Posts Tagged ‘Wrestling’

Sacrifices made

December 9, 2008

I’ve often compared independent professional wrestlers to starving artists. Not because any of us can paint but because we share that common bond of not having a penny to our name until we make it big. Fortunately, there are those of us that are lucky enough to have a “regular” job to somewhat support our wrestling habit. There are those of us that are not so lucky for various reasons but we still share the same trials trying to sell our painting in the hopes to one day be famous. This is a little piece of how my journey started as an artist named Reckless Youth.

Some background

I was a starving artist in the sense of the word that I was going broke financing my wrestler career through the paychecks of my regular job. To be clear, I wasn’t making very much money working an average of three days a week and at the time I was an hourly employee. I was lucky enough that the job allowed me the flexibility to be gone just about every Monday and Friday while I gallivanted around the eastern half of the United States. The health insurance benefit was a definite plus especially at the rate at which I got various injuries including repeated concussions. *Total side note* It got to the point that remembering many of the towns I worked across the country were filled more so with thoughts of malls and hospitals. *Total side note end* Part of the flexibility agreement required that I travel with a company issued laptop to complete many duties while I was off playing wrestler in some VFW in the middle of nowhere. I remember wrestlers and promoters making comments that I must have a good job if they gave me a laptop to travel with. Because I enjoyed the mystique, I never let on that I wasn’t being paid for the additional laptop time and what little money I made from promoters wrestling was typically funneled right back to travel and food. I’m a crazy tax guy now and I have held onto my Federal Tax returns for many more years than I needed. I can remember in 1996 making about $2,000 wrestling and spending close to $8,000 doing so. At the time, I made around 16,000 that year at my day job after taxes. It’s safe to say that I was very thankful that I lived with my grandfather. He didn’t charge me for my room and food.

A little more

Some may know that my professional wrestling career more or less started in the Ohio and Michigan area. This wasn’t because I wanted it to but more so because I could not get booked in the various promotions minutes from my house in New Jersey. At the time, I had been black balled by Larry Sharpe because I refused to pay him any more money for wrestling school. That is another story for another time but he was the only promoter that supplied the few matches I had up to that point of my career. We are talking two matches just so we are clear. At the time, there were only a handful of promotions in the area and they all comingled. This basically meant that I couldn’t get work elsewhere in the area because Larry would and could put the kibosh on me. Because of this, I sought to reinvent myself by taking advantage of an opportunity to train in Ohio at Al Snow’s wrestling school. Little did I know that this chance would launch me farther than I had ever expected to.

Getting into it

I was working on a somewhat regular basis by late 1995 in the Ohio and Michigan area that filtered right into 1996. I was a monthly regular on Global Championship Wrestling in Lima and Great Lakes Wrestling in Detroit. As Global faded for normal independent wrestling reasons, I still found myself traveling out to work Great Lakes shows in Detroit. It was actually a suburb of Detroit called Wayne but it’s just easier to say Detroit so those that don’t know the area understand. For those reading that were from Wayne, please don’t be offended because I’m just trying to make it easier on all of us. Anyway, I have terribly fond memories of Great Lakes Wrestling probably because they were the first promotion to ask me back. Because I felt a certain bit of loyalty to the company for that reason, I always gave everything I had when performing for them even while getting $25 handshakes at the end night. At the time, I adored the business and could care less figuring that everything would pay off on the other side. While many of you might think that my sacrifice was with the low pay to high expense ratio but that couldn’t be further from the truth. My sacrifice came more from the associations and arrangements while working Michigan.

Enter the Machine Gun

Great Lakes Wrestling was run by a mark turned promoter named John Muse and a Michigan mainstay wrestler known as “Machine Gun” Mike Kelly. I don’t think there was a person that didn’t like and respect John Muse. The same could not be said for Mike Kelly. Don’t get me wrong, Mike was not a bad guy by any means but he was definitely a character. He was known as the Midwest Japanese Wrestling tape supply guy and for good reason. He had mountains of VHS tape (yes it was that long ago) with regular weekly deliveries. He was always kind with giving out tapes and much of the style I worked would not have been possible if not for his tape giving generosity. That being said, I can’t really say he was ever thee most gracious host.

It’s cold in here

During this time, I was a regular travel partner with Don Montoya. The Great Lakes guys were kind enough to book Montoya on shows as well and this definitely eased the 13 hour car rides to Detroit especially sharing the travel costs. Mike was kind enough to put us up in his house saving us from sleeping in the car or renting a hotel room but it always seemed to be an odd experience. Thinking back now somewhat, I guess Mike’s conditions were not terribly odd but not always as gracious as you might think someone would treat invited guests. I’m definitely stressing on the gracious part and you’ll understand in a minute what I mean.

Food and Drink

Mike never offered any food or drink for us while we stayed with him. The drink part makes this particularly odd because he worked for Pepsi Corporation and usually had cases of various soft drinks all around his house while we were there. It wasn’t unusual for him to reach in his Pepsi Corp beverage stocked refrigerator and pull out an individual bottle of Pepsi while he was talking to us without so much as offering anything to drink to us. I can remember one time Montoya asking for Pepsi but Mike actually told him he could not have any as he was leaning against cases stacked almost as tall as him. I guess he didn’t have enough or was stocking up for Y2K. He eventually caved in and one time he left two bottled waters between the both of us during a 2 day stay. Towards the end, Montoya just started sneaking cans when Kelly was somewhere else in the house or asleep.

You have to leave

One of the other many oddities was that we had to be out of Mike’s house in the wee hours of the morning because he was leaving the house for work. Mike typically worked his day job on a show day regardless of weather it was on Friday or Saturday. I’m not sure what he actually did for Pepsi other than having cases of various Pepsi brands stacked around his house for which we could not drink. We usually had to be out around 5am and would be left to fend for ourselves in a town we did not know. The last few times we stayed with him he directed us to a local gym that we could sleep in the locker rooms and take a shower. Since most places really didn’t open until much later, we often found ourselves huddled in Montoya’s extremely small and uninviting car for a handful of hours trying to catch up on sleep. Keep in mind that only a few hours prior, we had been driving to Michigan for 13 or so hours and would typically be in between wrestling events or our day jobs. It would be safe to say that we were very exhausted and much of my independent traveling years were lived on with the aid of Vivarin. A few times during the lake affect temperatures of 10 or 15 degrees, Mike would let us stay in his pool house and watch wrestling videos while he was working. To put it in perspective, this wasn’t a pool house like you would think of in the movies. This was about three sides of wood board and one side of sheer netting separating from the pool. On a 15 degree day, it felt like negative 20 in there. It wouldn’t be unusual for both Montoya and I to come home with colds after every Michigan trip.

Whales and Popsicle sticks

Staying with Mike Kelly wasn’t always that bad and I can understand his thinking looking back now. I can’t say how comfortable I would be letting some strangers have run of the house while I was not there. I think the food and drink thing might be a little much but it would definitely depend on if it was pay week or not and how many bills needed to be paid at that time. We all know that we are not making the big bucks running around in our underwear playing wrestler. There were the positives of having exposure to Mike’s massive Japanese wrestling tape library that did shape much of what I became at a time when no one was exposed to it the way they are now. There’s also the fantastically funny memory of Montoya, at a time when he was very big, trying to fit on the Army cot that we were given to sleep. It was like a whale trying to lay on a Popsicle stick elevated by Popsicle sticks. That night of much laughter was worth what little sleep I got. Too bad that was before camera phones and YouTube.

Everyone independent wrestler has stories of sacrifice in their road to selling or trying to sell their art. Some stories are long and painful while others have ben lucky enough to have been short and jovial. Most stories fall somewhere in between. While I did not make it rich selling my art, I do have fond memories that are priceless pieces of craftsmanship. These vivid accounts are the art that I can share with anyone that will enjoy reading them.

I hope no one heard that

September 12, 2008

Have you ever woken in the middle of the night to the sheer pain of a muscle spasm? This typically happens at that point in the late night when you are enjoying thee most euphoric dream you have ever had in your life. Suddenly, you have fallen off the bed clutching your hamstring or you are hobbling around the room favoring your calf. Those experiencing this type of pain are barely lucid crying out loudly in pain similar to a severely wounded animal. A muscle spasm does not discriminate and even the strongest amongst us have been crippled by this common affliction in the embarrassing presence of those we wish to impress or idolize.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines that a spasm is a sudden violent and temporary sensation. It is an involuntary and abnormal muscle contraction. Well I can assure you that a spasm is far from voluntary and the sensation does not feel like it is only temporary when you are experiencing it. I personally have broken out in a cold sweat between crying out like a school girl in pain thinking that this is seriously reducing my life expectancy in measurable months at the very least. At this point, I’m sure I’ve been graphic enough for any of you reading to be thinking about your last experience with a muscle spasm and quite possibly are rubbing a hammy right now. So now that you have been properly uncomforted, let me share with you one of those embarrassing moments.

I could not tell you how much I completely despised filming two or three television tapings in 100+ degree temperatures at outside summer shows in my good ole days in Memphis. It was not uncommon for a wrestler to be in the middle of a match and roll under the ring to loose what little lunch he did have. That’s nothing a little production room editing won’t fix though. I seem to remember an ambulance or two in those days as well carting away fans due to heat exhaustion. There is nothing like little hospital run for our fans to keep what little we had coming back. In the thralls of the heat, we use to joke about slogans for the company. It actually annoyed the promoter quite a bit and I would naturally always push the envelope that would later lead to some kind of disciplinary action. My vote was Memphis Championship Wrestling: You think you hate wrestling now, wait until we come to town. The laughter that I still experience to this day thinking of that line and that you are probably now experiencing after reading that bit is what got many of us through much of that developmental territory drama.

During this time, the developmental group was under the guidance of “Lord” Steven Regal. He is better known these days as William Regal but this was a period prior to his resurgence in the WWE. Some of you readers would know that I was a great admirer of his work and did my best to cling to him much like a lost puppy. Because he had a fondness for mentoring, he was very much accepting of my interest in whatever experiences or skills he might be willing to share. When we later began a wrestling program together where we wrestled each other in various towns countless times over a several months, it was common that we traveled quite often between venues. Towards the conclusion of this run, we both had the opportunity to participate at the Brian Pillman Memorial Show hosted by Les Thatcher in Cincinnati. While we did not know it prior to the event, the Pillman Memorial would mark a significant resurrection for Regal that quickly propelled him back into the national spotlight.

Despite the toxic heat, Regal recruited me to train with him vigorously for weeks leading up to the event. We would train for hours on a daily basis between the ring and studying recorded matches. This would be intensified even further at live events where he typically had our matches last at least 30 minutes. Couple this on top of the blistering heat of a Southern Summer, you can imagine that both he and I were quite depleted to the point that even Gatorade was just not enough. Obviously, the lack of essential fluids and proper nutrients to balance the aggressive training regimen in such heat would naturally react with constant muscle spasms. Many of the guys were experiencing the spasms and sharing remedies as to avoid them. You would think that many of the workers could be pharmacists with their pharmaceutical knowledge or even doctors with their medication recommendations. I guess it could be a possibility if the whole wrestling thing does not work out but how many people do you think would really adhere to the recommendations of a 6’5” bold headed, tattooed from head to toe, steroid looking pharmacist.

Before I knew it, the Pillman Event was upon us and this was the time to shine for all the respective intelligent wrestling fans as well as talent scouts for the major promotions. The previous month leading up to the memorial Regal had been running through a scripted match in his head that he would bounce ideas off me. I honestly added nothing to his ideas but had heard it so many times I could probably take Benoit’s place although it would not be nearly as memorable. I’m not sure that many may have known that he and Benoit were very close. Benoit had a very strong respect for Regal and the layout was agreed.

On a complete side note that only adds to this story and accentuates a major weakness in the business today, Regal was respectful of every piece of Benoit’s style in laying out a match for the both of them. Rather than Regal being only concerned about what he could do and how well Benoit could make him look, Regal was concerned about them both putting on a stellar performance and emphasizing both of their strengths. They were both concerned about having a good match. I have far too often seen the new crop of talent these days only stressing about them. They think a good match is making sure they can hit their premier move or moves during the match and heaven forbid if their opponent is not familiar or skilled enough to do take it. I think I made a name for myself over the years because I was able to elevate those that I worked with or had the ability to work around my opponent’s weakness to ultimately produce a quality match. This is the type of measure that came to be known as the difference between a wrestler and a worker. Both Regal and Benoit were highly respected throughout the business because the fact that they were workers.

I had never had the chance to see the Malenko-Guerrero series live in the ECW arena but I heard it was magic. It was the type of magic that solidified wrestling fans to that brand and ushered in a new era of wrestling talent lining up at schools to train. I watched it on a poor quality VHS tape but it still gave me a tingle and still does to this day just thinking about it. I can tell you that this wrestling magic was captured this night at the Brian Pillman Memorial when Benoit and Regal faced each other. I was lucky enough to witness the magic in person as a fan once more sitting in the crowd. Many wrestlers become jaded after being in the business for some time and can no longer find the magic that made them a fan in the first place. There are rare moments that spark that feeling deep in their stomachs that make them proud again to say they are a professional wrestler. This was one of those moments for me. I had never been more proud to say that day that I was a wrestler and loved the sport. It was one of those moments where I became a fan again sitting on a hard wood bleacher cheering on to classic entertainers. Even though I knew every movement they were going to make I still sat on the edge of my seat as if I was a child. Of course, the performance propelled Regal right back into the national spotlight and altered much of the content of many WWE matches for some time to come.

Because Regal and I had been traveling quite a bit during this time, we shared a room that night on the same floor as many other performers at the event. This was common especially to ease the overall traveling costs that many fans think are just taken care of by promoters or companies. After a late night, he and I both were looking forward to some sleep before our early morning flights back home for a few days. Please try to keep in mind that the day before the Pillman we had both finished one of those infamous multiple hour television taping in the sweltering Memphis heat. Suddenly, I woke in the middle of the night to the howls and screams of Regal having one of those infamous muscle spasms. I believe that it may have lasted a minute or two but it felt as though it was an hour. For reasons that I thought he might be embarrassed, I never let it be known that I was awake during his screaming. I’m really not sure how anyone could sleep through it anyway but as it went on for what felt like a month, I started to think there were other people in rooms all around us. People that knew Regal and I were in this room in the middle of the night with him howling in such a way that might be misconstrued. It figures that my mind went right to the gutter and I completely blame the lack of sleep on my thinking. At this point, I could not go back to sleep and I was devastatingly embarrassed as his episode went on from what now is feeling like a year. My mind is thinking that everyone is awake hearing this on our floor as well as the floors above and below. My mind is rambling that someone is standing outside the door recording every moment and just waiting for one of us to walk out of the room in the morning to make the situation out to be something it is not.

I can remember creeping out of the room early the next morning as to not wake Regal to find the cleaning lady doing her business in the halls. I can remember her looking at me suspect and me thinking that she heard everything and thought something more was happening in the room than what really did. More than likely, she was probably wondering why I was leaving so early in the morning. I don’t even think the sun was out. I’m sure I had a better chance that she was thinking I was a vampire rather than even knowing what happened that night. Either way, over the years, I’ve told the story to wrestlers and fans alike just in case one of them was in ear shot of Regal screaming or possibly have heard the story handed down from another. I mean I’m just trying to clarify the WHOLE story so it’s not “taken out of context” when I run for public office. Last thing I need is a scandal that could hurt my chances for election. Well now I come to think, it might actually help my election chances depending on what party I run. The only thing I regret about that entire event, I never did get a chance to thank Regal for the magic that was that match. If this story ever does make it your way, skip all the goofy spasm stuff.

Heroes in the Business

April 1, 2008

I would say that the largest majority of people in the wrestling business were inspired by another wrestler creating a strong enough interest for them to eventually become involved in professional wrestling in some capacity. Those that are in the business have probably been positively influenced as well throughout the years through their experiences with different performers as well. I’ve decided to focus this excerpt into my wrestling life about those that I felt that have influenced me in either or both of those circumstances I’ve mentioned. I would consider these gentlemen to be my heroes in the business and I wouldn’t be surprised if they are a stark contrast to your wrestling heroes but please allow me to elaborate on each so that you may be able to identify.

 

I want to take a moment or more to clarify that there are a small minority of performers in the industry over the last handful of years that were lucky enough to trip up to the spotlight that had little interest or desire in the business at all. I’m sure you know these people that call or called themselves wrestlers at one point between their football and acting careers. You can replace football with bodybuilding or acting with writer or a number of other things but I’m sure you get the idea. Many of these people saw professional wrestling as a logical platform to a higher goal of something they might consider as more respectable. Jesse Ventura is definitely not someone that comes to mind because politics was an afterthought of a successful wrestling career that he retired. I don’t want you to think that women in the business are exempt either because I feel that many today are more goal oriented beyond professional wrestling than men. I couldn’t say whether that is a good thing or not but I look at it as a betrayal of the business especially for those that have paid dues and linger in obscurity while these people occupy a spot they don’t respect. Any tested independent wrestler that has sacrificed and endured knows of the people I speak and can sympathize with exactly what I’m talking about in this paragraph.

 

As I’m sure most in the wrestling industry today, they have found respect in the eyes of those they might not have ever thought prior or a level above what they had come to already have previously. I can tell you that they have been heroes of mine that have tragically disappointed me in personal experiences with them in the course of my career as well. Regardless of that fact, those that can’t recognize or appreciate these experiences will be stunted in their wrestling maturity and will be realized by others that will be able to acknowledge these encounters to grow as a performer. The common differences you can see is how a young person in the business will respect the words of those that have been tested in the industry. How is advice is taken or adhered to is a testament of how they will be gauged going forward. You and any reading this can probably name at least 20 people that have or will go nowhere because of an attitude or lack of respect. There have definitely been arguments made about me to that respect over the years and I welcome the chance to rationally debate them at any point.

 

Anyone that has read any interviews or profiles on me would know that I had many favorites prior to getting into the wrestling business. I can remember being completely overpowered with emotion watching the Road Warriors destroy opponents in the ring during their NWA stint. Before hardcore wrestling was ever popular, the feelings that would overwhelm me would make me want to destroy furniture and people in my wake similar to how I perceived anything they were challenged with. I was at many Philadelphia Civic Center events solely because the Road Warriors were performing screaming along with all of the fans that adored them. Despite all of this, I couldn’t call them influences or inspirations for me getting into the business especially because of my rather small statue. My heroes or influences were those with a subtle style that might be missed by a casual fan but I’m sure they were well respected by those in the business.

 

One of my original idols prior to getting into the business was “Lord” Steven Regal. He is now known as William Regal but those that have been around him for years still refer to him as “his Lordship” or Steve. During my brief involvement with WWE, he was highly respected by all of his peers for good reason. There’s not a person in the business that can’t know his contributions to the sport unless they were too self-absorbed to recognize them. I was privileged enough to adore him from afar as a fan as well as personally during my tenure with the World Wrestling Federation. Before any of you get the wrong idea with my connotation of the word adore, I mean it in the context to revere, idolize, respect, and admire. I would challenge you to expand your vocabulary if you were searching to find a more devious meaning in what I was trying to explain.

 

The truth of the matter is that there’s no better word to describe the emotion around the entire experience. He was truly a mentor to me prior to me even knowing him personally. While I realize that he has had his share of personal demons, there’s no discounting the fact that his ring expertise were second to none. I’ve spent the greater part of my wrestling career mimicking his work and studied him during my time in the Memphis developmental territory while he was the trainer. By this point, he had exercised his demons and was trying to make a concerted effort to dedicate himself to returning to the spotlight in a prime spot with the major wrestling company. He was able to achieve this goal and I’d like to think that I may have played a small part in it but I doubt it. Either way, it was an even greater experience in his presence learning from him that it ever could have been just watching him on a televised broadcast.

 

We might find our influences in odd places and some might think this by me saying that Raven played an intricate role in my development prior to and during my wrestling career. Many of you would think of his ECW, hardcore style, and wonder how he influenced me considering there was a big difference. In my upstart as the Reckless Youth character, I even dressed similar to him and greatly stressed over being labeled as a clone. I was quickly able to break the mold more so because his Raven character embodied a style. That right there speaks to how influential he was to the rather newer generation of wrestlers getting into the business. I was more so wrapped into his characters portrayed from the past like Scotty the Body and Scotty Flamingo.

 

This guy grew up two towns over from me in New Jersey and would be one of my most influential people in the business to this day. I spent quite a bit of time studying his movements in the ring to the point that I emulated much of his pre-Raven style. And make no mistake, Johnny Polo was a great color commentator and his Saturday morning antics with Gorilla Monsoon were classics. For obvious reasons, He will be remembered most for his Raven character but I’m not sure he will be appreciated correctly for his contributions to the sport. Because of this reason, I’m going to try to touch on it out of respect for his accomplishments.

 

The Extreme Championship Wrestling spirit was embodied in him. People that have profited off that brand should be playing royalties to him for the rest of his days. It was his controversial ideas and his character that put ECW on the map. He enjoyed a cult following and personified a movement. He truly was ECW and was responsible for ushering a new era of wrestling that affected the major companies in the industry. He was responsible for blurring the lines between characters where there was only shades of grey. This distinction carried over to both major companies at the time and their styles were influenced as well. Raven will not be properly credited for his role in the change of an industry from the grade school appeal to a more hard edged young adult appeal. While they are many positive qualities I can take from his Raven character, my biggest influence was in his earlier years during a short period in WCW as Scotty Flamingo.

 

My last influence came later in my wrestling career to the hands of someone that I never cared for much growing up. The man known as Rick Martel was never on the top of my list for anything growing up watching the sport. I didn’t care much for Strike Force and “The Model” didn’t do much for me. I couldn’t especially stand that he wore his laces outside of his boots. Prior to training, I couldn’t put my finger on why it didn’t seem ring but I learn later than laces are supposed to always be tucked in. I wouldn’t become more enamored with Rick Martel until a show I did in front of about 5 people in Boston.

 

As with the late 90’s in the business, promoters with money were popping up all over the country with good payouts and headline names galore on a show. Such was the case with this one promoter running an all day show at a venue in Boston. The promoters name escapes me at this point but he had quite a bit of talent on the show including many names that were once headliners in the WWF. The venue was nice but as with most wrestling stories of that time the ring was in horrible shape. It was most definitely a boxing ring and the ceiling was so low that you could not go to the second turnbuckle let alone the top. Some of the taller wrestlers actually had to squat as to not hit their heads on the ceiling while running the ring. Couple this with the fact that the ring ropes were not designed to bounce off of, it made for very uninteresting matches. Many of the younger guys and some of the bigger names refused to do much of anything considering the poor ring conditions and the very weak crowd. Despite any of this, Rick Martel worked as if it were Wrestlemania. He worked harder than I even considered and went way above the bump quota anyone set for the night in one match alone. I actually cringed with each bump he took thinking how horrible the ring was but remember that the old WWF rings were pretty bad too. I started to think this might feel like “normal” to him or might feel soft. Either way, within a few minutes into the match I was intently watching and the in found respect grew to the point that it has carried to this day. Shortly after that point, he began working regularly in WCW but was later injured. I followed those matches and even began to watch older tapes of his work. He was definitely an influence as to how not to forget where you came from and to always respect the business.

 

These are the major influences that I have carried over the years and will not loose site of. There have been some others that come to immediate mind like Curt Hennig, Rick Rude, and the Great Muta but these 3 gentlemen are the foremost in my mind as those that influenced me before and during my entire wrestling experience. Many will find their influences in many different places but mine have definitely played heavy roles in my overall work in my handful of interesting wrestling years.

The Death of Friendships

March 28, 2008

I really enjoy sharing some of my stories of experiences I’ve had over the years in professional wrestling. I think that many of them are quite entertaining and hope that those interested can get a good laugh. Unfortunately, every story doesn’t always have a fairy tale happy ending. This will be the case with the next two experiences I plan to share in this weblog. This story as well as the next will be of a far more personal nature and dig a little deeper into my personality. I really have nothing to hide and don’t mind sharing these pieces of me because I’m sure those that may read this can identify with these experiences whether they are in the business or not. The focus of this story is about the death of friendship.

 

Before anyone reading misunderstands the context, no one has literally died but rather the friendships I had with these individuals is now non-existent. Arguments could be made that the professional wrestling business has played a role in the demise of these friendships but this is more just the harsh reality of life. Depending on your personal desires, ambitions, strengths, or weakness, things can dramatically or gradually change in your life that can adversely affect relationships with those you call friend. I am by no means taking the moral high ground in any of these situations and will try my best to be completely objective about each of these situations.

 

I’d like to interject just a touch more clarity into the psyche of Tom Carter before we go a little further. I am and always have been introverted by nature. While some of you have witnessed the extremely extraverted antics of my Reckless Youth character, nothing could be further from the truth of my true personality. In many cases, after the short periods of public display of that character, I would spend a great deal of time to myself to offset the uncharacteristic behavior. I would find myself doing very much the same before an event as well and this behavior seemed to confuse many people in or around the business. It was very much thought that my in-ring personality was an extension of my true self or my actual personality and nothing could be further from the truth.

 

Because of the nature of an introverted person, it was common to only maintain a small close network of friends. An investment is made in these individuals that you would feel would be lasting relationships that would transcend an event or specific periods in your life. I would consider many people acquaintances and hold a select few close to my heart. This might not sound like the reinvention of the wheel to most but those with extraverted or far less introverted personalities can make friends and or associate with people generally much easier than an introverted person. Couple this with playing a character far different from your true personality my subconscious self would counter balance by reacting even more introverted in every situation but an actual performance itself. Now that I’ve completely bored you to tears explaining details of my idiosyncrasies, I’ll delve more into the thick of it.

 

My oldest friend, Accie Conner, has been more affectionately known in the wrestling business as D-Lo Brown. Some may be surprised to know that he did not grew up on the mean streets of Chicago but rather the far less controversial streets of a little town in New Jersey called Burlington. I’m not sure what he is or isn’t admitting to these days since we no longer talk but much of the persona he projected in the D-Lo character was nothing more than a guise. Much of my character was as well but those that questioned me I would openly admit to that fact. Accie and I went to high school together and were first acquainted on the school wrestling team. We both shared a love for wrestling to the point that we would stage events during wrestling practice, start impromptu matches during gym, incorporate interactive interview sessions during speech classes, and hold public displays after school on public property for anyone to watch. I can fondly remember one time where he and I began wrestling in his neighborhood on his front lawn. After a short period of time, cars passing by stopped in the streets and neighborhood kids passing by all gathered to the point where we had quite a few people cheering each of us on until the end. This actually became a regular event in his neighborhood that was appropriately dubbed lawn wars. I actually have a smile on my face thinking about it now. This continued on and off even into our somewhat turbulent college years. I can remember holding indoor events at my house while family was away and lining the living room with mattresses. We gathered a few other interested people and it would typically end with neighbors calling the police and or furniture being broken. You can do the math on the type of destruction when you have a bunch of wired kids using reclining chairs as the turnbuckle and bouncing off the walls as if they were ring ropes. Again, I have an ear to ear grin.

 

Through a set of circumstances, Accie and I ended up at Larry Sharpe’s Monster Factory. All during this time, our friendship grew outside of the business while we began to develop success inside of the business. Contrary to what you might think, Accie’s World Wrestling Federation success was not the downfall of or friendship. Actually, we remained quite close all during that time and he championed me to the point that I was eventually signed much due to his diligence. Our downfall was due to relationships formed outside of the wrestling business and lack of communication at a critical time in our friendship. The death of our friendship was on September 11, 2001. Circumstances surrounding this day eventually drove a wedge between us to the point that I did not attend his wedding a few short days after that historic event. It was a culmination of events that led to that point but we would not speak until many years later which was the ultimate demise of the friendship. It pains me to think about it to this day but I’m sure he felt and still possibly feels just as betrayed as I did. We spoke on probably two occasions for a short period of time in the recent past but it has been abandoned by both of us considering how drastically our lives have changed in all this time when we did not talk.

 

If any of you have read many of my stories or been around me at events, you would know that I was very close with a wrestler by the name of Don Montoya. I struggled to refer to him as his character name over the years because he and I began so close outside of the business. It was common for me to refer to him as his real name Tom Alvarez. Most of the time people in the business would think it a joke when we both introduced ourselves as Tom. He and I became friends during the time that I was training at Larry Sharpe’s Monster Factory. I had been there on and off over the years and his class was at a point where there was no trainer. I had no respect for him or his friends that all seemed to join at the same time. This was a point where independent wrestling focus seemed to begin to shift from workers to ticket sellers. He and his friends had little or no training and would get prime spots on Monster Factory shows because of the amount of tickets they sold. I had a lot of resentment towards them because I had more of old school thinking with paying dues and earning spots. Because of money and booking arguments I had with Larry Sharpe, I was not allowed to wrestle at shows and often would be relegated to trivial duties at shows if I was at them at all.

 

Tommy began to distance himself from this pack of misfits and take the business more seriously after a few months. He would ask me quite a few questions about how I did certain moves outside of the normal course of what little training there was and I would refuse to answer him. He would ask me how I did the Texas Cloverleaf and I would tell him to learn how to do a hip toss or an abdominal stretch first. It wasn’t till he later would come back showing me that he self taught himself much as I did that he began to earn my respect. He and I seemed to share the more old school aspect of the business as far as getting your name out at your own expense. Over the next few years, he and I would regularly travel all over the eastern half of the United States for chances to wrestle for little or no money. It was not uncommon for us to get a $15 dollar payday in Ohio after a 12 hour car ride at our expense and we sucked it up. We bounded on these long trips working in Detroit on one night and Boston on the other. All this time we were financing our trips from money we made at our regular weekly clerical jobs.

 

As time went on, our friendship transcended into our personal lives sharing holiday or special family events with each others families. I had joked that over the years he had become more of a family friend than my friend alone as the years went on. This all changed drastically with an odd set of circumstances where he completely cut off communication with me and members of my family that deeply hurt everyone involved. The death of this friendship was one Christmas morning in the not too distant past.  It was not until some time later that individuals in my family tried to pull him back into the fold. For obvious reasons, it was no longer a comfortable or trusting relationship for anyone involved. Because of these reasons, it fell apart again recently and the wounds of the past were reopened. I think it’s safe to say that there will no longer be attempted reunions. I would say that this relationship fell apart due to immaturity and a self-defeating personality on his part but I’m sure I had some part in what may have precipitated his reactions. Despite all of this, I laugh to myself and write quite a bit about all the jokes we played on each other and others around us during our wrestling experiences. It still makes me smile to this day regardless of everything that has become of our friendship.

 

I have one other friendship with a guy named Dave Keller that gradually ended more so because of changes in my life than anything he did. Accie, Dave, and I were intertwined in our early years backyard wrestling that eventually migrated to professional wrestling. Many of you would have never heard of Dave’s name because he stopped wrestling within the first year of his wrestling career. He was older than Accie and I with a family that he needed to provide for. Accie and I had the ability to sacrifice time and money to make our way in the business and Dave didn’t have that same luxury. As he pulled away from the business, our common bond with the wrestling business was shattered eventually leading to the death of that friendship. Dave was a key friendship in my life at a point that I was slow low that I considered killing myself. You read that right and this was a period probably 3 years before I even began training. I can remember Dave trying to recruit me for a weekend of backyard wrestling one time and I was very depressed in general over a long time girlfriend leaving me. He told me that no matter how down on myself I felt that I should always take comfort in knowing that I had a really good dropkick. Again, you read that right. He went onto explain with passion how difficult it is to have such a good dropkick and to never forget that whenever I allow myself to feel lower than what I truly am. As silly as those words may sound, it kept me alive and I still utter them to this day whenever I feel down on myself for any reason. It makes me chuckle to myself and realize that I can get through however difficult anything may be. I truly miss that he and I can no longer connect due to the fact that time pulled us apart.   

 

I write all of this just as incite into my experiences that I’m sure many of you can identify with. At this point, those close friendships are gone and much of my focus has been on my family and career outside of wrestling. I have been fortunate to have met wonderful people in the business over the years but the three mentioned above were intertwined more in my personal life that transcended the business which hit a lot closer to my heart when they failed. May be you can get nothing from this story but entertainment and maybe that’s all there is from it.

The Music Contest

March 7, 2008

Over my few years in the Professional Wrestling circuit, I was witness to many odd things performers did to entertain themselves. In many cases, it would be manifested in harmful or harmless practical jokes played on those in or around the business. In other cases, it may have been in a more destructive form unto themselves such as drugs, deviant behavior, or violence towards those in or around the business. While I have seen many harmful and or destructive acts, I tended to be more drawn to the harmless joking aspects of entertainment. Looking back, I realize that many of these moments were at my expense entertaining others. The “music contest” would be an example of one of my more prominent entertaining acts that was well-known throughout the independent wrestling world. 

The first time I ever heard an intentionally ridiculous, out of character ring song was when Billy “Highlight” Reil used the theme from the movie Titanic as his entrance music at a New Jersey based hardcore promotion called Jersey All-Pro Wrestling. Billy Reil was a Philadelphia born independent wrestler with a good deal of talent but an attitude that tended to get him in trouble. His ring character was not a far stretch from his true personality making it hard to judge the level of coherency when making his song choice. While his song choice was intentional, I couldn’t speak to whether he would pass a urine test when he made the decision to use that song. I say this because, to my knowledge, he never used such a ridiculous song again anywhere. Regardless of that point, he garnered the much needed reaction from the crowd because of his song choice at that moment. 

While the other wrestlers gathered around me poking fun at him laughing at the song choice, I realized that these guys put far too much stock in their choice of ring music. Over the years, I had often seen wrestlers flip out on the guy in charge of the music or refuse to go out before the crowd if the wrong song was played. I saw many wrestlers invest a wasteful amount of time trying to find the perfect entrance music to accent their character. In my early wrestling years, I was guilty of doing the same thing. At the point I was standing around these guys one night in Bayonne, I realized that nothing would be more entertaining to the workers and fans than if I started coming out to intentionally ridiculous ring music. 

When I began discussing it with my regular traveling partner at the time Don Montoya, he responded with how he knew a number of ridiculous ring entrance themes to use. In the course of the conversation, we agreed that we would have a contest to see who could come out to the most outrageous ring entrance song. This is how the music contest was born that rippled throughout the independent wrestling world mainly due to our lengthy travel to various areas of the country. I can’t say that many joined the contest but many offered songs as well as judgment on who may have won on a particular night. It was not long before fans became aware and would be more interested in our competing song choices on a given night rather than who we might be working or any storyline. 

The song contest did last more than a year and spanned across promotions throughout the eastern half of the United States. Ultimately, I won the contest in a little town in central Pennsylvania coming out to “Copacabana” sung by Barry Manilow. I understand in later years that independent standout, Colt Cabana, used this song as well but I think he was more inspired through his ring name although he once admitted to being entertained by the rumored music contest. To solidify my win, I actually began to sing the words while in the ring before requesting the music stopped to continue with a promo. About five seconds into the music, prior to my entrance, you could actually hear Montoya screaming in disbelief over my song choice basically locking my win. In his defense, he almost had the title using “I’ll tumble 4 Ya” by Culture Club on that same night but the edge was given to me and agreed upon by both of us. 

I’m sure there might be those of you reading this might think that “I’ll tumble 4 Ya” was more outrageous and you may probably be right. At the end of the day, it provided a great deal of entertainment to the fans and wrestlers for a good period of time at the expense of me and Don Montoya. I doubt the contest or the idea behind it has endured at all but from time to time I do hear wrestlers use a ridiculous ring song and wonder what inspired them to do so. Unfortunately, you’ll always still find those that are completely consumed about their song and I still get a good chuckle out of that to this day.