We were driving on the way to the casino, and it came up in conversation that I’m a referee on the card. Jim asks me what name I use when I referee. Hmmm… I assumed I was just going to use my normal ring name- minus the “Dr.”. But I wouldn’t have to, would I? When I wrestled around the Twin Cities area, I wouldn’t think of using a different name as a referee because people knew me. Even if we went outside the area a bit, there were usually a few fans that made the trek. But where we were going, I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted.
Maybe being in the car with an old-school veteran was rubbing off on me, or the subconscious influence from watching guys like Eddie Sharkey, but my first thought was to have some connection to a person the general public would know. Someone famous. But who? It would have to be believable… wait a minute. That’s it! Why didn’t I think of it before? What’s the comment I get from people all the time, even people that don’t know me? Even if they don’t say it to my face, I hear them talking as they walk by.
“That guy kind of looks like Mark McGwire.”
At one time I actually had a “contact of a contact” of someone who ran a business of celebrity impersonators. You know the ones- Burt Reynolds, Dolly Parton, and lesser known celebrities like the kid from “The Wonder Years” (I don’t think Fred Savage look-alikes make the big $$$). The problem is that I look like McGwire only from the neck up. Or to be more precise, from the neck up to the hairline (but that would be covered by the prop baseball cap). Once you go below the neck, the illusion is shattered. I definitely don’t have his pipes, or even his legs. I imagined myself being “rented out” to a kid’s birthday party, but having to stand in another room and just peek around the corner so as to only show my head. “I’ll just stay back here… uh… in case my agent calls.” And what about a booking in a more open space? Would I have to bring something with me to hide behind? Could I bill myself as “Mark McGwire in an Iron Lung“? Probably not something you could make a career out of.
Those in the wrestling business (and guys like the late Andy Kaufman) get a kick out of seeing if they can be convincing enough to make someone believe something that is not entirely true. It’s both a challenge and a form of entertainment. Being “on the road” seemed like a perfect opportunity to have a little fun.
Before the show started the ring announcer, who was provided by the casino, asked me my name.
I told him it was Marty. Marty McGwire.
After the first match I ref’d, several kids came up to me and asked if I was related to Mark McGwire. Ok, hadn’t expected anyone to call me on it. Thought I would just get by with implying it.
“Yes. I’m his cousin.“, I said.
“Can I get your autograph?” one of them said.
I signed a few autographs on programs and various scraps of paper that the kids could find. They didn’t seem to care what it was, as long as it wasn’t edible.
I think there was only one other referee on duty that day. Most likely it was Jay Soltis, but I don’t remember for sure. We would alternate between the two of us, each taking every other match. At the end of a match, I would get a few more kids coming up for autographs or questions. Same thing at intermission.
The way the match order worked out, I ended up as the ref for a match between Brunzell and “Wild Bill” Irwin, another wrestling veteran. I’d been to local shows before as a fan and seen some of the veterans in the ring. Usually the reaction was that the matches were good, but nothing extraordinary. Always pretty solid. Always good to see that they can still get in there when they’re past their prime.
When I wrestled, I would like to have a few days or even weeks to think about an upcoming match, if possible. What moves did I have in my arsenal that would work against this opponent? Were they larger, smaller, or equal to my size? What wrestling style did they use? Should I try to match it or counter it? Did I need to work on anything in wrestling camp before the match to perfect it?
I’m 100% sure that Jim was not thinking about this match during the trip. I’m very sure that he wasn’t thinking about it while he was lacing his boots up before the match. I would almost bet money that on the way to the ring neither he nor Irwin had thought about it. Yet when the bell rang, they had a very entertaining old-school contest that the crowd was solidly behind.
It’s the equivalent of someone walking up to a microphone without any forethought and speaking a short story on the fly. Not reciting some memorized text that they had written earlier, but actually creating the story at that instant, customizing the cliffhangers based on the audience’s reaction. If you attempted to do that and came out with something even grammatically correct you would be happy. But to expect an actual literary work every time would be ridiculous. Yet that’s what these guys can deliver, time after time after time. Sure, some of the chapters seem like something you’ve read before, and some of the endings can be a little cliche. But it all fits together with a beginning, middle, and end, and with enough twists and turns to hold your attention.
By the end of the day, the ring announcer and several adults in the crowd had picked up on my supposed fame as well. They all had a few questions about cousin Mark. I think what sold them is that I didn’t go around bragging about it. To them, I’m sure it seemed like I was reluctant to talk about it as if I didn’t want to be in the spotlight. As if I was constantly trying to stay away from all the “media” attention. The truth was that I’m not really a sports fan, so I was trying to keep from saying anything stupid that would expose my lack of even basic trivia about the man.
Not a bad day. I got to referee for a couple of veterans and see first hand how they worked. I got to have a little fun with the fans, and a few “lucky” kids left thinking that they had a brush with celebrity they could brag to their friends about (or sell on eBay).
At least until they got home, when their parents would realize that I had misspelled “McGwire” with a ‘u’ instead of a ‘w’.
Like I said- not a big sports fan.