Cool to wake up this morning and see OVW and The Black Panther Jim Mitchell mentioned in the weekly email newsletter from the Frazier History Museum.
A few years ago, I donated some items from my personal Jim Mitchell collection to the Frazier. They’ve got programs, photos, posters, and even a pair of Mitchell’s boots, as shown in the video below.
Brian West, a teaching artist at the Frazier, does a wonderful job recapping the history of wrestling in Louisville before delving into the Netflix series, Wrestlers. If you haven’t watched it already, The seven-part doc us available to watch on Netflix, and if ratings are high enough, a second season is a distinct possibility.
Wrestlers has made Haley J, Cash Flo, Amazing Maria, Mahabali Shera, and more bigger stars in the wrestling world and the reality TV world. It’s exciting to see so many long-time friends getting screen time, seen by millions of Netflix subscribers around the world.
The Frazier History Museum is a wonderful place to visit if you love history. Some highlights of their collection include a pair of pistols that belonged to General Custer and Teddy Roosevelt’s “big stick” hunting rifle. Visit Frazier’s website for more information.
You can read Brian West’s write up in the newsletter by clicking here.
If you want to get the feel for what OVW was like in the WWE Developmental hey day, you better get over there now. If you can get tickets.
Somewhere around 2001-2002, right after the first class of OVW (Cena, Lesnar, yada yada) left for the main roster, OVW was electric every week. Fans lined up early and packed the house because you literally never knew who you might see. Kurt Angle in the main event. Or Bradshaw and Ron Simmons. Or the Big Show. Maybe Shelton Benjamin might come back for a one off match, or Batista. Or maybe Eddie Guererro would put in an appearance.
It was the unannounced drop-ins, even more than the WWE prospects Superstars, that made it so exciting. Jim Ross might show up. Molly Holly might make a surprise appearance. Anything could happen at OVW. In Louisville. In tiny Davis Arena.
Let me be clear: OVW, the company, was really no different tonight than the OVW I’ve been attending regularly for 14 months now. They advanced their storylines, slowly, deliberately. Old School. They put on terrific matches. The Outrunners energized the crowd. Luke Kurtis bumped like a maniac in a killer opening match with Tony Gunn. Shaloncè Royal was, as usual, totally unappreciated for her musical genius. Will Austin pulled off another move that made even his biggest haters gasp. And yes, Joe Mack and Gracie called each other babies.
What was different was the crowd. Netflix has made superstars of the men and women, veterans and young kids, who just happened to be at the right place and the right time in 2022. People who forgot OVW was here, and people who never heard of OVW, are clamoring for tickets. Tonight, during a commercial break, Eric Cornish asked if anyone had come from beyond Indiana and Kentucky. There were two from Michigan. A half dozen from North Carolina. And a pair from Los Angeles.
Tonight’s show sold out on Sunday, and the people who filled the seats came to have fun. They cheered. They booed. They roared with an intensity I have not seen or heard since the Developmental days. Every man and woman who set foot in the ring tonight felt it and fed off it.
The Outrunners were more jazzed and energized than usual, which is really saying something. Luke Kurtis had an extra bounce in his bumps. Cash Flo grinned ear to ear cutting his promo, introducing his tag team partner for the Nightmare Cup on the October 21 PPV – which, incidentally is sold out.
And then came Shera.
Cash Flo, Al Snow, and Haley J have received the biggest pops since Wrestlers debuted on Netflix a month ago, but the fans have been dying to full-on cheer Mahabali Shera. When he came out on the 14th, the night after the Netflix premiere, they cheered him. He was still a heel. He had Shannon the Dude at ringside. But everyone wanted a high five, a fist bump. Shera couldn’t help smiling.
Shera did not appear on the 21st, the night of the first sell out. A week later, on the 28th, they teased a babyface turn. Last week, October 5, they confirmed that turn.
Tonight, the crowd chanted “Shera! Shera! Shera!” even before Cash Flo could introduce him. When he burst through the curtain, the roof blew off the metal building at 4400 Old Shep. It felt like the old days.
But this is a new day. These are not hand-picked WWE prospects with cameos from main roster Superstars. These are long time indie veterans who refused to give up on the dream. These are new, unknown, rising stars whose progress you can literally watch happen week to week. I said it before, I saw it with Luke Kurtis. I’m seeing it with Tony Evans and his boo-inducing “HUSH!” gimmick. I’m seeing it with Will Austin.
The night ended with a test of this new alliance: Cash Flo and Mahabali Shera vs. Dysfunction. Poor Brandon Espinoza got the worst of it. He’s not a small guy, but the two super heavyweights still threw him around like a rag doll. He took it like a champ, and in his own way, he helped send the crowd home happy.
If you come to Davis Arena, you’ll see the famous faces who put OVW on the map. A gallery of beautiful black and white prints by fan and artist Joe Slack line the entryway, paying homage to the past.
Once you get past the ticket window, you’ll be in a new OVW. This is the Netflix era, the era of Cash Flo, Mr. PEC-Tacular, Haley J, Tiffany Nieves, Mahabali Shera, EC3 and the OverMen, Freya the Slaya, Leila Grey, and dozens more dreamers hoping to become your new, favorite wrestler.
No one is happier to see the fans back in full voice than they are.
Welcome back, OVW fans. Whatever happens from here, enjoy the ride.
Wrestling fans are going to want to know more when Wrestlers arrives on Netflix next week. Who is Cash Flo? Why does Haley J look so familiar? Can Shalonce Royal really sing? And what’s the deal with those Outrunners?
I’ve got you covered.
Over the last year, I’ve written profiles on several personalities you’ll meet in Wrestlers. Here’s where you can find them:
As I settled into my seat at Davis Arena on a warm August night in 2022, I couldn’t help noticing just how many cameras were around the arena. Normally, OVW has two video cameras at ringside, along with two still photographers, and the hard cam on the same side with concessions. There were more cameras, more cables, and more crew running around the building that night than I had ever seen.
By the end of the night, I’d know why. The extra cameras were for a documentary series being produced by Greg Whitely, whose past credits include Cheer and Last Chance U: Basketball. The crew spent the summer shadowing Ohio Valley Wrestling’s finest in and out of the Arena in preparation for the docuseries launching next week, Wrestlers.
To be honest, it wasn’t a well-kept secret. All of us who were in attendance knew it was coming. The only question was when. We finally got the answer right after OVW’s biggest show of the year, cleverly titled The Big One.
The house was packed for The Big One. Not shoulder to shoulder like it was in January for the Nightmare Rumble, but all four sides of the Arena were packed. Makes you wonder if Al Snow has a plan when the series airs and more fans want to catch the action live.
I’ve been as regular at OVW over as year now. My fifteen year old has been a regular since last November. I don’t watch much wrestling outside OVW, and I recently figured out why. I get my fix at OVW. I’m invested in the people and the stories. I see great matches and surprising plot twists every week. Outside my occasional trek East to see my friends at FTC, OVW is my regular fix!
Check it out for yourself on September 13. Then come join us at Davis Arena. This is not the OVW of old.
The cake was absolutely lovely. Baked by Little Monsters Sweets, the two layer delicacy created for Aaron Grider and Freya the Slaya sat on a table close to the hard cam side of the ring. Opposite the table, AJ McKay waited to officiate the ceremony as the lovely Carolyn Dawson sang the wedding party to the ring.
There was no question on anyone’s mind as to whether this wedding would go smoothly. The only real mystery was who would go into the cake, and would they go face or butt first? This was, after all, a wrestling wedding, and they never end well.
The wedding kicked off OVW’s biggest show of the year, appropriately titled The Big One, and OVW went all out for the nuptials. Aaron and Freya even had a registry on The Knot, which I understand was full of Star Wars toys.
I won’t spoil what happened, because honestly, you need got go watch the whole show on Fite. Suffice to say, the wedding proved to be a great kick off for a fantastic event.
OVW usually packs a number of matches into their two hour TV tapings, but on this night, only four matches followed the wedding. As the name of the show suggests, they were all big ones:
The Outrunners and “The Machine” Doug Basham faced The Destroyers and Josh Ashcraft.
Crixus challenged “Superior” Tony Evans for the Kentucky Boy Brewing Company Heavyweight Championship.
Shaloncé Royal finally got her chance to face Haley J one on one for the OVW Women’s Championship.
And Team OVW faced THEE FACTION in a Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match.
The crowd was not the largest seen in Davis Arena this year, but the crowd that attended January’s Nightmare Rumble was hard to top. The crowd was red hot throughout the night and thankfully, the building was less hot than it has been the past few weeks, even with all those bodies.
Honestly, the crowd this summer have been more than double what they were a year ago. Word of mouth continues to spread that this is not the OVW of five or ten years ago. This is a new territory, a locker room filled with veterans and leaders who have all come to learn at the feet of the master Al Snow. This is old school, long term storytelling. This is a place where veterans like Cash Flo, Hy Zaya, Mahabali Shera, and more come to teach and be taught.
Again, no spoilers here. Only a very happy wrestling fan urging those who haven’t to check out the action. The Outrunners, as always, delivered a high energy match with two equally talented foes in Gnarls Garvin and Big Zo. Tony Evans proves over and over he is a talent on the rise while Crixus proves to be a force to be reckoned with. Shaloncé and Haley J are very different but stellar talents. And how about Shaloncé’s attorney PJ Jones? There were more signs in Davis Arena directed at him than the infamous Shannon the Dude tonight.
And then, came TLC.
Cash Flo, Tony Gunn, Luscious Lawrence, Omar Amir, and Cal Herro faced off against Jessie Godderz, EC3, Mahabali Shera, Luke Kurtis, and Joe Mack in an absolutely melee. Luke Kurtis continues to prove he’s the best bumper in OVW, but Joe Mack takes the prize for the sickest looking bump not taken by a photographer. And what’s this friction happening between Jessie Godderz and EC3?
Sorry, I said no spoilers, right?
OVW boasts a number of talented performers who may be on the move sooner rather than later. The Outrunners certainly seem bound for a larger spotlight. Kurtis should not be far behind him. He bumps like Dolph Ziggler and Ricky Morton, and he’s an absolutely heat magnet. And Joe Mack? The dude has the look and the size to be something special.
All that being said, OVW sent a message last night. This promotion is no longer content with sending forth the superstars of tomorrow. The whole promotion looks poised for bigger things. Fans who were around last fall and summer have some hint as to what’s coming next for OVW, and it’s clear this roster is ready.
Only question is, is Davis Arena going to be big enough for what comes next?
OVW runs every Thursday night 7-9 pm at Davis Arena, 4400 Old Shepherdsville Road in Louisville. Visit www.ovwrestling.com for tickets.
If you’re any kind of fan of the golden age, you know who Mildred Burke is.
If all you’ve ever watched is WWE… you need to know who Mildred Burke is. Because they won’t tell you.
Mildred Burke was a main event star for over a decade. She reigned supreme as women’s champion for sixteen years. She was the top draw along side names like Gladys “Kill Em” Gillem, Mae Weston, Mae Young, Nell Stewart, Theresa Theis, Violet Viann, Ethel Johnson, Babs Wingo, and June Byers.
Jeff Leen wrote a phenomenal biography of the woman, Queen of the Ring, that is now being turned into a movie. The production team needs extras, now through July, in the Louisville area.
If you’re interested in being part of the movie, go to the link below. Fill in the form, and watch your inbox for confirmation.
This is a great opportunity to not only see how movies are made but see real wrestling history brought to life! And you never know who will show up on set. I’m not just speaking about cast, either.
Sign up today and be a part of wrestling and film history.
Big Zo has a recipe that can give you a better life.
I take that back. Recipe is the wrong word. The truth is there are many recipes for success when it comes to counseling. Every person is in a different “season” in life, and every “season” requires different “ingredients.”
I’m usually pretty sharp when it comes to puns and metaphors, but right now, I have to give the nod to Zo, or more appropriately, to Cowann D. Owens, LCSW. He’s assembled a book in Cooking Up Counseling with the express purpose of demystifying the idea of personal counseling. A long-time professional counselor himself, Owens is a believer that most people could benefit from at least some therapy in their lives, and his book does an excellent job of breaking through the fears around counseling.
Owens began writing the book during a time when mental health issues and especially anxiety were at an all-time high: 2020. Not only was the Covid-19 pandemic putting a strain on men, women, and children around the world, the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were also at the forefront of everyone’s mind. People needed help more than ever, and more than ever, they needed someone to convince them it was okay to seek that help.
Cooking up Counseling addresses the societal stigmas about counseling. Yes, family and faith and other natural supports are beneficial, but sometimes expert guidance is still needed. Owens uses the first third of the book to break down the process of seeking help. He gives the reader a bird’s eye view of mental issues and the types of professionals who can assist. He gives guidance to initiating the process of finding a therapist and encourages the reader to advocate for themselves in finding the right “kitchen” where they can start cooking.
Owens doesn’t just want people who need therapy to give it a try. He arms them with common sense and practical advice for making therapy work. Just like a good recipe in the kitchen, you need to put good ingredients in to have a satisfying result come out. To that end, Owens offers practical ways people can better engage in their own therapy to make it work for them.
Early on, Owens stresses that the book is not a guide to better health in and of itself, but a jumping off point for those who could benefit from therapy. Every person is different. Every diagnosis is different. Cooking with Counseling isn’t intended as a treatment in and of itself but a guide for understanding and getting the most out of therapy when needed. Owens uses humor and his love of food to make readers feel safe about seeking the help they may need.
And while Owens also adds he’s no culinary expert in the kitchen but merely a food enthusiast, he did toss in a few appetizing real-life food recipes, just for good measure.
It’s a sure bet some wrestling fans are going to pick this book up expecting it to be just another wrestling book. While Owens mentions his career in the ring, the focus remains solely on sharing the benefits of therapy. My guess is more than a few of those fans will find themselves opened up to the idea by the book’s end. Owens does a remarkable job explaining the hows, the wheres, the when’s, the whos, and especially the whys of seeking counseling. The man known as Big Zo in the ring has taken on few challenges as big as the he tackles in Cooking up Counseling, and the big man handles it like a champ.
Much ado has been made about a comment from a certain wrestling executive about how wrestling only took place in tiny bars before the WWF came along. Today I decided to share a few programs I have from one of those tiny bars: The Jefferson County Armory, now known as Louisville Gardens.
The first program is from way back in 1952. This tiny bar program saw World Champion Lou Thesz defend his title against Enrique Torres with former champ Ed “Strangler” Lewis in Thesz’s corner. Ray Eckert, Stu Gibson, Ethel Johnson, and Bill Longson were also on the card held in front of a meager 9281 fans in this tiny bar.
A year later, the same bar wrestling promotion, the Allen Athletic Club, presented this card:
Baron Leone was the victor in the main event that night, defeating Gentleman Jim Doby. Other stars included the Great Zorro (pictured), Mae Young, Bill Longson, Stu Gibson, and Gloria Barratini. The bar was really packed that night, with a new record attendance of 9384 reported in the newspaper.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m excited to see some of the changes this innovative WWE executive is already bringing to television. But if we’re really going to go all the way, perhaps we should drop the company line that pro wrestling was irrelevant before WWF at the same time we drop the word Superstar in favor of Wrestler.
In a last minute turn of events, I made my way to Ohio Valley Wrestling tonight for the live broadcast of television episode 1199. I’ve witnessed many TV tapings in Davis Arena since my first visit twenty years ago, and I saw some terrific action tonight. What struck me the most, however, is how different this OVW is from the OVW I used to know.
I still have a program from the first night I ever visited OVW. Kurt Angle was in the main event, and a number of WWE stars like Batista, Shelton Benjamin, Rob Conway, and The Bashams, were on the card. Outside of Angle, however, none of the above were Superstars at the time. They were students, wrestling on a televised program from a wrestling school. Yes, these were the Superstars of Tomorrow Today, but it still had the feel of a wrestling school program.
I don’t get that feeling in Davis Arena these days. OVW continues to evolve under new management, and it no longer feels like you’re watching wrestling in a wrestling school. Everything about OVW screams “territory.”
First of all, there’s the arena itself. From the lighting rigs above to the seating arrangements to the presentation itself, nothing screams “wrestling school.” It looks and feels like any other professional promotion. I take that back; it feels a cut above most wrestling promotions, including some others that are televised. This is Professional wrestling with a capital P.
Second, take a look in the ring. Can you identify the students? Are they the young ones in the ring? Or maybe the newer faces? Perhaps the officials, or maybe the television crew? Every OVW card is stacked with talented men and women including long-time independent stalwarts (Hi, Cash Flo!) and faces you’ve seen not just on wrestling TV but reality TV. (I see you, Jesse Godderdz!)
The matches do not feel like students vs. students. The storylines do not smell of amateur booking. Once again, OVW presents Professional wrestling with a capital P.
Now truth be told, everyone backstage at OVW, save for one, is a student of OVW. From the wrestlers to the refs to the production team to the announcers, every man and woman has come to sit under the learning tree of Al Snow. Even Doug Basham, who made a cameo during tonight’s pull apart between Amazing Maria and her daughter Haley J, is a student here. Yes, he’s a former WWE Tag Team Champion. Yes, he’s now teaching the advanced class. But he will tell you how much he has learned from resident “Mr. Miyagi.”
Al Snow is a born teacher. His stated goal is that everyone who works for OVW will take what they learn and use it to reach their goals in pro wrestling. The testimony to Al’s genius is how very professional, how very “non-wrestling school” his burgeoning territory looks in person. OVW is run like a territory. The people working OVW are taught to perform as professionals. Every time I attend a show, OVW moves further and further away from their wrestling school roots.
OVW tours like a territory. They’ve been all over the state this summer, putting on house shows in big towns and small. They’re across the river in New Albany tomorrow night (August 5), and they’re back at Davis Arena Saturday (August 6) for a stellar card that includes a casket match, the return to action by Amazing Maria, and a special appearance by Scotty 2 Hotty.
And of course, OVW broadcasts not only locally, but internationally through Fite TV. OVW’s wrestlers and announcers receive fan mail (and email) from around the world. Every week, more and more eyes are on the long-running Louisville promotion, one that marks its 1200th episode in seven days. Tonight’s episode is worth catching on Fite and included some great tag team action with Jesse Godderdz and Tony Gunn, a hard-hitting eight man match at the very end, and some fun video segments with Freya the Slaya and my old pal from the Three Blind Refs video, Aaron Grider.
OVW may not be in the same conversation as AEW, WWE, Impact, or New Japan, but the students of Al Snow have transformed what was once the nation’s top wrestling school into an honest-to-goodness, 21st century territory. Great things continue to happen at Davis Arena, and greater things are on the horizon for the students: in and out of Davis Arena.
Who would you say is Louisville’s biggest wrestling fan?
I know more than one person who would say it was their grandma. Not grandpa, but grandma. That’s no accident. As far back as the 1940s women were as frequent a site in the stands as men, thanks in part to the efforts of Betty McDonogh in the Allen Athletic Club ticket office. Even in the 80s, many old ladies never missed wrestling at the Louisville Gardens or the chance to tell their least favorite wrestler too kiss their wrinkled butts.
You could also make a case the biggest fan ever was Jim Oetkins. Jim reached out to me after I published Louisville’s Greatest Show and asked if we could meet. He brought along a spiral notebook he kept in the 1950s, recording the results from every week at the Columbia Gym on 4th Street. All those records I pulled off the Internet, he’d kept them in real time as a boy!
And let’s not forget the woman who went into labor one Tuesday night at the Gardens. She was on a gurney, ready to be rushed down the street to give birth, but she refused to leave. Teeny Jarrett pleaded with her, promising to let her know who won the main event, but the woman wanted to see for herself!
And then there’s the man who tried to get a wrestling ticket in exchange for a horse.
The incident took place on March 9, 1933 out in front of the Savoy Theater, now long-vanished from Market Street downtown. In the midst of The Great Depression, the Savoy Theater’s manager C.B. Blake (pictured below) announced that for one night only, the theater would accept “scrip, certified checks, promissory notes, merchandise, or pawn on valuables as par values.” Cash was, of course, still accepted for those who had it.
The Savoy wrestling show was the hot ticket in 1933, and many fans took them up on the offer. According to The Courier-Journal, the box office accepted a variety of items in lieu of money for tickets that night: oats, sauerkraut, sauerkraut juice, razor blades, a sewing machine, coffee, malt, cheese, socks, canned milk, canned chile, a card table, rings, lavaliers, watches, $3 in Courier-Journal scrip, crackers, flour, soft drinks, tomatoes, peas, corn, IOUs from four barbers, a ham, fifteen dozen eggs, and five chickens. Attendance that night was 1567, and the box office collected $809.75 cash in addition to the $90 worth of merchandise.
There was one offer refused by Blake and company. A man rode up shortly before bell time and asked if he could get a wrestling ticket in exchange for a horse. There’s nothing to indicate if the horse was in fine condition of a swaybacked nag, but the offer was refused.
You can hardly blame the guy for trying. Jack Reynolds was on the card that night, along with former Kentucky Wildcat Billy Love and speed boat racer “Wild Bill” Cantrell. Everyone wanted tickets to the Savoy!
The tale of the Savoy Theater is a fascinating saga that was missed when I first published Bluegrass Brawlers. Blake and his booker would fend off multiple challenges from rival promoters (including Abe Finberg down the street at the Gayety Theater) as well as two different incarnations of the Kentucky State Athletic Commission. They were the top draw in Louisville for many years – until Blake’s booker, Heywood Allen, decided to part company and start his own wrestling promotion.