Mid Atlantic Fanfest Memories…

One thing I do miss about being away from the WWE developmental system is seeing “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes on a daily basis. It was never a dull moment or conversation when Dream came to the office. I grew up watching and learning how he interacted with various people and getting to work with him in a close, personal setting was a lot of fun.

I still talk to Dream regularly via phone and he never fails to come up with something that will resonate for days. Today he gave me this gem from Wyatt Erp:

“Nothing matters more than blood. If they’re not family, they’re just strangers.”

So obvious, so Dream, so true…

The Dream still has an aura and way of choosing his words. He’s the last of a breed that no longer exists. History is written by the winners. Accurate or not. Dusty Rhodes legacy is unique and he will be remembered as one of the all time greats of professional wrestling/sports entertainment. I enjoy our conversations and rhetoric more than ever.

We may not be blood or family but I do believe we’re friends. As much as you can be friends with someone in this business. We’ll listen and shoot the breeze and that’s it. I don’t want anything from him and he doesn’t want anything from me. There comes a time when you just want to talk or tell stories. And Dream has plenty of stories…

I saw some friends in Charlotte over the August 1-4 weekend. I spent the majority of time in the room where we held the training camp, although I did have a chance to briefly check out the main hall and say hello to people I haven’t seen in years.

The camp was what we expected. Les Thatcher, Gerald Brisco, Tully Blanchard, Leilani Kai and I saw some kids with a variety of experience looking to get better, gain knowledge and hear something to help them get where they want to be. This was cool because we were going to have the person who stood out and excelled the most presented with a $2500 Scholarship in honor of Reid Flair at the end of the four days.

The winner was judged by attitude, ability to follow directions and overall in-ring appearance and perception. Common sense seems to be missing with a lot of independent wrestlers these days and that’s an element needed to be successful. Fans with VIP access were able to come in to watch and listen all four days.

The winner was a young man from Canada named Michael Blais. He wrestles under the name Michael Richard Blaze. If you get an opportunity, check him out.

Promoter Greg Price did a tremendous job getting an array of talent past, present and future together in one place. It was cool seeing a lot friends and aquaintances from my past.

I watched Ox Baker as a kid growing up in Houston and later wrestled him in Los Angeles at The Olympic Auditorium. I saw Ox sitting on the couch as I walked to the seminar and he hadn’t changed a bit! If there was anyone who looked the part of a scary, nasty villain, it was Ox Baker. He was a character in and out of the ring.

My old friend and former manager Jim Cornette lost a lot of weight, was tan and well rested when he walked into the hospitality room Friday night. The old cliché “Hell froze over” was never more evident with JC as he was calm, cool and collected after taking months away from the wrestling business. He began eating better and lost close to 60 pounds! He looked and sounded great. I was happy to hear he and Stacy were both taking better care of themselves and becoming a lot more ‘stress free.’

I think being away from the business was a huge factor in JC’s stress reduction. JC, along with Bobby Eaton, Dennis Condry and Stan Lane (The Midnight Express) were inducted with their nemesis Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson (The Rock and Roll Express) to the Mid Atlantic Hall of Heroes Friday night.

Other inductees included Magnum TA, Les Thatcher, Danny Miller and Lars Anderson

I’ve known Magnum TA for over 30 years when we both were rookies in Texas. It was great catching up with him and another guy who was a veteran and mentor to us both, Tiger Conway Jr.

Tiger Conway Jr, Manny Fernandez and Chavo Guerrero Sr. mentored and helped TA and me early on and we never forgot it. The only one missing was Chavo this weekend. I got to speak briefly with Tiger and Manny but it was a hectic few days, early mornings and late nights.

I reminded Mr. Wrestling II about the time we wrestled in Carrolton, GA. I was a young punk trying to show how much “fire” I had, so I went behind II and before I knew it he took me down and whispered “That’s a good way to get yourself pinned son.” I made my first TV taping in Shreveport in 1979 and the booker at the time was Buck Robley. II was there and I remember he wore his mask in the dressing room and even took a shower with it on! After doing four tapes Buck asked if I wanted to work that night. Of course I did…

I parked my car at the hotel the boys stayed at and rode to the town with Buck. Lord Jonathan Boyd and Wrestling II rode back with us. Finally he took his mask off and smoked a pipe on the way home. It was an entertaining trip, to say the least!

I pretty much stayed in the training area and on Sunday, “Wildfire” Tommy Rich stopped by to say hello. Tommy was one of the most popular wrestlers in the early 1980′s who knew how to tell a story in the ring. I made a lot of trips with Tommy, Brad Armstrong, Nick Patrick and Johnny Rich back in the day. We wrestled 6-7 nights a week and had a lot of fun…

DOC (Luke Gallows), D’Lo Brown, Scotty Riggs, Sick Boy, Lodi, Bobby Fulton, Mike Jackson, Jerry Jarrett, Tommy Young and others I crossed paths with here and there made the weekend special and I don’t think anyone was at a loss for words.

I take my hat off to Greg Price for making the Charlotte Fanfest happen. Dealing with the personalities and logistics of such an event is a huge undertaking and Greg pulled it off.

I hadn’t seen Tully Blanchard in years. I wrestled him in Texas when I was an extremely young greenhorn. I didn’t fully realize what he did until later but he made me look a lot better than I ever was. I wrestled Gerry Brisco a couple times but got to know him better during my time in WWE. I’ve known Les Thatcher since I started in the business. I wrestled for Georgia Championship Wrestling and Les ran the Ohio tours during that time. Later we worked together in the developmental system for WWE. I’d met Leilani Kai in passing through the years in various territories.

We all came together and coached some talented people for 4 days. It was cool to see familiar faces who understood the basic fundamentals and communicate with passion the object of what professional wrestling/sports entertainment is.

We were all busy and I enjoyed myself. Next year is supposed to be Greg’s last Fanfest. Can’t say I blame him. It takes a lot of work to pull off a gathering of this magnitude. Is it all worth it? It’s great seeing old friends and aquaintances and many who attend feel the same way. Unfortunately, there will always be some who find it necessary to take advantage and revert back to “carny mode” and screw things up for everybody else. I know many fans and wrestlers will miss it.

I know I will. I hope I get an invite to come back in some capacity.

Thanks for reading.

Wrestlemania 30, WWE Network, Constant Change, History Matters?

The only constant is change…

WWE will always take a calculated risk in business. Everyone is betting the Network is going to be HUGE! I couldn’t agree more. Times are changing and one thing WWE is good at is being ahead of the curve.

No doubt this will be a wrestling fans dream come true. 24/7 access to some of the greatest matches and programing at the click of a mouse.

It got me thinking about how much the business has really changed over 30 years.

Wow… We are coming up on Wrestlemania 30.

The 1960-70s wrestling had territories where local promoters ran weekly, bi-weekly or monthly shows. That’s the era I grew up in. I was hooked the first time I saw wrestling one Saturday afternoon in El Paso. We had a black and white TV but the characters were larger than life, colorful over the top people who intrigued me. I wasn’t sure how I was going to break in but I knew at five years old I was going to find a way to become a professional wrestler!

After we moved to Houston and eventually landed a job at the Houston Wrestling office for promoter Paul Boesch, I was persistent in accomplishing my goal. There was no internet back then so we relied on magazines and newsletters like “Illustrated Wrestling Digest” by Ron Dobratz. Various fan clubs for wrestlers and regions were advertised along with pen pals in various magazines as well to keep you updated with the happening across the country and the world.

I remember vividly when Koichi Yohizawa sent me a picture of Giant Baba after winning the NWA Championship in Japan in 1974. I asked Mr. Boesch about Baba winning the title and he told me I was crazy! Then I showed him the picture and he didn’t know what to say. The switching of the world title back then was a big deal and usually when a new champ was crowned the NWA would send out telegrams to all members alerting them to the change. Years later I learned the Baba switch was done as a way to boost Baba’s credibility and for one week only. Most promoters didn’t really concern themselves about fans learning what happened outside their immediate territory.

The west Texas promotion ran by Dory Funk Sr. bicycled their tapes around to various towns. They would tape their show in Amarillo and send the same reel to the regular towns on the loop.

Saturday morning was TV in Amarillo; Saturday night in Colorado Springs or Pueblo; Sunday, Albuquerque; Monday, El Paso; Tuesday, Odessa; Wednesday, Lubbock; Thursday, Amarillo (Live Event); Friday, Abilene. Of course there were various spot shows interspersed. In that territory alone there was a five week bicycle to be aware of. If a hot angle started and somebody got hurt, they had to cover it in a promo. I’m guessing not too many fans made every 250-300 mile trip so they could do their angles weeks out and not worry about smartening everybody up!

The Memphis territory was only one week behind as the main angles took place in Memphis and played out the next week in Louisville, Evansville and various spot shows. Some fans did make the trips from Memphis, Nashville, Louisville and other towns around West Tennessee and figured out what was going on. But that wasn’t enough to change the game plan.

I never worked the Amarillo territory. I did work the Memphis, Southeast Texas (Houston-San Antonio Southwest booking office), Louisiana, California (Los Angeles), Portland, Pensacola/Birmingham and WWF/E territories. All except WWE had regional television and promoted regional champions.

The NWA was strong in the south and west coast, so the world champion would come in on occasion to thwart the local challenger. The purpose of being the champion back then was to come in a territory, wrestle the local champion/hero and prove that he could go the distance or barely escape town with his title. I saw many 60 (and a few 90) minute matches that weren’t billed as Ironman bouts back then.

To be the NWA world champion meant you had to be able to go at least one full hour most nights and do it against a lot of challengers he might not have ever heard of or belonged in the same ring! I never saw Dory Funk Jr, Harley Race or Jack Brisco have the same match twice when they defended the world title in Houston.

It’s a shame that after the tapes were shown around the territory, they were reused, taped over and not saved for posterity. There are still some older classic matches on YouTube but the majority of bouts from the 1960s-70s are missing.

Some people can’t comprehend history or that something really happened unless it happened in their lifetime. I remember Paul Boesch telling stories about Jack Pffefer, Jim Londos, Wiskers Savage, Morris Siegel, Strangler Lewis and a host of others with such enthusiasm I couldn’t help but want to know more about these pioneers. There wasn’t as much information back then as there is today with the internet, books, etc…

Once I started wrestling, I got to meet some of the colorful characters I’d heard so much about. I met Dr. Jerry Graham my first night at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles. Everything I’d heard about the good doctor made me a little nervous when he walked in the dressing room and sat down. But he asked me my name, where I was from, where I broke in and was as cool as I could hope for! As I learned later, many stories could be exaggerated or embellished in professional wrestling. At the same time, I’ve known many guys who not only lived up to, but even surpassed their reputations.

The business is ever changing. It’s incredible that it’s been almost 30 years of Wrestlemanias.

I think about the way things were and how they are now. Some say it’s better. Some say it’s not.

I will say this… There were no developmental territories in 1979. You broke in the best way you could. And if you did get an opportunity, you could bet there would be veterans who didn’t like some “young punk” infiltrating “their” business. The venues weren’t always the biggest or the best. Even with names like Sports Complex, Sports Arena, Sportatorium, were misleading. But a lot of the venues had a distinct character. The territory had a flavor or buzz that loyal wrestling fans knew and followed on a regular basis. You got into wrestling because you wanted to be a wrestler. Not a movie star or game show host.

It was on the job training and traveling by car was the norm. You don’t get to decide when you’re born, so when I hear someone say “I was born 20 years too late for this business” I get it, but you have to accept what professional wrestling has become. It’s been called “Sports Entertainment” for years and who knows what the next sound bite or description will be. The WWE Network is set to be the hub of what the general public and coming generations will believe to be the only place to find out anything they want about pro wrestling.

I bet network producers are going to have some great stuff ready on launch day. Incredible stuff that hasn’t been seen in years! I am looking forward to it.

30 years may be a long time to some. Please remember, wrestling (and WWE) was around before Wrestlemania. The Network is a milestone. I hope they don’t forget about the history that precedes 1985. I know WWE has a film library and knows the history of this business. The Network is the perfect place to show generations to come what they missed out on…

Thanks for reading.

Indie Wrestler in WWE

Most independent wrestlers aspire to be in WWE. With the perceived edict by WWE that “they are not looking for indie wrestlers” these days might discourage some people.

Don’t let it.

I haven’t read or heard any declaration by WWE that they have excluded looking at any and all independent performers. No doubt they would prefer to teach someone from scratch with no bad habits but if they see an exceptional talent on the independent scene that has potential, I believe they will sign them. It would be ridiculous to limit where you find talent. One thing we always understood when I was coaching developmental was you never knew who might be a break out star.

CM Punk, Daniel Bryan and Stone Cold Steve Austin are three guys who were looked at as “mid card at best” when they first arrived in WWE. While Punk and Bryan gained a reputation on the indies, Austin had the opportunity to work various promotions including USWA, ECW and WCW before becoming a major break out star defining the Attitude Era…

There are countless names that were never pegged as top guys for one reason or another. But they came in, got over in the ring and understood how to maneuver and manipulate their way into featured attractions… Chris Jericho is a talented performer who was NEVER supposed to be a main eventer, much less a Unified World Champion by defeating two of the biggest stars ever and yet he accomplished that and so much more…

When the territory system became extinct (AKA put out of business) Vince McMahon realized he needed to put something in place to develop new stars or business would suffer. The lifeblood of pro wrestling/sports entertainment is fresh, new faces.

The developmental system officially started in 1996. Through various coaches, trainers and managers the developmental system has put the majority of Superstars seen on WWE programming in dominant positions. Talent came from every conceivable place.

Most of the ones who had a passion, love and understood the dynamics of what they were getting into were successful.

I had the opportunity to see many different athletes come in and try their hand at being a WWE Superstar.

One thing that really irked me was when the developmental manager at the time would tell an athlete from another sport who readily admitted they knew nothing about wrestling, “Don’t worry, they’ll teach you. It’s easy!”

What? It’s “easy”??? Really…

So let me get this straight… You have a guy who prepared his whole life to be a professional football player, was a big star in high school and college and gets cut right before the season starts. The guy has watched WWE with his buddies occasionally and they all know it’s “fake” but hell, looks like it could be fun. And you’re going to pay him how much??

So we would be graced by this former football star believing in his mind he’s doing us all a favor and we should be honored to be in his presence, come in and proceed to show us how good he can throw a “fake” punch on his first day. Right… You’re going to learn the basics like locking up and bumping and by the way, you won’t be throwing a punch, strike or kick for the first six months, so how about shutting up and pay attention.

Usually those guys flounder when they realize it’s not so “easy” and realize this isn’t where they want to be. Some quit. Some milked the system for all it was worth until management finally took our advice and cut their losses.

Not all athletes from other sports approached WWE, wrestling or training that way but there were enough who did that made me wonder why they are really there…

Was it because they washed out of their first love and figured WWE would be an easy ride to make a lot of money? Yeah, some really felt that way.

It’s great if you can recruit athletes from other sports who are willing to put just as much effort into learning the art form of ‘sports entertainment’ as they did with their first love.

The same holds true for independent wrestlers. Just because you had your first match ten years ago doesn’t mean you’ve been wrestling for ten years! That 8 year stretch you took off after wrestling once every three months doesn’t count…

A lot of indie guys have bad habits that are hard to break. Some believe because they performed in front of 45 screaming family members at the local flea market they are ready for the big time.

One of my favorite stories is when a certain “recruiter” signed a big fella on his look and so called ‘experience.’ This fella I’ll call ‘Ron’ had supposedly been wrestling for ten years in the Midwest. Now he was signed to the WWE…

Ron had a scruffy beard, 6’5” and around 280 lbs. A sloppy, out of shape 280… The guy couldn’t lock up properly and when I asked him why, he said “I normally just go out there and beat people up.”


I had new people and tryouts come for the morning and afternoon classes back then and after the first session I told Ron he had an hour break and I’d see him after lunch.

Right before the second class, a student came up to me and said “Ron told me to tell you he needed to go back to his room and take a nap.”

I was dumbfounded. Ron was gone the next week.

Thanks Ty…

On the other hand there were a lot of passionate, dedicated guys and girls whose only dream and goal was to be a wrestler. They weren’t the biggest but they could out-wrestle and out-work most of the class. They might have got a look once or twice only to be told “creative has nothing for you.”

In the old days there was a “booker” and if you were in the company, it was up to that booker to find a place for you on the card. Then it was up to that individual to get over and move up or move out. But at least they were given a fair shot.

Bill Watts had a big man territory in Louisiana and his philosophy was to have big, mean, ugly monsters have knockdown, drag out matches around the horn. They were believable alright but by the early to mid-1980s, houses were dwindling.

Enter the smaller, action oriented teams of the Rock and Roll and Midnight Express. Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson against Bobby Eaton, Dennis Condry and Jim Cornette managing proved to be the right combination of youth, action and charisma to spark the territory and do the best business it had seen in years! Watts tried something new and it worked. In an earlier time he might have scoffed at the idea of putting anybody under 6’3” 250 lbs. in the main event but with venues selling out Bill Watts understood this was certainly “best for business.”

I believe WWE brass will do what’s right for business. Sometimes you have to take a step back and look at the big picture, but in the end those in charge will do the right thing. That goes for signing that indie talent out there who won’t be denied…

But just because you think you should be in WWE doesn’t mean you’re ready.

The 10,000 hour rule would apply here just as much, if not more so. In order to get better and become great, you mustn’t just practice, get booked on live events at the same place every month; You have to get noticeably better and be prepared before even thinking about WWE.

It’s not as easy as it looks and not just anyone can do it.

But I have to believe there are some who can and will. Follow your dreams. Work hard to accomplish your goals. And never, never, never give up.

Thanks for reading.