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Lucha Libro a Smash in Indy

I have to admit, I had my doubts. It was Friday when I learned that the streets on either side of the Central Branch of the Indianapolis Public Library would be shut down Saturday morning. I was emailed a pass and given instructions for getting the police to allow me to pass through into the parking garage, but I knew that everyone who wanted to attend the Lucha Libro event would really, really have to want to get there to deal with traffic, road closures, and the parade.

My daughter and I arrived just before 9 am. Turns out we were one of the lucky few the police allowed to enter the garage. By 9:30, all vendors were being turned away and made to park elsewhere. The library staff was nervous. “The parade was supposed to be next weekend,” one of them told me. The guys who organized the event from La Sardina remained optimistic, but with only a handful of vendors set up and waiting by the time the building opened at 10 am, we were all wondering if the event would be a bust.

It was anything but a bust!

Lucha Libro was a first of its kind free event celebrating of Lucha Libre wrestling hosted in the gorgeous atrium of the downtown Indianapolis library. The event included vendors of wrestling memorabilia, arts and crafts related to Lucha culture, and of course, lots and lots of Lucha Libre wrestling. In spite of the traffic and parking situation, the crowd began to gather for the day’s festivities as soon as the doors opened. I don’t know where they parked or how far they had to walk, but no one seemed to mind. It was a beautiful day, and the families and fans that braved the traffic situation came ready to have fun.

The wrestling got under way around 11:30, about half an hour after it was scheduled to start, and fans were treated to some terrifically entertaining matches. There were plenty of masked men and luchadores performing death-defying aerials and acrobatic maneuvers, but there are some surprise treats that delighted the indy wrestling fans in attendance. Not only did Calvin Tankman put in an appearance, delighting the crowd in the “technico” role by squashing a “rudo” who insulted the crowd, we also got Dylan Bostic vs. Dale Patrick, a match my friend Randy (the guy who got me into wrestling books all those years ago) commented he would have paid to see.

It took the non-wrestling fans and kids a while to get into the spirit of things. The bi-lingual master of ceremonies, who did a tremendous job all day, brought the crowd along by explaining the good vs. evil nature of Lucha Libre and helping the new fans know how to play along. By the third match of the day people were beginning to get into the spirit, and when the first luchadore took to the air, flying over the top rope to land on an opponent, the gasp from the crowd was magical.

By the end of the afternoon, when technico Jake Omen won a title vs. hair match to save his long locks and win the Lucha championship, the crowd in the atrium had easily swelled to near 300. “Any independent promoter would kill for a crowd like this,” Randy commented.

Many of the fans who came early stayed for the full day’s activities, and folks who just happened to be visiting the library ended up sticking around as well. I had a fantastic time not only enjoying the wrestling with my daughter (who was seeing wrestling live for the first time) but sharing a table full of Jim Mitchell memorabilia with fans.

I don’t know if the library and the boys from La Sardina have plans for the future, but I would say the event was a smash hit. Here’s hoping this becomes an annual tradition.

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Hall of Fame Induction Sheds New Light on Stu Gibson

I just got back from the my alma mater, New Albany High School. I was in attendance at a banquet with Stu Gibson’s sisters Mary Lou Heinz and Linda Berger and my wife Jessica to induct Stu into the Hall of Fame. In my speech I told a story I have told many times before about a boy from nearby Jeffersonville and Stu’s car. You can click the link to read the full story, but here’s the paraphrase from my speech, as I was discussing Stu’s run in Louisville as a heel:

“While fans in New Albany and Louisville felt betrayed by Stu, hating Stu Gibson came easily to the fans of the Jeffersonville Red Devils. One night in 1952 when Stu wrestled at the Fieldhouse in Jeffersonville, a Jeff High freshman named Billy Tanner climb on top of the marquee sign in front of the gym and jumped onto the roof of Stu’s convertible, collapsing the top. Billy ran and hid with his friends to watch and laugh when Stu came out and saw the damage to his car.

“Three decades later, Billy told the story about Stu’s car to a work colleague, never suspecting that the work colleague was Stu’s brother-in-law. The next time Stu came into town, another lunch was arranged. When Tanner walked into the restaurant, Stu’s brother-in-law gave a signal. Stu caught Tanner in a headlock and said, ‘Do you know who I am? I’ve been looking for you for thirty years!'”

About fifteen minutes later a man named James Morris got up for his induction into the Hall of Fame. Mr. Morris was a staff member at New Albany for eight years, but he was a graduate of Jeffersonville High School.

“If you were to have told high school me I would one day be inducted into the New Albany High School Hall of Fame, I’d have said you were crazy. New Albany and jeffersonville hated each other back then. In fact we weren’t allowed to play each other in sports, except in state tournaments, because there had been so many riots.”

Then Morris added. “I remember Stu Gibson’s car. I disavow any role in the incident, but I saw the car!”

After the ceremony, Mary Lou and I made our way over to Mr. Morris, who reasserted he had nothing to do with the car but told us what he remembered. “I’ll tell you how they did it, though. We had a guy named Tiny Hall, who was probably 6’9″ huge guy. Stu had parked his Studebaker right by the sign. Tiny was the guy who lifted Billy up on the sign, and then Billy jumped down on the roof.”

Talk about serendipity.

Much congratulations to Mary Lou, Linda, and the entire Gibson family on Stu’s induction. Congrats to the innocent bystander Mr. Morris as well, and all the 2019 Hall of Fame class. What a great afternoon.

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Updated Fall Schedule

One show is in the books on my fall book tour. Here are your next three chances to catch me at a show!

Saturday, September 28

Lucha Libro at the Indianapolis Central Library – 10 am – 3 pm

An amazing event celebrating Lucha culture featuring artwork, films, exhibits, and of course – Lucha Libre wrestling. I will have books available for sale, and I will be bringing some of the Black Panther Jim Mitchell’s artifacts to display.

 

Saturday, October 5

Heroes and Legends – Allen Co. War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Indiana

I’m returning to Heroes and Legends with both Hurricane JJ Maguire and Mad Man Pondo this fall. We’ll have copies of both of their books available, plus other titles.

 

Wednesday, November 27

Midnight Girl Fight 4: Pick Your Poison – The Arena in Jeffersonville, Indiana

What’s better than a Girl Fight show? A Midnight Girl Fight Show of course! For the second year in a row, the ladies will do battle in the wee hours of the morning before turkey day. Bell time is at 11:59 pm, on minute before midnight, and this year’s “Pick Your Poison” event will be a mixed tag team tournament.

And yes, since it is Black Friday weekend, I will be offering some deals exclusively for the Girl Fight fans in attendance!

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Experience the Birth of Wrestling in Japan!

In the world of professional wrestling, no one packs a book with as much information as Scott Teal. His record books, chronicling the histories of buildings, cities, and territories throughout time, are dense with results, photographs, and stories from cover to cover. He’s co-written and produced so many volumes through his own label Crowbar Press, one could argue he is building the Encyclopedia Britannica of pro wrestling.

As daunting as these books appear at first glance, I can assure you, these books do not read like an encyclopedia. They are engaging and entertaining with a narrative that grabs you from page one and leads you on a non-stop roller coaster ride from wherever it is Scott and his collaborators pick up the story to wherever they choose to end it.

I was thrilled to receive a copy of Crowbar’s latest release Japan and the Rikidozan Years, co-written with Haruo Yamagushi and one of my favorite wrestling historians, Koji Miyamoto. Koji is a walking encyclopedia of wrestling knowledge himself, a delightful storyteller who (in the words of Lou Thesz’s widow Charlie) can tell you what Lou had for breakfast on any given day when he was in Japan. Koji and Haruo’s wealth of knowledge, combined with Scott’s flair for presenting the past, is a great combination.

Japan and the Rikidozan Years begins with the introduction of American style pro wrestling to Japan and ends, appropriately, with the death of Rikidozan. The story is told through results, through news clippings, through anecdotal stories collected by all three men from Lou Thesz, Larry Hennig, and many of the men who lived through that unforgettable era. Highlights for me included the discovery of Giant Baba and Antonio Inoki, the successors of Rikidozan; photos of The Black Panther Jim Mitchell’s protégé Ricky Waldo, who became a tag team champion in Japan; the story of Harold Sakata, an American wrestler who not only helped introduce pro wrestling to the island nation but pater portrayed the unforgettable henchman Odd Job in the James Bond film Goldfinger; and some remarkable photos featuring Thesz, Hennig, Freddie Blassie, the Zebra Kid George Bollas, and many more.

Scott tells me he’s after Koji to create additional volumes of Japanese wrestling history, and I hope Koji is game. This is a wonderful introduction to the rich history of pro wrestling in Japan, and it certainly whet my appetite for more.

You can purchase Japan and the Rikidozan Years and more outstanding wrestling books direct from Crowbar Press.

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Scott Casey’s Memoir Is a Ride Worth Taking!

I once heard someone pose the question, if you walked into a bar and saw Jeff Bridges seated at one end and Beau Bridges at the other, which one would you sit by? Most people would be drawn to Jeff Bridges, the big name star, the Academy Award winner with the winning smile. He’d graciously smile and take photos and sign autographs and bid you a polite adieu. But Beau? Beau doesn’t get the recognition and accolades of his brother, and he doesn’t get the mob scene either. If you want to encounter a star, you go to Jeff. If you want to sit and have a drink and hear some good stories, you sit by Beau.

There are many wrestling fans who only read the books by the big names like Jim Ross, Chris Jericho, Mick Foley, and Bret Hart, but the die hards know that as good as their books can be, it’s the guys from the undercard who will really tell it like it is. The journeymen with the shorter lines at the autograph shows are also the guys who will take their time to spin some truly great, untold tales. This is the case with Scott Casey and his new autobiography.

I confess Scott Casey was not a name I recognized when I first heard he was writing a book, but Scott is one of those men who worked very territory with every big name you ever heard. He cuts right to the chase, telling you just enough of his early life to let you know where he came from before settling in to tell you where he’s been. Casey has a story about every town he’s visited and every man he shared a locker room with, and his memoir is densely packed with one memory after another.

Casey has great stories about all the big names, like how the Funks helped him get his start, how a pre-Bruiser Brody Frank Goodish insisted on dropping the Western States title to Casey, partying with Ric Flair, and the time he invited Andre the Giant for Thanksgiving dinner, Casey also gives some great insights into folks like “The Grappler” Len Denton, Tiger Conway, Jr., “Killer” Tim Brooks, and Eddy Mansfield.

Casey’s autobiography reads less like a typical well-researched autobiography and more like a transcript from a night out at the bar with the author himself. At times I felt like I was sitting at a table in the Gold Coast Hotel and Casino and Vegas, home of the Cauliflower Alley Club Reunion, while Cowboy spun one tale after another from his long career. The occasional side stories from friends add even more color to the dusty trail he drove, especially the asides from the great Les Thatcher. This is co-author Nick Masci’s first crack as a wrestling author, and I have to say all in all, he did a great job capturing the voice of the Cowboy.

The book is only about 200 pages in large type, which makes it an all-too-quick read. It’s a book you’ll finish quickly because you won’t want to put it down. Fans who love a good rasslin’ story will enjoy this last ride with Cowboy Scott Casey.

You can order the book, signed or unsigned, exclusively at Scott Casey’s website www.cowboyscottcasey.com

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On the Road This Fall

I didn’t get out anywhere this summer because I was enjoying time with the family and finishing up JJ Maguire’s book, but I am happy to say I’ve got three road trips planned (so far) for the fall.

Here’s where you can find me, and here’s who I will be with!

 

Saturday, September 14

Kentucky Zone Wrestling in Shopville, Kentucky

KZW is JJ Maguire’s home promotion. I’ll be in Shopville with over 200 fans, signing copies of JJ’s book as well as my other books.

 

Saturday, September 28

Lucha Libro at the Indianapolis Central Library – 10 am – 3 pm

An amazing event celebrating Lucha culture featuring artwork, films, exhibits, and of course – Lucha Libre wrestling. I will have books available for sale, and I will be bringing some of the Black Panther Jim Mitchell’s artifacts to display.

 

Saturday, October 5

Heroes and Legends – Allen Co. War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Indiana

I’m returning to Heroes and Legends with both Hurricane JJ Maguire and Mad Man Pondo this fall. We’ll have copies of both of their books available, plus other titles.

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Now Available for Pre-Order!

The time has come!

The time is now!

Hurricane JJ John Maguire and I are proud to announce the release of his autobiography, My Life in Heaven Town on September 3!

This is the true story of a boy who went from Somerset, Kentucky to the Sunset Strip en route to the greatest show on Earth, the World Wrestling Federation. It’s JJ’s personal story of his musical journey, his time with the Gentrys, his glory days writing hit WWF theme songs with Jimmy Hart, his brief TV career on Thunder in Paradise, his run with Hulk Hogan’s Wrestling Boot Band, and so much more.

It’s an epic journey with cameos by Prince, Bob Hope, Jackie Gleason, Farrah Fawcett, Gene Simmons, Henry Winkler, Blackstone the magician, Patrick McNee, Vince Neil, John Landis, and many, many more.

We are now taking pre-orders for signed copies of the book, which will ship out on September 3.

Signed books will cost $20 plus $3 shipping in the US.

(For our international customers: shipping to Canada is $16, Europe is $25.)

PayPal accepted at johncosper@yahoo.com. Feel free to email with any questions!

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Four Steps to Finding Your Ancestor’s Wrestling Past!

One of my favorite things in this job is when I get emails from people asking me to help research their relatives. So many people have heard stories about a grandpa, great-grandpa or great uncle who was supposedly wrestler, and they want to know more. I am always happy to lend a hand in these circumstances, mining my own databases as well as searching the web, but I thought I’d share my own process for researching wrestlers of the past for anyone who wants to give it a try.

Step 1: Know Who You Are Looking For

Your grandpa might have been Joe Smith to the family, but who was he in the ring? Like actors and pop stars, many wrestlers adopted ring names to allow them to separate work from home. The first thing you need to know is what name they used in the ring. The Black Panther Jim Mitchell used his real name, Jim Mitchell, in addition to his Black Panther moniker, but Lord Leslie Carlton was born Leo Whippern and had previously wrestled under the name Tug Carlson. Maybe Joe Smith was Masked Samson, or Krusher Smith, or “Jumpin’ Joe” Flash. Knowing their ring name is going to be key to telling their story.

Step 2: Find Out Where They Were

If your relative worked for any length of time, especially during the golden age, their matches should be recorded on Wrestlingdata.com. This free website is far from complete, but it’s a goldmine of information. Not only can you learn alternate ring names and other trivia, you can get a general sense of where they wrestled and when, broken down by month and year.

Prior to writing Jim Mitchell and Lord Carlton’s biographies, I went through the records on wrestlingdata.com to put together a timeline of their careers. Again, these weren’t complete, and I was able to find some inaccuracies in Jim Mitchell’s timeline. (There were a lot of Black Panthers back in the day!) But the timeline gave me an overall sense of where these men were and when.

Incidentally, I already have a similar timeline put together for Wee Willie Davis and Elvira Snodgrass.

Step 3: Search for Their Story

Once you know their ring names and have a good sense of where they were, head over to newspapers.com. This is a pay site, unfortunately, but it’s not too expensive and well worth the cost. You can subscribe to the archives of many individual newspapers, or you can get a general subscription to all the papers on the site.

Once you’re signed up and logged in, the real treasure hunt begins. Type in the name you are looking for in quotes and hit search. You may not hit pay dirt right away, but if you don’t, do not get discourages. The search may need some tweaking. You can modify your search terms, filter by date, and even filter by state.

Be sure to try all the aliases you have for your search subject. Also, if you come across a misspelling of their name, try searching by that misspelling. You’d be amazed how poorly the old newspapers were proofread, especially the sports section, and especially the wrestling results.

It may take some time, but if you stick with it, you’ll get a handle on how to search newspapers.com and figure out the idiosyncrasies of the website and its archives. More important, you’ll begin to piece together the story of that sweet grandpa of yours, whether he was a fresh faced babyface or a dastardly heel.

4. Share What You Learn

After you start finding stories and photos from the past, share them. Share with family, of course, but join some of the pro wrestling history groups on Facebook and share them in the groups. Not only will you find a delighted and eager audience for your ancestor’s story, you may find new photos, new leads, and new information that someone else already has.

The pro wrestling history community is very giving and very supportive. We’re all working together to find the pieces of this long-lost jigsaw puzzle that is wrestling’s past. I wish you story hunters luck, and if I can ever be of service, email me!