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AS I SEE IT: “The Sickness” Revisited
Bob Magee
Pro Wrestling: Between the Sheets

With this past weekend’s Extreme Rising debacle; and the absolutely cowardly way in which the weekend’s shows were cancelled by promoter Steven O’Neill only days before the scheduled show. Fans have been left to fend for themselves for refunds, wrestlers to scramble for bookings, and contractors to scramble for payment.

AISIFrom outside appearances, this seemed to start with the last-minute postponement of the March 1 2300 (ECW) Arena show due to issues with the contractor working on the rehabilitation of the Arena failing to obtain a final inspection from the Philadelphia City Licenses and Inspection Department. No matter what anyone thinks, this cancellation had nothing to do with Steve O’Neill, save perhaps not having insured that all was right with the building, or that he had a backup site for the show were it not. If there hadn’t been other issues with other cancellations of other shows, people might have been more willing to cut him some slack.

But from there on, it seemed that Steve O’Neill was playing a game of financial juggling of plates, and hoping none crashed to the floor.

There was the interminable wait for replacement tickets for the new date (why new tickets with the additional cost for printing were even necessary was inexplicable). This was followed by the refunds that some fans never received for the March 1 date. Meanwhile, fans were being sent posters for the show and ad cards…but had to struggle for tickets.

After that, there was O’Neill’s childish behavior on social media toward fans who questioned where replacement tickets were, or where their refunds were, or who questioned O’Neill’s reputation.

The first inkling that outsiders had that there was a serious problem with last weekend’s shows was when Luke Hawx went off on O’Neill in an online shoot promo, and cancelled off the weekend’s shows and took bookigns with the Canadian Hardcore Roadtrip promotion, because O’Neill didn’t communicate with him on travel arrangments. Next was Sabu cancelling one or both of his bookings. Then O’Neill went into social media radio silence from Sunday on and did not answer phone calls, after having stated he’d be going online to outline the rebooked show lineup and explain the situation.

We all know the rest.

If that one wasn’t bad enough, then there was the Hardcore Roadtrip debacle. This one goes beyond Steve O’Neill being incompetent and handling things badly.

Mark Livingston, promoter of the Canadian-based Hardcore Roadtrip ran a doubleheader of shows in Toronto. The first show went off without incident…but then the second evening show turned into a disaster as the evening show talent never got paid, as Livingston “left the venue with a suspected heart attack” without paying the guys, and then left wrestlers stranded without rides to get to the airport hours away. Announcer Steven DeAngelis was left to tell the crowd what had happened, asked if fans had passports to get wrestlers to those flights that came out of American airports.

It seems that “Livingston”, whose real name is Mark Anderson, has pulled similar stunts years back, running independent shows and stiffing workers. He then somehow stayed under the radar for years, then came back up to run this con.

With all of that, I was taken back to a column I’d written back in July 2003, about a woman who had what I call “the sickness”…the sickness of the con artist, the money mark that is a part of wrestling.

In her case at least, it appears at least SHE didn’t intend to defraud anyone, but…well…read on.


This week, some thoughts on another version of the wrestling “sickness”…

The “sickness” I’m talking about in this column isn’t the use of steroids and painkillers that Del “The Patriot” Wilkes and Roddy Piper spoke about during their recent interview on the HBO Real Sports special, although I may again address that subject at a later date.

It is about the very same kind of obsession for wrestling. But it’s also a very different kind of the “sickness”. In this case, it’s a sickness that comes from a dark side of the love of the wrestling business… one that causes people to do things they aren’t ready or able to do…on the other side of the wrestling business… as promoters.

It’s about the “sickness” of promoters who shouldn’t have been promoters. Sometimes they’re called “money marks”, men or women who want to be involved in the wrestling industry so much that they get involved financially without knowing what they’re doing…sometimes to an extent that can be tragic.

Back in mid-June, I first received an e-mail promoting the Cherry Mania 2003 show from Darlene Brown in conjunction with the 77th annual National Cherry Festival, which takes place in Traverse City, MI each July. The Festival is a major yearly event for cherry growers and for the north central Michigan region, featuring food, a major arts and crafts show, cultural events, and celebrations of the July 4th holiday. As a former Michigander, I remembered the event from my years in the state (longer ago than I’d like to admit).

I’d never heard of Darlene Brown before, but given PWBTS’s emphasis on promoting independent wrestling, I get a lot of e-mails promoting independent shows from all over the United States and elsewhere. So it wasn’t unusual to get a press release from someone I hadn’t heard of. There was also a website set up to promote the show.

Advertised for the show were Dusty Rhodes, Kamala, Larry Zybysko, “Powers of Pain” Barbarian and Warlord, the Rock ‘n Roll Express, Jimmy Valiant, and “Beautiful” Bobby Eaton.

The event was advertised as “…the first legends show of such magnitude in North America since Pay Per View! The event is made possible by GWPE promoter Jersey (Darlene Brown’s promotional nickname), who is one of the first female professional wrestling promoters ever!”.

Ms. Brown had obviously never heard of Ann Gunkel or Leah Maivia, but I thought… OK… sounds like the usual promoter’s ballyhoo.

It also isn’t unusual for independent promoters to hook up with a major festival or local event, so I thought…this sounds like it could have possibilities. Lord knows there would be enough people around to draw from, since crowds are estimated at 500,000-600,000 attendees for an average Festival.

July 5th came and went. I received no results, but since this past weekend was a holiday weekend, I didn’t give it that much thought, and figured I’d get results from Ms. Brown sometime this week. Until July 7th.

Early in the morning on July 7th, I got results for the event from Mike Johnston who provides results on PWBTS from independent shows in Michigan. What I was reading didn’t sound good at all. There were reports of this show being somewhat of a debacle. I didn’t have much information on the debacle, except that there were reports of bad checks, fraud, and a police investigation into it.

Only hours later, Jim Hall had a report on 1wrestling.com… and the results were far more tragic than anyone would have believed possible. Promoter Brown had been found dead at her home in Mesick, MI on Saturday from a gunshot wound.

The wrestling show she’d promoted earlier in the day was, as stated earlier in the day by Mike Johnston’s news post on PWBTS, a debacle. Everyone on the show from workers to ring crew to vendors… even the Northwestern Michigan Fairgrounds itself were all paid by check… none of which were legitimate. The vendors at Cherrymania were burned by Brown, after having paid $200-$1,000 for tables for an event that Brown had promised vendors that the show would draw thousands …and instead drew just over 100 fans for her “legends” wrestling card.

Wrestlers and other staff learned during the Cherrymania event that Brown’s check to the Northwestern Michigan Fairgrounds fairgrounds was not legitimate. Wrestlers can read signals, and after hearing this news, they started questioning Brown about their own paychecks.

But even before this, many wrestlers scheduled for the show had begun asking questions after they had their travel arrangements changed by Brown, due to a “poor advance”. Dusty Rhodes and Larry Zbyszko cancelled their bookings and wound up replaced by Jim Duggan.  The poor advance created more pressure on Darlene Brown, since the Tickets Plus service used for the Cherrymania event does not pay out to the promoter until after the event takes place. The show had been sponsored by Ms. Brown’s own custom drywall business, so without a good advance, promoter Brown was putting up her own livelihood for this event.

As I said earlier, there’s nothing wrong about trying to piggyback on a large scale public event… if you know how to do it. On one hand, it appears that Brown tried to make her event seem to vendors and to the public to be more than it was, by advertising events from the Cherry Festival on her own website as if they were part of her own wrestling show, with examples such as (spelling from the original):

From 8 to 3 pm: “Fab” Flea Market! Over 200 venders. Everything from ducks to diamonds!
From 8 to 2 pm: Musical Talent Search Finalist
From 2 to 3 pm: Awards Ceremony
Plus live music from the bands Without Excuse and Saint Louis!

But on the other hand, Brown’s inexperience shows as her show ran directly against one of the major concerts of the Festival with 1980s band Loverboy, sponsored by a WKLT Double Rock 97.5, a major northern Michigan rock radio station. If that wasn’t bad enough, there was no mention whatever made of the Cherrymania wrestling show on the Cherry Festival website.

None… with 500,000 potential men, women and children available to come to her show.  Not one.

In the end, Darlene Brown wanted to be involved in wrestling, fueled by some prior involvement with another local independent promotion. But Darlene Brown wanted to be “one of the first female professional wrestling promoters ever!”. Sadly, her dream… her type of “sickness”… resulted in her death, only hours after the event she’d dreamed of promoting had turned into a nightmare for her and for all concerned.

Until next time….

— Bob Magee