[Updated 10/25/08: Fixed broken link at bottom]
This is a continuation of a previous story of my experience in wrestling training camp.
In June of 1997, a couple of months after the Peacemaker Center closed down, Eddie Sharkey teamed with wrestler Terry Fox to restart the training camp. They set up shop in Coon Rapids, MN.
Even though I had done some training already, they thought it would be better if I just started over so I’d be in sync with everyone else. The new recruits were myself, Robbie and Mike Thunder, Hellraiser Gutz (a.k.a. ECW’s Bam Neely), PrimeTime, “Opera Man” (theres another story there), the Mighty Angus, and referee “Diamond” Joe. Gutz’s tag partner and real-life uncle Blood was also there, partly to get back into the game, and partly to give the new guys some pointers.
Besides Sharkey and Fox, we had two other wrestlers involved in training us. Charlie “Thunderblood” Norris, a Minnesota native (literally a “native“) had been working down in Texas as part of a tag team with Sam Houston. Charlie came back home to this area and brought Sam with him. They worked some shows around the area for the better part of a year before Sam went back. While they were here they got involved in the camp.
Other than Eddie, working with Sam (and Charlie) was my first “brush with fame”. I remember watching Sam wrestle for the WWF in the mid ’80s. He had a feud with referee-turned-wrestler “Dangerous” Danny Davis (hey, that’s a good wrestling name). And now I was in the ring with him.
When I lived up in northern Wisconsin, I remember coming down to Mission Creek in Hinkley, MN with my dad for a wrestling card on Father’s Day weekend. The promotion called itself the NWA (not the National Wrestling Alliance), but booked on the card were some AWA wrestlers such as Larry Zbyszko and Johnny Stewart. Also on the card were a few wrestlers that would go on to the national scene at various levels. They were “The Lightning Kid” Sean Waltman (WWF, WCW), Ricky Rice (AWA), Derrick Dukes (AWA), J.W. Storm (WCW), and Charlie Norris (WCW, AWF). And now I was in the ring with Charlie.
The ring was outside, so every day at the start of camp we would have to reassemble it. And every day at the end of camp, we would have to disassemble the ring down to the metal. The ropes, canvas, and plywood would rot if we left it out in a rainstorm. Everything was stored each night in a shed that was completely dark inside and not quite tall enough to stand up in (unless you were Little Kato). That meant that at least once a week you would bang your head on a rafter.
If there was a show that weekend, then Friday night we would take the entire ring apart and load it on the trailer. At the show, we would take the ring off the trailer and put it together, then disassemble and reload after the show. On Monday, we would put the ring back together.
At the camp we also had a few sections of amateur wrestling mat that was placed on the ground outside of the ring. We could have pairs of wrestlers working on mat moves and various things while others were inside the ring, and then have people rotate in and out.
If you want to play basketball, you have to learn how to dribble, pass, and shoot. If you want to play hockey, you need to learn how to skate, pass, and shoot. If you want to be a professional wrestler, you need to learn to run the ropes, learn to take a bump, and as William Regal once said in an interview, you need to learn how to “hit people very hard in safe places.”
A typical training day would start out with everyone running the ropes and taking bumps (everyone’s favorite). Then we would form a line and go through several drills to learn basic moves. One person gives the move to everyone in the line, then they go to the end of the line and take the move from everyone else.
The basic moves that we would do drills on were: body slam, armdrag, hiptoss, biel throw, fireman’s carry, shoulder tackle, clotheslines, drop down, drop kick, side headlock takeover, front face takeover, small package, roll-up, clothesline, lateral press.
I remember Robbie got a “stinger” on either his first day or first week of camp after taking a front face takeover and getting his head planted into the mat. His arm when numb for awhile. Fun!
Other days would be more specialized drills, like being thrown through the ropes, or over the top rope, backdrops, suplexes, punches, kicks, chops, and forearm strikes.
Terry would get in the ring and work with the trainees, while Eddie would usually instruct from the outside.
I remember getting really sunburned one weekend tubing down the Apple River in Wisconsin, and then coming to camp on Monday finding out that we would spend the day working on chops. Yay! Since that day I will put on sunscreen even if I’m just taking out the garbage.
For the chopping drill we would stand in a circle and everyone would take turns giving a chop to the person on their right. After a few times around, we would change direction and give it to the person on your left (payback!). Same type of thing for punches, kicks, forearms across the back, european uppercuts, etc..
After the drills were done, we would usually pair up and work through matches. While one pair was using the ring, the other people would work on the mats outside.
A few times during the summer we would have some “celebrity” guests. Ken Patera stopped a couple of times (after a 12-pack I think). “The Judge” Randy Gusto (“owee, owee, owee”) stopped by after the Old Country Buffet and actually got in the ring despite “having a big dessert” (I’m not making this up). There were a few more that I can no longer remember.
In the fall, as the weather started getting colder, we had to find a place where we could work indoors. We would end up moving to a garage in St. Louis Park, MN. Besides the wrestlers mentioned above, the new location would be the training grounds for many that would become big names in the regional and national scene.
But I’ll leave that for Part 3…