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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: WWF

In a previous post, when I was commenting on liking WWE Tough Enough, I had this to say: “I’m always interested in a program like [Tough Enough] to see how much they reveal about the wrestling business. It turns out not a lot, but enough to hold my interest and give me a little more wiggle room in what I write about on this site (more on that in a later post).” This is the “later post” I was referring to.

When I started wrestling training, I entered into a non-verbal agreement to “protect” the business- meaning to not reveal the inner-workings of the business to anyone that is not part of the club. Friends, family, reporters, etc. (Actually, I can’ t call it a non-verbal agreement since Billy Blaze threatened to break my arm if I ever said anything about it).

For those in the corporate world, you can think of this vow of confidentiality as a Non Disclosure Agreement, or NDA. An NDA is a legal document between two parties that prohibits them from disclosing certain privileged information to another party. They can talk freely between each other without worrying that the information would be revealed to someone else.

However, in an NDA if any of this privileged information becomes publicly known through some other means, then either party can choose to freely talk about it without violating the terms of the agreement.

My take of how this applies to me and pro wrestling is that if some major promotion (WWE, TNA, New Japan, etc.) decides to publicly reveal something about the business, then it is fair game for me to talk about it without feeling that I’m “pulling back the curtain” too much.

So how public is public? Does it have to be on their own programming, web site, or press release, or is it anything that makes it into the public domain, even if it is “leaked”? In my case, the short answer is that “it depends”.

As an example, I rarely if ever make any references to whether the outcomes of the matches are “real” or “predetermined”. It’s probably one of the most asked questions, but I still don’t feel comfortable answering that question in a public forum.

However, Vince McMahon answered this question for me all the way back in 1989 in order to save his company a few bucks. I remember it being national news at the time, and a short account of it can be found in this excerpt of the book Ringside: a history of professional wrestling in America:

Since the establishment of state athletic commissions in the early twentieth century, boxers, wrestlers, and their promoters found themselves required to pay state licensing fees as part of doing business. In 1989, [Vince] McMahon decided that he would move to avoid paying these fees. In a meeting with the New Jersey Athletic Commission, WWF representatives admitted that their matches did not represent legitimate athletic contests because the victors were predetermined. McMahon announced that his product could not be considered a sport, and therefore should not be licensed, because the WWF merely offered “sports entertainment.”

I started professional wrestling in 1997, eight years after this revelation, so you would think that would mean I would be free to talk about it.  But it just doesn’t feel right. It feels like I would somehow be dishonoring the decades of professional wrestlers who came before me and spent their lives making it seem believable.

The right answer for questions like, “Is it real?” is “it doesn’t matter”. Did they make you believe it? If they made you believe it, then the answer to whether it was “real” or not doesn’t matter. To you it was real. If you knew the answer, would it make you enjoy it more? Or would it be a letdown?

I read a blog post from a New York state newspaper the other day where the author said, “…and yes I know that the matches are predetermined 98.3% of the time…“. So here’s a guy that is somewhat of a “smart” fan who knows some amount of information about the inner workings of the wrestling business, and yet even he is convinced that nearly two percent of the wrestling matches he’s seen were not predetermined. Despite what he knows, the wrestlers involved in two percent of the matches were able to convince him that it was real. Why would I tell him that it wasn’t?

Some of the information that fans think they want to know would cause them to be disappointed if they got a definitive  answer. Those things I most likely won’t discuss here. For other things that have already been revealed by someone else (e.g. a major wrestling promotion), I will freely talk about it if it helps the message or story I’m trying to tell without worrying too much about what those in the business might think.

Although I still might get my arm broken.

[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.