RIP American Dream

There’s a story in Eat Sleep Wrestle about Dusty Rhodes from Ian Rotten. Ian was in his early twenties when he booked one of his great heroes for IWA Mid-South, Dusty Rhodes. Rhodes proved to be a gracious guest, who called Ian a week later to thank him for the booking and the beer in his hotel fridge. But it was when they were planning their tag match that Rhodes made the deepest impression on the young promoter. “He said, ‘How about when it’s time for the finish, I throw you the elbow pad, and you do the Atomic Elbow?’ When he said that, it was like I could hear angels singing from Heaven!”

Dusty was always doing things to encourage the future stars in the business. Kenny Bolin share with me how open and accessible Dusty was for the students at OVW. “The sad thing was, these kids had all access to Dusty any time they wanted him, and none of them knew who he was.”

Dusty left a huge mark on the WWE stars of today. Very few of the new stars coming out of the Performance Center have not been touched or coached by the American Dream. His spirit, his passion, and his wisdom will be sorely missed.

There was no one like Dusty Rhodes before him, and there never will be again. He is irreplaceable. He will never be forgotten.

My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends and all who are grieving today.

Terry Garvin Wants to Rule the World!

One of the guys I enjoyed meeting while writing was Bluegrass Brawlers was Terry “Garvin” Simms. I first learned of Terry through my wife, an avid Reddit reader, who found an AMA (that’s ask me anything, for those of you like me who never go to Reddit) that he did one night. I got in touch with Terry through Facebook and then via phone. Simply put, he’s the most outstanding wrestling storyteller you’ve never heard of. He has a fascinating story of his own, and he has plenty to go around about the men he worked with. Still waiting for the right time and place to share one he shared with me about the Freebirds.

Thankfully for those like me who love good stories, Terry has joined the ranks of podcasters with his show World Domination with Terry “Garvin” Simms. It turns out Terry’s not only good sharing his stories but getting stories from some of wrestling’s biggest legends including Lance Russell, Handsome Jimmy Valiant, Doug Gilbert, Axl Rotten, Jeanie Clarke, Bull Pain, and Robert Fuller.

If you’re a fan of old time rasslin’, this is a fun, positive look back at the people and stories that made wrestling great without the usual lamentations about how the business “ain’t what it used to be.”

I’d like to send an extra special thank you to Terry’s recent guest Jimmy Valiant, who put Bluegrass Brawlers over not once, but twice on the show. I had the opportunity to meet Jimmy a few months back in Evansville and give him a copy of the book. I’m so glad he liked it and honored he’d give it such a great endorsement.

Must Read for Andre Fans

As You WishThis is going to seem like an odd recommendation for a wrestling blog, but it makes sense when you know why. I just read Cary Elwes’ memoir As You Wish: Inconceivable Takes From the Making of The Princess Bride. It’s a must read for any fan of the movie, but also for any fan of Andre the Giant.

The Princess Bride has been described as a film with everything you could want in a fantasy: pirates, giants, fencing, chases, escapes, true love. Not only does As You Wish deliver everything a fan of the movie wants, it delivers everything you want in an Andre the Giant tale.

Andre the Giant is best remembered outside the ring for his drinking, his smile, his humor, and his zest for life. Elwes gives you all that… and he gives you one heck of an Andre fart story to boot.

As You Wish will make you want to watch the movie again and again, and if you’re a fan of Andre, it’ll have you combing the WWE Network for memories of the Eighth Wonder of the World as well.

Hoosier Hero Stu Gibson

stugibson-sheik When I my family moved to Indiana in 1988, we immersed ourselves in Indiana’s proudest tradition, becoming fans of New Albany High School basketball. One of the players we saw every week during the 88-89 season was a young man who would go on to be a three time WWE tag team champion and two time NWA world champion, Rob Conway.

Rob Conway’s not the only NAHS alum to become a big time professional wrestler. Crybaby Chris Alexander (who was in marching band with me at NAHS) learned to run the ropes at the same as Conway. But long before either man set foot in Ohio Valley Wrestling, there was Stu Gibson.

Stu Gibson was an All-Indiana football player at New Albany High School, graduating in 1943. He played college ball at the University of Louisville. He was even made a Kentucky Colonel after leading the team in scoring in 1947.

Gibson was also a Golden Glove boxer, but after graduating from U of L, he chose to pursue professional wrestling, working first for Francis McDonough and the Allen Athletic Club. Gibson would work mostly as a babyface during his years in Louisville, but he was equally successful as a babyface and a heel, especially down in Texas.

Wrestling historian J. Michael Kenyon recorded one of Gibson’s most memorable stunts from the early 60s. “It was a small card at Victoria TX, where Gibson and Danny McShain hooked up in double count-out. It ended back in the corner of the building, on top of the concession stand, with Gibson spooning mustard into the semi-conscious form of McShain, amid veritable pandemonium.

“Okay, so what — but the kicker was cute: They came back a week later, in a rematch, with McShain refusing to wrestle until ‘all mustard was barred from the building.’ And that turned out to be the actual stip, with the fans forced to eat ‘dry’ hot dogs for a night.”

Gibson passed away in 1988. His story is told in my latest book, Louisville’s Greatest Show: The Story of the Allen Athletic Club.

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Kamala Speaks!

One of the most dominant, charismatic heels in wrestling history has finally spoken!

James Harris, aka Kamala the Ugandan Giant, tells his story in this brand new autobiography, Kamala Speaks. Harris has an amazing story, from his childhood on a share-cropping farm, to the birth of Kamala in Memphis, to his main event run with Hulk Hogan in the WWF. It’s an inspiring tale filled with humor, tragedy, and honesty.

Kamala Speaks was funded on Kickstarter, but for those who didn’t get in on the Kickstarter campaign, copies are now available. Go to www.kamalaspeaks.com to order yours.

 

“The Black Panther” Jim Mitchell

The Black Panther Jim MitchellOne of the wrestlers I discovered while researching Bluegrass Brawlers was a man named Jim Mitchell. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Mitchell was one of the early African American pioneers in professional wrestling. He wasn’t the first; that distinction goes to a former slave named Viro Small, who became a star wrestling in New York back in 1874. But Mitchell was one of the first African Americans in the modern era to break the color barrier, wrestling against white opponents for major promotions.

Early in his career, Mitchell wore a hood to the ring. He called himself “The Black Panther,” and he did battle with other non-white wrestlers. He was in good company, frequently doing battle with fellow African American stars Seelie Samara and Gentleman Jack Claybourne.

Mitchell was an athletic and gifted wrestler who proved he could be a draw. After a successful European tour and stops all around the US and Canada, he ended up in Los Angeles and became a regular at the Olympic Auditorium. Mitchell soon found the confidence to lose the mask and even wrestle under his real name.

In the late 1940s the LA promoters took a chance and put Mitchell in the ring against white opponents. Mitchell had to work these matches as a babyface for fear of what might happen outside the ring if he were a heel. It was still a risk, but Mitchell’s battles with white opponents proved to be a hit, opening the doors for others to follow.

His most famous battle took place in 1949 against one of pro wrestling’s greatest heels, Gorgeous George. After George tossed Mitchell from the ring, an angry fan rushed into the ring to take a swing at George. George dispatched the fan quickly, but when he did, the fans rose up and rushed the ring. George and Mitchell slipped through a hidden tunnel to the locker room while a riot, divided largely along racial lines, raged inside the Olympic.

Mitchell and George would meet many times in the coming years. Their in-ring rivalry was fierce, but in the locker room, there was no real rivalry. What’s more, the racism that divided the cities where Mitchell wrestled was non-existent in the pro wrestling locker room. The wrestlers, black and white, were bonded together by the sport they loved and a common adversary: the promoters who paid them. A 1954 account of an appearance Mitchell made in his hometown of Louisville describes a scene where white wrestlers rose to embrace and shake hands with the returning hero.

Mitchell worked a little as a referee in his later years in the business, and he also traveled with future Hall of Famer Bobo Brazil. After retiring from the ring, Mitchell opened a store in the Toledo area called Black Panther Carryout. The walls of the store featured photos and memorabilia from Mitchell’s career, and locals would come in to talk wrestling in addition to shopping. He passed away in 1996 at the age of 87.

Mitchell is an unsung pioneer in the history of pro wrestling. He deserves to be in the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame as well as the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame.

Jim’s story is told in part in Louisville’s Greatest Show. I’m continuing my research on Jim Mitchells, and my hope is that I can eventually tell his full story. I’m looking for photos, programs, videos, stories, anything I can get my hands on. I’m also hoping to find some folks with first or second hand stories about the man, whether they come from relatives or the relatives of other wrestlers who worked with him.

If you’ve stumbled on this page and you have information about The Black Panther Jim Mitchell, please contact me at johncosper@yahoo.com. I would love to hear from you!

The Fall Guys – A must read for iBook users

When I was working on Bluegrass Brawlers, one of the books recommended to me by Jim Cornette was Fall Guys by Marcus Griffin. Published in 1937, Fall Guys was the first book to expose professional wrestling as a work. Griffin chronicles the inner workings of the Goldust Trio (Strangler Lewis, Billy Sandow, and Toots Mondt) in great detail and gives you an insider’s view of professional wrestling in the early 20th century.

I finally had a chance to pick up and read this book, and it’s a tremendous read. It’s a fascinating look at the origins of many of pro wrestling’s unique language and traditions.

Fall Guys is out of print, and not available on Amazon. It is, however, available on iBooks, and it’s worth the cover price.

Click here to buy Fall Guys on iTunes.