John Arezzi is an accomplished personality in the wrestling business having had his hands in promoting, curating one of the first interactive wrestling fan conventions in the early 1990's, being a ringside photographer for the WWWF, and even getting in the ring for a match with Dusty Rhodes! John's shining accomplishment within the annals of wrestling would be his radio show 'Pro Wrestling Spotlight' in the late 1980's through to the mid 1990's, interviewing various wrestlers from Ricky Steamboat, Bruno Sammartino, to frequent foil Paul E. Dangerously, and being one of the key reporting entities in the 1990's surrounding the various sex and steroid trials plaguing the WWF.
After John took a hiatus from the weird world of wrestling, he ventured back into the music industry with a focus on management and marketing. After appearances on The Jim Cornette Experience and 6:05 Superpodcast, John now has a new podcast under the Arcadian Vanguard umbrella called 'Pro Wrestling Spotlight - Then and Now', in which John and Brian Last go back and look over the old Pro Wrestling Spotlight shows episodically, offering funny anecdotes and historical analysis from John along the way.
You can listen to each episode of Pro Wrestling Spotlight - Then and Now at www.pwspod.com , and John has dug deep into his archives as well. If you subscribe at www.patreon.com/arezzi , you can listen to the ORIGINAL RADIO BROADCASTS of Pro Wrestling Spotlight for only $5 / month. Check out more at the links listed above, and don't miss out on these important pieces of history!
Episode 23 - Transcript (Part 1)
So a few weeks ago here on the program, we had a long, fun conversation with Ron Skoler – a friend of mine – who was the promoter of the IWC, the man responsible for bringing AAA and Lucha Libre to the United States. One of the names that came up several times in that conversation was John Arezzi. If you grew up in New York and you were a wrestling fan, you know who John Arezzi was. John Arezzi hosted the Pro Wrestling Spotlight, which was the premier insider wrestling radio show for many years. His name came up in a few different ways: one of which, was, we found out that Antonio Peña had pitched the idea for John to be “Papucho,” the Lucha Libre wrestler, and he also came up as being a partner with Ron in the IWC, and we’re very, very, fortunate to have John on the show with us. John – how are you today?
John: I’m doing fabulous. Thank you so much for inviting me on – I have been looking forward to this since I heard the podcast with Mr. Skoler.
Yeah – you know, we’ve been looking forward to having you, and there’s so many questions and so many things to dive into, but I think we have to first start with the story of Papucho. We’ve heard Ron’s side of it – what do you remember about Antonio Peña pitching you on being a Luche Libre wrestler? A Luchador – I should say!
John: I am – I remember it. I remember, you know: I always thought that Peña was, in a way, ribbing me, you know, about that? Because I was like “You gotta be kidding me. You really want me to dress up like Cupid and go to the ring with Latin Lover?” Listening to Ron, I guess it was a total serious thing! I really just blew it off back in the day, like, you know, “Papucho?” I could never do it. I was always – first and foremost, physically going in the ring with those professionals and those athletes, I would have definitely been injured for life. But, I couldn’t live with myself if I came out – unless there was a hood involved or if I was wearing a mask or something; I would have given it a shot once. I just thought he was ribbing me, but he was serious about it. The Papucho story is absolutely true, and I guess it was a lot more serious than I thought it was, because he actually wanted to pull the trigger on it, you know.
Yeah, and we’ll talk a little bit more about your involvement with Ron and the IWC in a bit, but you talk about Papucho, you talk about what it would have been for you at that stage of your life to get in the ring – and by the way, I would say Cupid couldn’t wear a mask EXCEPT in Mexico. That’s probably the only place you could get away wearing a mask as Cupid.
John: True, very true.
Another thing we referenced in the interview with Ron was the time you worked a WWWF television taping, and you worked a couple matches. I would love to hear that story from you, because I’m sure it has to be just fascinating: how did you get in the door? How did you get booked on that show? What was it like during those matches? What happened after? What’s the story behind that show, John?
John: I was a photographer at ringside, I was a contributing editor to Ring Wrestling Magazine and I was backstage at the tapings all the time. I wanted to give it a shot! I wanted to see (laughing) how it’d be to be in the ring, and I had absolutely no training at all whatsoever. I was friends with Ernie Roth – who was the Grand Wizard of Wrestling – and I was in college; it was 1978. I had been doing the very first incarnation of the Pro Wrestling Spotlight on the college station so I’d do interviews backstage. I talked to Ernie and I was like “I could give this a shot,” and he goes “Well…you sure you wanna do that, because it may change things on how people perceive you,” and I just wanted to give it a shot. I knew I was going to be graduating from college and I saw my days in the wrestling business as something that I wasn’t going to do as a career, but I wanted to get into the ring for whatever reason. Maybe – as Ron said – I took a leap of my senses. So, he said “Well, come to the tapings.” It was January 10th of 1978, I believe. I bought wrestling gear from the place where everyone used to get their boots and their tights. So I bought everything in advance, and I show up, and I actually took a bus – Greyhound bus – to the Philly tapings. Show up, and Ernie gets Monsoon – who knew me, but didn’t know me, you know? He’s seen me around for years, and he’s like “Alright. You wanna work? Where have you worked?” and I said “I’ve done a lot of indy shows in the South,” that’s all I said. He goes “Alright – heel or baby?” and I was like “Heel.” That was it! I didn’t even know who I was working with, what was going on, and I was backstage in Philadelphia at the Arena, and then I asked Ernie to find out who I’m working against. He came back and he said “Dusty Rhodes,” and I was like “Oooh. OK. This is real now, isn’t it?” I was nervous, and then I guess they kinda sent – Silvano Sousa was the guy that tipped them off, because he’d seen me around. I’d be backstage at all the Massachusetts shows taking pictures at the Phil Zacko shows, Savoldi shows, whatever. So Sousa basically stooged me out to Monsoon, saying I was a reporter “A reporter?!” So they put Sousa in a tag team with me to be my partner, and that’s pretty much how it went. I mean, Monsoon came up and he put me and Dusty and Sousa together and goes, you know, “Dusty goes over in 4 minutes,” and then we just start going over what was going to take place in the match. Believe me, I didn’t know what I was doing – and you saw the tape. I didn’t know what I was doing. So I get in there, and here’s the thing: I start the match off, and you know, I get in the corner and immediately start making mistakes because I start hitting Dusty on the top of the head with my fist. That’s a no-no, really, and then I gave him a knee which was a little bit too stiff, I guess. He made it a point – he threw Sousa out of the ring and he said “I gotta teach you a lesson.” Actually, Ron Skoler is calling me on the phone right now – that’s interesting; I’ll have to pick him up later. He started laying them in! I mean, the elbows to the head were not exactly – they were very stiff; let’s put it that way. I was dazed, I was hurt, and the most embarrassing part – I couldn’t go into a body slam. When he picked me up to slam me down on Sousa, I mean, he just picked up dead weight and threw me on top of him, and then he sat on top of my face to pin me! Total humiliation, and as Vince McMahon said on the play-by-play, he’s like “Total lack of coordination here by newcomer John Anthony.” I was quite frankly surprised that I had a second match, because they would tape 3 shows that night, and the second match was a tag team match with Joe Turco – who they put me in against – and Strongbow and Peter Maivia. So that match, I was just told to stay out of the ring until the end. That was basically how – they would be playing off of me and Turco would be trying to tag me in, and then he’d get pulled away in a headlock and I’d get more enraged trying to get into the ring. So finally, I get the tag, and here I am. They throw me in from over the top rope – Strongbow picks me up, I get headbutted – stiff, really stiff – by Maivia, and I’m down on the mat, 1-2-3, it’s all over. I was scheduled to have a third match that night against Bobby Backlund, but that never took place. I guess they saw that I was just, like, you know – whatever I was (laughing). I wasn’t a wrestler and that was the end of that.
Was it that they realized you were a “reporter” and not a wrestler – is that why Dusty was in a handicap match against two opponents?
And what did he say to you after that match?
John: When Sousa stooged me out to everybody in the back, and you know what, a lot of guys knew me as a photographer like Graham – so many of the guys. I shoot them, you know, I’m there every taping shooting pictures! I’m at the Garden ringside, shooting pictures! I’m travelling around. I was one of the main photographers there, because I shot for about 6 or 7 of the magazines. That really – that was the last time I was allowed – I mean, after that show, I went to the Garden like I always do, and I was at ringside because that was the night that Backlund was going to win the strap from Graham. They came and got me and took me out of there (laughing) and said “You worked the tapings – you can’t shoot at ringside anymore,” so I watched the matches from the back behind the curtain, and that was the end of my days as a photographer as well.
Who came and got you?
John: Mel Phillips.
(laughing) You’re lucky that’s the only thing he did when he came and got you – let me say that.
(You already knew Mel though, didn’t you?)
John: I knew Mel for many years, yeah. I knew Mel for many years. Yeah, I mean, and having stories about Mel and, you know, which were probably – I don’t want to get into on this show – but once I found out about who he was, it was quite alarming to me because I spent a lot of time with this guy in hotels. I mean, I even had him at my house on Long Island, and I was wondering why he always wanted to wrestle the little kids next door, and then you find out. He even visited me in college, and one of my best friends – I mean, he’s like, he’d start wrestling with my friend at college, and I’m like “This is kinda strange,” you know? So, anyway. It was an interesting time.
So after the match with Dusty, did you have any words with him – or any of the guys there that were a little stiff with you?
John: Dusty apologized and he goes “You’re very inexperienced, I’m sorry I had to do it,” and I was like “It’s no problem, I’m OK,” and that was it. I was really more embarrassed that I did that, and I went through with it – I was embarrassed. I was in no-way – anywhere – a lot of these guys spent years training, and even to get into a situation where you’re on television even as a jobber or whatever. For me, it was something that I just had this burning desire to do, and I knew that I wasn’t going to be a career wrestler – I just wanted to give it a shot! Then, later on, I decided to write about it in Ring Magazine, you know? To this day, I’m not sorry I did it. I did it, it’s a good laugh if you wanna see the tape on YouTube, and, what can I say? It was just something I did as part of my long journey in life.
And it will be in our video playlist this week so all the listeners can watch – at least the Dusty Rhodes match. I’m not sure if the Peter Maivia / Jay Strongbow tag match is out there, but the Dusty Rhodes handicap-
John: It’s not out there.
OK, well the handicap match against Silvano Sousa and John Anthony is.
John: I have a copy that I taped off of television back in the day – we had a college TV station that taped that, because that was a big thing at my college. It was like, people just went crazy. I’ll just mention one other part of that – I didn’t even tell anybody: my family. I told my younger sister, and when the day that show aired, my mom had NO idea that I went into the ring. So my sister was like “Hey, watch wrestling with me tonight!” and I’m in Boston at college and she’s like “watch wrestling with me tonight,” and she, you know, has my mother in front of the TV and my mother sees me go into the ring: she freaked out. Screaming. Thought I would get killed. It was kind of a joke my sister played on my mom (laughing).
Well, one of the names you mentioned-
John: I was a hero at college though! Everyone thought I was cool and I’d have parties to watch that Saturday morning show.
What did you tape it on? What did they have available at college?
John: It was on a ¾ inch tape. I have a ¾ inch tape of it, and then I dubbed it down the road. I don’t have it on DVD yet; I have it on VHS. I still have that ¾ inch tape somewhere.
Oh! Very cool – you’ll have to get that transferred one of these days.
John: One of these days.
You mentioned Ernie Roth –the Grand Wizard of Wrestling. You had a relationship with him so you got to know who he was, you got to know him as a person. For our listeners out there who only know him as The Grand Wizard who passed away in 1983, so there’s nothing after that of him: what could you tell us about him? What kind of guy was he?
John: I mean, he was probably one of the – to me, he always tried to help. He was just – he was just a really nice person. I remember one time he came to my rescue: it was once again in Philadelphia. Ivan Putski came after me and put his hands on me because there was a letter in the Ring Wrestling Magazine talking about what a stupid Polack he was, and so, he got enraged and he knew I was a photographer and said “You work for the magazine?!” and I said “Yes” and he actually put his hands on me and grabbed me. Ernie just came to my rescue and says “He didn’t put that in the magazine – he’s just a writer! I mean, it was a letter from a fan,” but Ernie was the type of guy who would go out of his way to help you, especially when he was working with Billy Graham. He would be more than gracious and make sure that we got whatever pictures we needed, pose shots of him and whoever the person he was managing, and he was just somebody that was helpful. That’s the thing I remember about him more than anything else.
Around the WWWF and around wrestling at that time, there were all sorts of interesting fans, and there were fan clubs. Actually, you got – I guess, the first time your name would have been known to people would have been from seeing your name in the back of wrestling magazines in the Fan Club section as the President of the Fred Blassie Fan Club. How did you start doing that, and tell us some stories about running the Fred Blassie Fan Club.
John: OK. I was a fan as a kid, and, you know, couldn’t get into the garden because I wasn’t 14. When I was 14, I finally went to my first wrestling match, and at the same time, I used to read about Freddie in the magazines on him against Bruno and how he caused riots, and he was this intense villain. Then, I was able to see some of the shows from the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles when he was a babyface; he was a hero. So I was just fascinated by this older, rough, villain with this huge fan base in California and hated, and I was wanting to do something with the wrestling business and I admired Freddie, and I admired Bruno, and Spiros Arion. Freddie was the guy that was my favorite wrestler, so I was like “I’d love to start a fan club,” because I was seeing the backs of the magazines and I see this person had a fan club, that person had a fan club, so I just wrote up this little permission slip, like “I, Freddie Blassie, give John Arezzi permission to start a Fan Club in my honor.” It was 1972, I believe – or ’71 – and I think it’s probably ’71, because that’s when he fought Morales at the Garden; December. I just took this permission slip to the dressing room – not inside, but to the security guard – and said “I want to start a fan club for Freddie Blassie. Can you get my backstage so I can have him sign this?” I had a lot of balls, I mean, at that age even. So security guy was like “Get outta here, kid,” you know? Another security guard that was next to him said “Ah, hold on a second.” About 10 minutes later, he came out with this signed permission slip from Freddie Blassie, and I’m like “Ah –this can’t be real. Maybe someone signed it.” At the time, I knew Jeff Walton was pretty instrumental out in California at the Olympic Auditorium, and he was Freddie Blassie’s Fan Club manager before, so I wrote him a letter and I put the permission slip in it asking if it was really Freddie’s signature. He sent it back and said “Yes it is, it’s Freddie signature and he gave you permission to start a fan club,” and I was on my merry way to starting a fan club, and then it was writing these little mimeograph newsletters. I called the bulletin “King of Men,” and that’s when I started sending the samples out to Georgiann Makropoulous – or Georgiann Orsey at the time – and whoever was running those fan club columns of all the magazines. I started getting members, you know? So, I mean, the newsletter – the bulletin – evolved from this little, crappy mimeograph, blurry 10 page thing, and then I started- my dad at the time was working for a trucking company who had a Xerox machine where you can actually copy photographs, you know? So then I started incorporating photographs into the bulletin and I started writing letters to Freddie via Jeff Walton, and, lo and behold, I mean, he would answer me. He started writing me letters back; Freddie Blassie. I was like “Wow,” and then he said he was going to be in the Garden on a certain date and he goes “Maybe we can meet.” So, I get a chance to – I go through the same process: I go to the security guard at the Garden and I was like “Freddie Blassie wants to meet me today. Here’s a letter he wrote me saying it,” and then he goes in the back and two minutes later, he’s waving me in the dressing room, and I was like “Aw, what’s going on here?!” There’s Freddie Blassie in front of me, you know? Nicest guy – took some pictures and I did an interview with him for the bulletin, and it just got bigger and it got better, and then in 1974 I won the Fan Club of the Year and Best Monthly Bulletin of the Year at the WFIA convention, and that kinda really opened the doors for me to start writing and taking photographs for the magazines.
How big was the Fan Club at its peak?
John: Um. Talking about, probably a 100 members, maybe; somewhere in that vicinity. All over the country. Paul E., you know, Paul Heyman was certainly – he was one of my members. There’re a lot of people that came from all walks of life, including Mike Lano. I mean, that’s how I met “Oddity Fan Boy.”
(laughing) Well we’ll get into Mike Lano in a second, but you mentioned Paul E., so I definitely want to ask you your memories of a young Paul Heyman. How did you reconnect with him, because obviously he was a fixture on Pro Wrestling Spotlight: everyone remembers some of those wild, wild, nights with him on the radio with you. What are your early memories of him and how did you reconnect with him?
John: Good story. I mean, it was – he was a member of the club, and then I remembered getting a letter from him. I used to see him outside the garden – he always used to hang out outside the entrance where the wrestlers came in at Madison Square Garden. So, you know, the same people every month, and Paul E. was there – he was one of them. He was this obnoxious kid who thought he knew everything, and he was just kind of an obnoxious kid. You know, once I got out of the wrestling business for the first time, I think it was 1982 when I – or ’83, something like that. When did Kaufman have that angle with Lawler? What year was that?
John: ’82 – OK. So it was 1982, and I was hanging out with a good friend – George Napolitano – and we’ve been lifelong friends, and he’s like “Why don’t you come to the show?” I’m coming home because I was living in the Carolina’s at the time, and he said “Why don’t you come to the show with me? I’ll get you in; I’ll get you backstage,” and I was like “OK.” I went, and there was Paul E. I remembered him, and Andy Kaufman was there and I got to see Freddie – he was happy to see me – Blassie, and Andy Kaufman – this is another weird story – but I went to the same Jr. College as he did – Graham Jr. College – and I had hooked up with Andy. He came to get his college transcripts back in ‘77/’78 – around there – when I was doing my Pro Wrestling Spotlight show on the college station, and I told him about it and I told him I ran Freddie Blassie’s fan club. He was just fascinated because he was such a huge Blassie fan and we connected. Anyway – fast forward again to 1982: Paul E.’s there as a photographer now and he’s like “Take a picture with Andy and take a picture with Freddie!” and Paul E started snapping some pictures of us. That was that, and I then I didn’t see Paul E. again until ’89 when I started up Pro Wrestling Spotlight on commercial radio. I had forgotten him, to be honest with you – I didn’t even put two and two together that it was the same Paul E. Dangerously, now a manager in WCW / NWA as the same kid as I knew, you know? Until I saw him backstage, my very first show right before I started the commercial radio show, I was doing interviews. There he is, and he says “John Arezzi! Boy, did you get fat!” I mean, that was like “Who the hell is this guy?!” “Paul E.!” and I was like “Holy smokes!” and that’s how we hooked up again! I’ll never forget that line – “John Arezzi! Boy, did you get fat!” I was like “Wow.” I mean, that’s gonna be the same line – if I ever see Paul E. again, that’s gonna be the line I repeat to him.
(laughing) Yeah, now you can hit him with that! You need to hit him with that-
John: He was great on the Pro Wrestling Spotlight. I mean, he would come to the studios and he was – I loved having him as a guest. Our friendship grew: I mean, we got really tight back in those days; ‘89, ‘90, ‘91, ‘92. You know, he helped me out at some times when I was really bad off financially. So, I mean, he was someone who’d call me in the middle of the night, go over ideas, and so our relationship was pretty tight once we re-acquainted ourselves in ’89.
There are so many great episodes and memories on Pro Wrestling Spotlight of Paul Heyman. My favorite may be the one where – I think it’s the one where Cactus Jack called to announce he’s engaged-
John: Oh boy.
Paul calls in also, and I don’t know if he was calling from a payphone or what it was, but in the middle of him talking to you, the operator comes on the line and says that I think he had to deposit money or whatever it was, and he just says “Operator, get off the line, you idiot!” and then she repeats what she was saying and he does it again “Get off the line, you idiot!” and she actually gets off the line! (laughing) It’s one of the funniest moments on wrestling radio of all time.
John: Two of my classic moments there, because the night before, there was a local high school show with Cactus Jack against Sonny Beach, and I was the ring announcer and we did an angle where Cactus was gonna hit Sonny Beach over the head with a chair and I try to stop him, and then he gives me a foot to the stomach and I go down, and he gives me the elbow. That’s exactly what happened. So, he gets on the show the next day and then he talks about how it was supposed to be the happiest night of his life but it was the most miserable because all he could think about instead of getting engaged to his wife was dropping an elbow on poor John Arezzi, and that’s when Paul E. called in and turned into chaos. One of the funniest, funniest moments in the history of that show.
(laughing) Absolutely. Before we move too much further, I have to address something here: you brought up the name Mike Lano. This (laughing) – come on. If you start laughing, I won’t be able to stop. You gotta wait! So, I’m always surprised how many listeners get in touch with Bix and myself and say “Tell us some Mike Lano stories; tell us stories,” because those of us who have been on the inside and smart fans and been around people in wrestling, sure, we run into him and we have experiences and stories and are able to witness all these things, but when the average fan hits me up about it, I’m shocked that the legend of Dr. Mike Lano has spread so far. There are so many stories to tell, but I know you actually knew him before most people in wrestling – I know he claims he’s been shooting ringside since 1966-
John: Yeah right.
(laughing) Which, you know, if you have a calendar, that may not make too much sense.
As you said before, he was a member of the Fred Blassie Fan Club – what was, I guess, he wasn’t even a doctor yet: what was Mike Lano like at that point when you got to know him?
John: Well, I mean, he had written a letter enjoying the Fred Blassie Fan Club, and that was in 1973. He started asking if he could contribute results and stuff from L.A., and he’d be writing letters to me – you know, there was no internet or nothing so it was, like, letters – and he was contributing interviews, which I later found out were totally made up. He just started writing for the newsletter and we became friends via the mail. He invited me to Los Angeles to see the 1974 Battle Royale at the Olympic Auditorium. He was friends with Richard Dawson’s kids Mark and Gary, I believe, and so he says “Why don’t you come out to Los Angeles and we can meet each other and you could stay by my house with my grandparents and then we’ll go to the show, we’ll see the TV tapings, and we’ll get backstage,” and all of this stuff. So, I’m like “Wow, this is great!” you know, and I went! I was there for 3 days – I think that’s what the vacation was – and it was my first time out of New York as far as on an airplane and all of that, and I went there and he was, you know, a nice gentleman. There’s a little bit of arrogance about him, and then totally out of control when we get to Richard Dawson’s house because him and Mark and Gary are very close friends, and there was just an air about them which was kind of interesting. But, I was able to spend a weekend by Richard Dawson’s house in Beverly Hills, which was kind of for me – a working class family kid out of Brooklyn, New York, and Long Island – it was kind of an interesting thing. We got to the Battle Royale and Richard Dawson dropped us off and we hung out, and it was a pretty cool weekend, you know? So, I didn’t have anything negative really about the weekend. Other than that, it was a great experience to be out there. Then, I invited him to my place in the summer – the following summer – and figured “Why don’t you come for a week and I’ll take you to the garden for the first time, there’s a wrestling fans convention in Boston.” So I mean, that’s how it really started, but Mike decided he wanted to come to my house for the summer.
John: And I thought that was a little odd! I was like “Well, I don’t know in the summer if it works.” So, he – and in the interim, he started writing stuff and I started hearing from other people that he was making stuff up about the newsletter, and he takes credit for running the Fred Blassie Fan Club now.
Boy, some things never change. (laughing)
John: No, it hadn’t changed, no, and then he shows up at my house and I pick him up and bring him to my house, and he was this arrogant, just – there was so many odd things about him! He would be, let’s say – how can I put some of this stuff…we didn’t have a phone at my house; we didn’t have the money for a phone, even. He’d have to call L.A. and take him to a phone booth or whatever – he’d go outside in his, like, pajamas and his bathrobe! I’d be like “What are you doing?” and he’s like “This is how we do this in Los Angeles…,” you know? All of this was about Los Angeles and California. He was wearing out his welcome REALLY fast, like, within the first days. It was like “what the hell? What is this?” You know, he’s just out of his frickin’ mind! My sister – who’s 5 years younger than me – and I think I was 17: she was 12 or 13 hanging out with her little girls. He would come out of the bathroom in his underwear: “Girls, when you grow up, this is what you can get,” you know?
Oh my god!
(What the hell?!)
John: Yeah! Stuff like that! My sister just hated him, and the little girlfriend she was hanging out with – he was weird and odd. We’d take him to the public pool and he’d be splashing around in the kiddie pool; just bizarre behavior. Then, my sister – ‘cause he was staying in her room and she was staying in the living room – went into her room and she found, like, a lot of my mail in his possession: he was stealing my mail that was addressed from magazine editors! So I was like “You know what? You stole my mail – I want you out of here,” so I basically kicked him out of my house mid-way through, I think, the 2nd week, or whatever it was. I’m looking right now at a letter that I received from him on August the 26th, and it was probably ’74, and it’s about 20 pages long of him apologizing to me in this rambling, nonsensical way that he wrote, you know, blaming everything on his upbringing to his mom having MS, to his influence by the Dawson’s, and just his erratic selfish behavior. I mean, apologizing for everything; that was that. From the time I threw him out of my house, I mean, we never really became friends again after that, and he’s done an incredible slander and just a pathological, lying that he’s famous for. So he’s basically trashed me ever since, you know?
Yeah. I mean, (laughing) you know, I gotta admit: I’ve heard a lot of crazy Dr. Mike Lano stories – that might be the winner.
John: I do have one which involved him getting punched in the face by George Napolitano, so…
Well, I think we have to insist on hearing that, too.
John: OK. There’s another fanboy oddity wrestling fan who went by the name of Capt. Lenny back in the day and I used to call the guy “Mittens” because he’d wear mittens in the summertime and clap his hands like a seal, and was way out there. So, we’re at this wrestling convention, and I forgot what city it was in, and George Napolitano and I always used to share room together when we went to the shows, and Lano was just bothering - just being Lano: obnoxious and bothering and knocking on the doors; trying to find out where we were. “Where’re we going? What are we doing?” So George was like “how do we get rid of this guy?” He’s like a pimple on your ass, you know? So, George filled up this bucket. In the hotel bathroom, there’s the basket – he filled it up with water and goes “The next time this guy knocks on the door, I’m gonna throw this water on him,” and sure enough, Lano’s knocking on the door. I open the door and George throws this water on him – just drenches him. “This was an expensive shirt! You’ve just ruined this shirt on me!” and George’s like “Here, you know what, take my shirt.” George felt bad, in a way – takes his shirt off, gives it to Mike Lano to wear. The very next day, we’re at the Wrestling Fan’s convention and there’s Capt. Lenny wearing George Napolitano’s shirt! George is like “Hey! That’s my shirt!” “Oh no it’s not – it’s not your shirt.” “It’s my shirt! Where did you get that shirt?!” “Mike Lano sold it to me.” (laughing) George goes “What?!” and George went nuts. I mean, he saw Lano, and he just went up to him and punched him right in the mouth – it was one of the funniest things. I mean, we couldn’t believe it. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but Mike was bothering us, George throws water on him, Mike sells the shirt to Capt. Lenny, and then he suffers one of the best punches I’ve seen in my lifetime.
(laughing) Yeah, that’s amazing! You know, once you’re back doing the Pro Wrestling Spotlight and you take it from college radio to commercial radio in 1989 and for several years there, you were at the forefront of the New York inside fan scene, and you ran conventions and did all sorts of stuff: did Mike Lano reappear? Did you see him? Was he around when you were doing stuff?
John: He was always spreading false rumors about me, so he’d be – you know – trashing me every chance he could. I’d run into him – I ran into him at an ECW show, I ran into him actually when we did an IWC show at the theatre at Madison Square Garden, so I did run into him a few times. You try after all the years to be cordial and nice, and I was. I wasn’t like “Get away from me” type, and he showed up at my conventions too, so. He was around, but you always had to keep one eye open, you know, because you don’t know what the guy was gonna do, and to this day, his name just puts shivers up my spine. He’s just – he’s one of the most pathological liars that I’d ever met in my life – maybe the #1 guy.
You know, you’re not the only one to say that (laughing) – I’ll say this: you’re not the only one to say that, and I’ll be sure that when we do some Mike Lano follow-up stories since the time you knew him, I’ll send you over that tape immediately, because you wouldn’t believe some of the stories people have about him. Actually, you probably would. (laughing)
John: He posts on YouTube and I saw that retrospective, and the bizarre nature of the things that he does and the Canvas Cavity and all of the ramblings – it’s just, it’s amazing. It’s amazing. The fact that he shot his first wrestling match in 1966 is amazing, you know? What a career the guy’s had.
It’s a hell of a body of work, (laughing) it really is!
John: It really is!
You know. I wanna ask you about your conventions, because you brought it up. There were various fan get-togethers: there was the WFIA convention, later in the '80’s there was the UAWF convention, so there were all these kind of conventions that brought fans from all over the country – people who had met and corresponded through wrestling news magazine or various other magazines, and brought them together. When you started the Pro Wrestling Spotlight – I think 1990 was the first one – you started doing the Weekend of Champions, which was the very first – I think – in what is now a common thing: these giant fan conventions where you have vendor tables, where you have multiple guests including people that, you know, you had people that no-one ever saw. I was at the one in ’93 which, correct me if I’m wrong, was the only ever US autograph signing – maybe any autograph signing – for the original Sheik.
John: Yeah, that’s true. I can thank Kevin Sullivan for helping me get that done.
Oh, is that what happened? Kevin Sullivan hooked that up?
John: Yeah. I wanted The Sheik. I was like “I gotta get The Sheik” and he helped facilitate that. But, when I started the radio show in ’89 on commercial radio, I always looked at “What would I really want as a wrestling fan?” I would love to have the opportunity to, you know, to have several wrestlers together and I was a baseball fan and there was these baseball card shows, and I was like “Wow, you can meet these great heroes – why not have that in wrestling, too?” So I was always a good marketing guy to this day. I mean, that’s kind of my – probably my best skill set is a marketer – and I just came up with this idea of “Let’s do it.” I mean, I wanted – and I knew – that at the time, Sting was being touted as the “next guy,” and it was well known he was going to beat Flair at the Great American Bash in 1990, and I was like “I’d like to do a convention-“ because I had a great relationship with WCW and the NWA – I wanted Sting. I wanted to do an autograph show with Sting. That kind of evolved into “Well, if I can get Sting, I can get…” I also had a good relationship with Ricky Steamboat and booked him on a couple of advertiser/paid autograph appearances. It just kind of evolved into this convention, you know, that I started promoting and added several wrestlers. The thing is, I always – and everyone of them – overshot the talent: I always brought too much in. I never made money on ANY of them, and unfortunately, I mean, everyone had a great time at all of them, but at the end of the day – end of the weekend – I was the one who was like “Alright, well that set me back 5 months, and I have an investor I brought in for this, and unfortunately, he lost his money.” So, um – it was a great idea, great concept back in the day. I wasn’t the best business man in the world, but I gave the fans some amazing opportunities to get up close and personal with some amazing talent in the industry, and also give the opportunity to vendors to have a marketplace to sell their goods. It just grew – from convention 1, which was actually called the Wrestling Fans Fantasy Weekend, and changed the name the following year to the Weekend of Champions in ’91. That’s when I had Flair and Buddy Rogers and Bruno and all those great legends assembled in one place. But, you know, the conventions were always something I looked forward to immensely, and I was happy to be what they would call a “pioneer” or “innovator” at the time to enable that to happen. Ill tell you a quick story about the first one: Sting was my guy, and we agreed to pay Sting 5,000 dollars for an autograph session. I went through WCW to make that deal, and Sting – instead of staying 4 hours, he got up at 2 hours, put his sunglasses on and left: he just left. He left people waiting. I had to call WCW up and kinda complain and we got half of our money back, but I couldn’t understand WHY this guy – who was just given the World Championship and has hundreds of fans there to see him – didn’t stay for the whole thing; he got up and left in the middle of his appearance. So, that was a negative of that first convention.
(Wasn’t there something else with Sting as far as the WCW said they’d promote and they didn’t? Wasn’t there something else besides that, and whether or not you’d be able to charge for the autographs? I remember there was other stuff between you and WCW, wasn’t there?)
John: Maybe. Yeah, I mean, charging – I don’t even remember if I charged for autographs for him or not.
(I think you didn’t, and I remember looking in the Observer – at some point in the last couple of years from then about it – that, maybe they didn’t make that clear until it was fairly late after you’d already advertised him? Did you remember thinking that you were gonna be able to charge, or that it would be free with admission?)
John: I probably assumed that I was going to be able to charge, because that’s how you make your money, but I mean, I was probably told that you couldn’t after the fact or the day- I don’t even know what the time frame was. So, yeah, I mean, I should go back and read my Observer too, to find out what was written about it at the time, but I do remember that he just got up and left. I don’t think it had anything – I really don’t think it had anything to do with it, unless he found out that, you know, WCW charged x amount of dollars and maybe he didn’t get the right payoff? I don’t know. Something pissed him off, and I don’t know what it was and what the reason was, but he left.
(The following year, I mean, I feel like that’s probably – in terms of the lineup of the convention guests – was probably the most loaded; the second year. You had-)
John: Favorite line-up, out of all of them.
(Flair, Buddy Rogers, Superstar Graham, Lou Thesz, Bruno Sammartino, Cornette, Rick Rude – was Rick Rude a convention guest?)
John: Yeah, Rick Rude was there. Fabulous Moolah was there, and I had Nancy – Woman – Sullivan and Kevin Sullivan. It was a loaded line-up: Cactus was there, I think 1-2-3 Kid/Sean Waltman was there. I think he got a table that year or maybe the following, but it was this amazing line-up. Amazing and crazy.
(Now, had Flair signed with the WWF yet, or was he just about to? Where did the timing fall with that?)
John: Booked him, I had booked him when he was still with WCW, and then he leaves and goes to Vince! That was right in the middle of the Zahorian – the first wave of steroid stuff. Flair never signed a contract, and I was getting really concerned about it. Finally, I got his word that he was going to be there, and that was in the interim before/right around the time he was joining Vince; it was in that window where he was off TV. He was allowed to go because we had had – I guess there was an outreach by WWF and Vince and that’s when he brought all of us to Connecticut to talk about how he feels we should cover the business and how we should protect the business, and how our reporting should reflect and give both sides of the story on the steroid stuff. So, it was kinda détent for a few months, and that’s also where Flair was at the convention and he was there for two days, and it was an amazing thing, you know?
John – two famous pictures came out of that 1991 convention. One, of course, is the one of Ric Flair and Buddy Rogers. The two Nature Boys reunited after all these years, and of course, Buddy would pass away early the next year, I believe. So, it’s the last time Ric actually got to see Buddy Rogers. The second one is a pretty famous picture, and that is the one of Bruno Sammartino with Buddy Rogers – the one that was set up by Georgiann Makropoulous. As you mentioned earlier, she had formerly been Georgiann Orsey – she had been the president of both of their fan clubs: the Buddy Rogers Fan Club and the Bruno Sammartino Fan Club. What do you remember from that weekend about the – was there a lot of heat? What were the feelings between Buddy and Bruno? Did you have to keep them apart?
John: Yes. (laughing) There was heat. Bruno wouldn’t be in the room with him. Bruno actually wasn’t in the main room where Flair was or Thesz or Rogers. He was out at someone else’s table – he signed at someone else’s table because he didn’t want to be in the room with Rogers. I believe the feelings were mutual, and, I mean, Georgiann – to her credit – got these two together for that picture, which, I didn’t even see it when it took place because I was running around. She’d gotten them together in the lounge and that picture was taken. I do remember the heat – I remember that. I was hoping that years had gone by that these amazing legends would be able to, you know, be in the same room and interact with each other, but that never happened.
It’s an interesting picture too, because they both look bewildered – they both look like they don’t want to be there. No-one’s smiling in that picture! (laughing)
John: Maybe they were in the room at the same time and Georgiann was like, they couldn’t say no to her, you know? Maybe they were getting a drink or a beverage or something and they kinda randomly ran into each other and she was there and orchestrated it, or she planned it. Who knows? I wish she was alive for us to ask her.
Episode 25 - Transcript (Part 2)
(You mentioned the trip to Titan Towers, where I think it was you, Dave Meltzer, Wade Keller, I think Mike Lano-)
(Maybe one or two other people-)
(laughing) How did Lano get in on that?! (laughing)
(How does he get in on anything?)
John: I don’t know! He was there!
(And, recently, Wade Keller was on a podcast that a friend of mine does, and he kinda related his whole experience with that, so I’m curious to hear your side – your memories of anything especially interesting that went down that day.)
John: It was nice to get the tour of the Towers, and when Vince came in to speak to us, we were in kind of something that kind of resembled a classroom, you know? He was the teacher who came in, and his presence is, you know – he’s got a presence to him, and he just talked about how we can improve relations with the wrestling media, we’re all in the business and we’re making a living within the business so we should all protect the business in a lot of ways…you know. Dave and Wade, to their credit, I mean, were asking some hard hitting questions, and I was just really surprised that I was even invited to it, you know? Because their PR department – and here’s another story – you talk about Mat Memories: Steve Planamenta who was the head of PR at the time, was actually a fan of mine when I was a photographer (laughing) in the business. It was interesting – it was an interesting time, and I was hoping for better relations, and then things kind of hit the fan again as we proceeded with other things that were revealed, and scandals that took place that severed those ties forever, you know? But I thought at that time when we were invited to Titan Towers was kinda gonna be a new era of co-operation, and it never really happened.
(And then several months later, you’re on Donahue on a panel that also included Vince, Dave Meltzer, Superstar Graham-)
John: Oh yeah; yeah. Yeah, that was an amazing time, and it was an incredible flurry of – it was almost like a snowball that rolled down the hill and became an avalanche, because people were coming out of the woodwork and every mainstream outlet decided to cover this unfolding scandal. It was a, um, - it was not a good time; it really wasn’t. Lives were affected and accusations were thrown back and forth, and the only people who really knew what went on were those who were accused and ((appears)) some people were paid off. That’s one regret I have covering the business, you know, because I knew a lot of stuff – really bad stuff –was going on, and I knew that kids were taken advantage of. I just knew it, because I got to know the individuals that were part and parcel of it, but, if I had to do it all over again, I would have thrown as many hardballs as I did back in that time, and just take every single guest on and put them to say whatever they wanted to say. But, the other side of the coin was that the accused – or the WWF – would never defend themselves: they would just try to discredit those who were accusing. There was a lot of crap that went on back in that day, and the one thing which came out of it is that no more kids were being molested – allegedly molested – and no more wrestlers or performers were being harassed – allegedly harassed – sexually, in order to be elevated on a card. But, it was an ugly, ugly, ugly time – even the Donahue show and all of us backstage and Vince showing up, and then the accused – Tom Cole – sitting next to Miss Elizabeth in the Donahue audience: he was supposed to go on that show to talk about what happened, and whatever deal was struck – or whatever happened – only the parties know. But, it was a very volatile day backstage at the Donahue show. Here I am, you know, and I’m embarrassed about that appearance too, because of the dark glasses that I wore; I wasn’t really happy with myself at the time.
You know, at that time, you start the Pro-Wrestling Spotlight and you cover inside wrestling news – no-one else was doing that sort of thing, especially in New York. We had Rich Mancuso – which was a joke – on WFAN.
John: “He’s coming to the WWF!”
Or they’re in Canada! Or they’re in Japan!
John: “Where are they wrestling now?” “Aw, they’re in Canada!”
(laughing) Yeah. So you had this show, which, although you were talking about inside wrestling news, it wasn’t like you had “Breaking News” – you talked about things, you had fun conversations, you had guests, and when all of this started happening with the World Wrestling Federation – the Steroid Scandal and then the Sex Scandal – how did it change the way you approached your radio show? Was it much more stressful each week doing the show? What kinds of pressures did you feel doing it?
John: Yes – it was all of that. It was a lot of pressure; there was a lot of fear. I could remember, you know, and that was also – when the Sex Scandals hit – that was right around the time where I got involved with Russo, and we were doing the show in New York City at WEVD, and we would actually be looking over our shows going into the studio and out of it, because we were really fearful. The day of the Donahue show, I’d gotten a death threat. Someone knocked on my door – I was living with my mom at the time in a place in West Babylon, Long Island – and we lived in an apartment complex. Someone knocked on the door and asked her if John Arezzi lived there, and she said “Yes, that’s my son.” “Well, please tell your son he’s living in a dangerous neighborhood,” and that was that.
Oh my god…
John: That was the DAY of the Donahue show. So, yeah; it was a scary time. It was a very scary time, and did it change the way covered it? I mean, my show start was evolving really from the day Ricky Steamboat left the NWA and went on my show to talk about the contract problems with Jim Herd. It started to evolve from there, but those days from when I was a stringer – when the Zahorian trial took place and I started stringing for WINS and the other stations covering the trial, and then when the Sex Scandals hit, it was, it changed the dynamic of it; it really did. It changed the fun, you know? It wasn’t as fun as it was when the show was growing and building. I think the relationship with Russo had a lot to do with me losing the passion and the fun of it too, because he used me to get into the wrestling business, and I didn’t realize it until after I’d gotten involved with him.
(Well, I wanna get to Russo-)
John: Really, I really brought a plague onto the wrestling business by bringing both fanboy-oddity Mike Lano into it as well as Vince Russo. You know, I think about it often about Vince Russo. I mean, if I didn’t meet him, and if I didn’t bring him in the wrestling business: WCW might still be alive today, you know? I mean, you look at the things that happen in your life, and the Russo thing is a major part of why I left wrestling, because I just – it tore the heart out of me; getting involved with him.
(One quick question before we move on to I guess talk a little more about Russo – that whole period; we want to move on to other conventions and stuff. As someone who’s in the middle of it, because we always hear about how wrestling business in the United States just went down – nosedived – in the period after the Scandals. How much do you think was the Scandals, and how much – what was the Scandals do you think was the Steroids vs. the Sex Scandals?)
John: I think it all had something – it was that whole era. It was that whole 2 year period that people stopped watching and they didn’t want to see this show that was filled with these steroid monsters or the alleged sexual things that were happening. I think it was, and reporting on it, you know – we’re shooting the business that we’re in in the foot by covering it – yeah? But, I think it all had to do with the downfall of the business nosediving directly after all the stuff that happened, because the national media just went wild on the coverage. So, why would you want your kid to go see a show? I know if I was a parent, I probably wouldn’t when all that was going down.
(And then, with Russo, it all became intertwined too. So, I guess the best place to start is: how did you get in touch with him in the first place? Was it just that he approached you to be a sponsor with his video store, or what?)
John: It was a caller by the name of Andrew Goldberger – who was one of the regular callers to the Wrestling Spotlight – and he was a nerdy kid. He’s like “This guy, Vince Russo, has a video store and books wrestlers once in a while and he’d be a good sponsor for you.” So, um, and he had a video store in Selden on Long Island called ‘Will The Thrill Video’ and I called him up and said “My name is John from Pro Wrestling Spotlight,” and I think Andrew Goldberger went in there and said I would be calling, and I met Vince as he was running the video store, and we had a chat and he wanted to get more involved in the wrestling business. He loved the wrestling business – he had a Journalism degree, and he came on as a sponsor of the show, and in turn, I’d promote his business, and then he asked me to get some – I think I booked Honky Tonk Man for him for an appearance – and then he was really, like, seeing how popular the show was. “My dream is to have a wrestling newsletter,” and that’s how it really started: he just kinda, like, we started working together and he these visions. He goes “This show could be so much bigger if it was in New York City, and with your name and newsletter, it’d be great, you have such a built-in following.” So, I agreed to become partners with him. The funny thing is when I agreed to become a partner of his, I had a funny feeling – I mean, it was kind of a gut feeling like “I don’t know if this is the right thing,” you know? I would love to get to New York City and be on a 50,000 Watt station, you know? The newsletter – I really didn’t have time for the newsletter nor have the desire to do the newsletter, but he wanted to do it and we did a newsletter. Immediately – I’ll never forget that first issue – because we had just then made a deal with WEBD to start in January of 1992, and our first newsletter was gonna come out right around the time the radio show debuted. I was looking at the first copy of our newsletter – we were, you know – he said he’d handle this stuff, I’d handle this, and we kinda worked together on it and put it together and he got it printed. On the back of the newsletter, it was like “The Pro Wrestling Spotlight on WEVD with your hosts John Arezzi and Vince Russo,” and I was like “Well, that was never part of the conversation that he’d co-host the show with me,” and I was taken aback a bit. It started off a bit tenuous because I said “Vince, you never said you wanted to be on the radio with me, you know? I agreed to have you as the producer of the show to get guests,” so it started off kinda tenuous, and then when that stuff happened, he was always kinda “Who’s calling,” and he wanted to get in. He was so hungry to get in and was very aggressive; his personality was. We immediately started having disagreements about the content of the show – he didn’t like the direction I did the show, because it was attacking WWE – WWF at the time – so it was 3 months of, and that’s how long the partnership was: it was really not longer than that. It started off in the latter part of ’91, I believe – ’92. I can’t even remember the year-
Probably ’91; yeah.
John: End of ’91 and ’92 we go to WEVD and after 3 months, it was over. I had gone to the office – the office was located in the video store – and I played back the answering machine messages and there was a message from Stevie Planamenta from the WWF inviting him to the Steroid Symposium, and I was like “Shouldn’t you have told me about this?” I guess he also had had conversations with them – he was calling them and he said “They don’t want you there – they don’t want you at this thing,” and I was like – I just knew I had a Judas right then and there. Basically it ended really ugly in his office where I asked my brother-in-law to come over so I could get my stuff out of here so he could be a witness that I’m not taking anything out of Vince’s store, and he started yelling at me because this was even after the symposium then – this was a few weeks later – when he goes to the symposium and he meets Vince McMahon, and to this day, I know that there was conversation that if we “play ball”, if we stop this coverage, then we would have much more access to the WWF and their personalities. That was the conversation we had, I said “Vince, I don’t WANT that,” and he goes “Well you’re broke now and you’re gonna be broke for the rest of your life!” because we have Vince, and he wants to do business, and I said “I’m not doing business with him.” He goes “I’m taking the radio show over,” and I go “No, you’re not.” I had a contract I signed with the station – he didn’t. If he signed the contract with the station, he could have had the show, and I had that contract signed. I went to WEVD and I was like “I just split with this guy,” and I went on the air and I talked to my listeners about it: this is what happened. So, that was pretty ugly and we were instant enemies, you know? He, you know, he was someone who had huge aspirations and he climbed the ladder, and he has done some amazing things: with the booking that he did and the work he did with Vince McMahon. So, I was the conduit – I was the connector; I brought him in. He went through me like shit through a goose and he went right to the top of the ladder and became McMahon’s right-hand-man!
And, you know, shortly after that, he would launch his own show on Long Island on 1240 WGBB called Vicious Vincent’s World of Wrestling, and the show certainly had a lot of co-operation from the World Wrestling Federation: they supplied him with guests, they supplied him with giveaways and he had access to do bus trips to their shows. So, obviously that all began with him getting – with Vince charming him that day at the Steroid Symposium-
John: That’s where it started, yeah. You know, I look back and go “Should I have went that route?” I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I did. Believe me, I would have LOVED to have a wrestling career like Vince Russo has had; I would have enjoyed that creative part of it. But, it just wasn’t – it was something that I couldn’t look in the mirror back then – when all that stuff was happening and you didn’t know what was true and what was not, but you knew bad things were going on – that I couldn’t look myself in the mirror and just discard it, you know?
So Russo leaves at the beginning – even the early part – of 1992 after 3 months of partnership with you and him. Was it an actual partnership on paper that you had to dissolve?
OK, so it was just a handshake agreement – “We’ll be partners going forward.” But, you’re left in a weird situation because now you have radio on WEVD in New York – which wasn’t cheap – which he had pushed you to get, and also, you’re now left with a newsletter which you never wanted to begin with and you’re stuck with that. So – what’s your next steps moving forward with Pro Wrestling Spotlight as a brand?
John: Well, it didn’t really last that much longer, you know. You get sponsors, you try to get on and try to pay for it, but the money was not coming in and I was losing money and going into debt and borrowing from people. It just – it just kinda collapsed and the newsletter just kinda faded away, you know?
John: He started his own competing newsletter anyway. I just didn’t – I didn’t have a desire to do it, and then you try to make it work and it doesn’t work and goes away.
Well, before we move past this topic, one last question about this: did you ever see Vince Russo again?
John: Yes I did; I have seen him more than once.
John: Yes. Interesting story. Here’s an interesting story – and I’m gonna make an assumption here that in my own personal opinion I think is true. I left the wrestling business and I became very successful in the music business working for a huge company – Scripps Networks, which owns Great American Country Television and Food Network, HGTV – and I was their Director of Music Marketing in National Business development. I did a deal, and actually, here’s another – boy, I’m telling you there is a book here – while I was at Great American Country, I took a meeting with Jeff Jarrett and Dixie Carter when they were trying to get TNA Wrestling on the air somewhere. I had meetings with them, because I was interested in putting the wrestling show on Great American Country television. The owners at the time had no interest in it, even though it was a ratings grabber, they didn’t want to do it. So, you know, Jarrett and Dixie were really surprised on how passionate I was about wrestling, and they’re like “You know a lot about the business,” and I didn’t lead on to that I was IN the business, but they just loved my passion for it. So, fast forward a couple years, I’m at Great American Country and I’m putting together a huge national television campaign for Busch Beans and I brought in this country artist, Craig Morgan, to be a national spokesman for Busch Beans for a huge campaign on Great American Country and the Scrips Network; huge deal. We were cutting some commercials in Florida at Universal Studios with Busch Beans and Craig Morgan. I’m on the plane going down there and who’s on the plane? Dixie Carter. She’s like “John, how are you?” and I’m like “Great! I’m going down to Orlando,” and she’s like “We’re going down there for a Pay-Per-View. Why don’t you come to the show?” I was like “Wow.” I knew Vince Russo worked there, and I knew my friends Cactus Jack were still there, and several of my old friends were there. So, I was like – you know what? It’s been long enough. I think I’m gonna go. Dixie still had no idea I was in the wrestling business. So, I go to the show – I go to the show and, ironically, our set where we’re shooting our commercial and TNA’s set are right next door to each other; this is lot 65, and they’re lot 66 or whatever it is. So I show up, I get done with my shoot schedule and I go next door and Dixie gives me backstage access and I go backstage. The first person I see is Cactus, you know, and I see Mick and we hug and we start exchanging pleasantries. Then, I see Russo standing by the coffee truck, and I said “Alright, this is it. I haven’t seen this guy in all these years: I’m gonna go up to him.” I go up to him and tap him on the shoulder and go “Hey stranger,” and he turned around and he looked at me like he’s seen a fucking ghost, you know? He was like “John Arezzi!” and I’m like “Hey, how you doin’, Vince?” and it was just like – he goes “Boy, you look great!” and I’m like “Yeah, you look good,” and we were just – we were cordial to each other and that was that. I said “Listen, you did some incredible things and I know we had our problems, but look what happened. I mean, you became this huge success and everything happens for a reason,” type of thing. So that was the end of it, but here’s an interesting side-note which I have to tell you, and this is bizarre. I also see Buh Buh Ray Dudley, and he comes up to me and he just, like, he kinda pushes me. He’s like “John Arezzi, you fat fuck,” bah bah bah. And I’m like “Hey, how you doing?” and I thought he was ribbing me. He goes “You thought I was no good and you didn’t book me on your shows back then and look what I become!” I go “Listen, I never said that you-“ because he said that HE heard that I said he wasn’t good enough to work for me on one of my shows that I was promoting, or a convention, or whatever. I’m like “I never said anything like that! If I didn’t book you, maybe because I didn’t have room on a card-“ “Yeah yeah, right right.” So, I mean, I was like – that kind of alarmed me. I was like “Man, back in the wrestling business and these people are all still crazy.” So, at the PPV, I’m sitting in the front row – Dixie puts me in the front row with her and her husband Serge – and it’s the main event, and it’s Buh Buh Ray with the Dudley Boyz against Sting and Kurt Angle. So, they start brawling outside the ring and Sting and Buh Buh are going at it, and Buh Buh tells Sting to throw him on ME in the first row. This is on – I have the PPV. I have the tape, and Mick Foley’s doing play-by-play, ironically! So he throws Buh Buh on me; Buh Buh turns around and grabs me by the throat and squeezes it. So, anyways, he gets pulled off, but I’m like “Wow – this is SO bizarre!” and I was like half – I spilled down and hit my back on the floor, and half of it I just couldn’t believe it; it was a joke. I thought it was funny. When I listened to the play-by-play of Mick, he’s like “And there’s Buh Buh Ray Dudley and John Arezzi – their heat from 10 years continues!” So that was a side-note to that story on Russo, but I ran into Russo one other time, and it was at the Palm Restaurant here in Nashville. He was sitting and having lunch with Dixie, and it was right around the time that I was managing a singer here in town named Sarah Darling, and when I produced her video called “Something To Do With Your Hands,” I called Dixie and I book A.J. Styles to be in the video because I felt that there was a rub off of this hot young wrestler with Sarah Darling – an artist who was an up-and-coming artist – and I wanted to make a connection because I wanted that wrestling audience rub. I hired a wrestling publicist to promote it, and the video went to #1 on CMT and Great American Country, and it helped propel her into a different stratosphere with her awareness. Then, I started entering discussions with TNA about putting her in a storyline with A.J. Styles, and to this day, Dixie was behind it and their executives were behind it. We were talking about a 3 or 4 week arc where Sarah, my artist, would be pushed around by one of the female heels and A.J. would come to her defense and there’d be a storyline blow-up and once Russo - this is my assumption, I don’t know if it’s true or not - but I think only one person squashed it, because it was squashed and it never took place, and I was wondering who that person was internally that flipped the switch off AFTER we booked TV to do it. So, maybe it was Vince, maybe it wasn’t; I don’t know.
Bad idea - it would have benefited TNA more than it would you, so.
John: But I knew I wasn’t able to do business with Vince, and A.J., I mean, because he was such a hot commodity and was just emerging. The video – if you’ve ever seen it, I don’t know if you have – was very successful for her and for him. I mean, it was kind of a cool thing that we were able to put together with him, you know? That was the last time I saw Russo.
Well, on the topic of weird characters in your life, let’s try to make this a little more fun right now. Tell me about the first time you meet Herb Abrams.
John: (laughing) Herb was one of the most interesting I’ve ever met, and, you know, I heard the rumors about him: he was coming in and I was doing my convention – I think it was the very first one – and he was announcing that he was gonna be starting up this wrestling federation, and he was bringing in wrestlers that were dead and all this other stuff. He was just a character who – he was a character who actually wanted to hire me to help him promote it, and he was just a bizarre individual that was another kind of lightning rod of pathological lies and ineptness to run business; probably one of the most bizarre characters that ever was involved in the wrestling business, you know? I have interesting memories about him. I mean, he – and here’s another thing that if I turned the clock back, I’d do it over again – I had him on my radio show and at my convention, and it kind of lost credibility for me because I was associated with him in those days trying to help promote the alternative to the WWF at the time. But, you know, a lot of friends that worked on those shows – he was with Bruno, Mick Foley was working – so it was good and bad; you know. Herb never bounced a cheque on me (laughing).
I think from what I recall, at his first convention, he announced he’s starting a company called the UWF and he was gonna do something that the World Wrestling Federation didn’t know how to do, and that was bring “glitz and glamour to wrestling” (laughing) which, is funny for that to be his thing. I believe he announced Bruiser Brody was gonna be working for him-
John: And Blackjack Mulligan was going to be his booker – I think he was in jail at the time.
Blackjack was in jail and Bruiser Brody had been dead for a year and a half to two years; I forget exactly when. (laughing)
John: Those were the two most memorable moments of that press conference.
(laughing) Did you – was he always around for those years? Did he always have you come down to the Penta Hotel wherever he was taping?
John: Yeah. Yeah, actually, because I was there and I was at all those shows in the beginning; yeah. I’d help promote him on the show – give away tickets, and I helped promote it. I was playing it up pretty hot and heavy on the show.
John: I mean most of that audience was listening to the Pro Wrestling Spotlight, you know?
I’d think so! It’s amazing when he died and you’d read about it in the paper and it says such an outrageous story, yet-
John: I know, I know!
Yet it makes perfect sense!
John: Naked with Cocaine or whatever it was.
I believe it was 'Covered in baby oil, on cocaine with two hookers and he had a baseball bat, and he was smashing up all the offices in his building-'
(And pulling fire alarms.)
And pulling fire alarms. (laughing) That’s a hell of a way to go! You know, speaking of interesting things at your conventions – we mentioned The Sheik, we mentioned you had Buddy Rogers and Bruno there: you also had the reunion of Bruno and Larry Zbyszko. How did that come about?
John: I just felt that it was something – it was an angle – that would draw, because these two had not been together for a long period of time, and I wanted to do that reunion, you know? Bruno had just had a book that had come out, and Larry had done a few other things with, and I brought up the idea and I thought it was gonna be smoother than it was, but there was still – unless they were working me – heat there. I mean, it was hard for them to even do a handshake when I brought Larry to the table where Bruno was at. So, to this day, I don’t know if I was worked or not, or if there was legitimate heat, but from what I saw, there was some tension that might not have been really strong, strong, heat – because I think they’ve certainly patched up everything since then – but that was an interesting part of that convention, because I just felt that that was something that the fans wanted to see. I mean, it was something that I wanted to personally see after all the years, and I thought that the fans would also get a kick out of seeing them have a reunion, but they didn’t take any pictures together with the fans, which I was hoping would be the case.
Yeah, it would have been a big draw; for sure.
John: Yeah, I mean, they were sitting, like, right next to each other with two different tables, but they wouldn’t jointly sign a picture – they weren’t at the same table and they wouldn’t take pictures together with the fans.
You know, for the most part, were all the wrestlers that you dealt with for the conventions easy to deal with, or was there anyone that was especially hard to deal with?
John: Uh…let’s see – hard to deal with. I hate to say this because he was a good friend of mine at the time – Eddie Gilbert was somebody that I really admired and had known since I was a kid, but he was difficult when he got there to deal with, because he was obviously – had some demons that were raising their heads during the convention – so he was kind of OK one minute and then not OK the next. So, that was a disappointment to me. Other than that, as far as – most of them were gracious and they were all pretty easy to work with; everybody. Everybody was. I don’t remember a bad negotiation with anybody, you know, up until the point where I think Jake was at my last convention; he might have been there. Jake and I have had a, you know, I just – Jake Roberts was not easy to deal with. Ever.
(I remember meeting Jake – I don’t know if it was at; I can’t remember if he was at one of your conventions. I remember I met him at an L & S Comics appearance-)
I was there – that was a disaster.
John: I booked him there. He was out of his mind at that appearance.
(I mean, I was a little kid – I guess this was ’92; probably ’93 because he’d left WCW-)
It was the Summer of ’93.
John: It was around the time I was booking him with Skoler for that big thing with AAA, and I had really made him my champion of the International Wrestling All-Stars.
(Yeah, and I’m 8 years old, still, going with my uncle and my cousin, and we can all tell that something was very wrong.)
John: Yeah. I mean, he showed up that way, and it was a very stressful day for me. I didn’t want him to go when I picked him up – I knew he was messed up. I knew it was going to be a train wreck from the very beginning, you know.
(You and Larry and Steve ended up apologizing on the air!)
John: Yes we did.
(Which is on the Torch site, I believe. I remember listening to it a couple of years ago – that makes it all the more amazing as to how much he’s turned things around.)
John: I’m so happy for him – I swear to you. I mean, I am, because his life during that time – and I think I was involved with Jake probably during THE darkest part, or maybe there were darker parts after – but every memory I have of dealing with Jake Roberts was a nightmare. It was nothing ever good about it – it was nothing ever easy and smooth, and the surprises and the dangerous situations that he put people in were; it’s astounding that the man is still alive. I’m very happy – and I saw the documentary. I’m happy he’s pulled himself together, but he was messed up for a LONG time, and he put me through agony to deal with him.
(The one I remember at one of the conventions who it seemed like had some issues at that moment was Kerry Von Erich. I remember him just walking into the room and, like, falling or something, and everyone turning around and looking. Everyone in the ball room – it was just strange.)
John: Yeah. I didn’t book him there – I didn’t-
(That’s right – he was a vendor guest.)
John: He was a vendor guest. I was like “Kerry Von Erich – amazing,” and that was another issue. That was a whole era of issues if you remember the performers back in the day and how they were: it was a bad time.
(So, to go for something more ‘upbeat’, I didn’t see them at the time because I don’t think I went on the day where they ran – because I’d usually go on the Saturday and the auctions’d be on the Sunday – but you had these auctions. I think, at least at the second and third conventions, with Eddie Gilbert doing the second one, Cornette did the first one. I’ve seen them on the video tapes of the conventions-)
John: Cornette did the first one in ’91 and then Eddie did the following one. Mhmm.
(Those were a LOT of fun. How did the idea of that come about, anyway, about doing the auctions for the various memorabilia and have Corny as a host-)
John: It was kind of an idea I had – I felt that if we could give the fans an opportunity to own a piece of history, and also to monetize – to make a little extra money for the performers, you know? When I asked for Flair to bring a robe and he did, I mean, it was kind of fun! I think Paul E. was actually Auctioneer for the last convention I had – which was also fun – but yeah, that was just an idea. I mean, I always looked at it as “I’m the fan – what would I really like?” Boy, if I had an opportunity to have a ring robe by Ric Flair? A REAL one? Yeah – that’d be cool! Billy Graham’s boots, or, you know, Cornette’s Tennis Racquet or whatever. That’s kind of – it’s like that memorabilia as a fan that you probably would love to own a piece of history, you know?
(And the Jushin Liger costume, I remember was one-)
John: Part of the negotiation with him – I remember that was kinda cool. I look at it too and I’m like “Jushin Liger” and I always wanted to super serve the super fans, and Liger was so hot that year that I wanted to bring him in as kind of the headliner, and I always tried to super serve those super fans. I knew The Sheik would be an amazing booking, you know, and it was – to have him and Sabu at the same convention together was kinda cool, you know?
John: I wish I had copies of those matches that were promoted that night, you know – a good quality of them.
(My favorite thing from the auction that I saw on video was with Cornette where it was Lou Thesz’s trunks were up for bid, and it either got NO bids or 1 bid, or something, and just to see Corny’s reaction, knowing him, knowing how he feels about wrestling history and people like Lou Thesz, and then his reaction which is like “It’s Lou Thesz’s TIGHTS for Christ’s sake!”)
John: Yup. Yeah. I don’t know if he bought them himself – I don’t remember. But, I do remember Lou did bring a pair of socks too and I said “Nah, I don’t think we want the socks, Lou,” you know? (laughing)
You know, you mentioned Eddie Gilbert before – I’m curious of your perspective of something. You did a bus trip to ECW in the Summer of ’93 for Eddie against Terry Funk, and I remember – I remember wanting to go. I wasn’t allowed to – I was only 13 and my parents wouldn’t let me go because it was billed as “Go on the bus trip and afterwards there’d be a party with the wrestlers,” (laughing) so I wasn’t allowed to go. But, you went down there for that and Paul was already working for ECW at that time – look, Paul and Eddie were attached at the hip for a few years there-
John: Yeah, they were.
And both were very involved with your show with Paul being in New York and knowing you, and Eddie was too. You knew Eddie for a long time, and, look – Eddie Gilbert had a fan-club before he was a wrestler. Eddie was involved with the fan-club scene and the WFIA scene-
John: I met him and Doug back in those days.
Yeah. So you go back with both of them – you’re there for the Summer of ’93 and you’re there after that: what’s your perspective on what broke up the relationship between Paul and Eddie?
John: I wish I knew the correct answer to that. I just think that Paul saw an opportunity and Eddie was kinda – I mean, it probably would have worked. I didn’t know if Eddie was just so paranoid toward the end of his life. Paul E. was certainly very ambitious as always, and I think if they could have worked together, it could have been an amazing run there, you know, because they were both brilliant and both joined at the hip, like you said. That may be a better question for Paul E. than John Arezzi, you know? But, they were tight, and if they were able to be together and do business together during that period – I mean, ECW was great but, who knows. It could have been better.
I definitely wanted to talk to you about the IWAS shortly before we wrap things up, but I wanna ask you a couple things about your radio show. First of all, if you could just off the top of your head – who were your very favorite guests? Who was the guest who didn’t work out as well as you’d hoped, and are there specific episodes you remember as being really special for you?
John: My very favorite guest on Pro Wrestling Spotlight had to be Freddie Blassie. I mean, with my history with him, I was able to get him on the show when there was that little window of détente with the show and Titan. So, that was great. Paul E. and Cactus – Mick Foley – I mean, those were always favorite guests. The one that I was – the guest that I really was disappointed with was Public Enemy, ironically, because they came on the show in character. That I found really unusually – I felt it would be kind of cool to have them and how great they were and dynamic as a tag team they were, and to talk to the fans out of character, but they came on in character, so that kinda threw me off. That was probably one of the worst interviews I ever did on the show.
Are there any specific episodes – you know, like you did a lot covering the Steroid Trial. I remember one – I’ll tell you off the top of my head which was maybe the wildest of the episodes you ever did, which was – I wanna say April of ’93, maybe May. It was right after the failed WCW Paramount Show – the Paramount at Madison Square Garden, formerly the Felt Forum - and you had Dave Meltzer call in, Paul E. in the studio, and I believe Ron Skoler in the studio as well, and Paul E. started interrupting your live reads of commercials and telling people to go porno theatres and all sorts of (laughing) things that I’m sure the sponsors weren’t very happy about! (laughing)
John: Yeah. Yeah, that Paul E. was unpredictable and he did whatever he wanted to do when he was on and he didn’t care – that was a wild one. That was a crazy one! I guess the other crazy one that is in my memory is when I had Missy Hyatt and Jason Hervey on trashing Eddie Gilbert and singing “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” and that was a wild one. Paul E. was on that show as well; yeah. So that was kinda crazy. There were a lot of crazy episodes and very entertaining radio for the listeners – and for me as the host.
(laughing) As one of the listeners, I can say it was absolutely entertaining, and is still a show I miss to this day because I really loved it. Let me ask you, John, about your time promoting – obviously the IWAS is what I remember you promoting: The International Wrestling All-Stars. You had a big, big talent list: I remember Konnan – you were the first person I remember really using Konnan. You had all sorts of people – Jake, you mentioned earlier, Dallas Page, Madusa, and from what I remember –and correct me where I’m wrong – you went on tours of Malaysia, you took these guys on these big overseas tours: what are your memories of the times promoting, and what were those trips like?
John: They were amazing because I’d gotten a call and I hooked up with a gentleman that was a talent agent and he was a buyer of shows and he used to sell shows overseas. He wanted to be in wrestling, and I think I was introduced to him by Mike Appel – who used to manage Bruce Springsteen?
I know Mike, yeah.
John: It was the same time I was getting involved with Ron with the Lucha Libre part of it, and he said there’s all of these buyers in overseas territories that want to bring pro-wrestling there, but they want people who were with the WWF or on TV, and I was able to facilitate these tours. So we did some really cool shows in places like Singapore and Hong Kong and the Philippines – (inaudible) Demarcos was on those shows, and I did it because I was doing business with Konnan at the time and I brought the Mexican Minis, I had Wendi Richter, and Madusa, and Greg Valentine, and Jake; it was just a great line-up of talent. I was supposed to have Ultimate Warrior and that was a nightmare in negotiations with him and it blew up, and that was the end of that, but it was a great exciting time. There was a lot of money put up by these promoters overseas, and they were fun! I also got a chance to go Venezuela and bring in, you know, Psicosis and Sabu and Rey Mysterio and Konnan. Man, they were very, very, exciting, but they were very very stressful because of the personalities that you had to deal with, and you never knew who was gonna be straight or on something during these tours. I have so many stories. I mean, in Venezuela, we had this Sumo Death Tag Team, one of the guys broke their shoulder during this performance and he got a prescription for pain killers, I remember, and they went to the pharmacist in Caracas and got the prescription filled, but the Pharmacist gives the prescription BACK to the guy, and he shows up at the hotel and then ALL the wrestlers were going, using the same prescription to get painkillers.
Oh man! (laughing)
John: And here’s the thing: Hercules Hernandez was one of the guys and he went, and then the next day when we’re supposed to leave, we couldn’t get him out of the hotel and we left him there!
(laughing) You left him in Venezuela?!
John: Yeah! He wouldn’t wake up! Hercules Hernandez – that was another interesting situation, you know? But, promoting was interesting. It was fun, it was – and these were guaranteed payoffs, so, I mean, there was no money lost, which was always good.
(There was one match I remember hearing about – I think it might have been on Dominic Valenti’s hotline – that was on one of those tours, and it was, I believe Rey Mysterio Jr. and Konnan against Sabu and Psicosis. Is there a videotape of this? If so, do you still have it? Do you remember how it was, and is there any way we could ever see it?)
John: Well, I think I do have it. It was shot on, like, VHS mini-C or whatever. I have tapes from it, and it was one of the most amazing matches that I’ve ever seen, and it was Psicosis going through the table – it was, like, it was crazy! It was ECW meets Lucha, and it was a wild match. It was one of the best matches that I had seen, and I was happy to have it on my show. There was the Chicago show I promoted in conjunction with ECW when I had Terry Funk turning on Perro Aguayo and there was a riot at the Chicago Amphitheatre – that show was even shot by Paul E.’s TV crew at the time. I didn’t have the money to pay them, so I never got the tapes (laughing) but that was one of the most amazing shows there was. If you look back in your newsletters, I mean, they were saying that was one of the cards of the year that we had promoted – IWAS in conjunction with ECW and AAA; it was an amazing show. Cactus was there – I mean, it was just mind blowing.
Obviously you heard Ron Skoler’s story a few weeks ago here on the show, and he talked about how he met you, and he talked about his involvement with Antonio Peña and AAA. I’d like to – as you said, Ron has an impeccable memory and he’s telling it as it was: what else do you remember about that experience that you could add to the conversation, and what was your thoughts of Antonio Peña and Konnan and all these guys that you were just meeting?
John: It was always an adventure to deal with Peña and trying to get all the paperwork straight, but Ron, I mean, was a visionary. You have Carol and Darryl involved, and I came in and I was a partner in the IWC – I was a shareholder in the IWC – and the dealings with Peña was never really smooth and easy, but in the end, that first show in Los Angeles was the proudest moment I had in the wrestling business in my entire career to see that overflow crowd turning away 8,000 or 9,000 people. We were on to something, and Ron had a vision, and Ron was smart about it. Carol and Darryl were concert promoters so they saw it in a different way. Everything that Ron said was totally spot-on accurate from what I remember from that time period. Ron was on his way to doing something really special, but things get derailed, and in my situation, I was in such a bad, bad, financial place that right before they struck the deal with Turner and WCW for that PPV, I sold my shares and I got out because I needed the money so desperately. Ron always to this day says “You’re the only guy who made any money in that deal!” (laughing) It’s true, I mean, because I sold it for – you know, I think it was, like, $18,000 or something back then. I got rid of the stock and they took it over, but it fell apart after the WCW thing, but if Ron had his way – the visionary that he was, and he was a hard business man as well and he was smart, still to this day; just a smart, brilliant guy – I think it could have been something amazing if everyone had listened to him in the way that he wanted to do this. He had, you know, he got a little full of himself there for a little bit, but he was proud of his accomplishments and he actually thought he was gonna be the next Vince McMahon, I think, in the Mexican Lucha side here in America. He could have been that if everything went his way! But, I have nothing but the utmost respect for that man and everything he did, and I remember putting the deal together – because he wanted to do it – and I got a hold of Dave Meltzer, who put me in head of Konnan and I spoke to Konnan and Konnan got Peña involved, so that’s how that all happened. Once again, I was a facilitator and a connector of parties.
Back in those days, you being the leading voice of inside wrestling news on New York Radio, which had a lot of power: what was your relationship like with the other newsletter writers and radio show hosts throughout the country – the Dave Meltzer’s, the Wade Keller’s – did you have a relationship with everyone?
John: Yeah, I did. I had a really close relationship with Dave and with Wade, and Steve Beverly at the time who had Mat Watch, then Mike Tenay started the Wrestling Insiders and I had a great relationship with Mike. You know, it was a camaraderie and were in it together, we’d share stories and I’d have Wade and Dave on – as you’re heard – on the show almost all the time because I wanted their perspective on it, and I felt that they were – that I was the voice on the radio, but they were the guys writing about it in more detail extensively in their newsletters, and had the utmost respect for them. I kinda knew what my limitations were, and it wasn’t the deep-down journalistic viewpoints of Meltzer and Wade, you know? They were much more very straight down the middle with their reporting, and sometimes – I’ll admit this – I used to get carried away a little bit and, you know, sometimes I’d be a little bit too colorful in my reporting, especially when it came down to those scandals.
You mentioned Dave and Wade and I’m wondering what your memories are – I believe you were a part of the 1993 Jim Herd Real Wrestling Hotline.
John: Yeah. There was a period of time where I was; correct.
What did you think of Jim Herd? How were your dealings with him?
John: Um, I wasn’t really ever impressed with him, you know? I didn’t think that he knew the business and had a vision for the business – had some ideas that he kind of, the Ding-Dongs, I mean; that was (laughing) that was character development that should have never been developed, you know. It only lasted for a while, but I wasn’t really that impressed with Jim. Jim was just kind of an interesting cat.
Yeah. What was your relationship like in general with the offices? I know, obviously as we’ve talked about here today, you and the World Wrestling Federation eventually didn’t see eye to eye, but If I remember right, you started out – you had a good relationship with them. I think Jimmy Hart may have been on – if not your first show – one of your first shows?
John: Here’s what happened. I mean, I remember, because Steve Planamenta – once again, a fan of mine when I had the Freddie Blassie Fan Club and when I was a writer – he was little Stevie Planamenta to me that I met through a college friend and he idolized me. When I started up the show and he was THE guy to get the guests from, he’s like “We’re gonna have a great relationship, just don’t be like that Rich Mancuso guy,” and it started off nice, and then my second or third show I brought Bruno on – because Bruno was one of my legendary heroes, you know – and Bruno did what he did. Once I had actually – I had got so concerned about it that I had given the interview to the WWF to kinda listen to and they’re like “You can’t put this on the air,” and that’s when the line was drawn in the very beginning of the show, and I said “I have to put it on the air.” They were like “Well, you’ll never get any co-operation from us if this goes on the air,” and I never did after that, really, because I put Bruno on and he spoke his mind.
Yeah, and what was your relationship like with WCW and was first the NWA and then WCW?
John: There was always co-operation: from the Gary Justers; all the guys. Paul E. was a friend and I always got co-operation – I always got backstage passes, I always had access to the guys, and it got a little bit tenuous after I brought Steamboat on, you know? Steamboat did the number and talked about the inner, inner, workings of the contract negotiation, and that’s when it, you know, that’s when it kind of – I didn’t get as much access, but I still got access. I still found my way in there, and it wasn’t like I was barred, you know, “You can’t talk to this guy,” because they still did.
Who today do you keep in touch with from wrestling from your days in the wrestling business?
John: You know, Wade obviously, because he reached out and the old shows; Mick Foley on occasion – we are friends to this day; Don Laible, you know, but that’s really it. I mean, there really isn’t anyone else back in those days. I had some interesting conversations with Jarrett at the beginning of last year when he started up Global Wrestling Federation. He wanted to hire me to handle all of his marketing and sponsorships, and we had several conversations and it didn’t pan out because he couldn’t pay me. It was a commission thing and I was like, you know what, at this point in my life, I’m not working on a commission deal with anybody, so that ended. I was in conversations for about 3 months.
Certainly no-one wants to work on spec., especially for a wrestling project.
John: Ah, you know. You do some things in your life, with the career that I’ve had after wrestling, and the music business and everything I’ve done, I’ve learned you don’t give away what you have worked hard on – and those are the leveraging of relationships – and the ability to bring something to the table that could benefit somebody unless you get compensated for it, and I won’t do that – to this day; for anybody!
Yeah. I’m right there with you, trust me (laughing). You have no idea how much I agree with you right now. In closing, John, you’re someone who had a very big voice in not only wrestling, but especially in the New York Wrestling Scene for many years. People still, to this day, talk about Pro Wrestling Spotlight and John Arezzi. It’s a happy memory many people have listening to your show: whether it be on Long Island or someone who was able to get WEVD out of New York – how would you like to be remembered by the New York wrestling fans and by wrestling fans in general?
John: I’d like to be remembered as somebody who was just as big a fan as they were, but also gave them the opportunity to kind of have a couple of dreams fulfilled by being able to get up close and personal with the individuals and the performers that were in the business. Whether it was talking to them on the telephone or getting a picture with them at an autograph session or a convention, and I would like to be remembered as kind of an innovator – maybe, what has been told about me and maybe it’s right, I was a little bit ahead of my time when it came to the radio show and the conventions. So, I mean, I’d like to be remembered like that: maybe an innovator, a little ahead of his time, but someone who always gave the fans the opportunity to get close to the personalities in the sport that they love.
Episode 29 - Transcript (on Gorilla Monsoon vs. Muhammad Ali)
We’re gonna welcome back to the program one of our more popular guests of all time – John Arezzi – and it’s for a very special reason: John was actually there the day that Muhammad Ali filmed his famed angle with Gorilla Monsoon. While Muhammad Ali versus Antonio Inoki in a Mixed Match is the most well-known thing Muhammad Ali did with professional wrestling, the angle that he filmed with Gorilla Monsoon is probably the most viewed thing he ever did with professional wrestling, and John – welcome back to the program.
John: It’s a pleasure to be back.
So, before we get to that day and your remembrances and your thoughts on that day, tell us – at that time in your life, what did Ali mean to you and what did he mean to the community you grew up in?
John: Well, Ali was a very special athlete. Even in my neck of the woods, there was a reverence for him. I grew up in a mixed community – at least in the early stages of my life – and he was Cassius Clay at the time, then moved out to Long Island and he changed his name to Muhammad Ali and he kinda turned heel (laughing) a little bit because we didn’t understand – I didn’t understand – as a kid why he did that, and why he refused to go into the Military and refused to get drafted; lost respect for him at that time because the War was being fed to us as something that was justified up until the time Ali brought it to light that he was an objector based on his religion. Then, you started digging into the reasons why this War was not the right war to be in, and then when he came back and fought Frazier – that first time – I remember listening to the, not the live play-by-play on the radio, but they had after every round, I remember that there was a recap that was being fed to radio listeners because I wasn’t able to go to closed circuit and I do believe it was on closed circuit. When he got knocked down in the 15th round, I was stunned. I remembered my bedroom – I was stunned. I was sad because I had wanted him to win. After he won that case with the Supreme Court, overturned the conviction, and I just wanted the guy to win, and then I was so excited after had his comeback and then won the title against Frazier. I always respected him, and actually, grew to love what he stood for.
In 1976, he is the World Champion again and Vince McMahon and Bob Arum worked together and they put together this deal for him to fight Antonio Inoki. The rumor is originally he was going to fight Bruno Sammartino and there were some problems with the negotiations there, so Inoki was more than happy (laughing) to wrestle/fight/however you wanna put it Muhammad Ali. So they start doing all these things – there’s a press conference, there’s an appearance on… maybe World Wide-
(Wild World of Sports against, who is it, Buddy Wolfe?)
Against Buddy Wolfe with Verne Gagne and Dick the Bruiser in his corner followed by an interview with Vince McMahon conducting the interview with Ali, but around this time, you have this angle with Gorilla Monsoon. As we talked about previously here on this show, you were one of the people who shot ringside – you shot for the magazines, you also had your own fan clubs: when did you find out- were you scheduled to go to photograph that taping ahead of time, or did you find out Ali was gonna be there and then decide that you were going?
John: Didn’t find out that Ali was gonna be there until I got there. I had just gotten back from college – it was the end of my first year away from home in Boston – and I got home and George Napolitano and I are friends to this day, and we used to go to a lot of the shows together, and George invited me to go to Philadelphia and he was gonna drive. So I drove to Brooklyn and met him at a house, and then we drove to Philly and we had no idea that Muhammad Ali was gonna be there. So, we do the normal thing – I remember- I particularly remember it was very, very, hot that day in Philly. I mean, the dressing room – when we got to the Philadelphia Arena, there was the back of the building and the doors were open. That’s where the guys used to go in and the people who worked there used to go in. But, it was extremely hot, and we’re there setting up and taking some photos and then, all of a sudden, Ernie Roth – The Grand Wizard – came out and called me and George over to the side and he said “Ali’s comin’ tonight,” and we were like “Wow!” He said “If I were you, as soon as you see him, start snappin’ away because they’re gonna clear the back – they don’t want anyone back there.” So, it was a good tipoff, because literally 10 minutes after Ernie had tipped us off, here comes a limousine to the back entrance and here comes some bodyguards, and then smiling, walking out of the limousine was Muhammad Ali. I got cold chills, because here’s someone that you revered and he’s right in front of you. Sure enough, as soon as he gets there, I think it was Phil Zacko who was working the back at the time, Savoldi, a few of the others just cleared the back and sent us all to the front and that’s where we stayed until the angle took place.
So what are your remembrances about the angle?
John: I remember it being like – feeling like I was something- like it was something special going on because he sat in the first row, and then Monsoon and Scicluna get in the ring for their match and you knew something was gonna go down. George and I were talking and there was another photographer there who’s from AP and it was just George and I and this AP photographer who we had never seen before, so obviously he was tipped off. But, the angle – when it transpired and took place, it was just trying to snap away, snap away, because you just knew that you were seeing something – at least for the pro wrestling business – was very historic; something that may never happen again. It unfolded right in front of us and as soon as it was over – and after the Monsoon interview – I didn’t think I stayed for that. I just ran right to the back as soon as it was over, and as soon as it was over, Ali ran into the dressing room and they slammed the door. So, I waited outside of the doors to see if he would emerge from the dressing room, and sure enough, he did. I was able to shake his hand and I was able to get a couple of pictures of him – some close-ups of him – just laughing. I remember him laughing, just laughing his ass off over what had just happened. I mean, he really looked like he enjoyed it. It was a very, very, special, special moment.
How big was his entourage that day?
John: I think there were about 4 people around him, and they were serious – they were, you know, they weren’t looking at this like I think he was looking at it. This is fun for him and he was having the time of his life, but they were genuinely concerned with something going wrong – who knows what that would be – but they were concerned. They were pretty stern, and they were around him in the 1st row and they followed him out, but he was having the time of his life it looked like.
How long did he stay after the angle took place?
John: Probably about 10 minutes, maybe? George had come out and, as well, went outside and he was just in and out and then he drove away in the limousine and that was the end of it, you know? There were a lot of smiles on the guys faces in the back, because everyone wanted to see it and it was a thrill to this day, and I have been watching that video since I heard about his death and I just remembered it, and then those pictures of course that I snapped – they were always very special to me. I do remember that the Daily News ran – I think it was the back page of the Daily News – 3 pictures, and ironically, they weren’t the AP photographers: they were George Napolitano’s, which I was really happy for him. But, I took those photos and I still treasure them to this day. I still have a few more of him smiling in the back; didn’t get a picture taken with him which was you just couldn’t do. It didn’t feel right about that, as much as I wanted to. But, I did run into Ali one additional time in my life and that I remember like it was yesterday as well.
What was the other time you ran into him?
John: I was in Atlantic City for a Mike Tyson fight and the year was 1986 or ’87 – Tyson was just really emerging and we were at the venue, and then we went back to our hotel and I saw Don King as soon as we got out of the car. I was with some partners of mine from the music business and then went into the elevator, went up a few floors, the door opened and in walked Muhammad Ali. I was just stunned and sad because his physical deterioration had begun in earnest, and he was not able to even kinda speak fluently. He handed out a – because he just had ‘em in his hand, there was a stack of personally signed religious passage, and that’s what he handed out then. But, it was really sad to see the man, after seeing him so many years before, so vibrant and so larger than life. He always remained more larger than life, but it was just kinda sad to see what happened to him.
Episode 44 - Transcript (on Madison Square Garden)
A couple weeks back on Corny’s Drive-Thru, I mentioned that I had heard a story recently that to get ringside tickets to Madison Square Garden for Wrestling, there was a certain ticket teller you had to go to and a certain amount of money you had to slip him on the side to get ringside. Even if you were the first person on line for tickets, you probably weren’t going to get ringside unless you went to this guy and gave him his little bonus. I didn’t say where I heard that story, but I’ll say it now – I heard it from John Arezzi when me and him were at a Met game recently – having a good time – and John is joining us on the Superpodcast once again. John, how are you?
John: How are YOU, the great one - Mr. Last?
(laughing) Doing OK! I’m doing OK. So – let’s take a step back: when did you first go to Madison Square Garden?
John: The very first show I attended I couldn’t get in because I was under 14, and that was Bruno Sammartino against Gorilla Monsoon back in 1966, I believe it was. I had finally convinced my dad to take me to wrestling and I was just over-the-top excited; couldn’t believe it. Get there, was stopped at the gate because I was not 14, so it was devastating.
I could imagine.
John: But that’s the way it was back then, but you know, let’s fast forward to 1971. It was August – I finally got to go to Madison Square Garden with a friend of mine who was also a wrestling fanatic from my high school, and it was Pedro Morales against Stan ‘The Man’ Stasiak, and we were sitting in the Loge and I was hooked; that was it. Dove fully in after that.
So I’m gonna guess – knowing how big a fan you are and you were: were you the person that as soon as intermission hit – as soon as they announced the next card – were you running to the ticket booths to buy tickets?
John: Uh, yeah – I was one of those. For the very second show that I attended at the Garden was the rematch of Stasiak and Morales. I did go to the box office and got, I think it was like, 11th row ringside. I mean, that’s what used to happen – I used to always buy in advance, always run to the ticket window after the show – and never got anything past, like, the 7th row, which used to irritate me. I was like “Why is this happening?” So after that continued for a couple of years – I would think – I used to notice that once I started getting to know some of the fans outside the garden, I’d notice this photographer guy. His name was Mike Abrams – no relation to Herb – and he was always sitting in the first row; always. Every single month he’s in the first row. So I was like “How do you get this first row tickets?” He goes “Well, I see the guy – Bill Baker – the ticket guy at Window #7 and that’s how I get ‘em.” I was like “You’re kidding me. How does that work?” He goes “The day of the show – not in advance – the day of the show about an hour before show time, he’ll open up his little window and he’ll motion you over and you’ll be sitting right up front.” So I was really a little nervous because I never wanted to possibly miss getting my 7th row ringside or 9th row ringside, so that month, I did not buy my ticket. I waited until the day of the show, and I believe it was – the first time I actually did it was Bruno Sammartino against Killer Kowalski, I believe it was 1974, and the day of the show: I’m waiting and about an hour and a half before the show, there’s Mike Abrams. He goes up, gets his ticket, and I guess he made the introduction, like I was OK. So, I give the guy – it’s a $7.00 ringside ticket. You give the guy 10 bucks – 7 for the ticket, 3 for a tip – and I saw that ringside seat and it said ‘Row #1’ and I could not believe it. So, up until the point where I got press credentials and was actually allowed to shoot at ringside, I had first row seats every single show after that.
Why did he have these ringside tickets available?
John: He probably pulled ‘em. I mean, there were certain subscriptions at the time where you get your same seat every month – the WWWF at the time used to do that. I’m sure that’s how Georgiann Makropolous could get her same seat every show at the Garden. But, it was just a matter of the guy making some extra bucks; making a little extra money on the side. So, once they got their allocation in ticket sale, then there was no, you know, electronic delivery of tickets back in the day – it was all hard tickets – and he just pulled whatever his allocation was, and it was pretty much in the same section, typically. I remember it was right behind the crazy old lady that used to attack the wrestlers at ringside – the heels – whatever her name was. But, I mean, it was in that area, so it was every month. Then, I turned a friend of mine – who was a photographer – onto it, but it was never more than, like, me and one or two others that we would sit together and experience the show from the first row.
And obviously you mentioned Georgiann had her second row tickets right on the aisle where the wrestlers would come out each and every month for, gosh, well over 40 years. I don’t even know exactly how long she had it-
John: Yup; long time.
In general, did people like you – people who sat ringside each month, people who had the subscription service to get their tickets – did everyone kinda know each other? Was there a little bit of a community amongst the regulars at Madison Square Garden?
John: Absolutely - Mike Omansky; there’s Georgiann; there was Richie Marchand from Pennsylvania. We used to go to the bowling alley restaurant, which was right upstairs from Madison Square Garden, and we’d go there before each show to have dinner, and, you know – that’s when I learned that Bruno was coming back to win the title from Georgiann. We used to just go gossip, you know. Richie Marchand would come up and I’d be selling photographs and he’d always buy pictures from me, and it was probably a group of about 10 or 12 people that we just meet every single month and have a little dinner and then go see the show. Everyone had their way of getting tickets.
I had heard the story and we had talked about it on the air – I think Jim Cornette talked about it with us – about how Georgiann played a big part in WWWF history – WWF history, whatever you wanna call it – because she had gotten wind that Buddy Rogers didn’t really wanna do business anymore and was gonna pull something, and that’s how Bruno got the title – ‘cause Georgiann was president to Bruno and Buddy Rogers’ fan club at the same time, which is interesting because they both hated each other. But – I had never heard until you just said this that Georgiann had actually been clued in that Bruno was coming back to win the belt.
John: Yeah! I mean, that’s where I found out, and she was so, so, stoked about it. Especially that night that he won the title – she knew about it (laughing) and it was crazy when he came back and won the title against – I believe it was Stasiak, right, who had beaten Morales in Philadelphia the week before. It was a party that night; it was a party. It was like “Bruno’s back!” It was a party – we were all very, very, excited; very happy to have ‘The Living Legend’ with the strap.
As you mentioned, you would later get your press credentials and you wouldn’t need your ringside ticket anymore because you’d be shooting at ringside – of course, until you did your famous squash match taping (laughing) you know, for the WWF.
John: Yeah, yeah. That was the end of that. I think I told you about how I got my first press credential?
John: It was the ultimate, ultimate elevator speech with Willie Gilzenberg.
(laughing) I think you mentioned that previously on the show, yes. Well, let me ask you this – did you ever hear whatever happened to Bill Baker? Did he continue doing this for other people after you stop using him? Was he around for years later? Did he retire? Whatever happened to him?
John: I have no idea. Once I started shooting at ringside, that was it. I really never went back to ticket window #7 at Madison Square Garden.
One other thing I did want to ask you about briefly here today, John, is recently, Mr. Fuji passed away. Do you have any stories – did you ever have any personal interactions with Mr. Fuji?
John: I have one that stands out in my mind, and this is going back to the days of the Garden every month. There was a lounge where everybody kind of congregated after the show – it was called The Adobe Lounge. It was across the street from the Edison Hotel where most of the guys stayed when they worked at the Garden, but one night, I believe I was with George Napolitano, Andre the Giant, Fuji, and I believe Tanaka, and for some reason, we wound up across the street from the Adobe and there was another bar that might have been connected to the Edison Hotel or directly next door. So, it was a way to get away from the fans, and I don’t even know why I was included in this group. Maybe just because I was with George, and George was close with Andre. We just sat at the bar and all of a sudden, I mean, someone who went out and came back with some sliced Roast Beef, and we were drinking beers and just eating without the bread – (laughing) for whatever reason – we’re eating Roast Beef and drinking beer. Andre was certainly throwing the beers down like he was traditionally – and historically – known for, but that was kinda the closest interaction I had with Fuji. He was always friendly and accommodating when we needed to get some pictures taken in the back of him and Tanaka together – it was just, it was a good time. That was the only interaction I had with him but it stands out in my mind because it was so bizarre on why I was hanging out with these guys, eating Roast Beef out of a package, and drinking beer with them. I was sitting a table – there’s a party of, like, 4 or 5 (laughing) of us – so that was my Fuji story.
You know, you talk about this and before you mentioned getting together with Georgiann and other fans from the ringside area at Madison Square Garden the day of the show – what was the day of a Madison Square Garden show typically like, and what was the post-show like? Did everyone usually get together and go out drinking? Did everyone try to find the wrestlers? What did you do typically after a Madison Square Garden show?
John: It was clique-ish. It was, you know, "Smart Marks," I guess you would call us all. Here was my routine. It was: get to the garden really early, hang out outside the entrance, shoot some pictures of some of the performers coming in to the Garden, and also people-watch, because the wrestling fans back in those days from the Capt. Lenny’s to all the rest of them, it was quite bizarre. Then, we’d all – there’d be that little group of 10 of us or whatever that go up to the bowling alley restaurant at the Garden, then we’d go to the show, and directly after the show, we’d all go to The Adobe. In the early days, and that’s where the “Sue the Shooter’s” so to speak would be hanging out waiting for their guys – the ring rats from Philadelphia and from the immediate New York area’s used to hang. You know, and Capt. Lou Albano was always in there – never with anyone – but he was always be in there first. He’d always be at that bar, and then the guys who were at the show would be there drinking with these hardcore fans and groupies. It was a little bar, The Adobe – it wasn’t really a large place, but it was a community of us that went every single show and hung out. What I really liked about it is, like, because when Vince brought in some of these performers from outside the area and other territories, they’d always go to The Adobe, because they felt like that was the place to hang out after the show. So it was always a nice community and there was never any trouble, and we all had our drinks and then we went home.