I have had a few requests from some old friends to write about this, so here is an intro into my days in wrestling.
Like anyone who was in their early teens in the early 80s, I watched a LOT of pro wrestling. Unlike a lot of people, my favorites were not Hulk Hogan, Junkyard Dog and Hillbilly Jim. I liked the wrestling that seemed more realistic. I watched a lot of Southwest Championship Wrestling, with stars such as Cowboy Scott Casey, Hangman Bobby Jaggers, and Mr. Piledriver Bob Sweetan. I also was hooked on World Class Championship wrestling, with the Von Erich family being at the top of the list. And every Saturday I would tune in at 5:05 to TBS and watch Georgia Championship Wrestling and stayed a fan as it evolved into World Championship Wrestling.
Never having been one to do anything half way, I not only was a fan, but I had every intention of getting in the ring myself. I had to become a wrestler, and thus pay true homage to my wrestling heroes.
Now, just in case there is anyone left out there who does not know, pro wrestling is a work, a term which means that it is an exhibition, not a competition. This is, still in my mind, very different from fake. Bodies fly, and bones are broken, and that my friends is real. This could just be leftover from the brainwashing that is involved in training someone for the ring. It is this brainwashing that makes us think we are doing what we are supposed to do when we cut our head open, or take an unprotected chair shot to the skull for the sake of making the show look real. One thing I need to point out here, to the wrestlers themselves, it is real. At least back at the time I am speaking of. We would get out there and give 100% of what our bodies had to give to entertain the audience. When the boys in the back would talk about a match they had worked, it always sounded as if it was a fight to the death. “I didn’t think I would get outta there alive” was a common saying. We took pride in what we were doing, even if it was a very strange sort of pride.
At the time when I was first breaking in, it was still very closed to outsiders. The business had a set standard where no one was permitted in unless they knew the right people, the right people being those who were already insiders. I finally met a guy named Michael Shapiro who introduced me to the people who would get me a chance to get into the ring.
The first thing the trainers did was try to make you quit. I thought this was a stupid way to do business, as when someone actually shows up for training, they are already proving their real intentions, but this was just the way things were done. In my first workout I was put into a “ring” which was nothing more than a slightly padded area of the room, with ropes set to form a crude square. I was put up against someone, but I cannot for the life of me remember his name. We squared off and lock into collar and elbow (a basic starting position for any pro match). The guy was strong, but I was no slouch myself. By this time I already knew that it was all a work, but this guy was going through this as if it were a shoot (competitive). By this point in my life, I already was a pretty capable wrestler, as well as being a solidly trained martial artist as well. I was not afraid, and I handled his rough wrestling pretty well. He grew frustrated, as his job was to really push me, and make me quit, and he wasn’t getting it done. He clubbed me in the face with a forearm, and I did it right back to him. We slugged it out (Brett would call it “one potato, two potato, three potato, four). Then he took it to the ground. I managed to lock a double underhook on him, and scissor his waist with my legs. This is not a particularly painful move, but it is a booger to get out of, and he was trapped. Although it wasn’t the most remarkable match, I took what they threw at me and won. Then the trainer took me aside and proceeded to “smarten me up”, which means he was exposing the business.
Over the next few weeks I kept training with the hope of getting a match in front of people. The trainer was a little shady, and kept asking for more and more money, of which I had none. He promoted his own shows in and around Austin, and he would have the people who sold the most tickets go over (win their match). If you didn’t sell enough tickets, you might not even be on the card. I kept getting passed over for matches, mostly because I didn’t have more money to pay the promoter, and in part because I didn’t go out and sell a lot of tickets.
I was about six months into my training when I had my first match. It took place in San Antonio at a Flea Market. The promoter ran a flea market and had matches every Sunday. So I got to start working matches pretty regularly for him. The ring was pretty unforgiving. My first match was against my buddy who wrestled under the name “Chief Lightfoot”. Later he would be Best Man at my first wedding. (Yeah, that’s right, my four month marriage…)
So, in my first match, I learned a tough lesson. I tried to show the audience every move and trick that I knew. Inside of three minutes I was completely blown up. I was dead on my feet, and we still had more time to fill. I managed to get through the match, and went back to training to get a better understanding of how to work a match that I could actually survive.
I was back the next Sunday, and had a much better match.
I was only a few weeks into actually working and getting paid (poorly) when I had my first in ring injury. My opponent sent me into the ropes and executed a clothesline on me when I came off the ropes. I really wanted this to be a memorable bump for the audience, and intended to really put my opponent over. I was a lot bigger than him and I felt we needed something big to happen to change the course of the match, and allow him to win in a way that would make it seem believable. I tried something I had never done before – to spin 360 degrees in the air and land flat on my back with what I hoped would be an earth shattering THUD.
Well, in reality I managed to get pretty high in the air, about five feet up, totally horizontal, and spin about 90 degrees.
When you are six and a half feet tall, and (back then I weighed) 245lbs., and you are in the air with your butt higher than your head, it ain’t gonna end pretty. I landed on my right shoulder and it separated on impact. I felt it pop back into place when I rolled over on my back, and the strangest thing, I was wearing a mask, but you can still somehow see that expression of pain on my face on the film.
The show, of course, must go on. When Oscar pulled me to my feet, I told him I messed up my shoulder. Like a true professional, he chopped my throat before asking me if I could continue. I said I would try, so he chopped me a few more times and threw me out of the ring to let me think about whether or not to continue. I opted to continue, and we did for about another ten minutes or so, if memory serves. The match ended when he tried to remove my mask and reveal my identity. I was instructed that he would seriously try to get the mask off, and under no circumstances could I allow him to succeed, because they were promoting me to the audience as a major star hiding under a mask. If he had managed to pull the mask off there would have been a serious let down for the audience…
With the match over, I was in the back thinking about the long drive back to Austin. One of the boys kindly offered to yank on my arm and make sure it was correctly back in place, but I opted not to take him up on it. There are a lot of “doctors” in wrestling, guys who have been hurt and figured out ways to get out of seeing a real doctor. I never did let any of them practice on me.
I waited to get paid, this time it was five dollars! Yes! My first big payday! Never mind that he paid me in quarters, I had laundry money! So I took my coins and started the long drive back to Austin.
On the drive, my yellow ‘86 Camaro had a blowout. So, here I am, dead tired, one working arm, and trying to change my tire on the side of I-35. Not fun. It gets better folks! I managed to get the lug nuts loosened, and get the car jacked up with only one arm. I pulled the tire off, and the car fell off of the jack.
Yeah…that day kept getting better and better.
You can always rely on the kindness of strangers, and that was the case here. Someone saw me sitting on the fender staring blankly at the world that had somehow gone very, very wrong, and changed the tire for me.
I kept working matches around central and south Texas for several more years. In the end, I realized the big leagues were turning more and more to the ‘roided up monsters, and being unwilling to juice, I called it quits.
I am not bitter about it at all. I think if I had been given the chance, I could have done some pretty good things, but I had my innings. I don’t watch a lot of the current product because I don’t like it. When I was a wrestler, we wrestled. The boys now are stuntmen, not wrestlers. When I was in wrestling, you had a match where everybody thought the two guys were hurting each other, and we weren’t. Now, you have two guys jumping off of balcony’s and landing in piles of barbed wire and thumb tacks, and people think they aren’t getting hurt. It really isn’t worth the time to watch anymore.
Anyway, that is a quick peak inside the world of pro wrestling from someone who was there and managed to survive past the age of 40. When I watched the Mickey Rourke film “The Wrestler”, I was actually thankful that I never made the big time. That could have been me. I never got famous, but looking back, it doesn’t seem that I ever even tried to get famous, so I don’t look at it as a failure. It was fun, and I met some really good people, and that is what life is supposed to be about.