One year later… top ten posts

It’s been a year since I started this blog experiment, and it’s been exciting to see it grow. Here are the top ten posts from the past year:

The Black Panther Jim Mitchell1. The Black Panther Jim Mitchell – Still working on this book, though it’s taking longer than anticipated. Other opportunities and the difficulty of finding solid info on this forgotten trail blazer have made it difficult, but it’s still in the works. Happy to see this was the top post from year one.

2. Help Kenny Bolin Tell His Story – The story is now out and available from Amazon.com, with some help from fans who responded.

3. Everybody Loves Blue Pants – Interview with NXT’s most electric unsigned star. Thanks again to Mad Man Pondo for the hook up.

4. Who is Dean Hill? – Profile on OVW’s legendary announcer.

5. Khloe Belle Turns Hero – “Sista don’t care” in the ring, but outside the ring is another matter.

6. The Outlaw Returns – Profile on wrestler turned actor Ben Wood.

7. Is Shane Goode Enough? – Shane Mercer’s had a tough month, but he got some well deserved attention during the lead up to Tough Enough.

8. Meet the New Owner of HWA – A second life for a beloved promotion in Ohio promotion.

9. A New Hoosier Promotion EMERGEs – Profile on central Indiana’s EMERGE wrestling, available to watch on Roku’s Indie Wrestling Channel.

10. Meet Mary Elizabeth Monroe – She’s now going by Kelly Klein in Ring of Honor, and she’s one to watch in 2016.

Given that independent wrestling dominates the top ten, you can expect more of the same in 2016 from this blog. I also have several book projects in the works in addition to the Black Panther. I’ve been working with the daughter of Lord Leslie Carlton on his biography. I just started a book on women’s wrestling. And research continues on a new Louisville book focused on the Allen Athletic Club of the 1930s-1950s.

Thanks for reading.

The Return of Sami Callihan

Let’s get one thing straight, WWE marks: Solomon Crowe did not leave NXT. Sami Callihan went home.

I don’t know Sami personally, nor do I know the details of his leaving NXT. I can however assure you that NXT’s loss is the independent scene’s gain.

Sami brings name value to the indy shows he will wrestle in the near future thanks to his recent run with NXT, and that’s great. But for every guy like Sami who gets a shot at the WWE Performance Center, there are dozens putting their bodies on the line in warehouses and gymnasiums and arenas who keep being overlooked.

I don’t say that to demean Sami or anything he has accomplished. That’s a testament to the strength of the current indy wrestling scene.

Not every promotion is equal, but there are more than enough good promotions and good wrestlers out there that you can find one near you that will give you far more bang for your buck than a WWE live event.

If you enjoyed Sami in NXT, go support him when he comes to your town. Be on the look out for other hard working guys like Tim Donst (who beat cancer this year) and Chris Hero (who wrestled over 3 house straight for charity). Check out the Indy Card Mafia, Aaron Williams, Tyson Dux, Mitchell Huff, Marc Hauss, Dash Sullivan, and Daniel Eads.

If you’re a fan of the NXT ladies, annoyed that Sasha Banks has hardly set foot in a ring since her call up, you’re really in luck. The indy women’s scene is booming. Leva Bates, aka Blue Pants, is out there, but she’s only the tip of the iceberg. Mary Elizabeth Monroe, Tessa Blanchard, Havok, LuFisto, Crazy Mary Dobson, and Heidi Lovelace are just a handful of the women who are a threat to steal the show any time they are booked.

It’s almost December. It’s dark outside before 6 pm, and it’s too cold to be outside. This is a great month to go out and see some live wrestling. Support the indy stars by buying a ticket. Get a DVD or a T-shirt for someone on you Christmas list, and buy direct from one of the wrestlers. That way you’re putting some Christmas money in their pocket as well.

Sami Callihan’s best days are not behind him. The indy scene is the future, and the men and women of the indies need our support.

Black Friday for Wrestling Fans Part 1: LuFisto!

LuFisto’s one of my favorite wrestlers, and she’s one of the most talented workers in wrestling today. Period. I repost the announcement about her Black Friday on Facebook, but Facebook wouldn’t let me. I hope this gets her even more attention than Facebook would have given her.

If you love indy wrestling or know someone who does, please visit her site this week and show her a little love. And if you have a friend who is enjoying the so-called women’s revolution on WWE, get him or her a DVD and show them just how late to the party the WWE is on women’s wrestling.

Visit LuFisto at www.lufisto.com

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Joelle Hunter: Hero in the Making

10407414_942319322477997_5475356699477839001_nJoelle Hunter’s story sounds like many other stories you’ll hear from the women in pro wrestling. “I was introduced to wrestling in my early teen age years by some of my friends. I mainly watched the WWE, and I would say my hero’s were definitely the Undertaker and Sheamus.”

Hunter decided she wanted to follow in Sheamus’s footsteps, so like many ambitious teens, she found a wrestling school that would admit her at the tender age of 16. Most wrestling schools in the States won’t take someone so young, of course, but Hunter isn’t from the States. She was born in Lebanon, and she was raised in Saudi Arabia. She now lives, trains, and wrestles in Dubai at the Dubai Pro Wrestling Academy, and she is the first female wrestler in the Middle East.

A year into her training, Hunter (whose real name is Gheeda Chamasaddine) is already working shows with more than twenty fellow wrestlers in Dubai, all of them men. She describes herself as a technical/submission wrestler, and though only 5’4″, she can body slam men twice her size. Trainer Caleb Hall was as tough and demanding with her as he is with any man who walks through the doors of his school, and that toughness has helped her earn the respect of the Dubai locker room. “My wrestling mates are all very supportive. They never treated me differently or made me feel less cause am a woman.”

Hunter has enjoyed the support of family and friends, and the wrestling fans in Dubai have accepted her as well. But Hunter knows that her dream – to see a women’s wrestling division established in the Middle East – will meet with a great deal of opposition in a region where women struggle for equal rights. “I have a lot of haters. There are lots of people who don’t accept what I do, but I can really say there is no overcoming that hate. You just need to not care about it at all.”

Hunter aspires to travel the world, to learn from other wrestlers and trainers, and pursue her dream as far as it will take her. She even has a dream opponent in mind. “I would love to wrestle Kharma some day, the woman who was in the Royal Rumble.”

Facing the legendary Kharma/ Awesome Kong would be a great accomplishment, but Hunter hopes to do more than win a few dream matches. She wants to inspire other women to pursue their dreams, even as she fights for her own. “I wanna show girls that it’s okay to wrestle and be who they wanna be. It’s a very hard task, but I will keep doing what I do and hopefully in time people will become more accepting of it.”

Joelle Hunter is a humble and gracious spirit, the kind of young woman who can be a positive role model for girls and women worldwide. She’s got an uphill fight on her hands, but fighting is her chosen profession. She’s already winning fans and friends in Dubai, and I have a feeling she’s going to make more friends all around the world.

You can follow Joelle’s pursuit of wrestling glory by following her on Facebook and on Instagram. The photo of her with Sheamus on her Instagram will bring a big smile to your face.

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Mad Man Pondo goes to the library?

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

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

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

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

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

Save the Revolution

I hope this is all a work.

Monday night the WWE gave us a great video recap of the Sasha Banks-Bayley classic from NXT: Takeover. They put the camera on Sasha so she could get a nice ovation. And then… we got Nikki vs Naomi.

Maybe they’re working us, but it sure felt like a big step back in this so-called “revolution.”

Until the WWE fully commits to this revolution, women’s wrestling fans need to put their money where their mouths are. Support women’s wrestling locally. Support it online. Support Shimmer, SHINE, Girl Fight, Femme Fatale, WSUEmpress, and other women’s only shows.

Imagine if one of those promotions really took off and filled the void the WWE refuses to fill. Now that would be a revolution!

The Main Event

Being in the main event is nothing new for Crazy Mary Dobson. She’s done it in Southern Indiana, near her hometown of Charlestown. She’s done it in the tradition-rich wrestling city of Chicago. Tonight, she did it on the WWE Network against NXT Women’s Champion, Bayley.

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Sarah Dobson, as she’s known at NXT, looked fantastic tonight. She got a lot of offense in her second match at Full Sail, and she looked like she belonged. The announcers even said she looked a little “crazy.”

Louisville and Southern Indiana fans, this is your girl taking the wrestling world by storm. Congratulations, Crazy Mary/ Sarah Dobson. We are so proud of you!

Women’s Wrestling Records

A record may or may not be broken next week. A WWE Diva may break another WWE Diva’s record for most consecutive days as champion.

Here are a few records that remain safe.

Most consecutive years (not days, years) as NWA Women’s World Champion: Mildred Burke, 19.

Most consecutive years as WWE Women’s Champion: The Fabulous Moolah, 28.

It should also be noted that both women were not only main event draws, wrestling 2 out of 3 falls every night, but frequently defended their titles more often in a month than the current WWE Diva’s Champion has in her entire reign. She currently stands at 9 title defenses.

About this Diva Revolution

1797971_699268903502709_2186941647616043393_nI write about wrestling. I do not aspire to write for a wrestling show or promotion or work for one in any way. I do not pretend to know how to book things better than the people who are booking for any promotion, big or small, national or local.

That said, I think it’s obvious to just about everyone watching that something is not right with this Diva’s Revolution.

The WWE held three shows in a row in the same building. On Saturday night, Sasha Banks and Bayley stole the show. They tore the house down, they held the crowd in the palm of their hands, they put on the match of the night.

Before that even happened, 15,000 plus chanted for a young woman named Blue Pants. When Big Cass’s voice started singing “The Price is Right” theme over the sound system, the fans blew the roof off the building for a woman who isn’t even signed to the company!

And then, Monday night happened. Same building. A lot of the same fans. Completely different reaction.

Something is wrong.

No, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, I do not believe it’s because no one wants to see women wrestle.

I’m not going to offer suggestions and fixes. Again, I write about wrestling, and I’m not going to pretend I know how to fix it. I am going to say that if the WWE blows this, that doesn’t mean women’s wrestling is dead. I’ve seen first hand that it’s alive and well. Women are main eventing with each other, competing one on one with men, and selling out arenas even when no men are on the card.

Women even have whole promotions and shows dedicated to them. Shimmer. Shine. WSU. Femme Fatale. Girl Fight. That’s just for starters.

Let’s hope someone at WWE who knows how to book wrestling gives the women on the main roster the booking they have EARNED and deserve. Meantime, don’t wait for Vince and Co. to get it right. Go see an indy show and see for yourself how things should be.

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.