Rasslin’ lives at KDW

12227188_929057513815398_5586358663676153198_nThere’s something very unique about the way Kentuckiana Diehard Wrestling does their business. There’s nothing new about their brand of wrestling at all, but what they do is so old school, it’s a refreshing change for fans who have grown weary of “sports entertainment.”

KDW is a promotion run by men who grew up on rasslin’. Booker Vito Andretti grew up watching Memphis wrestling at Louisville Gardens in the late 70s, and he was trained by Danny Davis and Rip Rogers at OVW. “Many of the guys here were at OVW before WWE got there,” he says. “We came up with Dinsmore, Conway, Damaja, and (Doug) Basham. When Jim (Cornette) came in, he would make tapes of old matches with 5 pages of notes and hand them out to the WWE guys. They’d sniff at them and throw them in the trash, but we snatched them up and learned from them.”

The old school approach to wrestling means you won’t see young guys working hard to get all their spots into a match with reckless abandon. You’ll see Chris Alexander on the ring apron doing his best Robert Gibson impression, hyping up the crowd and pleading with the ref to stop the cheating while as his tag partner Dynamite Derrick takes a Ricky Morton-like beating in the ring. You’ll see Ravishing Rick Roberts go to work on Simon Sezz’s arm, taking advantage of an injury to weaken his opponent and beat him into submission. These are men who know how to structure a match, know how to engage the crowd, and know how to tell a story with their action. They have cowardly heels, prancing heels, and monster heels. They have scheming managers and fearless midgets. KDW is such a throwback, they even have a Moondog.

Many of the veterans at KDW are faces that old OVW fans will recognize. They were at OVW at the same time as Cena, Lesnar, and Orton. They still live by the lessons taught to them at OVW, and they are determined to pass them on to the next generation. Andretti teaches his proteges to go slower and work smarter, to pay attention to an audience, and to take care of their bodies. It’s wisdom he received from Danny Davis and Rip Rogers, wisdom they received from the generation before them.

KDW opened their doors in April of 2014. They started appropriately enough at the flea market in Memphis, Indiana before moving to the Arena in Jeffersonville this fall. They’ve been taping TV for months and are already on Roku’s Indie Wrestling Channel. Andretti recruited several former OVW students for their television production experience as well as their wrestling acumen, hoping to refine a show that is very much a work in progress. They just announced a permanent television announce team this week, and they have plans for more expansion in 2016.

KDW runs weekly in Jeffersonville at the Arena. Bell time is 5 pm, and tickets are only five dollars. You can also find them on the Indie Wrestling Channel, available free on Roku. If you’ve avoided indy wrestling, thinking it’s nothing but spot monkeys and young guys with no clue how to put a match together, KDW is a promotion that will not disappoint. It’s a veteran roster determined to keep the tradition of the past alive, now and in the future.

Kayfabe Still Works, Even in 2015

A few months ago, Ronda Rousey was everybody’s darling. She was a role model and and inspiration, especially to women and girls. So why was everyone so thrilled to see her lose this past weekend?

Because Dana White, UFC, and Ronda wanted you to want her to lose.

Dana White knows how to sell a pay-per-view, and he does it the same way the legendary promoters of the old wrestling territories did: with heels, baby faces, and a good story.

Babyface Ronda wasn’t the draw she once was, not after the fight in Brazil.

Ronda’s days in UFC are also likely numbered. Hollywood is calling. So is WWE.

How do you keep interest in women’s MMA from waning?

You turn Ronda heel.

You create an exciting new babyface when the upset occurs.

The result: UFC has a multi-million dollar rematch to sell and a popular new face in the “Preacher’s Daughter.”

Yes, I know, the fights are supposed to be real. But step back and see the big picture. Everything else – the press conferences, the personas, the promos, it’s all a work.

It wasn’t cockiness that kept Ronda from bumping gloves. It was the plan all along. Ronda worked the UFC fans like an old school wrestling heel. That’s why everyone is booing her and cheering Holly Holm.

Kayfabe still works, even in 2015.

Tuesday Night at the Gardens

If you’re a fan of Bluegrass Brawlers, you’re going to love this.

Jim Cornette has been working for two and a half years on a book about the Memphis era in Louisville. Today, that book is now available for purchase on Amazon.com and Jim’s website.

Tuesday Night at the Gardens is an in depth look at Louisville wrestling from 1970-1975. The book features complete results and more than 500 illustrations chronicling the rise of Memphis wrestling at Louisville Gardens. It’s a tremendous collectible for fans who remember the Memphis era and anyone interested in wrestling history.

If you order through Jim’s website right now, you will also get a two hour DVD featuring matches from that same era, absolutely free. If you’ve never seen the video compilations Cornette has put together (like his incredible Mid Atlantic films collection), you are in for a real treat.

Click here to visit JimCornette.com and pick up the new book and the free DVD. And if you haven’t already picked it up, be sure to get my book on Louisville history from 1880 to the present, Bluegrass Brawlers: The Story of Professional Wrestling in Louisville from Amazon.com.

Lawler vs Funk – Not for the last time

This may be the last time these two men step into the ring together at a live event, but it’s hardly the last time fans will enjoy their work. These are two of the greatest wrestlers of all time, rivals and innovators with a great history individually and as rivals.

Lawler is 65. Funk is 73. Neither man acted their age over the weekend, and that’s just the way the fans wanted it.

Mad Man Pondo goes to the library?

My friends at the Daviess County Library in Owensboro, Kentucky have been looking for a professional wrestler to come in and talk about what it’s like to work in the business. They have not one, but two guests coming on December 7, and they couldn’t have found a better choice.

Mad Man Pondo has been wrestling all over the world for two decades. He’s been cut, broken, split open, and electrocuted all in the name of entertaining the fans. He hosted his own controversial public access talk show and used to work for the king of controversial talk shows, Jerry Springer. He’s been a guide and mentor to many of the young stars now working the indies, though he’s too humble to admit it. He’s also the last guy you want in the car on a road trip, according to those same young men who have ridden with him over the last few years.

1797971_699268903502709_2186941647616043393_nPondo will be sharing his stories along side Crazy Mary Dobson. Dobson has only been in the business for four years but is well on her way to becoming a top star. She too is a world traveler, and in the last year, she’s wrestled for Shimmer, Ring of Honor, and NXT and was a main event attraction for Resistance Pro Wrestling in Chicago. She is currently a Tag Team Champion for Juggalo Championship Wrestling alongside Mad Man Pondo.

Both Pondo and Mary were featured in my independent wrestling book, Eat Sleep Wrestle. You can get the book from Amazon in paperback or on Kindle, but just like wrestling, nothing compares to hearing the stories from the people who lived them.

If you’re in the Owensboro or Evansville area, do not miss Mad Man Pondo and Crazy Mary Dobson at the Daviess County Library, December 7 at 6 pm.

New Hope for Louisville Gardens?

1101130843There’s a lot of buzz about the Louisville Gardens and a “hidden treasure” I discovered when working on Bluegrass Brawlers.

The treasure is a Kilgen pipe organ installed just above the stage area inside the Gardens. The pipe organ is also a one man band, with percussion and brass instruments incorporated into its workings. It’s a priceless treasure that, until recently, was in danger of being lost forever due to neglect of the building.

This week, both the Courier-Journal and WFPL radio ran stories about the building, the organ, and an effort to save them both. Click on the hyperlinks to read what they had to say.

Originally built as the Jefferson County Armory, the Louisville Gardens began hosting pro wrestling in 1913. Ed “Strangler” Lewis was one of the very first to main event inside the building. He was followed by a host of world champions and trail blazers including Charlie Cutler, Americus, Stanislaus Zbyszko, Wladek Zbyszko, Joe Stecher, Orville Brown, Bill Longson, Lou Thesz, Mildred Burke, Buddy Rogers, The Sheik, Fritz Von Erich, and Bobo Brazil.

During the Memphis years it was home to Jerry Lawler, Bill Dundee, Dutch Mantell, Handsome Jimmy Valiant, Jimmy Hart, Jim Cornette, and the Fabulous Ones. Louisville Gardens also hosted many of the WWE’s biggest legends before they were stars, some with Memphis and others with OVW. Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, The Undertaker, Kane, Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Rock, John Cena, Batista, Brock Lesnar, and Randy Orton all worked the Gardens on their way to the top.

Andre the Giant wrestled there. Bobby “The Brain” Heenan had his in-ring debut in the building. Bret Hart had his last successful WWF title defense before the Montreal Screwjob in the building. That same show was also Brian Pillman’s final PPV appearance before he passed away.

And yes, believe it or not, Andy Kaufman stepped into the Memphis ring inside Louisville Gardens.

Louisville Gardens is a beautiful building with an incredible history. The building and the organ are treasures that deserve to be preserved and enjoyed for years to come. Here’s hoping the Gardens has not seen the last wrestling match inside those hallowed halls.

Click here to view some photos of the organ on the Bluegrass Brawlers Facebook page. And please give the page a like while you are there!

America’s First Wrestling Star

It’s been nearly twenty years since Jesse “The Body” Ventura was elected governor of the state of Minnesota. Since that time, wrestling fans have wondered when a professional wrestler would make a run for the nation’s highest office. Donald Trump may be a WWE Hall of Famer, but he hardly qualifies. And even if he did, he would be over 150 years too late to be the first wrestling superstar elected to the nation’s highest office. That honor belongs to a Kentucky-born attorney who made a name for himself as a grappler in the 1830s. His name is Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809 in a log cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky. Kentucky loves to boast of its Lincoln connection, as does Indiana, where young Lincoln spent much of his boyhood. In 1830 Lincoln left his father’s household to strike out on his own, landing in New Salem, Illinois. He went to work for a man named Denton Offutt, a local merchant. Together with a few other young men, Lincoln traveled by flatboat to new Orleans to sell some goods for his employer. It was there that Lincoln first witnessed the evils of slavery, an institution he fight against in his later years when he entered politics.

It was during his employment for Denton Offutt that Lincoln became known as a wrestler. Offutt loved to boast of the strength and athleticism of his young employee. Standing at 6’4”, Lincoln was very tall compared to other men of the day. Had he lived in our time, it’s likely he would have grown to be 6’10”, giving him the size that Vince McMahon craves in his top stars.

Lincoln could not only walk the walk, he could talk the talk. A first person account of the time records that Lincoln once dispatched a would-be challenger with a single toss. After subduing his opponent, Lincoln called out to those watching, “Any of you want to try it, come and wet yet horns!” The challenge went unanswered, and Lincoln left the scene standing tall.

Lincoln’s most legendary moment came when he faced off with a young man named Jack Armstrong. Armstrong was the leader of a local gang in New Salem known as the Clary’s Grove Boys. The Boys were trouble makers known for nailing guys inside of wooden barrels and rolling them down hills. They were natural heels, the kind of men an audience would pay heavily to see brought down a peg or two.

Armstrong goaded Lincoln into a face off, and the two locked horns in the streets of New Salem. Armstrong underestimated his lanky foe, and when he discovered just how strong Lincoln was, he turned dirty. He started kicking and stomping Lincoln out of frustration. Lincoln snapped. He grabbed Armstrong around the collar and began shaking him like a rag doll. Lincoln tossed Armstrong a few times and left him lying unconscious in the dirt.

Some accounts say that the confrontation led to a truce between the two men. Armstrong was impressed and humbled by Lincoln, and the two were friends from that day forward.

The match also enhanced Lincoln’s reputation as a wrestler and as a man, and when Lincoln ran for office later in life, that reputation proved to be a major selling point for the voters of Illinois. These frontier voters loved a man who could stand on his own two feet, and in their eyes a man who wrestle would fight for them in Congress.

Lincoln’s chief political rival Stephen Douglas even spoke about Lincoln’s wrestling skills. Douglas would often praise Lincoln’s strength and skill as a grappler before going on to attack his positions on slavery and state’s rights. Douglas, like Armstrong before him, would ultimately lose to Lincoln, but unlike Armstrong, Douglas did not suffer the indignity of being shaken like a rag doll.

Lincoln was elected President during a very turbulent time in American history. He was the first man to run as a candidate for the Republican party, and it was the issues of the day that carried him to victory. That said, it would be a mistake to assume his past had nothing to do with his popularity. Like so many politicians before and after him, Lincoln’s celebrity, chiefly as a wrestler, earned him more than a few votes on election day.

Lincoln is remembered best for keeping the Union together while emancipating the slaves, but pro wrestling also owes a debt to Lincoln. Lincoln wrestled over 300 matches before trading grappling for politics. He was ahead of his time as a wrestler and a trash talker. He also broke ground for men like Jesse Ventura, Antonio Inoki, and The Great Sasuke, wrestlers who would use their fame to run for office.

After his death in 1865, Lincoln’s friends and biographers went to great lengths to make sure his legacy stayed strong. As with many early American figures, some of the stories of Lincoln were exaggerated to the point of becoming tall tales. Hard to believe, I know, but it is at least possible some of the stories of Lincoln’s wrestling prowess might have been stretched. Still, his reputation as a grappler was enough to earn him the highest honor afforded a pro wrestler. In 1992 Abraham Lincoln was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Although the induction came 127 years after his death, and although he is rightly remembered more for his tenure as President of the United States, one can’t help but feel Lincoln would have been honored.

Jim Mitchell vs. Gorgeous George

12019762_10205121748430414_4640876728029337564_nHere’s a great little piece of history, courtesy of Tom Burke. This is the newspaper article about the riot that began after Gorgeous George got “The Black Panther” Jim Mitchell disqualified during an August 24 match in Los Angeles. Not sure why Jim Mitchell is listed as Billy Mitchell, as I have no record of him working under that name, but I will be looking into it.

Jim Mitchell was a native of Louisville, Kentucky. He was an African American who helped to break the color barrier in wrestling. In fact Mitchell was wrestling before there even was a color barrier.

I’ve paused my work on Mitchell’s biography to work on the bio of Lord Leslie Carlton with his lordship’s daughter, but I am hoping to get back at it later this year in hopes of a 2016 release. If you have any stories, or know someone who does, about this forgotten legend, please pass the word.

A little gift for a Giant

Kenny Casanova’s running a small fund raiser for James Harris, aka Kamala the Ugandan Giant. James is a diabetic and currently spending 10 hours a day on dialysis. To help him pass the time, Kenny’s asking some fans to chip in and get him an iPad with Netflix. If you can give, please do.

I strongly urge you to pick up Kamala’s book as well. It’s a great read, and sales go to James too.

Click here to donate.

Thank you!

Take Your Spot, Ladies

11882266_1060478073985571_1326424868613623308_oThere’s a lot of talk about why Nikki Bella hasn’t dropped her Divas title, and whether or not she will break A.J. Lee’s record for most days as champion. I’m not going to speculate on WWE politics, but where some people see frustration, I see an opportunity.

Simply put: every time Nikki Bella walks back up the ramp with that title, the WWE opens the door another inch for someone else to take the ball and run with the women’s wrestling revolution.

The indies are already years ahead of the WWE in women’s wrestling. Is it really so far fetched to think that independent women’s wrestling can’t carve out a significant niche and fill the void WWE is too blind to see?

They have a saying in WWE and elsewhere: “You are not here to fill a spot; you are here to take a spot.”

Who’s going to take the WWE’s spot when they drop the ball on women’s wrestling? The ball is in mid-air. The time is now!