. The Governor of Minnesota. Cheerleaders with tattoos and a raging desire to make it in show biz. Dozens of football front office and coaching lifers with an addiction to what they do. Several hundred football players getting short money and limited medical benefits, each convinced stardom is one nationally televised play away.

All these people and institutions are making the same bet. They're risking millions of dollars, their reputations, their health, on one man and his track record of twisted genius.

If it hadn't been Vince McMahon's idea, the XFL wouldn't exist. Who needs more football on this earth?

But the XFL is McMahon's baby. Thus, the league's already a $100 million investment (split equally between his WWF and NBC) that kicks off tonight at 8. Eight teams are in place from GMs down to assistant trainers. Three separate national TV contracts (NBC, UPN, and TNN) are in place.

Everyone associated with the XFL, especially McMahon himself, is convinced the guy has a God-given gift for grabbing America's lowest common denominator. McMahon turned grungy pro wrestling into our nation's most beloved over-the-top cultural institution, that icon for the teenage boy in all of us, the WWF. Surely he can do even better with football.

Only an idiot would bet against McMahon. To a certain extent, he's already succeeded. The XFL begins with an unprecedented buzz for a new league in any sport. Its souvenir caps and shirts are jumping off the shelves. Professional moralists are already wailing that the XFL will mean the end of sports and/or civilization, assuming the league will be a monster hit.

That assumption may be premature. McMahon's built his tent. He has lured the crowd into the tent as only he can. But can he keep them there?

The question that could wreck the XFL was posed by a 12-year old girl who watches football and wrestling with equal disinterest.

"Will the XFL have stories like wrestling?'' she asked last week.

Stories. That's what sells the WWF. The fake sex and violence help, but the real secrets to McMahon's success are the gothic plot lines and beyond bizarre characters he's created to make grappling a dark comic book vision for our time.

McMahon's a master fantasist. Now he's selling reality. McMahon's proudest boast, that the XFL is legit, is both true and the league's biggest problem.

XFL contests won't be scripted. The coaches and players (all of whom know a fixed game would end their NFL dreams) wouldn't stand for it, and wouldn't be any good at performing anyway. It's difficult to envision Orlando Rage coach Galen Hall, 61, kidnapping Stephanie McMahon in the middle of the third quarter, or some ex-CFL running back becoming a new Stone Cold.

As reality shows go, expansion minor league football isn't exactly up there with "Temptation Island.'' XFL coaches have big league resumes, but 99 percent of the players don't. Quarterbacks are in especially short supply. Most weren't that good in college.

If he can't write their lines for them, how is McMahon going to create lasting interest in a bunch of wholly anonymous, barely adequate ballplayers? When in doubt, go back to basics. The XFL will sell fake sex and real violence.

The league's highly touted cheerleaders will flash skin in routines that will be slightly more risque than those used by cheerleaders in established pro sports. Many announcers will make remarks loaded with innuendo. It won't be anything Fox hasn't already done in prime time.

But the violence will be different. You couldn't prove it by Kerry Collins, but the XFL operates on the premise that the NFL has legislated the mayhem out of the game.

Fair catches won't be allowed. The opening kickoff will be a free-for-all scrum at the 50. If a defensive lineman wants to drive the quarterback into the ground like a tent peg, that's his privilege. Bump and run a receiver until he drops, if you wish.

Forget the morality of making a sport more dangerous by rule. Football's always been violent and always will be. The NFL's safety rules weren't instituted on humanitarian grounds. Protecting the men who throw, catch, and carry the ball is to make scoring easier, because most fans prefer touchdowns to punts.

If all the fast guys get hurt running back kicks, XFL games will be slow. If the league is forced to play its backup quarterbacks, 10-6 games could be commonplace. If quarterbacks are fair game, coaches will teach the line to hold on every play.

In other words, in its attempt to make football more exciting, the XFL could actually make it more boring. The league is inviting low-scoring games that are cheating contests between the two sets of fat guys on the offensive and defensive lines. It'll look like wrestling did before McMahon came along.

Bad football with large American breasts and shaking booties on the sidelines could be the smash success NBC expects and the moralists dread, attracting both football fans and the wrestling faithful. H.L. Mencken would bet on it.

But what if McMahon middles himself? What if the XFL sideshow is too weird for the football crowd, and the reality of XFL games aren't nearly weird enough for the millions who dote on the inspired insanity of the WWF's story lines?

That could happen, too. McMahon doesn't have a sex and violence monopoly. There's plenty of it on all the other channels on your cable system, especially on Saturday night, and it can be seen without all that boring football in the way.

Once in awhile, people do go broke underestimating American taste. That's why so many TV shows get canceled.

GRAPPLE WITH THE TRUTH

(Toronto Sun, Tuesday, June 13, 2000)

By Jim Slotek

It's the world's worst kept secret, that wrestling is fixed -- so much so that confirmation is virtually a throwaway line in Barry Blaustein's acclaimed documentary, Beyond The Mat.

"Mick Foley phoned me at Christmas during filming to tell me, 'Mankind's gonna lose this one match,' " Blaustein told The Sun.

Blaustein -- Eddie Murphy's movie co-writer of choice (for The Nutty Professor 1 and 2, Coming To America, Boomerang) -- had unbelievable access to the wrestling community and became close friends with the over-sized, punishment-glutton Mick "Mankind" Foley.

"He said, 'Hey, Barry, guess what? They're finally gonna give me the title!' I said, 'Get outta here!' And he says, 'Y'know, they figured (Stone Cold Steve) Austin was hurt and I've gotta win it once to get some credibility. But I'm gonna lose it really bad in the Royal Rumble.' And then he said, 'That'll be my biggest match. I'm gonna bring my wife and kids.' "

"I said, 'Are you sure you want to do that?' And he said, 'Ah, they're used to it.' And sure, they knew it was fake, but I just felt like a train wreck was about to happen."

Bad move, as it turned out.

With Blaustein's cameras rolling, Foley's wife and kids are ringside as Mankind has chairs broken over his head and gets the stuffing beat out of him by current WWF poster-boy, The Rock. The kids' sobbing as their dad is covered in blood is profoundly disturbing. Finally, his wife hustles the kids away.

It's unblinkingly human stuff, and you don't have to be a wrestling fan to get it. Which is what Blaustein was after.

"I made it specifically for people who couldn't care less about wrestling. It's about family as much as it is about wrestling, families trying to stay together."

Or not, in the case of Jake The Snake Roberts. The debauched ex-WWF superstar is followed from city to city as he wrestles in places such as Kansas and Nebraska, scoring crack cocaine as he goes, and avoiding his daughter who hasn't seen him in four years (Blaustein sets up an on-camera reunion that's far from heartwarming).

Other figures passing by include Terry Funk, an old crippled lion finishing his days in the upstart ECW: (Extreme Championship Wrestling league); the female wrestler/body-builder Chyna; a seedy-looking L.A indie promoter who lines up wrestlers for audiences of less than 100; and the AntiChrist himself, WWF boss Vince McMahon, whose league was in the dumper when he acquiesced to Blaustein's project (in 1997), and who even resorted to making himself a wrestler.

The WWF since has gone great guns, even going public on the stock exchange, and McMahon has subsequently denounced Beyond The Mat (after trying to buy the rights to it). The Ted Turner-owned WCW refused to take part.

So, having let the cat out of the bag about fixed matches, is Blaustein telling wrestling fans there's no Santa Claus?

"No, the biggest misconception of non-fans is that fans don't know it's fake. But it's more real than you imagine. I mean, you get hit over the head with a chair, it's a real chair and real blood.

"One of the things I love about wrestling is, it's a weird hybrid of sports and entertainment. It's a low form of sports and a low form of entertainment. I enjoy the athleticism, but I enjoy the showbiz element even more."

So did some on the Academy Awards documentary committee, which included Beyond The Mat among 12 finalists in its selection process for this year's Oscars.

"It didn't make the final five, because I think certain people, no matter how good it is, would just snort and go, 'It's wrestling.' "

SLAM! WRESTLING CHAT WITH BARRY BLAUSTEIN

(http://www.canoe.ca/SlamWrestlingChats/jun6_blau.html)

Moderator: Welcome to our special chat with Beyond The Mat director - Barry Blaustein. The chat will begin in a few minutes. Please feel free to submit your questions. Barry will do his best to answer them in the time that we have. A reminder that the film will be released in Vancouver and Toronto on June 16th.

Argo: After producing Beyond The Mat, do you have more or less respect for the wrestling business?

Barry Blaustein: I have more respect for the wrestlers and less respect for other people in the the wrestling business.

Iman: Why did the WWF allow you to film material backstage and then come out against the film later? The same thing happened with the Bret Hart documentary a while ago.

Barry Blaustein: Many times during the filmmaking process, the WWF tried to invest and then buy my film. I refused to sell it to them, despite the fact that I would have made a nice profit. Vince is not use to hearing the word "no". If Vince can't own it, he'll try his hardest to make sure fans don't know about the film. In addition, Vince was VERY uncomfortable with the scenes of Mick Foley's children watching him wrestle. It was a little too real for him.

Mr. Maestro: Will there be any extra footage or commentary when Beyond The Mat is released on video and is there plans to make it available on DVD?

Barry Blaustein: There will be some additional footage for the video and DVD, along with commentary by myself and many of the wrestlers in the film. However, I think the best way to see the film is in the theaters.

MachoMan: What footage was cut from the documentary that you would've liked to have kept in?

Barry Blaustein: Sometimes footage is cut because of time restraints. I had lots of good footage with Chyna and also really good stuff in the indie world where a woman wrestler didn't show up, and Chris Adams had to go around this small town in Nebraska to find a local woman to participate in a "cat fight".

Bill Bramley: Why weren't there any WCW superstars featured in Beyond The Mat?

Barry Blaustein: WCW wouldn't sign my release. They wanted editiorial control over the film and I wouldn't give them that. After the film opened, they called me and said they wished they had signed the release.

Erin King: Is New Jack really a convicted murderer...or is that part of his gimmick? What did you think about him?

Barry Blaustein: He really has four justgifiable homicides and has done jail time for extortion and stabbing someone unrealeated to his bounty hunting work. I like New Jack and even if I didn't I'm smart enough not to say anything else. He's alot like his character.

Sheldon Harvey: Were there any wrestlers you wanted to interview or feature in the film who turned you down?

Barry Blaustein: Not really. Some turned me down, but most weren't all that interesting.

Ernest Westa: Being a fan, how did you stay objective as you filmed Beyond The Mat?

Barry Blaustein: I approached the film as a filmmaker and not as a fan. I was interested in the wrestlers that I felt had the most compelling stories. As someone who has worked in LA for years, I long ago learned there is a big difference between a performers persona and their real personality.

Wes Wetanko: Are you interested at all in doing a film based on the book written by Mick Foley? I believe the life of Mick Foley is a great movie just waiting to be made.

Barry Blaustein: You never know. I think a good movie could be made from his book ala Private Parts.

Mr. Roboto: What did your family think of you taking three years to shoot a film about wrestling? Were they supportive and are they fans as well?

Barry Blaustein: They were supportive, but are starting to say enough is enough. My two children don't like wrestling at all and wonder what has gotten into their father. My wife hates wrestling too. Though they've met a number of the wrestlers in the film and like them as individuals. They're proud of the film. My son is the kid doing the yo yo tricks for Jesse Ventura. Neopotism lives!

Sandman: What exactly happened between you and the WWF over the making of the film?

Barry Blaustein: At the beginning of the film, the WWF was supportive. As they grew in popularity, their support waned. Thank God for strong contracts!

Turnbuckle Head: I've heard that the WWF is starting a policy wherein they won't provide any of their talent to Internet sites for interviews...etc. Does this move surprise you? Why or why not?

Barry Blaustein: Nothing Vince does surprises me anymore

Sheldon Harvey: Have you spoken with Jake the Snake Roberts after the movie was released and, if so, what was his reaction to the segments about himself.

Barry Blaustein: I spoke to Jake about a week before the movie had it's Academy run in October. He hadn't seen the film, but heard that Terry and Mick came off better than him. I told him they actually spend time with their children, so I guess they do. I do not know if Jake has seen the film. His daughter has and found it very cathartic.

DTC: Any plans to make another wrestling movie? How about a sequel to Beyond The Mat?

Barry Blaustein: I have enough footage probably for another film. But my family would leave me.

Chris: What is your personal opinion of Vince McMahon? Is he a genius promoter, or a hearless slave-driver?

Barry Blaustein: Both. I think Vince is an incredible promoter, a genuis in marketing, but unfortunately like many in wrestling, he's played a role on TV so long that he feels he has to be that way all the time in real life.There's a good side to Vince, however that side becomes smaller every day.

Angel: What was it like to film backstage at WWF events? I hear they are very protective of their image and product? How did you get clearence to film what you did?

Barry Blaustein: It took a number of years to get their cooperation. And once I did I spent about 18 month on and off with them on the road. So when I finally brought in cameras, they were used to seeing me hanging around.

Mat Man: What other projects are you working on at present?

Barry Blaustein: I wrote with my writing partner, David Sheffield, Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps which comes out July 26th. See it after seeing BEYOND THE MAT.

Cuga: Do you still watch pro-wrestling and what do you think of the current happenings? Is there anything that's going on currently that interests you more than the rest?

Barry Blaustein: Sadly, I still watch way too much wrestling for a grown man. Right now, it seems to be in a little creative rut.

Sheldon Harvey: Do you think professional wrestlers should have some sort of benefits package, or even a union?

Barry Blaustein: Definetly. Though there is so much paranoia among the guys, a union would be hard to form. But it is needed.

Shelly Ramma: Who was the easiest federation to working with during the production?

Barry Blaustein: All had their difficulties. WWF is hard because of the bureaucracy. ECW is great once you can get Paul Heyman to sit down, but that is incredibly difficult. I was going to call the movie "Waiting for Paul E."

Wes Wetanko: Do you personally have a website or an e-mail address that fans can write to?

Barry Blaustein: There is a website for the movie, www.beyondthemat.net. Unfortnately beyondthemat.com is owned by a carpet cleaning company.

Danny Middaugh: What was it like working with the guys in the film(Funk, Foley, Jake)?

Barry Blaustein: All were different. Mick and Terry were very reliable. I used to kid them that they were in the film because they were the only wrestlers to actually return phone calls. Jake is a little less reliable, though the week I spent with him on the road was one of the great weeks of my life.

Greg Kinnean: Looking back who are your favorite wrestlers in the sport?

Barry Blaustein: Growing up, I liked Bruno Samartino and Bobo Brazil. Currently, I like anyone who is good on the mic.

Ken Yost: What was the most disturbing part of the movie for you to deal with on a personal level?

Barry Blaustein: The most disturbing parts for me were Jake visiting his daughter and Mick's children watching him being beaten up.

Dave Sims: What is your most favorite match of all time?

Barry Blaustein: My favorite match of all time is the ladder match between Shawn and Razor at Wrestlemania X. I was there and I became totally involved in the match.

Mick Rude: Why did it take so long for Beyond The Mat to be released in Canada? Usually motion pictures are released in the U.S. and Canada at the same time.

Barry Blaustein: I really don't know. I'm just greatful that it is opening in Canada on June 16th. PS: My wife is Canadian and from Toronto

Wes Wetanko: Who have been your biggest influences as a director?

Barry Blaustein: There is no one big influence. There are so many I admire. Scorcese for one.

Mat Man: How did you get into film-making?

Barry Blaustein: I used to write on the side. Submitted sketches to Saturday Night Live. Got hired. Met my partner and then Eddie Murphy. And from there, I started writing movies.

Wes Wetanko: Is there still any interest on your part in making a film about the younger athlete's trying to break into wrestling (ala Hoop Dreams)? I heard you mention before how this was your original idea for BTM.

Barry Blaustein: I've made my wrestling film. Though I think a film concentrating on the young guys could work, if you found the right guys.

Daniel Bradshaw from Toronto, Ontario: What do you think about the recent going-on's behind the scenes of the big 3 federations regarding the networks role in each fed? Ie) WWF wanting to leave USA, ECW fighting with TNN...WCW's big surprise?

Barry Blaustein: As a fan, I'm interested to see how it will all come down. Wrestling is at an all time high, and I question these networks who are ready to make such a huge investment in a business that has always been cyclical.

Rascal: Do you still keep in contact with the people you met during the filming?

Barry Blaustein: Some I do. I still speak with Mick and Terry on a regular basis and talk to New Jack every once in awhile.

Danny from VA: What was the most touching moment you experienced during the filming of Beyond The Mat?

Barry Blaustein: The most touching moment for me and the essence of the film is Mick hugging his daughter right before the Royal Rumble.

Rad: I know what we saw on camera...but what did Mick say to you about seeing the video of his kids reaction to what happened to him on pay-per-view.

Barry Blaustein: That was pretty much unedited. Mick was devestated by the footage.

Wes Wetanko: Are you a fan at all of japanese or mexican wrestling? It would have been interesting to see how many North American wrestlers must adapt to the lifestyles of these countries where wrestling is so popular because they have difficulty "making it" here.

Barry Blaustein: I would have liked to cover that, but my budget did not permit it. There are things I like about all the style of wrestling.

Mega Cage: Though Beyond The Mat depicts him in a bad light, what are your personal feelings towards Jake Roberts?

Barry Blaustein: I have mixed feelings about Jake. He is ultimately a very tragic figure, someone undone by his demons. Jake knows how messed up he is, yet can't stop it. I hope he can get his life together.

Sheldon Harvey: Are the current ratings problems in the WCW an indication that pro wrestling may have finally peaked?

Barry Blaustein: I think wrestling has probably peaked. But I said that a year ago, so who knows?

DTC: Did you see Hitman Hart-Wrestling With Shadows and Ready To Rumble? If so, did you like them and how would you compare them to Beyond The Mat?

Barry Blaustein: I liked "Wrestling with Shadows." I did not see Ready to Rumble.

Chris Schramm aka The Living Legend: When will it be out on video? Also, was there any wrestlers that have shown anger over how they were shown in the video? How bad was their reaction? Also, any good reactions?

Barry Blaustein: The movie will be out on video towards the end of August. The response from wrestlers both in the film and in the industry have been extremely positive. The only negative reaction I have gotten is from the McMahons.

Michael Freudberg: My girlfriend is intersted in becoming a wrestler, with all your experience with making the movie, can you tell me if you think its worth it going into the wrestling business?

Barry Blaustein: NO. It's an extremely hard business to succeed in, especially for a woman.

Sheldon Harvey: Are wrestlers today pushing the envelope too hard resulting in an increase in injuries. Is it the wrestlers who are pushing it, or are they being pushed by management?

Barry Blaustein: I think it's a combination. Wrestlers push themselves further and further to get over and the promoter do little or nothing to stop them.

Daniel Bradshaw from Toronto, Ontario: Would you ever work with Vince McMahon again, after the difficult time he put forth in making and releasing Beyond the Mat? A&E and High Road Productions already made an Owen Hart Documentary...would you ever consider doing one on the entire Hart Family?

Barry Blaustein: As far as Vince, never say never. As far as the Harts, I feel Wrestling with Shadows covered that.

Barry Blaustein: As far as Vince, never say never. As far as the Harts, I feel Wrestling with Shadows covered that.

DTC: What is your opinion of Vince McMahon, Eric Bischoff, Vince Russo and Paul Heyman? Likes and dislikes about these 4 men?

Barry Blaustein: I think Paul Heyman has an incredible mind and could probably rule small countries. Vince Russo was always pleasant to be around and you have to admire what Vince McMahon has accomplished.

Wes Wetanko: Being a wrestling fan yourself, did your perception of the business and your perception of say, some of your favorite wrestlers, change during filming?

Barry Blaustein: Not really. I realize sometimes there can be a great difference between a wrestler's persona and their real personality.

Barry Blaustein: I would like to thank all the internet fans for supporting the film. Without your help it would have never gotten a theatrical release. I hope the fans in Canada go to see it in the theaters on June 16th. Other fans can tell you, seeing it in a theater with other fans is a special movie experience.

WAWLI REDUX No. 73...

TRIPLEMANIA: MEXICO'S ANSWER TO WRESTLEMANIA

(SLAM! Wrestling, Wednesday, July 5, 2000)

By John F. Molinaro

As the warm, tepid breezes of June turn into the hot and muggy haze that is July, the attention of wrestling fans are turned towards a slew of summer pay-per-views. Bash at the Beach, Summer Slam, ECW's Heat Wave 2000... these are the events that mark the passage of time for wrestling fans in Canada and the U.S during the summer months.

Simultaneously, in another part of the wrestling world that is all too often forgotten, an annual event of a different sort is about to take place. Fans and followers of international wrestling are preparing for what is the most highly anticipated event on the Mexican wrestling calendar, as the Asistencia Asesoria y Administracion promotion (AAA) is gearing up for its annual TripleMania summer series.

TripleMania is to AAA what WrestleMania is to the WWF; what Starrcade is to WCW; what November to Remember is to ECW. TripleMania will make history today, kicking off a five-day tour starting in Tokyo, the very first time this event will take place in Japan.

For eight years, TripleMania has been the marquee wrestling event in Mexico. Providing the ultimate showcase for the Lucha Libre style, TripleMania has progressed from a single show to a series of three events spread out over the summer. It has set major attendance records in Mexico while at the same time providing some of the best wrestling action on this continent.

The legacy of TripleMania can be directly traced back to one man: AAA President and promoter Antonio Pena.

For many years, Pena was the booker of Empresa Mexicana de Lucha Libre (EMLL), the world's oldest wrestling promotion. Formed in 1933, EMLL stressed traditional Lucha Libre in its purest form, free of the glitz and glamour that predicates American wrestling. EMLL was based on a stringent hierarchy of the veteran wrestlers on top and the youngsters on the bottom. Because of this infrastructure, a young wrestler had to compete for many years before moving up the roster and higher on the card.

Pena wanted to change all that. He had a vision of a more modern form of Lucha Libre. He wanted to change the rules, bringing some of the soap opera aspect of American wrestling to his product and push young wrestlers immediately instead of having them wither away in the opening matches.

His idea was met with gross resistance. EMLL owner Paco Alonso, the nephew of Salvador Lutteroth, the man responsible for bringing wrestling to Mexico in the 1920s and '30s, would have none of it. He tied Pena's hands at every turn, making it impossible for him to bring his dream of a new form of Lucha to fruition.

Destiny was on Pena's side, however, and he would not be denied. In May of 1992, Pena left EMLL, taking the majority of its top stars with him to form a new company, AAA. The move was not unlike the recent actions of Mitsuharu Misawa leaving All Japan and taking its best workers with him.

Backed by Mexican network TV giants Televisa, Pena formed AAA and a wrestling war in Mexico was born.

"Pena was a part of the EMLL brain trust and he was able to lure a lot of the top draws from around Mexican wrestling," recalled WCW commentator Mike Tenay,  a noted expert on Mexican wrestling. "(He took) guys like Konnan, Blue Panther, Perro Aguayo, El Hijo del Santo, Cien Caras and he decided to combine that talent roster with all these great, young workers that he had seen were not being pushed in Mexican wrestling: Rey Misterio Jr, Psicosis, La Parka, Heavy Metal and that whole group."

AAA went ahead, presenting a more modern style of Mexican wrestling with cage matches, long, elaborate ring introductions with fire works, ring girls, and a more pronounced emphasis on angles and storylines than ever before. Mexico became the battleground for one of the most bitter promotional wars in wrestling history as AAA took on EMLL for bragging rights as the top company. It was a battle with two clearly, contrasting and defined sides: the old guard of purists at EMLL vs Pena's upstart AAA office that sought to change the landscape of Mexican wrestling.

Pena's style clearly won out as AAA became the hottest promotion not only in Mexico, but in North America, doing far greater business than both the WWF and WCW. And the reason why Pena was so successful was the array and diversity of talent he had available to him.

"From that standpoint Pena had a talent roster that was unprecedented for Lucha Libre," said Tenay. "Realistically when you look at the depth of talent he had there from '93 to '95, you can make an argument about for that being the greatest array of talent for any non-Japanese promotion."

Riding high with confidence, Pena wanted to take AAA's success to the next level. Having seen the mainstream media attention that the WWF's WrestleMania show garnered each year, Pena started to build toward his own annual spectacular. He had a vision for a similar show in Mexico that would act as the blow off for all the company's major feuds that had been raging all year long. And with that idea, TripleMania was born.

In an ambitious move, Pena reserved the Plaza Del Toros, an outdoor bullring in Mexico City with a capacity of 50,000 people, to stage the inaugural TripleMania show. It was a huge gamble and Pena knew everything he had worked for was riding on this show.

Fortunately for Pena, he had the top technico (babyface) in Konnan and rudo (heel) in Cien Caras on his roster. The two had a long-standing feud stemming from their EMLL days, so Pena pitted them in the main event in a loser-must-retire match. Questions quickly arose: Could Pena put on a compelling show with the eyes of the wrestling media on him? Could AAA make a statement with this event and distance itself from EMLL in the war? And could AAA fill the bullring and prove all the doubters wrong?

The answer on all three counts was a resounding YES. On April 30th, 1993, 48,000 fans jammed into the bullring, setting the all-time attendance record in Mexico. AAA made a statement: They had arrived and they weren't going anywhere.

"The most amazing thing about (it) was that they were able to draw that 48,000 people for a promotion that was less then one year old," stated Tenay. "To be able to take the lion's share of the market like that so immediately sort of put AAA as a promotion on the map. Pena's own marketing plan for Mexican wrestling was so revolutionary he was on top for that era. With a promotion that was less than a year old he did a tremendous job of creating stars."

At the time, TripleMania set the standard for match quality on big shows in North America. From top to bottom, it was a stellar card with one great match after another. It provided the first major stage for Rey Misterio Jr to compete on as he teamed with Volador, Misterioso, to defeat Tony Arce, Vulcano, & Rocco Valente. Lizmark retained his Mexican Heavyweight title defeating La Parka in a memorable match. The best match on the show saw Mexican legend Perro Aguayo beat Mascara ANO 2000 in a hair vs mask match. The epic battle saw the two veterans engage in a bloodbath of a match with perfect psychology that saw Aguayo unmask the hated rudo.

And then there was the main event -- the retirement match between Cien Caras and Konnan. With Jake "The Snake" Roberts sitting in the front row, Konnan and Caras did battle as the Plaza del Toros crowd hung on their every move. After splitting the first two falls, the action spilled to the floor where Jake interfered causing Konnan to lose the third and decisive fall by countout, forcing him to retire. The audience was in shock and openly wept as their hero had been cheated. Little did they know the retirement would not last and that the angle with Roberts was merely a precursor for the following year's TripleMania.

When all was said and done, TripleMania was both a financial and critical success. AAA had shown that they were a major force in wrestling and had established themselves as industry leaders. While the WWF and WCW were struggling at the box office in the U.S. and Canada, AAA, after only one year, had become the hottest and most profitable wrestling promotion in North America.

Despite their success, and despite the fact that they could have looked at AAA's model of success for an answer to turn their own business around, TripleMania went largely unnoticed by the WWF and WCW. They failed to follow AAA's example and learn from them.

Later that year, AAA invaded U.S. markets such as Los Angeles Chicago and New York, outdrawing both the WWF and WCW. In August of 1993, AAA drew 18,000 fans to the L.A. Sports Arena, turning away another 8,000 fans at the door and taking in a live gate of $250,000, the most profitable show in the history of L.A. AAA was not only the hottest promotion in Mexico, but also now the U.S.

"The people in the business (here in the U.S.) had no clue," stated Tenay, who attended every AAA house show in Los Angeles between 1993-95. "TripleMania, realistically, lead to all the shows in Los Angeles. Everything started with that TripleMania. The first show they did in L.A. where they had 18,000 and turned away 8,000 fans at the door... the heat they had that night was incredible."

"I was just telling the story the other day, as a matter of fact, last week to the announcing crew here (at WCW)," continued Tenay. "Now that we've had some stuff thrown into the ring by fans ... (but) I've never seen as many odd things thrown into the ring at Jake Roberts and Art Barr (like at that first show in L.A.) ... beer, recycled beer, the nachos, and the one that really got everyone was they threw the loaded diaper."

It is a longstanding tradition in Mexico for fans to throw soiled diapers at the rudos. It's an act saved for special occasions and reserved for the heels that really aggravate the crowd. Even though it sounds disgusting, it is the ultimate sign of respect, and wrestlers know they have arrived as a top heel when a mother peels of the dirty diaper of their infant and flings it at them.

"I remember sitting second row for that L.A. show and thinking 'Holy s***, we got a riot on out hands here'," admitted Tenay. "That was on the verge of being a real riot. That was the start of AAA's run in L.A."

The following year, AAA was so hot that Pena knew that one TripleMania show would not be enough. Instead, he came up with the idea of a TripleMania series; three major cards spread out over the summer where he could build on angles and storylines developed in the first two shows that would lead to the blow off on the final one.

TripleMania II-A was held on April 26, 1994 at an outdoor baseball Stadium in Aguscalientes, Mexico drawing 9,500 fans. On the undercard, Rey Misterio Jr teamed with his uncle Rey Misterio and Winners to defeat Tony Arce, Vulcano and Rocco Valente. Juventud Guerrera teamed with his father Fuerza Guerrera and Misterioso to beat Latin Lover, Volador and El Mexicano. Los Payasos beat Cien Caras, Mascara Ano 2000 and Universo 2000 to win the Mexican Trios Titles. El Hijo del Santo, Octagon and Perro Aguayo beat 'Love Machine' Art Barr, Eddie Guerrero and Black Cat via DQ in he semi-main event. In a memorable main event, Heavy Metal beat Jerry Estrada in a "hair vs. hair" match that was considered the best match on the show.

Fans and critics were blown away by the show, thinking that there was no way the remaining two shows could possibly match its quality.

They were wrong. TripleMania II-B on May 15, 1994 in Zapopan, Mexico stands as possibly the best TripleMania show ever. Pena brought in Koji Kanemoto and Jushin "Thunder" Liger in from New Japan Pro Wrestling to round out his roster of Lucha stars in putting on what was from top to bottom a sensational show.

Jushin Liger teamed with Kanemoto, competing under a mask as Tiger Mask, El Hijo del Santo and Octagon to beat La Parka, Psicosis, Blue Panther and Eddie Guerrero in the best match of the night. Mascara Sagrada beat Black Cat in a phenomenal mask vs mask match and in the main event, Konnan, Perro Aguayo and Cien Caras beat Jake Roberts, Art Barr and Miguel Perez Jr.

"That show was awesome. It was among the greatest shows I probably ever saw," said Dave Meltzer, editor of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter who was in attendance that evening in Zapopan. "(That day) was so hot, it must have been way over 100 degrees and to get tickets, because nobody in Mexico ever buys tickets in advance, people were standing in line for hours upon hours to get in by the 6 p.m. start time."

"The crowd was just going crazy," recalled Meltzer. "Rey Misterio Jr. teamed with his uncle in a six-man and I remember that it was that match where I really noticed Rey Jr. for the first time. That six-man tag match was so unbelievably good that the crowd just rocked and it was a super show."

The stage was now set for the final show, TripleMania II-C from the El Toreo in Tijuana. Over 18,000 fans packed the outdoor bullring that evening. The crowd was electric as they sat through the opening matches and the mid-card. The crowd was so wired that following a Volador, Tinieblas Jr. and Lizmark Jr. vs Love Machine, Miguel Perez Jr. and Misterioso, they started doing the wave. Perro Aguayo, Lizmark, El Hijo del Santo and Mascara Sagrada beat La Parka, Psicosis, Black Cat and El Satanico and Cien Caras, Mascara Ano 2000 and Universo 2000 beat Los Payasos in a wild "steel cage" match.

All of this merely set the table for the main event, Jake Roberts vs Konnan in a hair vs hair match. A year after Jake cost him the main event win at the first TripleMania, Konnan would have his shot at revenge. They had battled each other in a series of six-man tag matches, and Pena had brilliantly built the feud to this crescendo where Konnan would avenge his loss and beat Jake in two straight falls.

"I remember the show in Tijuana in 1994 and the one thing that I remember was the great heat for that main event match," recalled Tenay who sat in attendance that evening. "It was that big show atmosphere and you had the great work underneath. You had this tremendous heat for an angle that had been built up for a year and they gave the people what they wanted. It was a double blood bath match with Jake getting shaved bald."

TripleMania '94 was a booking masterpiece by Pena. He had built on a hot angle from the previous year's show, spiked the Konnan vs Jake program with hot angles through out the year while never having them go at it one on one, and had Konnan go over in the main event in a match that had incredible heat.

The success of the series had put AAA on centre stage for the entire wrestling world to see, and it established Antonio Pena as the best booker in the business. His booking style had more twist and turns and told compelling stories with more chapters than anybody else. Pena had the unique ability to intertwine several storylines in one match and come out with something fresh and new.

"When his head was clear, he was amazing booker," stated Meltzer. "He was good at coming up with characters. He was the best booker in the business in those early years, his stuff was just dynamite. Looking back his stuff blew away anything going on in the States."

"Pena was really good when he was focused on building to a big show. He would have a lot of angles. He would do something with everyone on the card and everybody would have their own angle. It all had meaning top to bottom."

As AAA continued its reign as the hottest promotion in the world, two events occurred that hurt the promotion badly. 'Love Machine' Art Barr died on November 23rd, 1994 at the age of 28. Art's death was devastating to AAA, as he had established himself as the best drawing heel in the world.

At around the same time, the bottom fell out of the Mexican economy, as the Mexican peso became devalued against the American dollar. This more than anything, hurt the wrestling business in Mexico. It's a problem that still plagues Mexican wrestling six years later.

"The whole company went down because the peso became devalued," stated Meltzer. "That was it. Because the economy was down in the country, the whole business went down."

AAA now faced the cruellest of realities: They had to operate in a harsh economy minus the services of Art Barr, their top gate attraction. AAA had talked about having Art Barr and Eddie Guerrero work a program against their tag partner Konnan in late '94. They had made plans to have Art and Eddie turn on Konnan, building to a TripleMania main event of Barr vs Konnan in 1995. AAA wanted to run Mexico City's Azteca Stadium, a building that holds 130,000 fans, to try and break the attendance record for North America set by the WWF at WrestleMania III. With Art gone, they had to make a new game plan.

Could a Konnan vs Art Barr main event at TripleMania in 1995 have possibly sold out the gargantuan Azteca Stadium?

"Art died at the same time that the peso went down so I think it would have fallen apart before it ever got there," believes Meltzer. "If the peso never went down and they had done it ... that's awfully ambitious. As far as Eddie and Art turning on Konnan, that would have been a hot program, but hot enough to (fill Azteca Stadium)? That's really hard to say. You just don't know. It would have done well. But I think Art would have left Mexico when the peso became devalued because they wouldn't have been able to pay him. He would have gone to ECW with Eddie."

Despite the Mexican economy, AAA forged ahead in 1995 and presented an outstanding TripleMania series. The series received a shot in the arm on April 30th at the "Guadalajara Espectacular". Over 18,000 fans jammed into the Rio Nilo Coliseum for an event that was originally billed as the second event in the TripleMania series. Because the cancellation of what was scheduled to be the first show in the series earlier that day in Mexico City, AAA changed game plans and used this event as a warm up instead. Even when the promoters decided to change plans, posters and banners on the walls inside the arena proclaimed it a TripleMania event. Fans felt cheated and robbed.

Their disgust quickly subsided as AAA put on one their best shows in company history. Fuerza Guerrera teamed with son Juventud and Psicosis to defeat El Hijo del Santo, Octagon and Rey Misterio Jr. in a 33-minute, five-star classic encounter. In the main event, Cien Cara won the Rio Nilo Cup defeating Perro Aguayo and Konnan in a triangular match. The match was a blood bath and was noteworthy for one of the most historic and memorable angles in Mexican wrestling history.

Midway through the match, Mascara Ano 2000 came down to ringside to interfere on behalf of his brother Cien Caras. Seeking revenge for losing his mask at the first TripleMania two years earlier, he broke a beer bottle over Aguayo's head, causing the veteran to bleed profusely and be carried out a stretcher. The angle nearly caused a riot and was the catalyst for an explosion in business for AAA.

"That angle was huge," recalled Meltzer who was in attendance that evening. "It totally turned business around for a short period of time. The crowds just took off for the Mascara Ano 2000-Perro feud. That got great heat. They sold it really well. Every match on that show was great."

"They decided to use that as the angle to springboard TripleMania that year," stated Tenay.

With momentum on their side, AAA staged TripleMania III-A on June 10, 1995 in Orizaba, Mexico before 14,000 fans. Super Calo beat Angel Mortal in a mask vs mask match and Konnan teamed with Perro Aguayo, La Parka and Octagon to defeat Cien Caras, Mascara Ano 2000, Pentagon and Jerry Estrada.

Making up for the mix-up in April in Guadalajara, AAA staged TripleMania III-B at the Rio Nilo Coliseum on June 18, this time drawing an even bigger crowd of 19,500 fans. El Hijo del Santo, Octagon, Rey Misterio Jr. and La Parka beat Pentagon, Blue Panther, Psicosis and Fuerza Guerrera in an amazing three-fall affair. Cien Caras and Mascara Ano 2000 beat Perro Aguayo & Konnan in a wild brawl and in the main event, Winners beat Marabunta in a mask vs mask match.

TripleMania III-C followed on June 30 in Madero, drawing over 16,000 fans to the outdoor stadium. AAA managed to put on another spectacular show with a fantastic undercard, topping it off with a great main event as Super Calo pinned tag team partner Winners in a mask vs mask match.

As AAA entered 1996, they wanted to strengthen their presence in the U.S. For the first time, the event ventured outside of Mexico as TripleMania IIII-A took place in Chicago on May 11. A strong showing in such a big market would have solidified AAA's presence in the U.S. and the pressure was on to deliver a solid show.

What AAA delivered was the worst show in TripleMania history. The company did little advertising of the show and as a result, only 2,600 fans showed up to the International Amphitheatre, the smallest crowd ever for a TripleMania. The event was plagued by several key no shows as Rey Misterio Jr. was married that day and Psicosis was his best man. Eddie Guerrero, billed as coming in for the event, was never formally asked to work the show and was in Japan at the time. AAA had to revamp the line up, forcing them to book the show on the fly. As it turned out, the show was a disaster.

"Chicago was a joke, a real disaster," said Tenay. "The promoters barely advertised the show, combined with the lack of talent they had on that show. There were a million no shows."

The company never seemed to recover from the debacle in Chicago as the two remaining TripleMania shows that year failed to live up to the standard of previous shows drawing disappointing crowds.

"(By this) point Pena's poor promotional background and track record finally haunted him," stated Tenay. "In the past because they had such great storylines and great stars even if his promotion of some event wasn't up to speed, somehow the word got around and people would still find a way to know about the events."

The booking of TripleMania that year was uninspired and repetitive. Pena recycled old angles that no longer registered with his audience. The man who was once the best booker in the business seemed to have lost his touch.

"When Pena was focused I thought he was about as good a booker I've ever seen," said Tenay. "The times that he really lost his concentration he would do some stuff that was really atrocious. He fell into some lazy patterns of bad finishes where you just shook your head and said to yourself, 'was this the same guy who came up with that great stuff for TripleMania?'"

Tenay also feels that making TripleMania a three show series was a big mistake.

"I think the other thing that hurt TripleMania was with the multiple shows. I think Pena diluted things by going to the two and three shows a year and not having that one big show, with that one big blow off that you could hang your hat on every year and make TripleMania a tradition."

"(By '96) it became just a name for a bigger than average house show rather than the first year where it was like a WrestleMania," stated Meltzer. "Doing the three shows was good the second and third year because the company was hot. They were all selling out. They were all good shows."

In late 1996, AAA was devastated again as Konnan split with Pena and left AAA to form his own promotion, Promo Azteca, taking the bulk of AAA's young roster with him. Konnan, who was Pena's right hand man and helped out with the booking, wanted to take AAA toward a more ECW-influenced style. Pena didn't agree with that approach. Wanting to run things his own way, Konnan left AAA, realizing that Pena would handicap, his every move had he stayed.

How ironic that four years after leaving EMLL over a dispute on the direction of the company with owner Paco Alonso, Pena now found himself in a similar position with Konnan.

With his roster depleted, Pena's TripleMania series of 1997 was an embarrassment, drawing record low crowds. Pena was reduced to bringing back an out of shape Jake Roberts for one more heel run. The following year, TripleMania went back to a single night format, as Kickboxer beat Heavy Metal on June 7 in Chihuahua. Last year, 13,000 fans attended the show in Madero to watch Perro Aguayo, Octagon and Cobarde beat El Texano, Perro Aguayo Jr. and Sangre Chicana in the main event.

This year TripleMania makes history once again as Pena brings TripleMania to Japan for a five show series. With New Japan's Jushin "Thunder" Liger, Michinoku Pro Wrestling's The Great Sasuke and Tiger Mask IV, Toryumon's Shiima Nobunaga and Sumo Fuji, this year's TripleMania has the potential to be the best one in years, capable of recapturing the old glory it was once known for. Can AAA start the new millennium by re-establishing the TripleMania name?

Knowing Pena's ability to rebound when faced with adversity, I wouldn't bet against him.

TRIPLEMANIA FACTS & FIGURES

MOST APPEARANCES: Octagon (14) 

MOST APPEARANCES BY A FOREIGN WRESTLER: 'Love Machine' Art Barr  & Jake 'The Snake' Roberts (4) 

MOST APPEARANCES IN MAIN EVENT: Perro Aguayo (5) 

LARGEST CROWD: 48,000 (TripleMania 1, 1993) 

# OF UNMASKINGS: 7 (Mascara ANO 2000, Payasito Rojo, Marabunta, Black Cat, Winners, Halcon Dorado Jr and La Calaca) 

# OF HEAD SHAVINGS: 4 (Jerry Estrada, Jake 'The Snake' Roberts, My Flowers, Tirantes) 

# OF RETIREMENT MATCHES: 1 (Cien Caras beat Konnan at TripleMania 1; the retirement didn't last) 

COUNTRIES THAT HAVE HELD A TRIPLEMANIA: 2 (Mexico and the U.S.) 

CITY THAT HAS HELD THE MOST TRIPLEMANIAS: Madero (3 - TripleMania III - C in '95, TripleMania IV - C in '96 and TripleMania VII in '99) 

NOTABLE FOREIGN COMPETITORS: 'Love Machine' Art Barr, Koji Kanemoto, Black Cat, Eddie Guerrero, Ultimo Dragon,  Gran Hamada, Jushin 'Thunder' Liger, Miguel Perez Jr., Gorgeous George III, Jake 'The Snake' Roberts

TRIPLEMANIA MAIN EVENTS

TripleMania: Cien Casas beat Konnan in a "retirement" match. TripleMania II - A: Heavy Metal beat Jerry Estrada in a "hair vs. hair" match. TripleMania II - B: Konnan, Perro Aguayo, & Cien Caras beat Jake Roberts, Love Machine, & Miguel Perez Jr. TripleMania II - C: Konnan beat Jake Roberts in a "hair vs. hair" match. TripleMania III - A: A 13-mini "loser unmasks, steel cage battle royal". TripleMania III - B: Winners beat Marabunta in a "mask vs. mask" match. TripleMania III - C: Super Calo pinned Winners in a "mask vs. mask" match. TripleMania IV - A: Konnan & Perro Aguayo beat Pierroth Jr. & Cien Caras in a "lumberjack" match. TripleMania IV - B: La Parka, Octagon, & Mascara Sagrada beat Killer, Cien Caras, & Heavy Metal in a "lumberjack" match. TripleMania IV - C: Los Payasos & Karis la Momia beat Mascara Sagrada Jr., Blue Demon Jr., Tinieblas Jr., & Halcon Dorado Jr. in a "loser unmasks steel cage" match. TripleMania V-A: Perro Aguayo, Tinieblas Jr., & El Canek beat Jake Roberts, Killer, & Gorgeous George III TripleMania V-B: Perro Aguayo, Octagon, Cibernetico, & El Canek beat Jake Roberts, Gorgeous George III, Cobarde Jr., & Fuerza Guerrera. TripleMania VI-A: Kickboxer beat Heavy Metal. TripleMania VII: Perro Aguayo, Octagon, & Cobarde beat El Texano, Perro Aguayo Jr., & Sangre Chicana.

TRIPLEMANIA IN JAPAN SCHEDULE

July 5th at Korakuen Hall, Tokyo: Octagon, Jushin Liger, Latin Lover, Albrije vs. Cibernetico, Shiima Nobunaga, Abismo Negro, & Electro Shock, Heavy Metal & Tiger Mask IV vs. Kickboxer & Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Psicosis II, Maniaco, & Histeria vs. Perro Aguayo Jr., Hector Garza, & Pathfinder vs. Picudo, Charly Manson, & Espitru vs. Masamichi Marufuji, Minoru Fujita, & Genki Horiguchi, Oriental & Esther Moreno vs. Pentagon & Xochitl Hamada, Apache vs. Oscar Sevilla, Octagoncito vs. Mini Abismo Negro July 6th at Yokohama Arena-Centennial Hall, Kanagawa: Octagon & The Great Sasuke vs. Pentagon & Sasuke the Great, Latin Lover vs. Cibernetico, Oriental & Tiger Mask IV vs. Kickboxer & Sumo D. Fuji 2000 July 7th at Diamond Hall, Nagoya Aiichi: Latin Lover, Hector Garza, & Heavy Metal vs. Cibernetico, Abismo Negro, & Electro Shock, Octagon, Tiger Mask IV, & Dragon Kid vs. Kickboxer, Sumo D. Fuji 2000, & Judo Suwa, Octagoncito vs. Mini Abismo Negro (AAA Midget Title) July 8th at Kobe Sambo Hall, Hyogo: Dragon Kid, Tiger Mask IV, Perro Aguayo Jr., & Latin Lover vs. Cibernetico, Electro Shock, Judo Suwa, & Yoshikazu Taru, Octagon & Octagoncito vs. Abismo Negro & Mini Abismo Negro, Esther Moreno vs. Xochitl Hamada (AAA Women's title) July 9th at IMP Hall, Osaka: Octagon, Latin Lover, Albrije & Tiger Mask IV vs. Cibernetico, Psisocis II, Histeria, & Maniaco, Shiima Nobunaga, Judo Suwa, & Sumo D. Fuji 2000 vs. Picudo, Charly Manson, Espitru, Abismo Negro & Electro Shock vs. Perry Aguayo Jr. & Hector Garza (AAA Tag Title Match)

(http://www.canoe.ca/SlamWrestlingInternational/triplemania.html)


WAWLI REDUX No. 74...

MAJOR TOM THUMB REMEMBERED

(SLAM! WRESTLING)

By Greg Oliver

"The Hercules of the Midget Wrestlers", Major Tom Thumb, was born in England, and emigrated to Canada with his family when he was 12 years old.

The family settled in Brantford, Ontario, and Tom did a number of jobs before becoming a wrestler. He was a truck driver, a pro swimmer, a weightlifter, and a comedian on skates with a carnival.

As the story goes, during the Second World War, he tried to enlist but was rejected because of his size. Eventually, he became a Merchant Seaman, and travelled back and forth from Britain and North America carrying supplies.

He joined the wrestling ranks in the early fifties and was a major player for a number of years. His 20-year took him across North America, Europe, Japan, South American and Australia.

Thumb retired from the ring in 1962 and moved back to Brantford. He died at 65 in October 1981.

COLLECTING TITLE HISTORIES A STRUGGLE OF WILL

(SLAM! Wrestling, Wednesday, May 31, 2000)

By John F. Molinaro

Pro Wrestling history is a murky subject. Always has been. The shifty nature of the business has made it virtually impossible to properly chronicle its history.

Which is why Gary Will and Royal Duncan are being lauded as two of the most important wrestling historians on the planet. Their book, "Wrestling Title Histories, Fourth Edition", a comprehensive listing and archive of every wrestling title ever, acts as a key to the locked door that is pro wrestling history.

Referred to by many as the most important, historical document in the history of pro wrestling, the book is a labour of love for Will and Duncan.

"It started off ten years ago. Royal Duncan and I started off independently," Will told SLAM! Wrestling recently over the phone from his home in Waterloo. "I was involved in an Internet wrestling discussion group at rec.sport.prowrestling. I started to put together a list of NWA World title holders which in those days, before the web, was around was hard. It wasn't something you could just go and get any time like today."

"I started with that title and sort of built it from there from the magazines I had," continued Will. "At the same time Royal Duncan in Illinois had one of the largest wrestling autograph collections around. He wanted to be able to say who all these guys were whose autographs he had. So he started putting together a list of titles and started calling around people that were involved in wrestling, and got wrestling historians to contribute. In 1991 we got together. I found out about him and he found about me almost simultaneously and we've been working together ever since."

Both had to work the research in around their regular jobs. Will is a technology marketing consultant and writer. Duncan is the president of Royal Publishing Company, which produces sports program book in the U.S.

Compiling a list of every imaginable wrestling title required outside help. Will and Duncan supplemented the information they had with the lists they solicited from others. Developing a network of contributors was essential.

"(There isn't) one individual who has all of the information you need to put together a book like this," confirmed Will. "In fact, no individual has a third or the tenth of the information you need. So you need the help of lots of people. That was really Royal's part of the job was contacting most of the contributors. The majority of people who provided us with information came through Royal calling them up and asking if they'd help out."

Will also said it was hard at first to get people to contribute because people thought they were crazy to take on such an undertaking. But once people saw they were serious, the work became a lot easier.

"After the first edition (in 1992) came out people could see this was a real project and it was easier to get people to contribute after that. We got a lot of contributions just after the first edition."

"Once historians saw this was a real project that was going forward it was very easy to get people to contribute," continued Will. "That's one of the key things about the book; how many people over the last ten years agreed to contribute whatever they could."

People have sent Will and Duncan old wrestling magazines, newsletters and newspaper clippings to read through so that they could add additional listings to each subsequent edition.

"People have sent us a lot of raw information as well," said Will. "Someone sent Royal just about every issue of The Ring magazine from the '30s and '40s and early '50s. Royal photocopied them, sent them to me so I could read through them and pour out all the information. We've done that with a lot of old newsletters and magazines. That's a common approach we've taken over the past ten years."

"The issues of The Ring from the '30s and '20s were very helpful. The Ring gave very thorough coverage to wrestling back then. They covered wrestling in pretty good detail through the '30s up until World War Two. "

Another invaluable source for Will was Dave Meltzer's Wrestling Observer Newsletter.

"The Observer newsletter is always my first pick for information. I've got every issue of that pretty much from when it started in 1980. That was very helpful. There were other newsletters that people sent us as well. Stuff from the '70s, fan bulletins; we got several copies of those over the years."

Carrying out such a daunting task can be frustrating at times. There are many hurdles to overcome.

"Finding the time to do it.. Royal and I don't do this for a living. That's always the hardest thing," admitted Will. "Essentially we both take two or three months each to do this. We both run our own businesses so we can do that but that's always the biggest challenge."

Another challenge is staying motivated.

"You have to keep yourself motivated to want to go through it because the book covers the entire history of wrestling," explains Will. From the 19th century to the present and you have to keep that interest up whether the guy was a Greco Roman title in 1880 or wrestled as champion for some indy promotion you never heard of. You have to keep your interest up and slog through it no matter what your own personal interests lie."

"The time when you get disheartened is when I have two foot piles of file folders of indy promotions I never heard of and wrestlers I never heard of. I still have to go through them and decide if they should be included in the book."

As part of their work, Will and Duncan have raised the shroud over a handful of myths that have circulated as fact the past several decades.

"When we started we couldn't even get an accurate list of the NWA champions. This book was actually the first to have an accurate list of the NWA World champions which did not exist up until we had."

"The list you would always get of NWA champions were inaccurate," continued Will. "They had title changes that never happened. Orville Brown was the first NWA champion but he was never mentioned in any of the lists. It was amazing that you could not get any accurate information about the most historically significant world title in the business."

The book also provided the first accurate listing of WWF World Heavyweight Champions, including Antonio Inoki's title reign in 1979 that was ignored by U.S. promoters and wrestling publications.

"A few years ago Vince Russo who edited the WWF and RAW magazine called me up and said he wanted to use our lists in RAW. I think that was the first time the WWF ever recognized Inoki as WWF world champion."

It wasn't so long ago that the World title would change hands a handful of times each decade. Now, it changes three or four times each month, something that isn't lost on a longtime fan like Will.

"The business has changed now where everything comes down to your rating on Monday, your next pay-per-view buyrate and there's not going to be any patience to leave the belt on anybody for three or five years. That's just never going to happen ever again. I think its hard to imagine a time again where you'll see guys hold the title for three years."

While the book is the best source for the history of wrestling titles, it is by no means complete.

"Even with all of (our work) there are still gaps and there's lots more information out there but it's as complete as we could make it with the help of everybody."

In the book's forward, Gary Will leaves the impression that this will be the final edition of the book in print form. However, he does feel the book will carry on in another medium.

"I'm sure it will continue somehow because I'm not going to delete the file or anything," joked Will. "I'm sure this is the last book that will look like this. Royal and I don't have the time to contribute to it like we did before. Maybe along the lins of a website or a CD. I'm sure somebody along the line somewhere will approach us to make it happen."

(http://www.canoe.ca/SlamWrestlingReviews/garywill.html)

WRESTLING TITLE HISTORIES AN ESSENTIAL RESOURCE

(SLAM! Wrestling, Thursday, May 4, 2000)

Wrestling Title Histories, Fourth Edition
By Gary Will and Royal Duncan
$78 CDN, $57 US

By John F. Molinaro

Lou Thesz. Bruno Sammartino. Dory Funk Jr. Jack Brisco. Verne Gagne. Harley Race. Ric Flair. All the best in the business at their respective times. All legends. All world champions.

David Arquette, husband to "Friends" star Courtney Cox, pitchman for 1-800 Collect... And WCW World Champion.

What's wrong with this picture?

Wrestling may be experiencing a boom business period and it may be the subject of unparalleled coverage in the mainstream media and it may be enjoying unmatched levels of popularity. But....

Never before has the world titles meant so little. Today, the world title is little more than a shoe box of old newspaper clippings and faded memories of better days gone by.

A point that is driven home in spades by Gary Will and Royal Duncan, co-authors of "Wrestling Title Histories, Fourth Edition" ($78 CDN, $57 US).

"Wrestling Title Histories" is the authoritative book on the history of wrestling titles. It's an unbelievable work, documenting and listing the history behind virtually every wrestling title in the world from the late 1800s to today.

But it's much more than a just a book of lists. It's a refreshing commentary on the history of pro wrestling.

Will demonstrates just how little the world title means these days, writing in the introduction that the "WWF (World) title changed hands more times in 1999 than it did in the 1960s and '70s combined. The WCW title changed hands almost as many times in 1999 as the NWA title did in the 20 years from 1960-80."

A staggering and sobering statistic to say the least.

Which makes the sheer magnitude of what Will and Duncan have accomplished with this book all the more amazing. They've gone to painstaking lengths to provide an accurate record and chronological history behind virtually every title in pro wrestling history.

From the national promotions, to every old territory in the U.S and Canada; from the Tunney's Toronto office to Jim Crockett's Mid-Atlantic promotion, every single major territory is accounted for.

And if that's not enough, Will and Duncan took on the Herculean task of listing the champions from promotions outside of North America. From such exotic locales as Argentina, New Zealand and Africa, Will and Duncan leave no stone unturned. For an international wrestling junkie like myself, I found the listings of title holders in Japan and Mexico to be a God-send.

The difficulty of their task can not be understated.

Will addresses the hurdles they had to sidestep in the introduction when he writes "Pro wrestling has several strikes against it that make it impossible to make this book error free -- concocted stories in various media, performers and promoters wager to invent self-serving histories, the different ways to interpret results as simple as 'Smith beat Jones to win the title' not to mention reversed decisions and all the other tools in a promoter's toolbox to have their champion lose but hold on to the belt."

This book, to a large degree, helps alleviate that problem. While it's not a record on the history of the sport per se, it does provide an accurate account of its title holders, giving us one substantial piece of the giant jigsaw puzzle that is pro wrestling history.

Will and Duncan were diligent in their research. They combed through thousands of newspaper clippings, newsletters, old magazines, talked to promoters, ex-wrestlers and historians. Sources were cross referenced to the point of making this just about the most accurate listing of champions you could have.

This book is a miracle. It's significance should not be understated in light of what has been offered by promoters and mainstream media as wrestling history.

Wrestling history has always been a murky subject. For the longest time, it was the wrestling promoters who wrote the history, duping unsuspecting media types into believing their version of the truth. Because of this, there's never been an accurate record of wrestling's true history.

Will proves himself a student of wrestling, and not easily fooled. He openly refutes the revisionist version of pro wrestling history put forth by Vince McMahon and the WWF hype machine. He astutely points out the eronious history that wrestling was a "small-time entertainment playing some-filled legion halls... until the 1980s when Vince McMahon decided that wrestling would be openly presented as entertainment."

Also debunked is the popular notion that "Ted Turner, seeing that the popularity of the WWF product, started his own promotion and used his big bucks to lure the top names away from the WWF."

Amen, brother.

Talking about the poor historical record of pro wrestling, Will writes, "The poor historical record has a self-perpetuating effect because the lack of documentation makes it easier for wrestlers and promoters to give distorted accounts of the history that get passed along by reports and writers who don't know any better."

There's a cynical edge to this book that I clearly identify with. Will continues, "We've been left with a cardboard history of pro wrestling, much of which is widely believed and repeated frequently by media outlets which don't seem to be concerned about accuracy when the subject is something they see as being as frivolous as pro wrestling."

Will clearly has an understanding of the wrestling business and how it works. He accounts for the systematic and deliberate devaluing of the world title by writing "with the injury rates as high as it is now, it would be foolhardy to make an entire promotion center around a single performer to the degree that was possible during Hulk Hogan's five-year reign in the mid-1980s."

"Wrestling Title Histories, Fourth Edition" is the first new edition in five years with 60% more listings than the third edition. This newest edition comes at the perfect time, as my copy of the old book is falling part. I use it so much that the pages have been dog-eared and flipped through to death. It is an invaluable resource material for this reporter and should be a required text for any self-respecting journalist covering pro wrestling.

That's why you shouldn't be scared off by the $78 Cdn. tag price. It's a landmark book that is well worth the price.

Simply put, the 441-page opus is, without a doubt, the single greatest wrestling resource in the entire world. Period. Exclamation point!

WRESTLEVIEW INTERVIEWS TOM PRICHARD

(www.wrestleview.com, January 3, 2001)

By Paul Nemer

Paul Nemer: Last time we saw you on TV was September 27, 1999 when you teamed up with Jeff Jarrett on an Episode of Monday Night Raw when you guys took on Chyna and Debra. Will we see Tom Prichard wrestling once again?

Tom Prichard: Not likely. I would rather leave it up to the young guys who can do what they do like nobody else.

Paul Nemer: What are the similarities and differences between the first Heavenly Bodies (Yourself & Stan Lane) and the second Heavenly Bodies(Yourself and Jimmy Del Ray)?

Tom Prichard: Stan was a easy going funny guy who I got along great with. He wanted to do just enough in the ring and that was cool with me. I knew Stan from my early days as well and when the opportunity came up to work with him and Cornette I thought it was the right place and time. Jimmy Del Ray could do some great stuff in the ring. We got along and thought we had some great matches. We pretty much did our thing in the ring and went our separate ways.

Paul Nemer: By the way, what happened to Jimmy Del Ray, did he retire?

Tom Prichard: He's in Tampa and does some stuff with a independent promotion down there. I saw him our last trip there. His knees were bad when we were working together and I don't think he wrestles much anymore. I understand he's managing a team called the new Heavenly Bodies.

Paul Nemer: How did the Body Donnas Zip gimmick came about?

Tom Prichard: It was one of those things where Jimmy and I had run our course as the Bodies and Smoky Mountain had gone out of business. We had worked some shots in ECW but I wanted something full time and I was ready to agree to ANYTHING to get back in the WWF. The idea was presented to me and I balked at first. I knew Chris and Tammy from Smoky Mountain and after thinking about it I said yes.

Paul Nemer: What is your favorite match that you competed in?

Tom Prichard: I can't pick just one. Every match with Brad Armstrong early on was great. Always enjoyed working with Rock and Roll Express. I think one that stands out was Summer Slam '93 Heavenly Bodies vs. Steiners. We were pumped for that because we thought this would be a place to show we could work with anybody.

Paul Nemer: Which wrestler you would've liked going up against but never faced him?

Tom Prichard: Terry Funk. I was trying to think who of today and yesterday. I worked with most of the guys I wanted to when I broke in and can only really think of one guy I haven't "wrestled" and that would be Terry.

Paul Nemer: Who are some fresh faced newcomers that we should be hearing about in the year 2001?

Tom Prichard: K Kwik is going to make a huge impact. We have some guys in Louisville who hopefully will be ready this year as well. Randy Orton, Russ McCollough and Levithan......Off the top of my head.

Paul Nemer: Will the WWF sign a deal with another NWA promotion in the near future? (They signed with NWA-OVW, NWA-IWA in Puerto Rico)

Tom Prichard: I don't know what NWA promotions are out there that would benifit from signing with the WWF. Those offices you mentioned are where we send/get a lot of the younger talent....

Paul Nemer: Who, in your honest opinion, is the best independent wrestler in the U.S.?

Tom Prichard: I really haven't seen any independent workers or tapes recently.

Paul Nemer: What is your favorite wrestling match of all time?

Tom Prichard: Of all time....The one freshest in my mind is Steve Regal vs. Chris Benoit at last years Pillman Memorial. That was a match where everything was on the money. Perfect timing and storytelling. Triple H's matches always impress me as well.

Paul Nemer: Knowing that Vince McMahon is your boss and all that, give me your honest answer. What are your thoughts on the 1997 Survivor Series Screwjob?

Tom Prichard: I think because Vince is the boss and it is his company he has the right to tell/ask you to do what he wants. Just because you are the "champion" and you hold the "belt" it doesn't mean you can write your own story. Vince did what he did in my opinion to protect himself and the WWF. Bret was going south so how could Vince be absolutly sure he wouldn't take the WWF belt with him? It sucks that it had to turn out the way it did. I can understand the personal animosity between Bret and Shawn. VINCE'S belt. Not Bret's! Vince had every right to ask Bret to drop it and Bret wouldn't.

Name Association

Paul Nemer: Terry Taylor

Tom Prichard: Good guy. Confident. Means well but could be "misinterpeted" at times.

Paul Nemer: Hulk Hogan

Tom Prichard: Most recognized name in the business.

Paul Nemer: Jeff Jarrett

Tom Prichard: Talented. Always works hard and a good friend.

Paul Nemer: Christopher Daniels

Tom Prichard: Very impressive. I hope to see him in the WWF sooner than later.

Paul Nemer: Bret Hart

Tom Prichard: Talented worker. Not nescessarily the best there was, is or ever will be.

Sorry to see him so bitter over everything that has happened.

Paul Nemer: And, finally, Tom Prichard.

Tom Prichard: Happy and lucky to be where I'm at.

WRESTLEVIEW.COM TALKS TO SINISTER MINISTER

(ED. NOTE – Shannon Rose talked with Jim Mitchell, touching a variety of subjects, from Mitchell’s days in SMW to WCW to ECW.)

Shannon Rose: Thank you sir for agreeing to do this interview.

Sinister Minister: It's my pleasure.

Shannon: Why did you decide to get involved in pro wrestling?

Minister: I was a big fan as a kid and I did the whole backyard, neighborhood wrestling alliance thing in grade school. When I got older and became an aspiring singer for several years I incorporated alot of the pro wrestling sensibility into my act. It was just a natural progression. I realized that I enjoyed running my big mouth more than warbling in front of a bunch of drunks in some gin mill, so I just went out and tried to make my goal a reality, which wasn't easy because I had no connections and the business was much more closed and insular than it is today. I was also attracted to the then sleazy, shadowy elements of the business. It seemed as if I was trying to break into the mafia back then. I guess I first started trying to get in around 1986 and it took me two and a half, maybe three years to get on my first show. I didn't even know independent wrestling existed.

Shannon: Who are some of the people responsible for breaking you in?

Minister: On one level, the late Gene Anderson, who eventually got one of my basement promo tapes, thought I had the gift of gab, and pointed me in the right direction. On another I would say the first guys I managed as a team, Rikki Regal and Mikki Free, a couple of good friends of mine to this day, who still work on and off in the carolinas. We went up and down the highway for a long time together and they had the patience to teach me how to bump and smarten me up. My wrestling education, like many guys in the business, was learned by trial and error on the road, as opposed to in a school. Over a period of time I learned my craft and slowly moved up.

Shannon: You worked in Smoky Mountain at one time. What did you do in that promotion?

Minister: I worked as Daryl Van Horn, the name I had been using for about four years at that time, and did a variation of the old Abdullah Farouk gimmick, at least visually. I was managing Prince Kharis the mummy, an abortion of a gimmick for that, and probably any other, promotion. My big stain on the wrestling map during that period was that I broke alot of new ground in terms of pushing the envelope in my promos, content-wise. I went so far over the edge that some of it would still be considered too controversial even by today's standards.

Shannon: How much creative control did you have in your SMW career?

Minister: I didn't book finishes, come up with angles, or anything like that. I was, however, pretty much given carte blanche to say anything I wanted beyond the simple outline of what Cornette needed put across. Essentially he would say, "OK, Prince Kharis is going after the Dirty White Boy's belt in Knoxvillle on such and such a date, then just fill it with whatever sick s**t you want to. Do your thing and pay no attention to them when they try to count you down".

Shannon: What type of person was Jim Cornette to work for?

Minister: He was a bit of a hot-head to some people, but I always got along with him very well for the most part. I've never really been close personal friends with any of the promoters I've worked for, so I didn't know him on that level.

Shannon: In your opinion, what caused the demise of SMW?

Minister: I think, if memory serves me, that his money backer left, for one thing. Another was that he got the wrong kind of heat with the Gangstas tag-team, which I mistakenly predicted would turn his fortunes around.

Shannon: Moving on in your career, let's look at WCW. How did you get hooked up with WCW?

Minister: Thru Kanyon. I helped Kanyon early on in his career and he returned the favor and got me a try out. Dallas Page looked at my tape, showed it to Bischoff, and Bischoff walked over and hired me on the spot.

Shannon: What type of promises were made to you upon your arrival in WCW?

Minister: No promises beyond being paid, as far as Bischoff goes. Depending on who was booking and in the production end of things, the promises varied, but they were all bulls***.

Shannon: When you signed with WCW, did you feel that you would be able to accomplish the goals you had set for yourself in wrestling?

Minister: Well, I pretty much achieved the big goal which was to get on national television and make some real money. I was then, and to this day still am, one of the very few people lucky enough to make a comfortable living as a wrestling manager. That was a quantum leap from where I had been. As far as the other goals, career-wise, WCW wasn't exactly a nurturing environment. I do think, however, that I was able to really polish up my ringside work during my stint with Mortis. My timing and spots were really good back then because I worked so often and always had Kanyon coming up with neat ways to incorporate me into matches. I used to actually trans myself in and come to house shows I wasn't booked on to work ringside with Kanyon. How's that for dedication?

Shannon: Initially did you have any regrets when you were placed in a program with Mortis (Kanyon) and Wrath (Bryan Clark)?

Minister: I knew it was hokey as hell because it was conceived from the start as something to specifically market to kids and make merchandise, which never came, incidentally. I wouldn't say I had regrets back then, per se, I just would have booked it very differently if I had the magic wand.

Shannon: Did you get along with those two?

Minister: At the time I got along with Kanyon very well professionally but we were not seeing eye to eye personally. It was on and off, but we are best friends again that we don't have to work together everyday. I think he was pissed off back then that I was too busy chasing trim and partying to be despondent about our position. Wrath and I didn't get along professionally because he never liked having a manager really, but we got along very well outside the ring and had alot of fun and adventures.

Shannon: Were there any times in which you felt they (Mortis and Wrath) were holding you back or vice versa?

Minister: They didn't hold me back. The gimmick we were all saddled with the bookers' refusal to push it held us back.

Shannon: As time passed, what type of reasons, if any, were given to you concerning your lack of a push?

Minister: You name it. Guys with masks don't draw. Tag Teams are passe`. Managers don't draw money, so they shouldn't get interview time. The gimmick we created for you guys at the expense of hundreds of thousands of dollars is too silly, so we will only book you as jobbers.

Shannon: Did you have any heat with anyone in particular that caused your lack of push in WCW?

Minister: I am reasonably certain that Sullivan didn't like us, at the time at least, but he had a directive to keep us on television. I generally never have heat with anyone anywhere that I work. I'm too busy having fun to cause trouble. In fact, as sh***y as things were for us in WCW, I still was happy go lucky untill they benched me for two years. That's when I got bitter. As long as I'm being paid well to do the job I enjoy, I don't complain. It was when I didn't have an outlet to be creative and wasn't allowed to work that I got thoroughly disenchanted.

Shannon: What type of relationship did you have with Eric Bischoff?

Minister: Strictly professional with only brief exchanges.

Shannon: Did you leave WCW on your own free will or were you released?

Minister: I was released almost a year ago.

Shannon: Moving on to ECW, what reasons made you want to join ECW?

Minister: I wanted to be in ECW way back in '93. Probably the biggest reason I wasn't there before now was that I was waiting for the mountain to come to me. I wouldn't get off my a** and make a pilgrimage to Philly. I waited on the phone to ring. Trust me, that's not how you get in ECW. From what I can tell, they want to see how serious you are before investing valuable television time in you, which is smart. It's part of the reason they won't be losing 80 million bucks this year. To answer your question, I've always felt that Paul was a brilliant booker and a promo wizard and that he would be able to best nurture my talent.

Shannon: Did Paul Heyman make any promises to you upon your ECW arrival?

Minister: He promised only to pay me and give me an opportunity to go as far as my talent would take me, which is all I've ever wanted.

Shannon: If he made promises, has he lived up them thus far?

Minister: Absolutely. Working for ECW is the best thing that ever happened to my career. When I was in WCW we were doing 4s and 5s in the ratings and I almost never got recognized on the street. ECW does nowhere near those numbers and I get recognized daily. I was at Universal Studios yesterday, as out of gimmick as I could possibly be, with a baseball hat, shorts, and sunglasses and people still came up to me. Point being, perception is reality. In Atlanta I was a background player, a mere afterthought. In ECW I'm given the opportunity to shine and fans see me differently now. Sometimes I shine, sometimes I don't. I've never claimed to hit a home run every time at bat, but at least let me step up to the plate and try. A big fish in a little pond? Perhaps, but at least I'm in a nice clean pond as opposed to the shark tank full of toxic waste from whence I came.

Shannon: You turned down offers to return to WCW. Why did you do so?

Minister: A casual glance at any given week's edition of Nitro should answer that question for you better than words can express.

Shannon: Are you happy with your current Sinister Minister gimmick and your pairing with Mikey Whipwreck and Yoshihiro Tajiri?

Minister: I love my current character. You've only seen one facet so far of many that we can show with the character. People who think that it's a one trick pony with a funny punch-line aren't reading between the lines well enough. I think the character is going to have legs. Besides, I've always personally identified with the devil archetype, so I have a soft spot in my heart for it. I think if you would have asked me a year ago if I thought managing Mikey Whipwreck would be good for my career and and asked him the same about being managed by me, we would have asked you if you were out of your f***ing mind. I suppose Paul saw two twisted minds and joined them. We have been mutually bebeficial for each other's careers. Mikey is great and a damn good performer in the ring. He's funny as hell and has tremendous comic timing. I also think part of his appeal is that he looks like the average Joe, with the exception of the red hair. Fans can identify with him moreso than a muscled-up monster. It's like watching Ron Jeremy bang some hot broad-"There's hope for me yet!" As far as Tajiri goes, I always wanted to manage him from the day I first saw him. He's a phenomenal talent. I was astounded at the chemistry those guys had during the tag tournament. I honestly expected it to just be a make-shift team for the tournament, but they looked as if they had been together for years. The reaction Mikey and Tajiri got the night they won was incredible.

Shannon: What differences can you see between the backstages of WCW and ECW?

Minister: Night and day. ECW is a happy dysfunctional family, as Tommy Dreamer always says. WCW is a cluster****. Speaking of Dreamer, and not to sound like a corporate suck up, but he is a genuinely good guy and really cares about our product, not just his own stuff. He keeps the troops in line and critiques everybody's matches. He works particularly close with the younger guys. He's the voice of reason. If WCW had one selfless guy in their locker room like Dreamer their morale would be much higher.

Shannon: Would you ever consider going to the WWF?

Minister: If the time were right, perhaps. Who wouldn't at least think about it? I think that I have many years left ahead of me in ECW. As I've said many times before, I'm re-learning my craft and falling in love with wrestling all over again. I want ECW to be a major chapter of my career, if not the pinnacle, and not just a stop along the way to something else.

Shannon: What type of reaction did people backstage in ECW have when Mike Awesome jumped to WCW?

Minister: I can't speak for everyone, but I think most felt as if the quarterback walked off the field during the fourth quarter of the big game. I liked Mike and was disappointed to see him go, especially in the manner he did.

Shannon: How have most people in ECW reacted to TNN's lack of support {Editor's Note: This interview took place many months back}?

Minister: The way you would imagine.

Shannon: How do you feel about TNN?

Minister: Given the current legal situation, I should probably refrain from comment.

Shannon: What network would you like to see ECW wind up on?

Minister: NBC! Barring that, USA would be the network of choice. They have a long history of wrestling programming and would do it right.

Shannon: Do you think ECW could survive without a national TV deal?

Minister: They did it before. If nothing else, this is a company of survivors.

Shannon: What are your feelings on the XPW incident from Heat Wave 2000?

Minister: It was unprofessional, bush league bull**** on the part of the XPW crowd. It reminded me of my rock and roll days when rival bands would come crash our gigs and start sh** just to get noticed. They would bring their own big haired groupies who would start s*** with ours. All of their fans wore the home made t shirts. Ultimately fights broke out because somebody threw something or shoved somebody. They would get their a**es kicked and we would go back to playing. The Heat Wave incident brings to mind one of my favorite quotes from Anton LaVey. "If a guest in your lair annoys you, treat him cruelly and without mercy".

Shannon: Do you believe that the XPW wrestlers in the incident killed their chances of making it to the big 3 with their actions at Heat Wave?

Minister: They had no chances beforehand, and certainly not now. Black may be a fine pornographer, I don't know. I've not had the opportunity to sample any of his stroke tapes, but his wrestling product is garbage. It looks like every bush league indy operation with a bunch of fat guys running around cutting bad promos. The only difference is they have porn chicks all over the place and are on television. Otherwise they would be indistinguishable from every flea market promotion in rural america. Actually, I've already wasted entirely too much time dignifying their existence by discussing them at all, so consider these to be my first and final words on the subject.

Shannon: How would you compare Paul Heyman to Eric Bischoff?

Minister: Like Vince McMahon to Lucille Ball. Paul is a guy with wrestling in his blood. It's what he loves. It's what he does. It's what he is. Eric reminds me of Lucy on the old TV show, always trying to weasle her way into show business.

Shannon: Finally, where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Minister: Hopefully sandwiched between a couple of overweight, voluptuous blondes! (laughs)

Shannon: Once again thank you for your time. Best of luck in ECW and in your future!

Minister: You're welcome, Shannon.

WAWLI REDUX No. 75...

STASIAK EXPLAINS TAPING CONVERSATIONS

(SLAM! Wrestling, Friday, May 19, 2000)

By Greg Oliver

Shawn Stasiak wants his side of the story told. Yes, he was caught taping a conversation in the WWF and was fired shortly thereafter. But there's much more to the story than just that.

The entire situation turned out to be a huge learning experience for Stasiak, a reminder of how the world of business differs from the fun hijinks of college life.

"It was my own mistake, though. I'm not blaming anybody. I'm not blaming the WWF. I'm a little bit upset and bitter ..." he said trailing off in thought before continuing. "Man, what a harsh business for them just to throw you out and say you're done."

So what exactly happened? To understand the whole story, one has to go back before the 'incident' that got Stasiak fired.

As a graduate of Boise State University in Communications, specializing in audio and video productions, Stasiak had always fooled around with tape recorders and video cameras. He has one in his apartment to work on promos and gimmicks. On a couple of occasions, he did bring a recorder to the WWF locker room to show the other wrestlers.

"I remember I was playing it in the lockerroom one day, just goofing around playing it for The Big Show I think, and Bulldog," Stasiak explained. "I said 'Listen to this.' I was just doing some voices. They just looked at me like 'You're nuts kid.'"

Before one trip, he just threw the tape recorder in his gym bag to take with him, not giving much thought to it.

A short while later, Stasiak was in a car with Steve Blackman and The British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith in Montreal, trying to find their destination.

Stasiak takes over the telling of the story:

"We're in the car and those guys, Blackman and Bulldog are arguing. It's in French. They're getting pissed off. Steve Blackman is an irritable person to be around, just period in general. I guess he was like hungry, and tired. Sometimes this business is just a pain in the ass. The travelling and you don't get to eat right, and you don't know where you're going and you're lost. It just kind of ads fuel to the fire."

"We're pulling around asking people for directions and everyone's speaking French, no one speaks English. I thought it was kind of humorous. I'm going to catch this on tape for a joke and play it back for them to say 'This is what you guys sounded like -- like a bunch of girls arguing today."

Later, he taped some more at the Montreal airport.

"Where I went wrong was that I had it out in the Montreal airport, recording Blackman. I said 'Hey Steve, what do you think of the Montreal airport?' He said, 'You weren't recording that, were you?! You weren't recording in the car with that were you?' Just the way he looked at me, the way he approached me, honest to God, it scared me. At that point I realized that he didn't know who I was, and I don't know who they are. It was my mistake. I shouldn't have had that thing out there because they're going to take it the wrong way. Even though my attempt was just to have fun, that's all it was for."

Over and over, Stasiak insisted that things got "blown completely out of proportion."

"I meant absolutely no harm by what I did. I wasn't working for any company. I wasn't working for Hard Copy. I wasn't working for WCW. I wasn't blackmailing anybody. I had no perogative, no motive whatsoever to do anyone harm. The problem with this business is that it's a paranoid business. And among the boys, the wrestlers, there's a lot of talk. You sometimes share sacred stuff. There's just certain truths that you just don't cross. I guess because I was new, no one quite knew who I was, I think the rib, the joke that I was playing on a couple of people obviously got taken the wrong way. It was my mistake for doing what I did. But anyone who's known me, or if they knew me for who I really was, they would realize that they had absolutely nothing to worry about. There was nothing, no motive behind that whatsoever."

Stasiak claimed that it's just part of his personality to fool around and record things. "My major in college was communications, audio-video productions. So come on, that's just me! I've always just goofed around with video cameras, audio. I just like making my own little productions of people. I like to send people tapes instead of writing letters. It's just part of entertaining, part of my personality."

Word spread quickly through the WWF locker room about the incident. At first reluctant to place blame on anyone in particular for his firing, Stasiak eventually tells what he thinks happened.

"I hear that Bulldog got in Vince [McMahon]'s ear and said that he's not going to be good for the locker room. The boys are going to be pissed off."

Two weeks after the Montreal incident, Stasiak was fired for unprofessional conduct. He was given six-weeks of severance pay.

"I lost my job, I lost my dream, which was to be in the WWF. I think it was a bit extreme for them to do what they did," he said.

He went to every individual on the WWF roster to explain to them what happened. Some didn't even want to hear his side. "Mick Foley was especially nice and concerned. A couple of others. Kurt Angle, who's a friend of mine. I think that everybody realized that I meant no harm by what I did. It was just a stupid thing to do."

But he never got an audience with the powers that be in the WWF. "Vince McMahon and Shane McMahon never even gave me two minutes of their time to even explain myself, to talk. Nothing. That, to me, hurts a lot."

In the crazy world of wrestling, however, Stasiak would not go so far as to say that he would never work for the WWF again. In fact, he's thankful to them for his career. "I'm very, very grateful to the WWF. They trained me, and they spent all that time and money and effort into me by getting me ready for that Meat thing. But that's what makes it even more surprising and more shocking to me."

Initially after his release, Stasiak was concerned about being blackballed from wrestling, that some taboo had been broken and that he would be unable to find work. He got nibbles from WCW, but was constantly frustrated by the front office situation, and never had any idea whom he should be pitching himself to until Vince Russo and Eric Bischoff came to power recently. Before getting hired in WCW, he was sent to the Power Plant to train with Paul Orndorff for two weeks.

Once on the roster, he knew that he would have to face up to his mistake from the past, and knew that the wrestlers would be very wary of him.

"I still sense among certain people that I am not very well received. They're not mean to me, but I can just tell those who come around more than those who don't," Stasiak said. "It's just going to take some time. But I can't pull people's teeth to get them to like me."

One of the first to ask him about the situation was Curt Hennig, with whom he is currently feuding with in WCW. "I think in time, they're going to realize who I am as a person. I'm not some piece of shit that records people's conversations in locker rooms like they were making it out to be in the WWF."

"It's very frustrating and it's caused me a tremendous amount of grief. It was something that I meant absolutely no harm by."

PROFILE OF A SECOND-GENERATION PRO WRESTLER

(SLAM! Wrestling, Friday, May 19, 2000)

By Greg Oliver

It was always in the back of Shawn Stipich's mind that one day he would follow his father, former WWWF World champion Stan 'The Man' Stasiak, into pro wrestling. It just took a little longer than he thought it would.

"I kind of dilly-dallied around out of high school, I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do. I knew deep, back in my mind that I said, 'Wrestling will probably always be there for me because it's in my blood.' Then it sort of hit me while I was in college," the current 'Perfect One' Shawn Stasiak told SLAM! Wrestling. "I was 25 years old and thinking, then I'm 26 and said 'I've got to do this.' So I was kind of in a battle with myself: Why am I doing this college crap? I wanted to get my degree. That's what kept me in school."

School was Boise State University in Idaho, where he studied Communications, with an emphasis on video and audio productions and competed on the wrestling team.

Stasiak, now 29, got involved in high school wrestling while living in Canada. "I just wanted to do something that had the word 'wrestling.' Of course I didn't realize until I got into it that it was a completely different thing. But I started doing well and liking it."

While at White Oaks Secondary School in Oakville, he was a provincial champion in OSFSA in 1990 in the 130 kg weight class. In club wrestling, he was Ontario Espoir champion in 1990 at 130 kg, and placed second the same year nationally at a meeting in Pierrefonds, PQ.

The success continued at Boise State, where he finished second in the Pac-10 championships two years in a row. A dual Canadian and U.S. citizen, Stasiak also went to the NCAAs ranked in the top 12 in the United States out of all Division-1 schools.

"I didn't quite achieve the goals I wanted to in college wrestling. Partly it was a transition to go from freestyle all through high school to the college ranks, which is very, very tough and competitive," he said. "So they were accustomed to those rules. So for someone coming over from freestyle, it was an adjustment, especially if you're making the transition later, at such a high level. I still managed to do well through conditioning and just my takedowns."

Shortly after graduation, his father passed away from heart failure. A few months later, Stasiak had sent in a tryout tape to the WWF. He had only ever wrestled a handful of times for Sandy Barr out in Oregon. But he had a pretty good physique and was the son of a former WWWF world champ.

The video tape didn't have any wrestling on, just promos that Stasiak had done while at college. One of the segments was his Halloween character Phobia on Channel 7 news telling kids safety rules for trick-or-treating.

In October 1997, Stasiak had a tryout at the WWF headquarters in Stamford, CT. He got called back in January 1998 and started training full-time with Tom Pritchard. A short while later, Dory Funk Jr. began running his Funkin' Dojos with the WWF and Stasiak got a chance to train with future WWF stars like Edge, Christian, Test, Prince Albert, Val Venis and more. In all, he spent 10 months at the camps.

"I think I hold the record for most dojos participated in," Stasiak laughed. "Every day we'd bump at least 150 times. They were pretty brutal. For someone who never really had much extensive professional wrestling training, and not used to bumping, the first couple were just unbelievably brutal."

Eventually, he was sent to Memphis for seasoning, where he roomed with Prince Albert (now just 'A' of T&A). They both got the call to the WWF at the same time after WrestleMania XV.

He was dubbed Meat, and his lineage was virtually ignored.

It was a weird situation for Stasiak. "Being around your dad, who's a wrestler, all your life and anticipating to do this [wrestle], I just didn't anticipate being called Meat. But then the way I looked at it was, hey, they're giving me an opportunity here in the WWF to finally get on TV. They obviously feel I'm ready to contribute to their show. It's a gimmick. It won't last forever. I just looked at it as an opportunity to finally get on board."

Being on the road gave him new respect for the wrestlers he admired growing up like Paul Orndorff, Ultimate Warrior, Rick Rude and Lex Luger -- all wrestlers with better physiques. "I could appreciate what they had to go through as far as travelling, working the shows and still maintaining that kind of build was tremendous."

The Meat gimmick eventually morphed into just Shawn Stasiak, but still he didn't really click in the WWF.

Using the heart punch as a finisher like his father did was discussed. "I've thought about [using it]," Stasiak said. "I know that in the WWF I was kind of discouraged by Vince [McMahon]. I don't know why, he didn't really give me an explanation." Instead, the WWF wanted Stasiak to use his athleticism to get himself over.

Could the heart punch still get over as a finishing move in today's wrestling? Stasiak believes so. "I think it just depends if they played it up right, [if] they gave a little history about what it did. It's actually a martial arts move that's done in the Orient that would actually put people away," he said.

"I thought maybe that it's a little too simplistic, but then again, what's a Stone Cold Stunner? What's a People's Elbow? I think it's just how someone would go into it. I think that if I milked it right, maybe not necessarily as a finisher, but a signature move, like Hunter's knee-to-the-chest to turn the match around kind of thing."

Talking about the heart punch gets Stasiak pumped up. "If the commentators are really pushing the crap out of it, and the guys are selling it the way that I go into it, educate the fans a little bit on the history of it ... There's actually been a few people [who] try to imitate it, but no one can quite do it right. There's only one way to do it, and it remains a secret in the Stasiak family."

Shawn Stasiak's dreams of becoming the first father-son WWF World champions in history were dashed when he made a mistake taping a few conversations and was released by the WWF for 'unprofessional conduct.' [More on this tomorrow.]

"My dad was the fifth wrestler in the history of that company to become the WWF champion. Back then it was the WWWF champ. Even though it's a worked business, it's entertainment, but to me that's pride. I had pride in the WWF that if I were ever to attain that goal one day to become the WWF champion, it would be the first time in history that a father-son duo ever held that title."

SCOTT KEITH’S BOOK HAS PLENTY OF PUNCH

(Edmonton Sun, Feb. 5, 2001)

By Michael Jenkinson

Twenty-six-year-old Edmonton resident Scott Keith has launched his literary career on the unlikeliest of subjects. He's written an intelligent, insightful and interesting book about professional wrestling.

At the moment, Keith may be an unknown in his own home town, but he's quite well-known in cyberspace where he has written articles and columns for a number of professional wrestling Web sites, including his own Web page, Rantsylvania.com.

Last year, he was given a chance to put his vast knowledge of the sport and spectacle that is professional grappling to work for real (which is to say, for money). The result is The Buzz on Professional Wrestling, a history of the "modern" era of wrestling, from about 1980 to the present.

Writing about Buzz is full of conflicts of interest for me, so I'll be upfront about all of them. I've known Keith for years. I like his writing. He was kind enough to let me read and critique the finished draft of his book before it was sent to the publisher.

Still, whatever little objectivity I have left says this is a great book. I devoured the draft copy in about two readings, reliving the long-forgotten exploits of wrestlers I watched in my youth.

The final version, the one which went on sale last Thursday, is laid out in an easy-to-read format, chock full of pictures and just as good a read as the plain-paper draft I saw last fall.

The book is organized both chronologically and by subject, going through the last two decades of wrestling history while stopping from time to time to focus on some of the biggest and most influential names to have entered the squared circle, like Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, Bret Hart and Steve Austin.

But a book on who won and who lost in a fixed sport isn't particularly interesting until you know why a particular wrestler won or lost, and that's where Buzz truly shines. Keith brings the reader behind the scenes, where the real battles take place. For what goes on in the dressing room and booking meetings is far more important than the scripted matches played out night after night in front of the paying audience.

Like the time Ric Flair, recognized as the world champion by the Atlanta-based World Championship Wrestling, was pinned in Japan by Tatsumi Fujinami in a title match. By the long-established "rules" of pro wrestling, Fujinami should have been the WCW champion.

But WCW didn't recognize the title change for political reasons you'll have to buy the book to read about (it's too long and complicated to get into here).

Or the infamous Montreal double-cross, where Vince McMahon, head of the World Wrestling Federation, took his world title belt off Canadian hero Bret Hart in a match where Bret thought he was going to keep the belt. In a nutshell, Bret was leaving for rival WCW, and McMahon was scared he was going to show up on WCW's TV show with the WWF title belt. To prevent that from happening, McMahon changed the outcome of the match - and never told Bret. Even for a wrestling match, it was "fixed."

When discussing one of these complicated backstage political power struggles manifesting itself in a bizarre in-ring outcome, Keith notes in the book that "Stuff like this happens all the time in wrestling, and it's best not to dwell on it too long."

Though re-reading Buzz last week, it was impossible not to dwell on that kind of thing for too long, as the book demonstrates a wrestler's destiny is more likely to be determined by who his friends are in the dressing room and whether he's chummy with the guy writing the scripts than whether the fans buy his T-shirts and chant his name while he wrestles.

There have been a lot of quick-and-dirty books put out in the last couple of years by publishers hoping to capitalize on the popularity of pro wrestling. But none can hold a candle to The Buzz on Professional Wrestling, the best book of its kind on the market today.

At the moment, The Buzz on Professional Wrestling can be ordered in Canada through Amazon.com, though Keith tells me Chapters will soon be offering it as a special-order item for Canadian customers.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Keith is already working on a book specifically about the WWF. It's expected to be published early next year.

MARK MADDEN HAS A BIG MOUTH

(WOW Magazine, December 2000)

By Bill Apter

Mark Madden has a big mouth! Madden’s tirades have gotten him in severe trouble many times, but they have also been his ticket to successful forays as a journalist. He toiled for 15 years at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and for various sports magazines. He also hosts a general interest sports show on ESPN Radio 1250 in Pittsburgh.

"The best way to describe the show is kind of like Howard Stern meets Howard Cosell," said Madden. "It’s controversial at times and always fun."

To wrestling fans, Madden is one of the members of the three-man World Championship Wrestling Monday Nitro broadcast team with Tony Schiavone and Scott Hudson. Recently, Bill Apter interviewed Madden about his perspective from behind the announcers’ table.

Q. How did you get started in the wrestling business?

A. I wrote for some of the sheets, the newsletters. I wrote for Pro Wrestling Torch in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1994, I spoke with Eric Bischoff, and he told me that he liked the stuff I wrote. He hired me to do the hotline for WCW one day a week. That grew into opportunities [with] the magazine, [with] the Internet, any place I could get involved. The Internet enabled me to do live Webcasts, pre-game shows for pay-per-views and occasional Nitros. In January 2000, Bobby Heenan had to beg off a Nitro show due to illness, and I was called in at the last minute as his replacement. I have been on the show ever since.

Q. You work for WCW, the underdog in the ratings war against the WWF. What’s your reaction to this?

A. Everything is cyclical. Lately we have put together some decent momentum. We do have some decent storylines together with new wrestlers that the public hasn’t necessarily grown jaded watching. I think [that] will carry us into the future.

Q. Wrestlers like whom?

A. I particularly like Lance Storm. I think Mike Awesome, once we finally find a gimmick that is comfortable to him, will be one of those guys. The Natural Born Thrillers group has that potential, but they’re not there yet. Captain Rection is going to get there. Scott Steiner is a talent who has gone from just below the top to the very top. There are a lot of guys with a lot of potential, and now is the time to see who gets over more than the others. I think – and this is just a guess – that we may narrow our focus and put some of those guys on the very top. Right now we are trying to find out who belongs on what level, and everybody is being given the chance. That’s important for this product to grow, because there may be some things you can criticize WCW for, but being stale is not one of them. We’re seeing new faces doing different things out there, and I think that’s very important.

Q. You talk about the new talent, and that brings to mind some of the veterans who have been through the company. Is WCW better without Hulk Hogan’s presence?

A. That’s a really tough question to answer, because the guy is unquestionably the greatest draw in wrestling history. With that said, the chance to expose new faces is more important than exposing the same old faces, if you want to include Hogan in that grouping. I think right now the morale of a lot of the younger guys is a lot better.

Q. Is that because some of the veterans are gone?

A. Well, not so much because they’re gone, but since they’re gone, the younger guys are getting a much bigger chance. They know they are going to get their opportunity to succeed or fail on their own merits. With the veterans on TV all the time, the younger guys perceived that the opportunity might have never come. That makes morale here a lot better. The younger guys believe now that they can help the company get back near the top. Suddenly the older guys [who were] doing the same things they had been doing on TV for years look at the ratings [and see] they weren’t going anywhere.

Q. Who do you see promoting that positive attitude?

A. Kevin Nash. He is a leader just through what he does and how he acts.

Q. Some people call him "lazy."

A. Nash could do more standing still in a match than a lot of guys can do running around. It’s like the Road Runner cartoon character. He knows psychology. He is not lazy. I’ve heard some people don’t think he’s a team player, and that’s not true. He’s one of the biggest team players I have ever worked with in wrestling. He’s done a lot of jobs, he’s advanced a lot of guys and he’s put a lot of people over.

Q. How has he helped you?

A. Encouragement. He has suggested a few things. My gimmick, the beach guy with the loud shirts and glasses, the ugly fat guy who thinks he is so good looking, that was Kevin’s ideA. Nash, Scott Hall and Sean Waltman [X-Pac] are three guys in this business who are really my loyal friends. Even if you don’t talk to them every day, they are with you 24 hours a day. If you ever need them, they would be there for you. There was an instance in 1998 where I was let go from WCW for seven weeks because I said some things on the hotline the company didn’t like. Well, Kevin and Scott made themselves very vocal and made it very clear to the people who could help me to let me back, that I was needed here.

Seven weeks later I was back. There was one person who didn’t want me back, who told me, ‘You have Kevin Nash and Scott Hall to thank for this because they wouldn’t let the dust settle until they brought you back.’ That’s why you hear me on TV talking about bringing Scott back to WCW. I mention Scott’s name as much as I can trying to repay the favor to my friend. Think not what has happened with him in the past, but think what he can do for the company. Look at all the people who, each week, hold up signs in the crowd with Scott’s ‘Hey yo’ catchphrase. I don’t know about the problems on the executive end, and I respect whatever decision the company makes about Scott in terms of what goes on in front of the camera, [but] we could use Scott Hall back because he’s a great performer. He’s the best working guy his size. His interviews are great, and the crowd loves him.

Q. Do you have any input in the creative side of WCW?

A. Sometimes I will make just a wild, stupid suggestion that pretty much gets booed out of wherever I present it. No, I don’t have creative input nor do I want it. One thing I learned from Bischoff is, while it is very easy to come up with one idea for one day, to make that idea flow into the next show, and the next show and the next show is a totally different thing. I came up with what I thought was a really good idea to have Bret Hart turn babyface and join The Four Horsemen after his ‘Wrestling With Shadows’ documentary movie came out on A&E. I presented the idea to Eric, and he said, ‘That’s a really good idea, [but] where do we go after that?’ I didn’t know. The creative process is the hardest thing about the business. I do contribute an uninvited idea here and there, but I can’t think of anything significant I have [suggested] that has been used on TV.

Q. What is the best part and worst part of your job?

A. I don’t think there is a worst part. I could complain about the travel, but I travel one day a week when most of the [wrestlers] are bustin’ their rear ends doing physical stuff three or four times a week. The best thing about this job is that I enjoy doing it more than anything I have ever done. The guys like Ric Flair, Chris Jericho, Konnan – they and so many others are so great. There are only one or two I have met in this business I don’t like. Considering the amount of people I work with, that’s pretty good. I am a big self-critic, so I don’t think I do too many great shows. But when one comes along, I feel like I just won the Super Bowl.

Q. Which broadcasters do you watch and like?

A. Aside from those in our company, I think Jerry Lawler is unbelievable. The best thing about him is his consistency. I watch tapes of him, not just from now, but all through his career. It’s funny when people tell me they think I’m copying Jerry’s style. I take that as a compliment. Another really big influence has been from watching tapes of Extreme Championship Wrestling’s Paul Heyman from his WCW commentary days. Many fans have told me my speech pattern and delivery is the same as Paul’s. But that is my natural speech pattern, so why not listen to him and do the stuff that he did? The other guy is Bobby Heenan. I don’t have to watch Bobby on tape because I watched him on TV my whole life. Bobby, Jerry and Paul are my three favorites. I like Joey Styles, too, and Joel Gertner. The guy who I feel is real underrated right now is ‘Jackyl,’ Don Callis. He should be doing color commentary somewhere for somebody.

INTERVIEW WITH LILLIAN GARCIA

(WOW Magazine, December, 2000)

(ED. NOTE – Garcia talks about her singing aspirations, her fluency in Spanish and her experience as the first full-time, female ring announcer for the WWF.)

Q. You’ve sung the national anthem at the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City, at Wrestlemania and now in Wrigley Field, the baseball shrine of the Chicago Cubs, to name a few. Which has stood out the most?

A. I wish I could say one, but they are all so individual. There I was in New York, on Fifth Avenue lined with people getting ready to start the parade – that’s a whole experience. Then I was in the middle of the ring at Wrestlemania in Anaheim [Calif.], completely sold out – that was an unbelievable experience. And now here I am at a ballfield. They’ve all been quite an experience.

Q. What went through your mind after Vince McMahon named you the singer of the national anthem at Wrestlemania this year?

A. At first I couldn’t believe it. I keep asking, ‘I am? I am?’ When it sunk in, I went into tears. Before me, Aretha Franklin, Boyz II Men, Gladys Knight and Reba McEntire sang it. What acts to follow! It was very emotional.

Q. You are an aspiring recording artist. What’s the story?

A. I formed a band under my name. When I started with the WWF [in August 1999], I had to put that on the back burner. But as soon as I get home from WWF events, I go straight into the recording studio, which has been very exciting. I’ve always kept myself in the studio recording songs I’ve either co-written or songs that have come to me that I really believe in. I just finished recording three tunes that I really like, but now that I hear them I think, ‘No, maybe we should go in this direction.’ So it’s always good to get into the studio, because you can fine tune things and see where your niche is. And I think I’m closer to that. It would be a dream come true to release a CD. The fans now have gotten to know me as a singer, and they are all asking, ‘Where’s the CD?’

Q. Who are your favorite singers or bands?

A. I’m widespread as far as the type of music I like. When I was little, my mom was always playing Karen Carpenter. I’ve always liked listening to her, because she has such a sultry voice. Growing up I loved Pat Benatar, she was one of my favorites. I still put her CDs in. She just sings with so much attitude. I loved the band Heart. Now I listen to Matchbox Twenty. They are my favorite band out there right now. I would love to do a duet with Rob Thomas some day. I even like to listen to Shania Twain. I don’t listen to a lot of country, but she’s a nice crossover. I love to see her perform; she’s a true performer.

Q. How else have you used your singing abilities?

A. Since I grew up in Spain, I’m fluent in Spanish. I did a JC Penney commercial in Spanish and an ad for the soft drink Squirt. In English, I did a lot of stuff for Toyota, McDonald’s, KFC and TV commercials for a fitness place and some radio voiceovers.

Q. Why did you grow up in Spain? What’s the connection?

A. I was raised in Spain [lived there for eight years]. My dad was in the Army, so I’m an Army brat. Plus, my dad was from Puerto Rico. I’m also hoping to sing some tunes in Spanish. I’m very excited that I am fluent and that I can do that, because it’s such a big thing right now. The Latino community has embraced me, so I hope I can work that into my music, too.

Q. Were you a wrestling fan growing up?

A. Yes, my dad and I used to watch it and go to some of the live events. My favorite was Andre The Giant. I also liked Ric Flair. I didn’t have the seat I have now, but I remember seeing Andre The Giant from way up in the bleachers. The biggest joy for me in this job is seeing my dad’s reaction. I asked him, ‘Dad, did you ever imagine that I would some day be in the ring doing the announcing?’ He gets a kick out of it every week. My mom and dad sit in front of the tube every Monday and Thursday. And my mom always says, ‘I loved the outfit you were wearing.’ She’s always the outfit guru.

Q. What was your debut like in the WWF as the ring announcer?

A. It was Aug. 23, 1999, the day after SummerSlam [on RAW]. I was supposed to debut at SummerSlam, but I was in the Dominican Republic on a mixed vacation/singing trip. I went the day after to Iowa State University, and I didn’t know until that day that I was actually going to be ring announcing that night. When I did the audition, I was doing more backstage interviewing. But they said that afternoon, ‘By the way, we are going to have you be the ring announcer during RAW.’ I had a mixed reaction. It was great that I was going to be on TV, but I’d be ring announcing – something I’d never done in my life. It was very scary. And the fans were like, ‘Oh my god, who is this? She’s horrible.’ I was thrown at the cash register without knowing what the buttons were for. But everybody gave me a chance to get to know it, and I feel so great about it now. I just have so much fun.

Q. What’s the strangest thing that has happened to you while ring announcing or sitting ringside during the matches?

A. You just never know when the matches are going to start right in front of you. You have to keep your eyes open. Sometimes The Dudley Boyz will chase me. You have to watch out, because the next thing you know you could be going through a table. The other day when I was sitting at ringside, all of a sudden Kane jumps out of the ring and comes straight toward me. He yelled, ‘Get up!’ and grabbed my chair and hit someone with it. And when Tazz was going at Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross, thank goodness I backed away, because next thing you know he was landing on my chair and I had just moved away. You have to stay on your toes at ringside. But I have the best seat in the house.

Q. Do you want to get involved in WWF storylines or remain an announcer and backstage interviewer?

A. I think it’s cool the way it is now. They involve me sometimes, like Jeff Jarrett got me in the figure-four leglock the first time I joined the WWF. But I do like how the characters have their own identities and storylines, and yet I am myself there. It’s a good thing that it’s separated like that. It’s dangerous to get involved; I like to keep healthy. Singing the anthem at every live event and ring announcing is enough for me. I’m having a fun time with it.

Q. As a female employed by the WWF, how do you react to critics who complain about the adult-oriented storylines?

A. When anything is doing really well, someone always wants to try to bring it down. We are doing really well, and some people want to nitpick at that. There are so many shows out there that are very racy. Everybody has a remote control; they can decide to turn it off if they don’t like it. Coming at us and degrading us as a whole isn’t the right way to approach it. Every parent has to decide what is right for his or her kid and to teach them that this isn’t real. We always say, ‘These are professionals, don’t try this at home.’ That’s all we can do. The girls who participate in the WWF who show their cleavage do it because they want to. Nobody’s making them do that. I dress more conservatively, but I choose to do that. And no one’s ever told me, ‘You have to show more.’

Q. What are your overall impressions after your one-year anniversary in the WWF?

A. It’s been an unbelievable experience. As a female ring announcer and interviewer backstage, it’s great that not only have they accepted me, but the guys don’t care that a woman is doing the interviewing. It could have been an issue with the fans, too, but they’ve accepted me. It’s been a really tight-knit group, with the wrestlers and the girls in the locker room. Everybody wants it to work, and it’s such a great atmosphere. We look forward to going to work.

WAWLI REDUX No. 76...

SUPERSTAR BILLY GRAHAM: RING LEGEND

(SLAM! Wrestling, Tuesday, July 4, 2000)

By Chris Schramm

He won the title, and he lost the title in the same manner: with his leg on the ropes. Billy Graham's WWF (then the WWWF) World title reign might have started and ended in controversial manner, but his reign and effect in wrestling is still relevant today.

Scott Steiner, Hulk Hogan and even Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura have mentioned Billy Graham, nicknamed Superstar, as a major influence in their wrestling persona.

He is not an evangelist, but he chose his name based on the famed religious television evangelist, Billy Graham.

He recently has spoken out against steroid use in sports based on his own experiences. Numerous surgeries, two artificial hips, a fused ankle and living his life in constant pain has brought him into a new knowledge of the drug he used to use to get ahead, to a drug that ultimately led him to money, fame and the world title.

Billy Graham, who grew up Wayne Coleman in Arizona, was not an amateur wrestler. He was a track and field star in high school, and he was training for the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. He threw shot-put, discus and developed his awesome physique early in his life.

He had no real goals out of high school. He moved to Los Angeles, but he could never find a steady job.

"I worked as a bouncer and other odd jobs," Graham recalled for SLAM! Wrestling.

He was never a real fan of wrestling. He watched it back in the 1950s, but he never thought of getting involved in the sport.

He remembered Sky High Lee when he was growing up. Lee used to take darts to his back on television. "Long before Mick Foley," Billy Graham said.

He found out after he met his wife, Valerie, in 1976 that Lee was Valerie's second cousin.

His first connection to wrestling came, though, while he was working in California during late 1969. Bob Lueck, who played for the Calgary Stampeders, asked Graham to come with him back to Calgary and give wrestling a try.

Graham had no idea who he was getting involved with when Stu Hart invited him to train in the infamous Dungeon.

"He had no fat and looked like he was holding regulation footballs in his arms," Stu Hart recalled to SLAM! Wrestling. "He was the most impressive specimen I've seen in my life."

"I felt this was for me," Graham recalled about his first days there.

His first gimmick was more of a toughman. Coming from a weightlifting background, Graham was thrown into challenge fans in an arm-wrestling match. Anyone who could beat the Superstar would win $1,000.

Graham was honoured to have started with Stu Hart, whom Graham still stays in contact with.

"I saw the bloodstains on the walls and the mats when I walked in," Graham said about his first look at the Dungeon.

Hart knew Graham had a future. "I've wrestled with a lot of strong fellows and never seen a fellow that muscular and that strong. I was impressed with his strength," Hart recalled of his brush with the Superstar. "He was officially the strongest man in the world at the time. He could benchpress 650 pounds and could lie on a bench and (lift) 350 pounds over his head. That was almost unheard of, no question about it."

When it was time from Graham to head into the ring for action, he started under his real name Wayne Coleman.

It was the summer of 1970 that he met a wrestler named Dr. Jerry Graham.

Graham, who was an established wrestler across the world, asked Coleman to become "a brother." Wayne Coleman then took the name Billy Graham based off Jerry Graham's last name and the famous evangelist Billy Graham.

The nickname Superstar came in 1972 based from the rock opera that was really huge at the time, Jesus Christ Superstar.

Fans watch Pat Patterson every week on WWF RAW, but too few know Patterson's rich wrestling history that dates back to the 1960s. Graham and Patterson teamed to defeat Ray Stevens and Peter Maivia (The Rock's grandfather) for the NWA Tag Team titles in July of 1971 in San Francisco.

That match was the first turning point in Graham's career and it really changed Graham's career.

"Patterson was my mentor," Graham said about his tag team partner. Graham learned a lot during his early days from the in-ring knowledge of stars such as Patterson, Stevens and eventually The Rock's father, Rocky Johnson.

Verne Gagne saw the power and ability of Graham and decided to get Graham to work for the AWA out of Minneapolis.

"I hated working against Verne Gagne because of his old school style of wrestling, and I was not a wrestler," Graham said about his stay with the AWA. "I was more methodical. It was physically difficult."

Graham did not complain about the crowds and money that came with his stay, but the coldness of the north really got to the Arizona native. He left the AWA for one reason -- the cold.

Verne Gagne expressed his displeasure and amazement in Graham's decision to leave. The choice was a wise one because an even bigger call came.

Vince McMahon Sr. called Graham up in 1975, and Graham was anxious to work for the WWWF. He was quickly accepted by the fans and by the wrestlers.

Bruno Sammartino had ruled the WWWF for fifteen years, and McMahon Sr. was looking for a man to give him a run for his money. Graham was his choice.

"It was the easiest match I could have," Graham said about his legendary bouts with Sammartino. Sammartino's strength and similar style really helped Graham-Sammartino matches go very smoothly.

March 30, 1977, McMahon Sr. has made the decision to give Graham the World title from Sammartino. The Baltimore crowd was split on who their favourite was, and a lot of confusion came when Graham used the ropes to pin Sammartino.

It was over. Billy Graham had become the WWWF World champion. But it was the interesting way in which the crowd reacted that made Graham an innovator. Graham become the first major "tweener" for the WWWF, and his model was the same way in which stars like Steve Austin and Degeneration X were split. No matter how evil, how much of a rulebreaker he was, the crowds were booing and cheering him at the same time.

Graham remembered getting motivation to carry this split fan reaction to a new gimmick. He wanted to have a feud with Ivan Koloff, the WWWF's biggest heel wrestler, and Graham believed that would get him over greatly with the fans. He was hoping for a long run as champion.

McMahon Sr. had a different idea. At the same time a young amateur wrestler was being pushed by the name of Bob Backlund. McMahon Sr. planned two years ahead to eventually give the title to Backlund.

Graham knew the day would come 10 months later to lose the title, but Graham had a very successful run. He sold out 19 of 20 New York City's Madison Square Garden main events he headlined, a percentage not met by any other wrestler in WWWF or WWF history.

Graham, along with many other wrestlers, was not sure if giving the title to Backlund so soon was the right decision. McMahon Sr. made what some say was a mistake. He had told Backlund and others of the decision to give Backlund the title. He could not back out.

When Graham did lose the title to Backlund eventually in early 1978, Graham was very discouraged with the sport. He had a bloody feud with Dusty Rhodes, but then Graham was gone.

"I got burnt out. I went back to Phoenix and I became a recluse."

His absence started rumours in the Philadelphia Enquirer that he had passed away. Graham admitted that Dusty Rhodes started that rumour as a joke.

Graham rejoined the renamed WWF in 1982 with a new look. He had a shaved head and martial arts pants. He immediately was thrown into a feud with Backlund, but the World title that Backlund held was never to come back to him.

"I shouldn't have used that (martial arts) gimmick," Graham said. The Graham name helped sell out arenas still, but Graham was sitting on a gimmick that was not working for him.

His own personal problems with his life and steroids were the main reason for the absence of another World title reign.

Graham moved to Florida to work for Kevin Sullivan, and then moved onto work for the NWA and the Crocketts.

Dusty Rhodes was the booker for the NWA at the time, and he invited Graham to work for them for a while. Graham worked huge stadium shows with the group, but he never got the push he felt he deserved.

It was when he was with the NWA that he dumped the martial arts gimmicks, bleached his beard, put on the tie-dye and felt pain.

"I was starting to have trouble with my hip in 1985," Graham said.

He called Vince McMahon Jr., who had taken over as the head of the WWF during Graham's absence with the WWF, and offered his abilities for the WWF once again. McMahon liked the idea, and Graham was scheduled for his first match back with the WWF in Baltimore.

"I walked into the building limping," Graham said about his match back. McMahon Jr. saw this, and questioned if Graham was even in shape to wrestle. Graham said he was fine, and took some cortisone shots to get through the match.

The medicine wore off, and Graham knew it was not just a pulled muscle that was giving him pain. His hip socket was in amazing pain forcing Graham to undergo a $30,000 operation for the hip injury.

The WWF used the real surgery and recovery in an angle. The surgery was real. Graham had a titanium hip placed on his right hip.

Graham wanted back in the ring, mainly for the money.

"It was a big mistake."

He blames steroids. "Steroids made you both psychologically and emotionally intense. They make you feel you can never be hurt."

Managing Don Muraco, commentating and wrestling a few matches was all that was left in wrestling for Graham.

The last match was with Butch Reed in Madison Square Garden. The sell-out crowd saw a legend wrestle a bloody cage match.

Vince McMahon Jr. promised Billy Graham that there was always a job for him with the WWF. Graham's hip surgery and 1990 ankle fusing injury forced Graham off the road, and it also forced Graham out of his job with the WWF.

"I became bitter at that point, and after the ankle surgery," Graham said. "I began to tell the world about the dangers of steroids, the pain, suffering I was having because of use and talking about the people who use it."

Graham started a smear campaign against the WWF. He ridiculed Vince McMahon for allowing Dr. George T. Zahorian to sell steroids to wrestlers. He ridiculed Hulk Hogan following Hogan's infamous Arsenio Hall Show appearance where Hogan dismissed allegations he took steroids (something Hogan would contradict that statement in a 1984 trial).

"I was such in a state of rage," Graham said after watching Hogan's appearance. "I said, 'He is lying.'"

Steroids were part of Graham's life for over two decades. It was around 1965 that Graham was first introduced to steroids. The drugs were legal at the time.

The dangers were not very well known at the time. Graham knew of some dangers, but not all of the future complications were portrayed to him.

He followed with some unsuccessful lawsuits with steroids distributors and the WWF that he later called mistakes.

He has not talked to Vince McMahon or Hulk Hogan since his campaign against them almost 10 years ago. He wrote them both letters, and he hopes his upcoming autobiography will help.
Superstar Billy Graham made an incredible impression on the wrestling world.

"I was a prototype for Hulk and Jesse Ventura and even today Scott Steiner."

His autobiography is set to be released in November or December of this year. He is currently working on his beginnings with Pat Patterson and the NWA during 1971.

He hopes to tell it like it is. A pen and paper is all he needs. Valerie, his wife, types up the wording for the editors at the publishing company. He really enjoyed Mick Foley and Dynamite Kid's autobiographies and hopes to be as full and thorough with his book.

The Internet is a great source for publicity, especially with a person trying to sell his new book. Billy Graham was interested in creating a web page to help with the promotion of his book when he discovered a fan page. Steve Slagle's fan page is now the official page because he was so amazed by the thoroughness and look of the page.

The Graham Home Page (www.SuperstarBillyGraham.com) has everything you can possibly know about the legendary wrestler. Graham even puts his own pictures, notes, interviews (including an upcoming Terry Funk interview) and commentating (his take on Scott Steiner was recently uploaded).

Graham has had numerous surgeries in the last few years to the point where there seems no end. Two artificial hips and a fused ankle might be all Graham will take. He recently passed on the recommendation to have his other ankle fused.

Steroids may have killed his health, but his memory in wrestling will be immortal.

(http://www.canoe.ca/SlamWrestlingBiosG/graham_superstar.html)

PROFILE OF JERRY (THE KING) LAWLER

(WOW Magazine, December, 2000)

By Steve Anderson

Ask today’s wrestling fans who Jerry Lawler is and most would boast of his commentating abilities. Some would mention his humorous one-liners. Others would cite his double entendres and obsession with "puppies."

Lawler possesses all of those attributes, but, deep down, he is a veteran wrestler. Today’s fans are just getting a taste of his in-ring abilities since his feud commenced with Tazz, following the "street thug’s" verbal tirade against Jim Ross. Longtime wrestling fans know there is more to "The King" than just being a cut-up behind a microphone.

In 1969, Lawler, then an aspiring artist, won a commercial art scholarship to Memphis State University. Memphis, Tenn., was a hotbed of wrestling action. A fan of the sport, Lawler drew caricatures of the local grappling talent and sent the artwork to the local television station broadcasting the matches.

Impressed with the drawings, the promoters used the art on television and eventually invited Lawler to submit regular caricatures. Those regular illustrations led to a television appearance and Lawler’s introduction to the Memphis wrestling scene. He struck up a friendship with the legendary Jackie Fargo, and the wrestling bug bit the once and future "King."

"In the south, Jackie Fargo was our Bruno Sammartino," recalled Lawler. "He was the man. He was the star. He had so much charisma and personality and a certain style of wrestling. Without Jackie, I wouldn’t be in the business. I learned so much from the guy."

Lawler embarked on a career that would make him one of the most recognized personalities in professional wrestling. He captured multiple championships in the Memphis area, but "The King’s" crowning achievement, so to speak, was defeating Curt Hennig on May 9, 1988, to win the American Wrestling Alliance world heavyweight title. He became a "unified" world champion when he upended Kerry Von Erich for the World Class Championship Wrestling world heavyweight title at SuperClash 3 on Dec. 13 of that same year.

"It came about that I was going to be the AWA champion," said Lawler. "They had great plans of going on a national scale and trying to compete with the WWF. That’s when they did the pay-per-view, SuperClash."

A dispute with the AWA and its owner, Verne Gagne, made Lawler an ex-AWA champion.

"To be perfectly honest, we did the big SuperClash pay-per-view," said Lawler. "The key word there was pay-per-view. I never got paid for wrestling, much less ‘pay-per-viewing.’ And there was just a big dispute over money with Verne Gagne. I guess he thought, well, you’re the champion, you should wrestle for us and not even expect to get paid or something.

"He put me on a couple of shows where I was going to have to travel from Memphis to Minneapolis to defend the title," said Lawler. "If I can’t get my money in advance, I’m not going to make it. I didn’t get my money in advance, so I didn’t go."

Politics wrestled the AWA belt from Lawler, but that would not detract from the star power of "The King." Years before his world title win and before Hulk Hogan became the biggest name in the business and a mainstream star in his own right, "The King" involved himself in a feud that launched him into the public consciousness.

He has Andy Kaufman to thank for that.

The late comedian and star of the television program "Taxi" wanted to fulfill a longtime dream and break into the wrestling business. He had already incorporated his "inter-gender championship" into his act by wrestling female audience members attending his comedy shows in defense of his "title." Soon, the bouts moved to Memphis’ Mid-South Coliseum.

"All (Kaufman’s) managers and all those people were excited about Andy doing the wrestling. It was some of the biggest publicity Andy ever got," said Lawler.

It was the piledriver heard around the world. Lawler and Kaufman’s first, historic confrontation occurred on April 5, 1982, and received worldwide coverage in the mainstream media. The two continued to feud on Memphis television, and their battle spilled on to the set of "Late Night with David Letterman" on July 28, 1982.

"It was the bad guy wrestler mentality that Andy loved and, once he actually got a chance to really be involved with wrestling, he couldn’t get enough of it," said Lawler. "He would have literally given up everything else he was doing in show business and stayed involved in wrestling had he lived."

"The King" was a living legend in Memphis and a star outside his hometown. Most wrestlers would parlay that recognition into a more lucrative contract to wrestle under a brighter spotlight. Lawler resisted the lure of the big money that the WWF offered. In fact, he philosophically moved in the opposite direction.

"The reason I was so anti-WWF was because I viewed the WWF as a threat to my local promotion in Memphis," said Lawler. "That’s the only promotion that I’ve ever really wrestled for and the way I’ve made my living for the past 20 years. I owned half of the company."

Lawler became one of the most vocal detractors of the WWF. On Memphis television, "The King" went on tirades about the "circus-like" atmosphere of the federation up north.

Lawler’s attitude seemed to change in 1992.

In the waning months of that year, Prime Time Wrestling was the WWF’s Monday night fare. The program went through various alterations with the final version resembling a roundtable discussion. Curt Hennig had just left his commentating position to return to ring action. The program was in need of a replacement.

Of all people, Lawler took his seat at the table. "The King" was in enemy territory.

At first glance, Lawler seemed to become a sell-out. Suddenly, his convictions appeared to vaporize, and he was now an active participant in the "circus" he seemed to disdain.

"I was offered the opportunity to have the best of both worlds. To come to work for the WWF but not have to do it exclusively," said Lawler. "At that point, it was more palatable, because I viewed it as an opportunity not just to keep this territory alive, but to work with the WWF and bring WWF talent into this territory also and make it a thriving company."

Lawler was a wrestler with two homes, the WWF and the United States Wrestling Association. The two companies forged a unique, inter-promotional alliance in which the WWF supplied talent to the Memphis-based promotion. Headliners would appear in main-event matches in the Mid-South Coliseum, while Lawler competed under wrestling’s "big top."

Following his arrival in the WWF, Lawler’s first major feud was with Bret Hart, the winner of the 1993 King of the Ring on June 13, 1993, over the monarch moniker. They battled throughout the summer of 1993 in a feud that was to culminate at Survivor Series on Nov. 24 of that year.

"That feud helped kick his career off. It helped bring so much attention to him," said Lawler. "Here he was involved in a feud with a guy doing the color commentary throughout the whole show.

"I kept harping on it, bringing attention to Bret, his family and his parents throughout the whole show," continued Lawler. "It put the spotlight on him and me."

Legal troubles, relating to charges of statutory rape that were eventually dismissed, prevented Hart and Lawler’s Survivor Series confrontation.

"The King" made a triumphant return following his legal difficulties and briefly resumed his feud with Hart. He then began to focus more on his commentating, eventually providing insight on pay-per-views and RAW with Vince McMahon and Jim Ross, his current broadcast partner.

Ross and Lawler have developed a synergy that features Ross playing it straight, while Lawler incorporates a humorous tone into his commentating.

"He’s the perfect foil," said Lawler. "When you get somebody who’s so serious and so adamant about wrestling like J.R. is, it makes it so easy for someone like me to come along and throw in those one-liners, not to take it so seriously and add the levity."

That is precisely "The King" that fans see today: A man who has a knack for insight and humor when it comes to professional wrestling. Ironically, most are just being introduced to the "real" Lawler, a seasoned wrestling veteran who takes his lifelong profession very seriously.

WAWLI REDUX No. 77...

MORROW WAS MY MENTOR

(SLAM! Wrestling, Sunday, July 2, 2000)

By Don "Cyrus" Callis

In the wrestling business you meet many memorable characters.

People who you will never forget for one reason or another, whether good or bad. Certainly, you would never forget a promoter who held you hostage in Lebanon or one who had the boys bumping on a ring with no mats. Those ones are a given.

True friends however, are hard to come by in all walks of life, and the wrestling business is no different. But as is often the case, when you meet one, you are unlikely to forget them.

I first met Gerry Morrow in Winnipeg in 1992. He didn't speak to me, though he did throw a scowl in my direction just to let me know he'd arrived in the territory. I first talked to Gerry a couple of months later when Tony Condello brought him to Winnipeg for a tour of Manitoba. I was in a tag match that had Gerry and myself pitted against the babyface duo of Lance Storm and Chris Jericho. I politely re-introduced myself to Gerry, careful to call him "Mr. Morrow."

I informed Mr. Morrow that we were partners and asked what he would like to do in the match. Gerry then spoke to me for the first time, though I understood not a word. Having grown up in Martinique and Paris and later living in Japan, Gerry's accent was, well, complicated. I nodded like an idiot pretending to understand, ever mindful of Mr. Morrow's sensitivity about his accent. One part I understood was the last sentence of our conversation, the one where he informed me that if I made a mistake, he would kill me.

Being well aware of Mr. Morrow's legendary toughness, I had no doubt the word kill was chosen carefully and was meant in the literal rather than figurative sense. The end of the match required me to drop my finishing manoeuvre, the top rope kneedrop, on Mr. Morrow's chest. Knowing he would kill me if I landed it too hard, I made sure it was the lightest knee drop in the history of wrestling. It wouldn't have broken an egg.

From that moment on Gerry did what many veterans I had been around did not do: he helped me. Having been trained in Japan and wrestled extensively for Stampede Wrestling, Gerry was, and is, one of the best workers I've ever seen. He always took the time to watch my matches and help me with psychology, or show me moves from Japan. Gerry got me booked on my first overseas trip to South Africa and helped me with the Winnipeg promotion when I needed him.

Of course, he's tough as nails. I remember one time in northern Manitoba, in a match with me, Gerry dislocated his shoulder on the last move. He came back to the dressing room, screaming in agony, which disturbed me because I had never seen him register pain before. I figured as soon as he was able he would get up and kill me. As Gerry stood up, shoulder hanging unnaturally out to the side, I grabbed a steel chair to defend myself. Instead, Mr. Morrow rammed his injured shoulder into the concrete wall, violently setting it back into place.

Gerry is the best all-around pure wrestler I have ever worked with and probably the toughest as well. But when I think of him, I think of Gerry Morrow as my friend and mentor.

TAG ENDS: Gene Kiniski, while guesting on Dave Meltzer's radio show on Eyada.com last week, mentioned that his last match was in 1992. What he didn't mention was that I was one of his opponents in that final match. Officially it was a six-man tag with Morrow, the late Bulldog Bob Brown and myself against Kiniski, Lance Storm and some guy named Chris Jericho. It was at the International Inn ... Expect Vince Russo back writing TV for WCW very soon ... Talked to Lance Storm this weekend and he mentioned how much he's enjoying WCW.

Catch Cyrus every Sunday from 6-7 p.m. on 92 CITI-FM for Winnipeg's only live wrestling call in show: No Holds Barred with his co-host Joe Aiello.

THE STORY OF GOLDEN BOY DUPRE

(SLAM! Wrestling)

By Greg Oliver

Emile Dupre talks really fast on the phone. He's obviously a busy man. Only a few minutes to talk.

Besides being the promoter of the Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling circuit every summer, Dupre, 62, has a variety of business interests around his hometown of Shediac, New Brunswick.

Yet in 10 minutes of conversation with Dupre, a lot of ground is covered -- from when he started to the 1999 summer tour.

Dupre's summer wrestling circuit has come to be known as one of the best regular training grounds in North America, and is one of the few promotions still running shows every day of the week.

Looking back, Dupre has a charming, Maritime way of describing how things progressed - wrestling-wise - to where they are today. He had gotten involved with the promotion in 1964 or 1965, helping out Cowboy Len Hughes, the promoter at that time. Hughes was getting on in age, and needed some help.

It snowballed from there. "Geez, I got involved bigger and bigger and bigger and finally I end up with a television show that lasted 17 years," recalled Dupre. "Then I had some of the best wrestlers the world ever produced."

Dupre first got involved in wrestling in 1956. He was into weightlifting and trained with Vic Butler and Reggie Richard, who had dabbled in amateur and pro wrestling in Moncton, NB. They said that he had potential, and he gave it a go.

He started in the Boston-area, and within a short period of time, had been pretty well across the continent, plus tours to Australia and New Zealand.

"I wasn't a real heavy guy," Dupre explained. "I was a slim, slim wrestler with a Lou Thesz, a Verne Gagne type of body." He had bleached blonde hair and went by the name Golden Boy Dupre.

His home base was still New Brunswick, so it was a natural to get involved with the local promotion.

Recent grads from the Grand Prix tour who have gone on to bigger things are Edge, Christian, Cyrus/Jackyl and Kurrgan.  

Dupre claimed that their success did not surprise him. "Nothing surprises me in this business. I don't get surprised any more," he said. "When I see guys that have potential, I say to myself, 'gee, I think if the right guys see them, they're going right to the top.' And that's exactly what happens in many cases."

The WWF has sent him wrestlers, like former CFL star Glenn Kulka, to be on the tour. This year, Paul Orndorff came to Halifax to scout talent for WCW.

Each spring, Dupre gets out his wrestling ring and sets up shop in Shediac.

"I don't run a wrestling school," said Dupre. "If I talk to you and think you have potential, I'd train you and not charge you. ... Maybe to get a couple of guys with fat bellies hanging out saying 'hey, I want to collect a couple of thousand of dollars from you, show you a couple of dozen holds and send you home', I'm not going to do that."

Rene Rougeau, who is on his second tour of duty with Grand Prix, is a recent example of someone trained by Dupre. In return, the trainer/promoter doesn't automatically expect the student to tour with the company. "There's no contract," Dupre said. "If you like it and you want to get on the tour with us, you're welcome. That's how it works with me, anyways."

The 1999 tour was dubbed the Legends of Grand Prix 99 and has been very successful, according to Dupre.

"The people are thrilled to the bones just to see them one more time," he said. "They figure it's their last kick at the can kind of thing."

(http://www.canoe.ca/SlamWrestlingBios/dupre.html)

ANALYSIS: STEVE BORDEN, AKA STING

(WOW Magazine, December, 2000)

By Sheldon Goldberg

He is one of the most charismatic and enduring figures in this era of professional wrestling. Sting (real name: Steve Borden) is one of the elite athletes who has truly earned icon status over the past 15 years.

From the blond, face-painted body builder who burst onto the national scene in 1987 to the dark, brooding tortured soul who prowls the World Championship Wrestling ring today, it always seemed as though Sting deserved more.

Borden was born on March 20, 1959, in Omaha, Neb. He later moved to Venice Beach, Calif., where he became involved in the bodybuilding scene. Borden made the move to pro wrestling in 1985 while training for the Mr. America contest. He met Jim Hellwig, who would later make his own mark in professional wrestling as The Ultimate Warrior. After being recruited by manager Rick Bassman, who now runs California-based Ultimate Pro Wrestling and Ultimate University, he trained with wrestling legend Red Bastein. Borden and Hellwig debuted with two other wrestlers as a group called Powerteam USA. While the gimmick went nowhere, Borden and Hellwig were encouraged enough to seek out other opportunities in wrestling.

Borden and Hellwig moved to the Tulsa, Okla.-based Mid-South Wrestling in late 1985, debuting as "The Freedom Fighters." While the pro wrestling landscape had changed with the rapid rise of the Hulkamania-driven World Wrestling Federation, Mid-South Wrestling was still an old-fashioned wrestling territory. The grueling schedule and constant driving throughout Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas were humbling experiences for both men as they paid their wrestling dues under the stern tutelage of former wrestler and promoter "Cowboy" Bill Watts.

In 1986, Borden and Hellwig were renamed "The Blade Runners," inspired by the popular science fiction movie of the same name. It was then that Watts and then-booker Eddie Gilbert gave Borden the name "Sting."

Sting’s big break came in 1987 when Watts sold his Universal Wrestling Federation promotion to Jim Crockett Promotions. Crockett bought the UWF to take advantage of the significant television syndication network Watts had built. Initially, the companies retained their separate identities, but soon Sting landed in Crockett’s National Wrestling Alliance and on Atlanta-based superstation WTBS.

The charismatic Sting, bolstered by the increased exposure of Crockett’s television, experienced a surge in popularity.

On March 27, 1988, Crockett’s NWA – the precursor to WCW – presented the first Clash of the Champions, a series of prime time special wrestling programs that attempted to present pay-per-view quality matches to the widest possible audience to make a dent in the burgeoning WWF juggernaut. The first Clash aired head-to-head with the WWF’s Wrestlemania 4, which appeared on pay-per-view that same day. The Clash main event was an NWA world title match between NWA Champion "Nature Boy" Ric Flair and the NWA’s hottest, up-and-coming star, Sting.

The match scored a 7.1 Nielsen rating and set a record as the most-watched wrestling match on cable television up to that point. Because pay-per-view was not as available in American homes as it is now, more people saw Sting vs. Flair than Wrestlemania.

Sting took "The Nature Boy" to a 45-minute, time-limit draw in a match that many fans and writers named the match of the year. However, Sting did not win the belt from Flair, prompting some to say that the match, while a breakthrough for the young Sting, was an opportunity lost.

Sting captured his first NWA title by defeating Mike Rotundo for the NWA television title in March 1989, nearly a year after his stunning performance against Flair.

With his popularity growing, Sting began a buildup toward an eventual rematch with Flair. Sting and Flair joined forces in a thunderdome cage match against Terry Funk and The Great Muta in the main event of Halloween Havoc on Oct. 28, 1989. The team of Flair and Sting seemed unstoppable, but the inevitable split began when Sting won the ironman tournament at Starrcade on Dec. 13, 1989, by pinning Flair in the final match. Sting had earned a shot at Flair’s world title, but Flair instead offered Sting a chance to join The Four Horsemen. Sting accepted but still wanted his title shot.

On Feb. 6, 1990, the Horsemen threw Sting out of the group. That same night, Sting sustained a serious knee injury trying to climb into a cage to get to Flair. The injury required reconstructive surgery and kept Sting out of action for four months.

On July 7, 1990, Sting came back from the injury to defeat Flair for the NWA world title at the Great American Bash. Flair would not regain the title for six months, establishing Sting as a marquee star in professional wrestling.

After the NWA became WCW in 1991, Sting became its first champion but lost the title to Flair on Jan. 11, 1991. He would go on to hold the WCW world title six more times, including twice in the first three years of WCW. He defeated Lex Luger at SuperBrawl II on Feb. 29, 1992, for the title and won the title from Vader in London on March 11, 1993, but lost it back to Vader six days later. Sting also won the WCW world title on Dec. 28, 1997 (from Hulk Hogan); on Feb. 22, 1998 (from Hollywood Hogan); on April 26, 1999 (from Diamond Dallas Page, to whom he promptly lost it); and on Sept. 12, 1999 (from Hulk Hogan).

WCW had endured numerous management changes throughout the preceding years and was ripe for another major change in 1996. Sting’s career would change along with it as a key player in the biggest angle in the history of professional wrestling.

On May 28, 1996, Scott Hall, fresh from a run as Razor Ramon in the WWF, showed up on Nitro. Kevin Nash, the former WWF Diesel, followed Hall and on July 7, 1996, at Bash at the Beach, Sting, Lex Luger and Randy Savage took on Hall, Nash and their mystery partner, who turned out to be Hulk Hogan. The New World Order (nWo) was born.

In September 1996, the nWo recruited a phony Sting (Jeff Farmer, who wrestled as Cobra) to create distrust of the real Sting among WCW’s forces.

As the angle unfolded, Sting transformed into a silent, shadowy figure with a white painted face and a long black trench coat. He attacked anyone who spoke ill of him and entered the arenas in a variety of ways: From the rafters on a cable, through the crowd and from under the ring. He assaulted opponents with a new trademark – a black baseball bat.

At Uncensored on March 17, 1997, the nWo won a special challenge match against two other teams. As the group celebrated, Sting dropped from the rafters on a cable.

Thinking Sting was there to join them, the nWo dropped its guard and Sting proceeded to drop each one of them with his baseball bat, ending by pointing his bat at Hollywood Hogan and dropping him as well. Sting had clearly established himself as the nemesis of the nWo.

The new, mysterious Sting became a huge hit. His sporadic appearances and stunts – such as Sting dummies and throngs of men marching to the ring in Sting masks and outfits – got Sting over with the fans as he had never been before. Sellout crowds across America would chant: "We want Sting."

On the Aug. 18, 1997, Nitro, the still-silent Sting was asked by J.J. Dillon to tell WCW what he wanted. Sting grabbed a fan’s sign and pointed to its words: "Hulk vs. Sting."

The match was made for Starrcade 1997. The MCI Center in Washington, D.C., sold 16,000 tickets within three days. The Sting vs. Hogan match was the most anticipated of the year and became the most profitable event the company had ever put on. The WCW icon, the man who never left the WCW fold, was at the all-time peak of his popularity. However, Hogan, who had gained a new lease on his wrestling life courtesy of the nWo, was not about to let go.

Hogan mauled Sting from the opening bell and delivered his trademark leg drop for a fast three-count. Bret Hart came to the ring and punched out referee Nick Patrick. The match was restarted, with Sting eventually making Hogan submit to the scorpion deathlock. The next night, Dillon declared the title vacant and, like the first Clash of Champions nine years earlier, it was another opportunity lost for Sting.

Sting eventually beat Hogan in a rematch at SuperBrawl, but the damage had already been done.

Through the following years, Sting’s colors changed from black and white to red and black and back to black and white, as the fortunes of WCW seemingly shifted with Sting’s colors. The brooding, tortured soul that Sting portrayed may well have become more than just a character.

A recent image of Sting is a haunting statement about his status. At the Great American Bash on June 11, 2000, Sting fought Vampiro in a human torch match. As the flaming body of a Sting stunt double dropped from the top of the entranceway to the staging below, and as the crew extinguished the flames, it seemed as if the fire that once lived inside Sting’s eyes had been extinguished as well.

No matter what, Sting always had his fans. They have been there though all his ups and downs and account for the endurance of Sting’s undeniable star power. But looking at him today, it becomes apparent that something is missing. His fans are still there, though, hoping that a fire for wrestling still burns inside of him.

(ED. NOTE -- Sheldon Goldberg is a noted wrestling writer and historian who has been featured on the A&E Network specials, "The Unreal Story of Professional Wrestling" and "Andre The Giant: Larger Than Life." He recently started his own wrestling promotion, New England Championship Wrestling, which you can check out at www.NECWwrestling.com. You can e-mail him at sheldongoldberg@hotmail.com)

WAWLI REDUX No. 78...

NEW COLLECTIBLES BOOK A MUST-HAVE

(SLAM! Wrestling, Tuesday, June 27, 2000)

By Terry Harris

From a collector's point of view, the new book Professional Wrestling Collectibles should be considered a valuable resource. However for a hard-core collector, I think it will be more of a novelty item and essentially become a wrestling collectible itself.

The book, written by Kristian Pope and Ray Webbe Jr. and published by Krause Publications, is broken down into different segments on wrestling collectibles. The first segment deals with unique and oddball collectibles such as an autographed pair of Tommy "Wildfire" Rich's wrestling boots. The unique aspect about these boots are that he wore them in 1981 when he defeated Harley Race to capture his first and only NWA World Title. It goes on to list many other unique wrestling collectibles such as Terry Funk's branding iron, Jimmy Snuka's ring attire and on and on. A very interesting and well-researched chapter.

The book then takes a lapse with what is really not much more than filler content -- which wrestler you should consider collecting memorabilia of and why you should collect that particular superstar. It lists the who's who of pro wrestling, but really, is this needed? If you are a collector, chances are you already know about the wrestlers. It lists deceased stars such as Andre the Giant and Bruiser Brody being more of a premium. I think you should collect whoever you like and not worry so much about the value of certain items. Perhaps there is a local indy wrestler in your area and you feel he has a lot of upside. I am an avid collector, but I also like to go with hunches and sometimes purchasing unknown quantities of unknown wrestlers can make your collecting more affordable and offer you more enjoyment seeing the guys develop right before your eyes over the years.

There is also a half-assed attempt to list some of the videos that are currently at your local video store. It gives you the names again of several stars you should look for when you are looking for videos. Again this is a good list of wrestlers to look for, but it is subject to what your taste is. They also give a plug for some very reputable video tape resellers that you can order tapes from at a very reasonable price (warning -- U.S. dollars). One of the tendencies again is for the book to go out tell you what wrestlers you should be looking for, that is seemingly the whole theme of the book to keep repeating what you should be looking for. They also give you a good breakdown on what makes certain tapes so entertaining, whether it be specific territories (Mid South to Japan) or powerful interviews, heel turns and their own personal favourites of the past and present. It will definitely jog your memory in many respects.

The section on wrestling figures (aka dolls) is very well researched and will surprise a lot of people with their collections of how much they are worth. The only thing it fails to mention is that the prices are assuming the figurine is still in the original package and is mint condition. The book will also become dated very quickly as the prices change on these figures almost monthly, but at the very least it will give you an education on pricing and lets you know the amount of figurines that are out there. The AWA was the first to have wrestling figures in the U.S. although Remco, the manufacturer, had all of the wrestlers with the same body the only way to differentiate between the figures was by their heads, or in Ric Flair's case, by his robe.

And how could you have a collectibles book without wrestling cards? Aside from the occasional issue of Canadian Sportscard Collector, it is hard to get a sense of the pricing on your cards. The book lists from Allen & Ginters cigarette cards to modern high gloss WWF and WCW cards. It then breaks down the pricing even further by listing various food issues, knick-knacks and comic books. One of the most interesting collectibles was a Whipper Billy Watson soda bottle that booked at $175.00!

How many wrestling fans knew there was a wrestling museum? And in of all places Newton, Iowa? The museum has almost 8,000 square feet of wrestling history. Some of the more interesting pieces were Lou Thesz's world heavyweight title and Strangler Lewis's famous headlock machine.

Every wrestling fan has some programs, magazines or wrestling books and probably have no idea of what their actual value is. Professional Wrestling Collectibles should give you a pretty good idea of what some of your collectibles are worth. You will receive an in depth look at the history of the publications. They specifically focus on Norm Kietzer as he provided many of the programs for the AWA, NWA, WWF and the Mid South as they are prominently illustrated in the book. Looking through the pictures of all the old wrestling programs, magazines and books is a great trip down memory lane. I cannot say enough about the wrestling signs listing shows from Madison Square Garden to the Des Moines Veterans Auditorium.

Wrestling books are also listed, allowing you to find out what your collection might be worth or if you need to complete your collection.

If you ever thought that you had seen a wrestler in a movie but weren't sure, this book will put your mind to rest. The authors have gone so far as to list all of the masked Mexican wrestlers who appeared on the silver screen. Also listed is the roots of Rock 'n Wrestling from the Freebirds all the way up top today's rock and wrestling themes. Again there are lots of pictures showing some of the unique records produced.

The biggest collectible today in wrestling, I think, is the autographs as they are not so mainstream as hockey and baseball, plus wrestlers are very receptive to autographs. (Yes even the heels.) This is a very well detailed and laid out section. I was amazed at how affordable some of the autographs actually are to purchase. Again, it is the who's who of wrestling -- from Abdullah the Butcher to The Zebra Kid.

A staple of any wrestling fans diet is the internet and this will give you more sites to check out than you can imagine. From the wrestlers own sites to the actual promotions own sites you will find them all.

The book finishes up listing all of the former or current hotbeds of wrestling, this could have been a book in itself and I felt this was really just an afterthought by the authors. Listings from the AWA to the Mid Atlantic this will give wrestling fans a bigger appreciation of wrestling.

All and all I thought the book was very well done. I think in some cases they could have done without things and in other cases they could have detailed a little better (i.e. territories). I think this is a must have for all wrestling fans and it will no doubt educate and enlighten even the most core enthusiasts alike. Well done guys!

Some mini errors through out the book: Lugar is spelled Luger ... Mattel is spelled Martel ... David Kegney was the Willdman, not the Wolfman, and it's spelled McKigney ... Hasbro wrestling dolls had moving body parts.

(Terry Harris is a resident of Toronto who collects wrestling figurines, programs, magazines, tapes, pictures, autographs and is most proud of meeting Ric Flair and having the opportunity to speak with him. His favourite collectible is the old Strangehold programs that Frank Tunney  had for his Maple Leaf Gardens shows and having most of them autographed by the wrestlers on Wood Street or better yet having rubbed the magazines on the old ramp to get the wrestlers' actual blood. Keep in mind he was only a kid back then!)

AUTHORS HOPE COLLECTIBLES BOOK BREAKS GROUND

(SLAM! Wrestling, Wednesday, June 28, 2000)

By Greg Oliver

When Kristian Pope and Ray Webbe Jr. were commissioned to produce the new book Professional Wrestling Collectibles, they knew they were setting out into new ground. Toy guides and card magazines had occasionally featured wrestling-related materials, but nothing on the market tried to capture all things wrestling, from the toys to the memorabilia, from autographs to dolls to video tapes.

It took the two friends from Minneapolis-St. Paul over a year to complete the book, and along the way they made many new friends while compiling the data they needed to start establishing the wrestling collectible market.

"We had to start from scratch," explained Pope, 28, a sportswriter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "What that entailed was interviewing and talking to as many different fans around the country as we could, finding out what they had, what they paid for it, and kind of going on that. Using them for a barometer for how much this stuff is worth around the country."

As the former promoter with Pro Wrestling America (with Eddie Sharkey), Ray Webbe Jr., 44, brought a wealth of contacts and friends to the project. "We got on the phone and networked the best we could, compiled data and wrote away," said Webbe, who is also a sportswriter in Minnesota. "[There's a] base of fans, but you really don't know who's collecting what, what they have, what's out there, what some of the wrestlers have kept, what they've thrown away, what they've lost. Trying to find what's out there was an overwhelming task in itself."

Professional Wrestling Collectibles is therefore much more than just a price guide with endless lists of products and prices. It becomes instead a celebration of all things wrestling. Krause Publications, a veteran publisher of the hobby business, has filled the book with an amazing array of photos of goodies from the squared circle.

"What we tried to do was put one of everything you could find out there in the book, like some posters of old-time wrestling, a title belt, the dolls, cards, and different items that you could find out there," Pope explained. "If you are a collector, and you have some stuff in your garage or on your bookshelf and you don't know what it's worth, hopefully you'll be able to read through this book and find something that, even if your item is not in the book, hopefully you'll find something that's similar to it. You might get a better idea of what it's worth."

"The publisher wanted something that was not going to be a straight price guide. They wanted something that was going to take advantage of different pictures that we had. They wanted to have some biographies of wrestlers in there to kind of give it a different perspective than just a straight price guide that you can find with baseball or hockey or football," said Pope. "So we tried to give it a real encyclopedia-type feel and there's a lot of different biographies in there, there's a lot of great stories, chapters that you can actually sit down and read. It's not something that you'll just flip through and throw on your desk."

Webbe saw the same thing as Pope with Professional Wrestling Collectibles. "We wanted the book to be sitting on your coffee table. We didn't want it to be offensive. We wanted it to be so you could open it up at any particular page, just glance at it for 10 minutes, enjoy it."

Pope has known Webbe since 1987, when he was publishing a fan newsletter called Twin Cities Wrestling Update and Webbe was a local promoter. They stayed friends over the years. When Pope got a tip that Krause Publications was looking for someone to do a book on wrestling collectibles, he got involved quickly and brought his friend along too, knowing that Webbe had always dreamed of writing a book -- something that had eluded him in his 25-year career as a writer and broadcaster in the Twin Cities.

"I think that Ray has a different perspective to wrestling than I do because he's a lot older than I am," Pope said. Webbe did a lot of the historical parts of the book, such as the chapter on wrestling and music that features scans of the covers of both (!) of Classy Freddie Blassie's albums.

Neither Pope or Webbe are hardcore collectors themselves. Pope said that he has a bloody Abdullah The Butcher doll and a Mankind doll on his desk and that was basically the extent of his collection. Webbe is more into collecting tapes than anything else.

They also had different takes on what was the coolest memorabilia they saw. For Webbe, it was the head-lock machine from Strangler Lewis. "That's the one that really sticks out for me."

For Pope, the coolest products were the Jerry Lawler cartoons. "[The cartoons were] always something that I had heard that he had done. Through the years, I had seen a few things in a couple of magazines or sometimes on a USWA show from Memphis they would have something on the air that he had drawn. But I had never seem a real copy of it, never seen a hard copy of one of his pieces of art. I think those are really unique. I don't think a lot of people have those available. I've never heard that Lawler sold his stuff or made it available to the public. So when we were able to come across a couple of those, that was something that we knew was really, extremely unique. It was really fun to see."

The hope for both authors is that Professional Wrestling Collectibles will stimulate and help to establish a true market for collectibles. It will provoke debate, and help put collectors in touch with each other. And if all goes according to their plan, it could mean a second edition and another chance to call up their new friends and talk wrestling.

(http://www.canoe.ca/SlamWrestlingReviews/collectibles_story.html)

WRESTLING THEN & NOW 2000 ANNUAL

(press release)

Wrestling: Then & Now, published monthly since January 1990, is proud to announce the release of its 2000 Annual.

This 72-page professionally printed magazine is scheduled to be completed and in the mail the week of January 1, 2001. Our feature is a lengthy tribute to the ailing Johnny Valentine featuring Johnny in his own words, as well as tributes from the legendary Killer Kowalski, former New Jersey Sportswriter of the Year Bill McCormack and Dr. Mike Lano. Extensive clippings, photos, artwork, an interview segment and more will be featured in this section. Most importantly, free ad copy soliciting funds for Valentine's massive hospital bills will be donated by Wrestling- Then & Now and $1 from each annual sale will go directly to Valentine's mounting expenses.

We hope you will publicize this project by e-mailing this press release and telling fellow fans, posting this information on various websites, and by the wrestling media noting this in their respective forums. Feel free to reproduce this press release as is, or to summarize the pertinent information.

Also in this annual, noted journalist Mike Mooneyham talks with Bruno Sammartino (taking on Mark Madden) and Ric Flair who pays a touching tribute to his recently departed dad. There are extensive interviews with Bill Anderson (trainer of Sting, Ultimate Warrior, and Louie Spicolli), Road Warrior Hawk, Bobby Jaggers (who takes us through a tour of the old territories), and Johnny Legend on Fred Blassie, Andy Kaufman and the Olympic Auditorium. Also featured are 10 questions with Dory Funk, Jr., a tribute to the late Eddie Sullivan, Harold "Odd Job" Sakata, rock and wrestling comics, merchandise listings, tons of clippings and rare photos, and many surprises as well.

The Wrestling: Then & Now 2000 Annual is a signed/numbered collectible, as Bill Anderson will autograph each and every cover featuring Bill with his friend Louie Spicolli.

Send $12 US/$15 overseas today. All checks payable to: Evan Ginzburg, PO Box 640471 Oakland Gardens Station, Flushing, NY 11364. For more information check out Wrestling: Then & Now at: www.walkertown.com/wtnow.

NATURE BOY STILL A CHAMP IN EVER-CHANGING ARENA

(Raleigh News & Observer, January 27, 1991)

By Billy Warden and Jonathan Probber

To those of you who delight in pointing at the television during a wrestling show and saying confidently, "That stuff is fake," congratulations on your razor-keen powers of perception.

But if by "fake" you mean that the outcome is predetermined, well, wrestling shares that certitude with life itself, doesn't it? But in wrestling, as in life, the journey matters. And no wrestler, anywhere, anytime, has dominated the peculiar blend of sport, theater and morality play as thoroughly as Ric Flair.

He is unmistakable: The Nature Boy, with filigreed silver hair and eyes the color of gunmetal. As he enters the ring and the spotlight picks him up, the baubles and floss on his extravagant robes throw light onto the faces of the fans. Understand that there are other wrestlers who wear robes, and worse: helmets, masks, steam-spouting spiked shoulder pads, Mohawks. But they are not Ric Flair.

Ric Flair is dead cool. Out of the feathered robe he leisurely steps, folds it carefully and hands it to an attendant. Never rushes. Never dithers. He brushes his opponent with his eyes, up and down, like a painter. But he paints contempt. He knows an easy mark, and he knows the joy of performing. And when it is time, when it is exactly time, he throws back his head ecstatically, takes in the lights and the faces and the noise, and gives a great 'WOOOOOOOOOOOO!'

His particular talent is to switch from gleeful sadism to abject surrender. First, a devastating series of open-handed blows to the chest, the smacks reverberating through the arena. Then, the sudden reversal of fortune so peculiar to wrestling: Flair backing into the corner on his knees, hands prayerfully upraised, begging for mercy. He milks every second, and he is masterful.

Millions of people know this Nature Boy, seven times heavyweight champion of the National Wrestling Alliance (now called World Championship Wrestling) and owned since late 1988 by Ted Turner. They know him as a bedrock wrestler in a universe of shifting identities, loyalties, gimmicks and shtick. He is on television, he is in magazines.

But in many other respects he is the Man In The Gray Flannel Suit, an employee of a communications empire whose fate is decided by buttoned-down men in an Atlanta office building. So he sits behind curtains in arenas and worries about dwindling crowds, his place in the sport and employers who might not understand just how good he is.

There is this other Ric Flair who is on the cusp of 40 and trapped, ironically, by his 17 years of round-the-calendar, round-the-world wrestling, as well as the changing tastes of the industry's promoters and fans.

"When things go good, he gets the credit. When they go bad he gets the blame," says Dave Meltzer, wrestling columnist for the National, and publisher of the Wrestling Observer, the industry's leading newsletter. "The promotion thought young fans couldn't relate to Flair, so there was a movement to phase Ric down."

This is apparent to any aficionado of wrestling. Fighters with years of experience, actual wrestling skill and great theatricality -- like Flair, Jerry "the King" Lawler, Arn Anderson and others -- are losing ground to monstrous, made-up, preternaturally muscle-bound cartoon characters who look awesome on TV but are zip in the ring. Flair's pride and his sense of craftsmanship have led him to disdain such gimmicks when he can.

********************

Think a minute about what a professional wrestler's childhood might be like.

Rough and tumble, right? Slum apartment, a boozy mom, a dad who disappeared.

Ric Flair grew up in a well-to-do suburb of Minneapolis. His parents worshiped their only child. His father, Dick Fliehr, was a gynecologist and local theater director. Drama is in Flair's genes.

Flair owned a dog named Rinty, a playful black shepherd/lab. He and a friend bought a busted old convertible when they were teens and turned it into a souped-up yellow hot-rod.

Flair was not sharp in school, but he was popular. And big. His mother, Kay, softens when she talks about how big and strong he was. In her eyes, he has become mythic.

Dick and Kay Fliehr, both 72, are sitting on a wicker couch in the bright, spanking-clean kitchen of Ric Flair's red brick, three-story home in south Charlotte. At the other end of the kitchen sits Ric's second wife, Beth, a Floridian who was introduced to Ric by one of the Embers. Two cute blond kids scurry about; Ashley is 4 and Reid is 2.

Ashley finds her way back to her indulgent grandfather, who picks up the chat.

"Listen," says Dr. Fliehr. "A lot of these wrestlers are very well educated."

"Yes, who was that one fellow, he used to sit and recite Shakespeare for us," says his wife. "Oh ... it was one of those bald-headed fellows ... ."

"Koloff."

"Yes! Ivan Koloff, a wonderful guy."

Flair does not recite Shakespeare. Flair dropped out of the University of Minnesota during his second year when his grades made him ineligible to play football. Not long after that, he fell under the sway of his friend Greg Gagne, who helped him decide to become a professional wrestler. Greg is son of the storied wrestler and promoter Verne Gagne.

But before Flair took this fateful turn, one last formality: "Dad," he said, "if this is going to cause you any embarrassment, I won't do it."

Dr. Fliehr told his son, "Go ahead, do it. Just make sure you're the best."

To that end, Flair could find no better teacher than Verne Gagne. These weren't makeup and voice lessons. Flair quit training three times, but returned, exhibiting a single-mindedness familiar to his friends and mentors.

"It was clear that he had a plan," says Mike McGee, who recruited Flair for the University of Minnesota football team. "I had no doubt he would be successful. He had a lot of maturity and sense of goals."

Mr. McGee, who coached football at Duke University and is currently the athletic director of the University of Southern California, adds that Flair "had a career in whatever he chose to do."

He chose wrestling.

But all the time, there are those who say wrestling is fake and that Ric Flair is a Sham King. The accusations rattle his mother.

"If it's all fake, then anybody can do it, just get in the ring and yell and scream. Then there would be nothing to it, right?"

She believes pro wrestling is the most dangerous sport there is. Neither Mom nor Dad particularly like to watch their son on TV, they say, cringing. "You'll understand when you have a child."

********************

As they speak, Dick and Kay Fliehr's boy is in his private gym, an outbuilding in back of the house next to the pool. He works out for at least 1 1/2 hours daily when home. On the road, he finds a health club.

After finishing a tour of the gym, the highlight of which is a prized Stairmaster, Flair sits on a gray, padded weight bench. His 6-foot-1-inch, 244-pound body rests; his need to be champion again roils.

"They've gotta give me the deal back or else they're gonna go out of business."

He realizes quickly that his Flair-sized ego is talking, and backs off, as though the boss suddenly walked by his desk. "No, no, no, I didn't mean that. They don't need anybody."

The power of Ted Turner and his WCW is the power of television. Flair is on television less than he was a few years ago. His TV raps were once explosive, irresistible: "All the girls want to climb Space Mountain," he would yell, fingering the lapels of his suit. "I'm a Rolex-wearin', limousine ridin' son-of-a-gun, custom-made from head to toe," he'd say, giving a short sharp forward tilt for emphasis. "I am the man. And to be the man" -- tapping his chest -- "you've got to beat the man." Then a toss of the silver mane and "WOOOOOOOOO!"

Now his TV talk seems restrained, even flat, and his hair has been cut. Thoughts of Samson shorn are hard to resist.

Two years ago Flair found that he couldn't summon the juice he used to bring to the ring. He wallowed and wondered whether he was finished, and finally saw a sports psychologist.

"I was having a hard time getting myself up. I mean, I felt I was up but it was ... different. I saw myself as the most marketable person in the world, and there I was, all dressed up and nowhere to go."

Other wrestlers, meanwhile, migrated north to Vince McMahon Jr.'s World Wrestling Federation, the organization which in the mid-1980s turned the game from performance art for low functionals into a respectable yuppie pastime. Mr. McMahon created Hulk Hogan, the "rock-and-wrestling" connection with Cyndi Lauper, and secured from NBC wrestling's first major network television contract since the 1950s. Mr. McMahon's marketing savvy swamped the industry and forced other wrestling promotions, including Flair's NWA, to play marketing catch-up.

Thus, Flair has been the star player on wrestling's second string. Three years ago he passed up an opportunity to jump to the WWF out of loyalty to the NWA's previous owners.

When the opportunity rolled around again, the NWA had changed hands and Flair signed a WCW contract with Mr. Turner, estimated by wrestling insiders at just shy of $1 million a year. By comparison, the WWF's just-deposed champion, the Ultimate Warrior, pulls down a reported $3 million a year.

Flair, like many fans, wonders what he missed. A showdown with Hogan would have been inevitable, a legitimate mega-event.

"It would have been three weeks of television, me and him, hollering at each other. We could have sold out the L.A. Coliseum," he muses.

But Flair stayed with Mr. Turner, and in July lost the WCW championship belt to Sting.

Sting with his short spiked hair, face paint and blond bodybuilder's physique is wrestling's Latest Blond Thing. A wrestler of some five years experience, he is distinguished as much by his television appeal as by his ring savvy. He makes no secret of his career goals: some wrestling, followed by a tenure as an action/adventure muscleman, a la Schwarzenegger. His foot is in the door; in February he makes his acting debut in an episode of "Super Force," which will be aired locally on WTVD.

Such exposure fits with WCW's plans; the promotion needs a crossover smash like Hulk Hogan, someone whose appeal extends beyond the squared circle.

Sting says that unlike Flair, he won't be in the ring when his 40th birthday rolls around.

*******

Flair and Sting fight for the belt at the Greensboro Coliseum on a recent winter night.

They've been taking this show all over the Southeast, and Sting always wins, sometimes just barely.

Greensboro holds particular meaning for Flair. It's the arena where he won his second NWA championship, from Harley Race. And it is the arena he filled with regularity. His matches and opponents are the stuff of wrestling legend: Greg Valentine, Dick "Captain Redneck" Murdoch, Roddy Piper, The Brisco brothers, the Funks, the Koloffs. . .

Tonight, the promoter says they pulled a crowd of 2,500. The promoter is an optimist.

Chris Broner is 17 and sports an athletic jacket emblazoned with MA (for Mount Airy High School) in big fuzzy white letters. Nine gold and silver medals dangle from the blue jacket, wrestling medals worn for all to see, worn like a championship belt.

He is the prototypical late-period Ric Flair fan. There are many reasons for this kid's awe:

--Confidence oozes out of Ric Flair. He would never pause even for a micro-second to worry about exams or complexion problems or curfews.

--No one cows Ric Flair; he talks trash to one and all.

--The blond locks and cocky strut drive women mad.

--Flair raises cain on a regular basis with the Four Horsemen, a group of wrestling bad guys who have formed a near-legendary mutual defense association of the sort any high-school hellcat would yearn for.

"Yeah, Flair is bad. I like that. He was born bad."

Is he as bad as he used to be?

Some of the glow leaves Chris Broner's pink face. Before the boy can answer, an older man with greased back hair and a thin, fragile frame pushes forward.

"Flair has lost his touch," insists James Buchanan, 51. "His tricks, his ring action -- the touch just isn't there anymore. Before he used to come out and there'd be such energy. Now it's like he's lost interest."

Chris Broner nods and fingers his medals before adding, "Yeah, he's lost a little bit. I used to see him wrestle Harley Race -- boy, he had it then."

Meanwhile, Ric Flair, wearing a soft, subdued purple sweater and a glittering Rolex, lowers himself into a brown folding chair behind the sprawling black curtain that separates the wrestlers' dressing rooms from the crowd.

He asks a short Hispanic man to bring him coffee, then worries that the man might have to pay for it with his own money.

Flair does not need coffee. He is talkative, direct and incredibly focused. Nasally girls' voices from beyond the curtain call "Ric Flair sucks!" over and over again. But he does not hear them.

Focus is what Flair does best. Years ago he focused on wrestling and went on to dominate the sport for nearly two decades.

"Five years ago, when I started out, the only name I knew was Ric Flair. I knew he was the best," says Sting, who is about 31. "I remember wrestling him in Greensboro in '88, and being completely psyched up about being in the ring with him."

Athletes from other sports admire him, too.

"Ric Flair has been the quintessential wrestler over the past decade," Brad Muster, a fullback for the Chicago Bears says. "They have to perform every day. He has a lot of athletic ability. People think they're just actors and performers, but it takes a great athlete to put in the years and take the bumps."

Flair says he'll take the punishment for another five years or so, even though some fans wish he would retire sooner, to save his reputation.

If the Weekly World News is to be believed, Flair has a future as a member of President Bush's Cabinet. The News, one of the more creative tabloids, reported recently that Flair has become one of the President's "closest pals and political advisers."

The paper goes on to quote a "Washington insider" who said "Mr. Bush has consulted Ric Flair at virtually every stage of the Middle East troop deployment."

Flair and his wife assure one and all that a framed color photograph of the couple with Mr. Bush, taken at a fund-raiser for Sen. Jesse A. Helms, R.-N.C. is the extent of their White House involvement.

When retirement does come, Flair has more prosaic plans: He may open a car dealership. But wrestling is still foremost in his mind.

"I like this business so much, I like the guys so much. I know it could be great again tomorrow," he says. "It's very difficult to wake up the best wrestler and know that there are some people out there who don't understand that."

He flashes a grin as he gets up from his chair and offers a gentle handshake before he disappears into the dressing room. ### As unpredictable as life

Sloppy hotdogs wrapped in foil, hungry mouths, popcorn spilling on the messy concrete floor, and then, a spotlight. It strikes the back of the arena where Ric Flair stands, hands on hips, resplendent in a pink robe that looks stitched together from the red-hot dreams of a dozen Vegas showgirls.

A leather-jacketed fan in a ringside seat frantically waves a sign in the air. "Nature Boy" it says in silver sparkling letters surrounded by matted white fringe.

Into the ring strides the Nature Boy. Then Sting, the champion, in lurid green tights with his trademark scorpion running up a well-muscled thigh. Hip toss, body slam, headlock, illegal use of the ropes!

Now THIS is a fight. Flair the punisher, Flair the chicken, Flair the audience provocateur ... "WOOOOOOOOOOO!"

And then he is being beaten, beaten, beaten ... beaten bloody. The first time he bled in a wrestling match 17 years ago he rolled out of the ring, hurried back to the dressing room, looked in the mirror and "loved it." But it must be old hat now.

Shoulders, two shoulders, Flair's shoulders flat on the mat. The ref counts:

"One!"

The crowd ... "Two!" ... counts along.

"Three."

A fist is raised in victory, Sting's fist. The new guy, still the champ.

Flair -- bloody, beaten, Vegas robe, matted fringe, the best. Beaten.

When the the match is over, yellow ceiling lights flood the arena again. Two women gather their purses and prepare to leave.

Vicky Roberts, 40, a waitress, loves Ric Flair.

Pam Johnson, 29, a pantyhose salesman, loves Sting.

But, Ms. Johnson admits, "Flair is the man people pay to see."

"Flair IS wrestling," says Ms. Roberts. "When Flair quits, that's the end of wrestling."

***************

Ten days later, Ric Flair won the world heavyweight championship for the seventh time, pinning Sting at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. He's back on top, but there is no way of knowing how long he will stay there. The same can be said of anyone. Wrestling, after all, shares that uncertainty with life itself.

WAWLI REDUX No. 79...

WRESTLING'S FRENZIED FANATICAL FOLLOWERS

(Raleigh News & Observer, January 4, 1994)

By Charles Salter Jr.

On this night, there are more than the usual reasons not to go to Dorton Arena and watch professional wrestling.

Outside, it's freezing and blustery. The weather folks on TV and radio have been warning against driving, since an ice storm was on the way.

Inside, it's not much better. The arena is as warm as an igloo. Ringside seats are chilliest, as the metal chairs rest on inch-think boards covering the IceCaps' ice rink.

Compared to Starrcade, a World Championship Wrestling extravaganza held two nights earlier in Charlotte, the Raleigh bouts are meaningless. At Starrcade, several titles, including the heavyweight world championship (well, champion of this particular wrestling fiefdom) was on the line in front of a near-capacity crowd of about 9,000. Ric Flair, who became champ for the 12th time, isn't even on the card in Raleigh.

But none of this matters to about 1,500 loyal fans who make the pilgrimage to Dorton, once again the area's lone outpost of grappledom. For years, there were weekly professional wrestling bouts in the arena. Since those were discontinued several years ago, however, the five or so wrestling events held here throughout the year have become more important to fans.

They need their wrestlemania fix. One wacky night of lowbrow high drama. One night to see the unbelievably rough action live instead of on TV. One night of slapping, kicking and bad-mouthing. Not to mention what the wrestlers do.

************

The gawkers line the wall overlooking the tunnel to the dressing room. The wrestlers come and go, giving occasional high-fives and autographs.

Robert Fisher, 19, likes being this close to the celebrities. He spots a new face and elbows his buddy.

Chris Strickland, 19, nods in awe. "Not an ounce of fat," he says.

It's not Flair or Sting (the wrestler, not the singer) that catches their eye. It's voluptuous Angela Cooper, one of the Hooters Girls who escorts wrestlers into the arena. She takes off her full-length coat to reveal her uniform for the night, clinging short shorts and clinging T-shirt, as tight as anything the wrestlers are wearing. She hops up and down to keep warm.

With the brute force of a tag-team duo, Fisher and Strickland, both from Zebulon, tear themselves away to join their other buddies in time for the first bout between Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat and "All American" Ron Simmons.

"We know it's fake," says Strickland, a freshman at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, who is home for the holidays. "We come for the entertainment."

They act as if they're at a comedy club instead of a wrestling match, keeping a running commentary that sounds like something from "Mystery Science Theater."

As Steamboat and Simmons circle the ring, grabbing each other's hands to make a move, Fisher says: "I'm going to tell you one more time, Ricky. Let's shake hands and go out to my limo. I got a video we can watch."

Simmons flips Steamboat, who winces as if his back is broken.

"My back! My back!" mocks Fisher, whose friends crack up, anticipating what happens next.

Steamboat miraculously recovers.

*************

Helen Simmons is a believer. The 41-year-old teacher assistant from Smithfield knows that the rasslers, as she calls them, sometimes overreact. But most of the action is real, she says. She can see it. And hear it.

Stunning Steve Austin corners Flyin' Brian Pillman on the ropes.

Simmons, or should we say Hyper Helen Simmons, winces.

"Did you hear how he slapped him?" she says, her voice filled with indignation.

She's one of those incongruities of professional wrestling, a matronly middle-aged woman who's also a wrestling fanatic. Before the match, she sits calmly in a blue coat, brown scarf and pink pants, like a dutiful PTA member. But once the action starts, she loses control. She kicks and slaps the air, as though she could reach the goons from the cheap seats.

If she sat any closer, she says matter-of-factly, "I might throw a chair at them. And they might throw me out."

While Stunning Steve distracts the dumbfounded referee in the ring, his manager, Col. Parker, a character who looks like a cross between Col. Sanders and Mark Twain, sneaks up behind Flyin' Brian to strangle him.

Simmons leaps to her feet. "That's not fair!" she shrieks.

Flyin' Brian momentarily grounded, Stunning Steve goes for the pin.

"Get up! Get up!" she pleads.

The referee slaps the mat, counting, "One ... two ... THREE!" It's over.

Simmons slumps in her seat and slaps her knees. "He cheated, he cheated, he cheated."

Such emotional outbursts are common for Simmons, who started following wrestling as a little girl. Her parents were avid fans. Now she comes with her husband Steve, a building inspector for Wake County, and 10-year-old daughter Jennifer, a Sting admirer.

"I love Ric," Simmons says demurely. "Ric Flair."

The family likes the good guys, who tend to have white-blond hair, better manners and flatter stomachs.

"It's good against evil," Steve Simmons says.

*************

"Hey, big, fat 'n' ugly!"

"You're a loser!"

"Get outta here, ya bum!"

This is what L.B. Council, 64, assistant chief in charge of security, hears as he escorts the bad guys to and from the ring. Bad guys tend to have lousy haircuts, stubble and colorful tatoos to go with their colorful vocabularies.

At 6-feet-2 and 185 pounds, Council, who prefers basketball to wrestling, looks like a rugged and lean drill sergeant. However, next to 450-pound Vader, the biggest, baddest meanie in the WCW, he looks puny.

But no matter. Council and his 11-man force are here to handle the fans, not the wrestlers. That's twice as many public safety officers than at the IceCaps games -- not because the fans are unruly, he says, but because they're spread out on the floor.

"Throwing things is a no-no. Grabbing wrestlers is a no-no," he says.

Heaping vocal abuse is encouraged -- to a point.

"You suck, Vader!" a teen screams.

"Shut up!" Vader belches back, leaning over the ropes, which stretch against his considerable girth like year-old rubber bands.

"We let them say whatever they want, within reason. As long as it doesn't get filthy-mouthed," Council says, keeping an eye and ear on the rowdies. "The more they holler, the better it gets."

He was the first officer to work at the Dorton Arena matches back in the '50s. Been doing it ever since. The bigger-than-life theatrics, the fake-or-not-fake debate, the zealous, vociferous fans -- none of it has changed, he says.

Once, he had to confiscate an outraged fan's purse, shoes and knife. While he was subduing her, he noticed someone behind him dart toward the ring. Council lunged, grabbing the fellow by the cuff of his pants.

"It was another wrestler," he says, shaking his head gravely. "It was quite embarrassing. I didn't know the script."

******************

Backstage with the good guys. Guys like Ricky Steamboat, Sting and Road Warrior Hawk. It's minutes before the night's grand finale, the "20 Man Over the Top Rope Battle Royal." The good guys are being their polite selves, waiting quietly in an orderly single-file line, as if they're at the bank.

At the bottom of the stairs is Dustin Rhodes, as the backside of his snug blue shorts proclaims. He has agreed to a brief interview.

Rhodes is the Kyle Petty of wrestling, having grown up watching his father, longtime champ Dusty Rhodes, bounce around the ring.

"When I was really little, if he was getting beaten up, I'd be really worried and start crying and all that," says Rhodes, who jumped from his high school wrestling team in Texas to the pro circuit several years ago.

Now 23, Rhodes looks like a younger, boyish version of his father, who was known as "The American Dream." Same too-white blond hair, same heavy brow, same love handles. The younger Rhodes stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 265 pounds. Calls himself "The Natural."

Though he seems mild-mannered and has a gentle handshake, it's not easy asking him if the action is fake or not. A reporter for "20/20" once asked another wrestler that question. Got his ears boxed. Comedian Richard Belzer also asked. He passed out moments later in a sleeper hold. Andy Kaufman wanted proof and wound up in a neck brace.

So, um, what does The Natural tell wrestling's non-believers (whoever they are)?

Rhodes furrows his brow, his massive hands on his hips.

"I tell them that it's a hard life to live. That we're in the entertainment business but it's also a sport," he says. "As far as it being fake, I've got an injured knee right now I'm going to have to get scoped as soon as I get home."

### In pro wrestling, everyone breaks the rules. Even the fans.

When Ric Flair finally appears, escorting another wrestler to the ring, the crowd goes nuts and Anthony Chase Wilson gets in position by the gawkers' wall.

He has been a fan of Flair's since he was 5. He once tried dying his hair to look like Flair; it came out orange. Flair's pictures lined Wilson's bedroom walls until he got married and his wife made him take them down. Waiting anxiously for Flair to return to the dressing room, Wilson cradles his camera and hopes for the impossible. He has one exposure left. One shot at a picture with Flair.

Ask any wrestler, any promoter. A desperate wrestling fan is harder to stop than Oprah on a feeding frenzy.

When Flair approaches, Wilson sneaks around the wall, avoids the guards and pleads with his idol. The security guards leave it up to Flair, who gives in. Despite being overwhelmed by the enormity of the moment, Wilson manages to remember to hold four fingers up in the photo. As any fan can tell you, that's a reverent reference to Flair's old wrestling gang, "The Four Horsemen."

Helen Simmons relies on persistence to get Flair, who stands by the dressing room watching "The Battle Royal." Sandwiched between autograph hounds her daughter's age, she calls and calls. "Ric! Ric! I love you, Ric! Ric, up here!'

Maybe it's her motherly voice. Or her protestations of love. Or the fact that the Hooters Girls have been getting an awful lot of attention from his wrestling fans. Whatever, Flair breaks down and looks up.

Simmons hands him a scrap of paper with another wrestler's autograph on one side. Flair turns it over and signs the back.

At the end of night, Simmons is one of the last to leave the arena. Lingering with her daughter outside the dressing room tunnel for one more glimpse of the wrestlers, she shows off the treasured piece of paper. The side Flair signed appears blank. His pen was broken.

"I can't see it, but I know it's there," Simmons says and slides it into her pocket.

'MR. WRESTLING' TO MEET 'KAHN THE WARLORD' 

(Raleigh News & Observer, June 17, 1994)

By Shannon Buggs

MORRISVILLE -- Some say it started when the Bunn mayor insulted the town of Morrisville in a national gossip rag.

Others say Morrisville's police chief picked a fight with the biggest, baddest, best-known Carolina wrestler in order to reclaim a reputation in the sport.

But no matter who started the trash talk, it's going to end tonight with the two men in a no-holds-barred wrestling match.

Although a championship belt is not up for grabs, the two contenders plan to brawl until one of them begs for mercy.

"I'm going to send him back to Bunn with two sore buns," said Chief Bruce Newnam, whose ring alias was "Mr. Wrestling" during his part-time pro career in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

But his challenger, who says he holds five state heavyweight titles, laughed at the taunt.

"I'm gonna teach him a lesson he'll never forget in front of God and everybody else in Morrisville," Mayor Jerry Kennett said. "He's messin' with the greatest thing that ever happened to the world of professional rasslin'."

All the fuss has to do with Morrisville's annual Day at the Park festival, which stretches over two days. It features duck, goat and pig races; the mayor and town manager in a dunking tank; and karate exhibitions.

But the biggest draw is the spectacle of Morrisville's top cop decked out in metallic-blue Spandex, struggling to pin down Bunn's mayor, who says he's been a professional wrestler for 17 years.

Most weekends you can find Kennett's alter ego, "Kahn the Warlord," doing battle against colorful professional wrestlers from the Carolinas. During the week he works on the assembly line at the Siemens electrical equipment plant in Wendell.

In November, Kennett was elected mayor of Bunn, a Franklin County town of 366 people, drawing 47 votes and defeating three write-in candidates who received a total of 35 votes.

He's a little apprehensive about his bout with the chief, mainly because Newnam's been out of the ring so long.

"But he's been flapping his mouth so much, he's gonna have to learn the hard way how to keep it closed," Kennett said.

During his self-imposed, decade-long exile from the sweaty mats, hard ropes and flashy costumes of professional wrestling, Newnam has built up the Morrisville Police Department from a one-man operation to a force with seven full-time and five part-time officers.

But now he's ready to make a mat comeback. And, depending on how tonight goes, he may consider keeping his tights on.

"I've always kept in contact with the rasslin' world," Newnam said. "But I've had to stay low-key because being a police chief and a professional rassler doesn't really go together."

As a good guy of the show biz sport, Newnam doesn't plan to use any dirty tricks to win.

He's hoping his 6-foot-5-inch frame and 235 pounds plus a few well-timed maneuvers will overpower Kennett, who stands a mere inch over 6 feet but is 30 pounds heavier at 265. But Newnam's wife, Phyllis, a Morrisville commissioner, isn't standing in her man's corner. She predicted at a recent town meeting that he would lose the match.

"Y'all make sure you come out and see the police chief get his behind beat Friday night," she told the town board.

"No, no, he's supposed to win," protested Mayor Ernest Lumley.

"He's our great hope," chimed in Town Manager Bill Cobey.

In mid-April, Cobey granted the chief's request for a three-week leave of absence from his police duties so that he could train for Mr. Wrestling's much-publicized return to the ring.

"I've been away so long, I needed to have some intense workout time," Newnam said.

A few fist-sized, deep purple bruises are testament to Newnam's mission to get back in shape.

In between tonight's rasslin' matches at Morrisville Community Park, country & western star Ronnie McDowell will perform.

Known for hit songs such as "Older Women" and "All Tied Up," McDowell will give spectators a breather between five wrestling battles, including the headliner match pitting Jimmy "The Boogie Man" Valiant against The Masked Intruder.

Capping the night of body slams and country hits is a bunkhouse brawl -- a king-of-the-hill battle royal in which Newnam, Kennett and the eight other local pros will try to fling one another over, through and under the ropes until only one man is left.

"For the honor of Morrisville, I hope to be the last man standing in that ring," Newnam said.

BLACKJACK MULLIGAN TAKES A DIVE

(SLAM! Wrestling, Tuesday, June 20, 2000)

By Greg Oliver

Bobby Jack Windham is 59 now and hasn't competed in the ring as Blackjack Mulligan for almost a decade now. But get him into the water, and it's a different story.

You see, Blackjack's a deep-sea diver.

"Really, it's the perfect thing for me to do because I hurt a lot. When I get in the water, I'm weightless and that's when I feel at one with my body again," Mulligan told SLAM! Wrestling. "I can't compete anymore because of the injuries, massive injuries, knees, this, that. Once I get in the water, it's perfect. I love it. I'm equal again. Blackjack's back!"

He was a U.S. Marine in Guam in 1960 when he first got experience at diving, heading out with some buddies on the underwater demolition team. Thirty years later, one thing led to another, and he was diving off the coast of Florida, and Mulligan has a wreck-diving certificate, a deep diving certificate, and dives into caves. It's enough that he wishes that he studied geology and anthropology at West Texas State rather than education and football.

"Back in those days, there was no certification so I started then and there I was so busy for 30 years, I got back into it a few years ago because I couldn't run anymore, I couldn't do the physical bicycling that I wanted to do so I said I've got to find me an alternate exercise," he explained.

But get Mulligan talking about pro wrestling or his kids and he's 10 years younger in an instant.

The 6-foot-9, 345-pound Mulligan from Sweetwater, Texas, was a promising football player at West Texas State and got into the New York Jets organization. Things didn't go exactly according to plan there, and he broke his leg. Sonny Werblin was the head of the syndicate that owned the Jets at the time, and was also CEO of the Madison Square Gardens Corp., where the WWWF held shows, and he suggested the future Blackjack should try wrestling.

"If I'd been a horse, they'd have shot me as far as football was concerned," he recalled. "They farmed me out to the Dakota badlands [for] two years training and out of there came Jack Mulligan, doing all the 'Villes, the 'Burgs, and the Winnipegs. You know how it is out there -- a cold, desert land. Two years later, Jack Mulligan emerged to main event."

Wrestling was hardly a new concept to him. "I was raised around a family out in West Texas, the Funks. That's how I originally got the bug myself being a football player. Dory Funk Sr., being around Dory, Terry. I was from a little town called Sweetwater, Texas and Dory and Terry were all up from Amarillo."

Dressed in black -- cowboy boots, hat, trunks -- Blackjack Mulligan looked mean and could back it up. His dreaded clawhold, featuring his gloved hand, struck fear both into opponents and fans alike.

In August 1975, he teamed with Blackjack Lanza to beat Dominic Denucci and Pat Barrett for the WWWF World Tag Team titles, losing them a short time later to the Canadian team of Tony Parisi and Louis Cerdan (who later was Gino Brito).

The late '70s saw Mulligan as a headliner in the Mid-Atlantic territory. He won the NWA World Tag Team titles with Ric Flair in 1979, winning them from, and losing them back to Baron Von Raschke and Paul Jones.

During the same era, he also worked with the late Dick Murdoch to promote the Amarillo, Texas territory.

In 1981, he won a 'world' title of sorts, capturing the World Wrestling Association's top belt from the late Bobo Brazil.

Some of his greatest feuds came against the likes of Big John Stud, Angelo 'King Kong' Mosca, Masked Superstar, Dory Funk Jr., and Kevin Sullivan's satanic stable.

Perhaps Mulligan is not given the credit he deserves for changing the business in the 1970s. He was an innovative and exciting interview. "When Dusty [Rhodes] and I came in the business, it was like 'Oh you guys are ruining the business with your TV rap'. Myself, Dusty and [Superstar] Billy Graham, we revolutionized the business by doing what they call soul rap interview, getting the people into the buildings with our talk. But we could back it up with our performances."

With his distinct Texan drawl, Mulligan has a 1001 stories to tell about his days in pro wrestling.

One time, CBS's Charles Kuralt was doing an On The Road segment with Mulligan and Wahoo McDaniel. "It was a tremendous wrap-up, and at the end [Kuralt] just had to say, had to get his shot in, 'Well, there they were, Wahoo and Jack smothered with chicken blood.' Boom! And he didn't believe. Well, we beat each other to death on the four, five shows we did for Kuralt. It was no chicken blood. It was our blood. So we took it a little personal because we were jocks and athletes."

Coming from a tradition football-wrestling powerhouse school like West Texas State, where stars like the Funks, Dusty Rhodes, and Ted DiBiase all went, Mulligan isn't high on today's wrestling. The training that one got from the likes of Terry and Dory Funk Jr., Jack and Jerry Brisco or Stu Hart  just doesn't exist anymore. "You went in the grinder. They talk about the basement of Stu Hart. That was a tattoo that you got. That was a learning deal that you went through that nobody ever went through. If you made it through Stu Hart's school of learning up there and came out of that thing, you were known to be a product, a quality product because there were certain levels you had to do to be associated with Stu Hart and the Funks and the Gene Kiniskis  and the Don Leo Jonathans. Giants of this business. There's just no human beings around like those people anymore. They were my idols, and they always will be."

On more than one occasion during his conversation with SLAM! Wrestling, Mulligan raved about Don Leo Jonathan, the Mormon giant. "I was always trying to measure up to Don Leo Jonathon. Never made it." Yet, like Jonathon, Mulligan too became a deep-sea diver.

Working for Paul and Maurice Vachon with Grand Prix Wrestling in Montreal in the 1970s was another highlight for Mulligan. "It was just a great experience for me. I got to meet so many of the old guys," he said, naming names like Edouard Carpentier, Killer Kowalski , and, of course, Jonathan.

The '80s saw Mulligan give way to the next generation of stars from his family.

Barry Windham was his oldest son, and became a huge star. "I've never seen a kid ... born with more talent," Mulligan said. "He had the speed that I didn't have ... He was so great that he goofed off a lot. He had so much talent, so much talent. It's unbelievable Everything I did, he just eclipsed it, for sure."

Kendall, ten years Barry's junior, was a different story. "Kendall wasn't gifted with the talent that Barry had, physical big size. He probably was an overachiever. Two different people entirely."

Mulligan's daughter married Mike Rotunda.

The last big hurrah for Mulligan came in the WWF of 1986 and 1987. He competed as himself for a while and was a solid mid-carder. Later, he became Big Machine in the tag team trio along with Andre the Giant (Giant Machine) and Super Machine (Bill Eadie, aka Masked Superstar, Demolition Axe). But Mulligan was never completely comfortable with Vince McMahon Jr.'s ideas for pro wrestling.

"We're in New York in the early days, when Vince started having some problems, maybe 12 years ago," Mulligan said, starting into another story. "There were some morality problems there, I mean serious, that we didn't like. I said to him, 'Vince, you're getting campy with this show, where you going with this show?' And we're driving to Tucson, Arizona. I had him trapped in the car with me -- he didn't like being trapped anywhere he couldn't escape out of real quick. He said, 'Look, you worked for the old man (Vince McMahon Sr.). If you don't change, you're just going to blow away to dust.' I said, 'Excuse me? If I don't change, I will not exist?' He said, 'The bigger fool you make me make of you, the more money I will make you.'

Mulligan did kind of fade out of the WWF after his run ended in the late '80s, but he hasn't turned to dust. He's not happy with the way that pro wrestling has changed. "We just kind of turn over in our proverbial graves when we watch this. We don't even watch it. When somebody asks me now to defend the credibility of the business, it's impossible. There is none."

(http://www.canoe.ca/SlamWrestlingBiosM/mulligan_blackjack.html)

 WAWLI REDUX No. 80...

COLLEGE ENTREPRENEURS TASTE SUCCESS

(Chicago Tribune, March 31, 1993)

Last December in Baltimore, "Big Van Vader pinned Ron Simmons to capture the WCW World Heavyweight Title by executing a shoulder-break on Simmons."

"He gained a three-count at 12:51 to become a two-time WCW champion."

If you read the Pro Wrestling Torch, a weekly subscription newsletter, you know about Vader's victory -- and everything else about wrestling that's fit to print.

The 12-page newsletter, which costs $6 for four issues and has a circulation of 1,500, is edited and published by Wade Keller, 21, a senior at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn.

Keller, a pre-law and economics major who expects to become a lawyer, is a lifelong wrestling fan. He puts out the successful publication from his bedroom in the Bloomington, Minn., home of his parents.

"A lot of my liberal arts classmates don't know what they're going to do when they graduate," said Keller, a B-plus student. "But for me, it's nice to know I have something I can immediately go to. If I can do this well while being a full-time college student, without doing aggressive advertising, I'm eager to see how things go when I put forth a full-time effort."

The employment market for college graduates is so tough this year that forward-looking students such as Keller are going well beyond the traditional networking, internships, informational interviews, part-time work and campus recruitment programs to make sure they have a paying job when they get their degrees.

Nationwide, they're starting their own businesses while in school.

There are several reasons for the birth of so many student entrepreneurs, "which we're seeing more and more of," according to Denise Ward, director of Macalester's career development center.

"First of all, it's tough for graduating seniors to get jobs. There's a mood of uncertainty and caution among employers," said Ward, who has a master's degree in student development from the University of Iowa in Iowa City. "Secondly, it's a matter of control. Some of the student business owners are reacting to seeing their parents, who spent 25 years with Fortune 500 companies, being laid off.

"And, as the job market tightens, there are fewer full-time jobs for people already in the labor market, so students still in school are finding more competition for part-time jobs."

Instead of their academic studies being hurt, Ward said these energetic, ambitious young people, "who have passion and drive, become more self-disciplined and better managers. And if their business doesn't work out, they still have an extra credential that employers respond positively to."

Keller, who started his publication using "an old typewriter with three keys missing," has a $10,000 computer system, three videocassette recorders, a fax machine and two phone lines. He has hired his mother, Nancy, who recently was laid off from Northwest Airlines, as an administrative assistant.

"The pressure of putting out a weekly publication has helped my college work," Keller said. "Having to do a 10-page paper in 48 hours no longer fazes me."

Charmaine Minniefield, a sophomore majoring in fine arts at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga., isn't fazed, either. She's a successful free-lance artist specializing in caricatures, paintings and murals. Minniefield has done a mural for her college and is commissioned to do one for a private residence. The money she earns helps pay college tuition.

Debbie DeFoe, a management/marketing major at Hood College in Frederick, Md., gives manicures and pedicures to other students. DeFoe, who is licensed as a nail technician, said business is good at the women's college.

Many of the businesses that college students start are labors of love. Alecia G. Danku, a communications major in magazine and production at Columbia College of Chicago, always has loved music and wanted her own business.

In 1991, when she was a junior, she and her husband, Mawuena Danku, opened The African Hedonist, a record shop specializing in world music -- "which is anything but American." The shop offers African and reggae music, and she also publishes a newsletter on "what's up and coming" in world music.

Danku said the record shop was financed "by all our savings and credit cards." Her husband, who is from Ghana, is manager.

"When I am graduated in May, I have a job to go to, a full-time business to run and one in which my journalism training will come into play," said Danku, who wants to start a magazine for African women.

ORDINANCE PUTS HOLD ON PRO WRESTLER

(Raleigh News & Observer, May 31, 1997)

CHAPEL HILL -- In the ring, he gets away with slamming anybody. But when it appeared that pro wrestling legend Ric "Nature Boy" Flair was slamming a cold one on Franklin Street, an alert officer called a foul.

Flair was ticketed at 1 a.m. Thursday after an officer reported finding him putting the hammerlock on a beer bottle, police said.

The bleached-blond grappler was standing on the sidewalk near the Four Corners Restaurant at 175 E. Franklin St. when he was cited, a report stated.

The 6-foot-1-inch, 235-pound Flair, 48, whose real name is Richard Morgan Fliehr, lives in Charlotte.

A town ordinance makes carrying an open container of alcohol on public property a misdemeanor. The town adopted the ban as part of a crackdown on underage and excessive drinking.

Flair is due in Orange County District Court on July 28.

The typical penalty for someone who pleads guilty to the offense is a fine of $10 to $15 plus court costs of $65, Assistant District Attorney Jim Woodall said.

PRO WRESTLERS PAYS FINE TO AVOID LIQUOR CHARGE

(Raleigh News & Observer, July 30, 1997)

CHAPEL HILL -- Professional wrestling legend Ric Flair has scored a courthouse victory, getting a charge of slamming a cold one on Franklin Street dismissed.

Flair was ticketed at 1 a.m. May 29 after a police officer reported finding him putting the hammerlock on a beer bottle outside a downtown bar.

Under a town ordinance, carrying an open container of alcohol on public property is a misdemeanor.

Flair avoided the legal pinfall earlier this month after paying a $65 fine, court records show. The district attorney's office dismissed the charge after Flair completed terms of a deferred prosecution agreement arranged by a local attorney.

Under the agreement, Flair had to pay the fine and incur no other violations for two weeks for the charge to be cleared from his record.

FATHERS FIND RAISING WRESTLERS A CHALLENGE

(SLAM! Wrestling, Friday, June 16, 2000)

By Greg Oliver

As a junior in college at West Texas State, Barry Windham appeared to be headed for the NFL. He had the talent and the lineage, as his father Jack Windham had also made the NFL with the New York Jets before becoming a pro wrestler.

But it wasn't to be for Barry. He dropped out of school to follow his father into pro wrestling. While the youngster would prove to be a star in the business, his father was hurt by his decision to leave school.

"He said, 'Dad, this is not what I want to do.' It really just crushed me because I really wanted him to go finish school," explained the senior Windham, better known to fans as Blackjack Mulligan.

While Mulligan was on a trip to Japan, his business partner in the Amarillo, Texas area, Dick Murdoch, let Barry referee a few matches and help set up the ring. Then one day, a wrestler was unable to perform and the kid stepped into the ring for the first time.

"Barry knew all the moves. He'd been learning it from birth," explained Mulligan. "It's kind of a heredity thing. He never himself, per se, trained, because he was there all the time anyways. I guess it's inbred genetically. He knew all the moves. From his first match, he was a success."

For the Hennig family, there was also a tradition of wrestling. Larry 'The Axe' was a major star in the American midwest, and it seemed logical that at least one of his children would follow him into the squared circle. "In our family ... it was a tradition. Everybody wrestled," recalled Hennig.

His son Curt did enter pro wrestling. "[Curt] took a good, long look at it and decided if he wanted to pay the price, the sacrifices, and that he'd do it. He certainly did it. He was always a great athlete," said the elder Hennig. He sent his son to train with former U.S. Olympian Brad Rheingans. Soon, father and son made up a formidable tag team combination, a paired that the father called the highlight of his career. Later, Curt became a major star in the WWF as Mr. Perfect.

For Paul 'Butcher' Vachon it was a totally different matter. It was his daughter Angelle that wanted to become a wrestler. "I thought it was the worst business a woman could be in. It's not even a business for men," Vachon explained. Yet he also knew that it was part of the family legacy, with his brother Maurice 'Mad Dog' Vachon and sister Vivien Vachon having extremely successful grappling careers.

"She could have done anything. She was a beautiful girl and very intelligent, smart, good looking, of course, like her dad," joked Vachon. "All she ever wanted to do [was wrestle]. Her idol was my sister, Vivien, who was a wrestler. She had been watching her ever since she was four or five years old. That's all she ever did. I told her she was a lunatic because all she wanted to do was wrestle." Years later, Angelle Vachon became 'Luna' Vachon, a successful pro in the ring, winning many titles and freaking out many people with her bizarre mannerisms and dress.

Father and daughter used to work out together in the rings of the World Wide Wrestling Federation throughout New England. "We'd go early and get there late afternoon, the building would be open and the ring was up and no people in the place," recalled Vachon of the days training his 14-year-old daughter. "We'd get up in the ring and I'd show her a few moves. Then some of the guys would start coming in and they'd help me start putting her through some paces."

Vachon, conceding defeat, got his daughter booked for some matches in Japan, and even went along as her manager. "I expected her to be a success but I was hoping she wouldn't be, to tell you the truth."

Sometimes, the father doesn't even know that his son is a wrestler. Angel Acevedo is best known to wrestling fans as the Cuban Assassin. One day, out of the blue, he got some photos of his son Richie from his first marriage in the ring. It surprised him because he knew that his son was into karate, but didn't know that he wrestled as well. In the summer of 1999, father and son teamed up on the Grand Prix circuit in the Maritimes.

With his second son, Kendall Windham who is 10 years Barry's junior, Blackjack Mulligan did things differently. "Because of the experience I had with Barry, I said to Kendall that 'I want you to at least complete two years of vocational school or some kind of training so that you'll know a trade if this don't work out, because the business is changing. I want you to have a trade, a skill."

Years ago, the pro wrestling business was different than today. Wrestlers moved from territory to territory. Some stayed a short while, some stayed for years. Some wrestlers left their families in one city while they went out on the road for months at a time. Others, like the Windham family, travelled as a unit.

"I always took my family with me. It was very difficult. At first, I thought I was like a carnival worker," recalled Mulligan. "We stuck with the Lutheran schools because the levels were kind of the same. We knew we were going to make a move a year ahead, and moved every year, sometimes twice in one year.

"They saw me very little, but I had a very good wife to raise my family into a real solid family."

Mulligan kept his children in the private Lutheran schools until grade 10, when it was time to go to the public schools -- primarily because the football systems were better. He was an education major at West Texas State, and knew that there were certain ages where his children should be grounded. "[Grades] one to three they needed to stay. Then past seven, they started making social contacts, they needed to stay. Then in high school, we needed to stay. So there's certain areas in their life that I kind of controlled."

Initially, "it was hard on the family," especially when the Texans moved north to Minneapolis and the Dakotas to wrestle for Verne Gagne's AWA. According to Mulligan, it was a real "cultural shock."

Mulligan also found another problem with being on the road. "You're gone on the road so long, all these little disciplinary problems have built up. After a while, you become the disciplinarian. The only time they see you is when you've got something bad to say to them."

It's probably partly for that reason that other people ended up training his sons for their career in pro wrestling. "It's very hard [to train your son] ... because you're so hard on the kid. It's better to let a third party train. And when there's third-party people like Jack Brisco and the Kiniskis around, they probably know more than I do. They spend time with them in the ring. ... Probably a third of their introductory learning level they learned from me. The two-thirds, they learned from somebody else. It's very hard to be your son's coach because you're the disciplinarian."

Larry Hennig was able to act as a colleague for his son Curt as he set out on the road on his own. "I had the road map. I had been there. Decisions were probably a lot easier for him to make because he always had somebody to bounce something off of."

Bob Orton Jr. knows all about life on the road. His late father, Bob Orton Sr. was a successful wrestler before he got into wrestling. And then Junior followed Dad into wrestling, starting as a referee until bulking up and increasing his size. Now, Orton Jr.'s 20-year-old son Randy is ready for the next step.

Orton knows it was tough on him to have a father away all the time, just as it was difficult on his own children. "I didn't really know my dad until I was probably out of school. It's tough. You've got to take care of yourself a lot. Of course, my mom was great. You know, it's just the way life is. You've got to go with what you're dealt."

For his son Randy, Orton has tried to lay out a sound foundation before he gets into wrestling full-time. "What I've done is shown him how to wrestle, to do the things like I did, even though that's probably passe now. But still, it's a good sound base."

"You always want your sons to do better things," summed up Mulligan, whose his son Barry eclipsed anything he ever did in the ring, but his son Kendall never really hit it big. But he also thinks that the comparisons of yesterday to today are inherently flawed. "We probably wouldn't survive in this atmosphere, and they probably couldn't survive in our atmosphere."

(http://www.canoe.ca/SlamWrestlingFeatures/fathersday2.html)

SECOND GENERATION GRAPPLERS REFLECT ON THEIR DADS

(SLAM! Wrestling, Thursday, June 15, 2000)

By Greg Oliver

The pro wrestling world is full of second-generation wrestlers. Young men following in their father's footsteps into battle in the squared circle.

Each got into the profession in their own way, but their stories are remarkably similar and have a common theme: Wrestling's in their blood, they grew up watching and didn't really ever think about doing much else.

In the end, there are really only two types of second-generation wrestlers: Those who surpassed their father's stature in the business, and those who did not.

"One is not to say that because the father is great at doing something that the son is going to be great at doing it," explained Nick Bockwinkel, a multi-time AWA world champion and son of 1940s and '50s wrestler Warren Bockwinkel. The younger Bockwinkel definitely surpassed his father, who was well-respected, but not much more than a regional star.

"The professional wrestling business is a cruel business in the sense that they're always looking for talent. They'll give anybody a chance," continued Bockwinkel. "I pretty much did it on my own. I mean everybody knew by the name [who my] father was at that time in the profession. But would they give me the job, so to speak, simply because they knew my dad? No. You had to carry it on your own."

Nick Kiniski was the second son of Gene Kiniski to go into wrestling, after his brother Kelly who is three years older. Measuring up against a father who was a former CFL football great and wrestling world champion proved to be a tremendous -- and unachievable -- feat for both sons.

According to Kiniski, the family name did help. A little bit. "It at least opened doors to get me in a territory," explained Kiniski, who wrestled for only three years. "But the promoters are interested in one thing, that's making money. That's the main draw."

Names like Barry Windham, Nick Bockwinkel, The Rock and Terry Funk  and Dory Funk Jr., spring to mind when talking about sons surpassing their fathers.

"As it turned out, The Rock at the young age that he is, accomplished far more than his dad [Rocky Johnson] had, and that's simply because promotion itself has moved into another area, into a much higher level financially with the cable television and everything," explained Bockwinkel. "And yet, when I see The Rock on TV, I don't look at him, 'Look at the young upstart.' He's getting the job done because he's got talent, he's got the wit, he's got the moxie. And a lot of this is of course what he picked up from his parents, and being around his father and those people all along."

Others like the Kiniskis, Kendall Windham, Dustin Rhodes, Yvon Robert Jr. or Phil Watson, were never able to get past their fathers' legacies and into the next realm of stardom.

The learned, well-spoken, 65-year-old Bockwinkel has a thought on that too. "What happens a lot of times if the father is a star, what takes place is that the pressure is there and that the kid should be a star too. God bless it, you either have it or you don't. And yet, there'd be guys like myself even, I was very mediocre for the first 10 years of my career. Then for the latter 20 years of my career, I was very, very top drawer. So there's a learning process."

Names like Eddie Guerrero, Greg Valentine, Tully Blanchard, Dean Malenko or Ted DiBiase were probably on par with what their fathers did during their mat careers, taking into account the greater role that theatrics played in wrestling in later years.

The comparisons are an inevitable part of the job for those of the second generation. Some welcome it.

"It's actually kind of an honour [to be compared to his father], because he's passed on," explained current WCW star Shawn Stasiak of his father, Stan 'The Man' Stasiak. "I miss him a whole lot, and I wish he was here now that I'm starting something that he had done for 27 years. The business has changed quite a bit since his time. I know he'd be proud and happy for what's going on. It kind of keeps his spirit alive."

"Having the name Guerrero opened up doors for me but at the same time I have to live up to the expectations of my brothers and my dad," explained the WWF's Eddie Guerrero. "It's the hardest thing because people expect you to live up to the name."

The stories about starting in the business are not necessarily your typical father-son bonding.

At the age of 19, Greg 'The Hammer' Valentine was put on a Calgary-bound plane by his father -- esteemed pro wrestler Johnny Valentine. The Hammer had become fascinated with the world of pro wrestling after traveling around with his father throughout Texas and decided that he didn't want to return to college. As any good father should, Johnny Valentine discouraged his son from abandoning his pursuit of higher learning. When that didn't work he sent the youngster to study under Stu Hart.

"My father wanted me to learn the hard way. I suffered. I made a living but the first six or seven years I did it on my own and I'm glad he let me do it that way because you can't have your father babysitting you," said an appreciative Valentine in a 1998 interview with SLAM! Wrestling.

For Nick Kiniski, the real training came while in school at Simon Fraser University. There he was a very successful amateur wrestler, and learned how to take care of himself. When he started to wrestle pro after being an alternate on the 1984 Canadian Olympic wrestling team, he went to his brother to learn rather than his father.

"It's hard for fathers and sons to get along or work together. My dad [was] an excellent wrestler but a sh**** coach," Kiniski said.

Being the rough, tough, top star that he was, the elder Kiniski had his share of enemies, as his son found out. "Sometimes I'd get in the ring and guys would try to wrestle with me -- 'Your father used to do this to me!' and try to rub my face in the mat or something. I just had such an extensive background in wrestling, wrestling against world champions, Olympic champions, that they're not going to do too much with me."

Yet Kiniski considers tagging up with his father to be one of the highlights of his short career, and he regrets never having a six-man tag match alongside both his father and his brother.

Though Bockwinkel claimed that he starting in the profession "strictly as a job" to make a living and put himself through school, his father obviously had different ideas for him from an early age.

"When I was about 16 years old, he took a picture of me," Bockwinkel explained about his father. "I weighed about 185 pounds and very trim, fairly muscular for that weight. In fact I look at the picture now and I go, 'I was a pretty decent little hunk for a 16, 17 year old.' And he would send that picture out with his publicity, saying this young man will be availble in four years. I used to be so embarrassed. You know, when you're 16 years old, there's not a picture in the world that's good [of you]. I said, 'Dad, why do you do that!' And he said, 'Just relax.'"

For some it was destiny to follow their father, for others like Bockwinkel, it seemed that Dad had it planned out all along.

(http://www.canoe.ca/SlamWrestlingFeatures/fathersday1.html)

WWF’s DEBRA HAS NEVER BEEN HAPPIER

(Charleston Post and Courier, Sunday, Jan. 7, 2001)

By Mike Mooneyham

Debra Marshall always wanted to be in show business. She just never would have fathomed it would have been in the form of professional wrestling.

Debra, a former Miss Texas and Miss Illinois America who once studied serious acting at the world-famous Lee Strasberg Institute in New York, doesn't think twice about where her acting career eventually led.

"I can't tell you how addictive it is to walk out in front of thousands of people who are holding up signs of you and chanting your name and doing the 'puppies' thing. It's very addictive," Debra said in a recent interview.

Debra, who joined the WWF in October 1998, was an instant sensation. It was a long way from her early days growing up in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where she was a cheerleader, homecoming queen and track standout, before leaving for an acting career that took her to Chicago and New York.

The blonde-haired beauty's circuitous route to the wrestling world began when ex-husband Steve "Mongo" McMichael took a job with World Championship Wrestling after retiring from professional football. Debra followed the All-Pro to WCW where she became known as "Queen Debra" and managed the likes of Jeff Jarrett. It's a time she'd just as soon forget.

"Oh my gosh, that was back in my real bad days," recalls Debra.

Those days were made all the worse because it's also when her marriage to McMichael began to crumble.

"I think he changed when he got into wrestling. It's a whole different business."

It is a whole different business for Debra these days. She says she's never been happier, with her new on-camera role as "lieutenant commissioner" of the WWF and her real-life role as Mrs. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. She stresses, though, the importance of separating business from pleasure.

"This is a whole different thing," says Debra, who will be appearing Feb. 6 at the North Charleston Coliseum as part of the WWF's nationally televised Smackdown show. "This is what he's always done. We travel together, but we keep our characters very separate on TV. If you notice we never interact."

Debra, who married "The Rattlesnake" last year at a Las Vegas chapel, says neither she nor Austin have ever felt pressured to pair up as part of a storyline.

"We've always pushed to keep it separate. I've worked so hard for my character as Debra. I don't think our characters go together anyway. He's the kind of a person who works by himself. My whole thing as a manager is you have to be paired with someone - he's just a very independent character. I'm Debra and he's Stone Cold. I worked very hard to get my character established."

Debra says it's like night and day comparing WCW and the WWF, and feels her character had run its course there.

"There were things that I had a hang-up with over there. I didn't think it was fair in the writing. It was almost like if you were with a certain clique or a certain writer, no matter if you were talented or not, you would get a push. It was whoever could brown-nose whoever.

"Here they're so fair, and if you think about it, this is the whole background of wrestling. They know this business. It's such a breath of fresh air to work around. It's a joy to come to work. It's so much fun. The people are easy to work with, all the girls get along, and everybody is here to make the best product possible. If we can put another person over and make them shine, then we all make money."

Debra also can be seen on the WWF's "Divas: Postcard from The Caribbean" airing on pay-per-view outlets this month. The show is hosted by Mick Foley and contains footage, from the sands of the Dominican Republic, featuring Debra, Trish, Kat, Tori and Terri.

_______________________________________________________

(RETURN TO WAWLI PAPERS INDEX PAGE)