Opportunity Knocks for Indy Wrestling

Hollywood isn’t making movies for American audiences. The cost of blockbuster films has skyrocketed so high, they can’t make their money back if they make movies for American movie goers. Movies are being made for international audiences. Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Tom Cruise Mummy debacle… Hollywood doesn’t care if we like them or not. They make money overseas. They made enough money internationally to justify making more. This is the trend in Hollywood, and it’s spreading.

The WWE is doing the same thing. You want to know why the Great Khaki is back? You want to know why Jinder Mahal is your Smackdown champion? Because there are 1.3 billion people in India, an audience and a market the McMahons covet. It’s clear they are going after India, and it’s clear they don’t care if it costs them fans here.

While the WWE is focused on India, Jeff Jarrett is loading his roster to make Global Force Wrestling a household name. While the WWE continues to push for subscriptions overseas, New Japan is making in-roads in America, thanks in part to their partnership with Ring of Honor. New Japan now has an app for Amazon Fire and Google Chromecast. I am one of the many waiting for the Roku channel to be released.

This is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for the #2 and #3 American promotions to gain ground. It’s an opportunity for the #1 Japanese promotion to invade our turf. It’s an opportunity for the independents, who never lose sight of their base audience, to steal some thunder.

Two weeks ago on the Kick Out at Two Podcast, Righteous Jesse said something I’ve observed myself. Loops are coming back. Territories are re-forming. The more wrestlers network and share rides, the more promoters are willing to help each other out, the better it gets for everyone.

The time is ripe. It’s the best opportunity the modern day independent wrestling has ever had. Time to seize the moment, ladies and gentlemen.

The WWE wants India. Who wants America?

Praise for “Louisville’s Greatest Show” from a Fan Who Remembers

When you work on a book about events from 60-80 years ago, there’s always a nagging worry in the back of your mind you’ve got it wrong. In writing the book Louisville’s Greatest Show, all I really had to go on were the newspaper clippings I found online and a few scattered memories left by fans. I was fortunate enough to get in touch with Dr. Allen McDonogh, son of Louisville promoter Francis “Mac” McDonogh, and get his perspective on the golden age of Louisville wrestling, but I never was able to find anyone who was there in the seats, just as a fan.

Today, one of those fans found me. His name is Jim Oetkins, and out of the blue, he called to give me a pat on the back and an “Atta boy” for bringing back some of the greatest memories of his adolescence.

Now 79 years of age, Jim was thirteen years old when he experienced wrestling at the Columbia Gym in 1951. His father got tickets to the Tuesday night shows through a connection at work, and wrestling became an almost weekly ritual.

“I remember seeing it live, and watching on TV with Jimmy Finegan calling the action. I remember all the ads you put in the book from the weekly papers. I worked as a paper boy for the Courier-Journal back then, and if I missed a week, the first thing I’d do Wednesday morning when I got my stack of papers was flip to the sports section to see who won the night before.

Jim shared a funny story about two men sitting in front of him one night during a bout between the hated German Hans Hermann and long-time Louisville stalwart “Wild Bill” Longson.

“One guy turns to the other and says, ‘Hermann’s gonna destroy your guy Longson!’ The other says, ‘You wanna make a bet on it?’ He pulled out his wallet and started flashing twenty dollar bills. The other guy leaned in and whispered, ‘You know it’s all fake, right? They aren’t really wrestling for real!’ But his friend wouldn’t have any of it. He kept pushing his pal to put some money on the line!”

Jim thanked me again for the trip down memory lane, promising to put the book in a prominent place on his bookshelf. I thanked him for one of the greatest compliments I could ever receive on a book like this one. It was my honor and pleasure to tell the story of this long-lost history.

Louisville’s Greatest Show is available in paperback and on Kindle. Go to Amazon.com to order your copy today.

The Power of Freight Train

Like many fans packed into the Jeffersonville ArenA last November for Terry Harper’s first wrestling show at the Southern Indiana venue, I was a little taken aback when I got my first look at Freight Train. He didn’t move like other wrestlers. He didn’t fight like other wrestlers. A couple of casual fans standing near me turned their noses up and left the building to smoke a cigarette until the match was over. It’s a shame they did, because the longer I watched Freight Train do what he does best, the more intrigued I became.

If you’re not familiar with the name, Freight Train is one of the stars of Five Dollar Wrestling. He’s a native of Charlotte, North Carolina who has achieved a level of success most can only dream of. He’s overcome the odds that stack up against every wannabe wrestler and then some. He’s the subject of the inspirational documentary, “The Power of Freight Train.”

I mentioned Freight Train didn’t move like other wrestlers. Freight Train has mild autism spectrum disorder known as Aspergers Syndrome. One of the hallmarks of Aspergers is a singular focus on one or more key interests. For Charles Stevenson, the boy who grew up to become Freight Train, there were two things that drew his interest more than any other: trains and wrestling.

Rather than hinder Stevenson’s dream of becoming a wrestler, his condition actually helped him to achieve his dream. Stevenson refused to take no for an answer when men told him he couldn’t train. He refused to take no for an answer when people wouldn’t book him. He ignored the people who laughed at him. He was persistent; he never gave up. And when 5 Dollar Wrestling opened a door, he made that dream come true.

Packed with interviews with friends and fans like like Colt Cabana, Mad Man Pondo, Crazy Mary Dobson, and even the notoriously old school Rip Rogers, “The Power of Freight Train” is a beautiful story not only of Charles Stevenson, but all the people whose lives have been touched along the way, especially Freight Train’s good friend and mentor “Manscout” Jake Manning. It was Manning who gave Freight Train a chance with 5 Dollar Wrestling, and Manning, more than anyone else, has been inspired and transformed by his friendship with the gentle giant.

“The Power of Freight Train” is a story even non-wrestling fans can enjoy. It’s an inspirational tale of a man who refused to give up on a dream and the hearts he changed along the way.

“The Power of Freight Train” is available only on High Spots.

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.