Tagged in: rob conway

The Ladies Steal the Show at Heroes and Legends

First things first: Heroes and Legends is a fantastic promotion. Based in Fort Wayne, Indiana, this independent wrestling group puts on a heck of a show. Heroes and Legends VIII took place today at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. If the very name of the building doesn’t remind you of the old territory days, the guest list will. Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, and Jerry Lawler were the headliners, and the King even stepped into the ring, giving the fans a classic strap-dropping performance against Dru Skillz.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The day began at noon, when the doors opened and fans came through to check out the vendor tables. Vendors included toys and collectibles, an artist, a few promoters from other area shows, a podcast, and the US military. Wrestlers for the show were sprinkled throughout the vendors to ensure that both wrestlers and vendors got some traffic.

Girl Fight put on a show that started around 1:30. The GF show was depleted due to several last minute cancellations, including Su Yung. The young competitors worked their hearts out, but could not get the attention of the crowd.

Enter Mickie Knuckles.

Mickie and Dementia D’Rose took on Amazing Maria and Samantha Heights in a tag match for the main event. Mickie tried to get the crowd’s attention and pump them up. The crowd gave her nothing, right up until the moment she said, “No Holds Barred, No DQ, Falls Count Anywhere.”

The fans popped, and the ladies literally tore the house down. Samantha Heights was duplexed down a set of bleachers steps and later tossed into a trash can. Amazing Maria was squashed beneath a steel chair. Maria and Samantha were dropped onto a table that refused to give. Fans swarmed, phones held high, to follow the action, with Sugar Dunkerton leading the crowd and the cheers in the front. It was sensational match that set the bar ridiculously high for the main show.

The Razor Ramones punk band played a brief  set mid-afternoon, then proceeded to sell cassettes – yes, I said CASSETTES – to the fans. (More on them later this week.) A battle royal took place at 4:30, with a surprise appearance by Bushwhacker Luke, and then it was show time.

The War Memorial Coliseum proved a great venue for wrestling. The main lights dimmed, and spotlights illuminated the ring, giving the whole room an old school feel. Once again, the ladies rose to the occasion, as the best match on the first half of the card was a Falls Count Anywhere battle between Randi West and Paloma Star, with Hardcore Heather Owens acting as guest referee.

Sugar Dunkerton and the former Adam Rose were an entertaining tag team in the second half of the night, and their match ended with a parade of Rosebuds, including the bunny. Their match was followed by Lawler and Dru Skillz from Indianapolis, in which Lawler gave the fans exactly what they wanted.

The main event pitted local hero Kongo Kong against Ryback, and it proved to be a phenomenal way to end the night. Kong dwarfed Ryback, who is not normally the smaller man in the match, and both men exhibited their power and agility. Ryback had no trouble powerlifting the monster Kong, while Kong brought the house down when he super-plexed Ryback from the top rope. The match became a triple threat when the masked “Ginger Dragon” entered the fray. The Dragon turned out to be Dru Skillz, who won the belt from Ryback, but Ryback and Kong teamed up on the duplicitous new champ – including two top rope splashes from Kong.

A few other thoughts on my first experience at Heroes and Legends:

Rob Conway is as good a guy as everyone says he is. The two of us graduated from New Albany High School in the early 90s, and it was great getting to meet him and hear some of his stories.

Shannon Moore shook hands with everyone in the vendor area when he arrived, even the non-wrestlers. A class act. Mickie Knuckles did the same just before she left.

I got to meet Tyger Smith, who helped train my friends Marc Hauss and Eric Emanon. Nice guy with some funny stories.

There’s nothing more cruel than teasing that we might get a Ninja (Hy Zaya) vs. Demon (Shane Mercer)  showdown at the end of a battle royal – only to see both eliminated by the masked man who won the match. So close!

Did I mention the ladies stole the show? Seriously, the WWE does NOT have the market cornered on women’s wrestling. Mickie, Heather Owens, and Randi West deliver every time. Dementia D’Rose and Paloma Star held their own with the hardcore veterans and dished some serious violence. Samantha Heights and Amazing Maria are stars on the rise.

If you’re in Northern Indiana, you owe it to yourself to check out Heroes and Legends. Jayson Maples and his crew do everything right, creating the perfect mix of classic stars with independent talent. Kudos to everyone who made today such a memorable event.

Long Time OVW Wrestler Thrilled to Give Back

Randy Royal came up in the same class at OVW as Randy Orton and Brock Lesnar. He was there when the WWE was promoting students from Louisville to RAW on a weekly basis. Royal never got a shot at the next level like his classmates, but Royal is grateful for everything he has – including his life.

Royal grew up a wrestling fan, and when the opportunity to train with Danny Davis presented itself, he jumped at the chance. “I’d been been enamored with wrestling since I can remember, so I don’t think my parents were TOO surprised. I’m sure at first they figured that I wouldn’t stick with it. Seventeen years later, I guess I proved that theory wrong.”

Royal started at OVW right around the same time the WWE came to down, anointing OVW as its developmental territory. “I was in same training class as Randy Orton, Dave Batista, Brock Lesnar, Shelton Benjamin. Jim Cornette was in charge of producing our television at the time. I was lucky to sit under that ‘learning tree’ as he would explain the psychology behind the matches.”

Royal remained in Louisville working with OVW even after the WWE left town. He kept on wrestling, never suspecting he had a ticking time bomb inside him that would threaten his life.

“I was born with Wolfe-Parkinsons-White Syndrome. I had no idea. Then in 2012  I went into V-fib. They had to medically stop my heart and try to shock me back to life. The doctor said that they all agreed that after trying numerous times that they’d give it one final shock before they’d have to officially pronounce me deceased. I’m glad they did! I had to have a little surgery to correct that and hear I am.”

Royal jokes that his favorite match is any match he doesn’t get hurt, but in seriousness, he remembers his return to the ring after heart surgery with great fondness. “The amount of love and support from fans that I never dreamed would even know anything about ‘Randy Royal’ was overwhelming. I didn’t think returning to the ring was even possible, so when I stepped through those ropes, I’ll admit that I reared up a little.”

Royal says he’s the same man inside the ring that he was before his heart troubles came to light. “The only difference in that ‘Randy’ and this ‘Randy’ is that I see things a lot differently and make the most out of life.”

To that end, Royal’s number one goal for 2017 is to give back, sharing his knowledge with the next generation. “Wrestling is going to move on with or without me, and it doesn’t owe any of us a thing; we owe it. It’s allowed me to travel to places that a “poor kid from Georgia who moved to Kentucky and had to pay for his ticket to see Jerry Lawler wrestle in nickels and dimes” never thought he’d see. So if I can help someone else to even achieve that, I feel like I’m giving back in a sense.”

Royal is working twice a week now with OVW, on Wednesday TV tapings and Saturday spot shows. He is also taking bookings outside OVW, “just to work with different people who have different styles.”

You can find Randy Royal online on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Be sure to watch all his social media profiles to discover another of Randy’s talents: he’s an artist, and a darn good one.

A Louisville Wrestling Hall of Fame

No, don’t get your hopes up. There’s no Hall of Fame in the works by me, or anyone else I know of. Just a little hypothetical question:

If there were a Louisville Wrestling Hall of Fame, who would you want to see in it?

I have a long list of suggestions. In no particular order, they are:

Ed “Strangler” Lewis – A first ballot entry for sure, the Strangler got his famous name in Louisville after showing up two weeks late for a booking under his real name.

Heywood Allen – A referee turned promoter who was involved in the Louisville wrestling scene from the early 1900s until 1947.

Francis S. McDonogh – Allen’s successor, who took the Allen Athletic Club into its hey day in the 1950s, pioneering wrestling on Louisville television and drawing record crowds at the Armory.

Betty McDonogh – Wife of Francis and the business manager for Allen and her husband. She gets credit for helping to popularize wrestling with a female audience in the 1940s, when the promotion drew more ladies every week for a time than men.

Wild Bill Longson – The only man to win a world championship in Louisville. Longson was a fixture for the Allen Athletic Club throughout the 40s and 50s and even worked as a booker for the promotion.

“The Black Panther” Jim Mitchell – A true pioneer, Mitchell was an African American wrestler before, during, and after the “color barrier” was put in place. He was also a mentor to the legendary Bobo Brazil.

Col. Stu Gibson – A New Albany native and former football hero who became a huge heel in Louisville and San Antonio.

Wee Willie Davis – A wrestler and movie star who moved to Louisville and ran a few promotions during the late 50s and 60s.

Jerry Jarrett – Wrestler and promoter who brought Louisville into the Memphis territory in 1970.

Jerry Lawler – The King of Memphis could lay equal claim to royalty in Louisville with all the legendary nights he had at the Gardens.

Jim Cornette – Arguably the most famous Louisville native in the pro wrestling business. Considered one of the greatest managers of all time. With the Rock N Roll Express going into the WWE Hall of Fame, one can only hope Jim and the Midnight Express will be next.

Danny Davis – Wrestler and manager during the Memphis era who moved to Louisville and founded OVW.

Ian Rotten – Former ECW wrestler who founded IWA Mid-South, a promotion that has lasted just as many years as the more mainstream OVW.

Kenny “Starmaker” Bolin – Louisville native and life-long nemesis of Cornette, Bolin helped launch the WWE careers of more than 4 dozen wrestlers who once belonged to Bolin Services.

John Cena – OVW’s most famous son.

CM Punk – IWA Mid-South’s most famous son.

The “OVW Four” aka Rob Conway, Nick Dinsmore, The Damaja, and Doug Basham – Four Southern Indiana natives, two (Conway and Dinsmore) from right across the river, who made it to the WWE after starting in the OVW beginner class. Basham and Damaja were a tag team in the E. Dinsmore became the surprisingly popular U-Gene. Conway is the only Louisville native to win the WWE Tag Title and went on to become a two-time NWA World Champion.

Dean Hill – Current “owner” of OVW, Hill was a ring announcer at the Louisville Gardens before becoming the voice of Louisville wrestling as OVW’s TV announcer.

Okay, Louisville fans, let’s hear it. Who would you put in a Louisville Wrestling Hall of Fame?

Dillinger is a Dangerous Man

12933098_1025587454178766_7331987619498914413_nI first saw the man known as Drew Dillinger when he was training with Mitchell Huff under the watchful eye of Apollo Garvin. He was a big guy, and he didn’t have a trim, athletic physique, but even at that early state, he was surprisingly athletic. As he worked a match with Huff, I could see an intensity in his eyes, a determination to prove to himself and all watching that he belonged in the ring.

Time has proven that impression true. Dillinger came into his own as a member of Southern Indiana’s UWA promotion, and after a brief injury hiatus, he is now back with NWA Supreme. Dillinger is no longer a young man with something to prove. He’s a monster, a quick, agile, powerful wrestler with a hard-hitting style.

Being in the ring was a life-long dream for Dillinger, going back to the second grade. “I wanted to be on the stage. I wanted to suplex people like Angle and Benoit did. I wanted to chokeslam people like Kane. I wanted to be a larger than life character that was feared so much I was respected for it like Undertaker.”

After training with Apollo, Dillinger continued his schooling by attending seminars with Rhyno, Jerry Lynn, Tracy Smothers, Bill Dundee, and Tito Santana. Over time, he began to adopt a ring persona as dark as his heroes, Kane and the Undertaker.

“Drew Dillinger is literally just me, with no filter and the volume and intensity cranked to 11. There have been small tweaks to my presentation and in ring style every now and then to try and stay fresh and always have something new to bring to the table, but when I step through those ropes, I get to drop all of my professional and social filters and behaviors, and, hell I’ll admit it, drop my insecurities, and just be my self and actually have some fun.”

Dillinger’s career was sidetracked for a few months by an injury, but he learned some hard lessons while waiting to return. “I learned the cold hard truth that the show must go on. The business doesn’t owe anyone anything, and it waits for no one. I watched people I considered close friends fade away slowly but surely because I was no longer in the locker room. But it is nice that most of them bring truth to the saying that close friends are always there even if you don’t talk regularly. We don’t reach out often, but we’re there for each other, and as real as it gets with each other to this day.”

Dillinger has had a number of favorite matches with big names as well as the close friends who have come up with him. “I think the matches I remember enjoying the most while in the ring would be, my match with Rob Conway, a match with Kevin Lee Davidson, my last man standing match with Waffle, a bull rope match out in Madison, Indiana, and last but far from least, my knock out only, loser leaves town match with Matt Atreya. We made a huge statement that night.”

Dillinger cites the Undertaker as his dream match, a dream he admits will never likely see the light of day given where Taker is in his career. For now, he’s got his sights set on making a name for himself so he can one day work at Full Sail University. “My dream is to lock horns with the best of the best in NXT. I want to get to the cutting edge of wrestling today, and from where I’m sitting, NXT looks like the main big goal. The next few years look really bright for me, and I’m going to conquer every obstacle thrown at me.”

Dillinger can be found wrestling for NWA Supreme in Madison, Indiana weekly, and he will soon be on the roster with another Southern Indiana institution: IWA Mid-South. You can follow him on his Facebook page to learn more and contact him for bookings.

The Blackanese Assassin!

One of the stars coming to Jeffersonville for PWF on Friday night is the masked man called Menace. It was my privilege to interview Menace a while back for the book Eat Sleep Wrestle, and fans who come out to the Arena Saturday are in for a real treat.

Menace grew up watching Mid-Atlantic, NWA, WWF, and Georgia Championship Wrestling. From an early age he dreamed of becoming a wrestler himself, and during career day in high school, he listed his top two choices as “wrestler” and “Kindergarten teacher.” One could argue the skill set for either of those careers are somewhat interchangeable, but no one really took him seriously about the wrestling career.

Menace proved everyone wrong. he began training with Rick Connors in Knoxville, Tennessee after a friend of his girlfriend connected him. Connors didn’t have a ring, so Menace got his early education on the lawn in Connors’s backyard.

Menace has come a long way since those early days working for CZW, HWA, NWA Wildside, NWA Smoky Mountain, NWA Rocky Top, Ego Pro Wrestling, Coliseum Championship Wrestling, and more. He’s been in the ring with Jimmy Valiant, Dr. Tom Pritchard, Tracy Smothers, Vick the Bruiser, Jimmy Golden, Kid Cash, Jerry Lynn, Christopher Daniels, Rob Conway, “The Franchise” Shane Douglas, and Ricky Morton.

Menace is a high flier. He has a background in Kempo Ju-Jitsu and a great love for Japanese wrestling. Fans who have never seen him are in for a real treat.

Menace will appear with PWF Friday Night at The Arena in Jeffersonville, Indiana. You can follow him on Facebook.

Mitch Johnson is The Man

12717269_10205815297969136_714870595142457369_nMitch Johnson is one of the quietest guys in the locker room before a show. He’s well-dressed, he shakes hands with everyone, but if you saw him before the doors opened, you would never guess this seemingly shy individual will be the most hated man in the building before the evening ends.

When Johnson steps through the curtain, microphone in hand, Dr. Jeckyll transforms into Mr. Hyde. He’s loud, arrogant, and brash. He has the fans booing and screaming even before he eviscerates them and their hometown. Johnson talks the talk with the very best, and when the talking is done, he backs it up in the ring.

Mitch Johnson is a proud native of Detroit, Michigan who grew up idolizing Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels, Sting, Ric Flair, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Mr. Perfect, Bret Hart, and Chris Benoit. He trained initially with the legendary Rip Rogers, but just as he had many heroes, he credits many mentors with his success. “I’ve learned a lot from guys like Ron Conway, Al Snow, Nick Dinsmore, Jim Cornette, Danny Davis and Mike Mondo.”

Johnson has wrestled in 42 states, sharing the ring Rob Conway, Jerry Lynn, Necro Butcher, Rhyno, Eugene, Cliff Compton, Brad Maddox, and Tommy Dreamer. “I’ve also worked for WWE a few times and wrestled dark matches with guys like Fit Finley, Justin Gabriel, and Dolph Ziggler.”

“Mitch Johnson seems arrogant,” says his friend and former boss, Rick Brady of D1W. “He appears whiny, disrespectful, and at times lazy. But that is the furthest thing from the truth. When Christian Mascagni brought him to D1W, I thought he would be done in four shows. Over three years later, he has become one of the most professional, dependable and loyal people that you can count on.

Perhaps the best testament to Johnson’s success is his collection of title belts. Johnson has forced his way into the title picture for nearly every promotion he’s worked for, and he says he’s lost count how many he has won and lost. At the start of 2016 he was holding five belts. “The CPU heavyweight title, the undisputed title, HPW inter-gender tag team titles, the NWA Illinois state champion, and NWA Missouri State championship.

Johnson has been without a home promotion since D1W went on hiatus in early 2015, but Brady continues to sing Johnson’s praises. “I personally managed him and watched as his career took off firsthand. Fans hate him. Workers hate him. But that guy is living the dream, and earning every step. Promoters love him and there is a reason for that. As long as I run shows, he and Amanda will always have a spot.”

If Brady’s recommendation isn’t enough to potential promoters, then here’s one from me. Mitch is a must-see if he’s on the card in my area. He’s unflappable on the microphone, and he can hang with anyone in the ring. He’s a heat magnet with fans, an old school heel who can kick off a show with a bang or close it with a fury.

To paraphrase his preferred entrance music: he’s the man.

Mitch Johnson can be followed on Twitter @Johnsonera

Hoosier Hero Stu Gibson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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