Where I last left off, I had met Ray, the WCW photo supplier, who had hooked me up with going to my first indy show. To better explain, though I was a wrestling nut and a walking encyclopedia of information (useless in some people’s eyes) I rarely frequented wrestling shows. I believe it was due to a lack of traveling on my family’s end, but whenever WWE (then the WWF) came to town, my mother would go to the old TicketTron at Sears and get some decent tickets to see the events. I had attended the old WWE house shows, Monday Night Raw, and even got front row for the only ECW event that came through, but that was maybe a half dozen live events at best.
Fast forward and this would be the first independent show that I had ever attended, and I had no idea what to expect…
I wish I could remember the exact date or time of the year. I remember it being cold and rainy weather, which doesn’t help identify “when” as any native Ohioan could tell you. It was also dark outside and I wasn’t familiar with Cleveland that much at this point. That created disaster, armed with my trusty Yahoo! map (Google wasn’t the behemoth it is now) and you get where I’m going.
I believe the show started at 7pm and I got there around 7:40. I figured, what the hell, I miss a match or two, right? Wrong. Totally wrong. So wrong, in fact, that I got there just in time to see the ring being setup! Queue music: welcome to indy wrestling.
Catching my breath from rushing into the show late (or so I thought) I looked around the school gymnasium, and noticed it was mostly barren. Across from me in the bleachers, was a bald guy acting like a buffoon, whom I quickly realized wasn’t acting: it was George “The Animal” Steele! (Okay, maybe he was acting.)
After 20 minutes of waiting for the ring to be fully assembled, the show started. I don’t remember much, other than the Iron Sheik challenging a fan to contest with his Persian clubs, and then going nuts on the microphone after.
As the show commenced, I made a note to try and find the persons in charge. I kept my eye on this one large man with a pony tail and a beard. He was as white as notebook paper and as wide as he was tall. He had a scraggly guy walking around with him, longer hair, but looked like an anorexic truck driver. As the show was closing, I approached them and we had a short talk, none of which I could remember. Then, oddly, they invited me to go out to eat with them.
Amazingly, I could easily spot our food location, having drove around all of Cleveland thanks to the accuracy of my trust Yahoo! map. I pulled into the parking lot, not knowing I would be taking a step toward my soon-to-be wrestling career… that step lead me into… the local Pizza Hut. (In case you’re wondering, I’m big on suspense.)
Continuing, yes, my wrestling career was about to blossom at the home of stuffed crust pizzas and the national Book-it! program. I couldn’t contain myself, as I was about to share pizza pies with true wrestling legends such as…
(This spot left intentionally blank.)
If you made it this far down my list of wrestling legends, you’ll realize that I got a few slices of pizza on the house, eating alongside the snaggle-toothed truck driver, the large pony-tailed guy, (who’s name is Randy, co-owner of the fed) “Wildman” Doug, the owner of the promotion, and some of the ring crew. But I was a young kid still in high school, so this was the big time baby! Well, it wasn’t and I felt dejected and ended up leaving Pizza Hut before they did.
At this point I can’t honestly remember if I exchanged any contact information with these guys, and this was in the day and age when I had a pager (remember those?) so who knows. I remember thinking “is this it?” like I was never going to get off the ground. Underwhelming would be a good word to describe how I felt.
It was about a month or two before my hopes resurfaced. This time Ray was going to attend the show and sell merchandise at a table there, and of course, I didn’t need my arm twisted to come along for the ride. During this period in time, Ray’s father had operated a sporting goods store in Cleveland, of which, many items were wrestling related. Hence, in addition to his stock of WCW photos, Ray had various t-shirts, belts, masks and other merchandise to sell. We loaded up the van and made the hour long trip to Ashtabula. Little would I know this day would have a huge impact on my life in more ways than one.
We arrived early at the National Guard Armory, which during a pre-9/11 world, was the local mecca of pro wrestling, as most shows were held at these spacious venues. After unloading everything from the van and setting up the table, it was time to lounge around and wait for the show. Ray and I had a quick word with Randy, the ponytail guy I met a month earlier and “VP” of the company if you will, and he was receptive to my wanting to get into wrestling. Since we were at the building early, I was able to view various wrestlers arriving, entering and leaving the locker room. Though nearly all of the wrestlers were far from being bonafide stars, I was still in a state of awe being in their presence. Then a major league man walked in. A former NWA and WWF star that has traveled the world, and was now standing inches from me here in Ashtabula, Ohio! I was starstruck, but this guy appeared to be phoning it in from the start. He was so mellow and laid back. And he shook my hand! What a guy. (I’m not dragging this one out for suspense, just wait, I’m protecting the guilty!)
The show was about ready to start, and I was approached by Randy right before the opening bell. Randy’s camera guy didn’t show and he asked if I knew how to do the job. Having never operated a camcorder before in my life, I did what any other person in my position would do: I lied. “Yes sir, I can do it for you!” I was about to become part of the group! How exciting!
I began circling the ring, closer than the front row seats, zooming in, getting shots between the ropes. Every grunt, gripe and grope was on film. I ducked and weaved to keep up on the action while simultaneously keeping my tall frame from blocking the view of the spectators behind me. I was overachieving, pressing buttons on the camera whose functions I only learned minutes before, and then, the battery died. Uh oh.
Frantic, I scampered around, looking for Randy, but couldn’t find him. I then found the first person I thought was semi-official (which turned out to be Wildman Doug’s wife) and she pointed me toward the locker room. Now, put yourself in my shoes. I’m a 17 year old kid, humbled by the presence of the wrestlers abound, and now I must enter their sanctuary, a place no outsider was permitted. I stood in front of the double doors, heart racing and entered to see the equivalent of a classroom, with a few tables, cheap wooden folding chairs and a plethora of giant bodies staring at me. I was in shock at not only seeing the wrestlers in their natural habitat, but also at how crappy the locker room was. It was then, I looked directly in front of me, and saw the aforementioned Legend snorting a line of cocaine from one of the dingy tables. I didn’t know it then, but I had learned my first pro wrestling lesson: not all is what it seems.
I diverted my eyes from the crime scene and found the tall-as-is-wide Randy standing at the other end of the room. He directed me to the spare battery and the charger. I quickly vaulted from the room, in a rush to tape and equally terrified of the wrestlers. The show must go on!
The show itself was a huge success, with some 600 people or more packing the place. Everyone throws around the term “standing room” but there were at least 50 fans holding up the armory’s brick walls, as all of the seats were taken. It was time for the main event, between the Legend, who wasn’t really laid back rather high off drugs, versus a local star I was seeing for the first time. To me, the match was unbelievable and I couldn’t consume that I was inches away from the action. I was in a virtual heaven, and then the night was over.
I helped Ray pack the van, and returned the camera to Randy and company. Days later Ray had called to let me know that Randy and the Wildman were so thrilled with my work, that I was invited back to be their permanent camera man! I returned one month later to Ashtabula, expecting the bright lights and big stars of pro wrestling. Most of them were still there, but the Legend had not returned this time. In fact there were police dogs in the vicinity, likely to crackdown on the same drug use. This is when Ray was talking with one of the wrestlers and turned around to introduce to me, for the first time, the guy who wrestled the Legend in last month’s main event: Preston Steele. Turns out that I had something in common with Preston, as we were both from Youngstown. I got to chat briefly before he went into the locker room to prepare for the night’s match. Again, little would I know that chance meeting would have a major impact on my life.
The crowd was much smaller this time around, but the show was still a spectacle to me, as I caught every moment on camera. At the end of the night, Randy told me to go to the “office” to get paid. I was shocked. I get to do this AND get paid?! Unfortunately, this would be my first true encounter with the Wildman Doug, the owner of the company slash caveman-looking, caveman-moving, pro wrestler. Unfortunate, because this is the night I realized the big boss was a big alcoholic. Big might not be the proper word, but my pay day was big for the work I did, and looking back on this, I sometimes make less wrestling today than I did running a camera back in 1999. How times have changed.
I ran the camera again for a show in Brook Park, headlined by Koko B. Ware and Preston. This was shortly after Owen Hart had passed away after portraying the Blue Blazer character, for those that don’t know, was a superhero-like blue suit with a mask. The storyline was so sensational at the time, with Owen denying every week, that he was the Blue Blazer. One week he had a duplicate Blazer run to the ring and it was obvious it wasn’t Owen, as the man under the mask was African-American. That week it was Koko under the mask, and he retold the story, and was in tears talking about Owen. I was floored, as Owen was one of my favorites. Koko’s remembrance was akin to a eulogy, and I am forever grateful for that discussion, not only for my love of Owen, but for the first insider talk I’ve ever had. (Remember, this was right as the internet hit it’s boom period.)
The show only housed maybe 30 fans at most and was a complete disaster, but Koko and Preston still gave it 110% and I’ll always remember that. I had the pleasure of meeting new wrestlers for the first time, many of which I still see today, and others that I wish I had never met to begin with!
Because of the financial wreck of this show, the Wildman took a break from running for a few months and my services wouldn’t be required for awhile. The next time I was summoned is yet another chapter in the book that is my wrestling career.
Disclaimer: “Diary of a Present Day Pro Wrestler” is a recount of witty, funny, ugly and otherwise entertaining stories from Scott Prodigy’s pro wrestling career. While these stories are based on true events, the author makes no representation or warranties with respect to the accuracy, applicability, fitness, or completeness of the content. In some instances names, locations and/or other general information have been altered. The author shall in no event be held liable to any party for any direct, indirect, punitive, special, incidental or other consequential damages arising directly or indirectly from any use of this material, which is provided “as is”, and without warranties. The author does not warrant the performance, effectiveness or applicability of any sites listed or linked to in the content.
Copyright 2011 Scott Prodigy. All Rights Reserved.
No part of this may be copied, or changed in any format, sold, or used in any way other than under any circumstances.