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Dr. Darin Davis

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

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Tag: AWA

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.

Former multi-time AWA World Heavyweight Champion Nick Bockwinkel used to say that while sleeping, he would occasionally lift one shoulder up to avoid a pinfall during the night. It’s a tough thing for wrestlers to deal with. You’re half conscious lying on your back and you aren’t sure if you are in a strange hotel room somewhere, or if you are lying in the center of the ring after taking a stiff shot to the head. Better lift that shoulder just to be safe.

Well folks, you no longer need to rely on veteran skills, ring awareness, or the muscle memory of Nick Bockwinkel to avoid a 3 count. Japanese gadget maker Banpresto is coming out with the GONG! Pro Wrestling Ring Bell Alarm Clock.

Wrestling Alarm ClockI’m not sure what the actual product name is (it’s all Japanese to me), but that’s what I’d call it.

When it’s time to get up, the referee starts the pin count. 1…2… If he gets to three before you lift your shoulder (and reach over, grab the hammer, and smack the crap out of the ring bell), your alarm will go off– ringing the bell for some unspecified period of time.

Hard to know what this thing is going to be like. The photo appears to be concept art, and this thing could be the size of my thumb for all I know. It’s only being made available in Japan, but apparently you can order from an importer like geekstuff4u.com for about $45 USD (I think that includes shipping from Japan to them, but not to your house). For those that have watched Japanese wrestling, you’ll remember that the referees count in English, so you shouldn’t have to learn a second language to use this.

They also have a boxing version, but everyone knows boxing is rigged, so why would you want that?

Below are the my best articles for the year 2008, 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.

  • A Killer Bee and Me (Dec ’07): My experiences with former AWA and WWF Superstar “Jumpin” Jim Brunzell.
    [Ok, technically this was posted in Dec 2007 but I’m including it in the year-end list because I didn’t have enough content to do this in 2007]
  • One Degree of Separation? (Jan): A follow-up to the previous Brunzell article, where I talk about my potential as a celebrity look-alike.

[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 KidSean 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

-========-

Terry Fox continues to run his promotion [MIW]. Wayne McCarty has some pictures of Terry’s latest training camp w/ Austin Aries on his blog.

With all of the coverage of the baseball “scandal” in the news recently, it made me think of a story from a few years ago that I thought I would share.

I believe it was around the summer of 1999. I was added to a wrestling card at the last minute as a referee. This was a Friday night and the show was the following day at a casino in Menominee, WI. At this point, all of the cars were full. Even if I was crazy enough to ride in a trunk, there wasn’t any room with all the gear.

I gave the promoter Eddie Sharkey a call to see who else was going to be on the card, hoping I would get another lead on a ride. He told me that Billy Blaze was on there and to give him a call and see if he had room. I had a work number for Bill that I could try. Now, here’s the thing about my experience in the wrestling business- it didn’t matter how many years I had known you, the chances are that I have no idea what your real name is. Most of the time you referred to the other wrestlers by their ring name. Didn’t matter whether we worked together in training camp every other day or not. If you knew them really well, you might actually know their real first name and use occasionally (esp. if you’re not at a wrestling event).

As a side note, I remember seeing some discussions about the 1998 documentary “Wrestling with Shadows“, and whether the screwjob on Bret Hart was real or not. One thing that people pointed out as evidence that it wasn’t real was that Bret’s wife called Triple H “Hunter” in their conversation, rather than his real name. From my experience, if anything it adds more credibility to the dialog. The only ones that use a wrestler’s real name are the marks that try to show they’re smart, or reporters that think it somehow adds to the story (e.g. …Hulk Hogan, whose real name is Terry Gene Bollea, …).

I call Bill’s work phone and found what I expected- there was more than one Bill there. Dammit! The person on the phone asked if I wanted Bill Xyz or Bill Yxx (to this day I don’t know what his last name is). I said, “Uhh… I think the second one. Is he the wrestler guy?“.

I got Bill’s number, but it turned out he had left a day early. I then called Eddie back to tell him I was out of ideas.

Give Jim Brunzell a call.“, Eddie says.
Loooong pause. “Uh… what?“, I say.
He’s heading out there.“, Eddie says. “Here’s his number…“.
Wait… Jim BRUNZELL?!? ‘Jumping’ Jim Brunzell? AWA Jim Brunzell? WWF Jim Brunzell? Killer Bees Jim Brunzell?“.
Yeah.
You want me to call him out of the blue and ask him for a ride?
Yeah.

To Eddie, we were all workers. So what if one of us had been a tag team champion in several major promotions?

I met Brunzell at a Perkins near White Bear Lake, MN. The trip to the casino was about 320 miles one way. If you are a member of law enforcement, I would tell you that it took us about (320 mi / 55 mph = ) 5.8 hrs to get there. If you’re not, let’s just say we got there a little quicker than that. But regardless, I was spending a full day in the car with the legend Jim Brunzell.

Although much of the conversation I forgot, and the majority of what I remember I wouldn’t repeat in a public forum, there are a few highlights I could touch on without revealing too much information:

  • The Road: Compared to what these wrestling pioneers went through, we had it incredibly easy. These guys would be on a schedule where they were expected to be in Winnipeg one day and Chicago the next. Since they were responsible for their own transportation, they would pile into cars to save money. Spending all that time cooped up in vehicles cut down on the amount of training you could do, which led to the use of performance enhancement for some people.
  • Reptilian Roommate: Spending your own money on travel and lodging means that you are also sharing rooms. You get exposed to people’s “habits” (performance-enhancing or otherwise), extramarital activities, enlistment of services from those in the “people industry”, and exotic pets (snakes, for example). Sometimes one individual covers all of the above, and would describe them in a documentary a decade or so later.
  • Stylin’ and Profilin’: Stories about a certain multi-time heavyweight champion showing that he didn’t just “talk the talk”. Strutting around in the hotel pool area with a couple of beauties, wearing only a cowboy hat, cowboy boots, and a smile. Whooooooo!
  • Hey, Someone’s In Here!: We’ve all heard about some of the downsides of celebrity. Paparazzi, stalkers, invasion of privacy. What’s one of the biggest issues for a wrestling celebrity at a local show? People trying to get an autograph while you’re in a bathroom stall. Seriously, people (mostly kids) would crawl under the stall just to get you to scribble your name on something. The takeaway from Jim was that if you had to take a dump, do it before you get to the venue (we stopped at a Wendy’s- not sure if that was an endorsement for the cleanliness of their bathrooms or not).

Overall, Jim Brunzell struck me as a very humble, down-to-earth person. He called a jabroni like me back, gave be a ride across the state, and refused any payment for gas. He was willing to talk about the wrestling business of the past and present and share stories that most of us will never get to hear. One of the most surprising things, however, is that he actually seemed envious of my day job. Here I’m intently listening to his stories and experiences and all the while he’s saying, “Man, I wish I could do what you’re doing. Why would you want to get involved with this? You’re crazy!

I saw him a couple more times at some wrestling cards we were on shortly before he was going to have shoulder surgery and “retire”. I don’t know if he ever wrestled again after surgery (I suspect he may have). I’d like to publicly thank him for being so nice to me and for treating me as an equal.

Thanks Jim!

What happened in between the actual driving? You mean the wrestling show? That’s actually what I thought of with the recent baseball news. There is kind of a funny story here that I haven’t gotten to yet, but I thought the drive itself deserved it’s own post. I’ll cover that part in the next one. Stay tuned.