HeadLocker — Jay Shannon
My Best Memories of Wrestling
Our resident philosopher celebrates his birthday by waxing nostalgic about some of his favorite wrestling memories
Around this time of the year, I tend to look back at life and smile. 37 years ago, my late grandfather took me to the old Sportatorium for my first live wrestling card. That created a life-long love of the sport. As I will celebrate my 44th birthday on Tuesday (July 7th), , I wanted to take a few minutes to look back at some of my favorite people places and events in wrestling.
The Dallas Sportatorium:
The old horse auction barn is long gone, but never forgotten. Located on the corner of Cadiz and Industrial, the Dallas Sportatorium was home to Big Time Wrestling, later World Class. Almost every major star of the 70s, 80s and 90s passed through Dallas, Texas. I saw Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Undertaker, Steve Austin, and hundreds more ply their trade in the non-heated or air conditioned tin shack. I’m proud to say that I’m on the WWE’s DVD tribute to World Class DVD. The little kid waving a Texas flag in the stands at the Sportatorium was me. I have that same flag framed and hanging on my office wall. ECW had its Viking Hall/Alhambra Arena. We had the Sportatorium.
The Great Kabuki
Before there was Kiyoshi or Great Muta, there was Kabuki. The Japanese superstar was one of the first wrestlers, in the US, to use the Asian Mist (later adopted by Tajiri, Muta and so many others). Years later, a friend of mine in wrestling actually taught me how to use The Mist. That Mist never failed to impress me as a kid. Kabuki also used a variety of martial arts strikes and nerve holds. He was an Everyman kind of wrestler, nothing all that fancy (other than the Mist and the nun-chakus). Kabuki was also one of the toughest men that I’ve ever seen compete. He went toe-to-toe with Bruiser Brody, Kamala, Tony Atlas, the Von Erichs, and dozens more. While he’s enjoying a much-deserved retirement, I still wish he would return. I can still vividly remember that painted face and those gnarled fingers digging into an opponent’s neck. They just don’t make wrestlers like Kabuki, anymore.
Most of my friends wanted to be wrestlers, back when we were kids. I, on the other hand, always wanted to be a manager. Managers had the best of all worlds. They got to be on TV, talk to the fans, and usually didn’t have to get in the ring. My youth was filled with admiration for the men (and women) behind the men. My earlier days were spent watching Gary Hart and Skandor Akbar. As cable came to the Shannon household, my managerial choices grew to include: Lou Albano, Freddie Blassie, Bobby Heenan, J.J. Dillon, Jimmy Hart, Mr. Fuji, Percy Pringle/Paul Bearer and dozens more. Even today, mouthpieces like C. Edward Vanderpyle, Raisha Saeed and James Mitchell continue the long-standing tradition of management. While wrestling management seems to be becoming a lost art, I still have my ruffled, red tuxedo shirt and bow tie, just in case that call ever comes through. (grin).
My collection of wrestling videos started with a birthday present from my aunt, Wanda. She gave me a copy of Wrestlemania III (which I still have, 20 years later). I’ve always considered myself a bit of a wrestling historian and the videos and DVDs help with my research. Not to mention, it’s just fun to watch the shows or tribute pieces. My office bookshelf is about ready to explode with tapes and discs from WWE, TNA, ECW, ROH (thanks, Joe), WSX, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Japan and a dozen other places. Thanks to releases by independent companies, I’ve been able to pick up “Best of” packages from Mid-South and Southwest (Texas) Championship Wrestling. The latter of those two was the group that USA used to showcase, before the WWE took over. Seeing people like “Bruiser” Bob Sweetan, Eric Embry and Gino Hernandez helps to take me back to a simpler time, living with my grandparents and enjoying being a kid.
Mike Knox and The Berserker (John Nord) owe their careers to one man, Bruiser Brody. The Santa Fe, NM wild-man was hated throughout the world, except in Dallas, Tx. In Dallas, Brody was a hero to those of us who watched him take his brutality and unleash it on the forces of Gary Hart and Skandor Akbar. I spent many a Friday night sitting on the hard wooden benches of the Sportatorium as Brody brutalized Abdullah the Butcher, Kamala, Kabuki, Mark Lewin and so many others. I was fortunate enough to meet Brody in the late 70s, thanks to my grandfather. Pa knew Fritz and a few others at the Sportatorium, thanks to being a delivery driver in the area. Pa talked with Fritz and asked him if it would be ok for me to meet a few of the wrestlers. Fritz agreed and I got to meet Fritz, Brody, and several others. Despite his rugged, brutal look, Frank (Brody) Goodish was a soft spoken man who thanked me for coming out to see him. I will never forget how kind he was to spend a few minutes with a wide-eyed little kid.
Brody was murdered in 1988 in a locker room ambush by a low-life wrestler named Jose Huertas Gonzales. Several wrestlers, including Tony Atlas, witnessed the cowardly assault but refused to testify at the trial. Gonzales walked. Despite the tragic ending, Bruiser Brody lived a wonderful life. He is considered a true legend in many parts of the world, especially Japan. Standing on my bookshelf is a Bruiser Brody action figure, brandishing his trademark logger’s chain. More than 20 years later, he is still missed.
The David Von Erich Memorial Spectacular
In early 1984, David Von Erich died in Japan, under somewhat mysterious circumstances. In May, World Class put on a huge card at Texas Stadium. I was fortunate enough to be sitting up in the nosebleed section with my grandfather and my best friend, Fred. The undercard was filled with all the great stars of World Class. The main event saw Kerry Von Erich upset Ric Flair with a Backslide to gain the NWA World title. Due to Kerry’s poor personal choices, the NWA set it for Flair to take back the title, a few weeks later, in Japan. But for that brief time, one of our own was the World champion. No card before or since has thrilled me as much as sitting in section 213, Row J, seat 14 did. I cheered for Kerry, cried when they sang Heaven Needed a Champion and booed when The Freebirds insulted the Texas crowd. I can’t remember a single event that ever had the kind of crowd response that we gave the World Class crew that day. David must have been smiling down, looking through that huge hold in the roof of Texas Stadium.
The Pit (University of North Texas)
From 1988 to 1991, I attended the University of North Texas. It was there that I met a local television legend that would influence me to this day. Since my minor was in Radio/TV/Film, I needed to take a course in Sports Broadcasting. I walked into that classroom, located on the second floor of Smith Hall, only to discover that my professor was Bill Mercer, the voice of World Class Championship Wrestling. I was thrilled.
In 1989, World Class put on a charity show at the University, in The Pit. I got the assignment of covering the show for the college radio station, KNTU FM 88.1. (slight plug for the old station). I met so many great people: Frank Dusek, Iceman King Parsons, the Samoan Swat Team, Michael Hayes, Steve Cox, Bill Irwin and Terry Gordy. I didn’t really get to watch much of the action, as I spent most of the evening in the locker room, doing interviews. I came home with a smile on my face that lasted for weeks. I also toted home a black World Class baseball cap (a gift from Parsons), an autographed Michael Hayes album and a World Class t-shirt (now framed and hanging next to the above-mentioned Texas flag). The most important thing I took home was the knowledge that I met so many of my heroes.
>b>Mick Foley & Sabu v the Blackjacks (players, not wrestlers)
If you’ve read Mick Foley’s first book, Have a Nice Day, you’ve probably read about the incident at the Silver Nugget Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Foley and Sabu ended up coming up out of the small arena at the casino and spilling onto the card tables. They interrupted a hot card game and came close to getting lynched. Both myself and fellow OWW scribe, Arnie Katz, were there that night. We’ve laughed about it on a couple of occasions. The chaos was unrivaled by anything that I can remember seeing or reading about. Card players in Vegas are some of the most dedicated gamblers on the planet. Seeing two near 300 pounders come sailing across the table incited them to action. Foley and Sabu needed several security guards to protect them from the wild-eyed chipmasters. There were quite a few memories that were supplied by the Silver Nugget Casino, but that one’s the best.
For 15 years, I had one person that I could always talk wrestling with…my late wife. Lynne grew up in Ohio in the 50s and 60s and got to see a ton of wrestling with her father. She and I compared stories, a lot. She told me about meeting Waldo and Fritz Von Erich, when they were German sympathizers. I told her about Brody and Fritz, the hillbilly dad. We sat in Vegas as Colonel Parker wanted to get married, only to have it short-circuited by his gambling. We both cried when Owen and Eddie died. She urged me to go with my dream of writing about wrestling.
Back in November, I lost her to a heart attack. I haven’t been able to watch a wrestling match, since then, without hearing her voice calling out her special names for the wrestlers: Edge (Mr. Creepy Eyes), John Cena (G.I. Joe), Jim Cornette (Mr. Fuzzy Tennis Racket), Triple H (Jimmy Durante’s illegitimate grandson), Shawn Michaels (Monkey Boy, since he jumps around in D-X like a chimp), etc… I dedicate this memories of wrestling to her.
Not all of my wrestling memories are positive ones. I still won’t go to a live event at the Reno Event Center (turn off the water fountains on me). I’ve lost so many of my heroes in wrestling, many due to their own poor choices. All in all, wrestling has been a great and wonderful part of my life for 37 years.
— Jay Shannon