Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Keeping In Touch

  Finally! In my last post I talked about keeping in touch with friends and told you that I had spoken to Pork Chops Cash and Izzy Slapawitz both of whom are doing great, and that I was still trying to get in touch with another old friend. Well today I talked with my friend James Harris from Senatobia, Mississippi. I know many of you are wondering who James Harris is, so I am about to tell you. I first met James in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1978 at one of our weekly wrestling events at the Sportatorium. This is during the time that we were running our own AWA Wrestling Promotion and we were bringing in new talent since we had broken away from the Mid-South promotion. Some of the talent we brought in was on recommendations from other wrestlers already here and The Great Mephisto Frankie Cain, who was our Booker, brought a few guys in that he had worked with in different territories. We also received a lot of letters and photos from young guys wanting a chance to work. I don't remember if James had sent us a letter and pictures or if someone else knew of him but since he was not too awfully far from Greenwood we told him to come in early, bring his wrestling gear just in case and we would talk and possibly get him on the card, no guarantees. None of us knew what to expect. Well, a car pulls up in the parking lot early before the crowd started arriving, a bit earlier than we had told him to be there and this huge guy gets out with bag in hand and I happened to be outside the door at the time. He introduced himself, we walked in the building, I took him to the ticket office and then went and got my father and Frankie. When they came in we began talking, well actually I was mostly listening, and Frankie began asking him questions as to who he had trained with, what he could do, etc.. James was very mild mannered and seemed a bit nervous and the whole time I am standing there thinking how comical this actually looked because Frankie was maybe 5'8" tall looking up at this huge man of around 6'7" and 300+ pounds and grilling him with questions! Come to find out that James had been "training" with an old timer Mario Gallento in Memphis but so far had only been running around a track and doing exercises. He had never had a single match! And no real wrestling training! After a bit Frankie told him to go get dressed and get ready for the opening match... against HIM... The Great Mephisto!! James was Really nervous now! Frankie was great at seeing potential in guys and making the most of it and being creative, and since he (Frankie) was already wrestling in the Main Event that night we announced this opening match as a special added Challenge Match, or something of that nature. That way if it looked like it was going to be a real stinker of a match Frankie would have just eaten him up and ended it quick. If however, Frankie saw that the guy had any potential at all to learn and his attitude was right, then he would try and stretch it out and see how the crowd reacted. Well, the crowd reacted well and so began the career of "Sugar Bear" Harris, later known as "Ugly Bear" Harris here in Mississippi when Percy Pringle began to manage him.
  If you were a wrestling fan during those days in Mississippi you remember this well. If not, then you remember seeing James as Kimala or maybe The Ugandan Warrior in territories such as Memphis, WCW, WWE and others. He became a huge star and I am proud for him! Super nice guy! For those that are not aware James has been through some very difficult times since November 2011 when he had one leg amputated due to Diabetes and high blood pressure then shortly after that had to have his other leg removed. We had a great talk today. His spirits are high and I was so glad to hear him laughing in that low, child like laughter I remember so well. Of course I had to pick at him a bit about some funny memories but it all goes back to the Brotherhood and friendships that were formed during those days. And by the way, the last time I actually saw James was in the summer of 2011 when I went to a match that Pork Chops promoted in Madison, Mississippi. I went just to see some old friends and "Kimala" was on the card in the main event. So happens one of the wrestlers was unable to make it and Chops had to juggle the card around a bit and asked me if I would do him a huge favor and referee the Main Event. Of course I did. It was fun. Another story for another time.
  Till next time, Stay Tuned! And, Keep In Touch!!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

FOOTBALL AND WRESTLING


  I have been sitting and watching football today and my Saints lost in the last seconds to the Patriots (BOO). Now watching the Sunday night game between the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys and I won't even get into the ridiculous name thing but if I were to comment on that subject I would probably say something like "Keep the damn name! It is a tradition, not offensive!" Anybody can find something to be offended by if they try hard enough and don't have anything better to worry about. But, I am not going to comment on that. So what do wrestling and football have in common? Besides the referees being blind sometimes and other obvious things such as come-backs, tonight's game jogged my memory a bit since this Blog is about Mississippi and Wrestling. There have been more than a few guys that played professional football then had careers in professional wrestling. I am not going to attempt to name them all because I would probably leave some out but I do want to talk about one in particular from Mississippi, Verlon Biggs, a Mississippi native that made the move from pro football to professional wrestling.

  Verlon Biggs was a young man from Moss Point, Mississippi who played college football at Jackson State and was drafted by the New York Jets in the early 60's, I believe he was about a 3rd round pick, and had a great career there playing Defensive End and was a key player in the Jets' 1969 Superbowl win. At 6'4" and around 285 pounds Verlon was known as a fierce pass rusher and tackler. After his contract ran out there in the early 70's he signed with the Washington Redskins (Keep the damn Name) and finished his career around 1974 I think in Washington. At some point he entered into professional wrestling for a short run of about three years and that is where I met Vernon.
  It was around 1979 or so when we had broken away from Mid-South and formed our own Mississippi AWA promotion and we were bringing in new talent that we heard that Vernon had been doing a bit of wrestling, I don't remember where he was at the time, but we got in touch with him and asked him if he would be interested in working for us. Former pro football star, Mississippi boy, made perfect sense. Well, he agreed but not on a full time schedule because he had other business interests at the time, so we booked him mostly around the Coastal towns once or twice a week, being as that was close to his home and the fans there were very familiar with the name and football reputation. He did not have a great deal of experience in wrestling but he would wear his New York Jets jersey to the ring and the fans loved him! I am not saying that he was not a good wrestler because he was, he just did not have the experience at the time to be a main event draw, but was a great guy to have on any card.
  So, watching the Redskins (Keep the damn Name) play tonight reminded me of Verlon Biggs wrestling in Mississippi for us. Another similarity between football and wrestling is injuries, especially head injuries, and some athletes taking cheap shots. Now remember when I talk about wrestling in Mississippi, I am talking about the way it used to be. Most veterans in each sport will work with younger athletes to teach them the right way and give them the knowledge of their experience, to "pass the torch". But you always have the "few" that resent and do not have the patience to work with the younger guys. Verlon was a big, humble, soft-spoken guy but had the misfortune of being in a match with a tough, temperamental wrestling veteran in Biloxi, Mississippi in his last match with us which ended up putting him in the hospital for a few days. It was totally uncalled for but, another story for another time. Gotta save the details for my book that I will hopefully finish soon.  Till next time my friends!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Paying My Respects

  It has been one week and three days since my last post so I am getting a little better towards my goal of one post a week, and I regret that I must start this one off on a sad note. Three days after my last post I got the news that Gene Petit had passed away. I knew Gene as Gene Lewis, who I met early on after I got involved in the promotion here in Mississippi. Some of you may remember him as Cousin Luke, The Mongol, or another name depending on the area you lived and which territory matches you watched. Gene was wrestling as the brother of Dale Lewis when we were booking talent through Leroy McGuirk and Bill Watts and after we broke away and formed our own AWA group Gene was living in Jackson, Ms. and came to work for us in many capacities. Also his wife at the time, Addie, had been working with us for quite awhile before we went on our own so the connection was really close. Gene would either wrestle, referee, or even he and Addie would help set up and run "spot shows" or when we were running two towns a night at times.
In my last post I mentioned that I was going to try and talk to a couple of guys that I had not spoken to in awhile and let you know how they were doing. Gene was one of those guys. I did not make that call soon enough. Sure wish I had. The last time I talked to Gene was when he was on Johnny Mantell's Blog talk radio show Mantell's Corral and I called in. The three of us had a nice long talk and a few laughs about our memories and experiences here in Mississippi. I think that has been a little over a year ago but I remember when we were signing off Gene saying "Gil, it was great talking to you and a big surprise. You made my day and we need to exchange phone numbers so we can chat some more". We agreed to do that but unfortunately the next "chat" never happened. I could actually feel the pain in his voice. Gene had suffered with M.S. for quite a long time but I could also tell a difference in his voice, one of happiness and joy when talking about those memories. I am sad along with many others for the loss but at the same time, I am truly happy for Gene that his pain has ended and he is now enjoying his ultimate reward. My thoughts and prayers are with his children, family and many, many friends.
  On a brighter note, I did talk to two dear friends of mine in the last few days that you all should be familiar with and  can report that they are both doing great! Pork Chops Cash and Izzy Slapawitz! We have all kept in touch over the years but it had been awhile since I had talked to them. Well, Chops said he is feeling great, no aches or pains, and when I told Izzy what Chops said his response was "He's a damn liar"! Typical Izzy! We all had a few laughs. I will have to tell y'all sometime about the match that Chops had with AWA Heavyweight Champion Nick Bockwinkle in Jackson, Mississippi that went "Over an Hour" (Gene was actually the referee in that match), the reason why, and some of the antics of Izzy! Great memories! I have one more person I have tried to get in touch with and will sure do it in the next few days. Have tried twice with no luck but will do for sure and give you a report on how they are doing next time. I do know Chops and Izzy have spoken with him recently and give positive reports. One thing I did after our phone conversations was to make a note in my address book of the date we last talked talked so that I can flip through it at times and see just how long it has been. That way if I see it has been awhile and I haven't heard from them I'll pick up the phone and call!
  If you were fortunate enough to have been involved with professional wrestling during the territory days as I was then you will know exactly what I mean when I say that it was truly a Brotherhood unlike any other I know of and it was a time when really great friendships were made that are never broken, even if you haven't spoken to someone in awhile, when you do, the connection is always there. If you were not, I don't believe there is any possible way I could explain it to you, so I will just try and share my thoughts and experiences with you. Keep in touch with your friends. Don't find yourself saying "I should have called sooner and had that chat", You may just make someone's day and bring a smile to their face.... and Yours! Till next time my friends!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

  Well, after almost two years I thought I would drop by the ole Blog to say Hello to everyone and let y'all know I'm still around. Been so long that it took me awhile to remember how to log myself in! And, I was amazed at the number of views that this little site has gotten and is still getting! Thank you all! It has received over 4,500 views as of this posting and over 130 views so far this month. Pretty amazing to me since it has just been sitting around out there in Blogger Land with millions of others I guess! I will try to do better and post my thoughts more often and to me that just confirms my belief that there are still so many wrestling fans that truly loved the days when Professional Wrestling was Wrestling, and run by different promotions in different territories around the country. The fans were fortunate to be able to see some truly great wrestling talent in their towns or a town near them on a weekly basis, and I was truly fortunate to be a small part of this here in Mississippi. Unfortunately, as the great song writer/poet Bob Dylan wrote "The Times They Are A Changing" and for wrestling it started changing when the territories started closing and the choices started dwindling down to what we have now. Basically two choices on TV and I'm surprised one is still hanging on, and maybe a live show in a town somewhere near you once every year or two. As I have stated before there are many Indy promotions trying to run shows around the country, most of which would be a waste of your money to attend if admission were free. I am not saying that there are not some very talented guys out there now because there are. The problem is that there are no territories out there where these guys can learn from the real teachers and wrestle every night against different opponents to learn to wrestle the right way. Enough on that for now.
  I want to switch gears a bit now and do something I haven't done before and give something a plug. I highly recommend that if you are not already a fan of this particular BlogTalk Radio Show that you tune in and give it a listen. It's called Mantell's Corral and is hosted by a dear friend of mine Cowboy Johnny Mantell. It is on every Wednesday night a 9pm CST. You can easily find it by going to Johnny's website, find it on Facebook, or just call 917-889-3845 Wednesday nights to listen and you can even call in with questions or comments. At times Johnny will have a special guest on but the main thing is that you will be able to listen to many stories about the good old days of wrestling, advice to the young guys out there and even about life, the territories, the road trips, and the ribs. Check it out!
  I know this has been short tonight but will back soon. I have a couple of friends that I have not spoken to recently but plan on doing so in the next few days and will update you on how they are doing. If you are reading this, I am sure you will remember them. Signing out for now but once again I want to thank each and every one of you for looking! You never know when I'll drop in again so STAY TUNED my friends!

Monday, December 5, 2011

More Thoughts on the "Indy" Wrestling Today

Ok, I have been "missing" for about 3 months now. Long story, but the short version is - my place got flooded in Ridgeland, Ms. on Labor Day, salvaged what I could and stayed in North Mississippi for a couple of months with no internet service, had to decide where to go from there, and the good news is, I have moved to the beautiful Mississippi Gulf Coast where I lived for awhile about 12 years ago, had always planned to move back here, and I Love It!! So, after getting back in the groove of being an official beach bum again, I will try and pick up where I left off in my last post.
  I had talked about a couple of Indy (Independent) shows I had been to, and about the wannabe promoters and wrestlers, who just don't have a clue. Well, I went to another one this past Saturday night and the result was about the same, about what I had expected. 30-40 people in attendance, half of the "wrestlers" should have been ashamed to even climb in the ring and attempt to convince the few fans there that they should be taken seriously, and obviously almost no serious promotional effort was put into this. Now, let's look at this from a promoter and wrestler view point. Let's just say I counted wrong and there were 50 people there. The ticket price was $8, or $6 if you brought a toy for the needy children at Christmas, which was a great cause. By the way, the "promoter" also wrestled in the main event and actually was fairly decent. I had never seen him before but there was an obvious crooked referee involved, which at the end brought out a good referee, which was to lead up to another match later on (I think they run this town maybe 3 times a year) and they are going to draw a big crowd the next time? Gimme a damn break here! Lousy finishes with no rhyme or reason. Back to my point, just say you had 50 fans that paid $8.00 to attend, which is a total of $400.00. You had 13 "wrestlers" (one wrestled twice) and 2 referees, plus 1 "manager", plus 2 lady "valets". Now if I added correctly, you have 18 "entertainers"? that should expect to be paid something. Well, let me back up here, you have maybe 5 that would I would even consider paying anything. The rest I would never even consider booking on a card that I promoted unless it would be to put a couple of these punks in the ring with a real professional wrestler that would stretch them and chew them up in about 90 seconds and have their butts carried out of the  ring knowing that they should NEVER, EVER claim to be a wrestler again, and should never even come close to a wrestling ring again unless they buy a ticket and sit in the back.  So, 18 folks on the card, $400.00 gross ticket sales, Now let's divide this money up. WHAT IN THE HELL ARE YOU GUYS DOING?
  For all the playtime promoters out there I will say this. You are giving such a slap in the face to any legitimate wrestling promotion out there that would come into your towns that you are putting on shows that are a damn disgrace to the sport. You CANNOT just say that you are bringing wrestling to the town and maybe, rely on Facebook to bring in the crowd! You  CANNOT have a card where half the guys weigh maybe 130-150 lbs with no clue of how to work and obviously have never been trained by anyone with real experience and knowledge of the wrestling business. AND IF you continue to book shows with this kind of talent that will work for nothing, then you can expect to get nothing in return. BUT PLEASE don't book it as "Professional" or "Championship" Wrestling, because it is not. You would be doing the fans a favor if you would just say something like "Hey, we have a little wrestling club where guys are going to get in the ring and pretend to be wrestlers, FREE ADMISSION, and if you are entertained at all and got a few laughs, you may leave a donation in the cup on your way out so we can buy these guys a coke and hotdog after they are through"! For all you playtime wrestlers out there, well... never mind.
  OK, now that I got that off my chest and ran my mouth on the subject, I will give you my calmed down opinion of the few wrestlers this past Saturday night worth mentioning. You had one masked wrestler, big and impressive, that I could tell knew his way around the ring and had probably been trained well. You had one tag team that I had seen before with potential that work well together, although the finish was not great and the team they worked against was fair at best. If these guys had the opportunity to work with some real talent on a regular basis I think they could develop a great deal. In the main event, you had the "Promoter/Wrestler" who actually worked hard and was not bad at all but again, lousy finish. The guy he worked against was a young impressive looking guy which I had also seen before and actually had improved somewhat. I think the first time I saw him he had only had a few matches, but he seems to be a good natural heel with potential. I just wish these guys could get the proper training.
  So, all that being said the bottom line is this. You have a few guys out there that just need to be working with better talent in order to improve. Most of the others should duck their heads and go home, and stay there. As for the promoters, they "just ain't got a clue!"
  Thanks for stopping by, more to come, and I welcome your comments!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

More Thoughts on the Independent Wrestling Promotions of Today

It has been a few weeks since my last post, I think I had brain-freeze or something, but now I am back and want to follow up on my thoughts of "Indy" wrestling groups that are running today. I first want to talk about two recent "wrestling matches" I saw (well, one I actually watched) here in the Mississippi area. Both were pretty much the same. Both were actually promoted by a good professional wrestler that most of you probably know. Both had the same problems. Terrible location, lack of wrestling talent and lack of promotion. The first show drew about 35 people and started about an hour after the announced start time. I counted 16 people at the second one, half I think were with the "wrestlers", I left at 10:30 pm (scheduled bell time was 8 pm) and they still had not started. They were waiting for the "late crowd" to arrive. By the way, this one was at a night club. You WILL NOT build a wrestling promotion like this! Just because you are actually an experienced  professional wrestler does not mean you can be a promoter. Just because you are an experienced promoter does not mean you can be a wrestler. Hell, I enjoy watching a good movie but, that does not mean I can be a great actor that people will pay money to see! That is just called Common Sense! Yes, there have been times in the past that these thing have happened, but that does not make it the norm. It reminds me of the TV commercial today where at the end, Alec Baldwin is sitting in the co-pilot chair of an airliner and reaches up to flip a switch or something. The pilot reaches over and stops him and then he turns towards the pilot and says "It's OK, I've played a pilot before"! This brings me to two main things that I have a problem with in some of the promotions running today that I know of.
#1. Wrestler/Promoter. And I use these terms loosely. Although they may be doing a pretty good job of advertising their shows, they are not doing justice to the overall promotion. If you have some young guys that do have talent and potential, Push them! Get them over with the fans! You are not helping them, yourself or the fans if you continue to put yourself in the main event as the main attraction! You need to realize that you may just be a young good-looking guy who knows "a few" wrestling moves, trained "somewhere" by "somebody", has some money, can cut a pretty good interview and want to impress the ladies, or you may be someone who has a basic wrestling knowledge, been in the wrestling business for a number of years, but never were a Main Event wrestler in any territory, can cut a pretty good interview, should have hung up your boots a long time ago, and you can now only waddle around the ring because you are too fat and out of shape.
#2. Failure to Learn. For any wrestler or promoter that says "You can't tell me anything about wrestling" or "You can't tell me anything about promoting" because you think you have done or seen it all, I have to feel sorry for you. My background is in promoting and, was fortunate enough to do very well for a long time. But the thing is, I was constantly learning from my father, as well as others. I made my mistakes. My father made his mistakes. Others made their mistakes. The difference is, we were always open to advice from others. If you agree, go with it. Try it. If you disagree, go with your gut feelings. That is the best way to learn. There are a few guys still around from my days that I keep in touch with and consider really good, if not great, wrestlers in their time, but the one thing I have never heard any of them say is "You can't tell me anything". Just the opposite. They will say "There were a helluva lot of guys who could tell me something, AND teach me something"! It's a bit sad that the true art of wrestling and promoting is being lost these days.
But, it may not be totally lost. I am hearing a couple of good things that are in the works in different areas, people that are sincere about doing it right. As a matter of fact, I am in the process of lining up a match here in Mississippi next month to help benefit a very worthy cause. The one thing I can promise is that I will promote this event to the best of my ability, and I will have a card with some really talented wrestlers. It has taken me awhile to line up the talent but I am very pleased with the guys I will bring in. I could have easily made a couple of calls and brought in a bunch of guys to get in the ring and do "something".  But thanks to a couple of good contacts, many phone calls and looking at many videos, I will have both seasoned and really good young up and coming talent. Whether 30, 300, or 3,000 fans show up, we are going to put on one helluva wrestling match! Looking forward to my next "learning experience"! Have a great and safe labor Day Weekend, Y'all!!

Monday, August 8, 2011

What's With The Independent Wrestling Promotions of Today?

I am not talking about the two big promotions you see on TV today, but rather the smaller independent ("Indy") shows that are popping up everywhere today, I haven't heard of any here in Mississippi in a while, but there were a number of them that tried over the past years. It's really sort of funny because I had a couple of different guys call me after we stopped promoting and ask for my advice on starting a promotion. The two things that struck me were; #1. "If you have all these questions and want my advice, how do you figure you have the basic knowledge or background to start a new promotion?" I never asked them this question because I would never want to come across as rude or intentionally insult someone's ability. I would listen to them, but this question was always in the back of my mind. #2. "If there were still good money to be made promoting and you had the wrestling talent to draw big crowds, do you really think I would have just walked away from it to leave the door open for someone else to step in and take over?" Now this question I did ask them at the end of the conversation. I wanted them to really think about that. I never told anyone they could not do it. I just wanted them to know it would be a tough road at that particular time. Back when we were promoting you had different territories and the promoters would pretty much respect that, and would even swap some of the wrestlers back and forth. You did have the occasional promotion "easing into" a neighboring state or territory, maybe because their TV overlapped and was seen there, or they were just wanting to expand, or maybe even out of spite. But, these issues were usually settled fairly quickly with no major battle or war. Then things changed. Vince McMahon, Sr. passed away and Vince, Jr. took over. He had millions, and threw the mutual respect out the window. He was determined to take over and had the money to offer the top talent from the territories to come with him. Whether they agreed with the way he ran his promotion or not, the money talked. Maybe more on that in a different post.
So, back to today. I keep in touch with some old friends from the wrestling business that live in different areas and I keep hearing the same thing. Wanna-be promoters trying to run towns with wanna-be wrestlers. The 'promoters' really do not have the background in the wrestling business and the 'wrestlers' maybe bought some boots and tights off the internet, practiced in the back yard with their buddies, maybe even had an actual wrestler train them a bit, and now think they are professionals. Ready for the big-time, trying to fly around the ring imitating the WWE. I am not faulting these guys for wanting to do something big, but the problem I have is that they are not representing true wrestling and the fans can clearly see this. I do not fault any of the guys in the big groups either. They are making big money. I wish them all well and hope they make zillions. But, they are not representing true wrestling either. They are entertaining. However, I do applaud WWE because they actually seem to be trying to get back to some of the basics. Very little, but it is a small step.
On the flip side of all of this, do I feel that the wrestling fans in Mississippi and other states will ever have the opportunity to once again see a return of "old school" wrestling  and quality promotions in their towns? There may just be a return. There may just be some good things brewing out there. Stay tuned for more on this subject in my next post. As always, thank you for stopping by and, your comments are welcome! Gil