Dan Gable: A Wrestling Life

Before I left Iowa last week, I picked up a signed copy of Dan Gable’s book, A Wrestling Life. This is not simply one of the very best wrestling books I have ever read, it’s one of the most motivational and inspiring books I’ve ever read.

If the name Dan Gable is not familiar to you, I’ll bring you up to speed. Gable was an NCAA champion at Iowa State University and an Olympic gold medalist at the 1972 Winter Games. After winning gold, Gable retired from wrestling and went into coaching. He won fifteen NCAA team titles for the Iowa Hawkeyes, including an astonishing nine in a row during the 1980s. He is considered not only one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, but one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century.

Gable never stepped into world of pro wrestling, but that shouldn’t deter anyone – wrestling fan or no – from reading this book. A Wrestling Life is less an autobiography and more a collection of stories about Gable’s life. He discusses everything from losing his last match in college to winning gold to the shocking murder of his sister when he was only a teenager.

Gable is raw and honest at all turns, and his enthusiasm for wrestling and teaching shines through every chapter. Gable’s relentless drive to be the best at what he did will have you examining your own life and seeking the same kind of motivation to fulfill your own dreams.

A Wrestling Life was a quick and inspiring read, one I will probably revisit again soon. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

You can find A Wrestling Life by Dan Gable on Amazon.com, but may I strongly suggest you bypass Amazon and support the Dan Gable Museum and National Wrestling Hall of Fame by purchasing through their website instead.

Why You Need to Visit the National Wrestling Hall of Fame

Waterloo, Iowa might just be the center of the wrestling universe. The city lives and breathes wrestling. The President’s Hotel, now an apartment complex, was the birthplace of the National Wrestling Alliance, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg in Waterloo. This city loves wrestling at all stages: high school, college, Olympic, and pro. Waterloo is the hometown of Dan Gable, a man considered by many to be the greatest wrestler of all time and one of the greatest sportsmen of the 20th century. It is also home to the museum that bears Gable’s name: The National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum.

The name is quite a mouthful, but the museum, which doesn’t look all that big from the outside, is just as jam packed as the name it bears. Located just up the street from the old President’s Hotel, the Dan Gable Museum is a shrine to wrestling’s past and present. The museum pays homage to the champions of NCAA wrestling and Olympic wrestling (including Indiana University’s Billy Thom) as well as the legends and icons of professional wrestling. It is dedicated to preserving the past while inspiring wrestlers at all levels for the future.

The pro wrestling wing of the museum features an impressive number of rare artifacts going back to the days of Frank Gotch and George Hackenschmidt. A trunk belonging to Gotch is on display in the gallery near Lou Thesz’s robe and title belt.

You’ll see robes belonging the multiple generations of the Henning family and the legendary Tiger Man, Joe Pesek. A marble statue with a fascinating backstory that once belonged to Thesz sits in the same gallery as does one of three death masks made of the original French Angel, Maurice Tillet. Modern fans will also find a spinner belt signed by John Cena, the singlet worn by Kurt Angle when he won a gold medal with a “broken freakin’ neck,” and the signature black and pink jacket once worn by Bret Hart.

The Dan Gable Museum has exhibit areas devoted to Olympic wrestling, NCAA wrestling, and the history of wrestling itself, starting with one wall dedicated to the legendary confrontation between Jacob and an angel in the book of Genesis. Other highlights included several posters for the Barnum and Bailey “At Show” wrestling exhibitions, some beautiful original art work paying tribute to the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame inductees, and this unique artifact from Brock Lesnar’s pre-WWE days as an NCAA champion in Minnesota.

The Dan Gable Museum is more than just a place to learn about wrestling. They also host clinics on a weekly basis in the Dan Gable Teaching Center, an area they plan to expand in the coming year. The museum has $1.7 million dollars in planned renovations now starting, including interactive exhibits in the pro wrestling wing. Museum director Kyle Klingman gave me a quick tour of the storage area where even more amazing wrestling artifacts are waiting their turn to be put on display in the galleries above.

If your summer plans are still flexible, here’s another reason to plan a quick trip to Waterloo: the museum is hosting their second annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony in less than two weeks. Special guests for the July 20-22 festivities include Jim Ross, Shelton Benjamin, Chuck Taylor, B. Brian Blair, American Alpha, Sabu, Paul Orndorff, Magnum T.A., Larry Henning, Baron von Raschke, J.J. Dillon, Gerry Briscoe, and the museum’s namesake himself, Dan Gable.

The National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum is located in Waterloo, Iowa, and is open Monday through Friday from 9 AM to 5 PM. For more information visit their website or find them on Facebook.

Yes, it’s off the beaten path. Yes, it’s out of the way. Yes, it’s absolutely worth the effort. I know I’ll be back again soon.

Faces to Watch the Second Half of 2017

2017 has been an amazing year in independent wrestling. Half way through the year, Billy Corgan has assumed control of the NWA, Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force has overtaken Impact, and NJPW has begun its conquest of America.

It’s been a spectacular year at all levels of independent wrestling. Here are a few names and faces you need to be watching as we enter the second half of the year.

NICK DEPP

Nick Depp began the year by winning The Prince of the Deathmatches – and promptly found himself on the sidelines nursing an injury. The temporary set back hasn’t slowed him down  a bit. “The Sports Entertainer” is expanding his territory and gaining new ground not only due to his in-ring work, but his skills on the mic. Depp cuts an amazing promo as a face but especially as a heel. His mouth is going to take him far.

ALEX DANIELS

“The Real Ben Affleck” is the talk of the independent wrestling podcasts, and with good reason. Take away the Ben Affleck gimmick, he is one of the brightest and most talented workers in the Midwest. One observer told me privately he thinks Daniels will be in Ring of Honor in just a few years. The Ohio native is expanding his territory as well, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets his big break.

MICKIE KNUCKLES

Mickie is no rookie. She’s been around for 17 years, breaking ground the WWE’s women are only now beginning to tread. Mickie has caught fire in 2017. She headlined a spectacular main event in Ft. Wayne covered in my blog back in April for Girl Fight. She and Randi West stirred controversy in Southern Indiana with a brutal falls count anywhere match. To top it all off, she just won the OVW Women’s Championship. This is Mickie’s year, and no one can stop her.

AMAZING MARIA

A Canadian transplant working out of Louisville, Kentucky, Amazing Maria is one of the most under-rated women in the women’s scene. Her skills in the ring are solid, and her character work as a heel improve with every outing. Whether she’s on her own, paired with Samantha Heights, or partnered with Horrorshow manager Jason Saint, Amazing Maria is a stand out on every show.

OI4K

I’ve been a fan of the Crist brothers, Dave and Jake, ever since they yanked the tag titles away from Aaron Williams and Ron Mathis at D1W a few years ago. Not only have they become regulars at IWA Mid-South, they’re making appearances for PWG in Los Angeles. Dave Crist has had an exceptional year, despite some injuries, having won the IWA Mid-South Championship and CZW’s Best of the Best 2017. A fellow wrestler told me he doesn’t think they’ll be exclusive to the Midwest for long. I couldn’t agree more.

INDY CARD MAFIA

The tag team of Thomas Brewington and Eric Emanon is starting to make deep inroads in the South and the Midwest. They put the southern territories on notice a few weeks ago when they invaded Atlanta’s AWE and shocked everyone by earning a victory over the red hot Carnies (another must see tag team, I might add). “Do we have your attention now?” Emanon asked on Facebook. Yes, sir, you do.

THE HITMAN FOR HIRE MR. GRIM

Mr. Grim is something special. His combination of speed, power, and high-flying make him a must-see attraction, but that’s not the reason you want to see this man live. You want to know what’s in the briefcase. You want to see what happens when the Hitman for Hire claims a victim. Grim is coming, and he’s headed your way sooner than you think.

KONGO KONG

Kong has already made the leap from indy darling to TV star, and his star’s about to get brighter. Kongo Kong was one of Jeff Jarrett’s early signees for Global Force Wrestling. Now, with GFW taking over and Jarrett firmly in control, there is no stopping the big man.

Please note: This is by no means a comprehensive list of the up and coming rising stars in independent wrestling. If you have a favorite you want to add to this list, please comment below. Let’s let the casual wrestling fans of the world know why they need to tune in to independent wrestling.

Lost Episodes on the KOAT Podcast

What once was lost has now been found. Righteous Jesse, the Wilkman, and Bonnaroo Brittany are very, very sorry for losing these but happy to announce that at long last, their lost interviews with Aaron Space and Kevin Zaxby have been found.

You can heard Aaron and Kevin on this week’s KOAT Podcast, available every Friday on iTunes, Stitcher, and Soundcloud.

Just a quick note, I won’t be sharing the weekly KOAT shows on Fridays going forward. I’m planning to try a few different things with the blog in the coming months, but I’ll still be sharing the weekly KOAT updates on social media.

I’ve said this many times and I mean it. There’s no better podcast to get you up to speed on who’s who in the independent wrestling scene than Kick Out at Two!

The First First Lady of Louisville Wrestling

Louisville, Kentucky is unique among wrestling cities because it is one of the few cities to have a female promoter. Teeny Jarrett never served as the booker for Memphis Wrestling, but there was no doubt she was the boss. She kept the fans happy, the wrestlers in line, and the Kentucky Athletic Commissioner at bay for more than two decades. She even gave breaks to a few of Louisville’s most famous wrestling faces, including a Louisville police officer named Dean Hill and a a young teenage photographer named Jim Cornette.

It’s unusual for a city to have one woman serving such a powerful role in a wrestling promotion, but Jarrett wasn’t the first woman to do so. Thirty five years before Teeny’s son Jerry began running at the Louisville Gardens, a pretty young Kindergarten teacher signed her name on the dotted line, becoming a partner and owner of a professional wrestling promotion.

When Heywood Allen went into business for himself, forming the Allen Athletic Club in 1935, a Betty McDonogh made a pretty big leap of her own. The newlywed bride of Allen’s press secretary, former Louisville Sports writer Francis “Mac” McDonogh, left her chosen vocation to become the ticket office manager for the new wrestling promotion. It was a huge risk for her and her husband, but it was a risk that paid dividends for the McDonoghs and the Allen Athletic Club.

Miss Betty, as she was known by the fans, was a remarkable woman with a keen nose for business and marketing. Over the years Betty created and maintained a massive card file of the regular wrestling patrons. She not only had names, addresses, and telephone numbers, she knew where they preferred to sit, what type of matches they enjoyed most, and other details that helped her sell more tickets and keep everyone happy.

Betty kept a relentless schedule, managing a family at home as well as running the business of the promotion. In the late 1940s she gave an interview to the Courier-Journal and outlined a typical day:

7:15 AM – Prepare breakfast.

8:30 – Drop her son Allen at school, return home for house cleaning.

9:15 – Leave home and head to the ticket office.

11:40 – Pick up Allen at school and take him home for lunch. After lunch, drop Allen with his grandmother and return to the office.

1:30 – Back in the office.

5:30 – Leave the office and head home to prepare dinner, unless it’s a show night.

On show nights, Betty was there before the fans to run the ticket table. She greeted everyone personally, many by name, and after the last patron was admitted, it was her job to count the gate. Betty usually stayed until 12:30 or 1 AM to finish up Club business before returning to the McDonogh apartment in Shawnee Park, only to get up at 7 AM the next day and start again.

Betty loved her job, and even as business grew, she refused to cede her responsibilities to anyone – save for a brief hiatus in 1942, when she became a mother to Allen, who was named after Heywood. Betty rarely got to see any of the matches, but she met everyone who worked for the Club and enjoyed their company, describing them as “always very courteous and intelligent nowadays since most are college graduates.”

Fans were often surprised to learn that it was Betty, not Mac, whose name was listed as one of the owners of the Allen Club. From the very beginning, the McDonoghs held a stake in the promotion, and Mac made sure their ownership was in Betty’s name. Betty more than earned her keep as a valued member of the team, especially in the late 1930s.

When business took a dive in 1938, it was Betty, along with Allen’s wife Mabel, who pointed out the lack of females in the crowd. Betty and Mabel believed that the Club could do more to attract female patrons to the matches, and with Mr. Allen’s blessing, they went to work.

Betty suggested giveaways for the ladies including flowers, candy, and other free gifts. They also instituted a “Ladies Night,” when women were admitted free. They also convinced Allen to begin tossing out the rowdier fans who made female patrons uncomfortable. Allen admitted that he often felt the shows were no place for a lady, especially when the fans got out of hand, and he consented to policing the crowd and removing offenders.

Betty’s efforts began to pay off slowly but surely. Beginning in 1939 and continuing through the war (when many of the male patrons were overseas fighting), attendance began to rise. By the mid 1940s the Allen Club was drawing 55% women on Tuesday nights. Louisville was one of the hottest towns in the country, drawing 4000 to 6000 fans for special events at the Armory. Betty was exceedingly proud of her accomplishments.

In 1947 Betty and her husband took another risk, buying out Heywood Allen when he chose to retire from the fight game. It was a calculated risk for Mac because he knew he had a solid business partner by his side. While Mac remained the public face of the Allen Club, Betty continued to manage the box office and handle the money on show nights. The McDonoghs were active in the Louisville community, supporting numerous local charities and events. They frequently hosted wrestlers in their home, and top stars like Baron Leone were their guests at the Kentucky Derby.

Betty took time away only twice: to give birth to their son Gary, and to care for her ailing husband when Mac was diagnosed with cancer in 1946. When Mac passed away in May of 1947, Betty sold the Allen Athletic Club to former Louisville baseball player Al LeCompte. The combination of the ownership change and a forced change of venue brought the promotion to a swift end.

Surprisingly, Betty almost went back into the business a year later. Wee Willie Davis, a wrestler/ movie star/ famous game show winner moved to down and decided to open up a promotion of his own to fill the void. Betty agreed to partner with Davis on his first promotion, and the two applied for a license for what became known as the name Golden Rod Club.

Golden Rod ran for only a few years. When the business closed, Davis went on to open another promotion in conjunction with Dick the Bruiser in Indianapolis. Betty quit the business and went back to teaching, but she remained a member of the ticket sellers union. Gary recalls traveling all over town with her while she sold tickets for this show and that.

Betty made sure her boys got a great education, and both of them made her proud. Dr. Gary McDonogh is a professor of anthropology at Bryn Mawr College, and Dr. Allen McDonogh is a retired professor of political science. Allen and his ex-wife Dr. Karen O’Connor, herself a professor of Political Science at American University, have a daughter named Meghan O’Connor McDonogh who earned her doctorate in Sports Management at the University of Louisville and is now the Associate Athletic Director at the Catholic University of America.

Meghan made her own impact on Louisville’s sports scene as a graduate student at U of L. After founding a club program for women’s lacrosse at the University of Georgia, she began a similar program when she arrived at U of L. Women’s Lacrosse has since become part of the school’s growing Division I athletics program and is growing in popularity among Louisville area high schools.

“I recall a time when my daughter was growing up and she and her friends were caught up with the mega-wrestling,” Allen McDonogh told me. “All were stunned to find I knew anything about wrestling.”

Sadly, neither Karen nor Meghan ever had the opportunity to know Miss Betty. Betty McDonogh passed away in 1971, before Allen and Karen met. She is buried in Calvary Cemetery in Louisville next to her beloved husband.

No doubt Betty McDonogh’s proudest legacy is her family, but the legacy of the Allen Athletic Club owes as much to her as to Allen and Mac. Betty was there from day one as an owner and a partner. She knew the Louisville audience better than anyone, and her tireless efforts kept the Columbia Gym full in good times and bad. If there were a Hall of Fame for Pro Wrestling in Kentucky, Betty would deserve a place of honor alongside her husband and the Allen Club’s namesake. She is, without a doubt, the First First Lady of Louisville Wrestling.

Read more about Francis and Betty McDonogh in Louisville’s Greatest Show: The Story of the Allen Athletic Club.

Two for one on Kick Out at Two this weekend

Kick Out at Two Podcast brings you not one but two guests this weekend. Returning guest Tripp Cassidy makes an appearance to talk about the upcoming Dynamite Cup. The gang also talks to women’s wrestling star Angelus Layne at Punk Pro’s Get In the Pit.

Having seen both of these wrestlers in person, this is an episode I’m looking forward to. Great people, amazing stories. Discover what you’re missing by not visiting your local independent wrestling promotion.

Download the Kick Out at Two Podcast every weekend on iTunes, Stitcher, and Soundcloud.

Talkin’ the Business and Rasslin’ Memories

Whether you’re a fan of wrestling past or wrestling present, there are some amazing podcasts out there to please every wrestling fan. In the last few weeks, I had the privilege of visiting two of them.

Rasslin’ Memories was the first podcast that hosted me when I released Bluegrass Brawlers. Glen Braget and George Schire do a fantastic job chronicling the golden age of wrestling, and it as a pleasure to visit with Glen to talk about Louisville’s Greatest Show. Rasslin’ Memories has had a terrific run as of late, featuring guests like Pretty Boy Doug Sommers and Bob Backlund as well as authors Richard Vicek (Dick the Bruiser‘s biographer) and Dan Murphy (Sisterhood of the Squared Circle).

You can download Rasslin’ Memories from their website on Pioneer 90.1 Radio.

On the other end of the spectrum is Talkin’ the Business with KC and Dave, a podcast that thrives on telling the stories of today’s independent wrestlers. Kevin and Dave begin each show with some solid commentary on WWE, and they have had some terrific guests as of late including two of my favorites, Mr. Grim and Mickie Knuckles. This week Kevin and I talk a little recent Louisville history discussing the 20+ year legacy of OVW and IWA Mid-South. You can also get to know a young Ohio-based wrestler named Alex Daniels on this week’s show. Also known as “The Real Ben Affleck,” Daniels is a rising star with a bright future.

Talkin’ the Business can be downloaded on iTunes and PodBean.

Another Great Review!

Wrestle Book Review recently gave Louisville’s Greatest Show: The Story of the Allen Athletic Club. Guess what? They loved it!

If you haven’t taken a look at Louisville’s Greatest Show, you’re missing out on the true golden age of wrestling in the River City. Decades before OVW, IWA Mid-South, and even Memphis lit the city on fire, the Allen Athletic Club was a Tuesday night tradition, feeding wrestling fans a steady diet of world champions, tag teams, ladies matches, midgets, bears, and more.

This is the era of Lou Thesz, Wild Bill Longson, Mildred Burke, Johnny Valentine. and Gorgeous George. It’s also the story of many long-forgotten Louisville heroes including Stu Gibson, “The Black Panther” Jim Mitchell, Sgt. Buck Moore of the LPD, and Mel Meiners.

You can read the review by clicking here.

Louisville’s Greatest Show is available on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle.

Six Inconvenient Truths About WWE and Indy Wrestling

I don’t like to editorialize about the WWE, and I don’t like to go negative in this space. That said, after hearing the air get sucked out of the building at the end of the Money in the Bank match, it’s time we face some inconvenient truths.

Inconvenient Truth #1: The WWE doesn’t want to push your favorite indy stars. Over the last several years they WWE has snatched up a dream roster of independent wrestling stars, but it’s becoming clear none of these signees are ever going to be “the guy.” Styles, Owens, and Rollins have done well carrying the top belts for long periods of time, but when push comes to shove, the WWE will always favor their own.

Inconvenient Truth #2: The WWE wants the next top guy(s) to be their guys. Never mind that independent wrestlers bring not only an established fan base but experience and ring saavy to the table. The WWE still believes it can manufacture stars from scratch at its Performance Center and push them over the independents. Get used to seeing Sami Zayn staring up in frustration at the latest home grown wrestler on top of the Money in the Bank ladder. This is your new reality in the WWE.

So why does the WWE continue to mine the independents?

Inconvenient Truth #3: The WWE is spending money on independent wrestlers to bleed the indies dry of their top stars. It’s not about enhancing the roster. It’s about hurting the competition by taking away their marquee stars and using those highly paid signees to put over their chosen elect.

So what does all this mean?

Inconvenient Truth #4: Any independent star who has a WWE contract needs to consider more than just the money. That’s a hard, hard thing to do when you’re looking at going from $25 a night to the top of the business, but is the WWE really going to give you your dream shot? The roster is overcrowded. Guys who were on top all around the world are forced to job to pre-fabbed stars. Dalton Castle, Kenny Omega, and the Young Bucks have made the right call, staying where they are instead of taking the money for a one way ticket to obscurity. (Remember how excited we all were when Anderson and Gallows got signed?)

Of course it’s easy for the guys who are being paid well to stay put, but what about the guys struggling to make it?

Here comes the most inconvenient truth of all.

Inconvenient Truth #5: Fans who are sick of it need to seriously consider where they spend their money. If you keep paying for a product you hate and refuse to spend a dime on ROH, NJPW, High Spots, CHIKARA, CZW, or any number of alternatives. Am I suggesting you cancel your Network subscription? Not necessarily. I am saying you should stop spending all that fat cash on T-shirts and Pops and Booty-O’s Cereal and spend a little more on a wrestling product you can care about!

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: one ticket to a WWE show costs the same amount as six tickets to an independent show; or two tickets and two T-shirts; or a six month subscription to the alternative wrestling network of your choice. The money you spend there goes into the pockets of real men and women who need and appreciate it far more than a faceless corporation that long ago decided it knows better than you what you want to see.

Inconvenient Truth #6: The WWE is not about to change its ways any time soon. Indy stars will continue to take the WWE money, and Inconvenient Truths 1-3 will continue to play out.

Knowing this to be true, you have a choice. You can continue watching a product you hate and griping about it online, or you can make a choice to spend your time and hard-earned money on a wrestling show you do love.

Life’s too short to spend on these Internet rants. I’m going to find something I enjoy.

Righteous Jesse lives!

It is with great joy and relief I can report to you that Righteous Jesse survived his deathmatch with Tank last weekend at Southern Underground Pro Wrestling in Nashville. It looks like SUP is starting to develop quite a following. Not only are they energizing indy fans by bringing something fresh to Nashville’s wrestling scene, they are winning new fans who have never seen a wrestling show before. Kudos to the entire Southern Underground Pro, and much continued success!

This week, Jesse is back to work on the Kick Out at Two Podcast alongside the Wilkman and Bonnaroo Brittany. Their guest this week is Ray Waddell, who just made his debut at SUP on the show last weekend.

Download the Kick Out at Two Podcast every Friday in iTunes, Stitcher, and Soundcloud!