John McAdam is a frequent contributor, friend of the show, and co-host on the 6:05 Superpodcast. John also hosts his own show on the Arcadian Vanguard podcasting network called Stick To Wrestling with co-host Sean Goodwin, which focuses on classic wrestling periods from the 1980's with a heavy focus on WWF and JCP.
John has been involved with wrestling as a fan, as a premier tape trader, and even as a promoter! One of the first matches that got John into wrestling was a program from the WWWF between Chief Jay Strongbow and Billy White Wolf against The Executioners, and following that, the rest was history.
John got his first VCR in 1985, and started blind writing people in wrestling magazines such as Wrestling Eye and the Kaitzer mags to potentially trade tapes. Through there, John became involved with such people as Dave Meltzer - who sent John some sample copies of the Observer Newsletter before getting hooked - and Brian Trammel, and would go on to be one of the premier tape traders due to his meticulous and comprehensive match summaries on his tape catalog, which provided others to get a well-rounded and insightful opinion on the matches he had to offer. John would also be a frequent visitor of such fan contentions as the UAWF and Smoky Mountain Fan Week.
John also dipped his toe into promoting his own promotion, UCW, around May 1992 through late 1993, and successfully taped some shows in the Massachusetts area even after rebuffing the strong-arm attempts of Killer Kowalski to prevent talent being used on John's shows.
Some of John's favorite tapes to collect for are Mid South Wrestling and Championship Wrestling from Florida. John was a frequent visitor to the Boston Garden shows for the WWF with plenty of stories about the debauchery and asinine behavior from the Boston crowd after a few drinks. John also calls WCW's Great American Bash 1989 show one of the best shows he'd seen live, and can also be seen holding up signs on the hard camera at the not-so-great Great American Bash 1991 show.
With regards to the 6:05, John has provided excellent analysis and has opined on such divisive topics such as the aftermath of the passing of Jimmy Snuka with regards to his legacy, his feelings about how his favorite wrestler- Ric Flair - was being held down by the Four Horsemen in the late 80's, and had provided a comprehensive list on who could have possibly been NWA champion between 1977-1981 INSTEAD of the boring and exhausting reign of Harley Race.
You can find John on Facebook, and find him in many of the various wrestling groups on Facebook as well!
Episode 21 - Transcript (Dennis of the Week)
John, how did you first meet Dennis and what were your first impressions of him?
John: OK. The first time I ever spoke with Dennis in – I went on my very first kinda real wrestling trip to Philadelphia in, I wanna say September 87. I met up with Tom Robinson and Jammie Ward for the first time, and was on the phone with Dennis. We’re talking about another mutual friend of ours, and he’s like “Look man, I love the fucking guy, but he’s a fucking retard. Don’t bring him around because shit will go wrong, ok?” So right away, I’m like “Wow, this guy’s pretty crazy!” (laughing) I met him later that weekend. Tom introduced me to him. We actually went to one of his shows, and I don’t remember a lot about it, but Dennis was very impressed with coming up with a manager with a gimmick named ‘The Swami from Miami.’ Dennis was in love with this. But because he was promoting and, you know, he had a lot going on, so I didn’t see a lot of him that weekend, but I definitely came home going “Man, I met a character this time!”
So after you meet him the first time, do you stay in touch with Dennis?
John: Not directly with Dennis, but Tom and I were really good friends. The next summer, I went down to Philadelphia and I actually spent maybe about 5 days down there, and Tom was nice enough to let me stay with him, and that’s when Dennis and I kinda got to know each other a lot better. I think we went out to dinner or something. But, the real bonding took place October ’88 when we all went to the UAWF Convention in Memphis.
Right – the UAWF Convention in Memphis. It’s kinda like a big gathering of the inside smart-fans of the era: Dave Meltzer, Ron Lemieux, of course, Tom Burke; Jammie Ward; Tom Robinson; Paul E. Dangerously; Eddie Gilbert; Missy Hyatt – big, big, crowd there. What was the scene like at that convention?
John: Well, at first, everyone was kind of a little bit nervous; no-one really knew each other except for me and the Philly guys. Let me see, Randy Smith was there as well. One thing about Randy: Randy was like the guy who – he was kinda popular, but not the most popular kid in school, but his parents were gone a lot and he had a lot of parties at his house. So, you grew to like him, because all the crazy stuff went on in Randy’s hotel room. That’s why I remember Randy.
Was that the first time you met Dave Meltzer?
John: Yes, it was. Dave and I had been on the phone a few times – he and I hit it off really well. That was the first time I met him in person, and he and I after this thing, like, when we got together, he and I would room a lot together, and he was…I get pissed when people are like “Oh Dave, he doesn’t know everything. I don’t like Dave.” Dave is the nicest guy in the world, and he is so patient, because I think you’ve seen this: when people see Dave, it’s like the messiah has arrived.
John: And people go out of their mind with questions, and “Oh my god, I can’t believe I’m meeting you,” and he’s got that whole laid-back California cool thing going on. I would snap, you know?
You know, you’re talking to him on the phone, you’re reading the Observer at that time: What’s your impression the first time you meet him and you realize "Here’s a body-builder”, not some average fan like everyone else?
John: (laughing) That was exactly my impression. I’m like “OK, I’m a head taller than this guy, but look at him – he’s in phenomenal shape!”
(laughing) Well, getting back to Dennis: are there any funny stories you can remember from that 1988 trip to the UAWF Convention in Memphis?
John: There is. There’s one in particular that stands out. We went to the tapings at the WMC Channel 5 studio, which I’m glad I got to do once. Afterwards, we kinda got all split up. I actually wound up going to Po’Folks with J.D. McKay, and the Philly guys got in a cab and they went someplace. These guys are talkin’ shop, and the cab driver goes “Hey, you guys wrestling fans, because I used to be in the business!” and these guys are like “Yeah right. Who did you work as?” “Nate the Rat!” and these guys are like “Holy shit, it’s him!” It’s Nate the Rat driving a cab! So Dennis is, you know, goes ballistic – takes this guy under his wing, invites him over to the hotel after his shift is over, and we wind up hanging out, taking pictures, swapping stories. He was a good guy, and we wind up going out to dinner. Now, it’s me, Dennis, Jammie Ward, Randy Smith, Frank Chille, and Nate, and if I’m forgetting anyone, I apologize. You know, we’re young guys – I mean, we’re not quiet when we go out. I’m pretty sure the guys from Saturday Night Fever who went to White Castle complained that WE were too loud, but, you know, we were just being dudes. It’s a family restaurant, people are out with their kids – all of a sudden, Dennis stands up “Can I have everyone’s attention, please?” to the whole god damned restaurant. “I want everyone to raise their glass to one of the greatest pro-wrestling managers of all time – Nate the Rat. Come on everybody, let’s hear it for Nate!” and everyone’s clapping and (laughing) raising their glasses to Nate. So that’s my Dennis of the Week (laughing).
I think the story goes that Dennis was in a cab and I believe Jammie Ward was in the cab, and when they realized Nate was the driver, Dennis yells out “Nate the Rat! NATE THE FUCKIN’ RAT!” He was just so excited and overjoyed (laughing) that it was Nate the Rat.
John: As far as I know, my version of the story is correct. He’s like “Oh yeah, I’m in the business,” and these guys are like “Yeah, right.” Dennis got – he was Nate the fucking Rat the way you’re Brian Last. I mean, that was his name from now on, and Dennis loved the guy. He would fly him in from Memphis to New Jersey to manage!
That’s amazing. I remember hearing stories from Dennis that he would fly Nate in and I believe Nate stayed at his house, and they would wake up and find Nate sitting on the floor playing with Marc Coralluzzo’s toys (laughing) and that’s the story that I remember hearing at the time. You know, Nate was – I don’t know. Would you call him the Jobber manager? What exactly would you call his role in Memphis at that time?
John: At that time, he was definitely the Jobber manager. They brought him in and out – he would manage guys like Rough & Ready.
Yeah, and he was driving a cab with Keith Eric, from what Jammie Ward told us, (laughing) so there you go.
John: I did not know Keith was driving a cab, but he actually came over and was part of the convention too.
You know, on the topic of this UAWF Convention in 1988 in Memphis, one of the legendary stories – that I’ve only heard a little bit of and Bix has only heard a little bit of-
-that we would love to hear is a famous phone call to Kevin von Erich from Jamie Dundee. Can you fill in the blanks of the story?
John: I will do my best, gentlemen. Let me preface this by saying: I should not have done it, and Kevin, if you are listening to this, I owe you an apology. Tom Robinson and I went around Memphis trying to find the Von Erichs, because back then, our sport of choice was getting our pictures taken with pro-wrestlers, and we did not have pictures with the Von Erichs. We couldn’t find them, like, we were going calling hotels, the whole nine yards. We finally find out where they are, but they’re out and we can’t get our stupid pictures. The joke going around – which really wasn’t a joke – was that we’d better get these pictures before these guys die. So, Tom and I show up at the hotel – I wanna say, like, 10/11 o clock and these guys are just chilling out watching video tapes. No alcohol, no drugs, but Tom and I knew how to party, and we got the party started. We were joking around, being loud, goofing around with everybody. We go, we get kicked out of wherever it is in the hotel – the big room where you get to hang out – and we go to Randy Smith’s room. Someone comes up with the idea of “Let’s call Kevin von Erich.” It wasn’t me, but I’m like “I’ll do it.” I’m like “Alright, don’t anyone laugh. Bite your hand off before you laugh; you’re gonna ruin my call.” So – Jamie Dundee – I forget why – but everyone was annoyed with the guy. He was the 17 year old babyface that couldn’t do anything and we all hated him. I call up the hotel, I’m like “Yeah, could you connect me to Kevin von Erich’s room?” and the guy knew who I was at this point and it’s like “Yeah, sure.” The phone rings and it’s Kevin von Erich. I’m like “Hey Kevin! This is Jamie Dundee brother, how ya doin’?” and of course everyone in the room laughs and I’m like “Knock it off!” I had poor Kevin on the phone for an hour, trying to coax him to leave the hotel room. I told him I had a couple of girls with me – one was a big Kevin fan, she wanted him to carve his initials onto her back; he wasn’t going for it.
John: Finally, the phone call ends – we talked about everything. “Where’s the best place in wrestling to get laid,” he says Hawaii.
(That explains a lot!)
Didn’t he just move to Hawaii, Bix?! (laughing)
John: I did not add those two things together – WOW.
(When he sold the tape library to WWE, he used that and his inheritance from Fritz to move his whole family to Hawaii.)
John: Mystery solved!
John: I did not add those two things together. Jeez. (laughing) So I figure “OK, I gotta go out in a blaze of glory here,” and as Jamie, I’m like “Oh yeah, and the whole reason I’m calling is because – whoever was running USWA at the time – What times’ your flight Kevin?” and he’s like “Aw man it’s 7 o’clock in the morning,” and I’m like “Oh yeah, the flight’s been moved to 1 pm.” He’s like “Aw, that’s great, thanks, fantastic.” Who was it that had to drag Kevin out of his room to get him on the plane on time…Frank Dusek. So luckily, Kevin did not miss his flight, and we got a little bit of a prank on him, and like I said, shouldn’t have done it but that’s what happened.
(laughing) Well, um, that’s – who was?
John: May I add to this?
John: About not even 10 years later, I get a call from someone asking for old World Class stuff that Kevin von Erich didn’t have – he was calling me for this! When I was living in Dracon, Mass. We got along just great; like two or three times after that, my phone would ring and it would be Kevin von Erich just calling to shoot the shit.
What kinda guy was he?
John: You know what? Kevin – he was a really good guy, and he was smart. If anyone out there is saying “No he wasn’t.” Well, did you talk to him on the phone for about an hour at a time three times? I told him “Oh yeah, I made it a point to go up to the show you guys had out here and I forget the name of the place,” and he said “Oh – the Manning Bowl.” Think of all the places he’s been and he just knew that right off the top of his head. So, good guy, good conversationalist – you know. He was open about the business: I don’t have a bad word to say about Kevin.
When you play at the Manning Bowl, do you win the David Manning Cup?
John: (laughing) You know, you get a trip to probably the worst city in Massachusetts.
(No, when you play in the Manning Bowl, the gate mysteriously gets stolen after every show.)
John: No, that’s the Farhat Bowl, sir.
(laughing) Well, let me ask you this, John – after 1988 in Memphis, when is the next time you see Dennis, and do you keep up with him? Do you continue the relationship after that convention?
John: I did – let me say – definitely saw him in Philadelphia. We actually had an impromptu convention a few months later, and any time I went down to Philly to see a show or hang out with Tom or whatever, I always ran into Dennis. Scott Dickinson used to referee Dennis’ shows, and sometimes we would go down and see Dennis, and, you know. Someone - a couple people – told me after he died, it was like “Oh man, he LOVED you,” and I’m like “Awwww.” I wish I kept up with him more.
In closing, what are your lasting thoughts and memories about Dennis and in your mind, you know, what kind of guy was he?
John: Dennis was a good guy with a good heart who was a lot of fun to be around. If I had to list the craziest characters that I’d ever met in my life – and I’m 50 years old – Dennis would be #2. That’s how insane Dennis was, but he was always fun to be around, couldn’t keep a straight face around the guy. He was always havin’ fun unless he was in the middle of a promotional war with Paul E., or whatever. Yeah, you know, I miss him, and I wish I had done more to maintain my relationship with him, like, you know, as the Nineties wore on.
It’s interesting you bring up the promotional war with Paul E., because I think to the average wrestling fan, they would think that here are two guys that really didn’t know each other at all and Paul E.’s on one side and Dennis is on another and there’s all sorts of issues between them, but the reality is they knew each other for years and both of them were at that UAWF convention in ’88. I know Paul ran into Dennis when NWA was running Philadelphia – they actually had a relationship and knew each other before everything went down in 1994 with ECW.
John: I don’t think they liked each other, though.
That seems to be the consensus, yeah.
John: I specifically remember in Memphis, we were eating at a big buffet, and Dennis – Paul was talking about something and Dennis cut him off to talk about some Abdullah the Butcher vs. Johnny Rodz story when he was promoting, and Paul E. is behind him and he picks up this giant carving knife and starts emulating stabbing Dennis repeatedly in the back (laughing). I have to sit here with a straight face while this is going on, and Dennis’ like “Yo man, you shoulda seen Johnny Rodz!” and Paul E.’s doing this and it’s like “Oh my god.”
Too bad Nate the Rat wasn’t there to save the day.
Episode 21 - Transcript (Part 1)
You know, John, one of the stories I remember that you were involved in was at Smoky Mountain Wrestling Fan Week in 1994 – August of 1994 – I was down there; I was 14 years old. I remember there was a television taping, and for some reason, and I was told you were responsible for this in one way or another – New Jack came out with a Barbie doll in his mouth.
John: I am pedantic with dates – that was actually 1995.
No – it was 1994.
John: Because it was the year we were in the van.
(New Jack is already gone by then in ’95.)
John: That’s weird, but OK. Here’s the story – and you’re right, you’re absolutely right; he was gone by ’95. Not sure why I have my dates confused but we had gotten off – we were not on the Smoky Mountain Bus, maybe we rented a car at some point, I don’t remember – and we stopped at McDonald’s. You realize how great McDonald’s is, because you know what you’re getting as opposed to some of the food they got down there in the Smoky Mountain area – I am sorry, that stuff is putrid – but anyway. They were having some promotion where if you bought a certain meal, they gave you a Barbie doll. So we have this Barbie doll, we’re in our twenties, we don’t know what to do with it. Someone comes – I came up with the idea to go up to Brian Hildebrand and say “Brian, give this to New Jack as a peace offering from the fans in Saltville, VA,” and Brian looks at me like “What are you, nuts?” I’m like “Just tell him that! What’s he gonna do?” So, it was a total shoot according to Brian – New Jack comes out with the Barbie doll in his mouth and spits it out and is like “Here’s what I think of your peace offering!” (laughing)
(laughing) What are you thinking, though, sitting there when all of a sudden he comes out with – I mean, you couldn’t have expect that?
John: I guess Brian played it completely straight and he thought that was goin’ on. I remember that TV taping. We were sitting way in the back, and I don’t know why New Jack targeted the guy in front of us. I guess he had a girlfriend, and New Jack looks at the girl and he looks at the guy and goes “I bet she wants to know what it’s like to have a big sweaty black man on top of her!” This guy – the back of his neck turns bright red; he was SO pissed that New Jack was talking to his girl like that. So yeah, Saltville was fun.
That was a fun taping – I was in the front row, and most of the front row were fans from Fan Week, so we were Smart but we were trying to be respectful and boo the heels; cheer the babyfaces. We all just went at it with New Jack (laughing) he got in everyone’s face, and it was pretty over the top. If he didn’t know that we were there with Fan Week, it would have been scary. But because we knew we were kinda OK, it kinda worked out alright. (laughing) You know, you mentioned that you guys rented a van: that was the year of the Johnson City Death Bus. Do you remember that? What do you remember about that? Bix – do you know about the Johnson City Death Bus?
(I know that there was a bus that was so bad that it led to many people swearing they wouldn’t come back the following year.)
John: I remember in ’94, we were on this Bus and – yeah, we were headed to Johnson City. It was all the way, like, far away, and the bus wouldn’t go more than 30/35 MPH.
I think you’re being a little gracious (laughing) with your speedometer reading.
John: (laughing) Yeah. We, um, so yeah. I mean, it was ridiculous; I think that’s what led us to “let’s get a van instead of this thing,” and yeah. We wound up – like I said - making our own itinerary the next year for Smoky Mountain Fan Week.
So in terms of newsletter readers, tape traders, Smart fans of the era travelling to shows, when exactly did that start and how big was the group in general? What are some of the memorable shows you guys went to?
John: Oh – let me see. Memorable shows: I went to – the most memorable show definitely was the 1989 Great American Bash. That was another one that Dennis was at, and it was memorable, well, A) the show was SO good, but B) the brawl between Ric Flair and Sting vs. Muta and Terry Funk, what was seen on TV does not begin to give it justice. These guys were all over the place, like, all over the arena floor; it was crazy.
Did you go to any of the other NWA shows in ’89?
John: I went to an insane amount of NWA shows in ’89. I went to Philly, I think 3 times; they came up here; they did Boston; there was a cancelled show the next night in Providence, where I went down and got to hang out with some of the guys because they had nothing to do, and the Monday night, they were in Springfield, Massachusetts. There was the Boston Garden show in ’89 which was Terry Funk vs. Sting – which was outstanding. Let me think: I went to Philly 3 times, I went to Baltimore once; I wanted to go SO bad to Wrestle War ’89 and there was just no way because of work. That’s all I can think of off the top of my head; considering they never came up here. We went to a show in Philadelphia the night before the 1989 Great American Bash. It was one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen – maybe even better than the PPV. It was the night Jim Cornette blew out his knee – I guess him and Paul E. had all kinds of spots planned for the ’89 Bash, and Terry Gordy – right in front of me – messed up some move on Jim Cornette and re-injured his knee that he destroyed at Starrcade ’86. Jimmy’s right in front of me “GOD DAMN FUCKIN’ GORDY JESUS CHRIST, MY FUCKING KNEE!” So that was a memory.
(The Boston Garden show that you mentioned – is that the- well, I guess I’ll ask it this way: Were you part of the group that went up to Lance Russell and surprised him by being in Boston and knowing who he was, since he had just started with the company?)
John: I might have been? I walked up to Lance and introduced myself and told him that, you know, I had been to the Memphis studio the year before and met him there, and Lance was always very nice. I wasn’t part of – was I a part of a group? I don’t know, but I definitely went up to Lance. I’ve got a cute story about that show.
(Well, he always tells a story about how he had just started with WCW, he’s at the Boston Garden, and may not have even been on TV yet, and all these fans are going up to him and happy to meet him and like “Oh my god, it’s Lance Russell!” He says to them – “Which one of you guys is from Mississippi, because…” that type of thing, and then as he tells it, they’re like “No – we’re tape traders!”)
John: (laughing) I don’t believe I was part of that group if I recall correctly. I walked up to Lance by myself and said hello to him.
(Now, one thing and I’ll let you tell your story from that show – I’m trying to remember, because I use the term now, were you the one who would use the term NWA Deadheads for this group of fans that would go around to the shows that I picked it up from, or was it someone else?)
John: It was probably someone else. (laughing) I don’t remember coming up with that one.
(Alright. So what was your story you had about the Boston show?)
John: Doom is out wrestling whoever – actually, it was the Skyscrapers – and Teddy Long sees someone in the crowd, and he’s like “I see this major sports superstar came all the way to Boston to see my Skyscrapers! Ladies and Gentlemen, Sugar Ray Leonard!” and Sugar Ray Leonard’s in the audience. You guys might not know this, but Sugar Ray Leonard is HATED in Boston because this is Marvin Haggler country. There was a brief “Yay” and then the building starts to boo Sugar Ray viciously, and he had to leave (laughing) and Teddy, when he first heard the boos, you should have seen the look on his face, like “What the hell’s going on here?!” I talked to Teddy about that one time – I ran into him – he’s like “Oh yeah,” he had no idea that Boston was Marvin Haggler country.
(That Philly card you mentioned, because I know over the years, like, I know at least Dave Meltzer and Jeff Bowdren would always talk about how the Luger / Steamboat match on that card – on the Bash Tour – was actually better than the one in Baltimore on the PPV the next night. I’m trying to remember – what else is on that show, and what ways did those compare to the PPV?)
John: OK. Going by an almost over 25 year old memory, Sting and Terry Funk tore the place up. They had – I wanna say – the Freebirds and the SST against the Midnights and Doc and someone else and they tore the place up. There was, like, 3 or 4 star matches, and yes, the Steamboat/Luger match is arguably the best match I’d ever seen live – ever. It was definitely better than the Baltimore match.
(Wow. Best match you have ever seen live ever of anything.)
John: Yeah. If it’s not number 1, it’s in the team picture. I’m trying to think of one that was better, and off the top of my head, I can’t.
(And Lex called that match!)
John: What’s that?
(And Lex called that match!)
John: Hey, people: I understand that Lex got pretty terrible in ‘91/92 or so, but ’89 – Lex looked like the future of the business.
(Oh yeah! I mean, he was tremendous-)
John: In that natural state of – Look, I’ve met Lex. He’s not a bad guy but he’s a naturally arrogant guy, and they were just letting him kinda be that naturally arrogant guy with a little bit of coaching from, you know, Jim Cornette and whoever else and it was working.
Yeah – ’89 into ’90, because even the Stan Hansen feud, I mean, upped his game. It definitely seemed like, you know – now this is revisionist history that Lex was always terrible; that he was a steroid guy. Look at '88, look at '89, look at '90 – he was really, really, good. When he was a heel in ’89, he was exceptionally good.
John: They absolutely killed him with that turn in 1990. It was way too early, it was just way too much of a reaction to – you know, and this is the way WCW was. It was like the world was going to end when this PPV ended, so we might as well burn everything and put everything into it. I will go to my grave saying that, that turn killed Lex Luger, and you know what? Talk about not understanding your audience. Think of your typical wrestling audience. Now, think about Lex Luger in 1990 with those bright orange trunks and trying to be smiley, against Stan Hansen – who do you think the fans are gonna cheer for?
(And he put on too much size in ’91, too, with that heel turn. I mean, it wasn’t just the booking; he did slow down in the ring, I feel like.)
John: Nah, I agree with you, but again – it’s a question of, and by that point, I think Lex was just “hey, this is just a paycheck.”
(So here’s that lineup for that Philly show at the Civic Center, which apparently drew 3,000 fans: Al Greene and Ron Simmons defeated Scott Hall and Joey Maggs – that’s an interesting; those are two very interesting tag teams right there.)
John: Hall was so terrible in that promotion in 1989. I am surprised that he turned into as big a star as he did.
(And then he just suddenly became a good worker when he became Razor Ramon, too.)
John: Yeah! Yeah, he was. You know, Shawn Michaels did not carry that Ladder Match all by himself like people try to make that out.
(No, and they had an absolutely tremendous match later that year on RAW, too, when Michaels came back from his post-Ladder match hiatus.)
John: Ah, that’s right.
(Yeah. Norman pinned Ranger Ross; Skyscrapers beat The Party Patrol-)
John: OK. That, believe it or not, was a good match, because Davey Rich did that ridiculous spot where he gets clotheslined and he does, like a 450 flip in the air, and Sid like “Hey, look what I just did!” and everyone’s like “Oh my god, Sid, you’re so good!” and I’m like “Oh man, poor Davey Rich.”
(Let’s talk about that for a second. For people who weren’t around at the time, explain the 1989 Smart Fan’s love of Sid Vicious.)
John: I don’t think there was really Smart fan love as much as – how do I – it wasn’t love, it was a basic evaluation, where you look at that guy, and he has that look, and you’re like “Ok. I can see him doing a major program with Hogan, or I can see him doing, like, major heel stuff.”
Plus, he sort of exuded a cool-heel charisma at times.
(Yes, and they would also book him against guys that the smart fans hated, like The Party Patrol and The Dynamic Dudes!)
John: Sid – when we went to that Memphis taping in 1988 – I’d never seen a powerbomb live before, and we’re in that small studio, and Sid powerbombs the crap outta someone; I forget who. It was, intellectually, you know it’s kind of a harmless hold if done right, but it looked like Sid killed the guy – so I think that might have had something to do with why some smart fans loved him, because he did that move.
(Right. And then, you had Dynamic Dudes beat The New Zealand Militia; and like the PPV, the card really picks up in the second half. Mike Rotunda beat Scott Steiner in a Suplex Match; Kevin Sullivan beat Rick Steiner; Muta beat Gilbert in a Coalminer’s Glove match – which sounds fantastic; how was that? Because I don’t think any of the – I started hearing you were breathing and I thought you were gonna respond. (laughing))
Ugh. You say Coalminer’s Glove match in Philadelphia, I get nightmares of when I was at Halloween Havoc in 1992.
John: Yeah, really!
(How was that? Every single match in that program – or at least the longer matches – were all house shows, so they might have had a couple short TV matches…)
John: It’s possible – I don’t remember how good Gilbert vs. Muta specifically was; it probably was! I mean, two excellent workers. I do remember, you know, Philadelphia had a very Smart crowd, and a chant went up “Gilbert’s turning tomorrow, Gilbert’s turning tomorrow.”
(That’s probably the reason why they ended up nixing it, because you idiots were chanting!)
John: It wouldn’t surprise me, because I know for a fact that they did a taping the Saturday before the Baltimore PPV, and I know that coming into that taping, the plan was to turn Eddie Gilbert. You know, it took them less than 48 hours to just change their mind on that, and I think that killed Eddie in the NWA; he had no direction after that.
(And then after that, yeah, Luger / Steamboat, Sting / Terry Funk No DQ match when Sting pinned an interfering Bill Irwin – well, OK – and the two teams that would be in War Games-)
John: They’re both from Texas?
John: I spoke out of turn, I apologize. Go on, Dave.
(And then the Road Warriors, Doctor Death, and Midnight Express beat the Freebirds and the SST in a BadStreet Match.)
John: And that match was way better, if I recall correctly, we all came away saying that match was way better than it sounded on paper.
(Was it better than the WarGames match was the next night?)
John: Hmm! I’d say yes – only because I didn’t think that much of the WarGames match. I mean, it was alright.
(So which were – of the PPV’s and Clash’s – which did you go to in ’89 besides the Bash?)
John: Let me see – the PPV - I think the only PPV I went to was the ’89 Bash. I – to this day – I kick myself for not going to New York Knockout. I absolutely could have gone – Albany or Troy, wherever it is – it was a 2 and a half hour ride; I could have made it. I kinda decided at the last minute not to go, and rrrrrr – I don’t think I’ve ever been to a Clash; no, I haven’t.
(I love watching that show – besides that match and the other good matches on the show – I love how they pretend they’re in New York City. They’re in TROY.)
John: Well, they’re often confused, Troy and New York City. But, that was such a cool show – not only did you get that classic Ric Flair / Terry Funk match, and I kinda knew it was at least supposed to be Terry’s last match; he was gonna retire after that. But, like, Luger taking the chairs and destroying the trophies was simply awesome. How could I forget – I did go to Halloween Havoc ’89.
(In – oh, that was in Philly. That must have been interesting (laughing))
John: It was definitely – it wasn’t that good a show, but what was incredibly cool about it: Dave Meltzer comes up to me, he’s like “C’mere, c’mere – quiet. You cannot tell anyone this-,“ and I’m like “What?” He’s like “I’m going up to Terry Funk’s room – come with me,” and I’m like “I can’t!!” and I see he’s like “Why?” and I said “I’m here with Tom Robinson; I can’t just ditch him!” and he’s like “Ok, you can bring Tom along,” and we got to hang out with Terry Funk, I wanna say 5 hours, and Terry sucked down, I wanna say, two packs of Kools, and an entire case of Coors. He was an awesome guy.
That sounds about right. (laughing)
John: Dave Meltzer – if you’re listening, I am eternally grateful to you for that; thank you!
I wanna take a step back, John – you mentioned the Boston Garden before and that was your home arena for many, many, years. So, being in New England, being around Boston, what are your first memories of the Von Erichs, and did you watch it on TV when it was airing in New England – when was that? How big was that to that wrestling audience?
John: (sigh) Ok. February ’83 – my phone rings, and someone says “Turn on channel 25 – World Class Championship Wrestling is on.” I turn it on, and it’s Kerry Von Erich fighting Michael Hayes. As WW- you guys know your WWF stuff – they didn’t have ANYTHING like that on TV.
John: You maybe got 3 main events a year. These guys had a main event – or at least one main event – every week! There was a shift – this was my Senior year in High School, and all of a sudden out of nowhere, there were now female wrestling fans in my school. World Class on Channel 25 – it was on the same time as WWF wrestling. Just – I don’t know why. But, you know, I generally would flip back and forth on the shows, and all of a sudden, there were girls in my school who liked wrestling. That year – when was it – September ’83 I’m at the Boston Garden. What they used to do before the last match is they would tell you the card for the next month, and that the end they say “We have a Bonus match! S.D. – Special Delivery – Jones will be taking on Michael Hayes of the Fabulous Freebirds!” The garden melts down; everyone wants that show. I don’t know what the story was behind that announcement, because we’re all like, “Wow! Michael Hayes is gonna be here next month!” and everyone in the crowd remembered it, but it was never mentioned on TV and the match wasn’t in the program, and the match never took place.
So you mentioned in ’83 it’s on the same time as WWF and you’re going back and forth – I’m guessing you’re watching World Class except when Don Muraco’s on TV – am I wrong in guessing that? (laughing)
John: (laughing) No, actually – what I tried to keep up with was, and how frustrating! There’s only one hour – no, coming into this, there were two hours of wrestling not on cable; on local TV. Another show shows up at the same time as the main WWF show. So I wanted to keep up with the Boston Garden interviews, but that’s pretty much it.
How long was World Class on Channel 25?
John: They were on – they left in the middle of ’87, I wanna say.
Oh wow – that’s a long time.
John: 25 stuck around.
Did you go when the Von Erichs came up to the area – were you there?
John: Um, you know, believe it or not, only twice. They went to – the first show was the Manning Bowl, and we decided not to go to the second show, because Lynn, MA was just a pain in the neck to get to. It was really a dangerous area. I mean, my friends – we’re like, early 20’s. You’re looking at us saying “Oh, I don’t wanna go to Lynn,” that tells you how dangerous it is (laughing). But, we went to a show, I went to the 1st Manning Bowl show, and the next year, they came up and they went to Providence, RD – Providence Civic Center – and the main event was Kevin Von Erich against Buzz Sawyer, and you wanna talk about a bomb scare – there had to be 250 people in this building that held 12,000.
John: It was pretty ugly; I had never seen anything quite like that before. Some of the fans were booing Kevin von Erich and Kevin got into it with ‘em, so at least that happened.
Well, let me ask you this, John. So I think – your name is well known amongst people who were tape traders back in the day, and your name is one that people would see in the Observer. I wanna say, specifically, the ’88 or ’89 Yearbook; you were one of the featured people there with quotes after each award. So, in terms of – I guess what would now only be Smart Fandom (laughing) in many ways – hardcore fans, which it was called for a long time until Hardcore Wrestling became a specific style: when did you get your first VCR, when did you get your second VCR, and what were you taping at the beginning?
John: OK. I got my first VCR summer of 1985. I forget what I paid for it, but I got it at the local video store. It was used, so it was relatively cheap and affordable, and I grabbed it. I did not record any wrestling at first. As a matter of fact, one of my friends calls me up and he’s like “Hey, Battle of the Belts 1 aired up here – I’ve got it on tape if you wanna see it!” and I’m like “I’ve already seen it.” That would have been a little bit of a surprise to some people. Then, in ’86, it dawned on me that “wow, I sure would like to see some wrestling from ’81 or ’82 or whatever,” and I said “Wow, maybe I’ll feel that way in 4 years about this wrestling.” So I just, like, you know – if there was a good match on or whatever, I would tape it, keep it, and move on. Then, I came up with an idea on my own: you have to understand – there’s no communication amongst wrestling fans back then. You know, you had your friends that you watched with, and that was it. All information you got was what was on TV, and what was in the magazines, which was basically nothing. You had no way of knowing anything. But, I came up with the idea: I’m like “You know, I sure would like to see Mid-South Wrestling, Memphis Wrestling, whatever,” and every now and then, I’d write a letter to someone who’s address was in Wrestling Eye or one of the Kietzer Magazines, and I’d say “Hey, I get this, that, this – this is a list of the wrestling that I get. I’d be interested in trading tapes with you.” I don’t think I heard back from anybody, until – one night, I got home ridiculously late from a Christmas Party. I wanna say 3:30, and I come in, and when I was in my 20’s, I was in and out of my parents’ house. At this point, I was back in. There are 3 mailings for me, and I opened it up, and it’s the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. You wanna talk about the Holy Grail, man? I mean, it was incredible; the stuff they had in there. I mean, just stuff that I totally was not supposed to know – recaps of all the televisions, it’s timely, it was incredible; there’s no other word to use. I was up until, like, 6:30 reading this stuff – just being blown away, saying “Ok, I’ll just look at the front page of this one and that’ll be it,” and you can’t put it down. The next day was Saturday, and another one showed up. So, I was like blown away by this peek behind the curtain that I got, and believe it or not, I subscribed.
How did they arrive? Did you write a letter to Dave Meltzer after seeing his name and address in a magazine, or?
John: That’s exactly what happened. I wrote to him, and I’m like “I think they have Mid-South out there in California if you’re interested, I’d like to make a trade, please write me back if you’re interested,” and he sent me a month’s sample of The Observer; life-altering event!
So, back then, The Observer still had the Readers Pages – a missed feature in The Wrestling Observer Newsletter – how long before you start advertising in there that you’re looking for things, or that you have things for trade?
John: Pretty much right away. I think I did it the first time I sent a cheque to Dave, and I got a response from a gentleman named Brian Tramel – who’s a part of our little FB group – and he’s like “I’m really not looking to trade anything, but if you’d like to purchase my Memphis tapes, that would work for me,” and I did that and now I had Memphis wrestling to trade. From that point on, I was trading for everything.
What was your thought, seeing all these territories for the first time? Seeing a Memphis; seeing a Mid-South? As someone who grew up seeing the World Wrestling Federation and then World Class – and I don’t know when you got cable – but you would have eventually seen WCW, or what was then Jim Crockett Promotions. What did you think of these other new territories that you were being exposed to?
John: Well, Memphis, at first, was phenomenal, and then in a weird way it got old quickly. Like “Oh, this is only the 3rd or 4th run-in we’ve had on this 90 minute show.” But, you know, moving a little bit backward, I actually knew how bad WWF television was, because I used to get this show on cable called World League Wrestling, and they had matches from the Knoxville territory, they had old Mid-South matches, and they went off the air – well, it didn’t go off the air but they were replaced – by Championship Wrestling from Florida beginning to mid-1980. That show was incredible, and it went away right around mid-1981, but I knew there was stuff out there that blew the WWF away. I mean, you could just read the magazines and you’re like “This stuff has gotta be better than the WWF! It sure seems like a lot more interesting!”
That’s right. So, you’re getting the Observer – when do you start seeing or subscribing to other newsletters?
John: Oooh. Not – you know, truthfully? I think when I met Wade Keller in ’88 and he’s like “Come on, man, subscribe to my newsletter!” that sorta thing. I think it was that, and John Gallagher’s Wrestling Forum, because we were mutual friends and someone said “Come on, subscribe to John’s newsletter” and I did. He had a good newsletter. I don’t want to make it sound like his or Wade’s newsletter was bad – truth be told, the Observer was all you needed. If you wanted opinion pieces or editorials, you wanted more – OK, there are other newsletters out there. But, you had everything you needed with the Observer.
So, I mean, it’s a pretty quick time from when you start getting the Observer to when your name is featured in – as I said – those yearbooks as one of the very few people who, for almost every award, your opinions and thoughts and views are displayed: how did you build up that sort of credibility with Dave?
John: I’m not sure! (laughing) I think that, you know, Dave maybe saw me as someone who – whenever I talk to him, I had tons of questions, you know. I was an avid fan of the business for so long, and you talk to other people and I think he figured I picked up on it kinda quick.
When do you start forming relationships with other fans whose names you see in the newsletters?
John: Let me see – pretty much right away, because sometimes you would facilitate a trade much quicker by actually getting on the phone with someone. So, I would call, I don’t know – Tom Robinson, Brian Tramel, whatever, and you’d form a friendship, and also an extra large phone bill, but that’s another…
(laughing) A forgotten part of wrestling fandom – the phone bills! (laughing) On those early days of tape trading, what were the Holy Grail's? What were the things that everyone was looking for that no one could get their hands on?
John: To this day, it’s the Ric Flair versus Bob Backlund match from the Omni, which I’m convinced was never recorded. But, what did people really want – they wanted: old Mid-South was big, old Memphis was big, old Mid-Atlantic was big. I mean, the good stuff. There was a lot – in the Northeast, there was a real demand for old WWF – hey, let’s relive our childhood stuff. If you had WWF TV from the 70’s, like, people were all over that.
So you’ve been watching the WWF for years throughout your childhood – what are you thinking when all of a sudden, all the radical changes to the television start happening in 1984? All of a sudden, Gene Okerlund’s the color commentator, Roddy Piper – who you’re probably aware of at that point – is on TV at that point, Hulk Hogan – the biggest star in wrestling both in America and Japan at that time – is on TV: what did you think was going on when all of a sudden, everything started changing with their TV?
John: Um, I’m not the smartest guy in the world but I figured out right away what was going on when I saw that the WWF was now having shows outside of the WWF territory. As far as what I thought of it, at first, I really liked Hogan. I was so tired of Bob Backlund by the time he lost the title that ANYONE would have done, but now you’ve got this charismatic kick-ass babyface, Hulk Hogan, that everyone just fell in love with. Roddy Piper – I mean, who couldn’t like Roddy Piper? They were bringing – and I mean, we would turn on TV and there would be a new wrestler from, you know, from somewhere else. I’m like “How are they gonna use all of these guys?” What I didn’t like, and my friends definitely didn’t like, was the goofy stuff, like Gene Okerlund being a carnival barker, the overall kinda dopey direction the company was going in. Not to get on a tangent, but people cried “Oh, Vince Russo ruined wrestling!” No – Vince McMahon ruined the wrestling I grew up on, with that TNT show? I mean, that’s a bigger slap in the face than anything Russo’s done.
John: And he was going with a lot more cartoon-ish characters. You know, the message was clear: do not take this stuff seriously. I’m – part of me, looking back, I wanna say I’m surprised they survived, but they definitely reinvented the wheel.
Yeah, that’s for sure. They were running regularly in Boston at the Boston Garden, and as we said earlier, that was your home arena. Tell me about the Boston Garden – what was it like? What were the fans like? What are some of the most memorable matches and shows you remember seeing there?
John: OK. I’ve been to Madison Square Garden, I’ve been to a bunch of different arenas – there’s something, and Bill Apter actually backed this up because he’d been to the Boston Garden – there was something in the air in the Boston Garden that just made people violent and crazy. This was for Bruins games, too. But, if you went to wrestling at the Garden, you could count on seeing at least 10 fights in the stands per card. I remember a couple of times, like, the wrestlers would go into a rest hold and just sit there and watch the fights! Aw – the old, I mean – I have a lot of great memories from the old Boston Garden; make no mistake. I’m sorry that it’s gone, but at the same time, it was such a dirty crummy old arena with tiny seats. I remember the summer of ’82, we were in the middle of a heatwave, and we pull into Boston, and there’s – you know the bank signs have the time and the temperature? It said the temperature was 104 degrees, and the Boston Garden did not have air conditioning. We go in there, and you could tell this was gonna be a night to remember, because you got these drunk Boston idiots without their shirts on sweating, and you just knew it was going to be an ugly night, and it was, man. There must have been 25 fights that night.
(You’ve talked about-)
John: The show stunk because it was too hot to work.
(On that note, I think you’ve talked about in the past on (inaudible) on Facebook or what – the first King of the Ring at Foxborough Stadium – it was either the 1st or the 2nd that I believe you said that the show, not only was the show terrible, there were more fights in the crowd than you’ve ever seen any wrestling show, and the wrestlers would actually stop what they were doing to watch the fights.)
John: Yeah. Foxborough was the same thing as Boston as far as having crazy rowdy fans, and again, this went for New England Patriots games, too. As an aside, I was at a Patriots game in the dead of Winter in ’86. I saw a guy – it was, like, ridiculously cold, but I got to see a guy in his underwear fighting a guy in a Gorilla suit, so right there – that’s Foxborough in a nutshell. But yeah, the show in ’85 was – I mean, it was just crazy. The whole crowd had been tailgating in the parking lot. There were 20,000 drunks, and the wrestling was just god awful.
(Define how awful though, ‘cause we are talking about a very long WWF tournament show at the height of, you know, bad travel and weird scheduling. Like, how bad? What would you compare this to on the barometer of bad shows, whether major shows, or just if you’ve seen, or whatever.)
John: Um, go into a room, turn off all the lights, have no music or television, and just lay there for a couple of hours. It was worse than WrestleMania IV! Oh wait, I’m sorry – but there was the excitement of the drunks, so there’s that, but as far as the actual product…there’s no word in the English language: abysmal. I was used to WWF shows – I knew it wasn’t JCP! By mid-80’s WWF standards, this was just insane bad.
Let me ask you this, John: actually, before I get to talking about your time as a promoter, and you are one of the very few fans who can say they put their money where their mouth was instead of just ranting about wrestling or writing about wrestling, you became a promoter and promoted wrestling and gave it a try-
John: I became (laughing) a miserable failure, but go right ahead!
(laughing) But before I get there, I’m just curious. You being involved as a promoter in that area, and you growing up going to wrestling shows in that area, did you ever have any interactions with Killer Kowalski?
John: Yes, I did. (sighs) If you’re a Killer Kowalski fan, you might wanna skip past this part, because I was not a big fan of his at all. Um, (laughing), he – basically, he told everyone in the area that if they wrestled on our shows, he would not book them on his shows, and he would – even if you had paid your tuition in full, he would kick you out of his school, which I thought wasn’t very cool. So, I actually arranged a meeting with Kowalski and his partner Richard Bern, who – Richard Bern is the most miserable human being that ever lived, and we sat down, I just explained – I started by handing Kowalski a video tape. I said “Mr. Kowalski, this is for you, no matter how this meeting turns out, it has a bunch of b-rolled matches on it,” and he said “Thank you very much,” and he seemed like a nice enough guy. I told him that he was someone who got me into wrestling, because it was the Strongbow and White Wolf vs. Executioners feud that turned me from a super casual fan to a hardcore fan. I sat down with him and said “Look, we’re no threat to you, I’d be happy to promote your school, I will not book anyone on days that you have shows; we will completely not step on your toes at all,” and they agreed! Then, the next day, for no reason, they decided to go back on the agreement (laughing), just, “Nope, we’re not doing it; sorry.” So, believe it or not – and he did kick a couple of guys out of his school that paid for their tuition in full, so that’s kind of a downer.
What do you think that’s about? What was he so afraid of?
John: I don’t know. I think maybe it’s for one, it’s just how promoters are, ok? I mean, just a lot of them are like that; “No, this is MY territory and no one else runs it.” Number 2, I have the feeling that – in fairness, the guy didn’t know me, you know, what if it got big and what if I decided “A-ha! I am big enough now to step on your toes and there’s nothing you can do about it,” and hand on my heart, that’s something that I would have never done. But, you know – I guess he has to look at that as a possibility.
So your company is UCW – tell us a little about the origins of it, and what made you decide to do it?
John: I had a friend, his name was Jody Boines. He came up with the idea that, you know, a lot of the local guys we felt were not being used correctly. He had access to public access cable, and I don’t believe the cable station but the cable station’s equipment, so we could use that equipment to kinda, to do tapings and shop a tape around. It’s like “Let’s give this a go,” and I said “OK.” We got in on it, and that’s how it all started. This is Winter or Fall ’91.
And where do you get your talent from?
John: Um, basically, you know, local independent guys. There was a promotion and a school that ran out of New Bedford, MA; there was Kowalski’s bunch of guys. There used to be a newspaper – excuse me – a wrestling column in the Boston Herald, and I wrote to them, like “Hey, if you’re a wrestler or referee or a manager and you’re interested, please send a tape.” We got ZERO applications for wrestlers, but we got about 50 from fans who wanted to be managers.
(laughing) (That sounds familiar…)
John: I don’t know why it wouldn’t, because I’ve heard that story before. It’s just a classic case of everyone thinks they can do it.
(Now, did you say Cody Boines, or Jody Boines?)
John: Jody with a J – there were two of them.
(OK – what’s the distinction here, then? I thought I had misheard you – so who is Jody Boines? Because I know Cody Boines from the various hotlines and stuff he was on.)
John: They were brothers. I think Cody and Jody were not their real names-
(I hope not.)
John: But I (laughing) yeah, really – but I have seen them in the same place at the same time, so they’re definitely two different guys.
So, I mean, one of the names you used – I guess the name that stands out the most to me when I’m thinking back without looking at a roster or anything – was Bill Wilcox. What did you think of him?
John: I thought the world of him – I made him my top star. He wasn’t particularly good on the mic, but I would tell him “Bill, if you just go out there and be yourself – don’t do a wrestling promo, just talk about the match and how you’re gonna beat the guy,” but he was a spectacular wrestler, and he was doing stuff – he wasn’t a big guy; he was probably legit 225. Which, to me, is a big guy, and he was big enough to be pushed, and his athleticism was off the charts and he could do things that just got people out of their seats.
The sad thing for Bill Wilcox is the one thing that he’s probably most remembered for - amongst people who remember him - is the match with The Lightning Kid for Dennis Coralluzzo, where Sean Waltman was knocked out.
John: Yeah. I sent Dennis a tape of one of our shows, and Dennis calls me up and is like “Look, man – there are four guys in this business that are gonna be big fuckin’ stars, OK? Brian Christopher, Sean Waltman, I forget the other guy, and Bill Wilcox – this guy has it; I’m gonna book him.” The first match – everything goes south. The other guy was – I forget (laughing). I was gonna say “Brian Christopher!” but I already said him. So, yeah, and it totally just – Dennis didn’t want to use him anymore, Waltman didn’t like him, and he did it all wrong, obviously. Waltman got knocked out and he dragged him back into the ring. I’m like “Unhhhhhhh!” That…that hurt Wilcox. I also sent a tape to Pro Wrestling Illustrated, and Bill Apter called me and he’s like “I want to do a feature on this kid introducing Bill Wilcox,” because Apter was that impressed with him. Wilcox had a deal where he went over to Austria to wrestle, and he got booked by Otto Wanz, and something went sideways between the two of them. Wanz tried to have him hurt for real in a match, and Bill just packed his bags and went home, and I think that dampered his enthusiasm for the wrestling business. Great.
So you start UCW in late ’91 – how long did it run, and, you know, tell us what are some of the things you encountered as a promoter? What were the highlights of the company, what were the lowlights of the company?
John: We actually started – let me think: it was May ’92 was our first show. We booked 5 shows that were TV tapings, and then we tried to come back in ’93 as just doing arena shows, and we – someone used the word ‘snake bitten.’ Our first show, there was a blizzard, and we could not have the show. The second show, we had a bad enough snowstorm where we couldn’t have a show, and by then, I had just given up. Oh wait, no: that’s not true. We eventually had a show: it drew around a reasonably sized crowd, but the building decided they did not like the content, and decided not to have us anymore. At that point, I was like “That’s it – I’ve had it with this.”
(What kind of content?)
John: Wilcox was doing – in the middle of an angle – where he got into a brawl, and he slammed a chair down. It’s a steel chair or whatever, and “Wow, it didn’t hurt the floor, it didn’t hurt the chair,” but the guy who ran the place’s like “That’s it, we’re not doing this.”
You know, being a promoter in New England, being a fan in New England, when was the first time you saw Triple H – Paul Levesque?
John: You know, the first time I saw him was when he was in WCW, and I just heard “Wow, this guy from Kowalski’s school is getting a push – or at least has a job – in WCW,” but he’s from right here in Nashua. He went to the same high school that I went to, and his mom used to work with my mom.
John: Yeah. Out of the hundreds of wrestlers that I have met, I have never met him.
John: My mom’s met him, my brother’s met him, one of my former girlfriends has met him, but I have not met him.
(laughing) He’s avoiding you for some reason!
John: For good reasons.
(laughing) Well, on the topic of wrestlers you’ve met, back when you were travelling to shows or back when you were just going to shows with your friends, once you started reading the Observer, once you started trading tapes, what wrestlers with cool with the Smart Fans and what wrestlers really weren’t?
John: The very first wrestling show I went to as part of running with another smart fan like Tom Robinson, Jammie Ward, couple other people – we went to the hotel where they were staying, and every wrestler was like “Nope, sorry, I gotta go up to my room,” this included the Rock and Roll Express, Dusty Rhodes; the top babyfaces. The one exception were three guys taking pictures, signing autographs; just being incredibly accommodating. That’s Jim Cornette, Stan Lane, and Bobby Eaton – the bad guys.
John: And Jimmy, you know, he is an absolute sweetheart. I know he went sideways with Wade Keller about something, and then there was the tape where he got mad at the fast food lady, but, I mean, we all have our bad moments and unfortunately, Jim’s are very well documented. But, you know, I’ve been around Jimmy – I don’t know how many times; he’s the greatest, funniest guy in the world, man.
Yeah, obviously I agree with you (laughing) 100%! I’ve never had a single cross word with him in over 20 years, so I’m right there with you.
John: It’s not like - OK, you do the show with him, the Jim Cornette Experience, the show ends and Jim turns into a different surly person. He’s not like that at all – he’s exactly who he is on his show.
I think people would be surprised actually at how happy and at peace he is (laughing). When he’s not on the air, he loves his life. I mean, he’s not crazy about having to go on the road for anything, but when he’s home, he is the happiest guy in the world, and nothing makes him happier than talking wrestling, and you could just lose yourself in a conversation with him.
John: Yeah – you can tell he absolutely loves it. He, you know, he doesn’t like what’s on now, and not all of us do, but I do remember: we were at the Smoky Mountain Fan Week, and we were doing the Shoot Interview in 1994. I was the one asking all the really good questions, and I was sitting next to Stacy who he barely knew at the time! (laughing)
John: So that’s kind of a trip, right there.
If I remember right – and again, I’m going back years and years now to when I was 14 – I think you asked the question about what happened to Dennis Condrey.
John: Yes I did.
That was still a big mystery, even in 1994, which is years – 7 years after he left the Midnight Express! People still didn’t know what happened!
(And it wasn’t even completely relatively completely settled until when Dennis came back, like, 2003 or whatever it was!)
Yeah! That’s right.
John: I still don’t think it’s ever been completely settled. There are stories out there, and who knows. Dennis – Dennis has claimed that he just got tired of the road and decided to go home. Maybe that’s true, maybe that’s not; I don’t know.
(Well, the first time, or the second time? (laughing))
John: (laughing) The first time; the second time, we all know what happened. But, you know – it was, according to Jimmy, it was the weirdest thing in the world. One day he was there, the next day he was gone.
Yeah. Replaced by the Fabulous Ones’ Stan Lane! (laughing) What did you think about that-
John: And that was an upset because the Fabulous Ones were still a top tag team, you know, like, wow! The Fabulous Ones are gone.
(Well, hadn’t Keirn started to phase himself out a little bit in the previous couple months?)
John: He had. He had gotten his Real Estate license; you know how the wrestling business is. Everyone comes back. Exceptions are few and far between.
So, let’s talk about something – Bix and I, before we started recording, asked you about something I had noticed. I found my old Manila envelope that I got from you, with your tape catalog, which was probably the best tape list of the time, because-
It definitely was! You didn’t just list what was on the tapes, you wrote descriptions – they were funny at times; they were informative. If you just started getting the Observer and didn’t have back issues, and you didn’t have any sort of catalog of information, you would find out a lot of things from the John McAdam Tape Catalog. One of the things I noticed in there was you said you thought Terry Taylor was – this is, you wrote this maybe in ‘94/95 – the most underrated talent in the history of the wrestling business. Let’s talk a little bit about that – what do you think-
What do you think could have been done better with Terry Taylor?
John: OK – here’s what I heard about Terry Taylor and why his career kinda crashed and burned. Supposedly, in 1985, Dusty had a meeting with all of the talent, and he told them “Look, if you’re not happy with your push – I don’t know if they had contracts, or what – we’ll let you serve out your notice; we’ll let you out of your contract if you think you can get a better push someplace else.” Apparently Taylor took that as “Well, go ahead if you can do better somewhere else” and Taylor stood up in the middle of the meeting and said “Well, that’s me. I’m out of here – I want out.” Dusty never forgave him for that. He went back to Watts and then when Watts dried up, now he’s dealing with Dusty – who he has heat with. So, Dusty didn’t like him, McMahon – he was too small for McMahon in McMahon’s own opinion and those were the only two places to work and make decent money. So, again, this is all from what I’ve heard, that that’s why his career crashed and burned. As far as Taylor as a talent, I mean, what couldn’t he do? He could talk, he worked quite well as a Babyface, he was outstanding as a Heel in ’87 in my opinion -
In World Class in ’88 against Chris Adams – that was tremendous.
John: That was a tremendous forgotten feud; absolutely.
John: So, I look at this guy – he’s a good looking guy, he dresses well. I mean, if I had the book in Crockett in ’88, I might have – a lot of people are gonna go “Oh, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” – I might have used Terry Taylor as the catalyst to replace Ric Flair in the Horsemen, and that would make Ric Flair a babyface. Everyone’s – and I hear ya’ll out there, you’re saying “Oh my god, this guy is crazy, this guy is gonna fill Ric Flair’s shoes?” – that’s how highly I thought of Terry Taylor.
I think Ric Flair’s argument is less about filling his shoes and more about not wanting to be a babyface. He would have fought that tooth and nail at that time! (laughing)
John: You know, Bix, it sounds like you and I are the only people who understand that, and you know what? I’d say this about any wrestler – you don’t just get to do whatever you want; the time had come where Ric needed to turn. He was killing babyfaces because he was so over as the babyface!
Yeah. You know, to take a step back, you mentioned when he comes back to Watts after – or when he comes back, excuse me – to Crockett after Crockett buys the UWF. What are you thinking at the time at that feud, the way it played out? What could have been, and what it ended up being – the UWF vs. NWA?
John: I mean, from what I was told from day one – Crockett and Dusty had no interest in the wrestlers; they were strictly out there buying the television spots.
John: Which, you know they had an excellent syndicated network, and cable wasn’t everything back then –as a matter of fact, syndication was still more important than cable. But it came right at a point where the NWA’s top stars had begun to stale, and they absolutely needed an influx of top new talent. They had been on since April of ’85, and, did they – in the first two years, did they create any new stars whatsoever? I mean, Luger got a huge push.
Yeah, but that’s early ’87 Luger comes in. Between '85 and '87, I’m trying to think. T.A. was already there-
(How are we defining creating new stars? Because there are a few people, like Rick Rude, to a degree or someone like that, but not really.)
John: See, there ya go. There was a good example. I mean, Rude, he didn’t get a main event push, so, you know. It was almost like – so you’ve had the same guys on top for 2 years and the influx of talent from the UWF would have benefited them greatly, and to use Dave Meltzer’s term, they just treated them like step-children.
Yeah. You know, they were loaded with talent – obviously Duggan and DiBiase made the choice to go to the WWF, Steve Williams was having growing commitments with Japan. But, you know, The Freebirds were in and out – The Freebirds they probably had to try to do more to contain, even with Terry Gordy’s Japan commitments. They had Terry Taylor, they had Eddie Gilbert, they had Sting – who they ended up using and probably doing as good with at that time than anyone else would have done, but it’s just one of those lost things. I mean, the first night, they had Big Bubba go in there and destroy the One Man Gang!
(Well, Gang was leaving too.)
Had he already given notice at that time?
(I think so?)
(Oh, or is it the other way around as far as chicken and the egg there. You might be right that it might have been the other way around? I’m not sure, now that I think about it. (laughing))
John: Well, here’s the thing. In ’86, I thought they had Big Bubba Rogers ready for a main event push. I mean, Dusty breaks a chair over his head, he no-sells it, the guy looks like a complete monster. They screwed up his push by having him get pinned on television a couple of times; now he’s the UWF World Champion. He was a mid-carder for Crockett, so what message is that sending?
Yeah. That’s exactly right. You know, on this topic of the UWF, let’s talk a little bit about the formation of it, because Bix and I have discussed it on the show in the past – So, late ’85 Mid-South. You have Butch Reed, you have Slater and Buzz Sawyer, you had Jake Roberts – who was really over as a babyface - you have the Masked Superstar coming in, and by the time the UWF is up with the name change and the television change in early ’86, Butch Reed’s gone, Dick Murdoch – big star in Mid-South earlier that year had just done the big angle with Ted DiBiase on TV, maybe the greatest one hour episode of wrestling ever – he’s gone. All these guys are gone – do you think that had a negative; do you think that caused any problems with the crowds?
John: It had to have. I mean, we’re talking – they did lose a lot of major stars. I think they were putting a lot of – what’s the word I’m looking for – stock in The Freebirds when they came in May ’86, and The Freebirds, it almost felt like the act had been worn out a little bit. Like, the fans in that area had seen enough of The Freebirds in that role. But yeah, losing Jake Roberts and all those guys, I mean it definitely hurt. Butch Reed – in my opinion – had enough talent and charisma to be NWA Champion, or maybe even WWF Champion and I have heard Butch was having his own problems then; that’s what got in the way.
(Yeah, I’ve heard that story too, that his wife said he had to move home to Kansas City and that’s why he ended up going to work for Bob Geigel, to straighten his life out.)
John: That makes perfect sense.
(It’s just – I love that era of those shows in early '86, and to just change it – I mean, I do like The Freebirds in the UWF, because it’s a stale role for them, sort of, but they really did good work as far as the fresh group of babyfaces they were working with. Now, whether or not in the climate of wrestling at that point they were necessarily guys that you give $100,000 each guaranteed contracts to, I don’t know. But, I don’t think it was a bad move to bring them in – to just bring in everyone from World Class was probably not a good idea.(laughing))
(laughing) And then go into Dallas – or Fort Worth, excuse me!
John: You know, and I hope it’s not misunderstood: I’m not saying anything bad about The Freebirds. I was a huge fan of theirs – just as draws in Mid-South, I mean, they were considered a disappointment, and it might have had a lot more to do with just them, so.
Yeah, I mean, just imagine Butch Reed still there as a babyface, to be able to be worked into a program with The Freebirds. It seems like everything that year was DiBiase, Terry Taylor, Duggan, and Doc when he was around. It was just those 4 against The Freebirds. Just - if Butch Reed was there, it would have been a game changer.
John: Well, you forgot to mention Bill Watts.
Oh yeah, that’s right. The Cowboy. The Last Stampede was the biggest thing they ever did in the history of Mid-South Wrestling – the biggest run they ever had, and then they had the Stampede’s 'Live in ’85' which didn’t do as well, and then he came back against Korstia Korchenko-
(The worst Russian ever.)
The worst Russian ever, and later that year, they do another thing with him and The Freebirds; it was just diminishing returns.
John: Korchenko – I think you’re giving him too much credit when you call him the worst Russian ever. He might have been the worst wrestler ever, and I’m not exaggerating. Show me a wrestler worse than Korchenko. But yeah, Watts, you know – I loved Bill Watts; ton of respect for the guy. But, he just looked too damn old out there, and you’re right – they went back to him one too many times.
(He was actually still pretty good in the ring, though. I think he holds up his end of the matches, though – all those 6 man tags, and stuff.)
John: Um, he wasn’t bad, but I think – when you look back, every promotion is doing this, and I honestly believe that when one promotion does it – especially when they’re on TV and you can see them – it negatively impacts the promotion. Bill Watts gets thrown in there with – oh my god, they brought back Verne Gagne, they brought back Fritz von Erich, now they’re bringing back this guy.
(Even though he was more credible than the others, it gets lumped in.)
John: Yeah, he does. You know, like I said – my own opinion, he looked too old to be out there main eventing and having Terry Gordy go flying when Bill Watts throws a punch at him.
Episode 22 - Transcript (Part 2)
You know, I’m drawing a blank right now – who did Bill Watts come back to work with when he was The Midnight Rider?
(Uh, Butch Reed.)
Was it Butch Reed?
(I think so? Maybe some others, though? I’m pretty sure – well, they also did the thing though where they would have the other Midnight- no. Actually, was Butch Reed – no. Butch Reed had turned face, and now I’m forgetting who it was. No – what I was thinking about, was a thing. Butch Reed was one of the various OTHER Midnight Riders when they teased it would be Watts, and they had one of the other babyfaces under the mask.)
Surprise! It’s Butch Reed! (laughing)
(That’s why I was confused.)
John: That was pretty crazy.
Yeah, I think it was against Skandor Akbar and his group of guys. You know, John – one of the things Bix and I have talked a lot about on the show is the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame. It’s become a little bit of an obsession of mine – because of course, I don’t have a vote.
(I’ll try to change that…)
See if you can do that, Bix! As of right now, I don’t have one, and I don’t anticipate that changing unless Bix can work some of his 'Jewish Magic' on (laughing) Dave Meltzer!
(How did I know you were going to say 'Jewish Magic'?)
Because I didn’t want to say Black Magic so you could make another Norman Smiley reference.
(Well, no – you wanted to say Black Magic so you could say your Black Magic sounds.)
Yeah, I could do my Black Scorpion, that’s right. Let’s talk a little about the Hall of Fame, John. One of the things we’ve been talking about on the show is it is our belief that the Junkyard Dog IS a Hall of Famer. What are your thoughts on the Junkyard Dog’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame?
John: OK. Let me start by saying - my thing, when it comes to any Hall of Fame – Observer Hall of Fame, Baseball Hall of Fame, etc. – if there’s an argument against you, if it’s someone you really have to think about, if it’s someone that really needs to be argued for: I vote against them, and I think Junkyard Dog is that next level down for what he did in Mid-South and his early WWF stuff. But, I think a guy who had a peak of less than 5 years – and everything was downhill from there – I think he falls just short. Just my opinion.
(I think with him – he’s a guy perhaps more than any other – maybe the exception would be Sputnik Monroe – where you have to really consider the cultural context, though.)
(That, here you have, deep in the south, a black guy being THE hero – I mean, to the point that: yes, New Orleans, very big black population; but still. Even though that’s his best city, to the point that he was such a big draw to the degree he was, I think adds to his candidacy. Especially since his first big feud was feuding with guys who would dress up in confederate flag stuff, and all that, in The Freebirds.)
John: Um. I mean, and don’t get me wrong, I think JYD definitely has his strong points. I mean, yeah – he was a guy who they built a promotion around, and that promotion was around, you know, for the better part of a decade. My question is: is that enough, you know? The Hall of Fame in any sport is supposed to be THE highest honor; no honor higher.
You see, I guess – one of the things I think about, I’ve been looking at the point of view of different Hall of Famer's in the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame, for instance, have different runs. Tiger Mask is in there for a 2 year run where you could argue he changed the game for Junior Heavyweight wrestlers, but it’s a two year run; that’s it. The Midnight Express – my favorite tag team of all time: they’re in there for a 6 year run. They’re in there for 1984 –1990. You know, the Baseball Hall of Fame, like Ralph Kiner, who’s in there: he’s in there for 10 years. Sandy Koufax, obviously injuries shortened his career, but he’s in there for a short run. So, I’m looking at it more that, you know – if you have a 5 year Hall of Fame run, that could be a qualifier. For me, it is. That’s one of the reasons I see JYD as a Hall of Famer, because from 1980 to ’85, he is one of the biggest stars in professional wrestling. At the beginning of that, he’s one of the biggest stars in professional wrestling working for, what was at that time, a forgotten territory. I mean, Bill Watts was a big star and they had some great guys in and out of there, but Mid-South Wrestling – especially after he broke off from Leroy McGuirk – was a tiny, tiny territory.
John: That is true.
And then he gets Leroy McGuirk’s territory when they make that deal, and now he has Oklahoma and all those other cities – it greatly expands, but JYD popped that territory. He became THE star of that territory. Of course, you have to look at that giant house in 1980 against Michael Hayes. He was, in many ways, an attraction that could go to other territories. He went to Georgia – where they recreated the Freebirds angle, he went to World Class several times, he went to Florida, he went to Mid-Atlantic. So, you know, he was getting so much publicity and fame in the wrestling magazines. From working from as tiny a territory as there really – look, Kansas City was a tiny territory; Kansas City was a town. St. Louis was a town – but he was working a forgotten territory! It was, for many wrestling fans, it was in the middle of nowhere. He gets up to the World Wrestling Federation, and I think the argument could be made – and I would make it – that from the moment he got there, until mid-85 - until they change his music, quite frankly - he may have been the second most popular babyface to Hogan. They maybe should have given him the Intercontinental title against Greg Valentine at WrestleMania I – I don’t know, you could argue that. Right there is a 5 year run, where he was – he may not have been a Hall of Fame worker, but I think his work is, how do I put this, Bix? I know you kind of agree with me. He’s not as bad in the early days as people make him out to be in the later days, you know? The match against Flair in 1990 isn’t indicative of a match against Nick Bockwinkel in 1983.
(He had plenty of good matches. I mean, when that Stampede stuff was briefly on the network, we talked about it a little bit: he had a good match with that Paddy Ryan guy. This is when he was super green! Like, I think people who talk about how bad he was, they’re just thinking of Junkfood Dog in the WWF – they’re not looking at the matches he had in Mid-South and in Houston and all that.)
John: Well, couple of trains of thought: Junkyard Dog was Mid-South’s biggest star in the early 80’s. I personally think he is 1980 Wrestler of the Year, at least in the United States.
John: So, I got a high opinion of the guy. At the same time, Mid-South also had The Freebirds, they had Ted DiBiase, they had Paul Orndorff, they had The Grappler – who was a lot better there than he ever was in other territories – and you also had the best mind in wrestling behind it: Bill Watts. So, you know, like I said: I give him a lot of credit, but I’ll also say he didn’t do it all by himself. I have talked to people who were in the area, and I’ve been told that by ’83, Dog had really cooled off, and by ’84, he was cold. In some ways, you know, it was almost good that Vince McMahon stole JYD from Watts. It was time for him to go.
If I may ask, the people who told you that – were they from Oklahoma? Were they from New Orleans? What part of the territory were they in?
John: I specifically remember one gentleman who was from New Orleans proper.
Huh. That’s interesting – wow.
John: Yeah, and there was also – there’s a story going around where the fan in Houston, this is in ’83, gave Paul Boesch a petition saying “Get this guy out of our main events.”
(What?! I’ve never heard THAT one.)
John: I, (laughing) maybe it’s true – I heard it a long time ago. Again, for all the listeners, I’m not attempting to be disrespectful to the Junkyard Dog – I was a big fan of his – I was thrilled the first time I got to see him live in the Boston Garden as Sgt. Slaughter’s surprise partner against Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff. I thought the North American title was every bit as prestigious a title as the NWA or WWF Title, so he held that multiple times. Well, I mean, yeah!
I thought you were gonna say the US title – I’m surprised that you went there.
John: I would say, you know what, probably a shade below the AWA, but definitely above the Crockett US title. I mean, it was the lead title with Mid-South wrestling, and they did not bring in the NWA Champion, or at least, they did not for a long time.
That’s a good point.
John: It was their top title, and JYD held it, you know, a few times!
You know, on a similar topic of this discussion we’re having about JYD and the amount of time he was on top and what that time means, another candidate Bix and I have talked about it – same qualifications in many ways, and in other ways, different – Kerry Von Erich. What are your thoughts on his candidacy?
John: Very similar to Junkyard Dog’s. I think he’s that one step down, but he’s that one rung below a Hall of Famer. Kerry had a great career – very similar to JYD in a lot of ways. Same time frame, he was obviously the top guy in his promotion, and didn’t do it by himself, but he did what he had to do.
See, I guess part of my question is – and I’m just gonna throw that out there, it’s one of the ones I have internally – is Tiger Mask is in for a 2 year period where he changed work rate; he brought a style. He brought a work rate to wrestling that affected every junior heavyweight that came after him.
(And he wasn’t even that good.)
That could be argued. That could be argued. Kerry Von Erich and his brothers, for a few years there, were as hot as any act EVER with the demographic that didn’t traditionally come to wrestling. They brought more girls to wrestling than any other act or promotion this side of All Japan Women. It stands out when you watch World Class from ’83 or ’84 – or ’85 – the productions incredible, but it stands out that the audience is largely women and they’re vocal, and they’re expressive. I mean, Kerry Von Erich’s the only wrestler I’ve ever seen make out with a girl on the way to the ring! I don’t know if he could have avoided it! (laughing) They were all just running around trying to kiss him! You know, I understand the run of the Von Erichs – the Von Erichs all had the ultimate potential, but it didn’t work out for the whole family – for David, Kevin, and Kerry. But, I look at it and I wonder if what exactly they did and how they popped their crowd – with the Freebird feud – and how they changed the crowds coming to wrestling, if that needs to be appreciated more than it is.
John: They, in a lot of ways – World Class Wrestling and the Von Erichs – revolutionized pro-wrestling, because it went from- I mean, in the WWF, Tony Garea was the good looking guy! He was the pretty babyface, ok? It’s true!
(Laughing) I know!
John: And then the girls got Rick Martel. But, for years, it was Tony Garea, and now you’re looking at guys like Kerry Von Erich and Kevin was a good looking guy. I remember back in the 80’s, me and my friends were watching wrestling and our girlfriends are there, and I’m like “Why are they not complaining that wrestling’s on? Oh, I don’t know, because Kerry Von Erich’s wrestling Gino Hernandez?” (laughing) It was, um, so yeah. If they revolutionized everything AFTER the Von Erichs caught fire, now you’re seeing promotions pushing the good looking guys: Crockett had Magnum T.A. or Ricky Steamboat, the WWF was going for some of the younger athletic bodybuilder guys, and a lot of that goes back to the Von Erichs; I definitely give them credit for that. On the other hand – and this is my cake on Hall of Fames in general – every Hall of Fame has a mistake or two in there. I think Sayama was a mistake-
Wow! And Bill Mazurowski.
John: Yeah, I’m with you! Two years does not a Hall of Fame career make, you know? To me, you just can’t compare a candidate to the guys that are on the bottom of the list: they need to be compared to the guys in the middle of the list. The guys right around that 45-55 percentile of Hall of Famers. I think if you do that, JYD and Kerry fall a little bit short.
(Now, for those listening, by the way, who don’t believe what he’s saying about Tony Garea – watch some Tony Garea matches from the Spectrum and listen to Kal Rudman (laughing) and Dick Graham just gush about his handsome features and what a great profile he has.)
However, Bix, with all due respect, Kal Rudman gushed that way about various wrestlers – I mean, there’s that one interview where he practically wants to jump on Don Muraco.
(Not on commentary as much, though – more during the promos where it seemed like he wanted to ‘have his way’ with Don Muraco or Barry Windham or Hulk Hogan.)
Or maybe have Don Muraco have his way with him: we really don’t know! (laughing)
(That one promo I have on YouTube where he’s like – you can tell Muraco’s clearly aware of it, where he takes his sunglasses off, and he’s like biting on the earpiece – such a tease with Kal Rudman.)
I gotta say, before we get back to this Hall of Fame discussion – I think 1982 / '83 – mostly ‘83 – Don Muraco may be the coolest wrestler of all time. He’s definitely high on my list for someone who I just watch, and god dammit, he’s so cool!
John: When he was in the WWF in 1981, that’s exactly how he came off – just like this cool guy from Hawaii who, you know, has all the athletic talent in the world; he’s cocky and arrogant. You gotta love him, you know?
(Now, do you still consider Kal Rudman interviewing the Moondogs the most embarrassing segment in wrestling history, by the way?)
John: No. I am about to partake in the most embarrassing segment in pro-wrestling history – not to get too personal: I am straight, and it never occurred to me that Kal Rudman might be gay until you guys just started talking about that.
No! (laughing) He’s actually married – I know for a fact he’s married! (laughing)
(It’s just if you watch those interviews, he does-)
John: That means EVERYTHING…
(laughing) Yeah, Oscar Wilde was married, you know! (laughing)
John: I would be the worst gay guy ever, because I have no gaydar. I cannot figure out who is what unless it’s explained to me, so I never even saw Kal Rudman in that light. Ugh!
Well, you know, to get back to this Hall of Fame discussion – before we get more perverted on here-
John: We’re not on the air, but go ahead.
(laughing) No, we are! We are! A couple more names I wanna ask you your opinion on: another one who I believe is a Hall of Famer – I don’t remember Bix if you said you did or didn’t – but Ole Anderson. What do you think, John?
John: (sigh) We had – okay. About 12 or 13 years ago on WrestlingClassics, we had, like, a 30 page debate on whether or not Ole Anderson belonged in the Hall of Fame. I was like, “No, he falls short.” You know, he wasn’t really a main eventer – despite the fact that he’d been in main events – OK, Chief Jay Strongbow. I have actually changed my mind because my take on it is that over the last 12 or 13 years, many tag teams have been put in the Observer Hall of Fame, and compared to those other tag teams – 45 to 55% - the Andersons definitely belong in: Ole and Gene belong in, in my opinion. So, that’s Ole.
That’s interesting, because I’ve kinda been saying that I think Ole belongs in, but maybe that’s what’s hurt the voting for him, is that he was aligned with Gene on the ballot as opposed to just being Ole Anderson, who you look at as a wrestler but you also get to look at him as a booker, and, you know – some of the booking may not be Hall of Fame caliber (laughing) but certainly for a while it was, and a promoter as well. So, I thought that maybe the candidacy would be stronger just being Ole Anderson as opposed to The Anderson Brothers tag team.
(Well, he’s not a Hall of Fame promoter though. Maybe a booker, but not a promoter. (laughing))
Yes. That’s absolutely true.
John: There’s so many negatives with Ole as a booker that I could not even consider that a positive in his candidacy (laughing).
Speaking of bookers and promoters and wrestlers – one of the ones that’s not in the Hall of Fame that bothers me – just because I feel, and I’ve said this on the show recently: no disrespect to Paul Heyman at least for this, but Paul Heyman’s in the Hall of Fame as a booker. Not as a manager, because his amazing run the last few years happened after he was already elected to the Hall of Fame, but Jerry Jarrett’s not in the Hall of Fame. What are your thoughts on Jerry Jarrett’s candidacy?
John: I think Jerry Jarrett’s a solid candidate. I wouldn’t fight for his candidacy, but I could definitely see him being inducted. The problem with that is for one, I look at a candidate at their entire body of work; not just as a booker, as a wrestler – their entire body of work. That’s just the way the business goes, and Paul E., I think him as a manger, plus as owner of ECW, I see him as a valid candidate. The problem is, once you let Jerry Jarrett in, does Jim Crockett Jr. go in? Jim Crockett Sr.? Paul Boesch I think is already in – Don Owen? Where does that line get crossed? It’s a tough one.
Well, I guess because Jerry Jarrett was an owner, but he was also a booker – so it’s more in line with an Eddie Graham or a Bill Watts, who were: Jim Crockett wasn’t a booker. Jim Crockett Jr. owned the company and owned the company that did the promoting, but he didn’t sit down with a pen and paper and write the TV’s. So, I feel like there are different calibers of owners and bookers out there.
John: I agree with that – the other side of the coin is just using Eddie Graham as an example: I mean, he might have had a Hall of Fame career just as a wrestler, and then you throw in owner of Florida Championship Wrestling, I mean, to me, Is a slam dunk.
You know, again, Bill Watts. Bill Watts and Jerry Jarrett are very similar that they both went to train under Eddie Graham, they both went back and owned and booked their own territories and at times had other bookers but they oversaw them – especially Watts. Watts was notorious for looking over the shoulder of his bookers (laughing) but I feel that Jerry Jarrett is a major exclusion so far from this Hall of Fame, just because he had a successful territory for years and years and years, many of the years he was the only person who made any money; him and Lawler. But, they ran and they were wildly successful. Even before he had his own company, he was a successful booker for the western end of the Nick Gulas territory, and he opened up-
John: That’s right!
And he opened up Louisville. I mean, that wasn’t an active wrestling market. He went there, he started virtually from scratch; it had been dormant. He built up Louisville. I mean, he built it up from nothing!
John: Bruiser – when did Dick the Bruiser pull out of Louisville?
(Um, 5 years before, I think – about. Does that sound right?)
John: OK. That’s pretty dormant.
(Yeah. They did something like 5 years. I do wonder with Jarrett – to a degree – how much of it is anti-Tennessee wrestling bias. Like, with you, I know it’s not, but there are still; I used to think it was more people in the business now who have the anti-Tennessee bias. I mean, some of it’s there, and I’m sure some of it for good reasons – they didn’t pay well, blah blah blah. Some of it’s just “Oh, that hokey Tennessee shit” kinda attitude.)
The Ole Anderson attitude, is what you’re saying. (laughing)
(It wasn’t JUST Ole-)
John: You also have to consider who was on that voting panel and who does that – the Observer Hall of Fame – and who had the ear of that panel. You know? Lou Thesz was very much an anti-Tennessee Rasslin’ kinda guy, and I know a lot of people on there knew Lou.
(Yet he was an inaugural member of the Eddie Gilbert fan club.)
John: Wow. We’re going WAY back with Eddie (laughing)
The TNT Fan Club, run by Terry Justice had Jim Cornette as a fan club member, had Lou Thesz as a fan club member. I’m forgetting some other notable wrestling name-
(Elio Zarlenga, who went on to work for the Toronto office?)
Yeah, but, that was even before he was a wrestler-
Brian Hildebrand was, yeah.
(Oh – was Danny Hodge a member?)
What were you gonna say, John?
John: Here’s just a crazy story about me meeting a wrestler. I was at the Brian Pillman fundraiser shows, and I saw someone in the wrestling business who was there and I remember seeing his name as part of a fan club thing, and I just went up to him and bullshitted him. I’m like “Hey, you probably don’t remember me, but you and I used to correspond back when we were in the fan club days,” and Tom Prichard’s like “What’s your name?” I’m like “John McAdam,” and he’s like “Oh! I remember you!” and we’re sitting there lying to each other, but making friends.
(laughing) He may be one of the people we could ask about the petition coming in to Paul Boesch about the JYD – him or his brother may know.
John: I think; yeah, maybe. I know Tom had been actively wrestling by ’83, but yeah, I mean, Scott Williams might be a good guy to ask about that, but it’s definitely a story that I heard.
To go back a little bit to tape trading, John – I’m just wondering if you remember off the top of your head, because it has been a while: who were the best people to trade tapes with, and who were the worst people to trade tapes with?
John: I was the best-
John: Oh man. Um. One of the best people to- uh. Best people to trade with – I’m trying desperately to remember his name, but he was a really, really, good guy and he sent me my Smoky Mountain Wrestling religiously every 4 weeks. The tape would get 4 episodes on it and he would send it out on Monday and I would put it in the VCR on, like, Thursday, and I would swear up and down that I’ll watch one episode today, one episode tomorrow – I would binge watch it, and of course that’s all I spent my night doing was watching 4 hours of Smoky Mountain. I’m trying to think of various names. Um. Meltzer was always good! Jeff Bowdren was always really good. Richard Vicek – the guy who’s doing the Dick the Bruiser book – I always trade tapes with. He was great! You know what, get in touch with him if you can: he has some crazy ass Chicago Amphitheater stories.
Yeah, well we’re gonna be doing a feature on the show about the Dick the Bruiser book and we’ll reach out to Scott Teal and see what he can do with that. Scott’s a good friend of our show and has gone out of his way to get us in touch with different authors of his books. I’m gonna definitely work on that for the show. Let me ask you this – what was Meltzer like as a tape trader? Was he, you know, always on time with his tapes? How was his quality? What did you think of his stuff?
John: Meltzer was – he was very big on, he doesn’t care about nostalgia, he doesn’t care about big name matches: he just wants the 4 or 5 star matches. That’s the stuff you’d get from him. His quality – I don’t want to say it wasn’t always impeccable, and I’m not saying this in a bad way, you just have to go back to – it was a different era where if you could find a good tape from 1981 where no-one had a VCR and the VCR itself was the antenna, so if it’s cloudy outside or whatever, you’re not getting good reception. You know, that’s just the way it was back then. Yeah, but Dave was great, Jeff was great; I can’t think of any other- Jammie Ward was great.
Ah! Our friend.
John: But yeah, it’s been so long, I apologize I can’t give you more better examples.
That’s alright. I mean, I’m thinking about some of the things that would have been circulating in the '80’s that, you know, were hard to find. At least when I was trading in the '90’s – hard to find and when you find it, it was hard to find good quality of. When was the first time you got to see Slaughter against Patterson or Slaughter against the Iron Sheik – those bloody matches from the Garden?
John: Ohhhh. Definitely ’87. One of the first people – actually, someone right after I got the Observer for the first time, someone else wrote back to me and he had a big tape list, and he mostly had Madison Square Garden and Philly stuff. I’m not sure – this guy was selling tapes: $25 each, but 5 for 100 dollars. Now, Dave, I don’t know if you have that inflation calculator handy, but I actually sent this guy $100 dollars for MSG shows, but I don’t think that was any of them, but one of them was the Bob Backlund / Iron Sheik match, which was incredible.
(That’s an interesting show to watch because of the way the lighting and stuff is different. It’s not really a good show, but it stands out because it seems like they’re trying to do something with that show; with the different lighting and stuff.)
Is that the first one where they switched the camera from the one side to the other?
(I’m not sure, but it’s a different lighting than every other MSG show.)
John: You guys have such an attention to detail; it’s great. It’s one of the great thing about the Podcast – that you guys want the details and you pick up on stuff like that.
Anybody could just do an overview! (laughing) We want to make sure that, you know, any of these stories are preserved with the actual facts. Every small one of ‘em. (laughing)
(OH – here’s a question for you as a New Englander: Did you ever go to any of the Savoldi shows?)
John: (laughing) Yes, as a matter of fact.
(Here we go.)
John: I went to a couple – I went to one in ’85 at the (inaudible) Massachusetts Ice Arena, and Dr. D David Schultz – fresh of his WWF firing – was there, and it was a TV taping. Schultz had everyone in the crowd so scared shitless in a bad way, like you were afraid to say something because you thought this guy was gonna jump out of the ring and kick your ass. Then, I went to another one in ’86 – another TV taping – and he had advertised just some crazy names like Austin Idol; a bunch of them. They were all no-shows, and you just sat there and wondered, like “OK, how badly was I set up on this one?” But, you know, if you wanna talk about arenas in New England, when I first moved here in 1975, we first moved to a town called North Attleborough, MA, which was well known because they had WWWF wrestling every Friday night at Jack Witschi's Sports Arena, which was a little over a mile from where I lived.
(Right, and I believed Kevin Sullivan said that North Attleborough was the best drawing per capita wrestling town in the united states during that period.)
John: Had to be, because it was – I believe when I lived there, there were 6,000 people in the town.
(And how would the shows draw?)
John: Uh, that’s a good question, because back then, you could not get any straight information. I believe they generally drew about 5 or 6 hundred people per show, and that’s what I’ve heard. I’m not sure how accurate that is – I’m not sure if there’s any accurate information out there. I went a total of 3 times, and the place didn’t seem filled out, but it seemed pretty full, if that makes sense.
(Now, with Savoldi and that taping you mentioned going to in ’85 which you were saying it sounded like David Schultz’s first taping with them – only, knowing how Savoldi worked – after getting fired from the WWF: do you recall if that’s also the taping where Bob Backlund brought out his cardboard belt?)
John: That was not the taping, unfortunately. Backlund was not on the show.
John: I believe that taping was in Lewiston, Maine – I could be wrong.
(That actually sounds right. Do you remember seeing that on TV, though? The Cardboard Belt?)
John: I definitely did. Bob – I have grown to like Bob Backlund and appreciate him more over the years, but during that time, I absolutely hated Bob Backlund. Bob just giving me another reason to hate him even more (laughing). I mean, when you’re that age, you’re consumed with being cool and seeing cool guys and Bob Backlund was the antithesis of cool.
Well, were you always a heel fan, and if not, when did you turn on Bob?
John: Um. Was I always a heel fan – no. At first, I was strictly a babyface fan, and then when you saw the wrestlers – the heels – who had more charisma, I liked them. I liked Ken Patera, I liked Greg Valentine, but I also liked a bunch of the babyfaces. I mean, I loved Strongbow. If it wasn’t for Strongbow, I wouldn’t be standing here talking to you right now. I loved Bobo Brazil, Bruno Sammartino; it just depended on the wrestlers opposed to the dressing room that the wrestler came out of.
What was Superstar Graham like when you first saw him? What are you thinking the first time you see him?
John: Aptly nicknamed. I mean, this guy was oozing charisma – no-one had a body like that. His interviews were, are now, a little bit overrated, because he was more of an 8 than a 10. But, you know, I mean, the guy was supremely charismatic and probably wasn’t as bad in the ring as the internet wrestling community makes him out to be, or at least during the 70’s.
(I would agree with that. From – especially if you watch those AWA films, he’s bumping big and stuff; I think our perceptions of him are more the same thing that happened to everyone that went to the WWWF. That all of a sudden they started wrestling like they were in cement boots.)
John: Sure. I mean, sometimes wrestling fans talk about alternate universes. Like, OK – if the WWF didn’t bring in Hulk Hogan, well, who should they have brought in? Uhh. I mean, Hogan was the #1 choice by a million miles. I feel that way about Superstar Billy Graham being the one who came in to replace Sammartino. Some people might say “Oh, maybe Patera, maybe Koloff,” to me, it’s not even a discussion: Superstar Billy Graham was THE choice.
You know, on that topic, I saw you write something recently on a group that we’re all part of: what did you think Greg Valentine meant to the WWF during his early runs, and specifically, you wrote something about where you thought he was going. Can you explain that?
John: Yes. You mean, like, in 1981?
John: OK. Someone who worked for the WWF in 1981 and I had a conversation – I wanna say in 1988 – and this person…we had a conversation in 1988. He worked for the WWF – had worked for them for a long time. He told me that there was a plan in place where Greg Valentine would win the WWF Title October 1981 in Madison Square Garden, and they were going to bring in David Sammartino and groom him for the top spot and give him the top spot. I don’t know – I kinda don’t think it’s true at this point, because Greg Valentine has done enough shoot interviews where this would have come out, so I’m just saying this is what I was told, and for whatever reason – he said for whatever reason, they changed their mind. He thought it was because the NWA made Ric Flair champion, and Flair was too much like Valentine.
(Something that has nothing to do with this that I wanna ask you about – I saw you post about a while back and I’m curious to hear more about this – I don’t know if it was really reported, at least, it might have been hinted it but if it was outright reported in the newsletters at the time, that around 1990 the WWF had some kind of mole in the WCW office, and that whenever WCW made overtures towards someone – I remember Pat Tanaka being the example – WWF would just sign them just to sign them. What do you know about all of this, and why do you think it hasn’t been repeated more over the years, because that was the first I had ever heard of it.)
John: (sigh) I mean, this was back – back in the day where, like, probably not a day went by where I didn’t have a phone call like the one that we’re having now, you know, from someone who knew someone in the industry or a super fan or a combination of both. Yeah, I had been told that story specifically that Tanaka had a WCW contract in front of him, and that’s when the WWF said “OK, now we’ll sign you.” I’m trying to think of who else this happened with. Um – I know that; I probably should mention names but supposedly this went on with Tom Prichard, that he went to the WWF and said “Yes, I have a WCW contract in front of me,” and he didn’t and he couldn’t prove it, so that went down the toilet. I’m trying to think of any other examples and I can’t right now, but I definitely heard that about Tanaka. I think Steve Beverly might have printed that, but don’t quote me on that, but I think that’s where that might have come from.
(I think recently me and Zellner were doing that week on Between the Sheets, and there was something that hinted at it, but I don’t think he outright said.)
John: One thing, you know – I used to run around with Meltzer. One thing that I knew that not everything that he knew or not the complete story was always in the Observer. Read into that what you will.
(I mean we all know with these is you always have to read in-between the lines with Dave’s writing, and you have to learn how to understand what Dave is saying when he has to write the Observer that kinda way.)
Yeah, and it’s a lot easier to read between the lines when he got rid of that typewriter with the flying O’s.
John: Ah. That thing belongs in the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame.
(laughing) Yeah, really! I wonder if he still has that typewriter somewhere; he must!
(I guarantee you he does.)
John: That’s gotta be in the next WWE theme restaurant – Dave’s Old Typewriter with the Flying O.
(laughing) Well, listen-
John: Those were the cool days of getting the Observer though, because it looked like you were getting something you were not supposed to have; something that really was underground CIA looking. Fun times.
(What Dave should have done if the typewriter broke is put it together with type from different magazines; like a random note.)
John: (laughing) He could have come out with one issue like that. It would have been great; just one page in one issue.
One last thing about the newsletters – you mentioned Steve Beverly. Did you ever get Mat Watch, and what did you think of it?
John: I was getting Mat Watch. I thought it was outstanding, and one thing that Steve did: I talked earlier about if you get the Observer, you get everything. Steve came from a unique point of view where he came from a television point of view, and Steve was very smart, and Steve – I think he not only understood the business, but he could see where the business was going and he could see how it could be better. Jim Cornette will break my face with his Tennis Racquet if I said this in front of him, but Steve had an excellent idea called ‘bring in writers.’ No, I don’t think that two guys in the back of a car are going to come up with better ideas than a professional writer who has done something elsewhere; sorry. That was Steve’s idea – and I’m not saying hand the whole thing to him, but make this – get a few of these people, make them part of a booking committee, and don’t treat them like stepchildren who don’t belong there. I felt 1990 that was going to be the future of the business, and, for once, I was right.
(I remember – it was an issue entirely about different ideas to save WCW, ‘cause we’re getting to that point in WCW where it was like, no-one will be able to turn this company around. He made a bunch of suggestions – one of them that they hire a specific soap opera writer too, it wasn’t just “hire a TV writer,” I forget the name. It was a specific soap opera writer who was the best in the business at the time, and he was like “Have him come in.” I think it’s more, like, it doesn’t even necessarily need to be bringing story ideas as much as structure. I don’t know if it’s what WWE’s going for, or if they feel like they NEED to because they’re corporate, whatever. The only time they really ever had that was with Chris Kreski in 2000, when even though you wouldn’t think of it from his background – which I’m trying to remember; he was on Beavis and Butthead for a while, maybe? I don’t remember his exact background. But, he brought a lot of structure and continuity to everything, and that was his big strength. He’d storyboard stuff and people even made fun of it, but that is by far the most cohesive part of that era in 2000 when he was booking. They always did little things like they always stuck with. I remember after Shane McMahon and Test had their match, and Shane’s like “OK, we’re cool, you beat me. I give you my blessing to marry my sister,” – that sure worked out well. They always had it that those two were friends – whether they were heels, whether they were babyfaces, whether one was a heel and one was a babyface: they were always aligned. They wouldn’t always BE together, but if Shane needed help in a match, all of a sudden, Test runs out. It’s like “Oh, right – these two are friends,” and that’s the type of thing that they don’t really have, and that wrestling didn’t always have. Some promotions did! Memphis was good about remembering history – maybe to a point. Continental and Southeastern were, but not everyone for sure. That was what was missing – someone who could do a show bible for wrestling; to keep track of everyone in their history.)
Watts was very good at that.
Watts was the best at it.
John: Watts and Graham. There are some people who will tell you – to me, it’s funny when wrestlers do it; it’s even funnier when non-wrestlers do it. They say with a completely straight face “No, he’s never been in the ring so he can offer you nothing,” which is garbage.
(Like Sam Muchnick.)
John: Like Vince McMahon!
John: I mean, I would have indy guys telling me “Oh, you don’t know anything about wrestling – you have to be in the ring to do it.” Who has ever been successful? This was 92. I would say “What about Vince McMahon” and they go “Oh!” Gee, they’d never thought of that before, like they’d been brainwashed; he’d be the ONE exception, then I’d be exception #2 – I was wrong. But you know what, I mean – sorry, I’m not on the right page here – but if you’re an indy promoter: I told Gabe Sapolsky this one day. I’m like, “Gabe, don’t listen to their big league bullshit because they don’t know what they’re talking about.” Some of the worst wrestling I’ve ever seen was WCW in 93-94 when they had a booking committee with Greg Gagne, Robert Fuller, Bill Dundee and whoever else I’m forgetting about, and they didn’t know what they were doing!
John: Sorry, that was a tangent. Save the show, guys!
I didn’t know where to go from there but we’re gonna wrap this up right now … we should definitely do this again!