A few Bluegrass Brawler reviews

BluegrassBrawlers-coverThe Humble Book Giant recently posted a very nice review of Bluegrass Brawlers on his blog. The Giant is a Louisville area native and a wrestling fan, and while he normally doesn’t do sports books, he had some nice things to say about the book.

Read the Humble Book Giant’s review here.

The Pro Wrestling Historical Society reviewed the book as well. They were more critical than most and took exception to the version of the Gotch-Hackenschmidt II match I presented in the book, but they still liked it enough to give it four stars.

Read the review from PWHS here.

My favorite review, though, was one that came up on Terry Garvin’s World Domination podcast recently. Handsome Jimmy Valiant himself praised the book as a great read. I emailed him to thank him for the kind words and he sent back a few more. “I enjoyed your book. A lot of good knowledge in it. You hit it all on the nose. John, you didn’t miss anything, my man.
Congratulations and good luck in the future. Godpseed to all.”

Mercy!

Who is Dean Hill?

“Is it for real? Or is it a work?” That’s the question that’s been on every OVW fan’s mind all week. Ever since it was announced that founder Danny Davis had sold his majority ownership, fans have been speculating on whether this is really the end or just another wrestling storyline.

Any time you can make the fans believe, it’s a good thing, especially in the reality era. Kayfabe or no, this week’s announcement is a great excuse to tell you a little bit about the man they call “The Voice of Louisville Wrestling.”

Dean Hill has been a part of OVW from the very beginning as part of the television announcing team. In fact for many fans, Hill is probably more synonymous with OVW than Davis, who earned the nickname “The Wizard of Oz” for his propensity to remain behind the curtains at Davis Arena.

Dean Hill is one of many Louisville personalities I had the honor to interview and feature in Bluegrass Brawlers. He plays drums for a few local bands including T.J. and the Cheaters, he’s a motorcycle enthusiast, and he is a retired Louisville Police officer. When he started on the force in the early 1970s he learned hand to hand combat from Buck Moore, who wrestled on the Police benefit shows for promoter Francis McDonough in the 1950s.

Hill came into wrestling not as part of any promotion, but a necessary evil. He was part of the detachment assigned to escort the heels to and from the ring for Memphis Wrestling on Tuesdays at Louisville Gardens. He caught the eye and ear of promoter Teeny Jarrett, and one night when the regular ring announcer was a no-show, Hill agreed to fill in. He was surprised when Jarrett paid him at the end of the night, but he was even more surprised when he was asked to take over the job permanently.

Hill moved up from ring announcer to television announcer before Memphis closed shop in the mid 90s. Having spent several years announcing the names of luminaries like Jerry Lawler, Dutch Mantell, Bill Dundee, and even Andre the Giant (he maintains a full list of people he has announced to this day!), he settled back into life without wrestling.

One day Hill spotted Danny Davis scouting a warehouse up for sale. He pulled over to talk to the former Memphis tag star and learned that Davis was looking to open a wrestling school. Davis wanted to do more than just teach wrestling. He intended to teach ever facet of the business, including television. Davis asked Hill to be part of the announce team, and Hill accepted.

Many men have passed through the OVW announcer’s booth over the years, including Kenny Bolin, Jim Cornette, Dutch Mantell, Al Snow, and Gilbert Corsey. Through it all, Hill has been the anchor of OVW television. He was there in the beginning, when local boys like Rob Conway and Nick Dinsmore began making a name for themselves. He called the action for future stars like John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton, and CM Punk. He became a teacher himself, mentoring the young announcers who came through the school as well as the future stars inside the ring. Ask Hill to tell you the story how he taught Lesnar to stop swearing under his breath in the ring.

Hill also took what has been called the worst bump in the history of professional wrestling. It didn’t happen in the ring, but near the backstage area. Sadly only four people were witness to the bump, including Hill himself and the man who fell on top of him, Kenny Bolin. You can read the rest of that story in Kenny’s book.

If Hill is truly the new owner at OVW (and it’s on the Internet so it has to be true, right??), there’s no one who knows OVW better. He was there for the glory days with the WWE, and he knows the challenge that lies ahead filling Danny Davis’s shoes. With Hill at the helm, I’m sure it will be smooth sailing. What could possibly go wrong?

This is professional wrestling. If you want to know the answer to that question, tune in next week!

To read more of Dean’s story and the story of wrestling in Louisville, Kentucky, get your copy of Bluegrass Brawlers on Amazon.com.

Everybody loves Blue Pants!

The best things in professional wrestling are often the things that happen organically. They are not the result of a promoter’s careful planning and execution, but the sum of a dozen or more happy accidents that all fall together. Such is the story of Blue Pants, a woman brought in as enhancement talent at the last minute, who suddenly became a bona fide NXT Superstar.

Like many pro wrestlers, Leva Bates grew up watching wrestling. The daughter of a single mom, she spent a lot of time with the neighbor next door, whose son was a wrestling fan. “We watched it on TV all the time, and we’d occasionally go out to see the matches.” Bates doesn’t recall anyone specific (though her sisters quick to point out one of the highlights was seeing Bill Dundee vs. Jerry Lawler), but she credits those early years will giving her a passion for the sport.

After graduating college with a degree in radio/tv as well as acting, she enrolled at FXC in Florida, where she trained with D-Von Dudley, A.J. Gallant, and Matt Bentley. When D-Von left to start the Team 3D Academy with his tag partner Bubba Ray, Leva followed him. “They both were very hands on and taught everything, but D-Von did a lot of the mat training while Bubba Ray specialized more in match psychology, characters, and mic work.” Bates is a 3-D graduate but still returns to work on things with a personal trainer Dan Carr, who once worked with the American Gladiators.

After leaving school and beginning her wrestling career, Bates did what many wrestlers do: she filled out the application on the WWE’s recruitment page. She got the chance to work a few Raw and Smackdown shows as an extra. Then one day, she got the call that she was going to be on NXT. “It was the day of the show,” she remembers.

Leva showed up in a McChris T-shirt and a pair of blue pants. Prior to the TV taping, they were working out the flow of the show. Enzo and Cass were to come to the ring with Carmella, one of the newest NXT Divas, and when a match with Enzo’s rival Sylvester Lefort didn’t pan out, Enzo would turn to Carmella and ask her if she wanted to wrestle.

“Most of the time, the enhancement workers don’t get an entrance or even their name called. They just appear in the ring after a commercial break, but because of the way this story line was playing out, they had to have a way to bring me out. Triple H was at ringside working with Enzo and Cass. I was backstage with Sara Amato (former indy star Sara Del Ray). Enzo and Cass kept ad libbing different ways of introducing me. I heard Cass say, ‘Hey, you back there with the blue pants! Blue pants, come on down!’ I looked at Sara, and we both laughed. We knew that was it.”

What they did not know was how the fans would respond. “The fans started chanting my name. They started singing the ‘Price is Right’ theme for me. I went along with it and played it up. I was like, ‘Yeah! I wear blue pants! I love my blue pants!’ The fans ate it up, and that was how it took off.”

Blue Pants has become a beloved regular at NXT, facing off with Sasha Banks, Emma, and Dana Brooke. She even got her own theme music – the “Price is Right” theme sung a cappella by Big Cass – and her own Titantron video.

“I was amazed how involved Triple H was, even with that. He was working with the video guy to get just the right image. ‘No, make the pants bigger. No, a little smaller.’ He’s very hands on about everything.”

Being backstage at NXT has been a huge learning and growth experience for Bates. “It’s a completely different level. As a radio/TV grad, it’s really cool seeing the directors and agents and crew who make the show work backstage.”

Bates found the staff at NXT to be especially helpful. She took advantage of every visit to learn from Sara Amato, Albert, Triple H, Michael Hayes, Robby Brookside, and the late Dusty Rhodes.

“The third of fourth time I was there, I was peppering Dusty with questions. I was going on and on, and all of a sudden, Dusty turns and yells, “Shut up, Blue Pants!’ I was like, ‘Dusty??’ He put his arm around me and he said, ‘It’s alright, Blue Pants. It’ll be alright.’”

Bates found a lot in common with Rhodes. “He got yellow polka dots over. I got over with Blue Pants. I don’t know if he ever made the connection, but I did. It was really special.”

Bates is more than just enhancement talent. On the independent scene she is a seasoned veteran and an accomplished main event talent. When I asked her what matches fans should look up to see who Leva Bates is, she pointed to her recent appearance at Resistance Pro Wrestling. “I was against Crazy Mary Dobson, and we were the main event. It was a really great match.”

Bates also talked about her match against Mia Yim during the Shine Women’s Championship. “That was her best,” says her very proud mother.

Bates loves to have fun and has a great sense of humor. That love of fun was especially evident in a match for Shimmer when she faced Marty Bell. Bates is known for cosplay, dressing up as characters from comic books and movies, and on this occasion, she dressed as Pee Wee Herman.

“Before the match, I told the crowd the secret words was Three. Every time the ref would start counting, ‘One, two, three,’ the fans would scream. Marty would twist my arm, the ref would count, and on three, the fans would scream. The coolest thing was the secret word lasted the rest of the night. Any time a ref counted three, the fans screamed!”

Outside the ring, Bates is just as fun-loving and approachable as her in-ring character suggests. After the Girl Fight show in Jeffersonville, Indiana, she was the last of the wrestlers to be at the gimmick tables – no longer selling, but just talking to fans. She only packed up after promoter Madman Pondo fussed at her – three times – to wrap things up. Even then, she delayed Pondo from getting to his post show dinner as she paused to talk and take pictures with fans on her way to the locker room.

As we finished our interview, which took place at a downtown pizza place in Louisville after a show, Crazy Mary Dobson brought a young man over to the table where I was sitting with Bates, her mom, her sister, and nieces. He was an NXT fan, and when he learned who was sitting at the table, he began shouting to the whole restaurant. “It’s Blue Pants! Blue Pants is here! Blue Pants!”

The cheers of Blue Pants led to an “NXT!” chant. Leva blushed at first but began pumping her arms in the air, enjoying the moment just like her alter ego. Yes, she’s an unlikely superstar, but that’s what makes her so darn likable. She’s quirky, she’s fun, and when she hits the ring at NXT, Shimmer, or anywhere else, you’re going to have a good time.

Women of Wrestling: I Want Your Best Story!

There are women all over the wrestling world. Some wrestle, some work as valets and managers, and some wear the black and white stripes. While many promotions (especially a certain large promotion) still treat them as eye candy and restroom break matches, others are realizing that women can not only wrestle as good as the boys, they can main event AND steal the show.

I’m working on a new project to pay honor to the women of wrestling. If you’re a current, former, or even aspiring wrestler, I want your best story for this new project.

Here’s how you can be involved.

Option 1. Send me an email at johncosper@yahoo.com with a 2-3 sentence bio and your best story. It can be something that happened in the ring, in training, on the road, or in the locker room. It can be funny, it can be touching, or it can be the best match you ever had. (Would like to keep it PG, but if it’s really, really good, will consider any story.) And please, send a photo that you have the rights to that I can use. (If the photo belongs to a photographer, please get their permission or have them send me an email granting permission to use it.)

Option 2. Send me an email at johncosper@yahoo.com with your contact info so that I can get in touch and write down your story. I know not everyone’s as good at writing things down, so if you prefer to share it orally, we will work that out. I’ll still need a photo, too.

The tentative deadline for this project is September 1.

Update: I’ve had a few people ask what kind of stories I am looking for in the book. Right now, I’m looking for anything and everything, but here are some ideas to get you started.

Stories about training

Stories about family – how you told them you were going to be a wrestler; how they have supported (or not supported) you

Stories from the road – funny things, scary things, crazy things (try to keep it PG, or at least PG-13)

Stories about matches – best you ever had, worst you ever had, funniest thing that ever happened

Stories about fans

Stories about discrimination – what’s it like trying to break in and be taken seriously in a male-dominated sport?

Stories about injuries

The end goal is to show people that the women of pro wrestling are dedicated road warriors who can fight, talk, and draw money just as good as the boys. This is about shining a light on women’s wrestling in order to make believers and fans out of people who have never seen real women’s wrestling.

Please pass this on to any women connected to the wrestling business with a good story to tell. Or email me at johncosper@yahoo.com for more info.

Underground Wrestling TV

Eddie Allen had a feel for the wrestling business long before he stuck his nose in it. Several years ago he was the lead singer of what he refers to as a “heel” band.

“My lead guitar player would go out during sound checks and play all this classic rock stuff. He’d play one riff and then another to get the crowd excited to hear some real rock and roll. Then I come out and what did we sing? Air Supply. Milli Vanilli. The crowd would boo us, and I loved it.”

As with many heel acts, the crowds slowly developed an appreciation for Allen’s unique band. “It got to the point people knew what to expect and were ready for it. Once the crowd decided to like us, it wasn’t fun any more.”

After walking away from rock and roll, Allen decided to get involved in the wrestling business. The Clarksville, Indiana native ended up down the road in Madison, where he began learning the business from Eric Draven. After helping Draven get his promotion established on Youtube, he made the jump to Ohio Valley Wrestling in Louisville to learn more about producing wrestling for TV.

“It was the most intense training I ever had,” he says. “You learn all about timing matches, working to the camera, how to tell a story. You realize that you can’t just take any independent wrestling show, film it, and put it on TV. Television wrestling is its own unique style, and that’s what I wanted to produce.”

Allen went looking for an indy federation that was willing to work with him and create a product suited for television. After a few false starts, he hooked up with Underground Wrestling Alliance, one of several groups running across the river from Louisville. UWA was filled with young, green talent who were willing to learn anything that might advance their careers. It was a perfect match, but Allen knew he needed something more.

“I went out and recruited some veterans, former OVW guys, others who had worked TV. I needed them to help me teach these kids how to wrestle for television.”

It took some time, but the investment in both time and talent paid off. In September of 2014, UWA went on the air in Louisville. “They put us on right after OVW’s TV show, and our ratings have grown ever since we went on the air.”

Television proved to be a big boost for UWA. The young wrestlers benefited greatly from the veteran leadership and the new direction, and attendance is up at the live events, both taped and untaped. Allen played to the fans early on at TV tapings, knowing that they were key to the show being a success.

“When fans come dressed up, trying to get on camera, I make sure it happens,” he says. “They’re going to go home, tell their friends to tune in and see them on TV, and our ratings are going to go up. And maybe someone who tunes in will see what we do and come to our next show.”

UWA currently airs on Time Warner Cable in Louisville three times a week: 11 PM Mondays (after Monday Night Raw), 10 AM Saturday morning, and 2:30 AM Friday night/ Saturday morning. You can also catch them for free on the Independent Wrestling Channel app available on Roku as well as their Youtube channel. You can learn more about UWA and their upcoming events on their Facebook page.

Allen is currently developing his own Roku channel and plans to use UWA as the flagship for that station. “It’s a whole new way of doing television. I’m really excited about it.”

Girl Fight is almost here

11429961_1026994024000643_853440570292726079_oWomen are headlining in Chicago. They have headlined and stolen the show on NXT. Tomorrow night, they are the whole show.

Girl Fight returns to The Arena in Jeffersonville, Indiana with a stacked card featuring NXT star “Blue Pants” Leva Bates, Darcy Dixon, Lufisto, Crazy Mary Dobson, Mary Elizabeth Monroe, Samantha Heights, Heather Owens, Haley Shadows, The Real Lady Delilah Reignz, Kaela, and Miss DissLexia.

Tickets are only $4, a steal for a packed night of wrestling entertainment. Click on the flier above for more information.

The “Legendary” Larry Mercer

Every year students from across the country head to the Tish School for Fine Arts at New York University in hopes of making the leap from the college stage to the Broadway stage. For Ring of Honor’s Larry Mercer, NYU led him to a completely different kind of stage. Larry grew up watching wrestling, but it was while he was at NYU that he realized it was not Broadway, but professional wrestling calling his name.

“It was the Attitude Era,” he says, “Stone Cold, Mankind. I was drawn to that kind of acting. I didn’t want to be a wrestler, but I wanted to do something in wrestling.”

Larry learned about a wrestling school in his hometown of Baltimore from a commercial that aired during Monday Night Raw, Maryland Championship Wrestling’s Bonebreakers Training Center. He went to the school and met trainers Corporal Punishment and Mark “The Shark” Shrader.

“I started out as sort of an intern. I did administrative work. I helped to get fliers out for the show. Whatever I could do to help out while learning the business. I had to pay, but they only charged me the rate they gave to students who want to be refs.”

The opportunity to use his dramatic talents came when the ring announcer for MCW quit. As often happens in wrestling, he was in the right place at the right time. That’s when Larry Legend was born.

If you have never had the privilege of hearing Larry Legend in the ring, go to Youtube and look him up. Larry is not your typical indy wrestling ring announcer. He does his job with flair, physically and vocally. He dresses for the occasion with impeccable style, setting the stage just as the wrestlers do with his appearance. His dramatic training is evident in his mic, and he brings a big fight feel to every single match.

“I wanted the crowd to feel like it was a big fight,” he says, “but I also wanted the wrestlers to get that feeling as well.”

As Larry Legend, Larry worked for a number of independents along the East Coast including Combat Zone Wrestling, Dragongate USA, Evolve, Pro Wrestling Syndicate, Jersey All Pro, Jersey Championship Wrestling, Impact Championship Wrestling, Beautiful Ladies of Wresting, Valkyrie Pro Wrestling, and Fighting Spirit Wrestling. He has also worked numerous events for kickboxing, boxing, and MMA fighting groups.

Larry recently did what he calls his farewell show as Larry Legend, the CZW 16th Anniversary Show. “That was a very special show for me,” he says. “It was in the building where I did my first CZW show. CZW got kicked out of that building, and it was their first show back.”

One of the highlights of that event was the Tag Team Championship Match between The Young Bucks and Ohio is 4 Killers, Jake and Dave Crist. “I was with CZW when Jake and Dave first came in, so it was cool to be a part of that for them. I was also excited to get to announce for the Young Bucks.”

Although Larry admits you never say never in the wrestling business, for now Larry Legend is retired. Larry Mercer, however, is just beginning to make a name for himself with Ring of Honor. The booming, dramatic in-ring announcer may be gone, but the young man who bypassed the New York stage to work in dim-lit arenas remains as passionate about the business as ever.

CZW’s 16th Anniversary Show is available as a video download or on DVD. I strongly recommend watching it if you love independent wrestling, or if you’re just curious to give it a try. The tag match mentioned here is worth the price of admission alone, as The Young Bucks and OI4K are a stellar matchup. But if you’re like me, you’ll put off watching the match for just a moment or two so you can hear Larry Legend set the stage with one of the best big fight voices you’ll ever hear inside a ring.

Meet the new owner of HWA

Heartland Wrestling Association holds a special place in the hearts of Ohio wrestling fans. HWA was a developmental territory for the WWE at the same time as OVW in Louisville. Founded by the legendary Les Thatcher in 1998, HWA alumni include superstars like D’Lo Brown, Jamie Noble, Dean Ambrose, BJ Whitmer, Matt Stryker, Lance Cade, Cody Hawk, Chad Collyer, Shark Boy, Solomon Crowe, and Nigel McGuinness.

“It has a place in wrestling and has impacted the lives of the people in pro wrestling so much,” says new owner Philip Stamper. “For some, it was the first independent wrestling company many came to know.”

HWA was almost an impulse by for the veteran promoter, who has been in the wrestling business since 1996. “It was a very sudden purchase. When I saw the announcement about it selling, it triggered a lot of thoughts – Les Thatcher was one of the first promoters I ever talked with and the legacy of Heartland Wrestling Association. I saw a chance to play a role in the next stage of HWA.”

Stamper was very pleased to see an immediate response from fans after announcing his purchase on Sunday, June 28. “Our Facebook likes jumped 14%, and we had nearly the same spike on Twitter. We’ve had a few thousand views on YouTube this week. I think it shows there is still an interest whether you live in the area or are a fan of its impact to wrestling.”

Stamper plans to keep HWA in Cincinnati, but while he knows the fans are ready to welcome them back, he asks for patience as he prepares to re-open the promotion. “I’m not going to blindly run into holding an event for the sake of holding an event. There is a lot of ground work that needs to happen before then.” Stamper also hopes to get the HWA video library organized in the months ahead.

Stamper urges fans to subscribe and follow HWA on social media including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube. Fans can also order HWA videos through their store on Smart Mark Video.

The new boss has his work cut out for him, but he has plenty of reason. “A lot of people want there to be an event tomorrow. It does inspire me to move quickly.”

More Louisville wrestling history on the way

BluegrassBrawlers-coverHaving just launched the Kenny Bolin autobiography, I’m happy to announce I have a few new projects in the works. Two are biographies, and the third is a more in depth look at once of the most fascinating and overlooked eras in Louisville wrestling.

In 1935 Heywood Allen founded the Allen Athletic Club, a promotion that would bring the biggest stars in the business to town for the next 22 years, including Orville Brown, Bill Longson, Lou Thesz, Mildred Burke, and Buddy Rogers. But Louisville also had a number of local legends with their own unique stories. Here are a few quick hits I’ve uncovered:

Heywood Allen was a circus wrecker before getting into the wrestling business. In addition to being the Allen Club’s founder, he was president of the Midwest Wrestling Association. He took a job selling tickets at Churchill Downs when business was poor in the 1920s and kept it even after the Allen Club took off in the 40s.

Stu Gibson was a home-grown wrestling star. Before wrestling, he was a standout football player at New Albany High School and the University of Louisville. I posted a brief bio on Stu just last week that you can read here. ****

Mel Meiners was a towering Louisville native from the Germantown neighborhood who was nicknamed the Schnitzelburg Giant. He is also the father of WHAS radio personality Terry Meiners.

Francis McDonough worked in the office for Allen before buying him out in 1947. He made national newspapers after someone broke into his car to steal the Allen Club’s ticket money. The thief got 500 unsold tickets and four dollars, and McDonough laughed off the incident.

Blacksmith Pedigo worked as a wrestler and referee for Allen. In 1919 he was arrested at the age of 18 for fraud after taking money from patriotic citizens who believed he was a wounded World War I vet.

Fans of Kenny Bolin will be interested to know that while there has yet to be a confirmed genealogical link, Bolin has already taken to calling Pedigo his long lost cousin.

I’m posting this teaser/update to both share the new project and hopefully stir up some memories of people who may remember a few of these names. If you have information on Allen or anyone who worked Louisville in the 40s and 50s please email me at johncosper@yahoo.com

The Allen Club story is told in part in Bluegrass Brawlers: The Story of Professional Wrestling in Louisville. More to come in 2016!

The Bolin Bio Is Here!

11416754_1440107446310822_276061912_oOne of the most enjoyable interviews I did for Bluegrass Brawlers was with Kenny Bolin. You may not have heard the name if you’re not familiar with Louisville wrestling, but you have Kenny to thank for launching the careers of many of today’s biggest WWE Superstars. He managed dozens of WWE hopefuls in the decade when the WWE used Ohio Valley Wrestling as its training ground, and all of them went on to get a shot at the WWE – not the least of which was John Cena!

Kenny’s story is one of those wrestling tales that has to be heard to believed, and even after you hear it, you won’t believe it. I can tell you with absolute confidence this book is mostly true, but good luck sorting what’s what. The stories that are 100% true are easily the least believable in the book.

It’s been a pleasure getting to know Kenny as a friend and help him bring his story to life. You’ll hear Kenny’s story in his own words along with the words of Jim Cornette, Dutch Mantell, Jerry Lawler, Jerry Jarrett, JBL, Nova, Mark Henry, Damien Sandow, Dean Hill, and many more who crossed paths with the Louisville legend.

His book is available on Amazon.com, but why buy from them when you can order from the man himself and get it signed? Contact Kenny on his Facebook page to order your copy in one of three collectible covers today.