[Updated 10/20/08: Put in a couple more wrestling trainees I forgot to include when I originally published this]
[Updated again 10/21/08: a few more names I forgot to include]
In Part 1, I talked about how I started wrestling training back in 1997 with Eddie Sharkey. In Part 2, I covered the move to a location in Coon Rapids, MN after the closing of the Peacemaker Center, and the addition of trainer Terry Fox, along with Charlie “Thunderblood” Norris and Sam Houston.
Part 3 was intended to cover “the rest”, but I’ve been struggling with how to do this for a couple of months. “The rest” is too big for one post or for several posts and I tend to remember things out of sequence. I think it’s time to drop the numbers. I’ll cover the rest of the overview with this one and then anything else will be sort of random from sometime between the start of Part 1 and the end of Part 3.
Continuing from Part 2…
At the end of the summer of 1997, with the weather growing colder, it was time to find a place inside.
We ended up setting up shop in a garage in St. Louis Park, MN. It was actually in back of Terry Fox’s house that his mom was living in (Terry was living somewhere else). Sometimes she would have us do a few chores like carrying a roll of carpet up from the basement, or other things that she couldn’t do on her own. As long as she had some “big, strong boys” there, might as well put us to work.
In the summer, we could have the ring outside, but in the winter it had to be moved to the garage. At first, there wasn’t much headroom. Even though we were in a shorter ring (the ring posts were sawed off so that it could be used in the low ceilings of a typical bar), if you went vertical more than a couple of feet you would be banging your head. I remember a few people (including me) getting their heads driven into the rafters taking a reverse atomic drop. A few months later Terry would cut away most of the rafters to give us a lot more room. I didn’t really look too closely at what was holding the roof up (didn’t want to know), but it looked like he did a pretty good job of putting in other reinforcements.
The trainees from our previous location stayed in the camp (Robbie and Mike Thunder, Hellraiser Gutz (a.k.a. ECW’s Bam Neely), PrimeTime, “Opera Man”, the Mighty Angus, referee “Diamond” Joe, Hellraiser Blood, and fairly quickly we started getting new recruits.
In the years that I was there, the trainees that I can recall were Thor Tyler, “Playboy” Pete Huge, Big Daddy Hoofer, Ultimate Fighter Brad Kohler, “Andy” (forgot his ring name), Mitch Paradise, Shawn Daivari (a.k.a. Sheik Adnan Bashir in TNA), “City Slicker” Jake Ricker, Ian & Ashley Xavier, K-Train, Scott Free, The Sheriff, Shifty, Lacey, Crystal, Ladyhawk, Cynnamon, Sandy from FL, Morgan P.R., “Ray” (don’t remember his ring name), Austin Aries, Helmut Von Strauss/Justin Lee, Smilin’ Jack Daniels/Devin Nash, Black Stalliion, Drej, Travis Sharpe, Storm Wolf, “Stone Cold” Doug Johnson, Troy “Don’t Call Me Goldberg” Steel, Chuck Diesel, some kid from China (?), and the High Rollers.
At one point I remember counting 17 people training all on the same day. Crazy. Way too many to do anything effectively. Some doing in-ring drills, some on mats outside the ring, some working on punches and other holds. Then “musical chairs” and everyone rotates.
Besides the camp regulars, on Fridays we sometimes had wrestlers from out of town including neighboring states (mostly Wisconsin and Iowa) work out at the camp. They usually were coming in to work a Saturday show and got in a day early to get a little extra ring time. Guys like Travis Lee, Red Lightning, “Superstar” Steve Stardom, Jay Hanna/Mr. Destiny, T.S. Aggressor, Kamikazee Kid, Rain/Payton Banks. Some former Sharkey trainees like Red Tyler and Lenny Lane would also stop by occasionally, along with local wrestling “celebrities” Tim Larson and “Capital City” Kyle.
Other times we had “friendly” promoters like “The Iron Duke” Jim Mitchel, Big Al, and the High Rollers come in to do some talent scouting.
I’m a little fuzzy on the timeline of what happened next (sometime in 2000?), but there was a growing unrest among some members of the camp. I think part of it had to do with the fact that you couldn’t use the top rope for 8 or 9 months out of the year when the ring was inside. Others may have had some disagreements about paying for heat (which I didn’t mind). Still others thought that we should be learning more advanced moves than some of the basics (armdrags, bodyslams, etc.).
Whatever the various reasons, collectively they were enough to split the camp. The Sheriff and Shifty would go off to form their own training camp under their Midwest Pro Wrestling banner, renting a building in an industrial park area. They started out in St. Louis Park and then moved to Maple Grove. Some people stayed with Terry, some went to MPW, and a few of us participated in both camps (including Sharkey).
Except for the occasional collection of money to pay for propane in the winter, Terry’s camp had the policy that if you were trained there (and you paid your original training fee), you could work out in the camp as long as it was running. The MPW camp had the benefit of high ceilings so top rope moves could be perfected, but with that came a building that needed the rent paid and other expenses. For existing wrestlers that had already been through training, they set up a fee structure much like a health club. For a small monthly fee (I think it was something like $15 a month), you could use the facilities. They also had free weights and some other perks that I never really got to take advantage of. The MPW camp also churned out quite a few wrestlers, including O.D.B.
March 5th of this year marked the 11th anniversary of my first day of training with Sharkey. December of this year will be 7 years since my last match. Still hard to believe it’s been that long on both counts. A lot has changed since then, both on the local and national scene. Promotions have come and gone, and then come back. TV viewership swings with the mainstream popularity, which then trickles down to the locals. I had started in the business just as the general population was being re-introduced to the WWF/WWE because of a guy named “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. In the same month I started camp, his classic match against Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13 took place. This was the match where Austin bled like a “stuck pig” and would end up passing out rather than quitting when placed in Hart’s Sharpshooter finishing move. After that match, Austin became the next superstar and the wrestling business really took off– even more than it did in the Hulk Hogan era. The local scene usually lags by about 6 months or so, and by the time I was ready to start working matches the shows were being booked at a regular pace.
Around the time I left, the business was starting to slow down again. Guys like Austin and “The Rock” were moving away from wrestling to other parts of the entertainment business and there wasn’t really anyone of that magnitude to fill their shoes. Things eventually slowed down around this area as well.
In the last year or so the local scene seems to have picked up. There seem to be more local shows running and more venues that are promoting wrestling on a regular schedule. I’m not one to predict the future, and I haven’t really researched too far into the past, but I’m guessing that this will always be the normal curve for pro wrestling. The pendulum swings one way and then the other. I don’t think there’s any danger in pro wrestling ever going away at the local or national levels, and at the same time I would be surprised if it ever became more popular than it was in the late 1990s. Luckily for me, I just happened to time it right and get in at the bottom of that upswing.
Now if I could just figure out how to do that for the stock market I’d be set. 😉