(Note: Sorry this is being posted three days after the weekend; the events wore me out!)
Professional wrestling’s legends descended on Waterloo, Iowa, this past weekend for the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame inductions at the newly christened National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum. Despite the new name and affiliation with the NWHOF branch in Stillwater, Okla., this past weekend, like weekends past, celebrated the sport of professional wrestling in a classy but fun manner, offering this superfan a wonderful two days’ worth of events.
3:30 p.m. Friday, July 9: I arrived at the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center in time to bump into busy promoter Troy Peterson, who was hanging onto a ticket for me to ensure I could get into the question-and-answer session with Mick Foley and Terry Funk. The doors into the big convention room were open, and I could see about 20 young wrestlers sitting in chairs listening to Foley and Funk proselytizing from inside the ring. I couldn’t hear the advice they were proffering, but I did run into wrestler/co-promoter Travis Shillington, aka TS Aggressor, who thanked me for our interview earlier in the week and caught me up on the whereabouts of some wrestlers we both know.
4:30 p.m. Friday, July 9: The Q&A session started a little late, and since I had to run outside and feed my meter, I actually missed my chance to write my questions on an index card and hand it to the local radio DJ who emceed the talk. So I paid to get into a Q&A and didn’t even get to Q. Others did, though, and here are the finer points (really, the only points, since the DJ kept skimming through questions and disposing of some of them on the mat next to him; thanks, pal!):
Foley told a story about being at a WrestleMania press conference with Linda McMahon (must have been WM2000) and confusing “Q&A” for “T&A” before pretending to strip off his clothes; Linda was frightened… Foley told how Eddie Murphy, who isn’t a wrestling fan, loved “Beyond the Mat” and would walk around movie sets shouting “Forever! Forever!” a la Terry Funk’s 1981 retirement speech in Japan… When someone asked, “How do you keep going with all of those injuries,” Foley joked, “We don’t. Next question.”… They both spoke a little bit about differences between wrestling in Japan and the United States, without shedding much light on the topic… When asked what they both remembered about the days leading up to the famous Hell in a Cell match, they both told tired stories… When Foley was asked about his status with TNA, he gave the “no no no” hand-across-throat sign… The two joked around about each others’ Hollywood careers… Terry Funk said the thing that made Texas wrestling and wrestlers so great was that they were “brought up to love the business”…
5:30 p.m. Friday, July 9: Some of the legends begin to arrive, like Larry Hennig, Baron Von Raschke, Fritz Von Goering and my friend Bob Roop, and they sat up whatever merchandise they had at their designated tables along the back wall of the convention room. Austin Aries showed up early, too, and I introduced myself and told him he wrestled the best match I’ve ever seen live, Aries & Roderick Strong vs. CIMA & Naruki Doi from Ring of Honor’s WrestleMania 22 weekend in Chicago. “Oh yeah, the match where I broke my nose? Yeah, I don’t wrestle like that anymore.” Hey man, whatever works for you!
6:15 p.m. Friday, July 9: Finally had a chance to chat with Bob Roop, who made my day by remembering me from our conversation last year. We talked for 45 minutes about philosophy and life, how positive and negative energy affect you, how we wish my dad and his wife would stop smoking, and how you can’t let people get to you with their bad attitudes. He shared a story from a recent road trip with Ronnie Garvin; “Ronnie told me something I’ll never forget: ‘If someone does you wrong, don’t get back at them right away. Wait about five years… and if something bad hasn’t happened to them by then, run them over with your car!'” I like the way these guys think.
7 p.m. Friday, July 9: The wrestling show began and featured six fun matches with the upstart wrestlers from Iowa’s Impact Pro Wrestling, mixing with ROH’s Aries and champion Tyler Black. Here’s the card with a little analysis:
Before the card, Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” played over the PA system. When the ring announcer asked us all to rise for the national anthem — you guessed it — Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” played over the PA system. Yikes.
“Tortorous” Tony Sly (w/Chris Ryan) cut a promo establishing himself as the heel. Not bad, but I didn’t take any notes, if that tells you anything.
1) James Jeffries beat Sparrow (w/Deondra) in 11:00. Jeffries came out to techno music wearing a sequined cowboy hat and pink pajama pants (or else he’s too small for his tights; he’s like 150 lbs. soaking wet) and totally gayed it up, but was hilarious in doing so. Sparrow was a weird combination of Kaval and “Come on, baby!” Sparrow’s offense was pretty good, Jeffries’ selling was downright hilarious, including the Norman Smiley-style yelping, and Deondra didn’t do a damn thing.
2) Justin Decent & Ugly beat Montoya X & Marshall Scott to retain the IPW Tag Team Titles in 16:00. Decent & Ugly entered the ring in slow motion to the theme from “Chariots of Fire.” Ugly walks to the ring with a 2×4 labeled “UGLY STICK,” eliciting Hacksaw Duggan “hooooos!” from the crowd. But that’s OK, because Decent & Ugly won the crowd over with their goofy babyface antics (I told them after the show they were hilarious). Montoya X is IPW’s Samoa Joe, hard-hitting offense and all. Scott is alright, too. It seemed that the guys either did things out of order during their match or were told to work in two hot tags, because there were a few disjointed moments in the match. The best part of the bout happened as a girl walked back from the concession stand right next to the ring (there were no guardrails), and as one of the wrestlers hit the ropes on an Irish whip, the girl freaked out and screamed. We all had a good laugh.
3) ROH World Champion Tyler Black beat AJ Smooth in 14:00. The drunks behind me were screaming “X-PAAAAC!” at Smooth, probably due to his black mane, weeklong-growth beard and bandana. Black basically took the night off, but that’s because he knew he could still please a not-discerning small-town Iowa crowd with things like walking around the ring for two minutes, slapping the mat for approval and hitting Smooth with a knife-edge chop on every side of the squared circle. Do I blame him? Hell no, it worked, and the people ate it up. When he finally shifted into second gear, his offense looked good, and Smooth took it well.
Before intermission, Mick Foley entered the ring and made fun of himself for wearing a Hawaiian shirt. Ho ho ho!!
4) Harley Jackson beat “Playboy” Anthony Draven in 1:00. Rock 108 DJ Brian Marshall heeled it up and introduced Draven as the greatest athlete he’d ever seen. Add that to the nickname “Playboy” and you’ll have a good idea of what he looks like. The best line of the night came when Marshall ordered the ring announcer to say in reaction to Draven, “Oh man, can I get a Band-Aid? This guy is cut!” Jackson is a 6-foot-6-inch 280-pound white boy with a mean chokeslam, but that’s about all I was able to judge him on, so, to continue the wordplay, the jury is out.
5) “Tortorous” Tony Sly (w/Chris Ryan) beat Matty Star to retain the IPW Title in 12:00. As a matter of full disclosure, Matty is a buddy of mine. But his cruiserweight-ish offense and his facials are really damn good. Both of these guys have lots of good moves and excellent timing. I don’t know if any big league will come knocking on their doors any time soon, but they did a fine job. (Not a knock on anyone else, but it helps that Sly has a little bit bigger build than the average indy guy and that he has a tan.)
6) Nicky Free beat Austin Aries in 17:00. Aries came to the ring first and jawjacked with the crowd; he was funny but hateable. Free is a strapping kid, at about 6-foot-3 or -4 and 230 pounds legit (I don’t remember what he was announced as). Aries was comic gold during the match, drinking out of a ringsider’s can of pop and blowing kisses at women. He did a masterful job of pacing the match and giving Free hope spots at all the right times. Free capitalized with well-executed and well-timed maneuvers; I told his trainer later that “Nicky’s got it.” Aries landed an impressive brainbuster for a believable nearfall, but Free got the win with a move I apparently didn’t write down. Match of the night, for sure.
7. Matty Star won a 17-man battle royal in 9:00. He dedicated a chop to me, too. Come on, it was a battle royal, use your imagination. Overall, a fun show, and the weekend didn’t miss a beat by not having Harley Race’s World League Wrestling in the house; a quality indy show from top to bottom.
11 p.m. Friday, July 9: The unassuming Ramada hotel bar played host to about 25 wrestlers, young and old, drinking like fish, and my friend Marshall and I busted in on the action. Travis saw me and immediately handed me a bottle of beer (thanks, man!); Austin Aries showed up and inquired about… something that isn’t beer; and Mick Foley was bellied up to the bar not drinking a drop (that I could see) but getting an earful from some smark in a Hawkeyes shirt. Marshall and I hung out for about two hours, drinking for free and BSing with the wrestlers. I even got the chance to apologize to Aries for an incident at a show in Milo, Iowa, where Shaun Daivari whipped him into a guardrail where my friends and I were sitting ringside on which we had our feet. He careened into that railing at 100 mph, and thanks to us, it had no give at all. Aries said, “You got lucky.” Then he had me snap a photo for him and a random fan, and I got the “OK” sign from him, so all is good.
10 a.m. Saturday, July 10: Marshall and I (yep, he was the only friend of mine willing to go to any of this stuff) arrive at the museum, and I say hello to Kyle Klingman, the museum’s executive director. He asked for my opinions of last night’s show, which I liked, and then he had to move on, being the man at that place who wears the most hats. We wander around the museum before claiming our seats in the pro wrestling room prior to the induction ceremony. As I set up my Flip camera (which, incidentally, didn’t work well enough to post any videos here; the sound system in the room didn’t work and the wrestlers were inaudible), Marshall casually said it was cool to be so close to these old-time wrestlers; I then noticed Larry Hennig hovering over him and told him to turn slightly to his right and he’d see the legendary “Axe.” Larry’s response? “Hi.” I love that big teddy bear.
And then the coolest thing in the world happened, and I’ll copy and paste my story from the post Jim Ross allowed on his BBQ blog:
J.R., sorry if this isn’t super short, and sorry that it’s not an actual question 🙂 I attended the Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute and Museum hall of fame inductions this weekend in Waterloo, Iowa, and I had the good fortune and sheer luck to sit next to the great Danny Hodge for about 15 minutes preceding the ceremony. I thought you’d get a little kick out of this: Danny’s wife, Dolores, was running an agenda for the rest of their day past him, and he wasn’t really paying attention, so she smacked him on the shoulder and said, “Listen to me!” When she was finished, I leaned over to Danny and said, “Is she the only one who gets to talk to you like that?” He smiled and said, “Well, other people can try!” He then laughed and grabbed my forearm, and I knew at that moment what all of the apples and pliers in the world fear! What a grip! He and I talked for a few minutes — he told me he and Dolores have been married for 59 years, he talked to me about living in New York for only a few months while he boxed before getting homesick for Perry, and he talked about trying to wrestle as a heel in Japan but being applauded anyway — before he accepted Warren Bockwinkel’s induction into the hall of fame. I’d seen Danny before at the museum, most notably pulling a quarter out from behind the ear of one of Larry “The Axe” Hennig’s granddaughters, and Danny always came across as a nice man. But, not to lay too many sugary superlatives on the baddest man on the planet, he won me over as a total sweetheart and a completely humble and gracious man this weekend. You’re a lucky man to call Danny Hodge a friend; congratulations on inducting him into the Hall of Heroes this year.
You had a wonderful experience that will mean even more to you in time. Good story.
12 noon Saturday, July 10: The ceremony began, and all of the inductees and award recipients seemed overcome with emotion. Now, I could share all of their speeches with you, or you could buy the DVD when it comes out and experience it for yourself. I will say this, though: Watching Terry Funk well up with emotion almost made me do the same.
2:30 p.m. Saturday, July 10: I sat in on Brian Hoops’ roundtable discussion of territories with Paul Vachon, Baron Von Raschke, a promoter from Montreal whose name I sadly didn’t get, Rene Goulet, Mick Foley and Bob Roop. Now, I could share with you the redundancies of the questions and how sometimes Goulet, Foley and Roop had to re-ask them to get the optimum answers. Instead, I’ll tell you that the highlights of the conversation came whenever the Baron chose to answer in character. Seriously, pick up this DVD and watch Vachon and the cute little promoter in stitches over Raschke’s antics. He’s classic. At one point, Foley asked Goulet what time it was, and when Hoops said he’d open up the floor to questions, Foley said, “Can you make them easy, though?” So one person asked one question, it was answered quickly, and then Foley practically elbowed an unsatiated crowd out of his way to get some ribs and potato salad. I think he’s wasting away. Also while walking around, I asked Butcher Vachon if he had any good Bobby Heenan stories. He said, “No, but I do know he was petrified of Mad Dog!” I said, “Well, considering what Mad Dog’s name is backward,” which got a chuckle out of the Butcher. YES!
Wow, what a whirlwind weekend. I got to chat with some of the usual suspects, meet a couple more, sit in on some intriguing conversation, and reconnect with the roots of the sport I love. I’m so glad this museum is practically in my backyard, and I’m already counting down the days until next year.