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Dr. Darin Davis

Minnesota independent pro wrestler discusses past experiences and the current state of pro wrestling

Eddie Sharkey Lifetime AchievementI’ve had several previous posts (start with Wrestling Training Part 1) about going through training camp run by Eddie Sharkey and Terry Fox.

On July 19th, local wrestling promotion Steel Domain Wrestling (SDW) presented Eddie with a long-overdue Lifetime Achievement award during their annual show at the Raspberry Festival in Hopkins, MN. The following week, I attended a dinner held at Poor Richard’s Commonhouse in Bloomington, MN to honor Eddie’s accomplishments and share stories about his long career in wrestling.

Eddie started wrestling back in the 1950′s on the carnival circuit. He was trained by Boris Malenko, Bob Geigel, and Joe Scarpello. He made his wrestling debut in the AWA in 1961. Eddie wrestled Harley Race and had memorable feuds with Danny Hodge, Bob Boyer, and Jack Donovan.sharkey14

After ending his relationship with the AWA due to a “disagreement” (a more interesting version can be found here), Sharkey got out of the wrestling business to spend more time with his wife and kids.

In 1982, two young bouncers approached him at the bar he tended in Minneapolis and asked if he would train them to be professional wrestlers. Sharkey agreed, and they would become the hottest tag team of the 80′s – The Road Warriors.

He continued to train wrestlers and run wrestling cards on a regular basis with his Pro Wrestling America (PWA) promotion. Wrestling historians and fans alike would say he was responsible for the 80′s boom of professional wrestling. The talent he trained is a who’s who of the big names of the time. Besides the Road Warriors, there was Jesse Ventura, Bob Backlund, “Ravishing” Rick Rude, Barry Darsow (one half of the tag team Demolition), the Destruction Crew (Wayne Bloom and Mike Enos), Nord the Barbarian, and Nikita Koloff. Later years would produce Rick and Scott Steiner, Sean Waltman, Jerry Lynn, Charlie Norris, Lenny Lane, Ricky Rice, Derrick Dukes, The Warlord, Tom Zenk, J.W. Storm, Madusa Miceli, Josie, ODB, Austin Aries, Shawn Daivari, and Bam Neely.

On the local scene we can also thank him (and Terry Fox) for such independent wrestlers as Horace the Psychopath, Mitch Paradise, the High Rollers, “Playboy” Pete Huge, “Big Daddy” (Brody) Hoofer, Black Stallion, Lacey, Rain, Robbie and Mike Thunder, Ian Xavier, the Mighty Angus, K-Train, Scott Free, Helmut Von Strauss/Justin Lee, Travis Sharpe, and Storm Wolf among others. Oh, yeah… and Darin Davis.

Eddie is still involved with Prime Time Wrestling (PTW) and running occasional shows under the Pro Wrestling America name.

 

Sharkey Appreciation Group Photo B/WAt the dinner, hearing Eddie and his longtime friends tell stories was very entertaining (some of the stories are referred to in a City Pages article from the early 2000′s that I’ll post about separately). It was clear that the older days in wrestling were a more dangerous time for the talent (i.e. less security in arenas), but they also managed to have a lot of fun. And it was great to see a lot of the boys I used to work with show up for this event, some of which are pictured in the group photo above.

To Eddie, I’d like to say thank you for all your wisdom and encouragement while I was going through training camp with you and Terry, and while I was working for your promotions. It probably was the best experience of my life.

darin_davis_eddie_sharkey

As I am still somewhat involved on the local scene, hopefully there are still more of these moments to come.

At the start of each year, I put together a post of what I felt were my best articles for the previous year.

Below are the my best articles for the year 2013, listed in chronological order. If you didn’t get a chance to see them when they were first posted, you may want to check these out.

Previous articles are always available through the Archives box on the right, the Category selection, or the Search box.

  • The Job of a Pro Wrestling Referee: For the last three or four years, I have been working as referee for Minnesota Independent Wrestling (MIW) when they run shows at the American Legion in Chanhassen, MN. I ran across an article by referee Jason Iannone that went a little more “behind the curtain” than I was willing to go in some of my previous postings. But, as I wrote in another posting called My Wrestling NDA, I’m more likely to talk about it if someone else reveals it first.
  • Pro Wrestling Ain’t Easy: Over the last couple of months, I’ve seen several articles with the common theme that being a pro wrestler isn’t easy. Usually the people making these statements are fans that went to a “fantasy camp”, or a similar situation where they paid a few bucks to train for a weekend that culminated in an undoubtedly crappy wrestling match against one of the other trainees. But what about the opinions of people that have a physically job that is obviously not easy? This is a look at a couple of MMA fighter-turned-pro wrestlers that have recently commented on the subject

Upper midwest independent wrestlers “Playboy” Pete Huge and Nate Bash, along with legendary wrestling commentator and host “Slick” Mick Karch are the stars of an independent short film Tourvall the Terrible.

Check it out at the link above.

Tourvall the Terrible

not-so-easy-buttonOver the last couple of months, I’ve seen several articles with the common theme that being a pro wrestler isn’t easy. Usually the people making these statements are fans that went to a “fantasy camp”, or a similar situation where they paid a few bucks to train for a weekend that culminated in an undoubtedly crappy wrestling match against one of the other trainees. They’ll tell you with obvious disbelief that it is much harder than sitting in their Lay-Z-Boy watching it on TV each week.

But what about the opinions of people that have a physically job that is obviously not easy? Let’s look at a couple of MMA fighter-turned-pro wrestlers that have recently commented..

Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal

From Wikipedia: Muhammed Lawal an American mixed martial artist and professional wrestler. He is signed with Bellator Fighting Championships as an MMA fighter, and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) as a wrestler.

He is the former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion. Nicknamed King Mo, he is a former three-time U.S. Senior National Wrestling Champion. He wrestled at the University of Central Oklahoma for three years (’00, ’01, ’02), winning one NCAA division II national championship in 2002, and compiling an overall record of 103-22.

In an interview with Fight Hype (full interview), he had the following to say:

[...] pro wrestling training is harder than MMA training. Just look at the gruesome injuries you see in pro wrestling as opposed to MMA. That sh*t is real, man. You don’t see many compound fractures in MMA like you do in pro wrestling. All you gotta do is YouTube Sid Vicious leg break. Man, you see all kinds of crazy sh*t in pro wrestling.

[...]It was surprising to me and it made me question could I handle this. I was talking to Bully Ray and he was telling me they get people …he was like, “Mo, I have had fighters come through, football players come through, and they will train hard for a week or two and after that, they are done. They never come back.” That sh*t is not easy, and for all of the people out there that think it is, they should go and try to take a bump. [...]  I asked the film guy to take a bump real quick. He couldn’t do it. He was like, “Man, this is so hard, I can’t do it.” So he ended up doing a soft one and the next day, he was sore. He was like, “The whole back of my neck is sore.”

When he was interviewed for Sports Illustrated, he said:

“I didn’t know you’d wake up not being able to move your neck,” said Lawal of his initial time with TNA. “I didn’t know how hard that canvas was going to be. I really didn’t know about all the technique that goes into it to make sure you and your partner don’t hurt each other in a match, but I can do this and I want to do this.”

He told website MMA Junkie:

[He] was asked to vault over the ropes and stick a landing. It was easily a 10-foot drop. Seven people tried it before him, and all of them got hurt. He flatly refused.

Another day, an instructor demonstrated a fall – on concrete. Lawal was shocked at the loudness of his body hitting the ground. It didn’t take him long to realize he had a long way to go.

Dan “The Beast” Severn

From Wikipedia: Daniel “Dan” DeWayne Severn is a retired American mixed martial artist and professional wrestler, notable for his success in the early years of Ultimate Fighting Championship tournaments. Severn has fought and wrestled for many mixed martial arts and professional wrestling promotions, including King of the Cage, PRIDE FC, Cage Rage, WEC, RINGS, MFC, the IFC and the World Wrestling Federation. He holds a professional MMA Record of 101–19–7 and is a UFC Hall of Famer and a former UFC Superfight Champion.

In professional wrestling Severn is a two-time world champion, having won the NWA World Heavyweight Championship twice. As of January 2013, at age 54+, Severn still competes in professional wrestling.

In amateur wrestling, Severn was an All American at Arizona State University and a U.S. Olympic Team alternate.

Fighters.com ran an interview with Severn in late 2012:

On the brink of his retirement from action, Dan “The Beast” Severn is looking back at his long and successful careers in mixed martial arts and pro wrestling.

His unique insight on those pursuits might surprise people who view them through the simple real-versus-fake dichotomy.

“Professional wrestling is much more difficult,” Severn says

“I’ve been hurt far worse in the professional wrestling industry than I have been in all of my cage matches.”

and

Severn quickly discovered that wrestling, though scripted, wasn’t nearly as “fake” as widely believed.

“What makes me nervous about wrestling is that I have to put my body in someone else’s hands,” he says. “If that person screws up, it’s me that gets hurt.”

and

What makes it even trickier, he says, is the peculiar nature of most professional wrestlers.

“I say this as a broad stroke: professional wrestling is the biggest band of derelicts, ne’er-do-wells, misfits, nitwits and socially inept individuals ever. There are exceptions. But that’s the way it was when I first got involved, and it still is to this day.”

 

Now, I’ll admit that when these guys say it’s hard they aren’t just talking about the physical abuse. What they’re also talking about, but don’t specifically say, is that a match should have a good beginning, a solid middle, and build to a satisfying end. Accomplishing that while still concentrating on the physical is probably the hardest part. So when they say it’s hard, it’s probably similar to a veteran NFL player, who is used to years of getting pummelled on the field, saying that “Dancing with the Stars” is hard. It’s just different.

In any case, it’s definitely the hardest thing that I’ve ever done, so it’s nice to hear some legit tough guys say the same.

Image: www.marketingtechblog.com

I’ve written previously about the importance of having a good referee in a match (I’m with the Show). They can make or break it for the wrestlers and the fans.

For the last three or four years, I have been working as referee for Minnesota Independent Wrestling (MIW) when they run shows at the American Legion in Chanhassen, MN. MIW is the promotion of one of my wrestling trainers, Terry Fox, and a long time wrestling friend and fan-turned-promoter Tim Larson. Followers of the local wrestling scene in the late ’90s will recognize Tim as the author of the Upper Midwest Wrestling Newsletter. He created 236 issues ending in April of 2002. I have the full archive on my site at this link: UMWN Archive.

I recently ran across an article by referee Jason Iannone that went a little more “behind the curtain” than I was willing to go in some of my previous postings. But, as I wrote in another posting called My Wrestling NDA, I’m more likely to talk about it if someone else reveals it first.

Take a few minutes to read his article and then I have a few follow-up comments on: Things Your Local Pro Wrestling Referee Wants You To Know

I pulled out a few quotes below and added my take.

But we’re pretty much the glue that holds the matches together.  Having a referee there to oversee the action makes it look like a legitimate contest.

Yep. I’ve wrestled hundreds of matches in training camp, some without a referee or with an untrained referee. It just doesn’t work. It’s like watching a movie with the sound turned off. You can kind of follow what’s happening but part of the story is missing.

At our best, we act like the action is real, and officiate accordingly. Yes, we know who’s winning. And yes, we know about certain things planned beforehand [...]. But, for the most part, we just call what we see, and treat it as realistically as possible, in the hopes that the audience feels the same way.

It only works well if you treat it as a serious contest, where the winner will either get more money as a result, or move up the ladder to get a shot at a title at some future date (our version of the playoffs). You need to treat it like making a wrong call or not enforcing the rules on both contestants equally could cost someone a shot at success. “Call what you see” also implies that you “don’t call what you don’t see” so that you don’t violate the rule above. In other words, if the heel hits the babyface with his nightstick, but we don’t want a disqualification, then I can’t see it. If  I don’t see it, I don’t have the issue of not calling it like a serious contest.

However, there are situation where things don’t go as smoothly, as Jason mentions…

[I]f we have to disqualify somebody who was scheduled to win, because they wouldn’t stop choking their opponent, then so be it.

You want to have the match end as expected to make the promoter happy. At least a few of the wrestling promotions in the area have “seasons” where they run at a regular venue from September to May (or there abouts) and take the summers off. They usually plan out storylines to build up until the end of the season and then give some reason why people should come back again in the fall. Screwing that up for them is a bad idea.

However, this is only trumped by the rule that the referee needs to officiate like it is a serious legitimate contest. Nothing would look worse than a referee stopping at a two count if the wrestler being pinned did not kick out. Or getting to a five count on some rule violation and not disqualifying the violator. If a wrestler doesn’t lift their shoulder by the count of three, you still need to count three and end the match. If they don’t stop choking by a five count, you need to disqualify them and end the match. In these cases, the heat will be on them and not the referee (from the promoter’s perspective at least). You didn’t give me a choice. But as a ref, you’d better be damn sure it’s not your fault before you make the call. If he didn’t lift his shoulder on time, you’d better be sure he didn’t put his foot on the rope instead. Making contact with the ropes breaks the pin attempt, but many referees don’t think to check that.

This made me think back to a match between Dean Malenko and David Sammartino that aired on a live national WCW broadcast. I did a search and found a video. It was for the WCW Cruiserweight title (Malenko was the champ). Notice that the clip is only five minutes long. Considering it took them a minute and a half to get in the ring, and thirty seconds to walk back after the match, that means there was only three minutes of wrestling. For a nationally televised title match. The referee was one of the best referees of all time, the late great Mark Curtis. At the 4:30 mark, Sammartino didn’t get his shoulders up and Curtis had to count to three. No other choice. I’m sure they were planning to put in at least 10 mins, but that didn’t matter.


Dean Malenko vs David Sammartino-WCW… by TSteck160

The one area I’ll bend a little bit on this is with a ten count violation. If both wrestlers are outside the ring and I get to nine, I’ll go outside and tell them to get back in. I don’t see both of them being out of the ring longer as a violation that would legitimately change the outcome of the match (in the way allowing one wrestler to continue to choke the other one might be). However, if one of them gets back in and the other doesn’t make the 10 count, it’s over.

The best refs, besides being properly stupid and half-blind, are experts at not getting involved, and letting the crowd concentrate on the wrestlers. As I heard so often when training, “the best referees are the ones you never notice.”

This was brought home in a conversation I had a year or two ago with ring veteran Horace The Psychopath. He said, “Did you referee my match at the last show?” I said I did. He said, “That tells me you must have done a good job, because I don’t remember. You got out of the way when you were supposed to. You got involved when you were supposed to… I only remember the ones who screwed up.”

I remember that he also wanted me to “point out the pretty girls” to him during the match (discretely of course), but I don’t think I did that. He must have forgotten that part. I still have to concentrate enough on what I’m doing that I can only take in “distractions” before or after the match.

When I wrestled, I expected people to boo me when I came out as a heel. I was hiding behind my wrestling persona and my goal was to get them to boo. When I was working as a “good guy” and people booed instead of cheered, it bothered me because I felt I wasn’t doing my job, not because I felt anything personal. But when I started working as a referee for MIW (using my real name) and they booed, it was a little hard to get used to. It felt like they were booing me personally, rather than my character, because I don’t know if I really have a character when I’m working as a referee. I feel like I’m being myself. The thing to remember is they aren’t being themselves. They’re doing it because that’s part of their enjoyment, not because they have anything against you personally. Some of them still come up to you and talk, or buy you a drink, after the matches.

So the next time you’re out at a pro wrestling show, take a few minutes to watch the ref and see how he (or she) alternates between the invisible man and the voice of authority.

WWE wrestler the Big Show was interviewed on Wrestling with Rosenberg last month and had some interesting things to say. I don’t know why I was surprised to hear this kind of insight from the Big Show. Maybe because his ring work and character makes me think that he goes out there and wings it most of the time. But I guess it just reinforces the idea that people don’t appreciate the amount of thought that goes into even the most basic wrestling match (and the build-up to it).

Below are a few quotes from the interview along with a couple of my comments (transcript courtesy of Cageside Seats). I also changed “sports entertainment” to “wrestling”… just because. (if you want to know why, read WWE: Don’t Call Us Wrestling).

The full video can be seen at the bottom.

…the one big thing that goes on in our industry now, … that bothers me, is most every finish in a tag match has a dip. Why put in a dip in a finish when you’re a new tag team? If you’re a new heel tag team… A dip is (when) there’s a comeback and the comeback stops, that’s a dip. Stop that. When you’re younger, if you’re a babyface tag team and you’re going over, make a comeback and go home. Because the only reason a dip works in a finish or false finish situation is because the audience is emotionally invested in your character. If they’re not emotionally invested in you and you put a dip in a finish, it just looks like you couldn’t get the job done. If you get them to the highest point and they drop, you never get them back…

 

…I catch sh*t all the time ‘oh, you’re slow;’ I’m slow for a reason. I’m slow because that’s my character and that’s my style. When I accelerate my offense it’s not slow, there’s not a big man who moves as fast as fast as I do. When it’s time for me to bump and feed for a comeback, I bump and feed for a comeback but in the meantime, why am I going to run around looking like everyone else? It’s not because I’m lazy, it’s because I’m telling a story. I try to explain that to some of the younger guys…

 

…our job as a heel is to get the babyface over. Which means when it’s time for you to get your heat, you get your heat. You know, heat’s not big moves. As a heel, your heat is underhanded, it’s kicking a guy when he’s down, it’s taking the easy route out when you can, bailing out of the ring and bailing back in the ring but as the babyface it’s coming back in cutting him off when he’s trying to get in; it’s a psychological game of America and the human race in general has always fought from underneath, through evolution, through war, through disease, through famine, we’ve always had to overcome these obstacles. That’s where sports entertainment [wrestling] comes in and has so many fans who are emotionally invested because we all understand that paradox of life, fighting from underneath and having that obstacle to overcome…

I think a lot of people who are long-time wrestling fans (even the so-called “smart” fans) can read the quotes above and look at their weekly shows in a different light. Even the guys that you put down as not being good “workers” have to think about those kind of things all the time. During the match while they have a dozen other things to concentrate on.

And for us that are in the business, it’s good to get some confirmation that what we were taught at the small-time local levels is the same as what the big-time organizations tell their talent.

At the start of each year, I put together a post of what I felt were my best articles for the previous year.

Wow, 2012 was a pretty crappy year for updates on this site. I only posted in three out of the twelve months. Just haven’t had the energy to do it. I think some things need to change…

—–

Below are the my best articles for the year 2012, listed in chronological order. If you didn’t get a chance to see them when they were first posted, you may want to check these out.

Previous articles are always available through the Archives box on the right, the Category selection, or the Search box.

  • Randy “The Dragon” Savage: Wrestling fans are familiar with the epic battles between Randy “Macho Man” Savage and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. But have you heard of Randy “The Dragon” Savage? Take a look at this mod for the PC game Skyrim.
  • Austin Aries – Your New TNA Heavyweight Champ: My congratulations went out to Austin Aries for becoming the TNA Heavyweight Champion after defeating Bobby Roode at the TNA Destination X pay-per-view on July 8th, 2012. Aries chose to end his 298 day reign as TNA X-Division Champion to get a shot at the World title, and it paid off.

Congratulations to Austin Aries for becoming the TNA Heavyweight Champion after defeating Bobby Roode at the TNA Destination X pay-per-view on July 8th, 2012. Aries chose to end his 298 day reign as TNA X-Division Champion to get a shot at the World title, and it paid off.

Of course, you’ve probably known this for quite awhile before reading it here, so I’ll get to something you may not have known. Aries trained with Eddie Sharkey and Terry Fox (and later with a different wrestling camp) when he made his debut in the Minneapolis,Minnesota area. This was the same camp I was a part of (which I have described in a few previous posts, starting with Wrestling Training).

It was at the same time that Sheik Abdul Bashir (Shawn Daivari) and Bam Neely (Hellraiser Gutz) were being trained. Daivari would later go on to work for the WWE, TNA, and ROH. Neely would work in ECW and the WWE.

I still remember a conversation that occurred when Aries first got into the business. I was talking with some visitor to our wrestling camp – I don’t remember if it was an out-of-town wrestler or a promoter, but it doesn’t matter. It started with a single question.

This guy is really good. How long has he been training?“, the visitor asked.

I pretended to look at a wristwatch I didn’t have and said, “About 45 minutes.

He kind of chuckled and responded with, “No. I don’t mean low long today. I mean how long, in total, has he been in wrestling training.

I looked at him with a straight face and said, “About 45 minutes.

We just looked at each other for a few seconds as if we both knew we were witnessing something special. That this guy, barring injury, would go on to become something great. That he had shown enough talent in less than an hour to convince any promoter that his 5’9″ frame didn’t matter.

Aries has a current tag line of “Austin Aries- The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived“. In the context of professional wrestling, that may turn out to be completely true.

 

I haven’t been watching televised wrestling for quite awhile. As in months. Sure, I peruse some wrestling news stories daily (mostly just the headlines) and my TiVo faithfully records WWE Monday Night Raw, WWE Smackdown, and TNA Impact each week in the hopes that I’ll actually play one of them back some day. But the little guy just ends up disappointed.

So it really was news to me when I read a story about how TNA was going to start “…the most significant evolution in this genre in more than 15 years” last Thursday. I couldn’t find the specifics other than a press release posted on The Wrestling News Page (TWNP). Highlights from the press release are below, with my emphasis in bold:

NASHVILLE, TN (May 30, 2012) – TNA IMPACT WRESTLING announced today that the highly-rated weekly series will be making changes to its programming to include a hybrid of reality and explosive action each Thursday, live on SPIKE TV at 8:00pm/ ET. The reality elements and production technique represent the most significant evolution in this genre in more than 15 years.

“We took a step back to look at our product with fresh eyes,” says TNA IMPACT WRESTLING President Dixie Carter. “People watch TV differently today than before, and the wrestling format itself has become stale. What happens backstage, in the office and on the road is so entertaining that we decided it was time to pull the curtain way back and give viewers a peek at that world as well. Over the next few weeks and months, viewers will continue to see our show evolve as we expose more real aspects of our business that have always been sacred,” she continued…

…Cameras will be everywhere. Meetings will be shot in real time and unscripted as we capture moments; not produced segments. Access to conversations and vantage points that have never been seen before, such as production meetings, talent evaluations and post match critiques, will be revealed…

Given the changes described above, I thought last week’s show would be a good point to take a look and see what’s changed. From what I’ve seen so far, not too much.

In my absence, I do miss seeing guys like fellow wrestling camp graduate Austin Aries have great matches each week, but that’s maybe 10 minutes of two hours of your life you can’t get back (less without the commercials- thanks TiVo). The behind the scenes “exposure”, at least in the first week, was a critique of a match I didn’t see, and in a way that has already been done on the previous WWE Tough Enough programming. The cameras backstage caught some scripted “unscripted” moments from a couple of the wrestlers, but it was far from “pulling back the curtain.” At best the curtain rippled a bit like it would from a gentle breeze.

Looking back at the press release, I see that they called it an “evolution” rather than a “revolution”. I didn’t catch that the first time. Evolutions take around 100,000 years. I think I’ll check in on them in another 6 months and see if they’ve had any mutations.

Wrestling fans are familiar with the epic battles between Randy “Macho Man” Savage and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. Many consider the match between the two at Wrestlemania 3 to be one of the best matches of all time.

But have you heard of Randy “The Dragon” Savage?

Skyrim is a first-person action adventure game that was recently released on multiple gaming platforms, including the PC. The PC version has a very supportive mod community, and they also have a lot of time on their hands. Sometime after creating better textures for the female characters (they have their priorities),  somebody modified the model and textures of a dragon to look like the reincarnation of Randy “Macho Man” Savage.

Check out the video below, and make sure you turn up the sound while you “Snap into a Slim Jim”.