NXT: The Best of Both Worlds

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. I’ve been on vacation, and I’ve been working hard to get Mad Man Pondo’s book ready for release. (We’re almost there, I promise.) Out of the blue yesterday, I found myself at NXT in Louisville, Kentucky. Long story short: I remembered why I fell in love with NXT originally, and I found an even deeper appreciation for the “other, other” WWE brand.

I won’t review the show, but here are some thoughts on an unexpected trip to NXT.

The War Raiders look like a tag team from a bygone era, both their look and the way they hit. I miss them in New Japan, but it looks to me like they’re doing just fine.

EC3 walks and talks like a face that could run the place. Only a matter of time before he’s one of the guys on the signage over the toy shelves.

Fabian Aichner has real potential as a heel. Great match against EC3.

Aliyah is a heat magnet she knows how to enrage a crowd, and she revels in it. I loved watching her introduce herself, only to get “Who are you?” chants in return.

Kairy Sane has to be seen live to be fully appreciated. She is electric. Even when she was at ringside watching her tag team partner Candice LeRae, she was always on. She also gave the crowd a laugh when she joined in on the “Who are you?” bit with Aliyah.

My happily married buddy Kevin Cordell says Adam Cole is his “boyfriend,” and having seen him live, I can see why he’s so infatuated. Adam Cole may be the most entertaining wrestler I’ve ever seen live. His psychology with the crowd, his charisma, and his sense of humor make for a killer combination. He played with the crowd the entire match, and they played back. He’s supposed to be the bad guy, but how do you hate a man who is that good?

Speaking of good, Raul Mendoza is a show stopper. I’m pretty sure most of the fans had no clue who he was when he made his entrance, but they won’t forget him. Props to Cole for making him shine.

The NXT tag division is outstanding, and so much better than the Red and Blue brands. After the opener between War Raiders and TM61, we were treated to O’Reilly and Strong vs. Lorcan and Burch. Both matches were terrific.

Kassius Ohno is still in my mind the most under appreciated man in wrestling. He does not have bad matches. And the Louisville crowd was solidly behind the man they will forever know as Chris Hero. Terrific match with Velveteen Dream.

It was a bit disappointing not to see Ricochet in action, but the Kentucky native received a very warm welcome when he made an appearance to hype his confrontation with Dream at Saturday’s Takeover show.

Nikki Cross is nuts, and her fans wouldn’t want her any other way. While sitting in a corner, she heard a fan shout, “Hey Nikki!” Nikki turned and gave the crowd her crazy eyed grin. “Kick her butt!” said the fan. Nikki nodded in wild-eyed agreement. No words needed to be said. She’s a non stop whirlwind of insanity, and I love it.

Shayna Baszler had more heel heat than anyone else on the show. All night long, the fans split on the other heels, especially Adam Cole and Velveteen Dream. There was no split with Baszler. She has pure heel heat. She’s going to do well in WWE.

Lars Sullivan is a classic monster in the French Angel mold. He’s also a terrific athlete. He had a war with Aleister Black in the main event that ended in a DQ win for Black, setting up their Takeover main event Saturday.

Major props to all the stars who signed the poster for the guy celebrating one year cancer free. After the first match, it looked like word had spread backstage, and everyone made a point to sign the poster.

Huge props as well to Aleister Black for his post match interaction with the fans. This was my first time seeing Black in person, and after collecting his title belt, he rolled out of the ring and started making his way around ringside.  He went around twice, posing for selfies with every single fan who wanted one. A true class act.

The NXT show took place at Broadbent Arena, a smaller venue than the YUM! Center Smackdown took over two months ago. The crowd was much smaller for NXT, but that actually made for a better show. The wrestlers engaged the fans more, and the fans were much more into the action here than at Smackdown. I didn’t hear a dozen disinterested conversations around me because the NXT crowd came to see wrestling. They are the Network subscribers, but they’re also the die hards who know guys like Adam Cole and Chris Hero and Candice LeRae from the independent scene. It’s a shame the crowds aren’t bigger for NXT, but then again, it would be a shame to ruin the wonderful thing NXT has going.

NXT has the top level talent and production of the WWE paired with the heart and spirit of the indies. It is the best of both worlds. 

A very big thank you to Kassius Ohno for inviting me to the show last minute. He was one of our very first interviews for Mad Man Pondo’s book before his return to NXT. After all these years of near misses, it was great to finally sit down and talk with him. Thank you again for your hospitality. See you down the road! 

More Black Panther Jim Mitchell Memorabilia Available

A few weeks ago, I made my second trek to Toledo to pick up more memorabilia from the Black Panther Jim Mitchell. This time around I brought back his matching set of three suitcases, chock full of programs, letters, photos, and other mementos from his life in wrestling and afterward.

As before, the owner wants to sell this memorabilia. I’ve started posting photos on my Facebook page, where fans and collectors are welcome to make offers and buy items outright. Anything not sold there will go on my eBay store.

See some photos below to whet your appetite, then head to Facebook or eBay for more.

Whatever Happened to Huperfulagas? Louisville’s Wild Kingdom

In December of 1908 a Louisville promoter announced a special attraction to take place on January 1, 1909. A man from Africa named Huperfulagas, who claimed to be a descendant of Zulu royalty, announced his intentions to wrestle a live bull bare-handed. The Louisville Courier-Journal covered the lead up to the match closely, following along as Huperfulagas assisted the promoters in picking his opponent from the Bourbon Stockyards on New Year’s Day. Huperfulagas expressed no fear entering the match, proclaiming he would not be in the slightest danger, while the bull, he vowed, would not suffer more than “temporary discomfort.”

Huperfulagas squared off against the bull the night of January 1, 1909, wearing traditional native Zulu face paint and attire “somewhat modified to meet the local ordinances.” The results of this match did not appear in the January 2, 1909, edition of The Courier-Journal, but 50 years later, after a flashback story appeared in the paper, a former Louisville police officer named H. D. Browning wrote into the paper to share the results.
Browning was on duty the night of the match, and when the bull was led into the Coliseum at Fourth and A Streets, he appeared to be half-starved and not at all interested in the proceedings. The so-called Zulu prince spent 30 minutes twisting the hungry beast by the horns, trying to bring the creature down, but when Huperfulagas began bleeding from the nose, police stepped in and stopped the match.

“We led Huper to a chair and he nearly collapsed,” said Browning. “The bull seemed more hungry than wild. If it had been wild, Huper would not have lasted three seconds.”

While the bull wrestling match is certainly unique in Louisville’s wrestling history, it was far from the only man vs. nature battle to take place. Here’s a run down of some of the most memorable beasts to work the town during Louisville’s golden age of wrestling.

August 10, 1937. “Hillbilly” Lem Stecklin defeated Maurice La Chapelle in an outdoor show at the Swiss Park Arena. Stecklin was a hit with the fans because his brought his pet raccoon Oscar to the ring with him.

April 19, 1938. Whitey Govro took on an unnamed 450 pound bear during the Allen Athletic Club’s weekly show at the Columbia Gym. It was the first bear wrestling match hosted by the promotion and drew 1504 people. Govro took the victory that night.

October 11, 1938. Oscar the raccoon made his second Louisville appearance at the Columbia Gym, where his pal “Hillbilly” Lem Stecklin defeated Dick Griffin.

June 30, 1942. Ginger the Wrestling Bear made her first Louisville appearance working against two men: Buddy Atkinson and Floyd Bird. There were many different Gingers over the years. This particular Ginger was a 305-pound Canadian Black Bear trained by Roy Welch, who later partnered with Nick Gulas to promote Memphis wrestling. After Ginger successfully defeated Bird, but the Atkinson match was a no finish. Atkinson mostly ran from the bear the whole time.

January 21, 1947. In one of the final shows ever hosted by Allen Club founder Heywood Allen, a Florida man named Gil Woodworth astonished the Louisville fans by wrestling a live alligator. The seven-foot “orgy of terror” thrilled and frightened the crowd of 7300 fans but was no match for Woodworth, who also claimed to have been a stand-in for Johnny Weissmuller in the Tarzan films. Later that same evening, fans saw Woodworth marry Miss Perma Crook of Ripley, Tennessee in the ring, with women’s rapper June Byers standing in as her maid of honor.

January 6, 1948. Tuffy Truesdale claimed victory over a 500 pound alligator. Truesdale (whose name was also spelled Truesdell) was an alligator wrestling specialist and later trained one of the most famous wrestling bears, the Coca-Cola loving Victor.

January 26, 1950. Ginger defeated Moody Palmer at the Columbia Gym when he fell 25 seconds short of lasting five minutes with the 370 pound black bear.

May 6, 1950. Ginger defeated Pete Peterson and Floyd Bird in a two-on-one handicap match. Peterson and Bird worked as a tag team against Ginger and lasted 11 minutes and 15 seconds before Ginger pinned Peterson.

May 1, 1951. Tuffy Truesdale returned for an encore performance and topped his previous victory by defeating an 800 pound alligator.

July 10, 1951. Farmer Jones made his debut in Louisville defeating Flash Clifford. Jones had a pet pig who accompanied him, and both Jones and the pig became regular guests of the Allen Club over the next four years.

July 28, 1953. Farmer Jones and his pet pig faced off against Leo “The Lion” Newman. Newman had an animal mascot of his own, a 210-pound lion cub, who regularly accompanied him to the ring. Sadly for Louisville fans, promoter Francis McDonogh would not permit Newman to bring the lion with him.

May 18, 1954. Ada Ash became the first woman to take part in an inter-species bout in Louisville when she defeated a 6-foot long 200 pound alligator.

October 26, 1954. On this fateful evening, fans were promised a match between Fearless Lawless and a 400 pound grizzly bear, but the match never took place. Slated to go on last, the bear was to follow the tag match pitting Cyclone Anaya and Guy Brunetti against Stu Gibson and “Mystery Man.” When the crooked heel Gibson and his masked partner stole a victory by unsavory means, Anaya and Brunetti staged a sit down strike to protest. Fans stomped their feet in solidarity, creating such a commotion that the grizzly bear refused to climb the steps from the lower level to the gymnasium. Said the Courier-Journal story on October 27, “The belligerent bear, at last report, was at the bottom of the basement steps, resisting the efforts of a half-dozen handlers to get him to his truck.”

Where Will You Be Friday Night?

Louisville wrestling fans are in a quandary. In the wake of Tuesday night’s WWE Smackdown Live show, they must decide which independent show to attend on Friday evening.

The action starts at 6 pm at Waterfront Park, where OVW will present their third annual Run for the Ropes outdoor wrestling program. This will be the first Derby wrestling show under new owner Al Snow, who has already caught my attention by bringing back Mitchell Huff. OVW never disappoints, and fans on the waterfront can catch the action for the price of a Derby Pin.

Sixteen miles to the North, another promotion with 20+ years in the rear view mirror is going live on Powerbomb.TV at 6:45 pm. Faced with two other shows on the same night, Ian Rotten and IWA Mid-South are pulling out all the stops, bringing back “The Baddest Man Alive” Aaron Williams to face Nick Gage while the newly crowned tag champs the Gymnasty Boys vs. the Impact tag team champs, OVE.

Perhaps its fitting that on a night when OVW and IWA Mid-South go head to head, the upstarts at Prodigy Pro Wrestling (soon to be changing names) offer a main event pitting an OVW original against and IWA Mid-South original. After months of simmering tensions, Flash Flanigan will finally step into the ring with Hy Zaya for what should be a phenomenal main event. Bell time is 8 pm for this event, giving fans a chance to make their way across the bridge after the OVW show to catch most (if not all) of the action at the Jeffersonville Arena.

Who will win the matches? Who will win the war for butts in the seats? The real winner Friday will be the Louisville wrestling fans who get out and take advantage of any of these three amazing wrestling cards.

Support indy wrestling. Buy a ticket. Bring a friend. Buy merch. This is a truly great time to be a fan!

In the Twilight of His Career, Cena Needs Bolin

It’s finally happening. Cena vs. Undertaker. Legend vs. Legend. GOAT vs. GOAT. Wrestlemania 34 will give us one of the most anticipated match ups in either man’s career, a match that will inevitably split the crowd into “Let’s go, Cena!” vs. “Undertaker!” chants.

Sounds kind of dull, doesn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong. I want to see Cena vs. Undertaker. I just don’t want to see a babyface Cena vs. babyface Taker. We’re already getting that with A.J. Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura in what’s sure to be the match of the night, and you know the crowd is going to split for Reigns vs Lesnar as well. Do we really need another marquee match up between two “gray” superstars?

I saw a commentary online this week that said the Undertaker should go old school, come back as the Biker Taker for this last ride. I’ll do you one better. We need Cena to go full heel. We need him to go back to his OVW roots, to become the heel he never got to be in the WWE. And just to make sure the smarks don’t latch on to this new heel Cena as their new hero, we need an insurance policy in his corner to make sure the fans know who the bad guy is.

John Cena needs the Starmaker.

Kenny “Starmaker” Bolin, the man who guided John Cena and nearly five dozen men and women from Louisville to the WWE, is the key to making Cena vs. Taker a match for the ages. Give him two weeks of cutting promos alongside his former protégé and legions of little boys with tears in their eyes will be burning their “Never Give Up” wristbands, T-shirts, and ball caps (thus guaranteeing Cena a nice, fat payday down the road on merchandise sales when he turns back babyface, I might add!).

Now let’s be clear. Heel or no heel, Cena does not need a mouthpiece. In fact Heel Cena in his OVW days was arguably more exciting, more electric than Big Match John has ever been. The problem is that while Heel Cena would lose the current “Let’s go, Cena!” fans, he’d turn those low pitched, “Cena sucks!” chants into cheers. He needs a lightning rod, a genuine heat magnet that could turn every man, woman, and child in the building against him.

Kenny Bolin once tried to donate a coupon to a strip club to WHAS Crusade for Children so the needy kids could get a lap dance. Kenny Bolin would tip the scales with the fans, setting the stage for a good versus evil unseen at Wrestlemania in decades. he would turn the “Face That Runs the Place” into a disgrace.

I know it’s just fantasy booking. The Starmaker is busy overseeing his growing media empire, and I don’t know at this point if even the McMahons have the money to lure him out of retirement. But what match would you rather see? “Let’s go, Cena!” vs. “Undertaker!” or Dead Man, Inc. vs. Bolin Services?

Kayfabe Lives at PWF

Most fans know that professional wrestling isn’t on the up and up. Kayfabe, that magical carny word that wrestlers used to refer to the secrets of professional wrestling, was declared dead in the early 90s.

Tell that to Nick Iggy. After terrifying a small child on the way to the ring Friday night at Pro Wrestling Freedom’s monthly show at the Jeffersonville Arena, a fan reached over the barrier Friday night and nailed Iggy in the head with a basket of nachos. An alert security guard working for PWF raced over to remove the fan, but before he could be led from the building, the fan received what could have been an accidental haymaker to the head from Iggy.

Did he swing for his opponent and miss, or was it deliberate? It was hard to tell, and that made for a beautiful moment.

Iggy wasn’t the only man to draw some old school heat from the crowd. Rising star and Owensboro, Kentucky native Teddy King is clearly the most hated man in the promotion. Fans wasted no time spewing boos and hatred his way the moment his music hit, and King’s promo had several fans in the seats ready to kick his butt. One woman was practically in tears, she wanted to strangle King do bad!

King’s greatest heat came when he verbally assaulted announcer Kevin Cordell and his wife Sarah. King pushed the couple so hard with his words, Sarah had to be restrained by four fans from climbing in the ring before Brutal Bob Evans got his chance to go after King.

Like Iggy’s cheap shot to the head, it was another moment that left you wondering what was real and what was not?

Every promotion in the Kentuckiana area is different. Everyone has its niche. PWF has long been the place to come and see not just local favorites but some of the most talented stars from around the country. Iggy and his partner Kerry Awful, the Carnies, have long been regulars at PWF, but this week fans were treated to an appearance by Kevin Ku, who currently holds the promotion’s Tri-State championship. Ku appeared in part due to PWF’s new partnership with Southern Underground Pro out of Nashville, and he successfully defended his belt against fan favorite Tyler Matrix.

Later that night, the Robo-Ginger Gary Jay lost his Pro Wrestling Freedom Heavyweight Championship to a very game Shane Andrews. Unlike some of the other matches on the card, this one ended with a tremendous sign of sportsmanship from the vanquished Jay.

Brutal Bob Evans was another special guest who delighted the fans with his dismantling of Teddy King. Some cheap interference from the outside cost him a victory, but Evans and Cash Flo got the last laugh in action that followed the bell. Evans also gave a seminar prior to the event that I was able to attend. Believe me when I say his class is a MUST for any wrestler who wants to make more money in the business.

PWF will mark its 2nd anniversary next month on April 13, and two matches have already been set. Cash Flo will put his career on the line against Teddy King, who will be forced to shave his head if he loses. The Carnies also face a stiff 3 on 3 challenge when they partner with Tripp Cassidy against the Bomb Shelter – Joseph Schwartz, Zodiak, and Randi West. The latter trio has something truly special going with their Bomb Shelter, and I see them breaking out as a faction over the next year.

Promoter Jimmy Feltcher ended the night by promising three more returns for the fans next month: Chip Day and Murder One from Atlanta, and one of Louisville’s favorite sons, Hy Zaya, who is already having a tremendous year at Prodigy Pro Wrestling. They also have a Tuesday show coming up April 27 in which Teddy King’s Lettermen will face a 3 on 3 match against Cash Flo, 2 Tuff Tony, and Mad Man Pondo.

You can follow Pro Wrestling Freedom on Facebook and Twitter.

The Starmaker Does It His Way

Kenny “Starmaker” Bolin was one of the first wrestling personalities to start a podcast. He was podcasting before most of his contemporaries, and he’s outlasted a good number of them. Over the last few years, he’s bounced from network to network, looking for just the right place where he and now his family can express themselves. It seems he finally found the perfect home: his own network.

Kenny Bolin has always done things his way, from managing wrestlers like John Cena to working the announcer’s booth at OVW. It’s only fitting that he be the master of his own destiny in the podcasting world.

This week marks the launch of the Bolin Alley Podcast channel on Youtube. Kenny, Jason Marshall, and Mayara will be broadcasting weekly on video (not just audi0) discussing wrestling, politics, and whatever else they want to talk about.

The debut episode of the new Bolin Alley is linked  below. And do NOT miss Kenny’ return on a special episode of the Stone Cold Steve Austin Podcast later this week when Austin and Bolin will discuss their favorite TV show, The Walking Dead.

Click Here to Watch the Bolin Alley Episode 1.

The Strangler and the Wrestling Writer

When I was considering writing a book about wrestling in Louisville in late 2012, there was one story tipped the scale for me as far as my interest. It’s the story of how on January 24, 1913, a wrestler known as “Bob Fredericks” arrived in Louisville two weeks after he was supposed to debut. When Fredericks (real name Robert Friedrich) no-showed on January 10 after being advertised, promoter William Barton used another man named Bob Managoff as Fredericks on the show, so the real Fredericks was unable to use his own name. No one knows for sure whether it was Barton, Fredericks, Managoff, or referee Heywood Allen who suggested it, but since Fredericks hailed from Wisconsin, it was decided they would give him a name paying tribute to the state’s wrestling hero, Evan “The Strangler” Lewis by calling him Ed “Strangler” Lewis.

A few weeks ago, I applied to register Eat Sleep Wrestle as an LLC in the state of Indiana. Call it fate, call it coincidence, call it a God thing – the official birthdate of Eat Sleep Wrestle LLC is January 24, 2018, 105 years to the day after Strangler Lewis got his name in Louisville.

Thank you to all the fans, fellow historians, wrestlers, promoters, referees, and other lovers of professional wrestling who have supported me in this endeavor. This is going to be a great year, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this crazy business takes me.

Celebrating Twenty Years of TV at OVW

Every city has an ego. Some can back it up. Some are over-inflated.

Louisville, Kentucky certainly has an ego. The people of Louisville brag about their status as a food city, as a college sports town, as the Mecca of horse racing, and so on. You can argue some of the points of pride the city of Louisville clings to, but there’s one that is undeniable: this is a professional wrestling town.

Louisville is not the first town you think of when you look at wrestling’s past. Most fans, including Louisville fans, think of places like St. Louis, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, or Memphis. Louisville was on the periphery of a lot of that history, a secondary town that brought in the best talent from St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Memphis. Louisville had its share of great moments, from the “debut” of Ed “Strangler” Lewis through the 22 year run of the Allen Athletic Club to the debut of the “Biker-Taker” at Judgment Day. But while many towns have cooled on professional wrestling in the WWE era, Louisville’s passion has remained.

Monday night the WWE marked 25 years of broadcasting Monday Night Raw. Wednesday night Ohio Valley Wrestling marked 20 years of television in Louisville. They went on the air before the WWE came to down to develop their future stars, and they have remained on the air long after the WWE’s departure. How many promotions today, let alone throughout wrestling history, can say that achieved that mark?

The Louisville area has remained a hot bed for professional wrestling for over 100 years. When the USWA closed down in the 90s, fans didn’t walk away. They turned to OVW and IWA Mid-South, a promotion that just marked 20 years and 800 shows. Louisville is still a destination for young wrestlers looking to train and get exposure, and with the opening of the Arena across the river in Jeffersonville, the opportunities have continued to grow.

Congratulations to Danny Davis, Rip Rogers, Dean Hill, and everyone who has made OVW a success. And thank you to everyone who continues to build Louisville up as a true wrestling city!

Read the full history of Louisville wrestling in Bluegrass Brawlers.

Remembering Ma Bolin

A lot of things were written about Ma Bolin in Kenny Bolin’s autobiography, from her status as part of a three generation wrestling manager’s family (managing Jerry Lawler against her son at Six Flags) to her affection for men in uniform. Ma Bolin was a character who raised several characters largely by herself. She was a strong woman, a tough woman, and in my experience, a very sweet woman who was truly loved by her kids and grandkids.

I met Ma Bolin the night Bluegrass Brawlers was released at Golden Corral. I had many nice conversations with her at the Corral when I would meet Kenny and his entourage for dinner. I always enjoyed seeing her, and any time Kenny spoke of her – no matter how crazy the story – you could tell he loved her deeply.

Ma Bolin passed away today at age 78. My prayers are with the entire Bolin family. She was a lovely lady, and she will be greatly missed.

Fans who would like to help with Ma Bolin’s funeral expenses can donate via Kenny’s PayPal address, KennyBolin@msn.com, or send checks to his address: Cherokee Rd. apt 1F, Louisville Ky. 40204. Please mark all donations “Funds for Ma Bolin.”